Packing for our trip to Rochester, NY we were a bit apprehensive. The date was August 4, 2020, the height (or so we thought) of the pandemic. At this point there were so many unknowns. Would we be pulled over once leaving Florida for having an out of state license plate? Would campgrounds be full? From what we were reading the RV industry was booming as people wanted to get out into nature to get away from other people. Would these campgrounds or state/national parks even be open? There were so many questions that we didn’t have answers to.
Why RV Again?
In a way the only reason that we were heading out RVing again was because of Covid. Last winter we had made some major life decisions. We were going to permanently move from Rochester, NY to Tampa, FL. We were also going to open a beer tourism business. We had worked on our new business (Tampa Bay Brewery Tours) from November 2019 and had an opening month set for April 2020. We were extremely excited to be residents of a new city and opening our very own business. Then as we all know the world came crashing down. It became apparent pretty fast that we were not going to be able to open our new business anytime soon.
April turned into May; then June and July. Months before Covid had hit we had made plans to be up in Rochester at the end of August for a wedding that we were going to attend. We were excited to see family and friends. With the wedding now pushed back and our new business currently on hold we thought that we should regroup. We thought that we shouldn’t look at our situation as a bad thing but as an opportunity. We didn’t expect to be able to take a long trip in Bubbles again for a long time. We thought that we would be giving hours long tours every day at this point. When life gives you (or the world in this case) lemons; make lemonade. While this wouldn’t be an epic 5000-mile, 6-month Alaskan road trip; it still would mean 2 weeks on the road north seeing some sights that we had never seen before. This was going to be great!
In planning our route, we wanted to see great natural beauty with seeing the least amount of people possible. This meant no stops in any major city. Normally we try to stay off of the highways, as you see more interesting places on the side of the road, but for this journey, we were going to make it a point to drive as much of the 1200+ mile journey on back-roads. It meant that the trip would take a bit longer but that’s what we love anyway.
The Adventure Starts!
After packing up Bubbles, saying goodbye to our friends and neighbors, we were off heading north! After a 9-month hiatus driving a fully packed RV felt a little strange at first. You hope that you remembered to pack everything that you needed and that it was packed properly so that things don’t come crashing out of cabinets when you open them. All these thoughts were going through our heads as we made our way north to our usual first stop/last stop campground, Ocala North RV Resort, outside of Ocala, FL.
The next morning after a restful sleep we had breakfast, packed up and hit the road. Day two of an RV trip is where the actual adventure begins. For us day one is mostly running around doing last minute packing, closing up our apartment, making sure any loose ends are resolved before hopping into Bubbles hopefully by 3pm so that we can make it to the campground before 5pm. Day two is waking up after a great night RV sleep, having breakfast and picking a route for that day. As we had not seen central Georgia as of yet, we decided to go straight up the south-central part of the state today. It would be a long day taking mostly back-roads, but we were excited for the drive.
We had no real set plan for the drive except to see the smaller towns of Valdosta and Macon. After crossing the Florida/Georgia border (and seeing a huge snake slither across the road in front of us and not getting pulled over for having an out of state license plate) we were pulling into Valdosta. Going to college in Tampa, I had seen signs for Valdosta off of I-75 for years but had never pulled in. Today we would finally see the town. To our surprise we really liked it. While small, it had a charming area in the center of the city. Tree lined streets with shops and café’s with people walking in and out of businesses. It was really quite nice. The other part that surprised us was how seriously people here were following mask orders. Coming from a large metropolis in Tampa where every business had mask order signs up and you could not come into a business without a mask on; we were not sure if people would be taking the same precautions in small towns. They were though and so we felt safe and happy.
After a short drive around Valdosta we continued north next stopping in the town of Macon. Macon, as it turned out, was much larger than Valdosta. We parked and walked down 2nd street which was pretty nice. Sadly, this was more or less the only nice street in the downtown area that we could find. The buildings all were beautiful and looked to be in fairly decent shape; they just had no businesses in them. Oh well we thought at least it was a good opportunity to stretch our legs. From Macon we continued a bit further north before stopping for the night.
The next morning, we woke up excited for the first town that was on our agenda; Clemson, SC. My cousin Jason had gone to Clemson and almost every time I’ve seen him, he is wearing some sort of Clemson University clothing. As Clemson is a small town and school was not in session yet, Julie and I decided to stop for the day and check it out. I had called Jason a few days prior and he had given us all of his favorite spots to go so we had a pretty nice checklist of places to go and things to see.
Clemson, SC & the Centennial Oak
After arriving in Clemson, we soon realized that the school makes up the majority of the entire town. There is a small downtown that was pretty nice. Julie and I walked through on the way over to the school. We also noticed here that in addition to every business having a mask order, people just walking down the sidewalk were wearing masks. Clemson was very Covid safe.
Our first stop at the university was the Centennial Oak tree. The Centennial Oak is a famous landmark on the Clemson campus simply because of its sheer size. The tree has been growing since at least 1889 and is the largest live oak tree in the entire state of South Carolina. It currently measures 66 feet tall and 124 feet wide. It’s so big that it was difficult to get the entire tree in one picture!
Memorial Stadium – Death Valley
From the Centennial Oak we wandered around campus walking through beautifully manicured gardens and common spaces. We eventually made our way to famous Memorial Stadium, home of Clemson’s football team. Clemson’s football team has been very good over the past decade, so it was pretty neat to see where they play their home games. It was also neat to see Howards Rock. Howards Rock (which is an actual rock) sits on a pedestal near the east end zone. The rock was given to the Clemson football coach in the early 1960’s as a gift. A friend of the coach was on a trip to Death Valley, CA and as Clemson’s football stadiums nickname is “Death Valley” the friend thought he would give it to the coach. As tradition goes the players touch the rock for good luck as they enter the stadium on game day. It seems, currently that the rock is very lucky to the Clemson Tigers.
The Esso Club – Clemson’s Famous Sports Bar
From the stadium we walked over to Jason’s favorite watering hole, The Esso Club. The Esso Club is called the Esso Club because at one point in the properties long life it was a service station. Since the early 1970’s it has been the place to get a beer and food to go before and after Clemson football games. As it was quite a hot day Julie and I went inside and sat down to have a beer. As school was not in session and Clemson is a very small town, there were not many people in there at the time, except for some old timers talking about their favorite nearby fishing holes. The inside of the Esso Club was pretty neat. Clemson Football memorabilia lined almost every inch of the walls with signed posters, hats, shirts and trophies taking up almost every square inch of wall space. All in all, it was a pretty cool space to sit and have a beer in surrounded by Clemson football history. Two thumbs up for Julie and me.
Our last stop of the day was to get dinner from a BBQ restaurant called The Smokin Pig. As Julie and I were eager to get to our campground for the night we called in a to go order and picked it up before heading to our campground for the night. The BBQ turned out to be pretty darn good and Julie & I devoured every last bite. It was a tasty end to a great day!
Next up…..We spend 3 days in Great Smoky Mountains National Park!