South Carolina is hot! During my first evening, I tried everything to get cool – max AC in my car, taking a cold shower, chomping on ice cubes – until I decided to simply embrace the heat.
And with that mentality I began my first day at Congaree National Park by taking a 12-mile hike. I figured that with enough water I could enjoy some solitude and see one of America’s largest old growth bottomland hardwood forests.
Thoroughly doused in bug spray? Trail map? Double-knotted shoes? Check, check, and check!
I set out and immediately became entranced with the complexity and serenity of the Congaree ecosystem. I also became immediately drenched in my own sweat and draped with a multitude of spider webs. Yet the hike was good! There were so many little things to notice: salamanders, crawfish burrows, brightly colored dragonflies, and an assortment of earthy smells. The trees alone were fascinating. You’d think that an entire forest would become mundane after a couple of hours, but I kept noticing particular things that made these trees diverse and interesting.
I came across one person on this particular hike: a park rancher on her way to check out some bat trees for the sake of data collection. We exchanged pleasantries regarding the weather* and then went on our ways.
Once I returned to my car, I was tired, dehydrated (my 3 liters ran out near the end), and cut up from bush whacking through a tricky section of the hike. But I was so happy and completely mesmerized by the natural world that I had experienced. In fact, as I fell to sleep that night, I could’t wait to go back and learn more about this magical slice of paradise.
In less than 20 minutes, I ran over 35 different numbers through my head. Budgets, bank accounts, gasoline, miles, and other glorious concepts related to my (tentative) journey are still fluttering around my brain. It seems more real somehow, put down on paper. Looking at expenses make this pipe dream seem somewhat more realistic and slightly less like a vaporous wind.
15,758 miles is the magical number. I can’t imagine driving this far alone. I can’t imagine NOT undertaking this trip of a lifetime.