By Ben |

At the beginning of July, Jessie and I drove to Savannah for the American Art Therapy Association (AATA) annual conference.  I was excited to return to Savannah and see part of the South I had gone around on my bike trip (namely, the mountains); Jessie had not been to the South before, with the exception of Memphis.

Wednesday, July 4

The first day, we drove from Emporia, Kansas to Columbia, Missouri, with a stop at Whole Foods in Overland Park for a Localbucha fix.  Localbucha is a brand of kombucha (fermented tea) made in Kansas City, by far the best tasting kombucha we've found, and Whole Foods has it on tap, which is neat.

In Columbia we met up with our friend Dareth and her boyfriend Don at Dareth's house.  Because of the holiday, most places we thought of going for dinner were closed, so we went to the Midway Truck Stop featured in the TV show Truck Stop USA.  Dareth has a stall in the antique mall there, so we visited it and ate at the diner.  Then we caught a screening of Brave on our way back downtown for the fireworks show.

fireworks over ColumbiaWe weren't sure when the show would start, so we headed to Sparky's Homemade Ice Cream, but as we took our place at the end of the line, the show started, so we went back out to a street corner until it was over, which worked out great -- we were the first people in line as soon as the show was over!  Sparky's was exhibiting a trend I'd heard about online: cheesy generic paintings that had been altered to contain monsters and aliens.  Jessie and I have been thinking of doing this for this year's Great American Market, so it was good to see some examples up close.

Thursday, July 5

Jessie with SupermanOn Thursday we passed through St. Louis on our way out of Missouri.  We couldn't resist stopping in Metropolis, Illinois to see the giant Superman statue and nearby gift shop.  Metropolis has really done all it can to capitalize on its namesake.

We were excited to pass through Kentucky, since neither of us had ever been there.  The closest I'd ever been was Cincinnati, right across the river… but it turned out that we passed through such a small section of the state, we were in Tennessee before we knew it and didn't actually stop in Kentucky!

I had arranged for us to couch surf with a man named David Woods in Woodbury, TN.  He is starting an artists' community and sculpture park named on his property, so he seemed like a very interesting person, but I made the mistake of not telling Jessie that he had no references on (being new to that site) until we were just arriving, after dark.  His property ("Yellow Bird") is quite a ways into the country on curvy hilly roads, and the night was very dark, and we were sure we had made a wrong turn.  David talked us in over the phone, and all was well.

Friday, July 6

David with his cob sauna

In the morning, David gave us a tour of Yellow Bird's sculpture garden and structures in process before the weather got too terribly hot.  On our way into the mountains, we passed signs for Crab Orchard and Frozen Head State Park.  We stopped for lunch at an Italian restaurant called Gondolier, which despite being in strip mall was excellent.

I had promised Jessie I'd do all the driving through the mountains since she's not good with heights, but I didn't count on road construction zones… Jessie was driving when we got stopped at a one-lane section of road, and when we could proceed again we headed right out across an unexpectedly high bridge.  There was nothing to do but fixate on the license plate ahead of us!

kudzu on the roadsideWe didn't get to see very much of North Carolina, because the Interstate is surrounded by dense forest on both sides.  For the first few hours, I enjoyed trying to identify all the kinds of trees in the surprisingly diverse forest, but then it just got monotonous and I was eager to see something else.

We arrived at dinnertime in Spartanburg, South Carolina, where my high-school friend Susan lives with her husband Ben.  Susan is in her 13th year of a philosophy Ph.D. program at the University of Indiana.  She and Ben got married last year in Bloomington, but we weren't able to attend, so we were eager to see them; I had last seen Susan about 10 years ago when she was working on her masters in Champaign, IL.  Ben is a professor of plant biology in Spartanburg, but we missed our chance to see him this visit, since he was doing research in China.  I got to talk with him briefly on Skype.

Susan gave us a tour of the house and garden and introduced us to their three cats, Moxie, Izzie, and Simony.  Susan had made ph from scratch for dinner, so that made a nice change of pace!

Saturday, July 7

On my 2004-05 bike trip, whenever I told people I was visiting ecovillages, they invariably said, "Well, you must be visiting Earthaven, then."  But because I was avoiding mountains, I couldn't visit Earthaven.  So on this trip, we made an appointment for a tour of Earthaven and brought Susan along.  Actually, she drove us, which was great because she was much more confident and skillful at navigating narrow, curvy mountain roads than we would have been!

unannounced documentarians on tourWe had our choice of two tour guides at Earthaven.  One struck me as kind of woo-woo, so I steered us to the other, who was obviously jaded and cynical about some aspects of ecovillage life.  I explained to Jessie and Susan that I wasn't interested in the glossy brochure view of the village; I wanted the gritty details, and he wasn't afraid to dish them out (failed experiments, mostly)… though he realized belatedly that some of the people on his tour were amateur filmmakers making a documentary!  "If I'd known that, I might not have said some things…" he said.

Jessie at Dobrá TeaAfter our tour, Susan drove us into Asheville, NC.  I had wanted to get us a 2:00 tour at the Ashevillage Institute, but they were preparing for a big event the following day and were unable to accommodate us.  As it turned out, the natural food restaurant where we had our late lunch was one of the stops that would have been on the tour, so we got to see it anyway!  Other notable places we stopped in an afternoon of exploring Asheville included a chocolate cafe and a tea house.  We tired ourselves out and crashed when we got back to Susan's.

Sunday, July 8

Our car got egged during the night, but there was no reason to believe it was either personal or political; we may have just parked in the wrong place at the wrong time!  We had brunch with Susan at a Southern restaurant and then hit the road for Savannah.

Ben with the first palmettos of the tripAs we drove through South Carolina, I got progressively more anxious to get out of the forest and see some low country… in our 3 days in the Palmetto State, we hadn't yet seen any palmettos!  We finally saw some at a gas station just before we finally got out of the forest and crossed the Talmadge Bridge into Savannah.

Jessie had found us a great price at the Hilton Garden Inn, right on Bay St. and coincidentally next door to the club where The Lady Chablis performs!  (I had insisted Jessie watch Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil before we went to Savannah, so The Lady Chablis was one of our main associations with the city.)  We had some time to explore  River St. in the evening, though Jessie almost twisted her ankle on the stairs on the way down… that would have made for a different week!  We had dinner at Bayou Cafe, including a sampler of Étouffée that was so good we had to return for another helping later in the week!

Continue to Part 2