Archive for the ‘South Carolina trips’ Category

Sometimes I am so A.D.D. that I really cannot seem to plan anything. I could not seem to decide where to go next. I decided just to ride towards South Carolina and Florida and see how it goes. During this pandemic I want to guard my own health but more importantly I do not want to contribute to the disease spread either.

The weather is a problem. It is cold outside. During warmer weather during a six hour bike ride one can stop repeatedly to rest, drink water, relax. During very cold weather bicycle rides are pleasant only if you ride with all the necessary clothing and do all biking in one session, then going indoors to warm up. During a pandemic there are almost no places to go indoors.

This is the bike ride I ended up doing. I made up the route as I went along.

Food and lodging while bicycle touring in cold weather in a pandemic changes things as well. Bicycling across the USA in 1974 my friends and I slept in parks and woods and ate from supermarkets out of tin cans. As an older man I now I can afford to be pickier; I like staying in Airbnb’s and hotels and eating at good restaurants. During a pandemic why not cook in a hotel room? It is winter outside; the only near-safe place to eat in a restaurant is outdoors. How much fun would it be to eat outdoors in the cold? Clearly, not much. I also am not a huge fan of restaurant take-out. The food never seems as good. Cooking one’s own food is healthier.

I thought about examples of cooking while traveling. BACKpacking is hiking and then camping and cooking each night; that has a long tradition. BIKEpacking is bicycling and then camping and cooking outdoors each night; that also has a big following. One can find almost anything on Google, and I found a website about cooking in a hotel room, but where you have driven to the hotel by car. That website passionately advocates the advantages of an electric rice cooker. What about bicycle touring where I would have to carry everything but then sleep in a hotel room but also COOK and EAT there as well!

I already own a rice cooker at home and use it 3 – 4 times per week, but it clearly is too big to lug on the back of a bicycle. On Amazon dot com for $19.95 I bought a MINI electric rice cooker. It came to my apartment (of course) in only two days. At just over two pounds it is still a little heavy.

coffee cup is to give you an idea of the size of the mini rice cooker

My list was already too long and when I do this trip again I will make the list shorter. I (crazily) thought I might need another source of cooking heat. Propane backpacking stoves are lovely pieces of machinery and weigh almost nothing; I brought one of those, along with a tiny nonstick frying pan Tootie had got at Target. I went to the supermarket Harris-Teeter near my house and bought a variety of easy to carry food; surprisingly light packets of tuna and olives and chocolate and coffee and almonds; a small plastic bottle of olive oil and a loaf of whole wheat bread. At home I packed salt, sugar, peanut butter, strawberry jam, and brown rice into small plastic containers. I put oatmeal, grits/polenta, and spices into plastic bags. I would bring a couple of frozen Italian sausages, a potato, a lemon, an onion, a tube of pesto, and a can of tuna in olive oil.

food I brought, just before I packed it the morning of my departure

I decided to head south on Sunday morning January 3. My plan was to cycle as far as I felt comfortable, then come back in a rental car some days later. At home in Chapel Hill NC the temperature was about 40F with a slight drizzle. The weather was supposed to clear up after 10:00 AM. I packed up the bicycle and got ready to go. On my bicycle tours over the past ten years I have always been proud of the tiny amount of stuff I usually carry. This was different, I packed not only my usual black trunk bag but also filled both of my wife Tootie’s Ortlieb yellow waterproof panniers with food, stoves, and warm clothing. I could not believe how heavy the bicycle felt; about twenty-two pounds of stuff on the back.

Just before leaving I looked online at Airbnb and booked for about a hundred dollars total an entire apartment that evening in the golf resort Pinehurst, almost seventy miles to the south. It sounded like a great deal. I would not have to have contact with anyone as the owner gave me a code for the door.

I kissed Tootie goodbye and headed out. I mistakenly thought the rain had stopped. I wanted to cover some territory, get away from home before dawdling on circuitous smaller roads. I broke my own precedent and bicycled the seventeen miles from Chapel Hill to Pittsboro on the big highway US15-501. There is a shoulder and it felt less dangerous than expected, especially with the light Sunday morning traffic.

in the drizzle, 15-501 just south of Chapel Hill

The highway crossed the Haw River by the town of Bynum NC. It had been raining for days and days. Here and subsequent rivers and creeks were overrunning their banks.

Haw River
Haw River

South of Pittsboro I was able to find much calmer roads, for the rest of the day, and the next, and the next, I was able to cycle on almost empty paved roads.

south of Pittsboro NC on Pittsboro Goldston Road

I cycled through the small southern Chatham County of Goldston NC, population 268.

Goldston NC

The drizzly rain had stopped and the sun was starting to come out.

Goldston NC

It was still over thirty miles from Goldston to Pinehurst, as the North Carolina Piedmont mixed hardwood forests transitioned to the pine forests of the North Carolina Sandhills.

I had made a peanut butter and jelly sandwich before leaving home back in Chapel Hill. It was too cold to sit around so I established a precedent for this trip by eating lunch while gently cycling down the almost empty highway.

Pinehurst! A world famous golf resort. Why such a low price on the condo? I guess business is slow because of the pandemic. People can still play golf but do not feel safe going to bars and restaurants. The skies had cleared and the sun was out as I cycled through town to the quite nice Airbnb condo that fronted course Pinehurst No. 5. I was tired. It had been a long day.

View of the Airbnb condo from the golf course
View from inside the condo

I had stopped in the Lowe’s supermarket in Pinehurst and had bought only two items; a bottle of New Zealand sauvignon blanc and some mustard greens, my favorite winter greens.

This condo had a full kitchen so I did not have to use any my own cooking equipment. Using food I had brought I made polenta with a squirt of tubed pesto on top plus cooked mustard greens and one of those Italian sausages, which I had roasted in the oven. I cooked the other sausage as well and refroze it cooked, to carry the next day.

The next morning outside my window golfers were already at it in the thirty something cold.

After oatmeal and walnuts for breakfast in the condo I put on my gear and headed out. I had booked a motel that night in Bennettsville, South Carolina; at least sixty miles to the south. The land flattened out and I bicycled across pine forests scattered with mobile homes.

I have bicycled by the Laurinburg-Maxton Airport before. A former air base, among many users is a company that junks large jets.

ex Northwest Airlines Boeing 727
ex Northwest Airlines wide body DC10

I then bicycled through the town of Laurinburg, then across the South Carolina state line.

Growing up in Virginia Beach my mother used to cook us spots, a small salt water fish, one whole fried fish per family member.
A dog behind the fence was barking the whole time during this photo

It was still about fifteen miles to Bennettsville SC where I had planned to stay the night. I cycled on a flat smooth back road, really delightful cycling. Once again I saw water that was really high.

The water was so high that it had washed the road out. Luckily on a bicycle I could go around the barricades. It certainly helped keep car traffic off the road.

Bennettsville SC (population 9,000) has picturesque older houses, some in need of a little TLC.

Judging by the online reviews the Quality Inn seemed to be the best place in Bennettsville.

I checked in. In many of these rural motels one sees as fellow guests contractors. They must travel doing utility maintenance. They were standing around their specialized trucks in the parking lot, chatting.

It was about five in the afternoon and it was getting dark. There was a Food Lion across the big highway and for about two dollars total I bought a nicely ripe avocado and some kale.

I could start my “cooking in a hotel room” project! I began by wiping down all the surfaces with sanitizing wipes. I washed the kale in the hotel room sink.

Luckily the room had a refrigerator and microwave. The week before I had bought from REI a backpacking “spork”, a lightweight plastic plate, and a plastic cooking pot. I de-stemmed the kale and used the plastic pot to microwave the kale with a little water and salt. Cooked kale, the avocado, one packet of olives, olive oil, salt and lemon it made for a nice first course.

Sorry food snobs but as uncooked ground corn: yellow grits and polenta are pretty much the same thing. Both come in varying grinds. The Italians like to cook their grits/polenta longer. With half an hour or more of stirring polenta is creamier and it soaks up olive oil deliciously. My new rice cooker with its nonstick cooking surface made polenta even easier than the stove at home.

I microwaved my cooked sausage for a few seconds. The main course was about the same as the previous night, polenta garnished with pesto from a tube. It was all quite satisfying. I watched TV.

After dinner I washed dishes. Hotels rooms conveniently have lots of towels.

The next morning breakfast was not an automatic thing. Most hotels (including this one) during the pandemic have eliminated their free breakfast. Cooking oatmeal in my rice cooker turned out to be a snap. With a few crumbled walnuts and some sugar it was comforting.

Before packing up and leaving I made my lunch: peanut butter and jelly wrapped in aluminum foil. I would eat that later in the day while cycling. I had been raining that night. The skies were clearing and the temperature was in the low forties when I pushed out. At least the landscape was flat. The wind was slightly at my back as I set out for the day’s destination: the larger city of Florence SC, about sixty miles to the south.

All day I would be cycling on two lane roads with almost no traffic. My biggest fear in the rural South is dogs! Why should I fear them? I had two types of dog defense that I never needed to use; a loud dog horn and a can of pepper spray. A few dogs did half-heartedly chase me. I have learned that most dogs like to be talked to; greet them with kind gentle words. “Hello” Never show them you are afraid.

No dogs in this photo

Do these pictures of two abandoned homes tell a story or am I reading too much into this? Am I safe in saying that these folks got tired of the old house, so they moved into the double wide; then they got sick of the double wide and moved somewhere else?

For much of the day I was in pine forest and swamp wilderness, much of it in the Great Pee Dee River basin. Water was high. I went for miles sometimes without seeing a car.

It was a long day cycling in the cold weather. I got chills if I stopped cycling so I just had to keep pedaling. This bicycle trip caused me to reconsider my attitude about bicycling distance. At home with no luggage I take a thirty mile bike ride and I feel really tired. Here I was cycling over sixty miles a day for five days in a row hauling heavy luggage and I really did not feel as tired. I realized that by hauling a heavy load, especially on flat land, the heavy load encouraged me to cycle SLOWLY, to never attack the pedals. Cycling slowly rarely got my heart rate up. You can cover more ground that way. I found myself less competitive with myself.

Sometime in the middle of the day I ate my sandwich while pedaling. Eventually I arrived Florence SC (population 38,000) which on a bicycle really feels like a big city. It had been a relaxing day until I had to cycle on the wide open highways of Florence suburbia. The traffic was intense. My brother and sister in law John and Gay live in Florence. My apologies to them for not calling you up while in town. I worried about covid.

crossing over I-95 as I arrived into Florence SC
Walmart building now repurposed as a church

Inner city and downtown Florence was only just O.K. There were a few interesting looking buildings.

1920’s Spanish revival? The second-floor windows are open on this winter day so the building is either abandoned or being renovated.

On the other hand downtown Florence has a nice new Hyatt Place hotel.

I booked a room. All the public areas of the hotel looked closed off but my room was bright and cheery. I had stopped at a grocery store a few minutes earlier; I bought more mustard greens, an avocado, a carrot and six eggs. Does anyone know that you can buy six eggs at Food Lion for fifty-nine cents? (Yes, yes, I believe that we should all buy the more expensive free range eggs. Torturing chickens is not a good thing. I make an exception while taking bicycle tours.).

Cooking in a room again! I really enjoy this. The room was nice but did not have a microwave. I washed the mustard greens in the sink. Mustard greens need to be washed at least two times because they hold a lot of sand.

I cooked half the mustard greens in the rice cooker, packing the other half away for the next night. I made a first course salad with avocado and olives, garnished with salt, lemon juice, and olive oil.

I chopped half an onion and most of the carrot and cooked them with olive oil for ten minutes in the rice cooker. I then added brown rice, salt, and water and cooked about forty minutes. I broke an egg on the top during the last few minutes.

I was so hungry that when I plated the rice and egg I added the can of tuna in olive oil.

I woke up the next morning, drank in-room coffee, and watched the news on TV. I made oatmeal; sugar and walnuts on top. I packed my sandwich for lunch. Cycling out of town in the cold I saw downtown Florence in the bright morning light, including its fancy new arts center.

I had decided to end this trip when I got to the Charleston SC suburbs, about 125 miles further. There I could get a rental car to drive home to Chapel Hill. I decided to try cycle there in two more days. The midway point is the small town of Andrews SC. The one motel there had good Google reviews but was not even listed on the Hotels dot com app. I called the motel on the phone and they agreed to hold me a room; sixty-two dollars. The friendly woman said that their guests regularly include bicycle tourists! The sixty miles of land between Florence SC and Andrews SC is completely flat and lightly populated.

A huge defect in Google Maps is that it does not differentiate between paved roads and gravel roads. I like high pressure skinny tires on my bicycle but they work terribly on gravel roads. The pavement ended without warning and I was stuck for several miles, rumbling along.

Rusting away, a 1970’s GM car plus a 1956 Ford Country Squire
Collard greens!

Eventually paved roads continued. Sometimes it felt almost dangerous to be so alone cycling through swamps and woods, no people, hardly any cars. It was quiet.

The cell phone coverage had been spotty here in the “middle of nowhere” when I got a phone call from Tootie. It was the afternoon of January 6. She was telling me that our U.S. Capitol building was being overrun by thugs. Wow. I kept pedaling.

Andrews SC (population 2,800) sits on the edge of vast pine forests. I checked on Wikipedia; Chubby Checker moved from here to Philadelphia at age five, never to come back. I pulled into town as the sun was going down. Some parts of the town looked properous, some parts not. I stopped at its one supermarket to stock up.

Post office modernism
same building different angle

downtown Andrews SC

I cycled up to my motel on the far side of town.

In this time of Covid, motel check-in was done through a hole in an outdoor glass panel

Older motels can be sketchy or not. This one was quite nice. I made a delicious dinner in the motel room. It started by chopping the remaining half of onion.

Like the previous night, I had rice with onion and carrot; this time two eggs on top, garnished with cayenne pepper, with sides of mustard greens and sliced avocado.

While cooking I nervously watched the TV news with scenes of chaos at the U.S. Capitol building.

The next morning I once more ate oatmeal and walnuts in the motel room. I had made a reservation to pick up a Hertz rental car in North Charleston SC, about sixty miles away.

The first half of the day’s bike ride was thirty something miles to Moncks Corner SC. Despite being so close to Charleston the landscape was quiet and solitary, miles and miles of pine forest monoculture, much of it the Francis Marion National Forest. Especially when I was able to get off the main road, there were very few cars.

All this peace and tranquility ended abruptly when I quite dangerously bicycled on four lane US 52 to get across the Cooper River and was immediately greeted by a Walmart and nearly every chain restaurant on the planet as I pulled into Moncks Corner SC. Most coastal cities in the USA present a bicyclist with a conundrum. Inner city Charleston SC is a delight to bicycle around on city streets. The outer twenty or thirty miles surrounding Charleston (and almost every other East Coast port city) are terrible to bicycle, as rivers and estuaries and freeways squeeze all the traffic onto heavily car travelled choke points.

I bicycled for several miles on the sidewalk on US52, then found Old US 52, also called Old Fort Road, which parallels the big highway and goes from Moncks Corner ALMOST all the way to North Charleston. For about twelve miles it was actually O.K.; it had a shoulder and there was not too much traffic.

ghost bike from an accident on this road in 2004

The bicycling got much messier when Old Fort Road ended and merged into US-52. I had only about five miles left to the Hertz car rental office but for at least two miles there was no road across these swamps other than US52. I would ride when there was a break in the cars and then pull off the road. Several times I found myself pushing the bicycle on the grass along the highway.

Starting in the suburb of Goose Creek I could relax again, there was a bike trail along the highway.

It continued to be a little messy. Cycling through most suburban areas is just not good. I did eventually make it to this Hertz location. They gave me a Hyundai in less than ten minutes. By 4:00 PM I had already started driving back to Chapel Hill NC with the bicycle in the back. I ate dinner at home a little over four hours later.

“From Spartanburg South Carolina please welcome the Marshall Tucker Band”.

In the early 1970’s I saw several very hot shows by The Marshall Tucker Band;  the Caldwell brothers on guitar and bass that both played with their thumbs instead of a pick.   Between songs they would repeatedly proclaim in a Southern accent  “we’s all from Spartanburg.”  I had not been a fan but stumbled onto them at concerts, mostly at the Norfolk Scope coliseum.    Just a few days after I graduated from high school in May 1974 I went with my group of friends to a concert by The Beach Boys at Scope; backup band The Marshall Tucker Band, opening was the relatively unknown act The Eagles.  (“Hello, we’re the Eagles, from California” followed by opening chord to Take it Easy.)

The Marshall Tucker Band seemed the most exotic of the lot.   Although it is not all that far from Norfolk I had never heard of Spartanburg, South Carolina and I certainly did not know any long hairs who dressed in cowboy shirts.   This video is from that same era.



For some strange reason that braggadocio has stuck in my head all these almost fifty years.  The Marshall Tucker Band still exists but both Caldwell brothers have sadly passed.  I still had never been to Spartanburg.  This was not only MY romantic obsession.  Only about a year or two year ago my brother Alex was musing about cities around the USA where he might like to move to with his wife and child.  He seriously included Spartanburg in his short list mostly because of that 1970’s claim “We’s all from Spartanburg.”  It sounded to him like an interesting place.

I like reading about cities and their planning and development.   Spartanburg is less than forty miles from Greenville, South Carolina.  Greenville has recently become nationally known as an aging textile city successfully reinventing itself.   Both sounded like a perfect destination for a bike ride.

There is long strip of textile cities and towns moving down the central East Coast along the eastern slope of the Appalachians, starting with Danville and Martinsville, VA, through North Carolina and down into South Carolina and Georgia.  In this current century the textile industry has mostly closed down.  Some of these towns and cities have rejunivated themselves better than others.  The entire region remains oriented around manufacturing.

I picked the faded textile town of Shelby NC, forty miles north of Spartanburg SC,  as a place to start my bicycle ride.   Shelby was the boyhood home of banjo great Earl Scruggs.  I drove the three hours from Chapel Hill NC to Shelby in the Prius, and parked in my usual kind of place, a Walmart.

Walmart knows its customers.  To most Americans a one really safe place is your car.   Walmart always has a parking spot waiting for you.  Walmart apparently does not care if you park your car, or truck, or motor home, or tractor trailer for an unlimited amount of time.  Come on over.


On the back of the bicycle my readers can see a large black bag, a new item for me.   It is bulky but lightweight.   Two weeks ago I had bought a hundred dollar ukulele at International Vintage Guitars on Baronne Street in New Orleans.  I cannot seem to get myself to play guitar at home so maybe if I take the uke on bike trips it might inspire me to play in spare moments in a hotel room.  I might learn a new song.



It was just before noon on a Saturday.    This is the map of my bicycle ride for the next two and a half days.

I wanted to get some miles in by bicycle before I had to stop for lunch.   I rode south out of town.





In Boiling Springs NC,  just north of the South Carolina border,  all lunch items at Italian Garden were $ 7.99 including fries. This tiny town is the home of the religious Gardner Webb University.   During lunch I overheard an about nineteen year old fresh faced young man talking to his female companion about how difficult it is to be a Christian today in America.

After lunch I biked out of Boiling Springs.



I passed Boiling Springs Baptist Church, then continued through the countryside across the South Carolina state line.

These flags were in a graveyard outside a country church.

In the late afternoon I rolled into the northern parts of Spartanburg.   I really had expected Spartanburg to be a depressing series of abandoned mills and decaying housing.  Yes, these things existed in places.   But Spartanburg seems to have its act together.   My first stop about a mile from downtown was this attractive former mill converted to housing and shops.  There was a coffee house and I stopped for an almond milk latte.   While sitting there I booked an Airbnb downtown.


After a break I biked further towards downtown.   Spartanburg is a railroad town.  I love watching long trains of double stacked ocean containers.


Just past the railroad tracks was this piece of mid-century modernism, the Congregation B’nai Israel.

Downtown Spartanburg’s one big corporate headquarters is its one really tall building: Denny’s restaurants.   The downtown otherwise seemed quite lively with outdoor bars on this lovely Saturday afternoon.

Cheaper than a hotel the Airbnb was a one bedroom apartment in a 1920’s building in a great location,  just two blocks from Main Street and the restaurants.   I am not picky but this Airbnb failed in the details.  The proprietors had forgotten to put a top sheet in the bed.  When I called them up about it they failed to respond.  The trash can was a plastic grocery bag hanging from a doorknob.  One towel looked suspiciously non-clean.  I have had many Airbnbs with someone’s clothes in the closet, but having her shoes hanging here was a little over the top.  This is atypical of Airbnb and it was disappointing.




I managed to chill for a while in the room and then walked downtown to eat.    The Lime Leaf Thai restaurant is clearly one of the better places in town.   They were full on a Saturday night but I got a seat at the bar.


The food was delicious.   I ordered the less challenging stuff, just pad Thai with a first course of tom yum soup.

Walking back to the apartment in the dark I was impressed that some of the upper floors had their lights on.  Do people actually live above the storefronts in downtown Spartanburg?


The other restaurants downtown looked crowded.


The next morning there are several locally owned coffee houses but at 7:30 AM on a Sunday morning the only one open was Starbucks.

The forty miles by bicycle to Greenville SC had very little farmland.   Instead there are a string of small textile towns; some in better shape than others.

I have learned that in textile lingo a factory is called a mill, not a factory.  One such tiny mill town was Lyman SC, thirteen miles from Spartanburg.   (same name as my frequent bike trip companion).  Many of these vacant mills have recently been rapidly dismembered for the value of their used brick.   All that was left of the Lyman SC mill is the reinforced concrete and smokestacks.


The working class housing surrounding the mill remains, as does the Lyman Cafe.


I stopped for an early lunch.   Fox News played in the background.



A buffet line is typical in Southern restaurants like this.   My lunch was disappointing, some of the stuff seemed like it had sat in the buffet too long.   I should have ordered a la carte; lots of people were doing that.

Most of the remaining twenty-something miles to Greenville were on an older highway, a road less important now but that clearly was a principal highway seventy-five years ago, with the remains of prewar gas stations.   This one included the Mercury version of the Ford Pinto; the Bobcat, with four flat tires.


FIAT 124’s


Approaching Greenville by bicycle from the northeast the streets meander through the steep slopes that were the source of the water power for the textile industry.   Looking from a churchyard, even from a distance downtown Greenville is clearly booming, new construction was everywhere.


On a sunny Sunday afternoon the downtown streets were full of people



I found a coffee shop and sat down with a latte.  After the dirty feeling of the Airbnb the previous night I tossed caution aside and booked a modern room at a Springhill Suites Marriott just around the corner.  It felt good to chill in a clean environment.

Later on I walked just across the street from the hotel to a locally owned brewery that occupied part of the space in a former car dealership.   Construction cranes rose in the distance.


A middle aged woman next to me at the bar told me she was leaving this brewery to drive twenty miles to what she called a biker bar; not a biker bar for motorcycles but a biker bar for bicyclists: mountain bikers covered in mud, as she described.

I drank a delicious cloudy IPA.  Afterward I walked over a few blocks over to what had been described online as one of Greenville’s best restaurants: Soby’s; it boasts of “reimagined Southern fare.”

I am not sure how Southern friend calamari is but it was delicious, as was the second course; roasted salmon on top of sweet potatoes and collard greens.




The next morning I biked north through Greenville and passed this attractive mid-century modern post office.

The Swamp Rabbit Trail originates near downtown Greenville and as a rail-to-trail heads thirteen miles straight north before abruptly ending.   I did this ride as and up-and-back.

I passed more another repurposed mill.

I biked to the end of the trail then turned around and rode back to Greenville.   I had made reservation for an Enterprise rental car.   I drove the hour and a half back north to Shelby NC, back to my car at the Shelby Walmart.   Before picking up my car I looped around downtown Shelby by bicycle.  Shelby is the seat of North Carolina’s Cleveland County.  For years I have thought that Shelby NC was the most commercially sprawled of any city or town I had ever visited.   Essentially every retail business seemed to have moved out to the US-74 Bypass, not just Walmart.  The town seemed to be an afterthought.  On this most recent visit Shelby looks a little better; it even now has a brewery!


Hardly anybody from Chapel Hill goes to Myrtle Beach anymore.  Snobbism has taken hold.   This is too bad because Myrtle Beach can be a fascinating place, and it has a beach!   It is a string of beach towns that are marketed as The Grand Strand.  I wanted to go somewhere for one night.  In Chapel Hill the weather was going to be very cold.  I needed to drive south before I started bicycle riding.

I had considered going to more rural areas of South Carolina.  I often am in the mood for country rides on narrow South Carolina highways.   These sometimes include scary close-passing pickup trucks.  For some reason today I was not in the mood for that.

I have biked through strings of beach towns on a large portion the East Coast.  I grew up bicycling all over a beach town, Virginia Beach.  Biking in a beach town off-season is nice for two reasons:

One, if you follow the ocean it is impossible to get lost.

Two, there are usually residential street grids that follow the beach, and continue for many miles.

If you bicycle in the off-season with hardly any traffic it can be interesting, safe, and pleasant.   Longer beach rides I have done that are quite nice include Sandy Hook to Seaside Park NJ, Atlantic City to Cape May NJ,  Fernandina Beach to Jacksonville Beach to St. Augustine to Daytona Beach FL, and Palm Beach to Fort Lauderdale FL.  Fort Lauderdale to Miami Beach to Homestead FL is a great bike ride but occasionally there are dicey traffic situations.   Of course bicycling from Key Largo to Key West is almost perfect, but I cannot really consider that beach town riding.

Myrtle Beach SC is only just OK for bicycling.   The Grand Strand is at least thirty miles long.   One can bicycle on long stretches of pleasant residential streets following the ocean, but these are broken up in about four places where a bicyclist has to go out to the major highway US17 for short stretches.   There are lots of workarounds, including riding briefly on the US17 sidewalk.

I drove about four hours from Chapel Hill with my new Bike Friday in the back of our Prius, and parked in a municipal boat launch in Cherry Grove Beach, about the northernmost part of the Strand.    I pulled the bicycle out.


I just started bicycling down the beach road, following the line of motels and summer cottages.     There was a big crowd at the Cherry Grove Fishing Pier.


What makes beach town cycling nice is miles and miles of roads like these.

My favorite buildings Myrtle Beach are the modernist 1950-60’s motels.  In my hometown of Virginia Beach these are more or less completely gone.   Other resort cities have chosen to highlight these places.   Apparently not here.  There are a lot left in Myrtle Beach but every year there are fewer and fewer.






Another one bites the dust



Anyone who wants to see more pictures of motels, look at my blog from five years ago.    Some of those motels are still here; some, sadly are not.

On this current trip I spent the night at the Surfside Beach Oceanfront Hotel.   It is quite nice and cost less than a hundred dollars, at least in November.

This was the view from my balcony.    One does not ever see that POW-MIA flag in Chapel Hill.



I ate dinner across the street at Bubba’s Fish Shack.

Although people were waiting for a table I was able to sit at the bar.

One does not see couples dressed in cammo in Chapel Hill either.

Bubba’s has good food for low prices.    Fried calamari with pepper jelly had a lot of subtlety for a dish costing only $ 6.99.

The next day I more or less doubled back the way I came, passing through downtown Myrtle Beach.

I like the vibe of older parts of Myrtle Beach.


For a late breakfast I sat at a Starbucks, stared out the window, and then read The New Yorker on my kindle.

I biked back to the car and was home in time for dinner.

I had been to Columbia,  the capital city of South Carolina on a couple of occasions, but I had never been all that impressed.  I figured I just had not looked at it hard enough.

My newlywed parents and infant older sister had lived for two years 1953-55 in Columbia, where my father had a job teaching Spanish at Columbia College.   I was born just a month after they left Columbia for him to go to graduate school in Colorado.  (He quit that after two years and we moved back to his hometown of Norfolk/Virginia Beach, where he got into the car business.)  Quite a few times during my upbringing Dad had told me about the social life in Columbia at that time, that “people at cocktail parties always ended up talking about The War.”   And The War he was referring to was not the recently ended World War Two, it was the Civil War.    My late father was from Virginia and my mother is from Texas, so they were both Southerners.   Still, I just recently asked Mom about Columbia and she said the same thing, that the young faculty at the college were mostly from somewhere else, and they were all surprised at the amount of conversation about General Sherman.

It seemed the southwest side of Columbia might be interesting.   I drove down there four hours from Chapel Hill and parked my car thirty something miles from downtown Columbia, in the twin town of Batesburg-Leesville.    There is a Walmart near its downtown where I felt safe leaving my car.   I took out the bicycle.


NORTH Carolina has lost a lot of the atmosphere in its small towns because the NCDOT has put four lane highways right through the middle of most of them.   South Carolina, on the other hand, has built roads with a more nuanced view.   Batesville-Leesburg is nine miles from I-20, but otherwise the town is accessed only by two lane roads.   It allows the town to feel more like a town and less like a strip mall. Even the Walmart fronts a two lane highway.

I had just started biking but it was already time for lunch.   I had actually been to Batesville-Leesburg on one previous occasion and had had great barbecue at Jackie Hite’s.      I was on my way to there when I passed the Inside Out Cafe .  It had lots of cars parked outside, always a good sign.   I really wanted something healthier than pork fat, so I thought I would give this a try.

The staff of the restaurant could not have been nicer and the chicken salad sandwich was delicious, enlivened with bits of fresh grapes.   It was the kind of place women of a certain age would go for lunch.    There was a pleasant outdoor patio on the back.    Christian images were all over the walls.



The bathroom wallpaper was New York City.   It took me a minute to get this, but this is about 9-11, right?


One young woman in particular seemed to be in charge.   I heard her say something about having gone to culinary school.   She had a T-shirt with this quote on the back.


The front of her shirt was more direct; three icons and the words:  PRO-GOD





After lunch I had a nice time watching a freight train pass in front of the restaurant, then climbed back on the bicycle, heading out of town.   It would be nineteen miles down the original US-1 to the next, larger town of Lexington.




The bike ride to Lexington was fine, really.   I eventually managed to get onto some secondary roads.


Lexington has grown considerably in the past few years, new subdivisions in the growing sprawl around Columbia.   I really like a coffee with milk, a latte, in the late afternoon.   I found a coffee house just a couple of doors down from the courthouse in downtown Lexington.    The coffee was nice, the service professional.

Only after sitting here a while and reading my Kindle did I realize that this coffee house was owned by, or served as an extension of, a particular church.     Religious art was on the walls.  People at the next table were three women talking to a guy who I realized was a pastor.   He had ridden his motorcycle to the coffee house, which was full of people on a Friday afternoon.



It was a pleasant atmosphere, no one bothered me, and after reading for a while I got back on the bike and threaded through miles and miles of Columbia suburbs.     I had to go on major roads because all the residential streets were non-connecting.   The bicycling was not that pleasant and neither was the scenery, although I did stumble on one nice piece of googie architecture.

In an African-American part of West Columbia I rode by this place, the Best Hash & Rice in S.C.     Someone was smoking meat in the parking lot.   At four-thirty in the afternoon I just was not hungry.


There was a bike lane on a wide highway, which made it reasonably safe but not pleasant as I saw downtown Columbia in the distance.


I first rode into the Congaree Vista neighborhood, which is a group of recently renovated former warehouses.    Like many such areas that are quickly redeveloped all at once, there were a lot of chain restaurants.


Still, there was a brewpub that looked locally owned, and I stopped so I could figure out what to do next.    I sat around a bunch of preppy looking young people and enjoyed a pleasant beer.     I found a reasonably priced hotel room about a mile away, in the center of the original downtown.

The Sheraton Columbia is in a very narrow seventeen story former bank building from 1913.



The University of South Carolina is a pretty large school, and downtown Columbia now seems to be mostly a college town, with the benefits that brings.    One of the 1970’s office high rises has been converted into student housing.   Later on that evening I went out, determined to have a seat at a bar and a healthy meal but at a reasonable price.  I had felt that on these bike trips I had to quit having $70.00 dinners.   Just two blocks down the street, at Main Street Public House I had an $11.00 Margherita pizza and two $6.00 glasses of wine.   Everybody was watching college basketball on TV.


I could say that I spent the next day looking around the interesting parts of Columbia, maybe finding Columbia College or my parents old neighborhood, wherever that was.   Or maybe exploring early 20th century residential neighborhoods like Shandon.   But I did not.    Cloudy skies were predicted but the reality was a cold rain.    It rained quite hard that morning; when it stopped briefly I had no choice other than to get on the bike and start riding west back toward Batesburg-Leesville.    After about six miles the rain started up again and I ducked into a Krispy Kreme doughnut store.    I sat there quite a while, eating my doughnut and drinking my decaf coffee, watching the West Columbia world go by.


The rain finally stopped.   I headed out.   I passed this interesting building.

Yes, I eventually biked back to Batesburg-Leesville, and the Walmart parking lot, and our white Honda.   But something happened that bothered me.    I have been doing these kinds of bicycle rides since I was about twelve years old, fifty years ago.   I have often bicycled in a way that pissed off some motorist, and they would say something.  The anger was provoked.     But until three weeks ago, 140 miles from here on another ride in Dillon, South Carolina I had hardly ever remembered someone showing unprovoked visceral hatred towards me and my bicycle, whatever that represents.     In Dillon, a pickup truck honked at me and some angry words came out of the window, I cannot remember what they were.    But I clearly was not stopping traffic; there was no traffic around.

Fast forward three weeks and I was on US1, just a mile or two from Batesburg-Leesville, which had a wide shoulder and I was not slowing down traffic.   Two young men in one of those jacked up pickup trucks intentionally roared by me very closely.    The man on the passenger side give me a very vigorous and intense one finger salute.    I had done nothing to him.   Thirty minutes later the same truck roared by me once again, trying to come close and scare me with their loud non-mufflered engine.

As a past middle aged white man with decent social skills, I pretty much can go anywhere and do anything.   This gives me a tiny sliver of knowledge of what it is like to be hated for something one has no control over.   I feel for those less fortunate than me.   I hate to blame this on Trump, but has he somehow inspired people to act on those politically incorrect thoughts that they previously kept bottled up?