John Grindrod: Post-Christmas Trips to a Very Different Hilton Head
There are few experiences that I have enjoyed in my life more than travel. For me, it’s the longer weekend releases, which I’ve also been a big fan of.
Often people ask me why, at 70, I still work full time. Like many life decisions we make, in fact, there is more than one reason. I guess it’s a habit, since working is something I’ve been doing since I was 14 when, two years after I was legally allowed to get a work permit, I thinned corn on an experimental farm in Wapak in addition to mowing many summer lawns and shoveling a few winter driveways. Another reason I’m still working is because I’m blessed with mental and physical health. When so many others my age and even younger can’t, I can.
However, there is another very important reason. To tell the truth, never in my life have I felt that special joy of ending a good week at work or, once in my teaching time, that last day before Christmas or summer vacation. Of course, the end of the school years were not vacation gateways, but a chance to work another job for the City of Lima Parks and Recreation and work additional bartending shifts until it’s time to go back to school.
As far as my leisurely journeys go, for over 20 years these have been enhanced by my Lady Jane, who sat in the passenger seat, happily studying her map and entertaining me with her occasional chirp.
So on Boxing Day a few weeks ago, after securing a rental from Vacation Rentals by Owners, we began our trip to Hilton Head Island, a place we have visited many times over the years, the week between the arrival of Santa Claus and the arrival of that New Year’s Eve baby with the top hat emblazoned with next year’s numbers.
I was using my last vacation days offered by my company, which always sweetens a vacation experience, while some travel expenses can be offset with paid vacation days. Our overnight stopover was in Asheville, North Carolina, which would allow some time to fulfill one of Jane’s desires, to spend time in South Carolina’s only national park, Congaree, unless 200 miles from Asheville and only 150 miles from Hilton Head.
As for Congaree, the highlight besides the fact that there is free entry is the 2.6-mile Boardwalk trail, which puts us above the abundant wetlands that stretch below, generously dotted marshes bald cypresses, water tupelos and loblolly pines that reach to dizzying heights and are hundreds of years old. We were particularly impressed with the view of Lake Weston from the boardwalk.
After a sumptuous lunch at the picnic table just outside one of the best parts of a road trip, our cooler filled with our favorites, it’s off to complete our journey to the island named in l honor of Captain William Hilton, who identified a promontory near the entrance to Port. Royal Sound in 1663.
It was indeed the part of Hilton’s Port Royal Sound island that he first spotted where we would be staying. For anyone who has visited Hilton Head, and Ohioans have a long history of influx to the island, it is a well-known fact that the island’s layout resembles a tennis shoe, the tip of the shoe being Harbor Town to the south. Well, Port Royal Sound on the opposite side above the heel of the shoe.
After a monstrous traffic jam on Interstate 95, one that stretched from exit 28 on route 462 and back on route 170 and again on US 278 coming to the island, a traffic jam that has Pushed an original Garman ETA from 3:30 p.m. to 7:30 a.m., we wearily dragged our bags and cooler into the Spa condo at Port Royal.
The length and depth of traffic jams on the island would prove to be a first indication of how Hilton Head has changed since our previous trips here between Christmas and New Years in the early 2000s. was not deserted, there were far, far fewer people walking the beaches, using the bike lanes and driving the streets than we experienced this time.
One thing that hadn’t changed on the island, and I would find out when trying to find our way to our rental after dark, was the absence of any significant lighting. For those of you who have visited, I think you will agree that trying to get your bearings at night unless you are a native is like being in a cave without a lantern.
By the end of the week in our condo, I had amassed a whole list of improvements if the folks at VRBO sent me a survey (which they eventually did). A new mattress for the one I found far too soft, a new couch in the living room to replace the one with a sagging seating surface, and a TV guide that would help find programs were three such items I shared , plus a few other what I think would be upgrades.
Realizing that I’ve had my fair share of complaints this week, let me focus on the positives next week as I finish my final travel diary.
Congaree National Park Wetlands in South Carolina was part of a trip in December.
John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News, freelance writer and editor, and author of two books. Contact him at [email protected]