A peaceful, soul healing day at Lake Jocassee.

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Lake Jocassee, Devils Fork State Park, Salem, SC

Nature is the best therapist, and is so much cheaper.

First, the backstory (and why I needed this day and others like it).

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I haven’t really discussed it much on this blog, but since her marriage in January, my daughter and her husband have been struggling with opioid/opiate addiction (at the moment, they are both in recovery),  but for my daughter, her addiction is complicated by out of control mood swings.  She has no official diagnosis, but her rapid and intense mood swings that range from deep and debilitating depressions that make her sleep for days, to manic episodes where she can’t sleep at all and flies into rages easily seems to indicate bipolar disorder (which does run in my family, and my son has it too, but his is more under control because of coping skills he’s learned, and his may be less severe than hers).

She lost her Medicaid when she turned twenty six in April, and now has no insurance until she can get on her husband’s insurance through his job.  As a result, the only mental “help” she has been able to receive is awful, really almost worse than getting no help at all.  Her current doctor is impatient with her, charges her way more than she can afford (forcing her to ration her psychiatric medications) and makes her come in every week for her scripts, even though that costs her more than if she came every two weeks, which would make so much more sense.  It’s also hard for her to get to the doctor because she has no car.    She hasn’t seen a talk therapist yet because of the money/car issue, and also because she has an aversion to talk therapy for some reason.  Even the prospect of CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) puts her off.   Her husband is trying to get her to give it a chance, since it has helped him.

She was attending a 12 step meeting, but the man who was driving her to the meeting (also a member) started to take advantage of her sexually, so she stopped going.   I don’t blame her.  I would have too.

As for me, this year has been extremely stressful, and my daughter’s mental illness and addiction is breaking my heart.    I love my daughter dearly but since she started taking opioids, it’s as if something in her brain broke, and even though she is clean now, she seems to have lost any ability she once had had to regulate her emotions, and has become paranoid about her environment and the people around her.  Her episodes of rage seem always directed at me, although I know it’s not really about me at all.  Still, it’s hard not to take the attacks personally.

I know with the opioids, the recovery process takes a long time, but patience isn’t my strong point, and I’ve realized I have no choice but to distance myself from her.  I need to take care of myself.    There’s really nothing I can do for her except pray for her healing and I can’t be of any help to her at all if I’m crazy myself — and between her issues and the awful political situation (which hopefully may be nearing its end but I’m not holding my breath), I am almost there.

I’ve gone on longer about that than I intended about my daughter, but that’s the main reason I haven’t been blogging very much this year, in case any of you wondered.    I’m just preoccupied and worried to the point where it’s not healthy.   I’ve been attending Al Anon meetings when I can, although I haven’t found a group I really feel at home in yet.  I’ve been spending less time at home, because frankly, I never know what I’m coming home to (my daughter and hubby currently live with me).   I’m looking into downsizing and moving to a smaller apartment or even a room in someone else’s home.  I need to escape.  They are adults and can take care of themselves here.   I’m not going to kick them out.  I prefer to move out myself, but the prospect of a move is causing me a lot of stress too.  It all just seems overwhelming.

Get to the point already!  You said this was about your day trip to the Lake!  

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Oh, yes.  Of course.  Sorry I took so long to get to the point!

No matter what’s going on at home or in my personal life, I can always escape, and natural places always have a healing effect on me.   Bodies of water, in particular, soothe my soul and put me at peace, making it easier to cope with life for a while.

Back in June, I became interested in Scuba diving and had been researching places where I might go to get certification, and that’s how I found out about Lake Jocassee, which is located in Salem, South Carolina, in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.  It’s the main attraction of Devils Fork State Park.  Jocassee is formed by the confluence of four rivers that flow into it from the Appalachians.   The lake actually has a fascinating history, which you can read about here. 

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Jocassee Valley in the early 1970s, before it was flooded by the State of South Carolina and Duke Energy to create Lake Jocassee

The reason Lake Jocassee is so popular with Scuba divers is because of its clarity and depth.  It’s a large lake, which goes as deep as 300 feet and is not dark and murky like most lakes.  It also lacks that funky, swampy “lake” smell.

The day couldn’t have been more perfect.  It may be early fall, but the day felt like the middle of July: hot, sunny, and perfect for swimming.   The lake water was every bit as clear as I’d been told and had seen in pictures.   I was definitely not disappointed!

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You can get a good idea of the water’s clarity here.

The drive was very pleasant, only a little over one hour from my home, and it was just a short walk down to the small sandy beach.  When I waded out into the water, I was delighted that the bottom remained sandy, and wasn’t at all gunky with mud and the usual slimy stuff that’s usually found at the bottom of lakes. There were a few twigs, small rocks, and a little plant matter here and there, but it was definitely mostly sand, which I could dig my toes into and almost feel like I was at the ocean.   I could also still see the bottom even when I waded out so far the water was above my head!

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…and here.

There were also small waves!  The lake is pretty large (not so large you can’t see across it though), but I don’t think it’s large enough to have any real wave or tidal action like the Great Lakes do; the waves might have been caused by the breeze or the boats in the distance.  In any case, it was relaxing listening to them lap rhythmically onto the sand.

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Dog and kids having a romp in the lake.

For me, Lake Jocassee is a perfect merging of what I love about the Blue Ridge Mountains and love about the beach.   While the mountains in upstate South Carolina are not as high or impressive as the ones in North Carolina, they are less intimidating and still make for lovely views and are a perfect frame for this crystal clear lake.   But at the same time, I also got a real “beach” feel here, unlike any other lake I’ve ever been to.

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When I wasn’t in the water, I watched the view from my beach chair and just soaked in the sun, watched kids and dogs play in the water, and read.   I think I stayed about three hours, until late afternoon, when it began to cloud up a bit.  I decided then was a good time to head home.   I left feeling refreshed, relaxed, and better able to handle the challenges I’ve been dealing with.

On the way home, I passed by Table Rock, also in the upstate of South Carolina, and pulled over on the side of the road to take a few quick pictures.

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Table Rock, Table Rock State Park, Pickens, SC

 

I also got a little color.

I’ll definitely be going back to Lake Jocassee.   It’s on my growing list of “happy places.”

Enjoy the photos!

 

Tubing in Bryson City, NC

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Well, I kept my vow to escape to Deep Creek in Bryson City yesterday and spend the day tubing.   There’s nothing like the great outdoors and exciting outdoor activities to restore one’s sense of sanity.

The weather was gorgeous, and the water was refreshing and cold!

We stopped at a place called JJ’s tubes to rent our tubes (only $5 for the entire day) and the very friendly staff attached our three tubes to the top of my car.

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Then we drove the mile to the entrance to the campgrounds.

We decided to hike to the top of the trail that runs parallel to Deep Creek (almost a mile) and tube all the way down back to the campgrounds.  The top part is more difficult: there are more rapids, whirlpools, lots and lots of rocks you can get caught on, small waterfalls, and the water runs much faster.  It seems like it could even be dangerous, but it really isn’t.  It’s just exciting enough to give you a sense of danger but you’re really pretty safe.  I wouldn’t recommend the higher part of the creek for small children however, although I did see quite a few braving the rapids anyway.

Once you pass under the bridge, the ride becomes more like a “lazy river,” with fewer rapids and whirlpools,and just becomes slow and relaxing.   Some of the views are breathtaking:

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We climbed up the trail and came down the entire way twice.   Afterwards, we stopped for burgers and ice cream, and then drove back to JJ’s to return our tubes.  A perfect way to end a perfect day.

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I didn’t take pictures due to not wanting to have to carry much equipment with me up the trail and then have to worry about possibly losing or ruining it in the water.  So these few were taken along the trail by my daughter, who had a small waterproof box to store her phone in (and for anyone who is wondering, she is doing a lot better).   There’s one picture of all of us once we made it back to the slower portion of the river as we were approaching the campground (shown at the top of this post).

Return to Sunburst, NC

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I enjoyed our day trip to Sunburst a couple of weeks ago so much that I decided to go back, only this time alone. I left my house early and arrived there at about 11 AM.

I was the only person there!   How wonderful!  I could easily imagine I was the only person in the world, and this tranquil and perfect little spot with its cold mountain water, breathtaking views, and swarms of colorful butterflies was my own little Garden of Eden.

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This time I had taken along a couple of plastic gallon jugs, and filled both with the cold, clear water. I know it’s perfectly safe to drink as is without filtering it, because I tried it last time we went and didn’t get sick.

With no other people splashing the water, it was very still, and therefore it was easier this time to get an idea of how deep the water may have been in the “swimming hole” area.   The slope down into it was quite steep from where I stood at waist level.  My guess was the water in the deepest spot was about 6 or 7 feet.  You could still see the stones at the bottom,  with the water at that depth taking on a greenish tint.

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Looking down into the “swimming hole.”

Here and there in the shallows were little piles of different sized stones.
I’m not sure if these are some kind of markers, or if they’re just there for decoration. Whatever they were there for, I thought they made for interesting photographs.

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If anything, there were even more butterflies here this time than last. I spent less time taking pictures of them, but I did take this one because it includes a yellow and black butterfly that doesn’t quite fit in with the rest (there were actually quite a few of them there too).

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I stayed about an hour and waded out into the water up to my waist, then decided to go home because I had errands to run. On the way up the hill back to my car, I saw some trash. That made me angry. Why are people such pigs? Why would they desecrate this idyllic Eden-like spot with their garbage?

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I looked in the car and found a trash bag in the back, and spent about 10 minutes picking up beer cans, chip bags, styrofoam cups, etc. Then I got in the car and drove back home.  I think I’ve found my happy place.  I’ll keep coming back here often.  It should be lovely in the fall.

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The longest, hottest, most boring drive ever.

Note: Photos were not taken by me.  I found them on Google Image.  

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There are many dangers in driving, but one no one ever talks about is the danger of the long, boring drive.   If anything can put you to sleep, it’s the never-changing, flat as a board, monotonous landscape of Eastern North Carolina along US Route 40.     It’s dangerous because the utter lack of any features of interest can make you fall asleep.

I enjoy driving.  It relaxes me.  Sometimes I just get tired of sitting around the house.  I’m regularly afflicted with attacks of wanderlust.   Sometimes I drive places — sometimes far away — not as a means to an end, but for the sheer joy of just driving.  Sometimes I drive to faraway places just to be able to say I drove there, without having a plan once I get there.

I’ve lived in western North Carolina for 23 years but I have never driven across to the east coast and on a whim, I decided to do just that yesterday morning.    Never mind that the drive there and back totals almost 700 miles.  That’s farther than driving to my son’s place in Florida!  Never mind that the weather forecast yesterday called for afternoon thunderstorms and it was a sweltering 90 degrees out at 9 AM.  Never mind the fact that I had no plan and there would be no time to enjoy the beach even if that was my goal   since, because I can’t see well at night, I’d have to turn right back around when I got there and head back.    No, I just wanted to get out of the house and go somewhere I’d never been before.  I’ve never driven clear across my state and decided it was time to check that off my bucket list.

I didn’t expect it to be the most exciting drive ever — remember, I do these drives to relax —  but I wasn’t prepared for just how mind numbingly dull the ride would actually be.   If you’ve ever driven across South Carolina (which I have), it’s like that, only without the palmetto trees and about four times as long (or at least it seems that way).  Also, along I-26 (the route I take to drive through that state), South Carolina’s dull, flat terrain at least is peppered with interesting sights like ramshackle fireworks stands along the roadsides that are open all year long, ancient and abandoned I-houses sitting all alone in fields of tall weeds, sad trailer parks, and Confederate flags waving gaily in the hot breeze.

You also can’t get too bored in South Carolina because I-26 is scary as hell.   Everyone seems to speed on it — the so-called slow pace of the South does not apply on South Carolina highways — and by speeding I mean roaring along at 100 mph when the speed limit is only 65.   The lanes are too narrow and semis and 18-wheelers are all around you, sometimes with only two inches to spare on the passenger side.   It’s common to be completely boxed in by semi-trucks, with a deep ditch on your left as your only escape should one of the truckers decide to switch into your lane suddenly without signaling (another thing drivers seem to do a lot of there).    If you’re in one of the urban centers of Columbia, Greenville or Spartanburg when that happens,  all you can do is pray since there isn’t even a ditch in some places, but a concrete wall.

And there are lots of cops there too.  Cops who allow the speeders to keep on going if they have South Carolina tags, but will pull you over for doing 70 if they see you’re from out of state.  They consider people from North Carolina to be Yankees and apparently hate us.  I know, because I got pulled over in that state twice.  And I’m not speeding type.   In fact, I’m much more the hesitant type that other drivers get mad at for going below the speed limit.  Both times I told the officer I was just trying to keep up with traffic (I was still going slower than almost everyone else), but he wasn’t buying it and still ticketed me.  The first time it happened I had to drive all the way to Travelers Rest to appear in court (this was in the ’90s).  The other time I was allowed to pay by mail.

So my point is, in South Carolina, you can’t nod off from boredom while driving.   Nervous, angry,  hyper-alert, or downright terrified, but I guarantee you won’t fall asleep at the wheel.

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There’s none of that nail-gnawing, white-knuckling, tooth-grinding business along I-40 in North Carolina, at least not east of Raleigh.   Sure, of course, for those not used the the mountains of the western end of the state, the many hairpin curves and steep grades there can cause a lot of gnashing of teeth, cursing, and white-knuckled steering-wheel gripping.  And I do understand about those annoying and sudden telescoping lane changes and merges in the urban areas and during rush hour that can jangle anyone’s nerves, but on a weekend it’s not so bad.  My GPS tells me when these lane changes are coming up, so it’s not really a nuisance or an issue for me.  And once you finally navigate the hundred-plus mile stretch of asphalted urban sprawl with its bloated 6-to-8-lane interstates and all its feeder highways and roads that stretch from Statesville just east of the mountains and the Triad of Winston-Salem/High Point/Greensboro in the Peidmont all the way to the Tri-Cities of Chapel Hill (a charming college town), Raleigh and Durham (still part of the Peidmont), you can rest fairly easy that losing your life on the road is pretty remote (unless you nod off).

Once you pass the massive urban sprawl in the center of the state, which is pretty boring itself (not to mention ugly), you emerge into the Atlantic Coastal Plain, an area that sounds like it could be peaceful and pretty, and to be fair, it is that.   But its prettiness is marred by its devastating sameness.   A long stretch of flat two-lane highway flanked on both sides by endless short pine trees, all of the same size and width, interspersed only occasionally by the odd water tower and farmland as flat as a table, not even broken up by tacky billboards or other jarring sights, can send you into a hypnotic trance.   The various towns are well-hidden along this stretch of I-40, so you don’t even see any tall signs advertising gas stations or fast food places.   It goes on like this for at least a hundred miles, before the landscape changes to a somewhat more coastal-looking one, with even scrubbier, shorter trees and grasslands — but oddly, no visible water.

Granted, the landscape of eastern North Carolina isn’t as  jaw droppingly ugly as the New Jersey Turnpike or as delightfully tacky as US-Route 19 that runs roughly parallel to the west coast of the Florida Gulf,  but at least those things add some interest to the landscape in a kitschy, schadenfreude-ish, thank-God-I-don’t-live here sort of way.   The landscape along I-40 east of the Blue Ridge and the vast urban metropolis that marks the state’s central region lacks any memorable features at all, and all that sameness gives way only to the sad, stunted trees and swampy grasslands of the coastal plain.

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As I drew within 35 miles of the coast, I still didn’t see any evidence of the ocean other than sandy-looking soil along the side of the road and sometimes blowing onto it.     I kept driving, looking for telltale inlets, rivers, or boats, or something indicating the presence of the nearby Atlantic, but nope, nothing.   The stunted trees and sandy soil just got more stunted and sandier, and the land remained as dry as the Sahara.     I kept driving.   25 miles, 20 miles, 15 miles from the coast, but still no water.    Yet I knew I was near the ocean because I began to see fishing tackle places and beach shops here and there.  Here, the lack of trees failed to hide any commercialism lurking behind the exits, and it was hot.  Hellishly hot.

I drove into a gas station and got out of the car to stretch my stiff legs, get a drink and a candy bar, use the bathroom, and fill my tank, and I felt like I was inside a pizza oven. Where was the sea breeze?  There wasn’t any.    The heat was oppressive, sweltering, almost painful.  My brain wasn’t working correctly.  My thoughts limped along like 90-year old men.    I finished my business and got back in the car, immediately blasting the air conditioning.  I noticed the sky was beginning to cloud up pretty badly  and I remembered the forecast about thunderstorms.   I don’t like driving in thunderstorms, and it was also getting pretty late, so I decided right then and there to turn around and head back home — all 350 miles of long, boring drive.   I groaned at the thought of that but what other choice did I have?

The ride home was slightly more interesting.   I got to watch the development of two storms ahead and to the south of me.  I watched the towering cumulonimbus clouds spread out and turn grey-black.   Lightning flashed in the near-distance.   I would have taken pictures except for the fact I was driving.    Fortunately, neither storm hit directly, and the drive back was marred only by a a little rain, not a downpour or a hailstorm.   The storms also cooled things off, and I was finally able to turn off the air and open the windows to let in some fresh air.

I finally passed the storms, and saw nothing but blue sky and the golden light of the late afternoon sun ahead of me.   In my rearview mirror, I saw the most gorgeous rainbow I’ve ever seen.  I wanted to pull over and get a picture of that too, but unfortunately such a thing wasn’t possible in the middle of the interstate.    But I felt like my drive had been worth it, even though I’d never actually made it to the coast.    I took the rainbow behind me and the coppery rain-drenched sunshine ahead of me as validations that my decision to drive hundreds of miles to nowhere in particular for no particular reason had been the correct one.  Besides, people who have driven across the Great Plains tell me that’s even more boring — and there you get tornadoes too.

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Further reading:

8 Ways to Survive a 637-Mile Car Trip — and Make it Amazing 

15 Things I Love and Hate About Long Road Trips

Driving Before Dawn on a Sunday Morning