Kathy and I have heard many tales about Savannah, Georgia's great food, fun pubs, and its arts atmosphere for years. And though many Southern sojourns have taken us tantalizingly close, the quick going-elsewhere spell of the super-slab has always prevailed. Until now our glimpses of the grand, old city have been relegated to the green blurs of exit signs rushing by on Interstate 95.
Twice a year, after my mom and dad loaded the dog and me into the back of the Volkswagen Beetle, we'd head north from Miami to visit family in West Virginia. Somewhere around Jacksonville dad's grumbling would begin, and though my young ears weren't privy to most of his hissed muttering, I always managed to pick up a choice word or two. Back in those days, the early 1970s, the Interstate hadn't been completed through Georgia, and the old highway funneled traffic through the city's downtown and across the narrow Talmadge Bridge over the Savannah River. Dad never wasn`t much for stops while traveling, and that situation always called for plenty. On the other hand, I thought Savannah was a cool diversion from the endless concrete drone.
My how things have changed in Savannah. That old, rusty cantilever truss bridge is gone, replaced by a much higher and stunning cable-stayed span. I-95 now passes ten miles west of town, erasing the gridlock that incited so many angrily harrumphed words. But what's exciting is that Kathy and I have finally broken free of the Interstate routine and honored our long-standing promise to pay this town a proper visit.
It's Pronounced Byoo-fert
Arriving a day early, we've had some time to walk around and get a feel for the place, and there'll be ample opportunities to stroll the inviting, colonial town over the next few evenings. However, the Concours 14 is looking a little neglected in the Best Western Promenade parking lot this morning, and we have a highlighted map in hand and a loaded GPS spurring us to make a few tarmac miles in Savannah's surroundings.
Motorcycle & Gear
2009 Kawasaki Concours 14
Helmets: Nolan N103 with N-COM communication systems
Jackets: Rev'It Sirocco, Rev'It Siren
Pants: Draggin' Jeans
Gloves: Sidi Coibuss, Cortech GX Air 2
Boots: Sidi Doha, Rev'It Jade
As we accelerate rapidly into the light, morning traffic heading north across the Talmadge Bridge, we start climbing. With its vertical clearance standing 185 feet above the shimmering river, the viaduct noses the C14 skyward at what seems an airliner's take-off trajectory and accordingly, as we reach the crest of the bridge, I inform Kathy that the use of approved electronic devices is now permitted and that the stewards will soon be walking the aisle serving refreshments. She asks me for some peanuts and a Coke.
The morning sun climbing above the Atlantic is casting a warm, golden luster upon the marsh grasses; and from the elevated roadway, running just feet above these wetlands, it's understood why this region is called the Low Country. The slow rise and fall of the ocean tides has created placid byways of dark, glassy water that wind through the beige stalks. The humid air has a briny redolence. Happy to be on the road, experiencing something new, we drink in all the unfamiliar sensations.
As we bear right on Route 170, the lowlands give way to groves of tall pines and clumps of gnarled live oaks. We're in South Carolina now, and I see a sign that helps shed more light on Dad's aversion to the area. Up ahead is the gate to Parris Island and the Marine Corps Recruit Depot. Shortly after graduating high school, he spent thirteen long weeks here. He said it was hot.
Mid-morning we roll into Beaufort just in time to re-supply our caffeine stores. North Carolina has a coastal Beaufort too, so I ask the girl in the coffee shop if this one is pronounced the same. "It's NOT Boe-fert, y'all say it all wrong up there, it's Byoo-fert." Fair enough (even though when said that way I'll always be flashing on the burly image of Sheriff Pusser). No matter the vernacular, Beaufort is a charming, waterfront town well worth exploration. Founded in 1711, it is the second oldest city in South Carolina and the entire downtown is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
Next, in Walterboro, we grab a quick lunch before heading west on Route 63. Once past I-95, we have the road to ourselves. Farm fields coated in spring's light-green plantings dot the landscape not occupied by deep, dark swamps. Cypress and live oak provide shady respites from the toasty sun, and Kathy, looking around, wonders aloud if there are alligators in South Carolina. For the rest of the day, any size log that's afloat mysteriously takes on a life of its own.