There are few experiences I’ve enjoyed in my life more than travel. To me, they’re the longer versions of the weekend, of which I’ve also been a big fan.
Often, I’ll get the question as to why, at 70, I still work full time. Like a lot of life’s decisions we make, actually, there’s more than one reason. I suppose one is habit, since working is something I’ve done since the age of 14 when, two years after I was actually legally allowed to obtain a work permit, I thinned corn on an experimental farm in addition to mowing many a summer lawn and shoveling quite a few winter driveways. Another reason I still work is because I’ve been blessed with both mental and physical health. When so many others my age and even younger are not able, I can.
However, there’s another very important reason. Truth be told, never in my life have I ever experienced that special joy of wrapping up a good week of work or, once-upon-my-teaching times, that last day before Christmas or summer vacation. Of course, the ends of school years weren’t vacation gateways but a chance to work another job for the city of Lima Parks and Recreation and take on some extra bartending shifts until it was time to head back to school.
When it comes to my leisurely travels, for more than 20 years, those have been enhanced by my Lady Jane, who’s been in the passenger seat gleefully studying her map and entertaining me with her occasional chirps.
So, on the day after Christmas a few weeks ago, having secured a rental from Vacation Rentals by Owners, we began our trip to Hilton Head Island, a place we’ve visited several times through the years on the week between Santa’s arrival and the arrival of that New Year’s baby with the top hat sporting the next year’s numerals.
I was using my final vacation days my company affords, which always sweetens a vacation experience, when some of the travel expenses can be offset by paid vacation days. Our overnight layover was in Asheville, N.C., which would allow some time to check off one of Jane’s desires, spending some time at South Carolina’s only national park, Congaree, less than 200 miles from Asheville and only about 150 miles from Hilton Head.
As for Congaree, the highlight besides the fact that there is free admission is the 2.6-mile Boardwalk Trail, which put us above the abundant wetlands that stretched out below, marshes liberally dotted by bald cypress trees, water tupelos and loblolly pines that reach to dizzying heights and are hundreds of years old. We were especially impressed with the views of Weston Lake from the boardwalk.
Following a sumptuous picnic table lunch right out of one of a road trip’s best assets, our cooler filled with our favorites, it was off to complete our journey to the island named for Captain William Hilton, who identified a headland close to the entry to Port Royal Sound in 1663.
It was indeed Hilton’s Port Royal Sound part of the island that he first spotted where we would be staying. For all who’ve visited Hilton Head, and Ohioans have a long history of flocking to the island, it’s a well-known fact that the island’s configuration resembles a tennis shoe, with the toe of the shoe being Harbour Town to the south. Well, Port Royal Sound on the opposite end, above the shoe’s heel.
After a monstrous traffic jam on Interstate 95, one that extended off Exit 28 onto Route 462 and again onto Route 170 and yet again onto U.S. 278 that comes onto the island, a jam that pushed an original Garman ETA from 3:30 p.m. to 7:30, we wearily pulled our bags and cooler into the condo in The Spa at Port Royal.
The length and depth of the traffic jam onto the island would prove to be an early indication as to how Hilton Head has changed since our earlier trips there between Christmas and New Year’s in the early 2000s. While the island wasn’t deserted, there were far, far fewer people walking the beaches, using the bike paths and driving the streets than what we experienced this time.
One thing that hadn’t changed about the island, and I would discover this in trying to find our way to our rental after dark on the drive in, was the absence of any significant lighting. For those of you who’ve visited, I think you’ll agree that trying to find your way around at night unless you’re a native is like being in a cave without a lantern.
By week’s end in our condo, I had accumulated quite a list of improvements should the VRBO folks send me a survey (which they ultimately did). A new mattress for the one I found way too soft, a new couch in the living area to replace the one with a sagging seating surface and a TV guide that would make finding programming were three such items I shared, along with a couple other what I think would be upgrades.
Realizing I’ve done my fair share of complaining this week, let me focus on the positives next week as I wrap up my latest travel log.
John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News, a division of AIM Media Midwest, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at [email protected]