Tybee: A Beach Vacation

October 22 – 27

Travel Journal

We left South Carolina traveling through the low country along highway 17, over the Savannah River Bridge that locals still refer to as the Talmadge Bridge, which was actually an old metal bridge that has since been scrapped. We drove through the Savannah downtown historic district then south to Victory Drive following it east to the Target. We picked up provisions for a few nights then headed further east, through Thunderbolt, over bridges crossing familiar creeks and rivers, along the causeway, passing Fort Pulaski National Monument, Lazaretto Creek, and Cockspur Island Light House where we landed safely on Tybee Island. We turned left off Highway 80, another left to pull the rig into the River’s End Campground, and finally to site No. 66 which sat beneath a large oak draped with Spanish Moss. The ground covering was white crushed rock. Our neighbors were both single women, one traveling fulltime in a restored vintage trailer and the other traveling in a Volkswagen van camper from her home in the Atlanta area. 

Tybee, an Indian word for salt, is about three miles long across the Eastern beach front and is a place where I spent most of my teenage years coming of age. I skied the back river, camped on Little Tybee, spent hours on the water both on the beach and rivers, and made lots of friends, many I still know and see. It was a fun place to grow up, a time to venture into adulthood and in hindsight, from a father’s perspective, a bit scary, sometimes dangerous, yet a place packed full of good memories.

Lysette also has a long history at Tybee starting in her 20’s, so later than me, but catching up. We both agree our favorite annual Tybee event is the Beach Bum Parade. It is held each May to kick off the summer and is a long procession of people on trailers riding down the main road shooting water cannons at the spectators while the spectators return their volley of water, basically a large water fight.

After setting up camp, we set off by foot to see the beach at the end of Polk Street. We walked as far as the beach sign stating “no pets” and turned back. We got back to camp and had a message from a friend to meet at the end of Polk Street on the beach for a sunset beer. We placed Toohey in the truck to protect the assets and headed that way. We got there, sat down just in time for the rain to dump a bucket or two, soaking us. Weather tough, we stayed as did my old friend who walked up during the deluge of rain. The shower passed and we sat on the beach talking about stuff, old times, getting updates on other friends, and enjoying the cloudy sun set. 

The next morning we woke damp from the humidity of the night air and decided on a run to get all of us some exercise. We chose a direction that first looped the north end of Fort Screven, then down Highway 80 towards the southend. With the heat and humidity being pretty tough on the old guy, and Toohey, evidenced by his long tongue and pants, we decided to turn back somewhere around 14th Street. We made it back running along the back roads to include Lovell Avenue, getting back to Highway 80, and the campground roads. Once back, Toohey gulped down a lot of water and went under the trailer for shade. We have to be more careful with this guy as the heat and humidity seems to be tough on him. 

In just a few days of travel we have gone from using all the blankets we have and each other for all the warmth to sleeping blanketless on top of the sheets in underwear with the fan on. Everything is now damp from humidity and nothing ever fully dries. You can feel the moisture embalming your skin as you move through the air. It is a sense that I had forgotten or at least am no longer used to.

The south end of the island is framed by the back river which has always been a favorite spot of mine. The wider expansive river can be wild with gnarly waves while other times as calm as a windless lake. The status can change with the tides or weather on a moments notice. The views across are of Little Tybee, an unpopulated stretch of land consisting of small islands, hammocks, tidal marshes and creeks. It lacks any commercial enterprise, a place left unharmed but appreciated by those who visit it for its natural beauty and the wildlife living supported by this coastal habitat. The only ways to get there are to swim (not recommended due to rip currents and sharks), paddle, or motor boat. Activities there range from a walk on the beach, paddling or boating the narrow creeks, camping, and fishing. 

Alley 3 is the old boat ramp now covered in a thick layer of beach sand, a place were tours and individuals launch kayaks. We arrived at Alley 3 seeing the normal display of multi-colored sea kayaks lining the beach staged by tour guides with masks and PFD’s waiting for their afternoon tour guests. We spent a few minutes talking to one guide who had actually moved there from Colorado. We set up our beach camp just beyond their launch site, quickly opened a cold can of beer, and unfolded the boiled peanut bag. We sat, laid, and simply enjoyed time for a couple of hours with just one other older couple down the way doing much of the same. We saw porpoises rolling up the river in search of food, and other kayakers and motor boats go by. I watched the waves while trying to understand their rhythm as they rose, rolled, and broke, some moving up the shore further than others, some being drained of energy from the previous wave’s retreat, making me think of analogies of how this natural occurrence resembled life successes and failures on so many levels.

Some waves would roll up the beach giving way to gravity. As they retreat back down the beach towards the river, they take with them the energy of the approaching wave, forcing them to rise up with effort, getting taller, larger, requiring even more effort before breaking, falling, well short of the previous high water mark. Other waves would be more successful, as their time to proceed is benefited from an incoming wave, riding the flow or natural momentum created by its effort before finally launching off its back to easily carry it to new levels, a higher water mark along the beach and sometimes just shy of our towels.

This rhythm, representing the natural way of progress made easier by the leadership that occurs in advance of sending the person, the people, the organization off to accomplish a mission. A culture of an organization, evolution of society, whether it be family, business or improvement of social issues, providing the foundation for those involved to reach greater heights, to sore past existing success while using as little energy or resources needed to advance. These thoughts playing out in my head just as my empty Coors can, pile of shells, and my long stare almost launched me into an afternoon nap. 

After a wonderful few hours on our back river beach spot, pondering the simple stuff, swimming, and sitting, we left the back river beach and headed to Tybee Market for some evening provisions where we ran into our friend and his wife from the previous night. They said they’d be on 8th street with another couple for the sunset around 4:00ish. We also found and purchased a pound of locally caught shrimp for dinner along with some vegetables for a salad. Then, at the advice of my friend, we headed to a place called BG’s next to Bubba Gumps on Lazaretto Creek to purchase some fresh fish. The fish market was located on the docks along the creek, kind of a run down place but with fresh tropical colored paint giving it a festive feel. The interior was modern and clean with a fish counter stocked with fresh grouper, sheepshead, snapper, and several others I can’t recall but that looked tasty. We chose the sheepshead. The nice lady then took time to fillet it for us to perfection.

While Lysette showered, I prepped and cooked the dinner which was amazing. Following the dinner process, we placed Toohey in the truck to protect assets and headed off on bikes to join our friends on the 8th Street beach for the sunset beer. This friend has had a family home there since I met him, about the age of 7, through our parents who were friends well before that. We locked the bikes up behind their house, said hello to his step mom, and set off over the dunes to meet them on the beach. There was one other couple and we were later joined by another long time friend, town councilman, and my first employer of the Burke’s Float Stand. I would always say that this long time friend was the first to hire me, fire me, and re-hire me and was my conduit into the insurance profession. In fact, there were years in the insurance business when we’d be sitting around a formal conference room table in pressed suits for a presentation to a client, taking turns introducing ourselves by giving a brief resume. I’d introduce myself, noting the years with that agency with prior experience of renting floats on Tybee Island, which is the place that I’m working my way back to, which would typically end in some level of light comments before moving onto the next stuffy resume. We all enjoyed a beer or two, the conversation, and the nice sunset while standing on the beach sand, a major piece of foundation of my early life. It was a fun evening.

We woke the following morning and had a slow start and a nice breakfast before heading out on the bikes. We got word from my son that he and his wife would meet us in the afternoon. They were first going to downtown Savannah for Wag-O-Ween which is a fundraiser costume thing for dogs with participating merchants providing treats to those who enter their stores. We agreed and looked forward to seeing them, but first a bike ride.

We set off, first heading to the area of Lazaretto Creek just shy of the bridge, then back towards town. We road out Spanish Hammock, through the Crab Shack parking lot to see the alligators, back into town doing out and backs on several roads, then Jones Street, around back river, through the main parking lots down front on the south end, before back and around Fort Screven on the north end. Hot and now sweaty, we returned to camp just in time for a phone call from my son that they were headed down. 

They showed up, he dressed like a bottle of mustard, she dressed like a bottle of ketchup, with their dog Hank, dressed as a hotdog topped with mustard and ketchup. It was even better seeing them drive up wearing their costumes. Toohey enjoyed Hank but maybe with too much excitement as not being able to separate a real dog from edible food was just too much, sending him into to the truck for a time-out. We sat and talked for a bit before making our way over to a local dive, Huc-a-poos, for a mid-afternoon lunch. We got a table outside, the farthest from people, and enjoyed a few beers and a large slice of pizza. They left for their drive home and we headed back to camp. We walked Toohey around the lighthouse with the heat and humidity really wearing him down. We returned to set up the awning for the forecasted overnight rain and Lysette headed to the beach for a late afternoon visit while I made some final adjustments to the awning and mixed a light drink. 

The finale for the night was a drive down to the the pier where we’d hoped that Toohey would be allowed to join us for a stroll but that wasn’t the case. He dutifully stayed back to protect the assets while Lysette and I continued on. We stopped along the way to witness the moonlight glitter on the ocean surface, the waves and their lack of pattern breaking up the beach, and the customized wagons used by the pier fisherman who venture out at this time of night to catch their feast. The people, all kinds, shapes and colors moving out and back, some just standing and looking, some occupying this space and time together, while others were there for the sport. We left the pier for a short walk up and down 16th street, remarking on the memories of the place where the amusement park once sat now replaced by a large building, the old arcade on the corner of 16th Street, Kitten’s Korner: now some other bar, the Carbo House hotel that remains, Chu’s Department Store: a staple for years with the old lunch counter that was in the back and where I ate chicken sandwiches with my bossman paid for from the till of the float stand. All of these memories circling through my head. 

The need for a full outside beach day was on. We answered the call with a three mile run to drain off some built up energy in the pooch, then off to 7th street where we would find a shady spot to park the truck. With the Tacoma parked in the shade and Toohey comfortably in the truck providing security, we grabbed some sandy real estate, sat, and chilled on the beach. The crowds weren’t there as it was still raining in Savannah and the last weekend in October. Most in the area think of the beach in the summer, move on to fall things like school and SEC football this time of year, making this a great beach day for us. 

Tybee has always been known for its wide beach at low tide, the sand moving from the softness of the expansive beach dunes to the hard packed, darker shade of tan, wet from the morning high tides. There is a tidal pool running horizontal to the ocean break along the beach, left filled with trapped water warmed by the sun and air. As we sit, the tide creeps up the beach, ever consuming the land in front of us. The surf completely fills in the tidal pools before moving on up. 

We sit and watch, Lysette lies in the hard sand on her towel. Me sitting with my back against the SUP bag and equipment as this will be the extent of its use today based on the chop in the water. A few others are there, some walk past, one couple gathers shells while another tells us of the sharks teeth they’ve found. I swim, we stroll, but mostly just enjoy the moment as beach style relaxation is the order. 

We got a text from our friend we had beers with on 8th street several night before inviting us on a boat ride later in the afternoon and we quickly accept. The 3 o’clock departure gives us a slow leave from the beach and time to move back to the camp to reset. 

We meet him at his boat which he keeps at a friend’s dock located behind his friend’s house. We parked in front of his car along the road then walk around with our stuff to find him at the boat, washing it down from all the marsh animals that use it for a dry land bathroom. We untie the 20- foot Mako with a 150 Evinrude engine and pull out of the man-made creek lined with other houses and docks. This area empties into Chimney Creek which has a small fish camp marina and a much bigger Crab Shack Restaurant complete with alligator exhibit. From there, Chimney Creek empties into the back river of Tybee where we pick up speeds and head towards the inlet into the Atlantic Ocean, keeping Tybee on our left and Little Tybee to our right. In front of us is a gnarly mass of angry water, an ocean break that constantly changes the sandbar creating caution for boaters navigating these waters. At low tide you witness a large sandbar, a beach, where boaters anchor to enjoy the day. This sand bar creates an earthen dam of sorts calming the waters in the back river, creating the feel of a lake on calm winds. As the tides roll over it, there is a mass of angry water thundering through the cut where many have been caught and drowned. What we see from the boat at this moment is a horizon with crashing waves with no land mass, it is high tide. Our captain turns the bow of the boat right towards Jacks Cut and Little Tybee.

We head into Jacks Cut requiring our friend and boat captain to have an updated knowledge of the shifting sandbars and quick engines to navigate the potential breaking waves. Once inside, the creek narrows to about the width of the boat and winds through the marsh, eventually opening to a larger creek, then a view of the backside of the the main Little Tybee Island. Most passing through here are in small boats and kayaks, those who know the fishing holes around the area or just simply enjoying the beauty and wildlife. We spot an eagle, or osprey, egrets, many other coastal birds we aren’t able to name. The place for me is full of memories, stories of camping trips, coming of age stories of me playing all day in a swimsuit, a 13-foot Boston Whaler with great friends and family. 

We turned around and headed back enjoying good conversation. Heading back up river we made the right turn into Horse Pen creek that sits between the main land mass of Tybee and a stretch of land jetting out from the main land mass of Tybee, and behind our boat captains home.We shared more stories of past times, as we putted through the small creek.

Now heading home, we left the creek, the motor sputtered and shut off. Our friend, requiring tools for repair but having none, went to work. I, being the road hardened camper, quickly gave him my trusty key chain sized leatherman tool. His diagnosis was a gas line getting air so he started disconnecting the hoses by loosening the clamps, moving them around, tightening clamps, and whatnots. In the end, we made it home with me sitting on a small cooler, slouched over the hose by the engine giving the primer ball a constant squeeze to keep the engine charged with fuel while the rest of the boat enjoyed the conversation and our friend, boat captain spilled another beer for Toohey to lap up. The boat ride and time spent with was a great opportunity for us and a great end to an already perfect day at Tybee.  

Our last day started off and would remain a bit cloudy, yet with temperatures nicely placed in the mid 70’s for the day, the beach was in order. We decided on the back river next to Alley 3 where we were a few days prior as we enjoy the views of Little Tybee and fewer people. With the tide low and the winds light, we also got a calm, lake like body of water where we could SUP and maybe even with Toohey on deck.

We began first with a run around Fort Screven to start the day going right. We then loaded up and headed for the destination. We arrived as a kayak group was finishing and now, alone, set our stuff on the small thin section of beach. We added air and the skeg to the paddleboard, connected the pieces of the paddle, and retrieved Toohey from his position protecting the assets. We positioned the SUP at the end of the boat launch section with the thought of arguing the point that he was on the boat launch versus the beach should we be questioned by the law. With Toohey now on the bow, we set off for a back river SUP excursion. It didn’t last terribly long as on the inbound loop he became concerned that Lysette wasn’t on deck but on the beach photographing us, which he didn’t like and started barking. We all three waded along the edge of the beach for a while before taking him back to his post in the Tacoma, protecting the assets. 

We remained on the beach for a while longer with a few more trips paddle boarding and just sitting enjoying the quietness of the day. The water seeming to climb up the beach, inch by inch, with each small wave that broke. Another couple came down with their dog and played a bit, a boarder collie that was completely focused on her ball and making sure they kept her entertained. We learned that they were on Tybee from Atlanta to celebrate her birthday. A nice couple with him really playing the California thing a bit too much. But whatever.

We packed it up after a few hours of nothing, but with a bit of an appetite. We have always enjoyed peel and eat boiled shrimp while sitting on the dock at AJ’s so we called for reservations ( a COVID thing). They could take us at 3:30 so we were set. The skies were still overcast and the dock active with the loud birds that we’ve known to occupy the docks while you eat. Always hoping that they won’t poop while flying over. We finished the last of our beer and headed for home. The rest of the evening was spent preparing for our departure, a quick phone chat with a friend in Golden, and sleep. 

Our time at Tybee Island has been a remarkable few days for me. Reacquainting with long time friends, exploring the memories of my youth here, and creating new memories with this traveling team. River’s End RV park is one of the nicest we’ve stayed in during our journey with a pleasant staff, clean facilities, and clean sites. The white rock they use at each site keeps the sand down and gives the camp a clean feeling. Sitting beneath the large oak trees draping with Spanish Moss gives you the Savannah low country ambiance that also delivers great cool shade.

The first six months of our journey has taken us from the Rocky Mountains to the desert then mountains of Utah. We followed the mountains north through Idaho along the Snake river to the Pacific Northwest Coast or Oregon and Washington. Next the team crossed the northern boarders of the lower 48 enjoying the plains and shore experience with the Great Lakes. The right turn was made in Pennsylvania for the southern trip down the eastern mountain range to where we sit now, the southeastern coast. During the trip we’ve hiked or run the most beautiful trails, drove the Tacoma to some amazing places, biked some cool areas, and I’ve submerged myself in every body of water submergible. We leave Tybee today, almost six months into our journey, with a lifetime of wisdom, full of experiences, but now a time to reset. Get things repaired, bodies improved, supplies updated. But mostly we need to spend the next few weeks trying to find a winter solution.  

5 thoughts on “Tybee: A Beach Vacation

  1. It looks and sounds like you guys are still having a great time. I guess you don’t have to worry about you guys turkeying up with “too many” other people.
    Happy Thanksgiving!

  2. Sounds ideal! And the pictures bring back so many memories. Can’t wait to see what your ‘winter’ solution is! Happy Thanksgiving! Gobble! Gobble!

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