Charleston Charge

Two weeks ago today my ventures took to me Charleston, the oldest and second-largest city in South Carolina. Having missed stopping in Savannah, GA on my way up from Florida, I was excited about what was going to be my first field trip to a quintessential Southern town. And what an adventure it turned out to be, filled with food, history, mixology, sun and an impromptu jam sesh!

Before heading out from Columbia (about 114 miles away or about a two-hour drive), I knew our time was going to be limited. Having heard that you could spend at least a week just putzing around town, checking out its historical sites, like Fort Sumter and The Citadel as well as tasting the fares of its renowned restaurants, I wasn’t going to be able to see and do it all, but that was okay. I had great “tour guides,” who had a few local connections and favorite places they wanted to share. But, before I get into those, I wanted to turn you on to with what  most mainstream tourists, which I am not, would’ve had on their agenda.

Charleston was originally named Charles Towne after King Charles of England, but this was just a logo to an inn.

Charleston was originally named Charles Towne after King Charles of England, but this was just a logo to an inn.

A brief history

Founded in 1670 as Charles Towne in honor of King Charles II of England, Charleston adopted its present name in 1783. By 1690, Charles Towne was the fifth largest city in North America, and it remained among the ten largest cities in the United States through the 1840’s, at which time it was a bustling trade center – the hub of the Atlantic trade of African slaves, cotton, silk and tea for the Southern colonies.

It was also the city which started the civil war. In December of 1860,  following the election of Abraham Lincoln, South Carolina voted to secede from the Union – hence why the Confederate flag still flies in the capital of Columbia.  On January 9, 1861, cadets of the Citadel, an arsenal-turned-military academy, opened fire from Fort Sumter on the Union ship, Star of the West, that entered Charleston’s harbor.

The rest, well, is history…

Culturally Speaking

Known for its rich history, well-preserved architecture, restaurant community, and mannerly people, Charleston has received a large number of accolades, including “America’s Most Friendly City” by Travel + Leisure in 2011 and “the most polite and hospitable city in America” by Southern Living magazine.

Charleston is also famous for its unique culture, which blends traditional Southern U.S., English, French, and West African elements. The downtown peninsula is well known for its art, music, local cuisine, and fashion.  Must eats, like the Hominy Grill (synonymous for Shrimp and Grits), Jestine’s Kitchen holly low country eats, FIG and the Tattooed Moose for their Food Network-famous features would’ve been nice, but it was the pristine beaches, epicurean delights, artistry and funk that scratched the surface for me.

“It’s always an adventure with the McCaulley’s”

Before even arriving in Charleston, the adventure had already begun by means of a little car trouble. So I wanted to take the opportunity to clarify a couple questions I received on my previous post “Early Insights,” which alluded to them, but left a little room for worry for some. Yes, we had a minor delay in getting there. It was my friend’s Ford Escape (not my Mazda) that encountered minor break trouble on the way in to town. But, it was not a big deal – nothing that a short stop and cool-off couldn’t fix. Within minutes we were on our way to our first stop in Charleston:

Folly Beach Pier

Folly Beach Pier

Folly Beach in the house.

Folly Beach in the house.

Folly Beach: I had heard great things about this little beach town before even stepping foot on it. It was (and still is) my Wanee sister’s favorite place to be, so we had to check it out even though her husband probably preferred that we didn’t. He’s just not a beach guy, but he rolled with it so she and I could squeeze in a little quality time on the South Carolina shore.

With its beach boutiques, surf and skate shops as well as family-owned bars and eateries, Folly Beach reminded me of a scaled down version of Santa Cruz, California, sans the boardwalk and sea lions. Like many beach-side communities, it was laid back, casual but really cool with a West Coast kind of swagger. Lacking the rocky cliffs and cold currents of the Pacific, it was truly an East Coast coastline, with expansive sandy beaches, significant tidal surge and a fishing pier.

 

Taco Boy. Fusion tacos and Margaritas.

Taco Boy. Fusion tacos and Margaritas.

Taco Boy: Having just got out of the car, our first stop was a needed one: food and drink. So we stopped into a place my friends frequent every time they’re in town. Taco Boy. Adding to Folly Beach’s west coast flair, Taco Boy served up an impressive selection of taco fusion. So we sampled the Baja fish, kimchi beef, Al Pastor, braised beef and Carnitas Norteno tacos, while slugging several traditional and jalapeno margaritas. Like tequila, but not a fan of sour mix? Try ordering a margarita with just tequila and lime juice. My friend did, and it was a simple and sessionable take on a classic…without the heartburn.

 

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Gin Joint: After soaking up the sun in Folly Beach, we ventured into downtown Charleston, where I had a plethora of recommendations at which to eat and drink some more. But having filled up sufficiently at Taco Boy, we opted to try a speak easy-style mixologist bar, called The Gin Joint. What an impressive place! At first, we weren’t sure if we were dressed appropriately to even go in but after a quick inspection inside, it was green light go! With its cool-colored walls and hipster-fashioned staff, we perused the menu, complimented with provisions, cheeses, deserts and, of course, cocktails.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Feeling a little daring, I opted to go with the Bartenders Choice, which allows you to choose two adjectives which the mixologist would blend together. In true form, I opted for “smokey” and “herbal”, and while I don’t remember exactly what was included, I have to say I was super impressed by the green-colored concoction I received. My company enjoyed champagne and the Six Shooter, which expertly blended together Rye Whiskey, Smoked Honey, Tosolini, Cynar, on Mole Bitters poured over an oversized, crafted cube of ice. Priced at around $10 per cocktail, I would’ve gladly paid over $22 which represented their signature and most high-end libation – The Apple Skin Bittered Sling, which blended Thomas Handy Cask Strength Rye Whiskey, Ramazzotti Amaro, Sorghum Molasses, Homemade Apple Skin Bitters. Next time you’re in Charleston, be sure to stop by. You will leave feeling right as rain…even if there isn’t any in the forecast.

Running a little late to meet up with a friend of my hosts, rather than hoofing it down Bay Street to King Street, (where the action is), we decided to catch a cab – a rickshaw ride to be more accurate. And, I’m so glad we did! Not only did the driver take us down a path less traveled in Charleston, which allowed us to soak up the sights of its historic alleys, it turned out to be my Wanee sister’s first time in a rickshaw. Yay for her!Her face says it all: First ride in a rickshaw!

 

Fish: Innovative cuisine.

Fish: Innovative cuisine.

Fish: Arriving on King Street, we easily navigated our way to Fish, where we were to catch our friend and local jazz guitarist, Lee Barbour, play an improvised set at this schmancy French-Asian establishment. Too caught up in the calming sounds of Lee’s guitar, we decided not to have a proper dinner, but I have to admit I drooled a little bit over their fresh and seasonal, sweet and spicy, classic and modern menu with the finest local ingredients, reimagining French and Asian classics. We did sample a petite plate of Don’t Peel, But Eat Shrimp, poached in coconut and citrus and accompanied by a ginger cocktail sauce. I didn’t want to leave Charleston without sampling their local, coastal shrimp. The one regret was not ordering the Duck Croque “Mad Duck”, which featured confit duck, foie gras, emmethal, bacon and challah brioche. Next time. And, there will be one!

The Rarebit: With Lee wrapping up his sexy set at Fish and my friends looking to catch up, the four of us headed down King Street only to discover The Rarebit, home of the best Moscow Mule (Vodka, ginger beer and limeade) ever and some damn fine fried Chicken and Waffles, too! In fact the only one of us that didn’t opt for the Chicken and Waffles as breakfast-for-dinner was our female counterpart, who ordered a proper Shrimp and Grits – which Charleston is known for – just so I could say I did. Creamy but not heavy and freshly milled, I’m glad she did. Hey girl, hey!! I’d highly recommend The Rarebit to anyone eating and drinking their way through Charleston. The menu is filled with elevated comfort food. Just keep in mind that anytime after 10pm is breakfast only. And I’m glad it was!

Juanita Greenberg’s Nacho Royale: With the night winding down (or so we thought) and the three of us having to make the drive back to Columbia (duty calls), we wandered down King Street a ways to the most unlikely of places featuring even more unsuspecting sounds. Stumbling into this not-so-impressive taco joint (as compared to our previous stops), the door was over-run with 20-something, college- looking kids, who could’ve been accused of loitering but were just having their smokes. Despite Lee’s recommendation that local musician friends of his were going to be playing, we were just about to call it night when the tunes started up. Funky ass bass! Within minutes, the four of us had drinks in hand and were warming up to a local funk jam session in the making. After only one or two songs, the guitarist approached “Uncle Lee” and asked him to sit in, handing him his guitar. What followed was about 20 – 30 minutes of uninterrupted funk. It was so funky, we could’ve smelled it all the way back in Columbia. Pee Yew! Just goes to show some of the best things in life are not and cannot be scheduled.

Looking back, I was thoroughly impressed with Charleston. I expected to find a Savannah-like, city filled with southern charm but discovered an up-and-coming scene that gives the swanky side of Las Vegas a run for its money. Although there was a lot that I did not get to see or do due to time limitations, I wouldn’t have had it any other way! I was fortunate to have seen the real side of Charleston, from historic sites and what was once a slave market to Food Network-featured restaurants and auditory funk. But most of all, I got to experience the city the way a local would want. Thanks guys!

If you're in Charleston, you're #winning. This mirror at The Republic reminded me of a men's room in Las Vegas.

If you’re in Charleston, you’re #winning. This mirror at The Republic reminded me of that.

Before I sign off, I have to acknowledge that this post is two weeks behind the power curve, but the good news is I’m catching up. Check back soon as I will be filling you in on my more recent adventures to Asheville, North Carolina, Pisgah National Park and Nashville, Tennessee where I will be for the next couple of days.

Until then, thanks for stopping by. Love the support!

P.S. – Did I miss anything? If so, don’t hesitate to leave me a comment for next time. I appreciate it…and more, you!

Early Insights

Traveling is an eye opener…in more ways than one. In addition to the sights, sounds and surprises that find you along the way, you’d be surprised how quickly you can learn in just the first couple of hours of being on the road. So no matter how prepared you think you are, you might want to think again.

In this post, I’ll share what’s caused me to think twice. First though, I want to let you know that I made it to my first destination: Columbia, South Carolina. And what a great time it is! But, before I recall the experiences this awesome southern city has offered me over the last few days, I want to take a step back and share with you a few of insights I’ve gained in just the first few hours of my first, open-ended road trip adventure.

What I was able to consolidate down to in just three weeks.

What I was able to consolidate down to in just three weeks.

You need more time. If you think you’ve allowed yourself enough time to prep and pack, you haven’t. Although the idea of journeying had been brewing for a year or more, I’ve been running through the logistics in my mind ever since. Before I left, I was fortunate to have almost three weeks of uninterrupted time to focus on closing out in Orlando. Ridding myself of most material possessions. Checking out of the house I was renting. Moving. Paying off any remaining balances on bills and utilities as well as preparing for my upcoming trip. I’m an intricate planner, live by to-do lists, do my best to schedule and anticipate as many eventualities as possible, but it didn’t prove to be enough.
Intending to leave at 8:00a.m. on a Monday, I found myself up extremely late the night before and running three hours behind the next day due to trivial to-do’s – things I was meant to do but just didn’t have the time. My miscalculation caused me to skip Savannah, Georgia, one of the first planned stops along the way, which brings me to my next point:

Farewell fare at Mom's favorite fast food place. WaWa, I will miss you.

Farewell fare at Mom’s favorite fast food place. WaWa, I will miss you.

Flexibility is the ticket. Unless you’re away on business and have to literally schedule every meeting, meal, networking event and “must see,” I say stay fluid. I’m finding it’s helpful to have a rough sketch of where I want to go, what I want to do and when, but marrying yourself to an itinerary really only seems to impose limits and cause stress. That’s not what traveling is all about. So, out the window it went, and here are the realizations that took its place: Don’t over-plan and remember to take your time! Before you go, say your “goodbyes” and “see ya later(s)” over a meal (no matter how casual it may be) even if your timeline doesn’t allow for it. You’ll miss the people you’re leaving behind and having face time with them before you leave gives you something to remember and hold on to. Skip a stop along the way to provide more time (and consideration) for the people you are going to see – in-so-far you can come back and see it at a later time. Stop often and don’t rush along the way as long you stay in touch and keep your peeps up to date.

You won’t get to it all. Naturally, you’ll want to look into and plan the time you’re going to spend at your destination. Must sees, highlights, historical and natural landmarks are all very important in ensuring you get to experience the destination and everything it has to offer. If a week (plus or minus a few days) seems like plenty of time to do and see it all, it’s not. A few days can’t kill curiosity, but don’t sweat it. As I said before, stay flexible. The people you’re traveling with and those you’re going to see will want to contribute to your experience, and it’s important that you allow them to. I, personally, was flattered to see the care and concern my friends put into my time with them. More often than not, they’re right, and the list you made as an outsider was based on commercial interests (Food Network and Travel Channel) or other travelers’ reviews (TripAdvisor, Yelp, Google Local, etc.) who may or may not share the same interests and values as you. So, stay open to it all, and don’t be afraid to substitute one activity or point of interest for another. Chances are you won’t “miss out” and might just be pleasantly surprised. I know I was.

The other thing that will keep you from being the Energizer rabbit that keeps going and going and going is down time. Everyone needs it, but few pencil it in. By not allowing yourself to relax and just be, not only will you run yourself ragged, spend more than you may be able to afford, or worse, put things-to-do in the way of the personal connections you’re there to make. Seek to find the balance between entertainment and the human need to build relationships and just be. You (and hopefully those you’re visiting) will be grateful you did.

My Mazda. My mode.

My Mazda. My mode.

What can go wrong, will. It’s Murphy’s law. While I’m happy to report that nothing has gone “wrong” (yet), I anticipate something will. Things break and mishaps happen. It’s all a part of the journey, and it’s all good! As a traveler, it’s important to anticipate them but not let less-than-ideal situations cloud your perception or stand in the way of appreciating an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. For me, my 2008 Mazda 3 is my one and only mode. With approximately 70,000 miles on it prior to my departure, I had it checked out before I headed out. The dealer gave it a “green light go” and said everything was perfect. It wasn’t. And although its not the mechanics fault, nor does it effect its running condition, no sooner did I get to Columbia and started running around town with my hosts – who I must say have not only accepted me as family but shown me Southern hospitality like I’ve never experienced before. Love you guys, really do! – the passenger-side door / lock mechanism broke. Now closed, the front right door will not open, but it’s no big deal. I could’ve worried, stressed and paid out the ass to have it fixed, but I didn’t…at least not yet. My mates will just have to play Dukes of Hazard by hopping in and out of the window or climbing across the console from the driver-side door. Worse things could have (and probably will) happen.

Yesterday (Thursday, July 11th) was testament to that. My Wanee music family and I were on our way to Charleston, South Carolina to eat, drink and beach our way through this quintessential coastal town. About three quarters of the way there, we hit heavy traffic and had to play “stop and go” for several miles. As we did, we noticed the car would not coast. Something was hindering the front right wheel from spinning freely. We could smell the brakes, and we could see smoke. So, we pulled over onto the shoulder, let it cool down and tried to loosen the caliper. No sooner did we stop; we were on our way. What was most telling (and an insightful embrace of the nature of exploring) was my friend’s – an experienced road tripper – post on Facebook: “It’s always an adventure.” And that’s exactly what it is. It’s just a matter of how you accept the unexpected.

Gas goes fast. This fact needs no explanation except to say that when you’re driving to and from work and running errands around town, a full tank seems sufficient. Locally, it may be, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little surprised by how fast gas goes and how little a full tank really is when you’re going the distance. Even with decent gas mileage (32 MPG highway), I burned through about one and half tanks just getting to my first port of call. Maybe it is the wind resistance caused by my mountain bike I’m toting on the back of my car?

Anyway, I’m just five days into my trip and feel like I’ve already learned more than I ever could in the “race” I used to run. I can’t wait to see what else comes to light along the way.

Have you learned a lesson you’d like to share? Please do. Just put it in a comment below. I thank you, in advance, as it will help prepare me for what might be next.

 

Gearing Up

Gearing Up

What do I pack?  Am I bringing too much? Will it fit?

Anyone who has gone anywhere has surely asked themselves these same questions. After all, packing woes are just a part of travel. So, with less than 12 hours to go before I hit the road, I thought I’d share with you what I’m bringing and how I’m going about it.

Before we dive into the packing lists below, it’s worth noting that my road trip is not your average weekend getaway or  a week’s vacation. This in itself presents a few challenges that a suitcase won’t fix, but it also provides a little wiggle room that airlines don’t.

In an effort to keep my expenditures low, I am camping quite a bit along the way. But, this doesn’t mean I can just prepare for the woods. I’m also staying with friends and have a handful of hotel reservations along the way as well. This means that not only do I need a fair amount of gear that will keep me self-sufficient when I’m off the beaten path but that the clothing I bring has to be flexible and occasion appropriate for a variety of social situations.

The other consideration that I had to keep in mind when prepping is that the first leg of my trip will likely last at least three months and spread the gap from the peak heat of summer to the cool-down of mid-fall.  Additionally, I will experience varying geography, from the beaches of South Carolina to the mountains of Vermont. So as much as I’d love to just throw t-shirts, shorts, a swim suit and flip flops into a duffle bag, I can’t. But, I can afford to bring a small wardrobe of clothes for every occasion,  understanding that the longest I plan on going without the convenience of a washer or dryer is about seven days, plus or minus a few?

But before we get to what I’ll be wearing along the way (sorry fashionistas), let’s start with what I love most. Gear.

Camping Gear: While my car-born road trip will cause be to break from my preference of being an ultra-light minimalist, much of the gear I have acquired along the way will still come in handy. The following items will keep me going during the camping leg of my trip and help me get through even the most unexpected situations:

Gear, glorious gear

Gear, glorious gear

  • Kelty Redcloud 90 liter, internal frame backpack with detachable lid that doubles as a waist pack
  • Camelback 30-oz reservoir
  • Ascend ultra light 2-man tent
  • Mummy bag (Sleeping bag rated to 20 degrees – although that is questionable base on previous experience)
  • Travel pillow and lightweight flannel blanket
  • Ascend hiker tapered sleeping pad
  • Eno double nest hammock with suspension straps
  • Collapsible camp chair with
  • MSR MicroRocket backpacking stove
  • BioLight wood-burning CampStove with thermo-electric rechargeable battery
  • Primus Micron Lantern with replacement mantels
  • 5 canisters of Iso-butane fuel for stove and lantern
  • Head lamp and flashlight
  • Black Diamond Apollo LED lantern
  • Gerber hatchet and knife
  • Collapsible camp shovel
  • Oh Cool camp fan
  • FroggTogg’s Ultralight 2 rain suit
  • Flint and steel fire starter, Fatwood, dryer lint
  • Waterproof matches, lighter(s)
  • 1 liter Nalgene wide mouth water bottle with water purifying tablets

    The essentials

    The essentials

  • Compass
  • 5-piece mess kit, stainless steel cup, spork(s), can opener
  • Griddle
  • Portable grill
  • Cooler
  • Spatula, kitchen knife, sheet-style cutting board, heavy duty aluminum foil
  • Bungee cords
  • Emergency blanket
  • First aid: Tweezers, scissors, medical tape, gauze, non-stick pads, assorted band aids, moleskin, ace bandage, hot / cool pack(s), alcohol / cleansing wipes, antibiotic ointment
  • Medicine locker: ibuprofen, Benadryl, acetaminophen, sleep aid, Nyquil, Pseudoephedrine, Tums, vitamin C, Emergen-C, wet wipes
  • Toiletries: Toothbrush, toothpaste, travel-size body gel and shampoo, shaving cream, razor, Q-tips, lip balm, lotion
  • Arctic chill towel
Tools of my the trade

Tools of my trade. Camera not shown for obvious reasons.

Technology: These days, no packing list is complete without tech, and as a social media guy portable communication technology is the name of my game. Here are the essentials I’m bringing with me:

  • Acer Windows 8 touch screen laptop with 1TB of storage
  • Google Nexus 7 Android tablet
  • Microsoft Wedge Keyboard
  • Olympus TG-830 camera
  • External hard drive
  • Google Nexus 4 Android Smartphone with essential weather, maps and GPS apps
  • USB thumb drives
  • NOAA Emergency Radio

Clothes: Next to all the fun survival and tech stuff above, clothes are distant second. But for those of you who are curious, I included my wearable packing list below.

  • 6 pair of shorts
  • 3 pair of  jeans / pants
  • 3 polo shirts

    The clothes on your back

    The clothes on my back

  • 8 long-sleeve / short sleeve t-shirts
  • 2 Columbia PFG tactical nylon shirts
  • 3 dress shirts
  • 2 hoodies
  • Windbreaker
  • 8 pair of underwear
  • 14 pair of socks (why so many? Because clean, dry feet are key!)           
  • Hiking shoes, tennis shoes and flip flops – all with arch support
  • 3 baseball caps
  • Sunglasses
  • Belt
  • Towel (Technically, it’s a bath sheet if you wanted to split hairs?)
  • Aftershave bag with many of the toiletries mentioned in the camping list section, but nicer 😉 

So, there you have it. My next three months in a bag…literally. I’m sure there are a few, non-essential items that I’m leaving out, like a journal, pens important life documents, sunscreen and bugspray but you get the gist of it.

The question still remains, “What am I forgetting?” Leave a comment and let me know. Or, just wish me luck! I leave tomorrow around 8am EST and will update you from the road. First stop, Savannah, GA then through to Columbia, SC to see my Wanee Family.

P.S. – This just in: Thanks to two very loving and concerned parents, I now have a plethora of gift cards that will keep me happy, fed and fat along the way. Anything that keeps the expenditures down is key! Thanks Mom and Dad. I love you!!

Thanks Mom and Dad! I love you!

Thanks Mom and Dad! I love you!