Southern Road Trip – On the back roads from Atlanta to the coast

Having hated the interstate between Nashville and Atlanta, we decided to take a less direct route from Atlanta to the coast. The plan had been to drive to Charleston but, just as we were realizing how far this was and how late it would be when we got there, a friend invited us to her family’s beach house where she was spending the Memorial Day weekend – and we jumped at the opportunity. I was sad not to see Charleston or experience the seafood there but hopefully there will be other opportunities in the future, when we’ll have more time to dedicate to the city.

So we set a course from Atlanta (GA) to Pawley’s Island (SC), with an aim to avoid the interstate. Travelling on the smaller roads meant that the trip would take longer, but we figured it might be more interesting and picturesque.

So I think we saw the ‘real’ Georgia. We saw a lot of productive farmland – that rich red earth mentioned in Gone with the Wind – and people selling produce on the side of the road. Though Georgia is known as the peach state, I didn’t see many peaches on offer. Apparently they grow more peanuts than peaches, but naming them after that would mean being known as the Goober State. We saw plenty of signs for boiled peanuts, a southern delicacy that my friend had told us about. Apparently you suck the nuts out of their salty, soft-boiled shells, a bit as you do with edamame – though that’s probably not a comparison the peanut farmers would appreciate.

We also saw a lot of poverty, both on the outskirts of Atlanta and in the countryside: homes that were really just falling down old shacks, and towns where we drove along abandoned high streets of boarded up buildings. Many of the little towns had been designed to show their best fronts to the railways and, while run down, these streets retained some of that charm. Once we got into South Carolina though, we were mainly driving through empty countryside – it was only when we got closer to the coast that the land improved and the towns grew more prosperous.

Our route took us around Athens (GA) and over to the Savannah River – which was incredibly beautiful. Just outside Athens we were able to stop for breakfast at a Chik fil A (I described this here), and we stopped for lunch in Saluda (SC). This was a very small town with a nice old courthouse on a pretty square, an active historical society and a few nice-looking cafes, which were unfortunately closed because it was Memorial Day weekend.

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We had  a quick look around and a Subway lunch at the gas station, where the very polite but baffled-to-see-us server kindly charged my iphone for me. Then we ‘made the skwaya’ and rejoined the 178 toward Orangeburg. We skirted Lake Marion and Lake Moultree, and drove along the edge of the Francis Marion National Forest. It was all very beautiful and peaceful. And then we reached Route 17 and Pawleys Island.

Suddenly we were back in civilization. There were billboards, restaurants, hotels, and shopping centers, as well as mini-golf and fishing supply stores. The local radio advertised grocery stores where you could stock up for your beach trip, or just pop along if you’d forgotten an essential ingredient. We stopped at a liquor store for some beer. It really was the height of convenience. Further up Route 17 is even more of a contrast to the interior: there you find the well-known Myrtle Beach area with its huge hotel and golf complexes.

For us though, we were at the end of our day’s drive. We said hello, drank a beer, and then hit the beach. We had driven for over ten hours, and we had reached the ocean.

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Read about the rest of our Southern Road Trip and our adventures with Southern food:

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