Day 41 Georgetown, SC to Charleston 85 miles 1,355 feet
Last night after hours reviewing Google Maps and Google Earth satellite images, a decision was made to repeat yesterdays van escort for about 20 miles of US 17 that appeared unsafe to cycle on. It appeared to me that we were setting up for a Captain Ron moment, more on that later. It was decided that we needed to meet at the 18 mile mark on our route by 10AM to accomplish the rendezvous. It was downright freezing when the first riders departed at 7:30. Lacking any warm clothes, and knowing I could easily cover that distance in an hour or less I shoved off just before 9, it was still below 50 degrees and my exhalation looked like steam. I pedaled as hard as I could, not due to the time constraints, but just to keep from turning into a snowman. I was so cold that I remembered the banter Jimmy Buffet used during his Fenwick Park performance in 2004 as he introduced his song Boat Drinks. To paraphrase Jimmy, I recall he said, “I was walking out of a bar late one night and it was too cold for a Florida boy to walk outside, so I “borrowed” a Boston taxi.” As a Southern California boy, I sure could have used that taxi this morning.
To make matters worse, even though the sun was up, it was still low in the sky and most of those first 18 miles were through a dense forest that obscured the sun. As the ECG routed me along Estherville Drive and North Santee River Road, I was certain that I must be riding through a public forest or park till I noticed the occasional roadside mailbox every mile or so. Glancing through the clearings by the mailboxes I could make out a few auxiliary structures near the road. Set much father back, perhaps as much as half a mile, were grandiose Plantation Style Mansions, just like those in Gone With The wind.
Just before I arrived at the rendezvous point I received a text indicating that the first 5 mile section of US 17 which we had planned as a van convoy was under construction and closed down to one lane in each direction. This was clearly our Captain Ron moment, we had wasted many hours planning in advance without knowing what the actual conditions would be. The bad news was that you can’t block the only lane of a highway with a bicycle convoy, but the good news was that the convoy was not needed as you could simply cycle on the closed off highway fully protected by the cones. For those of you unfamiliar with Captain Ron, it was a 1992 film starring Kurt Russell as Captain Ron and Martin Short as a Martin Harvey, a Chicagoan who inherits a boat but does not know how to sail, so sight unseen, he hires Ron. Martin is detail oriented and when he presses Ron for their plans before departure, Ron responds “lets not waste our time planning on shore, everything happens out on the water and we will surely figure it out when we get there.”
US 17 was to my mind totally acceptable to cycle on, the shoulder was only 2 foot wide but as long as you focused and looked down the road you could safely maintain speed. We regrouped at the 30 mile mark to decide on our plan for the reaming portion of US 17. This is where I met George, hawking sweet potatoes, he had just picked, from the back of his pickup truck. I’m not a fan of sweet potatoes, had they been russets I would have grabbed a few to nuke in my hotel room as a snack before dinner.
To limit our exposure to the high speed traffic, our planned route made multiple diversions, mostly on the eastern side of US 17, requiring a left turn across US 17 to exit and another left turn across US 17 to return. To me this seemed both silly and potentially unsafe. As far as I was concerned this road was going where I wanted to go and I had no plans to leave it until the Isle of Palms. I remembered a related incident from 1996 when I was on a late night flight to Miami with my CEO. We had finished a business meeting in Washington DC too late to catch a direct flight to Fort Lauderdale for a breakfast meeting the following morning. We flew to Atlanta, waited several hours for the only available flight to Florida which would arrive into Miami at around 1 AM, and planned to rent a car and drive to Fort Lauderdale. As our flight was landing, the stewardess announced that all Miami passengers should deplane and the flight would then continue on to Fort Lauderdale. Thanks to all our frequent flier miles we were sitting in First Class which was fairly deserted. My CEO started to get up and I told her to pull the blanket over her head and pretend that she was asleep. When she questioned me I told her that the plane was going where we wanted to go and I had no intention of getting off, unless they dragged us off, which I doubted would happen. I assumed the worse they could do, if anything, was ask for some additional money for the extra 50 miles we flew. No one ever came by to question us or ask for any money.
Thanks to the flat terrain and the gentle tailwind, I was cruising along on the shoulder of US 17 at around 23 mph. I occasionally had to cross the rumble strips and ride the road to avoid truck tire carcasses and some actual road kill, but it was not a problem. I turned off US 17 to head for the Isle of Palms and immediately encountered a minor logistic problem. Our route ran through Sweetgrass Landing, a private community with locked electronic gates. I noticed a small dog walking path in the dirt to the side of the gates which I used to access the road. Unfortunately when I got to the southern end of the community I encountered another set of gates and this time no side path. My carbon fiber bike did not have enough metal to set off the detector so I needed to wait for a car to pass and let me out. I had been planning to stop at the 60 mile mark to meet up with our van and refill my water bottles, the van however had been delayed back at 40 so I pressed on, convinced I would find water along the route. Just about that time I received a text that one of our riders who rode the eastern US 17 bypass had encountered an alligator, the first live one we have seen so far.
I crossed a mile long cement causeway over marshland and then a fixed bridge over the Intercoastaal Waterway. Such bridges are required to have a minimum of 85 feet clearance over the mean high water mark so sailboats can pass under. At the crest of the bridge you could see the all the boat docks directly below and the Atlantic Ocean in the distance with cargo ships 5 miles offshore.
Once on the Isle of Palms I diverted off the ECG route to ride directly on the ocean and view the oceanfront mansions. It brought back memories of life in the Hamtons. On a weekday, after Labor Day, the owners were nowhere to be seen. There was still an amazing amount of activity as legions of housekeepers, gardeners, and contractors were cleaning up from the past weekend’s parties. They were several new mansions under construction. I also ran across a professional dog walker with half a dozen dogs in tow. Talk about lucky dogs, the owners have to head back to work in some office while the dogs get to live and play on the beach. Before we lived in East Hampton full time, we left our two white Labradors at the beach with a handyman watching them. When my 5 year old daughter showed pictures of Irish and Krom to her classmates in NYC, her friends asked who watched them while we were in the city. Max responded, “they are big dogs, they watch themselves.”
The ECG route continued on through Sullivan’s Island where the homes were even more spectacular. As I was about to leave the island I noticed a sign for Fort Moultrie and decided it was worth a 30 minute detour to check it out. As I rolled through the business core of Sullivan’s Island, I spied several fine dining options for lunch, I was growing tired of fast food for lunch. There was a cute home I’m sure all the children would love to visit on Halloween and a grand old church.
Fort Moultrie was built in 1776 to protect the city of Charleston. The original fort, named Fort Sullivan, as it was a series of fortifications on Sullivan’s Island, was built of palmetto logs which deflected the blasts from cannonballs. The South Carolina state tree is the palmetto tree, AKA Sabal Palm, which also inspired the state flag and the state’s nickname, “The Palmetto State.” During the Revolutionary War it was captured and occupied by the British who departed in 1782 when they lost the war. The fort was not open to the public today but you could wander the grounds outside. The fort occupies a spectacular waterfront site, in the distance you can see the Atlantic Ocean and Charleston Harbor. The shoreline is lined with Palmetto Trees.
Many examples of cannons used over the years are on display.
2 large cannons are mounted on the ramparts facing out to sea, between them you can just make out the cupola of the Stella Maris Catholic Church
The gothic style church was built in 1869 to replace an earlier wooden church built in 1845.
I rode back into town to find large thongs of tourists cueing at the handful of open restaurants. I chose Mex 1 Coastal Cantina, 2205 Middle St, Sullivan’s Island. They had an extensive menu but I ultimately selected the Santos Shrimp Quesadilla, with Baja spiced grilled shrimp, melted jack cheese, ancho chile spread, corn & black bean salsa, and chipotle creama. After 70 miles and 2 dilute bottles of Skratch, I inhaled the quesadilla, which tasted amazing as it slithered down.
After lunch I crossed back onto the mainland and rode through many historic homes in Mount Pleasant.
We crossed the Ashely River into Charleston via the Arthur Ravenel Jr Bridge, along a bike path as wide as an automobile lane. I wish they would install such a bike path all the way from San Francisco to Oakland on the Bay Bridge.
Charleston was founded in 1670 and grew rapidly and profitably as major slave trading port. Charleston played a pivotal role in both the Revolutionary and Civil Wars. The British laid siege to Charleston on April 1, 1780 and on May 12, the Patriots, led by Benjamin Lincoln, surrendered to the Loyalist in the greatest American defeat during the war. The British would hold the city for two years until the end of the war. Between the 2 wars, the wealthy in Charleston profited handsomely from both the slave trade and the production of cotton as a cash crop. The Civil War both begun and ended in Charleston. The bombardment of Fort Sumner by the Confederates was the first battle of the War and shortly after the Union forces regained control over Charleston, the Confederacy surrendered.
The bike path off the bridge deposited us along the rail yard and the Port of Charleston, much of which is being gentrified into loft style housing for millennials. Some older waterfront buildings like the U.S. Customs House are still in use.
Just past the rundown wharfs lies the historic section of Charleston.
Many tourists were lined up to tour the Old Exchange & Provost Dungeon which was completed in 1771 and served many civic functions, including as a military prisoner of war facility.
Both sides of East Bay Street were line with historic homes many in the French Style.
The whole area reminded me of the French Quarter in New Orleans, right down to the real gaslight lanterns.
The horse driven tourist wagon even reminded me of Jake, the horse that hauled me around New Orleans back in 1985 durning the Anesthesia Convention.
Dinner was at Home Team BBQ, 1205 Ashley River Rd, Charleston. It was killer BBQ, I had perhaps the best field greens salad I have had since I left California in September, followed by a full rack of St Louis style ribs, and finished with a fresh banana pudding. I should have enough calorie reserves for tomorrow’s 73 mile ride.
On the way out I just had to purchase some piggy Greatful Dead tee shirts for myself and my girlfriends kids. My late wife tossed all my original GD tee shirts along with my ripped jeans over 40 years ago, before she married me. Who knew back then that people would pay over $300 for a pair of band new ripped jeans?
Twelve states down, 3 more to go.
Feet Climbed 79,062
States Visited Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina
For more details on my route, see my Strava Link