Hello once again from beautiful Tybee Island as we enter our final week here. When we arrived on October 23rd, a month seemed like forever. After all, we’d been traveling at such a breakneck pace for the previous three weeks – I almost forgot what it was like to live in the same place for more than ten days. But like every trip, time seems to crawl up until the halfway point; afterward, it passes at warp speed.
I’ve gotten into a relatively regular pattern here as well – working in the morning, then an afternoon on the island, followed by an afternoon off the island. Tybee might be best known for its beaches (and they are the top attraction), but there’s plenty else to do here also. I visited Fort Pulaski, a National Park Service site that preserves the pre-Civil War fort, some hiking trails, and Cockspur Island’s Lighthouse. The fort is maybe most notable for the drainage system built by a young military engineer named Robert E. Lee and the early use of rifled artillery in a Union attack in 1862, which blew a gigantic hole in what was assumed to be a relatively sturdy fortification. You can still see the exact spot where the Union batteries (located on Tybee Island’s North Beach) concentrated their fire.
These days, you can get some incredible views of both channels of the Savannah River, Tybee Island, and the marshlands around Cockspur Island from the fort’s second level or get lost in the very spooky demi-lune.
We’ve been fortunate with the weather so far this trip. In about six weeks, I can count the number of rainy days on two hands, and only two or three were total washouts. Still, it was good that I got out to explore because I had no idea of the weather coming the next few days. It started on Thursday, which was just unusually chilly. Friday was downright cold – a high of 50 degrees, with pelting sheets of rain.
😂😅 For those that care, today has been Savannah’s coldest November 5th in recorded history… by several degrees. @WTOC11— WTOC Cutter Martin (@CutterMartin) November 5, 2021
It was also a “king tide,” an exceptionally high tide that can overwhelm low-lying areas like these even without rain.
Naturally, this was also the weekend Morgan’s parents had been planning to drive up and visit us. Thankfully, they decided to drive up on Saturday morning instead of a Friday night. If you’ve seen the final ten miles from the mainland to Tybee, you’ll know why this is a wise decision to avoid navigating in the dark and rain when the road might just disappear into the marsh. In retrospect, we’re quite lucky that Savannah, Chatham County, GDOT, or whoever takes care of this road. With a peak tide over 10.5 feet, if Highway 80 hadn’t been raised several feet in the last few years, the road would have been closed for several days.
On Saturday morning, it had still not stopped raining. I turned on the Weather Channel, and the first story was about Tybee Island – generally, not an auspicious sign. It’s been a while since I worked in the news, but they usually don’t do lead segments to tell you your weather will be totally fine. Realistically, looking out the window could have told me the same thing. Our tiny little private street was approaching canal status. I picked my way through the puddles down to the beach, which did not exist anymore. The water had crept hundreds of feet up the coast to the edge of the beach access walkways. A perfect day to show people around Tybee.
Other than some very brave and probably very cold surfers and a few particularly determined fishermen, I’m the only one on the streets. I’m surprised to notice that even the bars don’t seem open – could the weather be the one thing that stops the flow of Jello shots and frozen drinks? But then, I realize it’s only 10 am. Things haven’t changed much by the afternoon when Morgan’s family arrives. We catch up over sweet tea bourbon at home, and they even let us take them out to the beach and pier in the pouring rain, which mercifully stops for a while while we’re walking around. Regardless of the weather, it’s a great visit. Because of the pandemic and other scheduling issues, it had been nearly two years since I’d seen them, and it’s great to see them having fun after a difficult year.
To be fair, it’s pretty hard not to have fun at Doc’s, our official Favorite Bar of Tybee Island™. It’s a gloriously divey spot with cheap beers, firm Jello shots, friendly regulars, good music on the weekends, and Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune with the sound on on weeknights. It’s hard not to feel at home when you’re guessing the puzzles and wagering on Final Jeopardy with the locals. On this Saturday night, it was packed with seemingly half the people remaining on Tybee, with an excellent blues band and a great atmosphere. We’re even successful in getting them to try a Wet Willie’s.
Morgan’s family left on Sunday morning after a life-restoring breakfast at The Breakfast Club (try the PMS Omelette or country-fried steak), one of those places so good it doesn’t have a website and lines are still down the street every weekend. The rain has mercifully mostly stopped, but still, Morgan’s parents were still delayed a bit leaving the island by high tides on a blue-sky day.
Days later, I was still encountering the results of this weekend storm. On Wednesday, I drove south to Skidaway Island, one of the ritzier areas of Savannah and also the home of Skidaway Island State Park. As a side note, nearly the entirety of this 45-minute drive occurred with a cop from various jurisdictions immediately behind me. In a land of pickup trucks with Georgia license plates, to say we feel conspicuous in our DC-plated Subaru (“Taxation Without Representation”) is an understatement. In any case, I made the trip without any tickets and arrived at a mercifully spider-free park, and set off along the most popular trail, the Sandpiper loop. The park is located along Skidaway Narrows, part of the Intracoastal Waterway that runs from south Florida to Boston. This, dear reader, is where I learned my latest lesson being outdoors in the low country – check the tides before hiking.
This video is a time-lapse, but only over the course of about five minutes. I’ve never seen water rise like this before.
I’ve waded through streams before but not ones with this many gators and snakes around. It also occurred to me that it isn’t yet high tide – do I really want to get on the other side of this while it’s still getting higher? I’m forced to reroute, walking part of the Big Ferry loop to an observation tower with magnificent views of the marshes and Intracoastal Waterway. From up here, the high tides make this place look breathtaking – although I’d prefer they not get any higher, as even the walkway to the observation tower was only inches from being submerged. If we want to live near the coast, as we increasingly feel we do, there are few more instructive experiences than this while being here.
On Thursday, it was time for my family to arrive. It was the first time I’d seen my parents since they’d moved to southwest Florida over the summer, leaving behind Long Valley, New Jersey (current temperature: 44 degrees), for Bonita Springs, Florida (current temperature: 74 degrees). They, along with my Aunt Tracy, arrived in the mid-afternoon, checking into the unit directly next to us. We like our little home here, but it was still startling to see a much nicer version of it, mirrored on the other side of the wall. Linus was also very intrigued by these new people and new places.
Unlike the previous weekend, the weather is glorious, if a bit cool for these new Southwest Florida residents. We walk the beach on Thursday at sunset, and Morgan and I even successfully convince my dad to take a Doc’s Jello shot after dinner, though there were no Wet Willie’s takers on this family weekend.
We did, however, have time for a trip into Savannah on Friday. It’s a perfect city for visiting with family – easy to walk, beautiful to look at, with great food, shopping, and entertainment. We strolled River Street and the historic district, got my dad a to-go bloody mary, shopped at Savannah’s City Market, and ate oysters looking out on Ellis Square. We had planned to stay in the city and meet Morgan after she got out of work, but we had ate, drank, shopped, and walked ourselves out by mid-afternoon and enjoyed some delicious takeout tacos back on the island for dinner instead. It was also a spectacular night for a beach walk and stargazing, which in this case mainly consisted of myself, my dad, and Morgan straining to identify objects other than the Big Dipper.
For their final day on Saturday, we had made a lot of various plans. First, a boat to Daufuskie Island. Then, driving to Hilton Head instead. In the end, we ended staying much closer to home and had a great day in Tybee’s North Beach. North Beach is home to most of the island’s shops, small businesses, and restaurants, including Huc-A-Poo’s, a pizza place I can recommend even if I can’t eat there. The key to understanding Huc-A-Poo’s is this – an 18-inch pizza costs $20, and a slice costs $5. You may think, rationally, that this is an effort to get you to order full pies by making slices more expensive. But you, and we, were wrong about this. A Huc-A-Poo’s slice is roughly one-quarter of a pizza and even met the approval of my generally pizza-critical New York/New Jersey family. Just next door, you’ll find some great local coffee and an ill-tempered but adorable cat at the Tybean Art and Coffee Bar. There are make-your-own pottery shops, hot sauce stores, and all sorts of arts, crafts, and general junk.
North Beach is also the home of the famous Tybee Lighthouse, located inside the Fort Screven area.
I’d previously biked up here to walk the North Beach Birding Trail, which produces such surreal experiences as walking on a beach alone with hundreds of birds as two massive container ships pass just a few hundred feet offshore.
We walked a small part of it with my parents and aunt before heading home. After all, we had to prepare for dinner at The Crab Shack, which is actually an extensive collection of buildings tucked away near Chimney Creek. There’s a restaurant, of course, along with a few bars. But there’s also a dock for boats, a BBQ shack, a gift shop (with exotic birds), a dozen of the sweetest outdoor cats you’ll ever meet, and of course, about 30 alligators.
You can even feed the gators in the warmer months, though I didn’t follow up about what (or who) exactly they eat. I just hope someone is keeping track of all cats, employees, and tourist children. We had a dinner that may have depopulated the ocean, and I’m reasonably sure if I hadn’t made sure Morgan came back with us, she might still be there petting this adorable guy named Junior.
After one more Sunday morning at The Breakfast Club, it was time to say goodbye and let them begin their long trek back south. It was sad to see them go, but nice knowing they’re going back to a new place they’re enjoying and that I’ll see them in just over a month for Christmas. But Morgan and I would be lying if we said we weren’t ready for a few quiet days before our final weekend here. It’s a strange thing, hosting people in a place where you yourself are only visiting. But I think we did a good job showing both the Pisanos and Smiths some of the best of Tybee and Savannah in the time we had.
I mentioned our final weekend in Tybee, and yes, unfortunately, our time here is winding down. We’ll be leaving the day before Thanksgiving for a few days in the Jacksonville area before New Orleans for December. However, we’ve also reached the point that the end of our current itinerary is in sight. After some time with family around Christmas and New Year’s, we only have a general idea of where we’re heading in 2022.
Our first plan was Texas in January. Unfortunately, as may be obvious to those of you who, unlike me, thought it through, it takes a pretty long time to drive from northeast Florida to central Texas. And frankly, Linus may never speak to us again after a 14-hour drive. Our next plan was a month in Tennessee, split between Nashville and Memphis. But alas, a visit to the Grand Ole Opry and a ride on one of those obnoxious pedal pubs will have to wait, as it’s just too expensive between occupancy taxes and general demand. Our latest and greatest route sticks along the beautiful, warm gulf coast – where better to be in January? From there, west. Watch this space for more details.
If you made it all the way down here, thanks again for reading.
-Nick and Morgan