Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Welcome to Coastal Georgia

We started and ended this segment with a storm. Last week we raced a line of thunderstorms into Fernandina Beach and watched from our hotel as it raged for the next 5 hours after we checked in. We laid over the next day not to avoid rain, which by then was well gone, but wind.
There was a 20-25 mph wind out of the north, which would have been a nasty headwind indeed. Instead we had a blustery 14-mile ride without the panniers, much more manageable, and visited the nearby town to search out new novels to read (Jeff is going through 2 a month when not studying maps or writing the blog, Louise about 5 a month). Just before sunset we took one more beach walk and gathered up interesting shells for this shot.

In earlier planning we hoped to cross into Georgia about March 1, and we ended up being 2 days ahead of that, having biked 1075 miles through Florida in just over 6 weeks. As you can see from the math, we've not pushed the miles because there have been lots to see.

We were excited to enter Georgia because it promised to be reasonably bike-friendly. Heck, we had even gotten a state bicycle map from GADOT, and it showed route "Bike 95" running right up from Florida to Savannah, mostly using US 17, the coastal route that is now paralleled by I-95 and therefore not overly busy. Well, the reality is that there are indeed signs, and there has been a shoulder almost all the way, but that shoulder is frequently about as wide as in this shot at the border, about a foot across. Near Brunswick it got wider, but then they put rumble cuts into it, making it virtually unrideable. Fortunately the road was 4-lane with light traffic, so we were mostly left alone in the right lane by cars moving over to the passing lane. By the way, Louise is bundled up because we had our first truly cold day entering Georgia on Feb. 28, in the low 40's early on and only warming to the low 50's.

In Florida we had learned about the 16th - 18th century competition for empire from the Spanish perspective at St. Augustine. Now we were in British territory, and the history took a new slant. The Spaniards kicked out the French in 1565, but in the early 1700s the French started moving eastward from Louisiana and considered returning to the area that is now coastal Georgia. The Spaniards and English both looked at the area from their strongholds of St. Augustine and Charles Town (now Charleston), but the British moved first and established a fort in what is now Darien in 1721 that scared off the French, and then on St. Simon's Island in the 1730's, about the same time
Savannah was established as the first settlement in Georgia. King George's Fort in Darien has been recently reconstructed, and they did a terrific job of making it look quite realistic. We visited it today, just missing a big weekend when they expect about 100 "reenactors" to arrive for a mock battle. A truly mock battle, as the fort was never attacked in its brief existence.

That's jumping ahead a few days. One of our first sightseeing stops in Georgia was Ft. Frederica
on St. Simon's, a town of 1000 people for a decade, now a peaceful field interrupted by signs showing where streets once lay and a handful of building foundations uncovered by archaeologists. A few miles away was this bucolic site on the edge of a marsh where Scottish soldiers ambushed a Spanish force that had come up from St. Augustine to kick out the Brits from Ft. Frederica. Instead they suffered defeat and caused the land to adopt the name it now holds,
Bloody Marsh. It was 1742 and the last attempt by the Spanish to attack the British north of them.

We spent one afternoon exploring Jekyll Island,
where we enjoyed a few miles of bike trails,
this wonderful tunnel of oak trees,
a windswept shore, and a walk through a remarkable place, the Jekyll Island Club historic district. In the 1880's a group of some of the wealthiest men in America bought the entire island and built a comfortable hotel. A few of them built "cottages" nearby, not anything as outrageous as those in
Newport RI but far beyond what you or I would call a cottage. The club failed to survive WW II and the State of Georgia bought the island, restoring the hotel and leasing building lots to far less wealthy lovers of the Georgia sea islands. Except for the historical district, it had a bit of a '50s look to it. Our following day on St. Simon's Island found it much more upscale and busy, and perhaps you can see some of that
in this photo from a pier on Jekyll Island looking toward St. Simon's. A bridge goes from St. Simon's to Sea Island, but it "privatized" a few years ago, and cars driving onto that island must turn around and head back unless they can show a reservation for one of the ritzy resorts there.

Speaking of bridges, we had an exciting time going up the Sidney Lanier Bridge on
the way into Brunswick. We used the granny gear for the first time since leaving New York (that's the small chainring that gives you REALLY low gears) and stopped at the top for this nice view from 200' above the water.
We spent 2 comfortable nights in
WatersHill B&B in Brunswick, seen under the Spanish moss in this photo. The historic district was quite charming, and the mile walk to dinner was actually fun since it went down this leafy street with enormous live oak trees
in the median strip and past at least a dozen houses that would turn heads in any town.

To really understand the Georgia and Carolina coasts, we understood we needed to visit a rice plantation, for it was rice, not cotton, that created great wealth in this part of the South before the Civil War. Georgia actually forbade slavery for its first dozen years, but when it came it came hard. Rice farming was more labor-intensive and dangerous to the health, because of malaria, than cotton growing, and large tracts of cypress swamps were turned into rice fields in the early 1800's manned by huge workforces of black slaves. One of these, Hofwyl-Broadfield Plantation,
was left to the Nature Conservancy in 1973 in the will of the last owner, after 5 generations in the same family spanning 160 years. In a survey in 1849 they counted 357 slaves running it. After the Civil War they had to pay workers, of course, and face stiffer competition from rice plantations in Louisiana. This one grew rice
longer than most, until 1913, then survived as a dairy farm. The rice fields were left alone, and are slowly going back to marshland. This part of Georgia has as many large live oak trees draped in Spanish moss as Seattle has espresso stands, but Hofwyl-Broadfield State Park (the Conservancy was only an interim owner)
had some of the most impressive, including a few with names! You may have to click on this picture to see Louise standing next to the Miss Ophelia Oak, which they guess is somewhere between 500-800 years old.
You do see Spanish moss on almost anything that stays still for a while, as you can see in the other photo.

We're now at a fantastic B&B, Open Gates in Darien. We planned on 2 nights here in order to go kayaking on the Altamaha River.
We went by ourselves in a tandem kayak and found coordinating a kayak tandem a bit harder than a bicycle tandem. Without a timing chain to force us into the same cadence, we had some "conversations" on that topic from time to time. We were driven about 6 miles upstream so as to have the ebbing tide pulling us seaward back to Darien,
but as we got into the wider water we found that the east wind balanced out any tidal forces going on there, and we got quite the workout. Lifting up a coffee mug the next morning found us discovering muscles we had forgotten about for a while, but we did enjoy the trip. Dinner at a terrific seafood restaurant like they have in Darien can cure many ills, especially when you order shrimp that's fresh off these shrimping boats that call Darien home.

Well, we started this segment with a storm and now end it with one. We had a tough choice to make for today. The forecast was for a fantastic tailwind, 15-20 mph, all day, but with the chance of severe thunderstorms going to 30% at noon, 70% at 3 pm and 100% by 4. Add to the calculations that the only place with accommodations en route is 48 miles from here. We were tempted, sorely tempted, by that tailwind, but we stayed a third night. Of course it helped when the owner said we could use her washer-dryer and the computer in the library. So enjoy today's blog, brought to you by thunderstorms and composed wearing clean clothing with that nice fresh-out-of-the-dryer warmth. Hopefully it has cheered up the writing.

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