Monthly Archives: December 2011

Charleston

Because I had gone to bed so early, I was able to wake up around 6am. That’s early for me. The rays of the sun were beginning to sneak over the horizon as I ate breakfast, took down my tent, and packed my bags. I was off at about 7:20, a little later than I wanted, but still a really good start for me.

The first eight miles were not too bad. I don’t like backtracking, so I wasn’t too excited about re-doing the mileage I had just done the day before. I had to remind myself that free camping was a pretty good price, and this would probably be as scenic as it got for the day. After this little highway, I was back on 17 until Charleston. After about forty minutes, I reached the junction with the hardware store, the yellow caution light, and the gas station. I refilled my water bottles in the bathroom, and then did some stretching.

2 miles down the road, I reached for my water bottle and discovered it was missing. I must have left it at the gas station. Four miles to go back and get it. Twenty minutes of the day lost. Cost of the water bottle was about five bucks. I did some cost/benefit analysis in my head. I really didn’t have anything else to do that day. I really wanted to see a bit of Charleston though. My income stream right now is zero though, so putting my time value at fifteen dollars an hour seemed rather high. I turned back and got the water bottle. The whole rest of the day though, I just kept thinking about the twelve miles of backtracking I had done. Essentially an hour’s worth of unnecessary riding.

About ten miles away from Charleston, I saw a sign advertising a Gullah restaurant with a buffet that would be seven miles ahead in Mt. Pleasant. Gullah, made famous by the TV show, is an interesting culture that has survived on the islands in the Southeast. I had never had Gullah food before, but I imagined it would be delicious. I made a mental note that I should look for that seven miles ahead. Seven miles later, I found it. The food was more or less soul food, so not much new in terms of “Gullah.” It was delicious though. I had two full plates and some banana pudding. I then got back on my bike with about twelve miles to go. All I really wanted to do after eating so much food was close my eyes and take a nap. That’s the problem with buffets for lunch.

Back on the road, I was only a couple miles from the gigantic Ravenall Bridge that connects Mt. Pleasant to Charleston. Fortunately, it was built with an awesome pedestrian/bike path going over it, so it was not too difficult to cross. It was quite a climb on my bike, but it felt good. I was missing hills (crazy, I know), and I just wanted something other than flat and boring 17. Crossing the bridge spit me right out in downtown Charleston. I was tempted to just ride around and see the city, but I wanted to store my bike away for the evening.

I pushed ahead and crossed bridge number two: The James Island Connector. This bridge did not have a pedestrian/bike path. It did have large shoulders though. My friends had said that switching to the left-hand shoulder could be good because the right-hand side has a few exits and cars have to leave and get on the highway. I considered this, but I decided to stick with the right-hand side. I’m used to dealing with cars to the left of me, and I thought having them on the right would just freak me out. Plus with my awesome helmet mirror, I can usually navigate the exit ramps pretty well.

I reached my house for the night and took a much needed shower. Then I bought a new tube (to replace the one I had used for the flat leaving Myrtle Beach). Finally, I went out to the bus stop. There was a bus that would take me right downtown. I could bike back over bridge number two, but I really didn’t feel like doing eight more miles that day over bridges and then having to leave downtown before the sunset. Public transportation was clearly the way to go. I had no idea what the bus schedule was, but I was optimistic. Surely, it wouldn’t be too long. Ha. I was no longer in the Northeast Corridor that has somewhat functioning public transportation. I was in the South. The next bus wasn’t coming for an hour. I read the local alternative newspaper, saw that there had been a Pixies concert there the previous week and in a couple days there would be a large Civil War re-enactment. Charleston sounded amazing.

Bus finally comes and I meet a young woman named Amy who works at Chick-fil-a. I needed to know the schedule of the bus, but it wasn’t posted anywhere on the bus. Fortunately, she had a schedule on her. We started talking, and I said I was a tourist. She was going to the visitor center to buy some bus passes, and I figured that would be a good place for me to get a map, so we walked over there together. She offered to walk around the city with me, but my first task was to get some free wifi so I could map out my route home. She said she knew that the Medical University had free wifi, so she showed me where that was. She departed, and then I spent way too much time searching for a road from Charleston to Savannah. Of course, the road was obvious, it was 17. And the advice online was equally simple: DON’T DO IT!

Forum after forum said the road is dangerous and narrow. Traffic is heavy. Multiple people have died. It’s just not worth it. Great, I thought, 17 is a horrible road in the first place, and it is only going to get worse. (This turned out not to be true. The road was fine. But that’s another blog update.) I tried to find alternative roads. I looked to see how far out of the way I could go. Nope. It was all pretty much the same road ahead. I wrote down my directions and looked at my watch. It was already 5:00, so it was getting dark soon. I didn’t have too much time to walk around. I set off looking for two things: an ATM and a place to sit and have a beer. Charleston is pretty awesome because within two blocks, I had an ATM. And a block later, I found a beer bar that had flights of local beers. Awesome.

I ended up not even having to take the bus back across because my friend Amy (not Amy from the bus, but Amy from UGA) works downtown, so she was able to give me a ride. We met up with her husband Matt and we went to this awesome place for dinner. On their recommendation, I ordered the beer can chicken, and it was delicious. I didn’t know how I was going to eat after that Gullah buffet, but there was no way I wasn’t finishing the food. The place also had a great beer selection, and I did another flight of beers. It was a good day for beer tasting.

After dinner, I went back and just prepared a little for the ride the next day. I was so close to Savannah. But I had a dangerous road ahead. And still one more day in Beaufort. I couldn’t skip over Beaufort (well I could if I wanted to do 40 extra miles the next day, but I really didn’t want to do that). One day at a time. Charleston had been great. Then Beaufort. Then… Nope, let’s focus on Beaufort.

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Day one on Highway 17 (into the forest!)

There’s no traffic on 17. Those were the words of my host Kyle the night before I departed from Myrtle Beach. I don’t know if he was trying to be macho in front of his girlfriend, but I would have to disagree with him. Up until that point I had ridden on roads from Boston to South Carolina. Yes, there were roads with more traffic, but those roads usually had a shoulder. Highway 17 had a sorry excuse for a shoulder mostly due to a rumble strip that took up most of it. Riding on a rumble strip is nearly impossible, so essentially, it had no shoulder.

Highway 17 was also the only way south unless I wanted to go miles out of my way. I was not excited about biking the next three days. The only thing that keeps me sane sometimes is keeping track of the directions. Okay, 5 more miles. Okay, 3 more miles. Once I left Myrtle Beach, I had two full days on Highway 17, and there is essentially nothing on it. Yeah, even Route 1 at least takes you through small towns every ten miles or so. On Highway 17, there is nothing. Nothing. Except traffic.

A few miles down the road from my host’s house, I started getting hungry. He had recommended that I check out a nice breakfast place on the way out of town, so I stopped in at the Spring House. Nothing special. Just your typical American breakfast of pancakes, sausage, and eggs. It was exactly what I was craving and carbed me up for quite some miles.

After that, it was back on the road again. South. Into the national forest. That night was the first night I planned on camping. 24 days or so and not once did I need the tent, sleeping pad, or sleeping bag that I had been hauling on my bike from Boston. I had bought a new tent just for this trip (although it’s more a life purchase, since I now have a tent). The story of my sleeping pad is that I bring it everywhere, and I hardly ever get a chance to use it. I don’t know why I imagined this trip would be any different. Anyway, I was going to camp, and that made me excited.

It was also going to be my first night to myself in over a month. Couchsurfing is amazing. I wouldn’t change a thing about the trip I had, but every night you have to be extroverted. Every night, you are meeting new people, and you only have one night with them. You want to be fun. You want to be interesting. Of course, you could just hole away by yourself and read or write or sleep, but it seems rude. And it’s not even that sometimes. The people you meet are often so interesting, you want to hang out and talk with them. So, I was peopled out by the time I got to the end of my trip, and I was looking forward to a night alone in the woods.

Charleston was about 90 miles from Myrtle Beach, a long day that I did not want to do. Fortunately, Francis Marion National Forest* was only 60 miles away. It seemed like a great stop. I’d be able to get to Charleston rather early in the day so I could explore this great city. Plus, camping in national forests should be free. You just need to check with the rangers first. So I called up the rangers to ask about camping and found out you need a camping pass to do wild camping. I could camp in a campsite that was about 6 miles out of my way (turned out it was 8 miles). Well, can I get a camping permit to camp anywhere? Yes, you can come by the office and get one. But I’m on a bike, so that wouldn’t really work. Can we do it over the internet, maybe through email? No, only through the mail or in person. It is 2011, National Forest Service. Please, make this process available over the internet.

The directions to the camp site were as follows. In McClellanville, you’ll see a caution light. Take a right there. It’ll be near Bill’s Auto Repair. That’s highway 57. Go down that road six miles and you’ll see the campsite. Not even a red light for McClellanville. Just a caution light.

Eventually, the traffic on 17 died down some once I was far enough away from Myrtle Beach. The shoulder eventually widened more. The wind also increased though. And the scenery never changed. It was a long day. I stopped at the dollar general to get some dinner. Peanuts, poptarts, and some ice cream for dessert. I thought the ice cream might melt before I reach the campsite, but I wanted to give it a try. I got to McClellanville and saw the caution light. And sure enough, the auto repair place was across the street. (Oh, I also forgot I had a flat tire leaving Myrtle Beach. That’s how professionally I handled this road flat. It was no biggie. Stopped, changed it, kept going. It was almost like an afterthought.)

I went six, then seven, and finally eight miles down the road before finding the camp site. It wasn’t a primitive site. It was mostly for RV’s. There were four or five of them parked around a central area, although each site had quite a bit of space on its own. I tried to use the water pump, but it was not working. Some nice RV owner gave me some water in a ziplock bag which was going to be my shower. I set up my tent, ate my pop tarts, built a small fire, watched the fire go out in ten minutes, then went to sleep at about 8:00. It was dark, and there wasn’t much to really do. I was all alone. And I loved it.

*In the original posting, I had typed Shawn Marion National Forest. My friend Ken Balla pointed out that this was a basketball player. A quick google map search showed the national forest is Francis Marion, not Shawn Marion. Francis Marion was a soldier in he Revolutionary War, perhaps better known by his nickname, the Swamp Fox.