Thursday, July 2, 2020

The Battle of Bull Sluice

The morning dawns clear and cold, the crickets are silent as even they know what’s in the offing. The breeze stirs a bit as if to mark the beginning of the contest yet to come. The combatants begin their rites as they prepare. The adversary rushes and roars as to invite the foe to its watery clutches. The hero sips his tea and contemplates breakfast. Granola bar or ham & cheese omelet?

Well, ok, so it’s overly dramatic. But I do admit that doing the white-water rafting thing was in the back of my mind very shortly after June made the reservations. It’s been on my bucket list for a very long time, but self-preservation reminds me that there IS the possibility of getting seriously hurt. So therein lies the battle. Do I go for it and check off that bucket list box? Or do I take the safe route and not risk injury?

First let me back up just a little and explain. The river in question is the Chatooga river in Northern portion of South Carolina. We booked with Natahalla Outdoor Center (NOC) for the excursion. They have good reviews and it wasn’t super expensive. June filled out our waiver forms online and faked my signature (I’ve suspected for a long time that she wants to ‘off’ me for the insurance money, this must be how she’s gonna do it)!

We show up at the place 45 minutes before zero-hour and check in. I do have to admit they were very friendly and the whole process only takes a couple of minutes. June finds a shirt that she likes and wants me to pick one out too. At this point the only thing I'm considering are any last-minute updates to my will, I couldn’t care less about a stupid shirt. They have us watch a video describing how to survive drowning should (WHEN!) you fall out of the boat and try to not die among the rocks and thrashing water! Ok, if I wasn't super nervous before, I am now!

Then they have us gather around with the rest of the victims, uh sorry, paddlers and they go over again(!) what to do if (WHEN!) you fall out of the boat. Then they have us load into these forty year old busses for the fifteen minute trip to the scene of the accident, uh where we put in.

Alright, I’ll admit that the first hour or so of the trip was very nice. A couple of small rapids and then we stop for lunch and some wading in the shallows. Then we load up and hit a class 2 rapids. Ok, not so bad, I’d even go so far as to say it was fun. Then our guide, Will, starts talking about the highlight of the day, Bull Sluice. A class 4 monster that takes no prisoners. The demon from hell that chews up paddlers for breakfast. Suddenly we’re talking about crouching down in the boat so there’s less chance of crashing the boat and people dying (no, he said boat flipping, in my mind I heard people dying).

We get to the entrance of Bull Sluice. He stops the boat, we get out, and walk up to an outcropping to look over the situation. Shit just got very real! It really IS a monster! My self-preservation was kicking in big time! Will is explaining how we’re gonna tackle this monster and I’d bet that I heard maybe two words of what he said. Then he’s saying to go back to the boat and let’s do this! Every step back to the boat I’m thinking that I’ll just give some flimsy excuse and meet them downstream. But for some crazy reason my legs keep going back to the boat.

Just like that we are underway and the roar of water is getting louder and louder. Will is giving paddling commands and I can’t believe we’re gonna do this. In what seemed like seconds, we were right at the edge of the rapids. Down we go, the water rushing all around, Will yells ‘Get Down!’. We crouch down and the water just poured over us. Then there’s a huge rock right in front of us! Will’s yelling to paddle and we do. Then just as fast as it started, it was over, and we were cheering! Can we go back and do it again? That was AWESOME! Totally can’t believe we did it and now we want to go back for more!

June and I are in the second row

So this day the heroes won the battle of Bull Sluice! We came, we saw, we kicked its butt! So was I a little bit scared? You bet. But it felt awesome to check that box on the bucket list!


The good life.

Before we get started, here’s your trivia for today. What river was featured in the 1972 film ‘Deliverance’?


I think Mango and I finally have this RV thing figured out. We seem to have found the sweet spot on our third big trip. We are enjoying our adventures so far and are relaxed and resting well.


In the early part of this trip, we are focusing on the Carolinas. This is new territory for both of us so that in itself is fun. In previous trips, we moved a little too quickly through areas but this time, I think we’ve discovered the right balance. We spent about 2 weeks in South Carolina and scratched off a couple of bucket list things. And hey, if you’re at all like me, you add things to your list just to be able to scratch them off.


We use to help us determine where we’re going to stay next. There were very few reviews on Sadlers Creek State Park and I still can’t figure out why. An average state park experience but oh that lake. Lake Hartwell is stunning and the park wraps around parts of it. There certainly could be more million dollar mansions on this lake but somewhere along the line, the state made it a park. Thank you South Carolina. I think this park ranks in my top 3 favorite places so far. And in case you’re wondering, yes I’m keeping a master list of all the parks we’ve stayed at. Sadlers Creek is #76.


Central and northwestern South Carolina is known as Upcountry. Hilly, lots of waterfalls and great hiking and even some whitewater rafting. A huge bucket list item for me for a very long time has been a whitewater rafting trip. And we finally did it. NOC (Nantahala Outdoor Center) Adventures took us on a 5 hour trip on the Chatooga River. 

Mango and June - second row
What an adventure!! We were outfitted with helmets and flotation devices and watched a video on how to correctly float through a rapids in the event we had exited the raft. We were paired with Mark and Meg, a couple from northern Georgia and our guide Will. We really had a good time and the NOC folks make sure to add some fun activities into the trip as well. They even provide lunch, so we pulled aside about 45 minutes into the trip for sandwiches and snacks. The trip is considered a Class III but there were two Class IV rapids on our trip. We learned that the level of rapids is graded by level of difficulty and risk involved. We started out a little nervous/anxious but Will did a great job in explaining how we would conquer the tough rapids and have fun along the way. Excellent experience and one that would definitely be fun to do again. Oh yeah, and neither of us exited the raft!


We are now in North Carolina and will have our first night here which means we earn another state sticker. We’ll work our way across the state, back towards the coast to experience the Outer Banks.


And that river featured in Deliverance? Why of course, it was the Chatooga.




Monday, June 29, 2020

The things you find…or not

When we were planning the Oconee area of South Carolina, we knew this area had its share of waterfalls. The reviews said that they are beautiful but can be a bit remote. They lied, they’re a LOT remote. There were a couple of the trails where being half mountain goat would have been a distinct advantage. But they did tell the truth about them being beautiful. We even came across an added bonus, but more on that in a minute.

First up, Issaqueena Falls. These falls were super simple to find and navigate to. In fact, they were about three miles down the road from the campground we were staying in. Now, if only some of the others were that easy.

June enjoying Issaqueena Falls

Right in the same little park area of the Issaqueena Falls, is the Stumphouse Tunnel. It was started in the late 1800’s and was going to be a railroad tunnel, until the work stopped right about the time of the Civil War due to the high cost of tunneling. So they just abandoned it. It’s now a tourist attraction and you can walk into it as far as a big fence about 100 yards in.

The day we were there, a group of college students was filming scenes for a movie titled ‘The Tunnel’. I think I remember them saying it was based on a Kurosawa film, but I don’t know which one. They were very nice about letting people in while they set up for different shots. The main actor guy was really cool when I asked for a pic.

Quiet on the set!!!

Indiana Jones? He was very nice to let me take a pic

On our way back out of the tunnel, I couldn’t resist. They had been setting up a shot right at the tunnel entrance and were getting pretty close to shooting a scene. So just as we came into the light we were pretty close to where they were setting up. So I fired off my very best pose, and loudly said “Here’s Johnny!” (in reference to the movie Shining), and they all laughed. The director guy laughingly replied that I should get over to makeup and he’d make me a star. Oh well, opportunity missed.

The next set of falls we went to is called Yellow Branch Falls. This was our first taste of challenging hiking. Three miles round trip along the sides of some pretty steep hills. But it was more than worth it. As you can see.
Watch Your Step!

Why move it? Just cut out a section
Yellow Branch Falls

We then went to King’s Creek falls, and the trail from hell. Not all that long in distance, but pretty tough hiking. At one point we had to go over a massive log that was laying across the trail and down into a pretty deep gorge. It wouldn’t have taken much to take a really nasty fall. (It would have been very appropriate to post a “Slippery when wet” sign). But again, it was worth the work as the falls are beautiful.
Mountain Goat Trail!

Kings Creek Falls

Our last falls were the WhiteWater Falls. These falls are actually in North Carolina, but just by a little. It was an easy walk to get to the upper lookout, but to get the really good shots, you had to go down (and back up) 154 steps. Let me tell you, that will definitely get your heart pumping!
This was the easy shot!

This was the Cardiac Arrest shot!

We also tried to find a set of falls called Spoonauger Falls, but never found them. We must have hiked two miles looking all over the place for them, but with no luck. (Turn right at the falls sign after you cross the creek. Yeah, not really helpful.)


Outside mornings.

I have a favorite thing when it comes to camping. It doesn’t really have a name but I’ll call it outside mornings.


We had an outside morning on last Friday. It was beautiful start to the day. We were sitting outside with our coffee and tea. There was a slight chill yet in the air but nothing a soft flannel shirt and slippers can’t fix.


I think it’s a combination of the smells and sounds. In the site next to us, those folks were in a tent and their fire was going already. I love the smell of a campfire and if there’s bacon simmering in a cast iron skillet, even better. Close your eyes for a moment … I bet you can smell that bacon.


For sounds, well honestly, there are very few and that feels amazing. Birds mostly, some crickets, a few leaves rustling here or there, children in the distance with an occasional scream of delight (or cry). A car door, maybe a car going by. And voices. I can’t make out the conversations, but I imagine it’s important stuff like one egg or two, over easy or over well and did you remember to bring the ketchup.


We haven’t had the chance to do this yet on this trip. It was the first morning we’ve been able to sit outside. Our last site for example was in a gully and there had been a lot of rain at night. Our site was muddy and wet the whole time we were there.


Mango learned to love camping as a boy scout (I really did. I can remember having some epic campouts where we slept on the ground, froze to death, heat beyond belief, ate really bad food, rain, bugs, etc. Yep, epic times). I imagine his 10 or 11 year old mind was just as inquisitive then as it is now (inquisitive about what?). Our family did some camping too and it usually accompanied a canoe trip on a long weekend. As I watch those tent campers, only now can I appreciate all the work it must have been for my Mom to get ready to go and then again when we got home.

Our adventures here included chasing the perfect waterfall so there was hiking and lots of pictures taken. More on that in the next post. Oh, and a tunnel too.

Stumphouse Tunnel


Edna continues to be a perfect companion as we work our way around the Carolinas. We may be traveling in what tent campers call luxury, but we’re all the same during that morning cup of coffee sitting outside and listening.





Tuesday, June 23, 2020

'Soda City', South Carolina

Today we spent the day wandering in Columbia, South Carolina, also known to the locals as "Soda City." Note that no inventing or manufacturing of soda ever happened here and that the nickname actually comes from an early abbreviation of Columbia, or "Cola."

We discovered a small park and this memorial to Jack Linwood Van Loan. His name probably won't ring a bell but the place 'Maison Centrale' might. Can you guess what it's more notable name is? 

This city likes its murals so any respectable adventure blog will include them. And what's not to like about a quirky statue of the world's largest fire hydrant? Standing almost 40 ft tall, it comes complete with signs that say "no dogs within 50 ft."

If you're a 90's music fan, you may recall that Hootie and the Blowfish are from Columbia, South Carolina. A rather unimpressive statue awaits any fan and thankfully it's a freebie. Their debut album Cracked Rear View was pretty darn good in my opinion. Can you name any of their tunes? Next trivia question - the band's lead vocalist started a solo r&b career, then later hit the country charts. Who was it?

I had my first ice cream of the trip and the butter pecan cookie waffle cone did not disappoint. Mango held off on the ice cream but did try a vegan sloppy joe that he said was very good. Needless to say, I don't need to worry about making dinner.

We wandered around Mast General Store and found a jigsaw puzzle we had to have then it was back to the campground just in time for happy hour. We were disappointed to learn that the campground is not renting out kayaks right now as we were looking forward to some time on the pond before we move on. But the 2 mile loop around the pond (last picture) is available if exercising makes it to the top of the priority list.

'Maison Centrale' is better known as the Hanoi Hilton. Van Loan was a POW there for 6 years along with fellow inmate John McCain. Darius Rucker was the lead singer for Hootie and the Blowfish.


Jack Van Loan

Hootie and the Blowfish monument

Tunnel Vision Mural

Neverbust Chain mural

Neverbust Chain - created in 2000 by local artist Blue Sky

Sunday, June 21, 2020

The 'Edge of America'

There is a place in South Carolina nicknamed the 'Edge of America.' Without googling it, do you know where it is?

We've spent a few nice days in the Charleston area. This has been on my bucket list for a long time and it didn't disappoint. It reminds me somewhat of Savannah with maybe a little New Orleans thrown in. We visited all the things on our list that we wanted to including City Market, The Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon, Old Slave Mart, King Street and of course Fort Sumter. Thankfully these places were open but the restrictions were reasonable.

Sweetwater Baskets
Our visit to this area correlated with Juneteenth so how apropos .. the end of slavery celebrated in a city where slavery once thrived. Did you know that 40% of all slaves entered the U.S. at Charleston? That slaves were once sold in the streets until that was banned and it needed to be done indoors? I wouldn't say those museums were fun but necessary to fully understand that time period and how important it was to Charleston. 
Slave Mart

We enjoyed browsing at City Market and saw vendors making sweetwater baskets. I had no idea that they command $250 and up though they are pretty cool. (No I didn't get one). On a more cost effective note, I did purchase a package of benne wafers and thought they were pretty good. 

We had a beautiful day for a boat ride and visit to Fort Sumter. I think $24 per person is steep to visit a free National Park but we did it. You may recall I have a National Park passbook and collect the medallions. (You know ... all the kids do it). 

We had lunch at Hyman's on Meeting Street. Now truly .. what is not to like about hush puppies and crab cakes? Mango also had buffalo shrimp which was really good. 

Fort Sumter
The campground we stayed at was quiet and uneventful. It was a 25 minute drive from downtown and worked out well for adventuring. Probably wouldn't stay there again but that's another whole story. I've taken up writing reviews of campgrounds and restaurants. I have a collection in Yelp called Mango and June and am at 48 reviews written. I haven't been as faithful with campground reviews, 39 to date but we've been to 74. Yes, I'll get better at that.

So, the Edge of America? Folly Beach on Folly Island. It's a tourist trap not unlike Tybee Island. We had a really nice afternoon. We walked the beach for awhile til our paid parking expired. On the Mango and June beach scale it rates a 5.2. (You have to remember we live across the street from best beach in Florida so the grading scale is quite steep.)

Next, we're on to Columbia and another national park. 

Thursday, June 18, 2020

And we're back.

Back out adventuring in Edna that is.

Brunswick, GA

Before you start talking about social distancing, mask wearing and all that other stuff - yes, we are careful and will head home if a serious second wave of illness strikes.

That said, this trip starts out all about the Carolinas. It will be much more than that but we plan to cover both South and North Carolina in depth. Lots of bucket list items here for me ... Charleston, the Biltmore, waterfalls and white water rafting. Yes - we are going to do a rafting trip.

So we are armed with cameras, day packs and lots of ideas of things to see and do. I saw that City Market in Charleston is reopening today, yay! There will still be things that are closed or have limitations but we will enjoy this trip despite those little blips. It's our third big trip and we both think we've mastered what works well for us. 

Now, if I can only remember to turn off the a/c when I turn on the new Cuisinart oven, we'll be golden!


The Battle of Bull Sluice

The morning dawns clear and cold, the crickets are silent as even they know what’s in the offing. The breeze stirs a bit as if to mark the ...