It took a bit of time navigating on local two lane roads to reach Interstate 95 for our 3 ½ hour drive south to Fernandina Beach. Once on the highway we made good time until we hit multiple sets of driving rainstorms so fierce we, and many others on the road were forced to pull over to the side, as visibility was nearly zero.
Somewhere along the way, possibly near Brunswick, Georgia we pulled off the highway at a rest area. As I was walking from the car I spotted someone who looked familiar and in one of those moments of random connectedness that I run into from time to time, realized it was Don Luse, former Director of the Student Union at UNC Chapel Hill and now retired like me. He was headed down to his home in the Florida panhandle after having also visited Charleston. His girlfriend Janelle soon joined us as well as Joanna and we spent a few moments conversing, and then went our separate ways.
This random connectedness has occurred before, most memorably at the Coliseum in Rome in 1979 when I ran into an American I’d met two months earlier at a youth hostel in Cambridge England. In 1984 while on the subway in Munich I spotted a girl, Elfreida, I’d traveled with in Greece in 1979 and yanked Joanna of the train to say hi. Others have popped up from time to time, enough so that I’m on the alert when I approach a room, or new setting. You just never know who you are going to run into.
We arrived at Debbie and her husband Marshall’s house outside of Fernandina Beach by late afternoon. This weekend we’d be celebrating her birthday as well as one of her grandchildren’s, a nice excuse for a visit. They had a house full that weekend so Joanna and I pitched our tent in their backyard, which abuts a large marsh and wetlands leading to the St. Marys River.
As mentioned earlier, my Mom’s only brother, Dale lives with them and has for some time along with his wife Almeda who passed away a couple of years ago. Uncle Dale turns 91 this year, and is one of the last links to my Mom’s side of the family. He is an amazing fellow, full of life and fit, having worked part time at Cracker Barrel until a year or so ago. During our stay we saw him mow the lawn and do some pretty active gardening. One can only hope that we are this spry and energetic at that age, assuming that our collective bad habits don’t get the better of us before then.
Joanna and I set out the next morning, Friday, on our bikes to ride into Fernandina Beach, about 8 miles away to Celtic Charm, a cute little shop on the main drag specializing in Irish and Celtic merchandise to purchase a gift certificate for Debbie’s birthday celebration the next day. With the exception of the bridge over the St. Marys River we need to cross to get there, it’s completely flat here making for fairly easy cycling. Downtown Fernandina Beach is a pedestrian friendly tourist zone, leading to the beach and a pier, making it nice to spend a little time there.
We made our purchase and took off up the beach to see how far we could ride, which turned out be not far at all, a shipping terminal blocking our way. We detoured a few blocks through a nice neighborhood, hitting the main drag to head back out of town. Before crossing back over the bridge we turned left on to Highway A1A and made our way down this famous highway until we turned off for American Beach. In many locations along the Atlantic coast one can drive on the beach and this is one such place.
We finished up the ride and relaxed at the house before gathering up everyone including Uncle Dale, Debbie and Marshall, their youngest daughter Misty, her husband Jeremy and their blended household of four boys and a girl to head out for dinner at a nearby restaurant, Barbara Jean’s. With a big menu that includes lots of seafood, reasonably priced with good-sized portions, it’s the type of place that if close by to your house, you’d visit frequently.
Saturday dawned bright, hot and clear, perfect weather for a daylong birthday celebration that would include much pool time for the kids and their friends who’d come over for the party. It’s a joy to sit out on the screened in porch and listen to the noise and commotion that gets generated by a large gathering of family, a scene we don’t get to witness much anymore. It recollects the family gatherings of my past, Aunts and Uncles, cousins and siblings, laughing, talking, sometimes arguing, all part of life’s fabric, moments that shape your arc.
I’d put in a short ride earlier in the day, traveling in the opposite direction from the day before, heading inland along the highway. Nothing monumental, just an hour or so of exercise that gets your energy up, your blood flowing, helping to clear your thoughts. And as the day closed around us I thought of the distance to be traveled on our way home, the drive that would take some numbers of hours, a familiar routine for us now after so many others in the Highlander.
Our second two week trip of the year had been successful, even more so than the journey to Texas. Camping the bulk of the time connected us to the raw beauty of the Outer Banks and provided inexpensive but close proximity to the charms of Charleston. Given the length of time spent traveling in Europe in 2014, this new rhythm, approximately a couple of weeks every month or so, could be a winning combination for the year to come. Only time would tell.
Celtic Charm: http://www.yelp.com/biz/celtic-charm-fernandina-beach
Barbara Jeans: http://www.barbarajeans.com/