March 15: Myrtle Beach

[posted to the Wheeled Migration Yahoo Group on March 15, 2005]
When last I wrote you on Friday evening, I was about to go in search of a bar with happy-hour specials on food. I found an Irish-American pub that fit the bill. Then I walked to the riverfront and watched the sun set. A tremendous, gusty, cold wind blew in as the sun went down, so I had to keep walking to stay warm!

I saw a lot more on foot than I did on my bike, and I think I got a better impression of what people like about Charleston. I saw a scene that pretty well sums it up, but the light was wrong for taking a photo, so I'll have to describe it. Near the waterfront there was a stately colonial-style mansion, well maintained and richly furnished. Outside there were two cars painted the exact same shade and luster of silver, so that I would bet they had the same owner and had been purchased to match. One was a Rolls Royce touring sedan with British plates. The other was a VW Golf hatchback!

After a hearty breakfast Saturday morning, I rode to the Unitarian Church in Charleston, which is the second-oldest church in town and the oldest Unitarian church in the South. Its exterior is under renovation, but I had been assured that the "perpendicular Gothic" interior would be open for tours that morning at 10. It was not. I waited for half an hour and called the office phone, but I couldn't wait all morning, so I left disappointed.

Back at the hostel, I loaded up my gear and went to tighten the new bolt on the seat (since it was slipping) and promptly snapped it in two. I'm glad I bought a spare! I started to think maybe I shouldn't be traveling... but I'm not superstitious. Why should bad luck come in threes?

The manager of the NotSo Hostel warned me that my route through North Charleston would take me through "the ghetto," but she couldn't suggest a better route. It was fine, and traffic was very light, and the weather was gorgeous. I saw a toothless old woman dueling with sticks with her grand or great-grandson, a toddler. She was totally on the offensive, yelling "hyah! hyah!" and parrying his stick as he tried to hold his ground.

Just when I think I've seen every kind of campground, I stay someplace like the Charleston KOA (actually in Goose River). It has a zoo, featuring a cougar, a raccoon, and an alligator. Most of its other amenities are closed either for the season or for renovation, including the women's restroom, but campsites are still full price!

For those who do believe bad luck comes in threes: I somehow managed to lose my South Carolina maps (just photocopies -- I may have thrown them away) shortly after making camp! The good news is that I remembered the remainder of the route well enough that I didn't really need them anymore.

That night I found what I thought were bedbugs in my tent and on my person, and I was afraid I'd gotten infested at the hostel. (They admitted they had had an infestation, and one of the rumors I had heard was that they hadn't properly taken care of it.) But I didn't find any more after that night, so they may have been some other kind of bug... let's call them KOAcroches.

Anyhow... Sunday was a very short day's ride, because I wanted to be sure to take advantage of free camping in Francis Marion National Forest, and my route didn't pass through very much of it. Francis Marion is mostly pines with a few deciduous trees in the dense underbrush -- none of the palmetto, live oak, and magnolia that characterized Florida and Georgia's forests.

When I found a promising-looking side road, I stopped to put on tick repellant before heading into the forest. I followed a smaller branch road that was marked off-limits to motor traffic, and it led me to a good-sized clearing where I made camp. As soon as the tent was up, I got inside and checked for ticks. I didn't find any, but I stayed in the tent most of the afternoon anyway because there wasn't much of anywhere to go. It was a hot day, and it felt good to just lie around in my boxers without worrying about being seen!

Once the traffic died down for the night, the forest was amazingly quiet, and I slept very well. Monday was much cooler, but not uncomfortable. I passed two fellow travelers going the other way on the divided highway: a man pushing a cart so wide he had to walk in the ditch, and a bicyclist with heavily loaded panniers.

I followed US-17A into Georgetown, ate a hearty buffet lunch -- including the best candied yams I've had in years -- and continued northeast on US-17 to Huntington Beach State Park. This was my first SC park, and I was very impressed -- they gave me a good deal on a great campsite, close to the seashore.

This morning (Monday) I brought my breakfast to the beach and watched the sun rise over the water. Then I strolled over to Atalaya, the summer home of Archer Milton and Anna Hyatt Huntington. I last crossed Archer Huntington's philanthropic footprints at Aztec Ruins National Monument in New Mexico. His Moorish mansion, built during the Depression using as much local labor as possible, is now a national monument in its own right. It's also well on its way to becoming a ruin! I considered visiting Brookgreen Gardens, a park across the road that features many of Anna Huntington's sculptures, but I balked at the admission fee.

The coast from Georgetown to the NC border is called "The Grand Strand," and Myrtle Beach, where I'll stay tonight, is its centerpiece. I meant to mention earlier that most of the coasts I've passed have names, for marketing purposes... Mississippi's is the Emerald Coast, the Florida Panhandle is the Hidden Coast, northwestern Florida is the Nature Coast... there were others, too, but I get them confused. I kept expecting to encounter the Friendly Coast, maybe near a town named Casper. Anyhow. Grand Strand.

Favorite South Carolina quirk: this state is as obsessed with its flag as Texas is with its Lone Star. But the South Carolina flag is actually quite charming; it features a crescent moon over a palmetto tree. I bought a "Palmetto State" sticker for my bike. It sure beats Georgia's Confederate stars and bars...

Looks like my next missive will come to you from Fayetteville, NC. See you there! --Ben