Monday, March 9, 2015

South Carolina Recap

When Michael and I sat down to plan our marathons for 2015, there were a lot of factors to consider. Cost is obviously one of the biggest (vacation time being a close second).

We usually try to be pretty frugal on these trips, but we both thought taking an extended trip to South Carolina in the middle of winter sounded like an awesome idea. (Of course, neither of us expected temps would range in the 30s-40s after race day, or travel would be disrupted due to ice. But I suppose it was warmer than the -20 plus windchill at home!)

One of the things I'm most excited about now that I'm moving to Ohio is no longer having to play airport tag to get us to the same place at the same time. I love trip planning and finding good flight itineraries, but trying to find two inexpensive options is a huge pain. (CLE is surprisingly small, and most flights are on baby planes express aircraft, which is way different than DTW!)

However, I think I did a good job setting up this trip. We both departed our respective home airports at the same time to CLT (juvenile, but this is a horrible airport code!), where we would be on the same flight to Florence.

Never heard of Florence? Neither had I, but it was less than a two hour drive to Myrtle Beach, way cheaper than flying into MYR on a "weekend" day, and the rental car was the same price. I thought it was pretty cool, because it was my second time on a propeller plane. (Michael was not much of a fan, though.)

Skies were clear, so I had some great views for our puddle-jumper. Our flight time was about 30 minutes, with less than an hour on the plane, but two women still got up to use the bathroom and got scolded by the flight attendant for violating the seatbelt sign. Seriously, people, I have to pee all the time, and I was fine!

Despite a bathroom stop after landing, we beat everyone to the rental car counter and were in and out in seriously 30 seconds. However, we discovered the second worst car ever. (First is the Kia Rio, and I don't think anything can seriously contend for its spot.) It was an Avenger, which I had never driven, but it looked like a classic sedan and had tons of trunk space, so I figured it was fine. Nope.

First of all, the keys went in next to the wheel, not on it, which drove me crazy. The brake was also way higher than the gas pedal, so while my foot would hit it automatically, I would only catch the very bottom, and it made me nervous about what would happen if I really had to stomp on the brakes suddenly. The wheel was also huge to the point that it was uncomfortable for me to turn. (On top of all this, we discovered the headlights were out that evening, so I proceeded to do all night driving with my brights. I felt like the biggest asshole ever blinding everyone on the road.)

Once I figured out how to maneuver the awful car around, we made it to FATZ, an American-style restaurant in a converted Texas Roadhouse. The food was super good, but it also introduced us to a common problem on the trip - understanding the locals. I found one of the hardest things was to determine whether someone was asking a question or making a statement. I felt like I was back in Germany, blindly answering yes at what were hopefully appropriate times.

Now full, we took off for Myrtle Beach. I had re-listened to Marathon Training Academy's podcast on the Myrtle Beach Marathon, and I knew we were supposed to avoid Conway because of traffic. However, I forgot the number of the Conway Bypass, and none of the signs named it as such, so we ended up spending at least an extra 30-40 minutes crawling through Conway.

Luckily our hotel was at the very tip of Myrtle Beach, so we thought we were set. Turns out the check-in desk in the off-season is only open across the street, but we eventually figured it out and got our keys. Our room was a little pricey, but the view was awesome!

If only it had been warm enough to sit outside....
We then headed to the expo at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center. The location is changing next year, but we really struggled to find the entrance to the parking lot, plus it was $3 to park. It was not advertised that parking was cash-only, and neither Michael nor I usually carry cash, but luckily I had some from when I thought I might need to park at the MSU basketball game.

The expo had a nice layout and wasn't very packed, but it seemed like all the Southerners liked to stand in massive groups and chat, volunteers looking as if this were not an issue, and I started to feel pretty claustrophobic. I was also edging towards hangry at this point, especially after the Conway driving and messing with the hotel, so we just grabbed our stuff and left.

We found a cafe for dinner, and after 10 minutes of trying to park, we found out there was a significant wait time. I was about ready to cry at this point, so we broke our no-chains rule and went to Fuddruckers across the street. I felt significantly better afterwards.

Michael and I headed back to the hotel and had a relatively restless night of sleep. If you're 25 and have your pick of hotels in Myrtle Beach, do not stay at the Crown Reef Resort. The other guests were incredibly noisy, and I felt pretty nervous around most of them. That being said, despite the sleeping troubles, I went on to have a great race the next day. You can read all about it in my race recap.

Jumping ahead to Saturday afternoon, we both tried to take a post-race nap. However, the screaming/running family from the night before was at it again, so we didn't sleep much. Surprisingly, we both felt pretty good without one.

We headed off to Mellow Mushroom for dinner (okay, they're a regional chain, so they get a pass on the no-chains rule) and fell in love. The appetizer pretzels were so good, and the pizza was too.

Satisfied, we drove back towards the race start for the Carolina Opry.

Tickets were a little bit on the pricey side, but a friend had gone the past fall and said it was well worth it. I wasn't quite sure what an Opry was, but it turned out to be a variety show, mostly made up of singing. There was also some pre-show entertainment, which was a nice touch. The show was about 2.5 hours, including intermission, which was just about the perfect runtime.

I did feel a little lost when they had some traditional country or very South Carolina-y segments (in fact, the first song was about how it's okay not everyone watches NASCAR...uh....), but it was definitely appropriate for the venue. I did get a little weirded out when we ended with God Bless America, but I guess it comes with the territory.

Sunday our mission was to head out of Myrtle Beach to the Brookgreen Gardens about 30 minutes south. It was in the 30s, but sunny, so it was still pretty nice at the Gardens, even though all the local docents were freezing.

We watched the introductory film (one of my favorite things!), and it did a good job explaining the history of the place. Apparently a billionaire from New York was looking for somewhere warmer to bring his wife to treat her TB, and he bought four abandoned plantations. His wife was an accomplished sculptor, so together they constructed the gardens and filled them with her artwork.

Despite the "inclement" weather, they were still running their tours of the Sculpture Gardens. The tour ended up being the two of us, plus a man from Illinois, so we all thought it was very pleasant out, but the docent cut it short since it was so cold for her. It was pretty neat, though, because she was also training to be a plant docent, so she pointed out a myrtle bush to us.

But for real, you named a beach after this?
I'm glad we went, because I would have missed so much without someone to explain it to me. I'm not a huge art person, but I can appreciate it, and I got a lot more out of our visit with the docent's help.

This is the "Grand Canyon" of American sculpture. Who knew?
After the sculpture tour, I dragged Michael over to the zoo for that tour. The "zoo" was pretty small but contained almost all native animals, which is my favorite kind. We both loved the small Fargo zoo, because it had lots of cold-weather animals we had never even heard of before, let alone seen.

Ok, I have seen red foxes before, but they're so cute!
This docent was actually from New England, so she had no issues with the cold. The theme of the tour was feeding the animals, which was awesome to see. The docent was super knowledgeable, and I really enjoyed learning more about South Carolina fauna from her.

There was one very sad bird outside the enclosure watching the zoo birds get fed.
The zoo is set off in the woods, so we were sheltered from the wind, but my face and toes were still pretty numb when we were done. Michael insisted we needed to go back to the sculpture garden before, which was a little irritating, but he loves gardens, so I figured I could suck it up for 20 more minutes.

I had a feeling something was up all day, but I knew when Michael led me back to an area of the garden we had already been that we weren't back at the gardens to see more art. This is when he ended up proposing!

In front of a pretty cool statue, no less.
After I said yes (which I forgot to do until Michael prompted me!), we ran back to the car to warm up. Our first meal as an engaged couple was at the Dead Dog Saloon, of all places, but my crab cakes was super good, and the dog theme was pretty cute.

Our plan had been to maybe walk on the beach and swim at the hotel, but instead we had phone calls to make! That ended up taking quite awhile, so we decided to be super crazy that evening and just get Mellow Mushroom take-out (with pretzels, obviously) and rented Guardians of the Galaxy to watch in the room. Normally I freak out about changing the itinerary (or just relaxing on a trip), but this was a perfect night.

After finally getting a good night's sleep, we were up pretty early to head down to Charleston for the day Monday. I got this idea because I thought sneaking down to see Fort Sumter would be fun, and it blossomed when I discovered an awesome aquarium was immediately next to where the tours departed. (Way better than the Ripleys one in Myrtle Beach!) I also found these was another small NPS site on the way, and the day was set.

The drive was super easy and stress-free, except for the little bit in downtown Charleston. Our first stop was the Charles Pinckney National Historic Site. Never heard of him? That's normal, because he's known as the "Forgotten Founder." In fact, all his buildings are gone, so the site is housed at a farmhouse built long after his death on the property.
Not even a traditional sign for him.
We started, of course, with the introductory film, which I found to be a pretty helpful overview. Supposedly he is ranked as the fourth most influential person on the Constitution (though a little sign in the museum made a note that what he actually wrote is hotly contested, since all his papers burned in the Civil War). However, his only role in the Revolution was being a prisoner-of-war, and most of his political work was strictly related to South Carolina. On top of that, he was very pro-slavery his whole life, so I can see why he's been left out of the history books, especially in the North.

I think we were at the site for about 40 minutes and managed to see most of the museum. There was a walk we could have done on the grounds, but almost no other buildings are standing, so I was okay missing this.

We completed the rest of the drive to Charleston and snagged a metered spot for free (since Presidents Day is a city holiday!) and picked up our Fort Sumter tickets. We had ours on will call, but people were still able to get tickets on the spot with 30 minutes before departure. The museum was wall-to-wall people, so we used the bathroom and then got in line to board.

Now that's a sign!
Because it was another cold, windy day, we snagged spots down below and ended up sitting with a nice couple from Toledo. (I did go up on deck for a few minutes to buy a snack, and I almost froze. I don't know how some people were up there the whole time!)

They told us to make sure we went to the Brookgreen Gardens (ha!), but they did show us their pictures from there in the summer. It was cool to see how they looked in full bloom.

The ride was about 30 minutes, and there was a recorded narration that played about the history of Charleston and the fort on the way. I think everyone knows Fort Sumter as this iconic place, but I honestly couldn't tell you much about it, other than the Civil War started there.

We waited a few minutes on the boat once we arrived so the rangers could turn the alarms off, then we were allowed to disembark. The narration talked so much about how the fort was turned to rubble, that I was expecting a pile of rocks, so I was surprised how much was actually left.

However - and I thought this was such a neat interpretation of history! - the visitor center on the mainland was built to the same height as the fort used to be, and this helped me visualize much better how much was missing.

While you can go anywhere in the fort once arriving, Michael and I chose to attend the brief 10 minute ranger talk first. Again, not knowing much about the fort, I found this very informative. Though I did feel out of place when the ranger was throwing out South Carolina related dates that I had no clue about (like the date of secession). This is also when the Civil War started being called the War of Secession. For some reason this really weirded me out. I'm trying to keep an open mind as we get to know the country, but I draw the line there, I guess.

We wandered the fort a little bit, but there's not too much to see now.

Eventually I wimped out and dragged Michael into the museum. This one was obviously much less crowded, so I was able to actually read the exhibits. (Except this one annoying lady kept standing six inches from the panels and blocking my view. When I skipped ahead a section to get rid of her, she jumped two sections ahead of me. Don't worry - I got her back by not holding the bathroom door opening from her. God, I am petty.)

Some of the exhibits were cool, like the model of the Civil War era fort, but a lot of the written text was done in a very South Carolina context that I knew nothing of, so I got a little lost in all the new names and dates. I'm sure more local people or total Civil War buffs would have loved it though.

We boarded the boat back a bit early, but it was worth it to guarantee seats inside. I'm glad I got some views of the water on the way out, because we got stuck in the middle this time.

We walked a few blocks to a nearby deli to grab a late lunch, then it was back to Liberty Square to visit the South Carolina Aquarium!

Some of the reviews of this aquarium were not the best, but it sounded like those people were expecting something like the Shedd, so I still had high hopes. Spoiler alert - it was awesome! The focus was almost entirely on local flora and fauna, and it was just the right size. I think it took us about two hours to go through it (reading almost all the signs), and it might take an extra hour if you had little kids. Each exhibit was different "area," and they were pretty impressive.

I believe this was Mountains.
The aquarium has some pretty unique animals, including an albino alligator.

Another highlight is their giant, multi-story tank. We even got to see the divers doing the afternoon feeding, so lots of the inhabitants were more active than normal.

They also had a very cool (and random) exhibit about Madagascar. I'm not sure why it was at the South Carolina Aquarium of all places, but it had lemurs, so I won't complain.

Because of the late lunch, neither of us were hungry when we were done, so we opted to drive back to Myrtle Beach before dinner. The plan was to check in for our flights and then grab something to eat. But the best laid plans and all that.

I had no issues checking in for my flight, but Michael's had a syncing issue that could only be resolved in person or over the phone. Of course we discovered this 10 minutes after the ticket counter at the airport had closed for the day, so we spent the next two hours trying to get through on the phone. It took about an hour to figure out the right menu options (if only you knew how many times we kept ending up with tech support in India), but then there were so many callers due to the impending snow, that we were automatically disconnected every time. I even tried tweeting US Airways and was told there was nothing they could do.

Finally, at 9, we gave up and got Arbys for dinner. We then got up at 6:30 to be at the US Airways ticket counter when it opened so Michael could check in. Then it was back to the hotel for a nap followed by breakfast.

It doesn't seem so bad when I condense the incident into a few sentences, but it really ruined our final night and morning of our trip. Plus it was just so frustrating that it was an error on the airline's part that should have been a five second fix, but we had no way to deal with it.

However, the fun didn't stop there. As soon as we were through security, I got an email saying my flight to Detroit was cancelled. Luckily, the gate agent in Myrtle Beach was very helpful and got me a seat on Michael's flight to Cleveland no problem. My car was at my parents' (they live close to DTW), so once we landed, Michael drove me to the end of the Turnpike, where my parents met us to drive me to my car, then I had another two hours to drive home. This was still way better than when we had to get home from O'Hare in a rainstorm, but it still put a huge damper on the end of the trip.

But in the end, this was an amazing trip, bad weather and bad travel and all. I ran a well-organized race and PRed, and I got engaged. I think I just need a little more time away from the South before I'm ready to go back!

No comments:

Post a Comment