This Army guy finally found out he isn't as tough as he thought. My fiancee, Meredith, actually laughed at me.
It happened at one of our state's most unique parks, and I hope that you decide to visit it as well because you will not be disappointed. It seems like just another stretch of South Carolina pine forest as you follow the slithering road into Congaree National Park.
In the first moments outside of your car there is nothing special at all about the place. But take a few steps past the Visitor Center and you are in a different world.
These woods are like nothing you've ever seen.
Meredith and I decided to go on a summer morning. The trails were slightly busy so we chose to take one of the longer loops, which allowed us to dodge the crowds that stay on the shorter elevated wooden walkway. Dorovan Muck spreads as far as the eye can see, which is one aspect of the park that is special; You can see forever beneath the canopy that stretches in swaying green above.
Congaree is home to the largest continuous old-growth floodplain in the entire United States. The trees here tower at record-setting heights, blocking out most of the sunlight. Cypress knees grow in astonishing gnarled configurations next to trunks that would take multiple adults to reach around, next to loblollies that scrape the sky.
At one point, Meredith and I came across a vine hanging down in the middle of the trail. I looked at her, being a stereotypical guy, and asked, "Do you think I can swing on that?" She smiled and said, "You can try."
With her permission I put all of my weight on the vine, swung a little further down the path, realizing that it was the first and probably only time I would find a natural place so rugged and wild only 30 minutes from my apartment - unless I moved to Brazil or Southeast Asia.
As we moved around our loop the weak-coffee-colored creek meandered next to us, following our adventure. Lizards and other wildlife skittered about in the rotting leaves of the forest floor, while turtles lazily swam circles in the water.
Suddenly, the long muscular black body of a snake moved sluggishly away from my right foot into a small bush. Like George Costanza in a building on fire, I pushed Meredith forward on the path, making sure that I was as far away from the creature as possible.
"Go," I yelled, but she just laughed right in my face.
"You were scared," she said.
"Of course I was scared! It was a snake, Meredith."
That's when I figured out that in the untamed wilderness of Congaree, the last vestige of how things used to be, a grown man is a whole bunch of nothing compared to nature.
Meredith and I were tuckered out by the end of the walk. We still had a great time though. For nature enthusiasts I would recommend one of the longer loops, but for families just wanting to see a really special place I would say just stay on the wooden walkway. Be sure to check out the tallest trees in the state, which you can find using one of the brochures handed out at the Visitor Center.
Guided tours are available, as are camping and kayaking opportunities.
Bring bug spray, and your curiosity. Later on, y'all.