A gallant knight,
In sunshine and in shadow,
Had journeyed long,
Singing a song,
In search of El Dorado.
But he grew old-
This knight so bold-
And o’er his heart a shadow
Fell as he found
No spot of ground
That looked like El Dorado.
And, as his strength
Failed him at length,
He met a pilgrim shadow-
“Shadow,” said he,
“Where can it be-
This land of El Dorado?”
“Over the Mountains
Of the Moon,
Down the Valley of the Shadow,
Ride, boldly ride,”
The shade replied-
“If you seek for El Dorado!”
Edgar A. Poe
Funny – Poe spent some time in SC out on Sullivans Island. And in true SC style, married his 13 year old cousin, wracked up gambling debts, became addicted to morphine and died in someone else’s cloths under questionable circumstances, penniless and in a ditch. How about a big “Atta-boy!” for ole E.A.?
click the image above for an interactive map of the area
I wasn’t going to do it. The reason for the trip was to meet a contractor about repairs to a rental house and he had canceled. My riding partner bailed, put off by the interstate miles, opting instead for a tech day and FS road riding. There were some good whitewater kayaking options for the weekend, so I had decided to go boating instead. But then I woke up at and started reading Glenn’s’ Heggstads book “Two Wheels Through Terror” and it hit me – I can lay here in my nice warm bed reading about adventure – or I can go out in the cold and have one. Guess which one I chose?
I got out of bed and headded into the basement at about to replace the Corbin with the stock seat. I had been sliding around on the leather Corbin and slipping into the dip by the gas tank. I didn’t like it much and wanted to try something different. The jury’s still out on whether that was a good idea or not. That done, I threw together an overnight bag and strapped it on the back of the bike with some minimal camping gear and was on the road by 6 or .
The morning wasn’t that cold but the fog was THICK and that’s something that scares the hell out of me. I was on I-26 going 65 and could only see about 20 feet ahead, there’s condensation on the inside of my helmet and light rain on the outside. I have a premonition of my death, and this morning it will roll in from behind on 18 wheels, not even noticing the bump. Or maybe from ahead, in the form of a piece of tire tread, curled like a viper, materializing out of the fog. Pull over or press on? Not really a choice here.
The Saluda grade rises about 3000 feet up from the plane of South Carolina to become the Appalachians. As I started to head down it the fog broke, and below me I could see what looked like an ocean of clouds rolling into this mountainous shore. I was between two layers of cloud with the sun just rising between them. I had barley enough time to register how stunning this was before diving back into fog so thick I could only see about 5 feet ahead. This was really scary. I pulled over on the shoulder to evaluate my options, and realized I had none. It was back into the valey of death and as soon as I could I pulled off and into a Waffle House for coffee and eggs waiting till the fog burnt off.
Just south of Columbia I got off the “I” and onto back roads, riding through farmland and small towns, shedding layers all the way to Charleston. I got there just in time for lunch at a favorite dive, a seafood market with a deep fryer and no tables – and then headed out to the End of The Road, Rockville. After poking around this old fishing village for a while I rode over to Cherry Point. It’s a boat ramp on Bohicket creek with a big grassy area under live oaks. There I could kick back in the shade, tallboy in hand, and watch the tide turn with no sound but the wind in leaves. I had started the day in icy fog, and now I’m sitting on my jacket in one of my favorite spots, watching the sun sparkle on the water. This is good stuff, but it’s getting late and time to head to Max‘s back yard for beers on the tailgate and a couch for the night.
I lost the fight for sleep early the next morning and was packed and heading to Willtown Bluff by . This place is on the northern edge of the ACE basin, a low lying area between Charleston and Bufort that’s bound on the north by the Edisto river, the south by the Cumbahee (say CUMbee) and run through the middle by a snaking tidal reach called the Ahepoo. This is the lowcountry I love and I was excited to experience it on a bike. Tuning off hwy 17 and onto Parkers Ferry the road becomes a patchy stretch of rough asphalt rising about two feet out of the swamp. This is a land of extreme contrasts. I was blasting past third world poverty one minute and two hundred year old gated drives concealing inconceivable wealth the next. Its obvious that the families on one side of the road were once owned by the families on the other.
A few miles down Parkers Ferry the pavement ends altogether and I’m riding a white ribbon through rust colored mature pine forest. The trailers and concrete bunker-homes disappear and a light fog makes the colors pop. I pass a private home that puts Tarra to shame and stop for some pictures. A right turn at the T junction brings me to Willtown Bluff. Founded in 1685, now its just huge live oaks and widely scattered old money antebellum retreats. God I want one!
This mornings summit is a boat ramp I remember visiting in the early 90s on one of my kayaking forays. This place was dripping with the ghosts of Sea Island rice. Before the War of Northern Aggression rice, not cotton, was the crop that made these planters wealthy and it’s legacy is thousands of impoundments holding water in shallow ponds. These make wonderful wildlife habitat and are regular stops on the route of migrating birds. A lot of the publicly accessible impoundments are closed in winter to manage for waterfowl. Eagles, swallowtail kites, ibis, bobcat, and arguably, the Carolina Panther, all call this area home. But the king of them all is the American alligator. These beasts grow huge on the bounty this terrian offers. I’ve seen them upwards of 12 feet long and probably pushing 2000 pounds just lounging on the bank. I’m in their house and they know who’s boss. I don’t warrent so much as a wink. This morning it’s chilly and overcast and I don’t see any of the local residents, just “have you see me” posters asking outdoorsmen for info on dwindling populations of Sturgeon, kites and shad. I mill about for a while trying to drink in as much as I can of this disappearing world before hitting the road again. Max should be geting up soon and I want to have breakfast with him before heading back up to the highcountry.
Outside of turning what is usually a four and a half hour drive into a seven hour ride, the trip home was uneventful. Stopping for a late lunch at a Bar-B-Que joint I notice a a photo on the wall. There’s a small boy, maybe about five years old, pissing on a gravestone. This confuses the hell out of me – until I see it’s William Tecumseh Sherman’s. More than a hundred years gone by and these folks haven’t let go of what that man did here. The roots go deep. I pass through a few small towns I’ll want to come back to with names like Branchville, Whitmire and Cross Anchor. Its getting dark and I’m ready to be home so without stopping for a photo I motor on past a brick house where Jefferson Davis once spent some time.
I love South Carolina – warts and all. Its a proud and unique place and I’m blessed to have been given the chance peek into some of its secret places.
I work on the website for a fund raiser called Jerrys Baddle (bike + paddle = Baddle) a race to honor a friend that died from ALS in 2006. I’ve really been focused on that for the last few days, but I finally have it up and running. Theres a little fine tuning still to do, but everything seems to be working so I’m really happy. This was my most challenging project yet – configuring a shopping cart and not knowing the first thing about how to do it or the php language it’s written in…
Last year I was very proud of being one of two guys over 40 to participate as a GreenMan – both paddle and bike legs of the baddle. This year I don’t think I’ll be able to do either. I had borrowed a friends bike and I don’t think I’ll be able to get it again, and with getting ready for the motorcycle trip I haven’t been in my boat since November. The Green isn’t something I’d want to do off the couch. I’m not writing it off, I’m just coming to terms with the fact that I might just officiate on this one.
I did get a ride in this past Saturday. Shannon and I went out toward Brevard and took forest service roads past the fish hatchery (newly paved) and out toward hwy 215. We stopped at Bear Lake, which was dry:
And then it was getting late so we decided to hit the hard road into Canton. I was leading and coming around a corner I saw two whole hogs butchered and halved, hanging from a tree limb by the the side of the road. We HAD to stop to check this out. I wanted to get some pictures and the polite thing to do was to ask permission. The house was classic Appalachian Holler with broken down machinery, cast off tires and cut fire wood littering the yard. A big black dog on a chain was barking wildly at me but the chain was just short enough to allow a person the get by and knock on the door . So I did.
Gene was sitting on a cot in a clean work room with bluegrass on the radio and a Bud lite in his hand. There was wood stove burning and it look quite cozy. He was genuinely glad to see us and jumped up offering us beers. We declined but he did take us out to see the hogs:
and he invited us in to see his pictures. He didn’t have an album – he had them all stuck to the wall like wall paper. Shots of family and people around tables – and 100 year old black and white shots of his dad and grandfather using mules to pull logs out of the forest out back. All this accompanied by constant Southern commentary that was only occasionally intelligible. I was in… wait for it………. hog heaven! Then we saw the pictures of his still – a sophisticated stainless steel apparatus that was really impressive.
We stepped into a guest room and there below all the photos stuck to the wall, lined up and tucked in bed like little children, were the mason jars. Apple brandy and white lightening, $10 a quart. I had saddle bags ans Shannon had a $20.
The hogs were for sausage he was making Sunday. $2 a pound and hes selling it hard. “yall come be here t’mara. what chew you want? 10 pound spicy an a 10 pound mild?” I was going to go over to the Chatooga Sunday and so had planned to stop by and get a few pounds, but with the bad weather I didn’t make it. I would really like to make Genes a regular stop on that route and I think he’d appreciate the company.
An interactive map that combines a road map and satellite images and gives distances between cities. Click on the hybrid option and zoom in. You can see volcanoes and azure blue lakes, deserts and tracks across them that aren’t marked as roads. This begins to give feel of all the terrain I’ll be crossing. The image to the right is of the Peru/Chile border. In Peru there seem to be almost no roads, but you can see tracks that fade in and out of marked roads. “here there be monsters” YAR!
Shannon will ride to Panama with me – here’s the breakdown for that leg – and a bit more. When we arrive in Panama City Shannon will head home and I’ll ship my bike around Darien Gap to Quito. From there I ride south. My hope is to meet some other bikers through the ADV message board and ride with them. I’m not overly excited about doing this leg alone. In Peru the the roads peter out to almost nothing, and in Chile they are more like compass points and cairns in the desert. Be good to have a group of three or four for this leg.