Hurricane Matthew was not a total surprise.  Long before it made its way to the US, it was born a strong storm off the coast of Africa.  Troy had been tracking it as it churned its way across the Atlantic, morphing from a tropical storm into Hurricane Matthew.  As we watched Matthew wreck havoc in the Caribbean, its path was predicted to travel up the Eastern coast.  Our home state of South Carolina was in its path and Troy and I had to contemplate what would we do.  Later in the day, Governor Nikki Haley issued evacuation orders for coastal South Carolina, exactly a year to the day that we had moved into our home in South Carolina.  We agreed – we would leave immediately.

When Drake and Mia got home from school, we explained that we were evacuating, however, we were all to think of it as an impromptu camping trip.  We busied ourselves with packing and preparing the house to leave throughout the evening and finally set off towards Augusta, GA around midnight.  Our drive was relatively easy with little traffic. It had been decided beforehand that we would just spend the night in a Wal-Mart parking lot due to our intended late arrival.  We finally arrived exhausted in North Augusta at 3:30AM.

Tip: Most Wal-Mart locations allow for free overnight camping which can be handy in a pinch.

Morning in Augusta was cloudy and cooler than we anticipated so I made only a quick trip outside for our dog Lilly.  Apparently, she hadn’t been quite ready to come back in and  before I could react, she had nudged the unlatched trailer door and bolted out!

Beautiful Drive to Elijah Clark State Park – Lincolnton, GA

Chaos ensued as she ran towards a very frightened employee who was just arriving for work.  The employee pointed to the outdoor cart storage area where Lilly was headed.  Gratefully, there were a bunch of sparrows that captured her attention.  I had Drake and Mia block both of the ways out while I corralled her into a corner.  Success!

The kids and I ventured into Wal-Mart to pick up a few items and to use the internet to locate a nearby campground with availability.  Georgia has beautiful State Parks so I started my search there.  We were blessed to find sites available at Elijah Clark State Park, about an hour drive north of where we were sitting.  I called, made our reservation, then headed out for the short scenic drive.

Park Entrance – Elijah Clark State Park – Lincolnton, GA

Elijah Clark State Park is ideally located along the shore of Thurmond Lake (also known as Clark Hill Lake). At check-in, we were told there were two camping loops and any site without a yellow tag was open and feel free to take it.

Couldn’t ask for a better site than #99 – Elijah Clark State Park – Lincolnton, GA

Mia taking Lilly out for a walk – Elijah Clark State Park – Lincolnton, GA

We opted to check out Loop 2 and I am glad we did.  The sites are well spaced with many back-in and pull-thru sites situated right on the lakes’ edge.  Our choice was Site 99 which was incredible!  Situated on land jutting out into the lake, our site provided us with unobstructed panoramic views of the lake!  For the kids, there was a small grassy area and plenty of shoreline to walk, skip rocks, and play while I could keep an eye on them from inside the trailer.  Soon, other kids started showing up and all of them decided to work together to build a dock in the water.  It was great to see Drake and Mia having fun and focused on something other than the impending storm.

Drake and a friend showing off the dock they constructed – Elijah Clark State Park – Lincolnton, GA

Thursday morning was a lazy morning indeed.  So much so, I didn’t even get around to cooking breakfast!  It was decided we would go to McCormick, SC, to find an early lunch instead.  After driving down the quaint Main Street of McCormick, we decided to try a family restaurant called Little Italy Pizzeria. The food was really good and our server Summer, was very welcoming.  She knew we were evacuees and was happy we chose their little town to hang out.

Little Italy Pizzeria – McCormick, SC

Cute Main Street of McCormick, SC

One of the buildings in McCormick that caught my eye was an old train depot.  A sign indicated it was the SC Wild’s Heritage Center which sounded intriguing.  Mia and I went to investigate.  What a hidden treasure this place is!  Inside are beautiful displays of historic plantation quilts and even more special, a collection of Underground Railroad secret code quilts.  These “story” quilts were designed to give runaways a coded map to freedom through symbols.  They were incredible!

SC Wild’s Heritage Center – McCormick, SC

Underground Railroad Secret Code Quilt – SC Wild’s Heritage Center – McCormick, SC

Ms. Teresa Kemp with Mia showing off a tribal bracelet – SC Wild’s Heritage Center – McCormick, SC

We had the pleasure of meeting Ms. Teresa Kemp, a 5th generation quilter, who’s family history is displayed in this museum.  She is a passionate woman who wants nothing more than to share her rich family history with visitors.  If she is there, allow her to give you a guided tour.  She breathes life into the quilts and artifacts.  Both Mia and I were mesmerized.  Most of the artifacts can be touched and Mia was encouraged to do so.  Besides curating her museum, authoring books and researching family history, she is also a vocal advocate against human trafficking.   This is truly a hidden gem of southern history and should not be missed if anywhere near McCormick, SC.

Tip: SC Wild’s Heritage Center offers classes for adults and children for a small fee including candy-making, candle-making and quilting.  Visit website for more details.

Playground at Elijah Clark State Park – Lincolnton, GA

One of the waterfront rental cottages at Elijah Clark State Park, Lincolnton, GA

It was such a beautiful afternoon that we decided to drive around and check out the rest of Elijah Clark State Park.  First stop was the fun playground where Drake and Mia worked off some energy. Directly next to the playground is a small putt-putt golf course (fee) that looked like fun.  We also checked out the boat ramp and fishing pier and the rental cottages.  Out of the 20 cottages available to rent, 19 of them are on the water!

Sunset before the storm – Elijah Clark State Park, Lincolnton, GA

After dinner, Lilly and I took a walk around Loop 2 greeting campers.  Many were Hurricane Matthew evacuees, making the best of the situation.  The feeling was unanimous,  we were all grateful to be at such a beautiful place to wait it out.  It was an incredible sunset as they always seem to be before a big storm.

Storm approaching – Elijah Clark State Park – Lincolnton, GA

Getting ready for a game of Uno – Elijah Clark State Park – Lincolnton, GA

Cloudy skies greeted us the next morning and the wind had definitely picked up.  The kids went out to play with “camp friends” until midday when the rain started.  It was inconsistent, however, it provided our family the perfect excuse to pull out our favorite family games like Uno and Mexican Train.

By the time night closed in, the rain fell in earnest.  As I went to bed, it was noticeable that the rain was not pounding on the roof of our trailer, rather, the sustained wind continually blew the rain into the side instead.  All night, the wind howled and shook our trailer.

Sleep eluded me as I tossed and turned waiting to find out what Hurricane Matthew had in store for the Charleston, SC area.  By 5am, I gave up on sleep and turned on The Weather Channel.  For the next several hours, I watched as Hurricane Matthew hit our area. It was definitely a nail-biter for a while, however, it became clear that our area of town was spared the worse of the storm’s wrath.  Our hearts were heavy for the damage done to harder hit Hilton Head and Myrtle Beach.

By mid-day I was able to speak to neighbors who rode out the storm and told us our home was safe.  We had a couple of split trees, a ripped screened porch and our boat had broken away from its mooring.  Luckily, it drifted only as far as the other side of the creek and was resting against our neighbor’s dock.

At the campground, we experienced a period of high winds as the last bands of Hurricane Matthew made its way through the Lincolnton area, and just like that…picture perfect weather as if nothing had happened.

Trees in the road on our way home

We agreed to head out Sunday morning via back roads as we wanted to get back home.  Fortunately for us, we made good time, however, we saw quite a bit of damage to communities along the way.  Power lines down, tree limbs in the road, and one unfortunate family had a large tree fall squarely down the center of their home.  Power was out in many communities and although we didn’t see active street flooding, rivers and creeks were certainly full. We sent up prayers for our neighbors.

Here are the five things we learned from our evacuation:

  1. We would evacuate again in a heartbeat.  The peace of an impromptu camping trip was much preferred to staying and worrying if we had made the right decision.
  2. Camping sites are far easier to come by and cheaper than hotel rooms.  Even better, our trailer would provide a place to live if our home had sustained major damage.
  3. Bringing Lilly’s dog bed was the best decision for her as it provided comfort and familiarity.
  4. ALWAYS double-check the door latch to prevent dog escape!
  5. Our kids are amazing under pressure.  We are so proud of them!