My name is Mike Matthews. My parents are Jack and Shirley Matthews and we live in Preservation. I am twenty years old and the twenty-third year from the Day. I am married to Jennifer. Her parents are Jim, Mary, and Louise Sinclair. There are a lot of people in Preservation but Jennifer and I are the oldest of the new generation. There aren't many kids a just little bit older than us but a lot are younger. Dad says that he knows of no infants surviving the Day.
We have decided to take a trip after our marriage and before we settle into our home and farm. Jen and I are proud of our home. With help from our dads and the rest of Preservation, we built it. It overlooks the power pond and my parents' house is just over the hill.
Dad says that I should bring people up to date on our history. He says that, if you don't know where you're from, how will you know where to go. Anyway, Dad's in charge though we have a Council that makes most of the decisions. When I was young, people came to Preservation like Jen's dad. He has interesting stories of his travels. We still talk to the Salt Lakers on the radio. A guy named Jam is now their leader. They farm some but not like we do here. Our season is longer and winters are mild though you have to be watchful for spring thunderstorms. Dad and I went up to I-20 a few years ago and saw where a tornado had ripped through the area about a week before. I decided then and there that being in a tornado was not on my list of fun things. The place was one of our outlying farms and it was destroyed along with the crops. If someone had been there, they could have been hurt or killed.
Radio is important to Preservation. Dad started that and most of us kids are used to using HT's and understand HF pretty well. We have a couple of repeaters on towers on big hills with solar power and battery banks. Dad says that he's not sure how much longer batteries will last. We have one repeater and tower on the other side of the pond from our house. We are moving from automobiles and trucks to horses. Gas, diesel, tires, and batteries are getting hard to find. Horses are doing well and multiply by themselves without much help. There are many abandoned cars and trucks.
We have plenty of firearms though haven't needed them except for wild animals for over five years. One party of marauders came through but none escaped. We lost one family who were hit without warning. They got off a call for help on the radio. I was allowed to go with the posse that Dad pulled together. We were too late to help the Baxter's but their killers hadn't figured on a quickly organized, hard hitting posse. Most were killed in the fight. Those left were hung when it was found that the Baxter's had been killed. Dad had us put up signs warning people that marauding was not going to be tolerated. We set up a method for visitors to call and be checked out before they came into our area. Those who came anyway usually didn't get to do anything but die. I asked Dad about that and he said, "It's harsh but those who won't read or who think that signs don't have meaning shouldn't be left in a position to reproduce."
When I said that was a harsh view, he asked me if I had rather my wife or my mother be raped and killed. That brought it home to me and I understood his thinking though I still thought it was harsh.
Anyway, we are doing well as a community growing our own vegetables and meat. Georgia has a good climate for farming and our area was doing well though Dad said his measurements showed the average temperature to be a little lower over the last ten years. He said the amount of heat from humans and machinery might be having a slow effect on the climate.
Jen and I had decided to go south on our trip. No one had come from the south since the Day. Dad and Mom were curious though did not want us to be careless as we went. No one knew what would be found. Two days before we were to leave Janice and Bennie asked to join us. Janice is my "sort of" older sister. She was found by my parents about a week after the Day shortly after they met. Her mother had been killed by looters and she never knew her father.
She and Bennie had married but had never had children. They both had developed a wanderlust making expeditions into the Carolinas, Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi on a frequent basis. This trip would be another in their exploring.
It was late spring when we left. Planting season had to be completed. Jen and I had been married for almost four months. We left with six horses between the four of us with one couple riding horseback and the other couple driving the wagon with the other four horses.
Our first stop would be Fred's place near Macon where Preservation had an outpost centered on his old home. Dad and Jim tell of using cars and trucks to travel hundreds of miles in a day. We figured on maybe making twenty with the wagon. We could move faster without the wagon but would lose the ability to talk back to Preservation easily via HF. We carried a hand cranked generator, batteries, two HF radios, and two antennas. The antennas, a dipole and a vertical, each had different propagation properties. In addition, the wagon carried extra food and tenting. Also, each of us had bedrolls and personal items.
We arrived on the second day and spent the evening with Fred and his extended family enjoying our time and shaking the wrinkles out of our traveling methodology. The next morning, we left headed to old I-75 south toward Florida. We expected to make detours off that track to check out various sites for Dad and to satisfy our own curiosity.
Our first stop was Bryon and, according to our odometer on the wagon, we covered twenty-two and a half miles that day. We traveled most of the day with only a quick stop for lunch. We could and did use the two meter radio for communications back to Preservation. We expected to hold that for another day or two using the same repeater. No one expected any real information this early and we had none.
Dad suggested that we get off the interstate and check out the peaches. He explained that there used to be some fine places to shop going across on old Georgia route 96. I looked at the others and saw nods. We had planned that anyway so were ready for it.
The next day we "exited" I-75 onto Georgia route 96 and turned west. We had seen a sign for Lane Packing and would head for that store. We arrived and found it had been flattened. Storms over the years had done it in. Some of the trees in the orchards were down but some of the orchards were still in good shape though Janice said they needed some care to produce well. We saw no one. It was too early for peaches so we continued east going for I-16. We made the old town of Bonaire just before dark and set up camp in a little park-like area close to the road. We had fresh meat as Bennie killed a deer on the way. He and I field-dressed it and loaded it at the back of the wagon. As soon as we stopped for the night, I started to skin it and cook the meat for the night. I smoked what was left for the future. The other three set up our camp including bedding the horses. The area looked a bit wild so we took turns guarding our meat and horses from any animal attacks. It was quiet.
The next morning, we loaded our wagon, saddled horses, and left headed for I-16 and Dublin. Jen and I were on horseback today. We had agreed to switch off every few days as driving the wagon was not bad but not near as much fun as riding. We arrived at the roadbed of I-16 and headed southeast with the hope of covering miles. We actually probably did pretty well and stopped for the night at an old rest area shown on our maps. Nothing worked there but it gave us a large open space. We had seen no one and no sign of anyone either. The animals we saw did not seem to fear man which suggested that this area was devoid of human life.
We traveled for five days following I-16 and seeing no sign of people. Game was plentiful and we found some wild grains growing but it was too early in the season for them. We brought plenty of food except for meat. Hunting was fun and not really very hard. As we came closer to Savannah, we noticed the ground to be marshier. Janice noticed that last year had probably found a hurricane hitting this area, also. There may have been some in other years, too. We could see flattened farm houses and tumbled cars. We reached the intersection of I-16 and I-95 and all of us noticed that the area looked really bad from storm damage.
Old Jack had moved from Pooler years ago so we did not know of anyone in the area. We saw no one either. We stopped at that intersection and tried to make more plans for the next day going into Savannah. We were supposed to try for Tybee Island but were having doubts because of the damage. Mom had told me that Savannah had open areas in town which could be used for camping though we might have trouble finding good water. We decided to go into town in hopes that we would have camping in Savannah. We would leave the wagon and ride out to Tybee if we could. The question was whether or not we would be reasonable safe in leaving the wagon and extra horses there. We would have to see what was there and what we could do.
We figured this would be a three day trip. One day would see us into Savannah and set our camp. The second day would be our trip to Tybee and back. The third day would see us head out away from Savannah. The first day went as planned.
We loaded the wagon and team and moved into Savannah. It had been a good-sized city before the Day and you would think that there would be survivors. Old Jack never saw any while he was in the area though he admitted he avoided Savannah. After more than twenty years and some hurricanes, there might not be any people remaining. If there were, their friendliness could not be assumed. Jen and I were horsed today and we rode out ahead of the wagon watching on both sides and the front. Where we could, we would stop and use binoculars to search areas before we reached them. There had been a lot of damage from storms and we could see no sign that any repairs had been attempted nor where any damaged items had been cleared to present a road for even a horse. We could see some game trails but had to work our way into the city area where we planned to set up our camp.
We found a place that was protected but open at the top. There was fodder for the horses and some water. I wasn't totally satisfied but couldn't really object. We each prepared everything for our ride out to Tybee as if we would never see the wagon or extra horses again. We hid the radios and all that paraphernalia. Jen, Janice, and Bennie were humoring me in my paranoia. We hid extra guns and ammo in a separate place from the rest though took an ample supply with us.
The next morning, we would leave for Tybee.
In the morning, we rose, ate breakfast, and packed our final items for our trip. I was again kidded for being paranoid. I reminded all three that, "I know I'm paranoid. The question is, am I paranoid enough?" We all chuckled and mounted. I wondered.
We rode out on the causeway toward Tybee. The road was rough. No maintenance had made a bad situation really bad. Having to endure a few storms over the twenty plus years since the Day had not helped either. We saw no tracks of people though we did see sign of some big cat. We worked our way out to Tybee and eventually arrived at the beaches. There were almost no structures surviving. It had borne the brunt of the weather over the years and it showed. We tied the horses and went out onto the beach and roamed around.
Jen and I removed our boots and socks and went into the shallows feeling the waves wash over our feet. It was a delightful feeling and I wanted more.
I said, "I want to swim in the ocean. We may never get this chance again and should give it a try." Saying that, I stripped to my under shorts and went in. The water was cool and felt wonderful on my skin. We had not had the chance to really wash since leaving Dublin and I relished this opportunity to let the water wash the sweat and travel dust from my body.
A moment later, Jen joined me. We romped in the water for a while and then came out. Bennie and Janice had walked down the shore and were standing together looking out at the ocean. I heard a cry and saw her hand point. I followed the direction of her hand and saw a huge boat out in the water. Jen and I had dried ourselves and were putting our clothes back on. Quickly, we finished dressing and ran to join Janice and Bennie.