Today was what’s known as a logistics day. On any road trip there’s always a day (or two) when you simply need to cover the distance to make the plan as a whole work. I started in Wilmington North Carolina this morning and needed to end up in Anderson, South Carolina, by the end of the day. To make things a bit more interesting I wanted to go via a beach, to see the Atlantic Ocean properly, but this added even more distance on. In total, I had to manage just over 370 miles today.
The beach I chose to go via was Myrtle Beach in South Carolina. I primarily picked this one because there was a medium-sized state park situated on the coast. This meant there was a fair chance I could avoid the Blackpool-esque promenade and attractions that typically come with any East Coast seaside resort. We take the sea for granted in the UK as we’re never really that far from it. In the US you have to remember that the majority of states are landlocked, and for some it can be a drive of over a thousand miles to get to anything resembling a coastline. It’s for this reason that the seaside ‘resort’ is still a very big thing.
The sun had decided to up its game today, probably to make up for the fact it’s going to be blotted out on Monday, and by the time I got to the state park (shortly before 11am) the temperature was already pushing 100F. State parks are the premium economy of US public parks (For reference: Economy = County or City Park; Premium Economy = State Park; Business = National Recreation Area or National Forest;
First = National Park; Private Jet = Yellowstone) and this one lived up to the billing. There was a small entrance fee for parking but otherwise you could wander round several acres of forest and beachfront unimpeded. If you wanted to undertake any kind of fishing or hunting you had to purchase one of several permits and if you wanted to live in the park in your RV it cost a bit more.
There’s a set of rules for what information state and national parks have to display about themselves and for this one it was no different. Even though it is,by definition, a beach park, it is still necessary to display its elevation above sea-level. I presume they measured to halfway up the sign:
You might think that this could be the record for the lowest altitude state park in the United States but I know there are some inland areas out west that are significantly below sea level.
Wandering around the shore-based park area was a bit eerie. While the parking lots were all packed full of cars the park itself was deserted. There was nobody to be seen. I wandered towards the beach and it soon became apparent where everybody was:
The beach was very much the selling point. As far as I could see in either direction there was a wide sandy foreshore covered in people with sun-loungers or parasols. There was a single pier that headed a fair way out to sea which seemed to be where you went if you wanted to do some sea fishing. The whole setup brought to mind the resort that’s the subject of the original ‘Jaws’ film – although i couldnt find the slightly-crazy local mayor. It was just a bit strange to see so many people sitting on the shoreline in the baking heat. Growing up in the UK, the seaside was always a place that you associated with the word ‘bracing’, whatever time of year you visited.
Anyway, I was a British person at the seaside so I had to do the four standard things:
- Go for a paddle.
- Have an Ice Cream.
- Walk along the pier.
- Buy a tacky souvenir.
Point one on this list was something of a revelation. Again, primarily because I grew up in the UK, ‘going for a paddle’ usually consisted of five minutes of getting ready for the paddle (shoes off, socks off, trousers rolled up, trying to avoid walking on any stones on the way down the beach) followed by six seconds of actually being in the sea, one minute running back up the beach screaming how cold it was, fifteen minutes trying to restore circulation to your feet and then several months of touch-and-go therapy to try and reverse the severe frost-bite in your toes. At Myrtle Beach however the water was actually warm. Warm. Warmer than an indoor swimming pool. As warm as a hot tub. Although it may sound a bit stupid given how far south I was it really did take me by surprise. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a warm sea before.
I headed up to the pier and walked through the tacky souvenir shop to the ice cream stand. I was impressed at the vaguely proper ice creams they were serving – with cones and everything! The US sometimes struggle with how to do a ‘proper’ ice cream but not in this case:
Now, another thing I’ve never done before is attempt to eat an ice cream in nearly 40 degree heat. The simple process of taking the above picture led to pretty-much half the ice cream ending up in a melted puddle on the floor and the overall effect was what I image happens if you put an ice cream into a microwave. This probably goes some way to explaining why I was the only person on the beach who’d actually bought one. Ice cream gone, I walked to the far end of the pier and back and idly wondered if, having seen all the signs about shark-fishing plastered along said pier, I would still be happy to repeat my earlier paddle.
I walked back through the souvenir store and picked up a suitably tacky souvenir:
Satisfied that I’d had the full seaside experience I made my way back to the car and steeled myself for the five hours of driving that lay ahead.
Tomorrow I only need to cover a third of the distance that I did today but I’ll be going through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I don’t know why they’re called that but I’m presuming it doesn’t mean that they’re constantly on fire, as the ones up in the state of Oregon seem to be at the moment. Only one way to find out…