The Georgia Lowlands

Saturday, the 10th of February. The big Naval Submarine Base at King’s Bay Georgia, custom-built for the Polaris submarine fleet, looked more like a golf course than a Navy facility: acres of manicured grass, isolated buildings spread far apart and signs at every corner, because each destination was out of sight. I checked into the Navy Gateway Inn, showered and hung my laundry in the shower

That evening, something cracked in my mouth eating (a soft) supper at the Navy Exchange. I picked out some hard white pieces and thought Oh no! another chipped tooth. I had chipped a tooth in Italy in 2015 and ridden for three months before finally finding a dentist to repair it.

The next morning, I learned that the Naval Dental Clinic at Kings Bay would not see retirees. I could not waste time looking for a local dentist, because I needed to ride north to my appointment with my Warmshowers host.

The ride to Darien was almost entirely on US 17, with rumble strips in the narrow shoulder. The strips kept me riding in the traffic lane as often as not, a special peeve of mine. I believe in rumble strips, but they need to protrude into the travel lane (not far, just six inches), not into the shoulder. A rumble strip on the shoulder does not keep the sleepy or distracted driver from leaving the travel lane. That person needs the warning before reaching the white stripe on the edge of the lane. Of course, the highway engineers are probably completely unaware of the flip side of the problem: most vulnerable road users (pedestrians, bicyclists) are forced to use the shoulder in rural areas. It’s bad enough that so many roads in the Southeast have little or no shoulder; useless rumble strips make the shoulders impassable.

While I groused to myself about the highways and worried the back of my incisors with my tongue, the wind pushed me north at a good clip. I decided to bypass Brunswick and ride all the way to Darien, more than 100 km from the Naval Base. Highway 99 branched off from US 17 in Darien, and I found myself rolling through a dense forest of old trees and Spanish moss. Old homes lined the highway. The place felt like a historical park.

I turned left on Scott Road. When I reached Franklin Street, I knew that I had gone too far. The hidden driveway to my hosts’ house wound deep into a thick wetland forest. They had texted me that they were coming, so I climbed up to the screened porch to take refuge from the mosquitoes and no-seeums until they arrived.

Fred and Renee Hay have built the ideal Warmshowers house. I could not believe that they had been doing Warmshowers for only a few months. This was the first place I have slept that was so totally dark and quiet at night that I did not need my eyeshades. Even National Parks deep in the Redwoods have some kind of light pollution from the bathhouse. Best night’s sleep in years.

My hosts were a treasure trove of information about the Georgia Low Country. Fred manages Sapelo Island, and Renee manages him (;-)) Sapelo Island is a State Park, so the few people who have private homes on the island turn to him as their local government. The State even runs the ferry that serves the island.

Sapelo Island

Fred explained that Georgia got into the business of conserving wetlands before other states, which is why there are no through roads closer to the Atlantic than US 17. A vast amount of the Georgia Lowlands is off limits to development. The Wildlife Resources Division (Fred’s organization) manages it for the State. There will never be a “Shore Drive” or an A1A in Georgia.

My hosts knew all the best routes, places to eat, and things to see and do east of US-17. I felt lucky that they could host me at all, because they live and work on Sapelo Island, and only come to the mainland house when they have guests.

When I explained about my suspected chipped tooth, they called their dentist. Glenn Sasser saw me without an appointment on my way out of town. Good news: it wasn’t chipped. I had knocked off some pieces of plaque from the back of my incisors. Side effect of daily flossing, I guess.

Riding north toward Savannah, I could appreciate what Fred told me about conserving the wetlands. US 17 hugged terra firma, but sea grasses, reeds and meandering creeks and rivers stretched in all directions around me. At New Southport, US 17 turned northwest and went under Interstate 95. I spent the rest of my 110-km ride in rolling woods inland, picking up so much pine pollen off the road that my black tires turned yellow.

The road turned northeast under I-95 again at Richmond Hill. Now I was in suburban Savannah, and not the pretty part of town. I rode through industrial sites, railroad yards, lumber yards, warehouses and scrapyards, until I climbed a high bridge over the Bay Street Viaduct. Suddenly, I was in the Historic District, with the Best Western on my left. The contrast stunned me. The smell and the orange cones advertised a major parking resurfacing, which explained the incredibly low rate I got for three nights. They let me keep the bike in the room.

My first tourist destination after changing was to walk to the Kroger at the south end of the Historic District. The supermarket had a disappointing selection, but I enjoyed seeing the sights in the District and the old homes. I had a delicious supper at Altadee’s Seafood for only six bucks.

Photo: Marc Newton

The next day, I rode to the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD), a place that I have wanted to visit since my first trip through Savannah more than four decades ago. Located only a few blocks from the hotel on the west end of the Historic District, SCAD occupies an old railway station. As one might expect from such a school, the renovation of the station incorporated some of the best design ideas available. Only two exhibits were open when I showed up, because the museum was redoing the other exhibits; admission was free.

After the SCAD Museum, I rode across the District to the Publix east of town (for the olive oil that Kroger didn’t have). Riding out and back gave me pleasant ride and took me past more sights in the center of town, including the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist. In the afternoon, I walked to the touristy River Street, which started just outside the hotel. After checking out the location of the ferries, I walked through the District and back. That night I perambulated some more, enjoying the crowds of tourists and students. The atmosphere reminded me of New Orleans, but on a smaller, less intense scale.

South Carolina lay across the Little Back River on the other side of Hutchinson Island. Back in the hotel, I packed up my gear, and confirmed Warmshowers arrangements in the Palmetto State. I was exactly halfway between Miami and Tidewater, Virginia, and looking forward to returning to the coast after Charleston.

Until next time,

Smooth roads & tailwinds,

Jonathan

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