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.

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