I believe when we last spoke I’d said I was going to write about Ranger dog and, believe me, I have plenty to say about him (that endearing sumbitch), but there’s been a Vacation–a CAMPING vacation–between then and now that demands to be chronicled. 

It’s a hobby of mine to research campgrounds, especially in the darkest most depressing days of winter, and so it was that way back in February I settled on Hunting Island , South Carolina as our next and most distant and ambitious camping destination yet.  This was a trip to be embarked upon a full nine months hence (you may recall that between then and now, our original pop-up died jeopardizing the entire plan until we bought another camper five minutes later).  After acquiring the new camper, we planned a weekend excursion about a month prior to the Hunting Island trip to Land Between the Lakes, our closest camping destination (our camping “home” if you will), about forty miles east of here, in order to vet the new camper for any kinks or issues that we would not want to discover for the first time 750 miles away in South Carolina.

Pippii on her maiden camp at LBL

I had planned to blog about that weekend, our first with “Pippii” as we’ve named the new camper, but alas, the winds of time are making that more and more unlikely.  To sum up:  It was cold, it rained, Ranger got loose in the dark instantly turning our blood to terrified ice water until we re-apprehended him via a clever stunt of loading the other two dogs in the truck and pretending we were going out for ice cream (Ranger, unable to help himself, leapt into the backseat of his own accord thus sparing either of us the need for defibrillation), the wind blew and blew and it stormed, we went home one night and the next day was beautiful.

But MOST importantly, we did discover a problem with Pippii: we could run the lights or the air conditioner, but not at the same time. 

The view from Site Six, LBL

This was, of course, a very annoying discovery and one that would have changed the negotiations leading to Pippii’s purchase.  Hindsight, etc.!  We threw money at the problem, a faulty power converter, and it went away. 

The trip to Hunting Island began on a rainy Friday night the first week of October. We faced between an eleven and thirteen hour drive with the snarling traffic bitch of Atlanta between us and camping nirvana. Our goal was more like “get out of town” than “make good time”.  Which is lucky, because we sure as hell weren’t going to make good time towing a fourteen foot pop-up with two bikes on the back in the dark with an SUV drinking gas at approximately the same pace a pre-liver transplant David Crosby did drugs [read: insatiably!].

Fortunately, I was in possession of the perfect antidote to many hundreds of slow going miles: the unabridged audio version of Untouchable: The Strange Life and Tragic Death of Michael Jackson.  That’s right, TWENTY-FOUR cd’s on the minutia of Jackson’s last years  and the complicated legal aftermath of his death. 

And if you think that would be a boring and interminable 24 hours you’d be right and wrong. 

The book is, as its length would imply, nothing short of an exhaustive account. So much so that as the writer relates the dramatic details of Doctor Conrad Murray (ineptly) performing CPR on a dead or dying Michael Jackson, he feels the need to toss in information on the origin(s) of Murray’s Trinidadian accent. Beside the point? Absolutely. But also, strangely mesmerizing.

We became fascinated with the oft repeated names and places that comprised the landscape of the last act of Jackson’s life:  the “Carrolwood Chateau” (the LA residence where Jackson was living during rehearsals of the ill-fated “This is It” tour and where he would eventually die), Neverland Ranch (of course), the Hayvenherst Estate (Los Angeles residence of the Jackson family headed by matriarch Kathryn). A truly bewildering cast of characters inhabited Jackson’s reality most of whom were a part of the juggernaut that was his unprecedented musical career–people managing, profiting, and manipulating. Few, if any, come off as innocent in his demise (or at least in the regular disturbance of his tenuous peace of mind), with the list headed by Jackson’s own family, a group of money hungry jackals so relentless in their pursuit of a piece of the action that Jackson often literally physically hid from them weeping in response to the pressure they applied. Only Kathryn, Jackson’s mother, consistently comes off as an appropriate source of support and comfort though even she at times fell victim to the manipulations of her villanous husband, Joe Jackson, and the demands of her other children to assist them in their endless quests and various harebrained schemes to part Jackson from his bankroll.   

Bobby Driscoll and the nose MJ never had.

The portrait of Jackson himself that emerges is complicated.  A guy with, literally, a large glass jar full of fake nose tips that had to be adhered to and blended into his face with make-up, his original nose having long since collapsed into little more than gaping nostril holes, a guy astute enough to buy the Sony-ATV catalog after a chat with an unsuspecting Paul McCartney (during the recording of “Ebony and Ivory”) who advised him that song rights was the best investment going.  Jackson would purchase the catalog, that included a hefty amount of Beatles tunes, for $47 million in 1984, an investment that is now worth in the neighborhood of $2 billion (McCartney would later come to resent having given that advice).  A guy who clearly manipulated Lisa Marie Presley into an ill-advised marriage in the hope she would act as a brood cow and little else, a guy who very likely had a sexual relationship with minor Jordan Chandler (the extent to which Jordan’s parents were a part of and in collusion with the situation is hotly disputed, but it seems likely that at least Jordan’s mother turned a blind eye until she thought there was money to be made), a guy so stunted by his father’s abuse and any semblance of a normal childhood, that he “never” wanted to grow up.  So wedded was Jackson to this idea, that his nose surgeries were, if the book is to be believed, in pursuit of a “turned up” nose like that of Bobby Driscoll, the 1930s version of Peter Pan (Spoiler: that, ahem, didn’t work out).

The ever widening group of music industry executives and lawyers that surrounded Jackson became our own merry cast of imaginary friends as we drove through the rainy night into Tennessee, headed for first Monteagle, then Atlanta and then the next day, on through Georgia and South Carolina to the coast.     

Do you think we should stop at this exit?

Not sure, we should probably get some advice from John Branca.

And later:

I’d like to have dessert, but I really need to get back to Kenny Ortega and the “This is It” rehearsals.

Despite these hefty distractions, I’m not going to lie, the trip was long.  By the time we were dragging the camper around Atlanta, boxed in with three stalled lanes of traffic on each side, I had to ask myself if the whole idea wasn’t just the teensiest bit cray, if perhaps, exploring campgrounds within, say, a mere 250 miles from home (of which there are many) as opposed to a trek of 700+ might be a better, even saner, idea.

 But here’s the thing.  Hunting Island has something those other campgrounds haven’t got:  


If you click and look close, you can see shrimp boats in the distance.


Ladies and gentlemen, I give you THE BEACH. 

A vast, beautiful beach available only to other island campers, a short bike ride or hike from your campsite (you can camp nearly on the beach if you don’t mind close quarters with other campers or excessive wind–we do mind both). 

We spent a full day and a half of our five days luxuriating on this beach in absolutely perfect weather (mid-80’s) reading, staring off into space, and chomping on the occasional apple. I’m not much of a sun worshiper, but this set up with the umbrella and the breeze was the absolute shiz.  I daresay “Not that Kind of Girl” was the perfect vacation read (If I could take what I’ve learned,” she writes in the introduction, “and make one menial job easier for you, or prevent you from having the kind of sex where you feel you must keep your sneakers on in case you want to run away during the act, then every misstep of mine was worthwhile.”). Thus entertained, and fully anesthetized by the waves and the wind is absolutely what a camping vacation–any vacation, really– is all about, in my book.

Our campsite itself, exhaustively researched by yours truly, number 158 to be exact, was perfect.  My strategy and criteria is thus: a site on the extreme edge of the grounds, so as to minimize the number of sides on which the site borders other occupied sites, still not more than a two-site walk from the facilities, and shade. MUST be shaded. 

Site 158

I’m happy to report site 158 met or exceeded all expectations. My usual worries about shade, I discovered upon arrival, were laughable as the entire campground is nestled in a Jurassic park like jungle that whiffs of toasted hickory mixed with beach wind.

Site 158 is just beyond the bend on the right.

A creek separated us from the campsite to the right, and the landscape provided a plant barrier and a bit of a berm of huge palmettos on the left (most sites are a bit less private overall). A walk straight ahead from the picnic table would land one at the beach if there was a path (and I’m not saying you couldn’t get there that way, just that we preferred riding our bikes via the roads). 


The view if one is sitting at the picnic table

Our days settled into a pattern of breakfast outside, then daily adventure (beach or day trip), then a nightly spin on the bikes around the campground at dusk to survey all other sites and camper situations (because we’re nosy like that). 

The perspective tilt on this photo is a bit wonky, but you get the idea. Dining alfresco! Dinner amongst the palmettos!

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, even the humblest of foods take on an extra flair of deliciousness served outside (or on a stick, but that’s another blog post). 

A home in the Beaufort historic district

We were absolutely charmed by Beaufort, NC, the small city nearest Hunting Island. We spent a day on our bikes exploring the town which is adorable. There were many historic tours in progress conducted in large open horse drawn carriage (buses?). We quickly learned we could surreptitiously take free advantage of these by following at a discreet distance on the bikes. We spent an entire afternoon shopping Beautfort’s picturesque downtown, and whiled away a half hour on one of the porch swings available for dawdling on the city’s waterfront.     

A Beaufort side street.

 Also?  Please note moss in the trees.  Hello.    

Since we were only about 60 miles from Savannah, a trip there would be another day excursion. And while I had high expectations, the day was far less than I had hoped.  While all the lovely squares are still there along with great restaurants, etc., the town, in my opinion, is no longer the bike-able semi-sleepy southern city a generation discovered reading “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.”  Apparently, all those readers picked up and moved to Savannah in the ensuing years.The place is now so choked with people and traffic that the day, while not a total waste, was a fight to do or see anything start to finish. Still worth visiting if you’ve never been, but expect delays, unpleasant crowding situations with loud sweaty tourists, and don’t take your bike (except to ride in Bonaventure Cemetery). Hrmph!        

Speaking of which, we did enjoy a visit to Bonaventure (I mean, you HAVE to visit this cemetery, it’s the law). Since it was, after all, October, I’d hoped to benefit from the Halloween effect of the situation, however, in sunny Savannah that day the mercury was well north of ninety, and it’s a well known fact that ghosts don’t [bona]venture out in such weather, preferring instead to languish in the cooler recesses of their crypts until at least dusk. We could have repeated our trick of surreptitiously joining walking tours in progress all around us that day, however, I don’t (as I’m fond of saying) “do well” in the heat. We mostly stuck to brisk biking and an occasional photo.  

Overall, we were blown away by Hunting Island. This is the camping experience against which all others will be measured, friends.

A few caveats if you’re considering a visit: I think the mosquitos would be off the charts unbearable there March-September, as in do not visit this campground during those months (the campground is open year round). The mosquito problem is well documented on Trip Advisor. We were bitten some in October, but came prepared with Off and citronella candles that we burnt constantly while hanging around camp at night. As always, leave no food accessible, the raccoons are as bad as anywhere and possibly more brazen. One loped disgustedly through our campsite in broad daylight, clearly annoyed at our proclivity for keeping the food locked down and in search of greener pastures. Lastly, book well in advance, this place is (deservedly) popular!