“You got Folly-ed!”
Sarah laughs, giving me a high five.
Erin, my partner-in-crime for the week, and I look at each other, eyes barely open, our noses red from the past five days of bluebird skies. We’re tired, our brains barely able to string a sentence together from the gallons of saltwater that float around in our buckets. Every time I bend over, the Atlantic Ocean comes surging through my right nostril like an open faucet. My hair is sticky, my skin a leathery reddish brown. Once a fair and delicate pinkish hue, the soles of my feet are dark now, tough from running across the scorching hot sand that cooks along the shore. My internal alarm clock has finally adjusted to rising before the sun, sleeping in the heat of the day, and rallying at night when the temperature cools. Finally, finally, I’ve grown accustomed to beach life. The only problem? It’s time to hit the road again, back to the cool mountain air and the tropical humidity.
That was three days ago. The Folly Effect has finally subsided and now that I’m back in Blue Ridge proper, I can finally dive into the photos I shot and relish in those glory days of salt, sand, surf (attempts), and sun.
Lots of driving (I think close to 12 hours total, from northern Virginia, through Asheville, Greenville, Columbia, and finally to James Island where we stayed the first two nights at the campground there). We arrived shortly past sunset and decided we couldn’t wait to get salty. We celebrated our arrival with a quick night dip in the ocean and margaritas from Taco Boy where the waiter complimented me on my dress. I use the word “compliment” loosely. His exact words (and what would become our go-to phrase for the week) were, “I like you’re dress. It’s confusing.”
Hey. It’s the thought that counts.
I’m a light hound. I’ll admit it. It makes me a bit of a grandma sometimes too, going to bed before 10pm, skipping out on the group beverage so I can get up at 5am to shoot the sunrise… It’s hard to get a lot of my friends pumped to get up before the sun, but Erin happened to appreciate that special hour of the day just as much as I, and so, we began our weeklong crusade to chase the rays on day two. We were a little slow moving due to the previous day’s extensive traveling, but we managed to get to the beach right on time.
After our walk, we headed over to the Lost Dog Café for breakfast and a cup of coffee before parting ways, Erin to the beach to check out the waves and I to the computer screen to do some much-needed catching up on emails and writing. My office for the day was, fortunately or unfortunately, located outside on a partially shaded deck. By the time midday rolled around, my keyboard was saturated in sweat and I was borderline cranky from the suffocating heat and the onslaught of smart-ass comments from folks passing by – “Aren’t you on vacation?” “You know there’s a beach down that way, right?”
Finally I slammed the laptop shut, shed my dress for the much more comfortable (and Folly-Beach-standard) bikini, and practically ran into the ocean, from the sand frying my feet or the anticipation of submerging my head beneath the water I can’t be sure. My irritation immediately floated away as I dove headfirst into wave after wave, which is surprising considering I’ve never been much of a beach person. Growing up, my parents took us to maybe a handful of beaches, and never at opportune times…like the summer…when everyone else goes… Instead, we’d go in early March for a “spring” break or the middle of December, when both the air and water temperatures were too cold and the wind would violently lash at our clothing. The most I ever got out of my early exposure to beaches were two things: 1) a bathtub full of seashells. 2) a fear of oceans.
I can spend all day on a river kayaking, tubing, swimming, whatever. I love the water. But there’s something vastly overwhelming and unknown to me about oceans and I blame it largely on the fact that it wasn’t until I was 18 years old that I really remember having the quintessential beach experience. Even then, I don’t remember getting into the water all that much, but rather tactfully tanning (and by tanning I mean burning) and swimming in the pool of the house I was staying in. So. Maybe that wasn’t a quintessential beach experience.
But I digress. My opinion on beaches and oceans has changed for the most part, although the thought of getting chundered and hitting reef or getting sucked away in a rip tide or torn apart by sharks still keeps me up at night. Folly Beach isn’t like that nightmare-ish version of beaches I have filed away in my brain though, and so, as I floated on my back and let the waves crash over me, I thought for the first time ever, “I like the beach.”
That afternoon, we were set to partner with Jon Ory, owner of Charleston SUP Safaris, to host a stand up paddleboard meet-up on the Folly River. As Erin and I made our way back to the car, we met two out-of-towners who kindly offered us a cold beer. We both agreed that nothing sounded better at 1 o’clock in the afternoon than a covered front porch and an ice cold beverage, so we followed the couple up the stairs of their rental beach home and met the entire extended family (wonderful folks – thanks so much for the hospitality!). Of that family, we were able to convince Bob and Connor that they should join us on the river later to stand up paddleboard, an activity Bob had placed on his adventure bucket list years ago.
The great thing about Folly Island is that, it’s not just a beach. Nestled between the Atlantic Ocean and the Folly River, Folly Beach has the best of both worlds. Waves for surfing, flatwater for exploring. It’s a brackish water wonderland. From marshes to sand dunes, the diversity of wildlife in and around Folly Beach is remarkable. What’s more, it’s a great place for people to learn. A South Carolina native, Jon was very in tune with more than just the stand up paddleboarding. As we paddled, the “Folly Green Giant” (as Jon is fondly referred to as) talked on the ecosystem, the wildlife, and the issues with beach erosion. We pulled off onto a low tide sand bar and took a break, soaking in the remarkable views, the dolphins surfacing from time to time in search of food, pelicans diving headfirst into the water, and a horseshoe crab burying itself beneath the sand right at our feet. Magical, mysterious, memorable. This place is that and more.
Erin and I again rallied before the sun to explore the northeast end of the island where you can view the historic Morris Island Lighthouse. We were greeted with yet another spectacular sunrise and stayed to relish in its beauty for well over an hour.
From there we cruised over to Bert’s Market, which is hands down one of the neatest grocers I’ve ever been to. Local, organic, healthy food sold 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with bangin’ complimentary coffee available all day. It doesn’t get much better than that. We snagged a cup of joe and some stickers to represent Bert’s before returning back to our campsite on James Island. We took down the Go and packed our things to move onto Folly Island itself.
Sarah, who I quoted at the beginning of this post, is a full-time Folly Beach resident. She and her roomie Annie were gracious enough to let Erin and I pitch the Go in their backyard for the remainder of the week and give us the locals’ perspective of life on Folly Island. Just a quick walk from the beach, their house sits a couple streets back from the main tourist strip, nestled among a row of idyllic beach houses, some of which date back to the early 1940s and ’50s.
Tucked away on the outside of their house is an outdoor rainwater shower, walled in with dark wooden slats. It’s simple, and there’s no option of hot or cold, but to me, it’s a mini-paradise. Standing upright, barefoot, and totally naked in a shower is something I didn’t think I would miss, but after a number of swimsuit-flip-flop-Roadshower-rinse-offs, their barebones shower was more than a nice recess from the road life routine.
Because of the problems with beach erosion and the attempts at shore renourishment, Sarah told us the waves were unpredictable and not nearly as high quality as they were prior to the hurricane. So what is there to do when you’re at a beach and you want to surf but the waves aren’t in? You make your own with a little help from a boat.
On our final day in town, Erin and I cruised into the nearby city of Charleston where Sarah works in the Groundswell PR office. We caught up on work for a few hours before heading to King Street for a quick walk and some amazing Thai food for lunch, but our minds were elsewhere, back on the beach and in the water. We hustled back to Folly Island to squeeze in as much surfing as we could (I eventually stood up for my first time, ever) before a yoga session and a night on the town with Jon (side note, if you’re ever on the island, grab some dinner at the recently opened, Asian-inspired tapas bar, Jack of Cups Saloon… killer food for an insanely cheap price).
Reluctantly, Erin and I awoke on day five, forgoing the sunrise for an extra few hours of sleep. We would need it for our long hauls on the road, Erin back to her home in West Virginia and I back to the mountains, this time for a little off-the-grid time in Pisgah National Forest.
“I don’t want to leave,” Erin said as we stared out at the ocean.
“Me either,” I said, looking down at the water lapping over my sandy toes. Folly Island and the community here had grown on me. Sure, there’s a definite tourist scene during the summer. And yes, my skin is not ideal for tanning. And yes, I really am not very good at surfing at all. But there’s an air of relative ease here, of letting the little stuff wash over you like the waves that crash on and recede from the shore.
Erin and I bid our farewells before indulging in the local eats one last time (lunch at The ‘Wich Doctor – definitely recommend topping it all off with a key lime pie ice cream sandwich and some watermelon agua fresca). We were relatively quiet on the drive back to Erin’s car in Columbia. After all, what is there to say after spending a week on one of the most beautiful beaches on the coast with some of the friendliest people I’ve met? Instead of pining for our lost days of paradise, we sat there in silence, letting the images of sparkling waves and palm trees and spectacular sunrises settle in our minds like the grains of sand that have inevitably settled in every crack and on every surface of my car…Until next time Folly…I look forward to getting Folly-ed again soon.