|I went hiking this weekend with my oldest friend, Ransom. I grew up in my grandmother's house in Sumter, SC
and Ransom grew up living next door in his grandmother's house. You might say our 68 year old friendship
started out on the long, dusty driveway -- our playground -- that ran between the two houses.
After arriving in Columbia, SC, I checked into my favorite hotel -- Holiday Inn Express at Exit 80 on I-20 and
about 15 miles east of Columbia headed towards Camden, SC. Once up in my room (same one every time), I
immediately looked out the window to check on the American Flag that usually flies over the
Capital Chevrolet Dealership on the other side of I-20.
Seeing the gigantic flag flying proudly in the breeze made my arrival complete -- all was OK.
I immediately got set up by the window with my laptop and camera and started watching the world go by while I
sipped a few cool ones and enjoyed the show. Soon, night fall greeted me and after a quick delivered pizza
dinner, I propped up in bed to watch some TV before calling it quits for the day.
Ransom met me in the parking lot early the next morning. We had planned a short hike over in the Congaree
National Park but I also wanted to show him the new place I had found close by to the park -- a place called the
Congaree Bluffs Heritage Preserve that was located about 15 miles away and
on the south side of the Congaree River.
Soon we were there at the Preserve. What makes this place so special and unique is that once you hike over to
the overlook platform, you can look northwards out over the entire Congaree National Park on the other side of
the Congaree River -- 200 feet down below you. The high bluffs on the south side of the river allow you to
actually look outwards almost 35 miles -- clear up to the ridge line where I-20 runs towards Camden.
Hiking over to the overlook, we walked by a recovering burned over section of land that the Department of
Natural Resources (who owns the Preserve) is working on to get longleaf pine trees to start growing again. We
passed by one area covered in Common Mullein plants -- a biennial plant that thrives in open disturbed areas like
this. Native to Europe, this weed (can grow over 6 feet tall in its 2nd year when the flower stalk comes out of
the growth started the year before) has been of interest to man for a long time.
Pliny the Elder (Roman author, naturalist, and natural philosopher, as well as naval and army commander of the
early Roman Empire) described its medicinal uses 2, 000 years ago.
Our day at the preserve was perfect for long range viewing out over the swamp down below and after we got to
the overlook, we were rewarded with some spectacular views.
After soaking in the sights, we made out way back to my Suburban and we then headed back across the river to
the Congaree National Park. Since we were both sort of out of shape (neither of us had hiked in months), we
decided to just take the 2.6 mile long Boardwalk Trail.
We took our time walking and enjoying talking to each other. We had literally known each other our entire lives
and it felt good being able to enjoy each other's company without reservations or hesitations. Finally, we
completed our journey around the boardwalk and once safely back at the Visitors Center,
we loaded up and headed back to the hotel.
After saying our goodbyes at the hotel, I went up to my room, filled up the Jacuzzi Tub, grabbed a few cool
ones and sat back and let the swirling hot water do its magic on tired and aching muscles. Later, I assumed
my position by the window and once again, enjoyed watching the world go by.
As the sun went down and presented me with yet another gorgeous sunset, I gave thanks for a great day
visiting with my oldest friend, enjoying two great short hikes, and finally, seeing another
colorful day come to a quiet and peaceful end.
Yes, as I tipped my cool one to the fading sun, I realized that I was a happy camper.