Upstate of Mind

In a grand testament to my small-mindedness, up until last fall, I was under the impression that anytime anyone talked about going “upstate,” they were speaking about Upstate New York. I think I could be partially forgiven for this misunderstanding because A) there are so many Northeast ex-pats living in the Asheville area B) the most definitive reference to upstate, “singing in the car getting lost upstate,” from fellow Pennsylvania ex-Pat Taylor Swift is about the Catskills. I learned of my error while stuck for essentially four hours one lovely morning in the Greenville Airport due to some massive Delta Air computer malfunction which saw me reading all the local tourism literature and learning that upstate South Carolina (which Wikipedia tells me is often called “the Upcountry”) is indeed a thing. 

I hadn’t, however, ventured to the proper “upcountry” until last weekend when I took advantage of my newly-minted three-day weekend (shoutout for woke workplaces!) to visit Lake Jocassee for the first time. 

Lake Jocassee, for the uninitiated, is one of the many man-made lakes dotting Western North and South Carolina that also include Lake Keowee, Lake Santeetlah, Fontana Lake, and Bear Creek Lake outside Sylva, renowned for their very clear waters and mostly uninhabited shoreline. We headed down to Jocassee to do some paddle boarding. We picked it because it’s only an hour and twenty-minute drive from Asheville (Fontana and Santeetlah, which it seems more Ashevillians visit are closer to a two-hour trek). There are a bunch of waterfalls that flow directly into the lake, that truth be told, I was banking on for some Instagram content. There are a couple of different rental outfits to choose from, but we went with Eclectic Sun because it’s the only one on the lake that doesn’t require you to transport your boards. 

Every year I forget how hard paddle-boarding is, which is the long way of saying we didn’t make it to any of the lakeside waterfalls, the closest of which the Eclectic Sun workers let us know was at least a three hour round trip paddle. Now, I was still out on the water for a solid 4.5 hours, but much of that was spent exploring the inlets and coves that make up the shoreline. There was one inlet in particular, very close to where we put in the water, where we got off our boards and just enjoyed swimming in the shallow, sandy water for a while. I’m used to the dark, murky lakes of the Northeast, so I also always forget and am pleasantly surprised to find clear, fresh-water lakes. 

Overpriced consumer goods in tourist towns is something upstate South Carolina has with its New York counterpart. Also, the abundance of Confederate flags may surprise some of you southern readers. Word to the wise: purchase any food and necessary sundries before leaving town. I know we all complain about Asheville being expensive, but it’s not $16.00 for a can of spray-on sunscreen expensive, at least not yet, which is what I was charged at an upstate South Carolina gas station. Overpriced sunscreen aside, I’d love to come back to Jocassee. I think I’d kayak rather than SUP to reach at least one of the waterfalls. I also think Devil’s Fork State Park’s boat-in-only campground would be great to check out, and now the other lakes I mentioned earlier have rocketed up on my places to check up this summer.

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