The reason we wanted to volunteer here at Santee National Wildlife Refuge (besides establishing some volunteer experience at the national level) was so that we could be close to Nicolas as he completed his nuclear training, and spend the holidays with him.
His program completion and graduation date has been delayed a little due to some facility issues, but two days before Thanksgiving, he finally had completed all requirements and passed his final oral board! We drove down in the afternoon and took him out for a celebratory dinner!
He’s now a qualified Nuclear Mechanical Operator!
He was very relieved to be finished, and although he will continue to work with his crew until his graduation on December 16th, all pressure is gone!
His crew started on midnights the night before Thanksgiving, but since he was qualified, he did not have to go in on Thanksgiving night. Nice!
We arrived at his apartment in the morning, and got started cooking while he slept. Once he got up around noon, he helped me in the kitchen.
Making dinner rolls
The first turkey cooked in Nicolas’ oven!
He had invited some of his shipmates from his crew to our Thanksgiving dinner, and a couple of them were able to join us.
We enjoyed getting to know these Sailors, and had a great dinner!
On Friday, Tom and I decided to load up the bikes on the Jeep and find a bike path.
We tried Santee State Park first, but their trails were all still closed due to hurricane damage. I was really surprised – our trails at the Refuge are open, and I thought for sure the state park would have theirs open, since they focus more on the “visitor experience” than we do.
OK, well if we can’t ride there, we decided to try part of the Palmetto Trail. I read online that the Santee portion of the trail was not useable, but that the Lake Marion section was, so we headed back over the bridge, past the refuge, in search of a spot on the trail where we could leave the Jeep and access the trail.
The Palmetto Trail uses roadways in some areas, and goes off-road in other areas, and unfortunately this section of the trail does not have any official parking areas. There were a couple of marinas on the trail, though, and we thought we might be able to leave the Jeep at one of them. We drove through the first, but didn’t feel comfortable leaving the Jeep there, so we continued on, trying to follow the trail on the online map. That was the other difficult thing – the trail is not very clearly marked, and can be difficult to find.
Our travels took us on an unpaved section of road that we weren’t too sure was going to lead us anywhere!
We passed by cotton fields – some that looked ready to harvest,
and some that had already been harvested.
We’d never seen bales of cotton before – it was pretty cool!
The backroads really did take us somewhere, and we arrived at the next marina, which was actually a fishing resort. It was pretty nice – cute cabins!
It appeared that some of them were rentals, and others were privately owned, or maybe rented seasonally.
We felt like we could leave the Jeep here without being worried about it, but we couldn’t find the trail. We parked and went into the store to see if they could direct us to it. The lady in the store told where the trail was, but she didn’t recommend trying to ride on it. She said she had walked in a short distance, and there were lots of trees down, and she had heard that somebody else reported seeing lots of rattlesnakes on the trail. OK, I think we’ll pass on that!
We did drive down to the end of the resort property for a look at the trail.
Well, it’s marked, at least!
We drove a little further along the lake, through the Hickory Top Wildlife Management Area. Marcie had said she came over here earlier in the week to see ducks. We didn’t see any, though . . . just an old boat launch at the end of a drive through the cypress forest.
Three strikes on finding a bike trail, so we just headed back and decided to go for a short ride on the refuge.
We saw a few ducks at the Visitor Center,
and rode out to the Bluff Trail to check out Cantey Bay.
We could hear ducks and geese out there, but couldn’t see any – they are too good at hiding, and since we were in an active hunting season, we couldn’t ride any further out on the bluff.
On the way back, I spotted a beautiful tree and just had to stop for a picture!
We didn’t get in quite as much riding as we wanted to, but it was still a pretty good day!