Sunday, March 14, 2010

Savannah GA - Running the Barrier Islands

With as much travel as we do it is unusual that we are very surprised at things we see on our trips. But Georgia had a unique distinction of having TWO such surprises! The first was running a race on a small barrier island off the coast of Georgia and not seeing the ocean until we literally ended the race running onto the beach. The second was the charm that was Savannah.
Since it was a trip to run a race – let’s start there. It was run on Tybee Island, one of a dozen or more small, barrier islands off the coast of Georgia – this one being the furthest north on the South Carolina border and just east of Savannah. In early February there wasn’t much to distinguish it. We didn’t see many dunes, the town was obviously a warm-weather, but smaller resort town – and in early February the race was one of the few things going on. The course wasn’t overly scenic as it looped around through typical barrier island residential areas (lots of sand, palm trees and elevated houses) and there wasn’t the glitz or wealth of other more famous islands. (We also drove around Jekyll Island, which qualified in that category and was a retreat of the rich and famous for decades. Neighboring Cumberland Island was the site of a Kennedy marriage, which of course was of considerable interest to Karen; luckily it was a ferry ride away and not one we had time for!) From a race perspective, it was a good course in that it was as flat as a pancake (probably THE flattest we have run) and it was at sea level. Weather was cool with occasional mist or even light rain, so pretty good running conditions. Since we hadn’t run a race for over two months and had cut back on our training for the winter, it was viewed as a “start the season” event with no real pace objectives. As it turns out, I felt pretty good and, with a couple of exceptions, was able to run every mile faster than the previous one and ended up placing second in my age group in a pretty good-sized field of over 1200 runners. I’ll take it as a successful start to 2010, while completing our 38th State.

Savannah was delightful and charming. (Even our accommodations! We ended up staying in a beautiful house on Hunter Army Airfield – by far, our most luxurious race lodging to date.)
I had heard much about the city, but didn’t really picture it well. The historical area looks much like it did before the Civil War 160 years ago and I was also surprised at how old parts of the city were, not knowing it was Georgia’s first real settlement, dating back nearly 300 years.
The city parks placed strategically in rows every few blocks downtown, the stately old homes, the magnificent magnolias and other hardwoods, draped with Spanish moss providing canopies across the road (and the cemeteries – another spot Karen can’t pass up if it’s fame has spread outside the fence),
the old waterfront area, and pirate hangouts made this a most interesting stop. We toured the Andrew Lowe house where the founder of the Girls Scouts lived after her marriage to a wealthy Savannah resident. Oh – and did I mention the food? Southern comfort food – if not born here – certainly thrives here.

Spending a half-day in the Okefenokee Swamp (per Rachel – the “HokeyPinokey) enroute to Savannah from Jacksonville was an added bonus. It was a bit chilly for the gators to be out, but we did see a few and had a nice boat tour through the swamp followed by a short hike to a great lookout.

So let 2010 begin! And not forgetting the “thoughtful” dimension of this blog, may I just say I obviously needed an American history refresher. Our history is diverse and enlightening; spending time in Savannah was like walking into a history book. I also felt some sense of gratitude that, for whatever reason, Sherman spared Savannah as he torched Georgia near the end of the war. If we want our children to appreciate their history, we probably need to make a bit more of an effort to have them live and experience it more often. It was a lesson not lost on me. And by the way – our trip to Charleston next year should be great!