Sunday 22nd January – Drowned Rat

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My second wet day in Charleston. Very wet. There was no sunrise walk this morning, in fact I lay in bed for quite a while just watching and listening to the rain pounding down. I was happy I didn’t wake up with a pool in the living room. I broke my fast inside the van, not opening any doors. It is already starting smell like wet.

Knowing it would be miserable all day, I decided to go to the Yorktown “boat” (aircraft carrier) I’d seen when I arrived figuring it would be a mostly indoor activity. I drove through the torrential rain and parked across the road so I didn’t have to pay $5 for parking. The entry fee was $22 and when I tried to ask more information about what was included, the ticketing lady wasn’t very forthcoming so I perused the brochure and then paid my fare.

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As I walked along the pier towards the boat, a man in a shuttle cart stopped me and instructed me to get in. I did as I was bid, he was just doing a lady a service getting her out of the rain. He’d recently been to Australia so he was excited to meet an Aussie, he shouted “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie!” as I got out of the cart and I responded in kind. Inside the ship, a volunteer came up to me to explain the tour procedure since I couldn’t figure it out from the brochure. Everything was self-guided and there were five different areas to explore. I started on the Hangar Deck where they had a bunch of planes tucked into the space, wings folded up but still looking fierce.

I walked all through the ship on each of the different tours, hardly seeing another person. It was a cool place to explore. Such a large ship it would have taken army men weeks to learn their way around. There seemed to be no method to the layout. The crew’s berthing would be next to a bathroom, which made sense, but the dentist’s room would be right next to the kitchen’s meat preparation area and the bomb assembly workshop neighboured the doctor’s rooms. I would have been completely lost without the yellow arrows on the floor.

It took me a good three hours to explore the whole ship, including the flight deck which I tried to time between the rain, but didn’t have much luck. It was such a miserable, miserable day. They had a number of planes arranged on the deck, which I’d have loved to see in action in their day. I realise what destruction and death the various wars brought, but I can only imagine the excitement and tension on the days when sirens rang and lights flashed red.

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Back inside, I was confused about the Apollo exhibit, but soon found out that the Apollo 8 replica was there because the Yorktown ship was the one to recover it and the three astronauts within it when it landed. I crawled into the Apollo 8 pod replica they had and lay down on one of the seats to experience the take off, a trip around the moon, the landing. They did a very good job using only a monitor and extremely well orchestrated sound.

Having explored every nook and cranny of the Yorktown, I walked down the pier to the USS Laffey, a destroyer ship. It had a reputation for the ship that never died because it endured one of the worst Kamikaze attacks in history getting struck by multiple Japanese planes and bombs but staying afloat and operational. I’ve no idea how they repaired it. This one didn’t take too long to explore, but again, they had some cool installations, especially in the control room with all of its gadgets.

Further on down the pier was the last attraction, the USS Clamagore, a submarine. It looked its age sitting half-submerged in the water. It has been a national monument for as long as I’ve been alive. It was built in 1945. As soon as I descended the ladder-type stairs I felt too big for the space around me. I can only imagine my Uncle’s reaction when he first got on a submarine at the tender age of 15, having signed on to the navy for the next seven years. The sub was a long hallway with water-tight doors between compartments that were little more than child-sized and cramped rooms to either side of the corridor. There is no way I could fathom living in such a space for an extended amount of time, with other people, submerged in the ocean. How did they even develop technology in that time to give them the confidence to live and move underwater?! I didn’t figure out how many people would normally man a submarine of this size, but I hoped it was no more than half a dozen.

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Back out into the weather, another storm was passing over as I wandered through the Vietnam Memorial. This was an outdoor exhibition that used sound as well as relics and building structures to replicate a US war camp during their assault on the Viet Cong. It sounds corny, but the sound was brilliant, I was constantly whirling around to see where the helicopter was, sure there was one overhead. The rain made the place seem even more representative of the humid rain of Asia. After skipping from building to building and taking refuge in open aircraft and vehicles, I was done with being out in the rain. My rain jacket was starting to soak through at the shoulders I’d been out in it so long.

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It was raining really, really hard when I got back to the car. I didn’t really have a plan from this point but decided that the weather was much to foul to do anything in, crap enough to not want to drive in it, so I drove to the west side of Charleston to a Starbucks and hung out there the rest of the afternoon. The place was packed, but I managed to find a quiet place at a corner table and bought a doughnut to justify my stay. I had intended to relax and watch a movie but I never got around to it. I did lots of boring admin stuff like backing up my computer and playing around with my website. Before I knew it, I had hunger pains and even though it was still raining outside, I made my move and drove five minutes down the road to another Walmart for camp. It’s another very big carpark with some bush that makes it feel a little like the real deal.

The rain had eased to a drizzle so I got right up to doing some overdue dishes so I could make dinner. I put my tarp up over the back doors but it wasn’t to last. I was well aware that my tarp system for the outdoor kitchen is only good enough to keep moisture off my head and nothing against a downpour. Even as the rain started coming down hard, I had high hopes that I could make it work. When water started pooling and falling in every direction, I abandoned ship as quickly as I could. By the time I’d thrown the tarp off to the side and shoved everything inside, I was drenched along with a lot of my kitchen. Fail. I have added the making of a more robust tarp system to my to-do list. I happily remained in the van the rest of the night.

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