Lessons learned – South Carolina Lowcountry

Total Trip Statistics:
Distance: 237.3 miles
Saddle time: 19.6 hrs
Average speed: 12.18 mph

  • Somewhere along the way, you’re going to hit the wall. Accept that as fact and prepare to deal with it.
  • Having a rear view mirror on tight roads is a must. Even the small swerve caused by looking over my left shoulder was enough to throw me into traffic. Buy a mirror of any variety to get eyes in the back of your head.
  • Train… in any way, shape, or form you can. It may help you avoid the wall I mentioned earlier.
  • Buy a state map. Trim it to fit your route leaving some room to adjust. It helps with the bigger picture even if you’re rolling with a GPS.
  • Get, and use, a handlebar bag. Anything with a reputable mounting system. You’ll find yourself needing little things throughout the day more than you thought. And you don’t want to have to dig in your trailer bag/panniers.
  • Keep the volume low on your mp3 player. It’ll prolong battery life and give you a better sense of your surroundings (like banjos playing).
  • Keep a reflective vest or belt on hand. You never know when you’ll be riding early or late.
  • Prepare for the worst, hope for the best. You don’t want to – literally – be the only happy asshole on the road.
  • Inform everyone you know of your route, plan, itinerary, etc. You’re not good enough to do it alone if something goes go wrong.
  • If you’re riding a mountain bike, get a riser stem. The more upright riding position will save wear and tear on your shoulders and back.
  • If you have chaffing issues, try a nose less saddle. It worked wonders for me. Give yourself about 50 miles before the tour to adjust to the way it feels.
  • There’s some space under a bicycle trailer too. See if your tarp/tent/mat/ will fit. It might help from looking like a gypsy caravan with a bunch of crap strapped on the top of your trailer bag.

Day 4 – Jacksonboro to Port Royal

Av – 12.2 mph
Dis – 42.7 miles
Tm – 03:30 hrs.
Asc – 656 ft.

  • 06:04 Im alive! 36 degrees dropping to 30 by 08:00. Hope to be on the road by then. Trying to make IHOP by noon! img
  • 08:02 Scarfed a couple sausage dogs at the local BP. Finishing my coffee. Should be another 15 min or so. Let’s say 30 to be safe. No hurry.
  • 08:10 Fish hook souvenir from Lake Moultrie. img
  • 08:20 Growler down range, I set forth ahead of adjusted schedule. IHOP or bust! Preferably IHOP.
  • 09:44 My left kneecap feels like it’s being pried off with a screwdriver. Ouch.
  • 09:50 Somewhere on Hwy 17. 16 miles in. img
  • 10:27 Stopping to pick up some local honey and strawberry rhubarb preserves. Kickass store! I can vouch! img
  • 11:59 IHOP bitches! I\’m unofficially home. img
  • 13:51 Home at last! But my left knee is fu**ing killing me. img

IHOP is where dreams come true.I write this at an IHOP, still six miles from home. running the gamble that nothing worth noting will happen in the last few miles. I just placed my order – large OJ, water no ice, thick cut bone-in-ham with eggs over easy and hash browns, and a side of corned beef hash to round it out. I’m a bit hungry.

I underestimated my “snack an hour” philosophy, knowing my trip today would be only about four hours of saddle time. I had my granola bars hanging on the bike – easy enough to grab – I just didn’t stop to eat. I think I’m paying for it now. The last couple of miles to IHOP were a killer.

Somewhere on Hwy 17.Somewhere this morning my left knee began hurting. I don’t have joint problems, so it concerned me. It felt like my kneecap was being pried off with a screwdriver. As the miles ticked by the pain grew worse. It was growing sharper, less tolerable but not unbearable. I grabbed an easier gear, sacrificed speed for a higher, lighter cadence, and gutted the pain.

Home now. I’m cleaned up, got some chow in my gut, and am tired as all hell. It’s 18:41. I should be asleep by now. The sun says so. I always liked being on the rhythm of the sun. It just felt natural to wake up on the first hint of light, be out and about getting things done as soon as the sun broke the horizon, and back indoors when darkness fell. That’s the rhythm I have on a bike tour and I run into real problems when I stay in a hotel. I always end up watching TV or fiddling with my gear. Never good for a sunrise start.

Peanut butter and tuna fish.My stay in last night’s abandoned house was somewhat of a hybrid between camping and a hotel stay. I had four walls, a floor under and roof over me, two windows and a door. Being out of the elements, more or less, kept my up until almost 19:30 – 45 minutes after my usual bedtime on the road.

I unpacked my gear and carefully laid out my sleeping bag, overnight clothes, and evening chow, paying close attention to light and noise discipline I stayed fully dressed. If anything were to happen between arrival and rack time, I didn’t want to be caught with my pants down. Literally. Truth be told I was feeling as vulnerable and exposed as I ever did, and I found myself delaying my inevitable disrobement and restrictive embrace of my sleeping bag.

Thumbs up to you, and I'm not even flying a jet.I rolled the mental dice and gambled on the fact it would be far too cold for the locals to come partying on this particular night to this particular house. I stripped down and crawled into my bag. I lay there still, straining my ears for the slightest sound to indicate a possible perimeter breach. Nothing. Not a creak or the wind or the scurry of a mouse. All I could hear was the occasional car whip by on nearby Hwy 17, close enough the headlights splashed through the cracks of the curtains and across the back wall. Above that, the pale, amber light of my charging cell phone faded in, faded out on the ceiling. I was alone, and slept fitfully.

My dreams were fragmented, jarring me awake from imagined noises every few hours. One dream in particular stuck. I was lying there, alone in the cold, empty room, staring through gaps in the ceiling to the sky above. A thud echoed through the walls, followed by a scrape of the porch door I had closed earlier. Then steps, distinct steps on a staircase leading to the roof.

I followed the sound of the footsteps until boot soles appeared directly above my head, through the cracks. Then a soft, sliding brush as a mat or cover was pulled across the gaps, obscuring my view of the invader. Someone was here. They were on the roof, possibly waiting for me to emerge the next morning to introduce me to my demise. But I wasn’t going to let that happen.

Thumbs up to you, and I'm not even flying a jet.Taking the offensive, I crawled silently from my bag and moved swiftly to the base of the roof access stairs. I took one step up, then two, and saw the top of a man lying prone directly over my room. A third step revealed binoculars pressed to the man’s face, gazing south along the avenue of approach.

I hesitated, trying to piece it together when the fourth step groaned under my weight. The man’s head snapped toward me – it was my Marine buddy – and he pressed a finger to his lips signaling to keep quiet. I looked at him quizzically and he jutted his finger downward. He was on watch, and by God it was time for me to get back in the rack and stop worrying.

I slept six and a half hours straight after that dream, and awoke as dawn’s first light kissed the curtains over my head.

Tour photo album

Tour debrief

Day 3 – Lake Moultrie to Jacksonboro

Av – 11.7 mph
Dis – 84.6 miles
Tm – 07:15 hrs.
Asc – 1240 ft.

  • 05:56 Awake for Day 3. Shouldn’t have any prob getting on the road in 65 min. 45 degrees and clear.
  • 06:56 Heading out in time with plenty of layers to shed on the way. Homeward bound! img
  • 08:40 Feeling good, despite numb hands. 20 miles in already. I’m a machine!
  • 09:49 Finally warming up! 15 miles from Waterfront Park, Charleston. img
  • 13:03 Phone almost dead. Pushing thru Charleston to get as far as I can today. Will reconnect when I make camp.
  • 14:39 Finally cleared Charleston. Only one place I know less bike friendly: a mine field. Or maybe Bosnia.
  • 14:39 Southern outskirts of Charleston. img
  • 16:57 Jacksonboro. Cant find a place to put down camp. Sun setting. Outlook grim.
  • 17:30 Day 3 “camp.” I dont care who you are, sleeping in an abandoned house is creepy as shit. img

Hepatitis anyone?I’m in a creepy-ass abandoned house about a half a mile south of Jacksonboro. The only entrance was through the rear, over a rotted out porch floor, caved in ceiling, and empty 40oz beer bottles strewn about.

I parked my bike and trailer out of sight of Hwy 17 (a stone’s throw from where I write this now) and stepped cautiously across the gaping hole in the floor.

“Hello?” I half expected an answer. “Anyone here? Hello!” I took a step. Two. Four, and entered the living room. Two, 70s style arm chairs were in the middle. More empty beer bottles lay scattered. Against the far wall, which lead outside the front door to the porch, were a pair of couches turned toward each other and pressed together. All the furniture was in oddly good shape.

Snug as a bug in a rug. And blinded by my camera flash.A room immediately to my left was littered and odds and ends, but surprisingly no garbage or a brood of possums. The next room, the last on the left, held the treasure. It was clean, uncluttered, with a single end table and lamp on the floor. Leaning against the near wall was a queen sized box spring, also in good condition. Against the far wall, half covering the window that looked over the front yard and Hwy 17 beyond, was the matching mattress. No stains, no hair, no rodents or bugs or burns. I’m no stranger to discovering cast off bedding, and this was a find indeed.

On the floor near the mattress was an oval ash tray with three butts smoked down to the filter. This looked like a room where a few kids might get together and have some fun without the folks knowing.

I found it interesting there were no signs of vandalism. No graffiti or burned things or broken furniture. It was old, run down, even falling apart in places, but due to neglect and nature rather than maliciousness. Assuming I don’t get jacked in my sleep, this has been a very fortunate discovery. Temps are supposed to dip to freezing tonight. I’ve got the gear to deal with it, but this was just too good. Wish me luck.

One last head call before getting on the road.When I left Lake Moultrie this morning at 07:00, it was 45 degrees and the wind was whipping of the lake in icy blasts. I bundled up: tights over my cycling shorts, short sleeve base layer, long sleeve insulating layer, loose fit jersey, and a wind/rain jacket. I knew I’d eventually be shedding layers as the day wore on, but only in a matter of minutes I found myself dropping the outer shell. Without the lake wind, the temps were more than manageable. The majority of my body was warming up nicely, but my hands and feet were creeping quickly into a state of numbness.

Even though the sun continued to rise higher and warm the earth, the road succumbed to the shadows cast by neighboring trees. At a brisk 13 mph average, I pushed mile after mile in these shadows.

Finally warming up just north of Charleston.It wasn’t until about 35 miles into the ride that my extremities regained normal feeling and motion. I attribute that to reaching the outskirts of Charleston and the sun finally rising high enough to clear the trees. I was sweating by then, but it was still too cold to drop the vest and expose my wet back to the 55 degree air. I left it on and tugged the zipper down midway to vent it out.

I reached Waterfront Park as scheduled and broke for chow at Subway. I pondered how far I’d push the remainder of the day and decided on a 17:00 drop dead time – sunset. It took almost two godforsaken hours to clear Charleston city limits and its billy goat roads and sidewalks, and I was happy to be back on open highway once again.

The bridge looked a lot cooler from the top, but my camera battery crapped out.As the day wore I knew I had two things to accomplish: an 80+ mile day and camp established by sunset. Jacksonboro was only a couple miles down the road from my 80 mile mark, so I stopped by a BP gas station, grabbed a small Red Bull and Snickers bar, and asked about places to camp. To the clerk’s credit, she offered the use of the entire BP parking lot because they were “open 24/7 anyways,” but I politely declined for obvious reasons.

Panic started to set in – the sun had set and I didn’t have anywhere to camp. I reluctantly saddled back up and continued pushing south, riding on darkness and hoping desperately to find something soon. And like a shining, neon sign to your favorite strip club, this house appeared through the thick of the trees. In fact, if I stood on Hwy 17 directly in front of it, I could still see the BP. But I won’t, because I’m sneaky like that.

Tomorrow I’m home!

Tour photo album

Abandoned house tour

29 Jan 2011: Return to the abandoned house!

Day 2 – Givhans Ferry State Park to Lake Moultrie (Short Stay Naval Recreation Area)

Av – 12.4 mph
Dis – 36.7 miles
Tm – 02:57 hrs.
Asc – 470 ft.

  • 06:56 Trying in vain to dry the clothes I cleaned. img
  • 06:57 Packing up. Day 2. img
  • 07:17 Happy Black Friday! Should be on the road at 08:00.
  • 07:54 On the road for Day 2!
  • 08:22 Ridgeville SC img
  • 09:06 Crossing I-26. img
  • 11:02 Lunch stop at the Monks Corner Subway. Only about 10 miles left. Blessedly short day for some sight seeing at Lake Moultrie.
  • 11:27 Area weather looks horrible for this afternoon. I had better get my ass in gear.
  • 13:08 Home sweet home! My own cabin at Lake Moultrie – Naval recreation area. img
  • 14:23 Bicycle touring with a smart phone totally kicks ass. Maybe one day I’ll have one and not a Blackberry Storm.
  • 16:45 Lake Moultrie and its craptastic weather. img

The morning of. Packing to leave.It’s raining again, a cold, penatrating rain that wants to suck every ounce of heat from my very bones. It’s a damn good thing I got a cabin at the Short Stay Naval Outdoor Recreation Area – Lake Moultrie.

The cabin is rustic looking – one room more or less – but has heat and electricity. Most importantly, it has a roof. I cranked the heater to 80 degrees to attempt to dry out my wet clothes. It seems to be working.

I’m tired, despite the short, sub forty mile day. My cycling fitness isn’t what it used to be. It isn’t what it ever was, that much is obvious. My average speed matched yesterday’s. I’m sure I’m wearing into the tour.

Just a worn down shack. There are a lot in these parts.Do I dare call this a “tour?” Compared to my other trips this has been a recreational outing. 227 miles on four days – even after a five year hiatus – is easy. My initial route broke the 300 mile mark, but I realized I didn’t want to ride just to ride. I wanted to look around a bit. I think my idea of boots-on-the-ground tourism was a bit grand. I only spent an hour or two wandering around here before escaping the crappy weather for the day. I’m looking forward to a triumphant ride into Charleston’s Waterfront Park tomorrow. More so, I can’t wait to ride over the big bridge! More tour photos, please.

Artsy-fartsy photo of crossing I-26.Speaking of which, I’ve enjoyed the hell out of being able to immediately upload photos from my phone. I fire them off via email to a site called Twitxer, which posts to Twitter and Facebook, but I don’t like having to tag it with a location.

Live updating is a great concept. Maybe an “active tour” page that rolls up tweets and media in a timeline. The GPS tracker is cool too. It’ll be interesting to see my page hits after this tour is over.

Home for the night.I’m pushing past Charleston tomorrow to try and make Day 4 as short as possible. The weather is supposed to be sunny and clear both days, but highs will settle in the mid 60s with tomorrow’s low in the mid 30s.

Somewhere, tomorrow night, my ass is going to be camping roadside. Ouch. I have plenty of cold weather gear I brought specifically to test run the packing load, but I was secretly hoping I wouldn’t need it. I already plan on doing away with a handful of the bulkiest items: my fleece pullover, polypropylene tops and bottoms, and maybe even my fleece slippers (reluctantly). They’re huge items to pack.

Lake Moultrie. In the cold-ass rain.All in all, this tour was/is a good thing. I suppose I could do shorter ones over the weekends. I think I should, in fact. I need to get miles with a full load on my legs. I need to actually train instead of winging it. I don’t want cold February weather and weak legs to be the disastrous combo that kills my spirit. If something as simple as training will make this upcoming tour more enjoyable, I’m all about it. Most importantly, I don’t want to be the asshole who bitched out.

Tour photo album

Cabin tour

Gear reviews

Day 1 – Port Royal to Givhans Ferry State Park

Av – 12.4 mph
Dis – 73.3 miles
Tm – 05:54 hrs.
Asc – 883 ft.

  • 06:57 Beautiful 63 degree morning. Leaving on time. img
  • 07:48 Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort img
  • 08:23 Old Sheldon Church ruins. A few more miles and Im out of the Shire!
  • 10:38 Refilling water, adjusting gear, grabbing a snack. 37 miles down. Over halfway done for today. Legs smoked. img
  • 11:31 My quads literally feel like someone is ripping them off fiber by fiber. Other than that it’s a great tour so far!
  • 12:14 Lunch stop in Walterboro. 50 miles down. Don’t judge. img
  • 14:53 Done for the day! Easy afternoon ride. img
  • 15:48 As predicted, I did a horrible job of packing according to priority. img
  • 15:49 Camp. Day 1. img
  • 16:22 Givhans Ferry State Park, SC img

Ready to roll out.It’s 18:10 and already dark as a bastard. The hours of daylight available in late November is something I had taken in careful account. 07:00 is sunrise in these parts, and I think 17:00 or there abouts is sunset. Best case, I’ve got ten hours of daylight to ride provided conditions are right. For safety, I won’t ride directly into a sunrise or sunset. It’s too hard for drivers to see me.

This tour I’m sporting a small, neon orange mesh vest with a wrap-around reflective strip, It was an afterthought, really, but the strip has been handy in attaching my iPod Nano to. It’s the little things that count. I really only intended on wearing it to the Beaufort city limits, but I never actually noticed it so I kept it on. I also attached a $2 LED tail light – shipped directly from Hong Kong and worth every penny – in the event I found myself riding on darkness. The little bastard sure is bright but has no reflective qualities. Without it flashing, it’s pretty much worthless.

Old Sheldon Church ruins.I’ve got a few mods to the bike this tour, namely a 4″ riser stem and a Hobson Pro X2 noseless seat, and I must say that combo has me singing praises.

Since the completion of my Lewis and Clark westbound tour over five years ago, last weekend’s twenty-two miler was the farthest I’ve ridden. Sad. I anticipated a serious case of bike-ass for this tour – short as it may be – so I began researching ergonomic saddles to experiment with. The Hobson is a well padded, spilt, noseless saddle with two pads that can be narrowed or widened to match your sit bones. Thus, all your weight ends up distributed between your hands and ass cheeks and not your sensitive nether regions. My mini tour in Ontario, Canada in 2004 chafed me so bad I bled. That’s right. Blood.

I hear banjos.On a typical tour I eventually toughen up “down there” with a very carefully balanced regiment of antibacterial wet wipes, diaper rash ointment, and Gold Bond medicated powder. Even then, things can get a but dicey.

After today’s seventy-three mile ride, I figured I’ve have ribbons of flesh hanging out of my shorts. But a closer inspection post-shower revealed a very small amount of general redness, probably from simple friction of the cycling shorts. (Give yourself a minute or two to visualize a mirror, flashlight, and assorted medical supplies staged next to a guy in tent trying to get his legs behind his head.) I’ll be feeling freshtastic for tomorrow’s tomorrow’s paltry thirty-eight mile jaunt to Lake Moultrie.

Arrival at Givhans Ferry State Park.A moment of particular concern for me today happened around the forty mile mark: My quads started on fire. Never, ever, ever have I had pain in my quads like I did today. I thought a little time walking around and stretching would do them good. I was right for about ninety seconds, but soon they were screaming again. By a shear stroke of luck I had grabbed a small bottle of Aleve (over the counter naproxen) out of my truck before I left this morning. I popped two, sucked down some water, and pushed on. Within the hour the pain was miraculously gone, leaving me instead with two useless hunks of meat dangling off my hips – the same hunks of meat I’ve grown so familiar with every time I’ve gotten on my bike since being in South Carolina. Uselss, yes, but at least fire free.

Laundry time.The remaining twenty miles from my lunch stop in Walterboro breezed by. I cued up my high school iPod playlist and “rocked” out to the likes of Live, Counting Crows, and Fuel. It brought back all those wonderful memories of never having a girlfriend, so I’d retreat instead to the comfortable solace of my room to write or build crap. It was a very simple existence. Come to think of it, I still don’t have a girlfriend and I still build crap, so not much has changed in sixteen years.

The only other item of note was my delicious Thanksgiving dinner of spaghetti with meat sauce, apple sauce, wheat snack bread, and cheese spread. No sooner had I finished the meal and cleaned up when an older woman from a nearby campsite offered a share of her and her husband’s dinner – Cornish game hen, brussel sprouts, cranberries (with a hint of citrus), and baked apple a la mode. I’m totally stuffed and it was a kickass gesture.

I’m dog tired. My daily six mile runs were becoming easy and routine. Today kicked my ass. There’s a warm sleeping bag waiting for me. And maybe an extra sprinkle of baby powder.

Tour photo album

Givhans Ferry State Park