Having lived on the coast of South Carolina for the past 30 years, we like to think we’ve become pretty fair hurricane watchers.
We haven’t evacuated for all of them. We left for Hugo and Floyd, but not for Charlie and Irene, among others; Matthew came and went while we were on a long-planned camping trip.
This one, Florence, had early characteristics of Hugo, and after watching last year’s deadly storms, we made plans while it was still far out in the Atlantic.
We found a campsite at Hamilton Branch State Park, over by Augusta, Georgia, and left McClellanville early Thursday with a cat, a dog and both cars.
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Among our neighbors, we were the only ones to leave. We’re not evacuating, exactly, we told ourselves. We’re going camping. We do it often, OK?
I don’t mean to belittle the hardship so many in Horry County are going through - or the terrible, deadly ordeal suffered by our North Carolina neighbors - but our weekend turned out better than we might have expected.
Western South Carolina was an unfamiliar part of the state and we figured we’d spend some time there, maybe drive over to Augusta. Elaine had never been there, but I’d spent many days in Augusta during various Masters Tournaments.
Turns out we never got to Augusta. We found a nearby town called McCormick, population just under 3,000, and sort of adopted it as our home base.
On Saturday, we spent the day at McCormick’s annual Gold Rush Festival, which is not unlike McClellanville’s Shrimp Festival except for the parade and the McCormick High School Marching Band.
And we learned a bit about the history of McCormick, where in 1851 a local farmer, William Dorn, discovered what became the second-richest gold mine in South Carolina.
Dorn’s mining operations were purchased in 1872 by Cyrus McCormick, the inventor of the first successful mechanical reaper. Eventually the town renamed itself for its most famous citizen.
Another pleasant surprise was the J. Strom Thurmond Dam and Lake at Clark’s Hill, 22 miles north of Augusta.
The dam was built between 1947 and 1954 and it created Lake Thurmond, a 72,000-acre lake with 1,200 miles of meandering shoreline.
Thurmond Lake is the largest Corps-operated lake east of the Mississippi; it has 20 Corps-operated parks, six state parks and countless recreational venues.
Our final surprise came at the Thurmond Dam Visitor’s Center, where Elaine initially chatted with a woman who had evacuated from Little River.
Then, as we checked the storm on her phone, a woman came up and said, “Are you Bob? Bestler?”
Wait, what, I said. Or something like that. `Yes, that would be me.’‘
Her name was Heidi McComb, an evacuee from Murrells Inlet. She said her husband had been in the newspaper business and she has long been an avid reader of my column.
When she asked about our dog Wasabi, then mentioned our book store, The Whale’s Tale, and Elaine’s recent owl rescue, I knew she was the person I’ve been writing for during the past 30 years.
Seriously. As I once told an interviewer, the person I have in mind when I write is a really cool woman, probably around 70 - someone like Heidi McComb.
So, Heidi, it was great to meet you. Hope you made it home safely.
Contact Bob Bestler at firstname.lastname@example.org.