Last month we (Kim, the kids, and I) headed to Hilton Head Island, SC for a week of
I have been itching to trek across South Carolina to the ocean for several years now, and Kim being as amazing as she is encouraged me to take this opportunity. Obviously, for a 250+ mile trip, the bicycle was the only mode of transport that made this feasible....although I do still plan to do it on foot sometime!
Kim came home from work early on Friday and we cleaned and packed the car. Things were close to ready late in the evening, and she assured me she'd handle the two kids for the 5 hour drive and the extra day it would take me to get to the beach (her sisters/husbands/cousins would all be there to "help").
So, Saturday morning, I woke at 03:45 and packed my saddle bag. Rolling out in the dark at 04:30 was a good feeling. I cruised along my old commuting route for a few miles, before passing Kim's office and jumping on a deserted highway 14 south of Greenville.
Heading out of Greenville, I cruised through Simpsonville as the sun rose...then Fountain Inn (very pretty town) and Gray Court. Some storms had blown through the previous evening and a large oak was down, along with powerlines, completely blocking Old Hwy 14 near Gray Court, fortunately I just had to detour 100 yards around a bean field to continue on my way.
Next I skirted Laurens, and stopped at a gas station diner for a breakfast biscuit. The morning was overcast, but I also grabbed a $6 pair of sunglasses here, because I knew a long day in the sun would be really hard on the eyes.
After breakfast on the dirty sidewalk in front of the gas station, I rolled off and almost immediately saw a Dollar General. I knew I needed another quick break, as sunscreen was the last item I needed to secure (aside from cold drinks!) to make it to the beach without undue stress.
Imagine my joy when I walked inside and was offered a free $10 gift card...apparently it was Grand Opening Saturday, and at least some of the morning patrons got free money! I grabbed a spray can of sunscreen, a $1 toothbrush, and a pack of gum....."spending" $9.96 - There is a gift card worth $0.04 in the trash somewhere in Allendale, SC :-)
I wheeled my way south from there, joining Hwy 39, which I'd follow for much of the rest of the day. In Cross Hill I got to really start enjoying the countryside....the road was smooth, with little traffic, and the sun came out, illuminating a beautiful sky over the fields and trees. As I told my dad, "I do these trips mostly for the physical exertion and sense of accomplishment, but the scenery sure does help sometimes!"
Chappells SC came and went...I was consulting Google Maps (I can remember planning these treks with my gazeteer maps and cutting out pages to carry with me years ago....but google maps is just amazing these days) once in a while, and using a combination of its suggestions and my own intuition to choose my route. Here it sent me off the nice tarmac and onto a dirt road through some hunting preserve lands...I gave it a shot, but after a mile or two I realized the reduced speed on the dirt/mud/gravel was going to cost me far more than the slightly shorter distance would benefit me. Not to mention that if I were to fall and get hurt, it would be unlikely that anyone would find me for quite a while...during the hour or so that I spent in the area, I never saw or heard another person or vehicle. I (using google maps) cut my way back to hwy 39 and the easy miles.
Lunchtime saw me in Saluda, SC. Not much seemed friendly here. An extremely loud heavy equipment repair shop was right next to the gas station where I got a pint of ice cream. I have to remember to carry a metal spoon in the future, the ice cream was too hard for the plastic spoon I found in the gas station.
Moving on, the afternoon really started to heat up. The high was in the mid-90's and as I reached Ridge Spring SC I was really starting to feel it. There was a huge festival going on between Ridge Spring and Monetta, and since there's only one road there, I was a train of cars creeping past food vendors and yard sales. People were crawling everywhere, in stark contrast to the morning I'd spent on rural biways. Maybe it was the diesel exhaust, coupled with the heat, but after a mile or so creeping through town I was about to pass out, and dove into a convenience store. Lucky me, they had cold drinks and ice. I downed a huge cup of ice water, and stocked up my bottle cages with more gatorade and pepsi. I also had the stroke of pragmatism to use my extra shirt as an ice bag. I tied the arm and neck holes in a knot, put a pound or so of ice in, and then tied the waist in another knot. I slid this ice pack under the collar of my shirt directly on my neck, and cruised in to the inferno a new man.
I would repeat this ice pack several times over the remainder of the trip, it truly was a life saver. Each new ice pack would still have a couple cubes left when I stopped for more drinks a couple hours later.
After Monetta, my next milestone was Interstate 20. There was a huddle house at the gas station at the otherwise empty exit, so I ducked inside for a meal of sweet potato fries and some midafternoon Air Conditioning. I called my dad from here to say hello, and also noted (somewhat disappointingly) that I had (only just) reached 100 miles for the day. Man, that was tougher than I wanted 100 to be! (Turns out that checking it now, it was closer to 110 miles, which would have offered some consolation if I'd known it at the time....)
Dripping with ice again, I cruised on. I had a couple more heat episodes during the afternoon. Salley, and Springfield, SC were both very nice towns, with nice long sidewalks lined with trees built off the road as city parks. I ended up sitting on benches, composing myself and rehydrating in both towns....I definitely wasn't rehydrating enough....likely due to my complete lack of physical training recently. I did a 60 mile ride two weeks prior to this trip, but otherwise haven't ridden my bike all year. Or most of the last several years, for that matter.
In my limited planning for this trek, I had found the Allendale Motor Court, a motel that would land me just far enough that day 2 would be under 100 miles. Making day 2 manageable also meant, of course, being ambitious on day 1! As the afternoon wore on, and I struggled to maintain decent speed, I began to think Allendale might be more than I could handle....even though stopping short would mean saving more than 100 miles for day 2 (daunting!).
In Springfield, I pulled over for dinner at a Subway, and decided to call the hotels in Barnwell, an hour closer than Allendale....well, after 4 phone calls and 4 "no vacancy's" I started to just hope that Allendale would have a bed for me.
Fortunately, the Motor Court said they would stay up til 10:30 for me, so I jumped back on the bike and put the pedal to the metal.
As the sun set on the highway, I cruised along, hoping to manage to hold things together and arrive in at the motel at least close to my promised 10:30. Lucky me, the cooler temps of the evening had a positive impact on my speed and I managed to crank out the remaining 37 miles in less than 3 hours. I even rolled into the deserted Saturday night streets of Allendale in time to stop at the last restaurant remaining open (Hardee's) to grab a meal before reaching the hotel about 10:25pm.
The proprietors were friendly enough, and even told me a tale of some cross country cyclists who'd stayed in their place many years ago. The room was not the cleanest, but it was relatively cheap and I only needed a few hours rest. I ate a few bites of my hamburger and french fries, took a REALLY satisfying shower, and then laid down and watched the last few minutes of "Meet the Parents" on HBO. A little after midnight, I woke up, not feeling quite right. Bummer, I went to the bathroom and had a terrible episode for about 10 minutes. I threw up my entire dinner! It was one of those experiences where it's so uncomfortable you just try to keep yourself conscious until it's over.... After making a mess, and cleaning it up, I was bummed that all those calories were lost, but I felt ok now. I knew this happened because I had asked so much of my untrained body, and it wasn't capable of recovering while simultaneously processing all the food in my stomach. I couldn't really look at the rest of the meal, so I went back to sleep.
Waking up, I kinda wished I was already at the beach. 95-ish miles on my tired body was not immediately appealing, but I had set myself up for this, and certainly the accomplishment of going cross state seemed worth the discomfort this day would entail. I was up at 5:30 and on the road by 6:30...not quite as early as I'd hoped, but respectable given the rough night.
It's nice that cycling is so easy on the body, the hardest part of starting again on day is just those first few moments on the saddle. I wasn't particularly peppy, but I was able to start rolling down the road. I finally got off the smaller highway 3, and joined hwy 278 now. I always find it interesting and neat to be on a road that I've also been on really far away. 278 goes through Atlanta, and I've run on it in the past. Another example is US 29, which I've run on from Atlanta to Athens, and also from Greenville to Spartanburg in South Carolina. I really get a kick out of that sort of thing.
Anyway, 278 was a perfectly straight shot from Allendale to Hampton, so in the early morning I made my way down that way. Through Hampton, I finished my first 15 miles, and stopped for breakfast. A local retired auto shop teacher chatted me up as I ate a big meal, and I lingered a bit to hopefully allow my food to start digesting.
Cruising out of Hampton, the morning was graciously overcast, so despite the humidity I wasn't baking just yet. The stretch from Hampton to Grays was smooth sailing, aside from the soreness inflicted the previous day. The road was nearly empty, as the hotel proprietor had suggested it would be, and the low-country scenery was just fine. After Grays, I followed a google maps suggestion, Log Hall Rd, which was an absolutely gorgeous stretch of empty road through the woods. I then re-connected with 278 into Ridgeland, SC. I had been daydreaming about Chinese food since dinner the night before, and right at 11 I passed a buffet and excitedly went inside. The food was not stellar, but there was air conditioning (the sun had come out with a vengeance!) and ice cold water!
As I rolled out of Ridgeland, I wanted to wait til the last possible stop to put ice in my neck wrap...but I over shot that by nearly a mile before I realized there were no more convenience stores. OOPS. I back tracked, uncertain there would be anything else until I reached Bluffton.
Well, glad I went back... After cruising a few more miles to Switzerland, SC, in weather that was rapidly climbing into the 90's, I followed my last google maps suggestion, a side road from Switzerland that would get me off of 278 until I absolutely had to get back on it, as it's the only road out to Hilton Head. Turning off on this side road, I climbed over the highway, or was it train tracks? and quickly found myself on a small road with old pavement. The gravel cracked and then disappeared entirely....I contemplated turning around, my tires are 32mm, not too skinny, but also not ready for the sandy soils I might find on a dirt road this far south. I decided I'd risk it, and pedaled on into the swampy low lands. Horse flies and mud, and mind-crushing humidity and heat soon engulfed me, and I was cursing the day I decided to take this trip :)
This stretch turned out to be 11 miles of suffering....made all the worse because I was hoping for pavement to return around the next bend the entire time. I stopped to take a picture of one of the worst spots on the road, a gravelly mud-pit, surrounded by sand. I checked back on my bicycle rack to make sure some of my stored items was being jostled loose by the jarring ride. I cussed audibly on more than one occasion. I was tired and hot, and ready to be done, but I still had 45 miles to go in the hottest part of the day....oh well. I'd come this far, nothing was going to kill the dream now!
When I finally emerged from this gauntlet, I rolled up on some pavement and looked back at my rack....NOOO!!!! my sandals (recently purchased and really nice) had jiggled loose from their straps on my rack! Man, was I livid. I immediately knew I was unwilling to ride back looking for them, as it had been a while since I checked for them. They might be 1/4 mile back...but they also might be 5 miles behind me. I was too tired to consider it....and I knew that since I was relatively close to the beach I could drive back out to look for them in a day or two. Oh well.
I made my way into town, and stopped at a Jersey Mikes. I wasn't that hungry, but my body was revolting against the heat, so I ate and drank cold drinks inside for 20-30 minutes, and let Kim know I was getting closer.
Back on the road, I re-joined 278 for the last stretch out to the island. There was quite a bit of traffic, but also a decent shoulder, and rumble strips to "protect" me. Within yards of the first bridge over the intracoastal waterway, I got a flat tire! Fortunately there was a little shade behind the guard rail and I quickly dispatched the tube change, and found the thorn that had shoved its way through the tire casing. I rolled on again, over the bridge...only to find that something was rubbing my rear wheel. I carefully pulled over at my first opportunity and could find nothing interfering with the wheel, so frustratedly jumped back on the bike. The sound returned when stood up on my pedals to climb the next bridge...so I slowed down and waited til my next chance to pull over safely. I ended up in a backing hot spot on a sopping wet grassy ditch...with sweat pouring over my face. I found that one of the screws holding my rack on the rear dropouts had apparently wiggled loose over the past couple year and finally fallen out when I changed the tube. I spent a few minutes finagling a solution (wrapping a spare spoke through the mounting hole, effectively "tying" the rack back on the bike). It worked, well enough that it was a couple weeks after the trip before I bothered to scrounge another M5 screw and install it properly.
I pushed a bit more, out onto the Island....but the day wasn't over yet. We'd rented a townhouse within 100 yards of the furthest south point on the Island, so there were something like 10+ miles to do even after landing on Hilton Head. I got reprimanded by the resort security guard since I was unaware that I had to ride on the bike paths....but then it was an uneventful cruise across the island. I was READY to be done, but no more major challenges seemed likely to jump out at me.
Kim and the cousins had been watching my location from the Google maps app, so came out and greeted me as I rolled the last 100 yards. A conquering hero, foolishly taking the hard way to vacation :)
Somewhat hilariously, in the middle of the week when I drove out to look for my sandal, I got all the way to the terrible gravelly mud pit before finding it in the middle of the road. I laughed out loud as I realized what this meant. I pulled out my phone to look at the picture I'd taken of this spot to show how bad it was......and zoomed in to find that my sandal was CLEARLY in the picture I'd taken....
I took some consolation in knowing that if I'd ridden back on my bicycle to find it, the sandal would have cost me an agonizing 12 miles of extra riding.
Overall, by my estimates the trip was about 263 miles, with 165 of those coming on the first day, and 98 on the second. Pleasing totals, even if it did take a loooong time. We enjoyed our time at the beach, and I very happily put the bike on the back of the van and DROVE home.