2011 Road Trip Days 11 and 12 – Charleston to Pensacola

6 minute read

Roads: US-17/I-95/US-1/I-10
Miles: 634
Time: 12 hours

Wednesday was a rest day in Charleston. While I had a list on my itinerary of things I wanted to see and do in Charleston, I apparently forgot to look at it completely and instead did other things. The first was go for a run at 7:30 in the morning along the seawall. I have always thought if I lived in an ocean city, I’d run more just because it’s infinitely more enjoyable running along the ocean than it is slogging through random neighborhoods back home. The seawall in Charleston was built in the 1800s along the rivers which allowed the people to reclaim quite a bit of the peninsula where downtown Charleston now sits. I’m not sure about the wisdom of such ideas but it appears to have worked out for them so far.

The Vendue Inn is a bed and breakfast of sorts so I had breakfast in the Library, the hotel restaurant. It’s a quaint little place with good views of the street outside in a few of the rooms. It’s not one big open place but instead is clearly a modification of previous architecture to hold tables in a variety of smaller rooms.

After breakfast, I headed for Patriots’ Point where the USS Yorktown is moored. Two years ago on a similar trip to Corpus Christi, I visited the USS Lexington and 6 years ago, I saw the USS Intrepid in New York City. I guess I’m out to see all the old carriers from World War II. I had planned to go on the Fort Sumter tour but felt like I would enjoy the carrier more. As it turns out, if you’ve seen one carrier, you’ve seen them all in a lot of ways but it had great Navy and Marine planes in the hangar bay and on the deck. The history of the Charleston naval base is worth the trip as well.

They have a submarine at Patriots’ Point, the USS Clamagore which is included in the ticket price. Now THAT was a new experience, one I don’t expect to repeat soon. It’s hard to explain how cramped the space was. I kept trying to figure out where 80 men lived and worked but the placards kept saying it was right where I was standing. I’m assuming the inside has been slightly modified just to included some exhibit information but overall, I can see why submariners on leave might act slightly crazy. It’s hard to fathom how brave men like that must have been 70 years ago to climb on a boat of that size and deploy to sea for what must have been weeks at a time.

There are several other attractions at Patriots’ Point but after a few hours on the Yorktown, I was ready to move on. I went to the South Carolina Aquarium next which is a quality aquarium. As a bonus, when you go on Wednesday when school is in, you’re likely to be one of about 5 people in the entire place so you get it to yourself. As you walk through, the aquarium tells a story from the river ecosystems of the mountains and piedmont sections of the state all the way down to the ocean ecosystems. They have a rare albino alligator who was rescued from a nest in Louisiana and purchased by the South Carolina Aquarium when it became apparent that he couldn’t be housed in a normal alligator enclosure due to his inability to stand long periods of sunlight.

The aquarium has river otters which are always inveterate entertainers. They have quite a few sections dedicated to kids and their education including a place to touch rays. The main tank is one of the biggest in the country and houses over 750 fish. It’s 42 feet deep and holds 385,000 gallons of water. They have daily scuba dives that are educational in nature where the divers are miked and talk a little bit about the aquarium tank. On my trip, since it was the holidays, they had Scuba Claus which entailed the diver dressed up as Santa Claus. I’m sure he was thrilled. But it was fun for the few parents and kids there.

After the Aquarium, I just walked around Charleston looking at the magnificent homes in the area. Strolling down Church Street, I’d guess that 90% of the homes are designated as historic in some way. I ate dinner at High Cotton which is highly recommended. You’ll probably need reservations on the weekends but it’s worth it. It’s pricier than some restaurants in the area as well.

Thursday, the road trip resumed. I had struggled with the next destination. The initial plan was to go to St. Augustine for the World Golf Hall of Fame. But Wednesday night, I felt more tired of the routine than I had and went to bed thinking I would just turn for home. Luckily, when I woke up, my mood had improved and I decided not to change the itinerary just because I’d had one bad mood. The drive to St. Augustine along US-17 and I-95 is similar to other coastal drives in this area. The roads are lined with pines and most of the scenery involves either the craziness of roadside attractions in rural South Carolina or construction. There was a 12-15 mile stretch of construction along US-17 which greatly slowed things down but overall, the trip was pleasant. At a gas station at the US-17 and I-95 juncture, an older couple had locked their keys in the car. It was clear they didn’t have a lot of money and instead of calling a locksmith, the old man borrowed a heavy ax from someone else at the store to break his window. I left before that happened but it was interesting to experience.

Getting closer to Florida, the landscape tends to open up in to broad coastal river plains. There still isn’t much to see at 75 miles an hour but it’s an improvement over the claustrophobic feeling of the pines.

The World Golf Hall of Fame is a neat place, one worth visiting if you’re in the area but probably not worth the 300 miles it took me out of my way. Plan to spend at least 3 or 4 hours there if you want to get the full experience. I’d recommend the audio tour even though I didn’t do it and in fact, no one else in the place did either. It wasn’t even mentioned at the front. However, without it, you resort to reading lots of little plaques about things and it’s not as enjoyable. I had a limited amount of time since I wanted to head farther west but if I go back, I’ll do the audio tour.

They have a challenge green and a putting course which are included in the price of the ticket. On the challenge course, you have 2 balls to hit at a peninsula green 135 yards away. If you get both on the green, you win a small prize and if you get a hole in one, you win a trip to next year’s Players Championship. I got both on the green but didn’t get a hole in one, unfortunately. The putting course would be fun with friends but I didn’t feel like I had the time.

I headed west with the goal of reaching Mobile by about 10 PM. Unfortunately, the car had other plans and cratered briefly on me outside Pensacola. I got it started again and managed to get into Pensacola for the night. I’m hoping the repairs are reasonably easy not to mention cheap since this road trip is starting to add up in costs.

Today was one of the bigger driving days, if not the biggest. It sucks that it ended on such a poor note but these are the chances you take when you embark on a trip like this. My car is pretty reliable and people make longer trips regularly with far less dependable cars. I’m looking forward to getting back on the road and into my home town by Saturday afternoon. That will be 14 days on the road, something I’ve never done on any vacation. It’s been a fascinating and enlightening experience. I’ve learned a great deal about the world and a great deal about myself.