Columbia, SC: From TX to SC with Tornadoes in Between

Leaving Fredericksburg, TX, we headed (with haste) to Columbia, SC, for a 16-day stay, the longest stop in our RV’ing history!  Here we spent delightfully lazy days with Philip’s entire extended family, exploring the city and waiting on North Carolina restrictions to ease May 8th, hoping to resume our “normal” (whatever that means, these days) travel itinerary for the last 2/3 of this 3-month trip.

Normally we travel less than 200 miles max per day, but when the forecast says “tornadoes likely” and you live in a tin can of an RV, you start drivin’ like you stole it!  Philip says you’re not a true Southern girl until you’ve lived through a night of strong tornado warnings. Well, call me Savannah and pour me some sweet tea! I was up all night, fully dressed with shoes on, watching continuous TV coverage and clutching my phone, checking and re-checking and re-re-checking map locations and windspeeds and relative humidities and rotation patterns.  

We found out later that over 130 tornadoes touched down that Easter night, killing 34 people, including one less than 50 miles from us where we were overnighting in Georgia. Guess who was NOT up all night, clutching rosary beads and begging forgiveness from God for all of life’s sins?  This guy!!

Instead of being warmly welcomed when we arrive at a campground, in Covid-times we now generally find a locked door and a phone number to call to get instructions.  Here at our Georgia campground, we found only a large live parrot perched at the locked door, cawwing “HELLO HELLO HELLO”  over and over, but no matter how many times I asked, he could not be coaxed to reveal our assigned site number. 

After outrunning Covid-19 closures and tornadoes and four back-to-back days of up to 425 miles of high-wind driving, it was a tremendous relief to settle in Columbia at the Barnyard RV Park.  Although this seems like a safe neighborhood, that must be a false impression, because neighbors have taken precautions to protect their rigs.

Although attractions and activities remain closed due to the virus, we have nevertheless been very busy spending time with Philip’s entire extended family who live here. Many gatherings take place at the family’s place on huge Lake Murray, with over 500 miles of shoreline.  Elsie parked there the first night we arrived and Sprinkles settled right in to squirrel hunting and bird watching.

We were tickled to meet the newest family member, Miller Olivia Hopp, called Millie!

How about that face!

At the beginning, our gatherings were in smaller, more socially-distanced groups … 

Niece Grayson, Nephew-in-Law Hopp, and Grandniece Millie

… but as time wore on (and the margaritas got stronger), we lost our reserve and cozied up a little closer to beloved family members.  By the time we left this stop, many Southern states had loosened or removed their restrictions.  Georgia started their easing by opening bowling alleys and tattoo parlors, because aren’t those the two things you wanted most during the pandemic?  To plunge your fingers into sticky bowling ball holes and get some fresh ink?

Newphew Jason, Niece-in-Law Michelle, and a lot of tequila

Many happy hours were whiled away on the dock and the water, whether on powerboat, SeaDoo, or kayak.

Brother Dennis and Sister-in-Law Betty

8-month-old Millie had her first boat ride while we were there.  She and Sprinkles commiserated, “Why are we the only ones that have to wear these dumb life jackets?”

In a fit of Covid-induced boredom, I devised a “Downtown Columbia Scavenger Hunt” with various public artworks from  We did it on foot, so as to gain 4+ miles of exercise, and had a blast!


Here is “Busted Plug,” a 2001 work of art by artist Blue Sky.  Blue Sky was busy just being ordinary Warren Edward Johnson, when he decided he had been a Native American in a former life, and changed his name to something cooler.

The World’s Largest Fire Hydrant, at 39 feet tall and five tons, has safety barriers that are part of the artwork, not there to keep people away. The hydrant is supposed to look tilted and broken.  Note: giant dogs are forbidden from peeing on giant hydrants.

In the same parking lot and by the same artist Blue Sky, is “Tunnelvision,” 1975, a pretty dang realistic highway tunnel painted on the side of a building.  The idea for this one came to him in a dream.  He said, “I wanted to do in art what Beethoven had done in music… go right through to the next dimension.”

“Never Bust”  is by … you guessed it … Columbia’s fave artist Blue Sky (again), this time in the year 2000.  

The Neverbust Chain is 25-foot-long, and sags between two office buildings, signifying, ummm, I dunno.

“Lovely Rita The Meter Maid,” by Matthew W. Kramer, 2012

Just slightly off the nearby USC campus, a brightly painted but heretofor-unnamed rooster keeps watch over a parking lot.  We cock-a-doodle-don’t know how and why it is there, but definitely something to crow about.  (I hear you groaning, but couldn’t resist) 

“I Love You” by Bob Doster, 2019

(See the birdie on the tip of the finger?)

“I Love You” is a four-foot-high hand  with with the pinkie and forefinger raised and thumb extended, which makes the American Sign Language sign for “I Love You.”  It is not, I repeat not, an ode to SpiderMan, or the devil horns you hold up at a rock concert.

It was made out of hundreds of smaller hands of students from the SC School for the Deaf and Blind, that were traced and then cut out of steel. 

Many downtown buildings, like the side of popular bar Hunter Gatherer, have beautiful murals.

Fivepoints is a pedestrian-friendly intersection/area just outside the University of South Carolina, created in 1915 when the city drained the swamp that ran through downtown Columbia.

This momument honors hometown grunge band legends Hootie and Blowfish, and their lead singer Darius Rucker, who got their start in Fivepoints.  They may not be The Stones, but you know you’ve got one of their dusty albums somewhere in your home ….right?

It is meant to signify music staffs reaching high into the sky.  Directly underneath it (but hard to see in the photo since it was covered in rainwater), is a dark guitar pick, engraved with the band’s history and various statistics and awards.  

Philip attended the University of South Carolina, and Covid closure made the campus a ghost town and fun place to walk without dodging bicycles and frisbee-playing students.

The USC emblem is a “gamecock,” a potentially snicker-inducing mascot who was actually inspired by Thomas Sumter, a Revolutionary War hero from SC of who his adversaries noted he “fought like a gamecock.”

Philip gave a guided tour of his misspent youth in the 1970’s, and it went something like this:  There is where my English class was held, but I never went.  There is where I got in trouble for crashing my skateboard into a group of girls.  There is the house where I slept on their couch for two months until they kicked me out.  There is where we had a party and I filled the bathtub with a batch of Purple Jesus I made from grain alcohol. And on and on …. all of it entertaining and some of it maybe even true.  My personal favorite: There is the fountain where dozens of us once went skinny dipping.  I gave him a blank disbelieving stare, and he proceeded to demonstrate. OH, my!

The beautiful but abandoned-in-the-times-of-Covid grounds of the State Capitol Building were another great location for a walking tour and scavenger hunt.

Who needs a stair-stepper machine or gym membership?

Here on the grounds, this bronze statue of George Washington has been left vandalized as proof of Yankee evil. It was damaged by troops of Union General William Tecumseh Sherman, who threw chunks of brick at the monument and broke off poor Washington’s walking stick. 

The State Capitol displays six bronze stars to mark hits from General Sherman’s cannons, during the War Between The States.  They have been left even though the building has been renovated twice since.  

The grounds also display a statue of former state Senator Strom Thurmond … but with controversy, dun dun DUN!!!  When the unrepentant segregationist died at age 103, a woman came forward, claiming to be his daughter because of his, um, union with his black teenage housekeeper in the 20’s.  

The claim was confirmed and so the statue was modified to add the name of his bi-racial daughter alongside his other children.  You can still see the old word “four” underneath the new word “five” indicating the number of his children.

South Carolina has only one National Park, Congaree, about 30 miles south of Columbia.  It has terrific hiking and kayaking, but at the moment it has only terrific barricades.

We knew it would be closed, but did a country drive-by anyway and we treated to spring blooming Harlequin Blueflag Irises.  Spring has sprung, Covid or not!

Although state and national parks were closed, Harbison State Forest, as well as the Palmetto Trail, were great for fresh air and outdoor recreation.  The Palmetto is a 425+ mile rails-to-trails path that crosses the state, and we did part of the Peak-to-Prosperity Passage with family.

Grandniece Riley, Niece Michelle, Grandnephew Cole, and Sister-in-Law Kathy

The 2-mile-long Dreher Shoals Dam that creates Lake Murray is also a great place to get some exercise.   When built, it was the largest earthen dam in the world.

The Columbia Riverwalk is also exceptional for outdoor recreation, with moss-covered trees and views galore.

The Broad River, along which the Riverwalk Park runs, is a former shipping route and evidence of boat locks still exists. 

With our extended stay, we had time to do things like a graveside picnic at the site where Philip’s father, Paul, is buried.  Paul was a military police officer, special agent with the FBI, and deputy director of the South Carolina Police Academy.

We also pow-wowed with family members about what to (permanently) do with the ashes of Philip’s Momma, who passed away in 2018.  We finally ordered an engraved birdbath that is also an urn that her ashes and mementos can be placed inside.  We are pleased with the final decision and Sprinkles demonstrates that the planned location of the birdbath at the family lake house is both beautiful and peaceful.

Brother Michael and his wife Kathy are building a home, and we were around long enough to see real progress happen with cabinets and paint! 

Their place is set on ten bucolic acres with its own pond and peacefulness galore …

… and the property is filled with antique treasures! So much fun!

We’re at great risk for the dreaded “Covid 15” (pounds, that is) as everyone else, so we’ve been keeping track of our exercise.  During the first 30 days, we hiked 49.79 miles, biked 49.61 miles, and kayaked for 3 hours.  This exertion doesn’t include the most exhausting activity there is … changing the sheets on the RV mattress, tucked back into the slide and as frustrating as making a bunk bed.  Exercising also lets us indulge in treats like the homemade pecan pie I baked in Elsie’s oven to celebrate the 76th birthday of our patriarch, Philip’s eldest brother Dennis. 

It has turned out to be a very different trip so far than the one we were planning (we now write our travel plans in pencil only!) but no less enjoyable or interesting.  We’re following South Carolina’s Latin motto “Dum Spiro Spero,” translating to “While I Breathe, I Hope.”  We are stillbreathingout here on the open road, and still hoping for a return for normalcy, but not letting Covid destroy our travel dreams and plans entirely.  

In short, while there have been discouragements and trying times, in general those challenges have been similar to those faced by people who are NOT on the road … fear, boredom, and disappointment that we are unable to do the activities we had hoped to be doing right about now.   And so, with a sweet send-off from our South Carolina relatives, and fingers crossed for continued state openings, we continue on down the road, carefully, hopefully, and gratefully!

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