If you visited this blog in the spring, you may know that I've already been to the Beaufort, SC area for a few days this year. However, on this visit, I did get to tour the famous Penn School for a few hours where I learned plenty about the Gullah Culture that is fighting to remain intact on St. Helena Island. My greeter was an 88-year old former student who was a wealth of information. For one, historically, it was common for plantation owners to leave during "fever season" (April - November), so the Gullah people lived largely on their own. This factor, along with the isolation of the area, is why their strong African cultural influences remained intact for so many centuries.
Besides the need for a little more tourist time, I also wanted to check out the town of Beaufort as a possible living spot. During my first few days, it was 85+ degrees with 97% humidity, and I was shaking my head at the thought that it was October and I was melting. This has since decreased significantly, but not without leaving me with the realization that while there is water, water everywhere, there is very little ocean access. The reality is that the one ocean spot, Hunting Island State Park, has been closed on and off for a year due to hurricane damage, and it is the only Atlantic Ocean beach within a 20-mile radius of Beaufort. If I chose to be on the water, this would be a wonderful location, but it's not an option for me as a shore walker, sea floater, lover of the sandy ocean beachfront.
The quite extensive Beaufort historic district is just delightful and well worth a few afternoon walks. Yet, after 4-5 days in Beaufort on foot and by bike, I'm still not sure I know where the "regular people" live. This is a wonderful, scenic area that is not yet overdeveloped, and has an abundance of history, some well-preserved cultural aspects, friendly locals, scenic bike routes, and great food. I want to love it enough to move here, but it just hasn't clicked!
While searching for coastal camping along the Carolina shores, I stumbled upon a spot that was new to me -- Bear Island. Unfortunately, I don't have the gear to "carry in & out" (I need a backpacking tent!), so I chose a site on the mainland to visit the Swansboro, NC area. The campground is more of an RV park, and the few other tent campers were in and out in a night. I slept there but didn't feel like I had a camping experience, or much to chat about with folks.
Swansboro, one of the oldest towns in North Carolina (1783), sits along the White Oak River, and is quite charming for an afternoon stroll. However, most of what's been preserved is 19th and early 20th century in this town of 2,900 people. The culture of the mainland area is dominated by its proximity to Camp Lejeune, and I will say, NOT bike friendly. Putting up "Share the Road" signs on a 4-lane high-speed route with no shoulder does NOT make you bike friendly!
The majority of my week was spent in two places -- Emerald Isle and Hammocks Beach State Park. Cycling days were along the "Emerald Path," a paved multi-use trail that runs the entire 13 miles of this coastal town. The beach was quite appealing, as was a free Beach Music Festival I stumbled upon. When I arrived, a band from Charlotte called Too Much Sylvia, were playing a BeeGees medley. Did I die and go to heaven? I'm hiring these guys for my next party!
My other spot, the State Park, is actually four separate areas, a mainland with a visitor's center and gorgeous views, as well as three islands. You can canoe/kayak to the islands or take the park ferry to Bear Island, a pristine 892-acre barrier island with four miles of sandy beach and maritime forest. The island has a very interesting history as well; it's the only place I've been where integration meant you had to let the white people in! It's secluded and tranquil, and on a Sunday in October, there were less than a dozen people in sight all day.
My week was up and down, but camping on Bear Island remains on the list of experiences I look forward to in the near future. As I drove south, however, it took three Motown Classics CDs for me to get my groove back.
Cyclist, writer, teacher, avid reader, bike/ped advocate, nomad, pie lover