Archive for the ‘South Carolina trips’ Category

“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?

Robeson County NC does not get much good press.  It is one of the poorest counties in North Carolina.   Wikipedia describes its population as one third white, one third black, and one third Lumbee American Indian.    The state of North Carolina recognizes the Lumbees as an official Native American tribe, although the federal government offers only limited recognition.

I had remembered all the press coverage Robeson County got back in 1988, when two Lumbee Indians took over a newspaper office at gunpoint, to protest local corruption.  One was Eddie Hatcher.  After he was imprisoned many radicals considered him a political prisoner.  He had a very complex story, broke the law in other ways, and was in and out of jail.  He died in the state penitentiary in 2009.

I knew Robeson County has had economic setbacks.   Until 2001 most of the world’s supply of Chuck Taylor All-Star basketball shoes were made here.   I really did not know anything else about the place, except the land would be flat.

The county seat and largest town in Robeson County is Lumberton, population 22,000.   It is 125 miles south of my home in Chapel Hill, on I-95 near the South Carolina line.   I parked our car in the Walmart on the far north side of Lumberton at eleven on a Tuesday morning and pulled my Surley bicycle out of the trunk.


I hatched a plan in the car on the way down.   I decided to ride south towards Dillon, South Carolina, maybe seeing the tourist trap South of the Border.    Ultimately the route came out like this:

The north side of Lumberton was much more prosperous than I expected.  It was a beautiful day.


The American dream; perfect lawn,  a pickup truck, and a front porch with American flag pillows.


The older parts of Lumberton


Downtown Lumberton was pleasant, but the only building that seemed full of people was the courthouse.   While it looks brand new, I learn it is a 1975 renovation of an older building, with a new facade in 2005.   The building looks depressing,  like it is celebrating its power to imprison its citizens.

Other parts of downtown were attractive but mostly unoccupied.

There is this nice modernist building.   It used to be a bank but apparently is now empty.

After I bicycled across the Lumber River there were miles of poorer African-American neighborhoods.   After that, the landscape opened up.

Trailers across the landscape.

The office of a religious radio station was this nice piece of modernism, sitting alongside the highway.


The highway passed across the occasional swamp.

Twelve miles south of Lumberton is the town of Fairmont.   Over on I-95 (on another trip) I had seen a sign  “HISTORIC DOWNTOWN FAIRMONT, NEXT EXIT”

I wanted to see what the commotion was about.  Despite the sign, Fairmont, population 2600, did not look like anything special.


This semi-abandoned house must have been attractive in its day.


South Carolina was just a little further down the highway.


When you enter South Carolina annoying rumble strips appear on the side of the road.


I got to Dillon, South Carolina in time for a late lunch at a restaurant with an unusual name, especially for rural South Carolina.



My steak and cheese sandwich was quite good.   I asked my server about the restaurant’s name; she said the owner, who is from the country of Jordan, had first moved to Massachusetts, then to here.

After lunch I bicycled around Dillon, population 6,600.   One of Dillon’s claims to fame is that it is the hometown of former Federal Reserve chair Ben Bernanke.    He played in the Dillon High School band before becoming class valedictorian and going off to Harvard.    While at Harvard, he came home summers to work at South of the Border.




There was no decent place to stay right in town so I found a room at the Quality Inn out near the I-95 interchange.    I still wanted to bike a little more so I cruised around on the farm roads outside of town.


BC Steak & BBQ is one of those Southern places with a big buffet of greasy meat and vegetables.  I got mine To Go and ate in my motel room next door,  so I could have my dinner with the wine that I had bought at the Food Lion.


The next morning I woke up and watched Morning Joe, then packed up and pushed out.    I had always associated South of the Border with Dillon SC, but SOTB is not really in Dillon, it is six miles north of Dillon on the North Carolina border.

South Carolina has a libertarian streak that attracts North Carolinians:  motorcycle riders are not required to wear a helmet, it is faster to get married here, and most fireworks are legal.   I am not sure why someone built and then closed down all these tittie bars.  These places were north of Dillon and just south of South of the Border.


Topless Reflexxions Bar





I thought everybody knew about South of the Border, but my friend Lyman, who is from Louisiana and Texas, was clueless.    It is probably the East Coast’s most famous tourist trap, begun in 1950 as a place to buy fireworks and beer, when neither was available in adjoining Robeson County, North Carolina.  Its now politically incorrect signs of a “Mexican” named Pedro appear nearly every mile for over a hundred miles in either direction on I-95, preying on the New York-Florida car traffic.    For over sixty years it has included restaurants, motels, and an amusement park, among other stuff.    I think most of it now looks dated, built at a time when there was NOT a McDonald’s at every I-95 interchange.  Maybe today it can be considered folk art.   Approaching it by bicycle on two lane route US-301, one gets a different perspective from than from I-95.   The signs start many miles away.






Then I stumbled onto the real thing.










I only slowed down to take pictures and kept pedaling.   Continuing up US-301 just beyond SOTB there is the very small town of Rowland NC.   It reminded me of something my late father told me, that US-1 was the original north/south highway from the Northeast to Virginia to Florida, replaced later by US-301.   That was replaced by I-95.    Each highway has motels that reflect the era in which they were built.    Rowland NC, on US-301,  has several motels from the nineteen fifties.   I somehow doubt that now many long distance travelers stay in these places.



Did they put up this fence so the locals don’t know who is sleeping with whom?


Earlier in the day, just north of Dillon,  I had seen other motels.





North of Rowland NC I pedaled up US-301.    This road closely parallels I-95.    For a U.S. highway, there was hardly any traffic, a car every five minutes or so.



How many songs talk about a crossroads?   Robert Johnson channeled by Eric Clapton of Cream:   I went down to the crossroads, fell down on my knees.  

For the last few miles into Lumberton, even though there still was no traffic on US301, the road closely followed I-95 and I could watch the truck traffic.  It was a gentle peaceful ride, in a noisy sort of way.


There is a levee that surrounds central Lumberton, so I could finish the ride into Lumberton on a bike path.



Charleston is a fascinating city.   It has a big imprint of very old buildings; it was one of the very few relatively large cities in the South prior to 1860. (In the 1860 census,  New Orleans, Charleston, and Richmond were the only Southern cities in the top 25  by population in the United States.)  Charleston stood relatively still for the next hundred and some years.  More recently, Joseph Riley was mayor of Charleston from 1975 to 2016 and managed one of the great American city reinventions in our era.   Riley espoused civil rights and for Charleston to reinvent itself with tourism and higher education.   Charleston in the 1970’s I imagine was a stuffy place, just a little too Southern.  Its architecture was like nowhere else in the world and its society was so conservative that unlike other places (like my father’s hometown of Norfolk), relatively little got torn down in 1960’s “redevelopment.”  Charleston had always had unique food but it was served mostly in private homes and clubs.   Now in 2018 it is one of the top restaurant destinations in America.   Unlike Catholic Savanna and New Orleans, Charleston traditionally was Protestant and certainly not known as a festive place.   Its motto was “City of Churches.”   It had always been military friendly;  local hotheads started the Civil War!  Now people are coming from all over the world just to BE in Charleston.  Someone told me it is where Republicans go to party.     Its biggest problem now is its success.  People who buy houses here are often so rich that they rarely live in them, and the houses sit empty, with their porch lights on.   Is there room left for the locals?

Tootie and I have been to Charleston four or five times in the past thirty years and we agreed that we had seen Charleston; it was not first on our list of destinations for a weekend getaway.   However, I had cabin fever following almost two weeks of sub-freezing temperatures, and I plotted for a reason to drive by myself down to Charleston for twenty-eight hours.

I drove the four hours from Chapel Hill and parked thirty miles out of Charleston near the town of Summerville, of course in a Walmart parking lot.

My plan was to bicycle from the Walmart to downtown, spend the night and ride back the next day.

The Charleston area actually got more snow in this blizzard than Chapel Hill, and even though it was sixty-five degrees outside there was still snow on the ground in places, and even in the streets.


While Charleston is generally beautiful many of its suburbs look really awful.   Summerville was an exception, it was built as a summer resort for people from Charleston.

I would be heading into town on state route 61, along the southern shore of the Ashley River through the town of Ashley Forest.    To get there, for about five miles there was a nice bike path along some kind of drainage canal.  Note the snow melting on the right.

Further on I arrived at the crossroads for state route 61.  The enumeration seemed romantic, even if the Dylan song is about US 61 in Mississippi!

While the two lane road winds through about twenty miles of woods and swamps, it was too narrow, with no shoulder and too much SUV and pickup truck traffic.  As a bicyclist I did not feel safe.   There was not much to do but press on.    There were live oaks and Spanish moss everywhere.    I passed the entrances to several large plantations, two of which claimed to still be in the hands of the original owners from the 1700’s.     I wonder how families can hold onto so much land in 2018, so close to a major city.

I stopped for a latte at Charleston Coffee Exchange in a strip mall.   I do compliment the developers, they have lots of native trees growing in the grocery store parking lot.

Back on the bicycle I pressed on through ugly suburbs with the occasional interesting tidbit.




Crossing over the Ashley River bridge, I was deposited me in a poor neighborhood of Charleston proper.   Charleston is on a peninsula, pretty much limiting its core city to a small defined area.  The most prosperous areas are the southern parts of the peninsula, the poorest and traditionally African-American areas are to the north.   These more northern areas seem to be gentrifying or have already done so.



When you actually get inside the city of Charleston the eighteenth and nineteenth century architecture is impressive.   On previous trips I had seen Charleston’s singular use of a fake front door, blocking public view of a side porch.   The porches almost always open to the south or west, to catch prevailing breezes in the hot summers.    I had seen these doors in the wealthy neighborhoods south of Broad Street.   Now I know these doors are all over the city, including these smaller houses in more recently gentrified areas.

In the smaller houses in the northern neighborhoods just shown,  I find out on Trulia that they can sell for upwards of $600,000.00.

South of Broad,  houses now cost in multiple millions of dollars.  Charleston is becoming La-La-Land.

Charleston is a great city to noodle around on a bicycle.   Nationally, something like eighty percent of urban bicyclists are male. Most experts think this is because men are more likely to be risk takers.   To me and several others a good indicator of the health of a bicycling culture in a city is the sight of women riding bicycles without a helmet.    It indicates that bicycling feels safe.   In these transitional neighborhoods near College of Charleston I saw this in spades.



I still did not have anywhere to stay that night.   I sat on a bus stop bench and cruised on my phone.   I found a room for not much more than a hundred dollars at the Francis Marion, a large red brick 1924 hotel that I remember from previous trips as being closed and abandoned. It is fixed up quite nicely now.   This was the view from the eleventh floor at dusk, looking south down King Street.

For dinner I sat at the counter of Stella’s, a relatively new Greek restaurant a couple of blocks from the hotel.   The two young women sitting next to me were discussing how air fares to Aruba this spring are really low.   After those two women departed, a young couple took their seats and were discussing their experiences with travel to Nepal.    It felt like a different planet from the Walmart back in Summerville where I started the bike ride earlier that day.   I worry about the divisions in this country.


I biked back to Summerville the next day.    I saw more parts of the north end of the   Charleston peninsula.

After I left the peninsula that comprises the older city of Charleston I bicycled through a much larger area, about ten miles of continuous unattractive and poor to lower middle class neighborhoods in mostly what is called North Charleston.

The last five miles into Summerville were on this narrow highway, not the most pleasant bike ride.

I did my first Tour of Myrtle Beach a little over two years ago.  In the spirit of investigation, I decided to revisit the place.

Let me clear two misconceptions about Myrtle Beach.

  1.  The main attraction, whatever that attraction is, is probably not the beach.
  2. Not everybody who visits here is from The South.

So I drove down here on a Tuesday morning to check it out again.  I looked for a place to park our Honda for 28 hours.   I discovered free parking at a public boat launch near the northernmost spot of the Myrtle Beach “Grand Strand.”   My mission was to bicycle the forty or so miles south to the end of the Strand, spend the night there, then bicycle back the next day.   For almost all the way a bicyclist can weave through residential streets.  Only on a couple short sections did I have to get out on the main highway US17.


For a guy from Chapel Hill it is very easy to generalize about the people here.  I am sure those generalizations are mostly mistaken.  Next to my car I talked to two guys that were discussing fishing tackle.  The shorter white guy was from Vermont, maybe about sixty years old.   He said he spent three to four months a year in Myrtle Beach.  He loved it in the winter, but could not stand the summer heat.  The taller guy, an African American, had a large white Ford pickup with Maryland plates.  He said he and his wife had been visiting Myrtle for twenty years.  Their children had now gone off to college, and they recently moved here full-time.  He said he was sick of cold weather and loved the summer heat.

A quick look at airline schedules into Myrtle Beach Airport is telling.   People from Up North come here a lot.  There are daily non-stops with relatively large airplanes from Niagara Falls (Buffalo), Latrobe Pennsylvania (Pittsburgh), Atlantic City NJ,  Boston, and New York La Guardia.     There are TWO airlines offering non-stops from the Toronto area.

But most people probably drive here, usually in large vehicles, frequently towing something.  I saw Ohio, Ontario, New York, and Pennsylvania license plates constantly.    Instead of towing something, people often drive their motor homes.  This area seems the world’s capital for motor homes and other giant travel vehicles.

For three years in about 1966-69 my parents owned an eighteen foot travel trailer called a Zipper.  When I was twelve or thirteen years old my parents drove down to Myrtle Beach from Virginia Beach, taking me, my three siblings, and our dog Inkie in our Rambler Ambassador station wagon towing the Zipper.   I do not remember why we came here, but they were always driving us to some historic attraction someplace.   The trailer must have looked something like this.


I remember vividly staying in Myrtle Beach at an enormous oceanfront private campground.   And they still exist.    They still take up huge amounts of expensive oceanfront land.   On this trip I saw at least five or six of these places.   This first one has a Christian theme.




Myrtle Beach is not a place for pedestrians.  While the oldest part of Myrtle Beach does have a small boardwalk area filled with kitsch, the real action is out on US17.   Instead of the typical beach town street or boardwalk filled with touristy stuff, here there is an eight lane highway filled with touristy stuff, while the traffic whizzes by at high speeds.







The term “local” and “visitor” might be difficult here, as a lot of people live here part time.  Many people seem to share a cultural and maybe political affinity.   I did not see a single presidential yard sign, except for the dozens of Donald Trump signs.  Make America Great Again, he says.


Inland from Myrtle Beach there are still huge amounts of barely used vacant land.   This is perfect for building golf courses.    People come here from all over just for the golf.  I did not bicycle through many of the golf course communities since they are mostly accessible only from the main highways.   I did go by at least one golf course.


I had a nice ride through the streets of beach towns.    In much of the area, leafy neighborhoods with small houses come within a few blocks of the oceanfront, where the high rises begin.






In the middle of North Myrtle Beach, where high rises along the ocean go on for miles, all of a sudden the development just stops.  There is about a quarter mile section completely cut off from the rest of town, and it looks mostly empty.   On the north side, a high fence extends out as far as the beach, clearly trying to keep people in or out.  After I pushed my bicycle around the fence, this is the view from the inside.


Atlantic Beach, South Carolina was chartered by a group of African Americans in the 1930’s and is still a separate town.  Prior to desegregation, there were many beach areas up and down the East Coast set aside for African Americans.   This is one of the few such towns left.   On this Tuesday in March,  Atlantic Beach stood mostly vacant and quiet.





I got back on the street grid, bicycling down the coast.   In these neighborhoods bicycles with fat tires would be a great transportation tool.   And I did see a few.   Much more common, however, were gasoline powered golf carts.   They were everywhere.



I wanted to bicycle down as far south as the beach road would go.  The motels furthest south on the Grand Strand strip are in Garden City Beach.    I found a room at this place for a reasonable price.


The view from the ground floor room was great.


I ate that night at the Conch Cafe.   Blackened rib eye and shrimp is not something that I normally order, but it was much better than expected;  the best fried shrimp I have had in a while.

When I first rode by this place at 5:45 PM it had been packed.  At 8:10 PM the crowd was thinning out.  The woman at the bar next to me was telling her companion about her pastor, and how much she likes Barefoot white wine.     Peaceful Easy Feeling was playing on the sound system.



I bicycled back on the sidewalk in the dark the half mile to the motel.


The next morning at 6:55 AM I could hear loud women’s voices outside.  I had left my sliding door cracked open to listen to the ocean at night.  The voices sounded like they were about fifteen feet away.  I got up and shut the door.  About an hour later I walked outside to look at the beach.  They were still there talking.  You can see my room to the right with the bicycle inside.



I bicycled back north.   I had tried this trip to photograph people as I whizzed by.




















Those of you who read my Myrtle Beach blog from two years ago probably remember all the pictures of modernist motels.   I have tried not to do this all over again, but I cannot help myself.    It the one really cool part of Myrtle Beach, and of course, those in Myrtle Beach do not seem to appreciate it.  Most motels look about the same as they did two years ago, including this first one that is in the same abandoned condition.


This one seems being prepared for the end game.


And there are lots of others, some still quite nicely kept up; others tatty and renting rooms by the week or month.   I could have taken many more pictures; this is just a sampling.
















I had gone to the Wednesday practice round of The Masters golf tournament; an event with tickets so scarce that you have to win a lottery to be able to pay a hefty fee to just watch the guys practice.    My friend Tom was gracious in inviting me to this event.  Driving the four hours down to Augusta, Georgia also gave me a day to bicycle around South Carolina on the way home.

Jordan Speith, Ben Crenshaw, and Tiger Woods

Jordan Speith, Ben Crenshaw, and Tiger Woods


There are never hotel rooms available in Augusta during Masters Week, but I found a very low cost space that Wednesday night seventy miles away at the Super 8 Motel in Orangeburg, South Carolina.   Now that I have lived in North Carolina for 28 years and can comfortably call myself a North Carolinian, I can seriously start giving South Carolina a hard time.

It was early April, but the evening was already steamy as I sprinted across the wide but lightly traveled highway between my motel and the Original House of Pizza.   I had biked around town a little before dark, and searched on the internet, and this Eye-talian place seemed to be the safest bet.  And it was really quite nice; the menu had a lot more than pizza.   They even offered “chableese” by the glass.



The next morning I spent about four hours bicycling around Orangeburg and its vicinity.  I guess they do not see a lot of tourists here.    “The Garden City” (population 13,964)  has some lovely gardens along the Edisto River.   I do not take too much offense that separation of church and state is apparently not taken seriously.




The rich people in Orangeburg choose to live out of town in what looks like a flood plain along that same Edisto River; new houses in a new neighborhood,  mostly in a traditional style.     Golf always adds panache to any address; what seems to be the toniest street in town is called Putter Path.  It is right down the street from the Orangeburg Country Club.

houses on Putter Path, Orangeburg SC

houses on Putter Path, Orangeburg SC


Relatively close by, on a different street, there was even a piece of modernism.



I guess some people do not realize that other people may take offense at the idea that the wealthy and white want to live on a plantation!

just outside of Orangeburg SC

just outside of Orangeburg SC


Back downtown there is a Confederate monument.

Caption reads: to the brave defenders of OUR RIGHTS, OUR HONOR, AND OUR HOMES

Caption reads: to the brave defenders of OUR RIGHTS, OUR HONOR, AND OUR HOMES

Despite this monument, the heart, soul, and current economy of Orangeburg seems to be with the African American community.    Orangeburg is the home of two predominantly African-American universities; South Carolina State, and Claflin University.   It is the site of the “Orangeburg Massacre” of 1968, where three African-American students were shot and killed by the state highway patrol in a demonstration over the integration of a bowling alley.


Claflin University

Claflin University





Why, you may ask, did I choose to go to this place?   Because I had never been there.   It did not seem like the kind of place that I would like;  I predicted a place filled with gated communities and golf courses.  Which, it pretty much turned out to be.   That, however, made it interesting, as I got to see how the other half vacations, so to speak.

I got up early in Chapel Hill and drove about five or six hours, pulling off I-95 at the Hardeeville exit, the last exit in South Carolina before the Georgia border, about thirty miles from Hilton Head.   I left the white Honda in a hospital parking lot.   Hilton Head itself is about twenty miles long, if you bicycle it from end to end.    I took the trusty Long Haul Trucker out of the trunk and pedaled off.

Inland, before Hilton Head, the powers that be in South Carolina have invested in wide roads with bike paths.  These roads pass through mostly empty woods and swamps, having the roads ready when new golf courses come.  It gives a bike rider a very safe ride for about twenty miles before the bridge to Hilton Head.


They are a few golf course communities before you actually get to Hilton Head Island.   Developers are clearly starting a community from scratch;  I doubt much was here previously except pine trees.   I guess they can create traditions, or at least pretend they exist.





I arrived onto Hilton Head Island late in the afternoon.  Cycling around that afternoon, and again the next morning, one is constantly confronted with signs about security.   I guess people that vacation here are more comfortable when they think that no one except a privileged few can drive in from of their vacation condo.   Maybe it fits into the current paranoia of our society.   Clearly the schtick of exclusivity sells here.  Cycling would have been even nicer if these gated communities would let a random bicyclist enter.   I am sure I looked threatening.




I spent the night in a random low cost motel on the highway.   Across the big highway, just a ways down from my motel, was a cozy high end restaurant.     There are virtually no street lights on island; it allows Hilton Head to sell itself as an underdeveloped non-urban place, even though the island is pretty much built out.   Hilton Head is almost psychotic in its rejection of urbanism.   One cannot pleasantly get anywhere by walking, except to walk around a neighborhood in circles.    That evening, I pedaled down the highway bike path a quarter mile in the dark before crossing the four lane highway and going into the 843 Bistro, in a strip mall next to a Fresh Market.

I sat at the bar by myself.   The bartender was helpful and almost too conversational.   She said that a big percentage of visitors to Hilton Head come from Ohio.    The food got points for creativity, but the chef was trying a little too hard.


The one area of the island that I really liked was the oceanfront neighborhood near North Forest Beach Drive.   It did not look anything like a planned community, and had the occasional sixties modernist house.   Of the beachfront neighborhoods I have visited all over the entire East Coast, I cannot recall any having an oceanfront strip of houses so completely and comfortably in the shade.   Dune Lane is really lovely.

Houses on the left are oceanfront

Houses on the left are oceanfront


Modernism in the same neighborhood

Modernism in the same neighborhood



The next day, I rode back the way I came.   I stopped for a late lunch at a place in a strip shopping center just inland from the island.   Called NEO, it billed itself as a gastro-pub.   It was expensive but delicious.   The guy had a great British beer selection on tap, but seemed startled at my selection of porter, in that he said a big percentage of his clientele chooses Bud Light.



The hinterlands of South Carolina south of Lumberton NC and west of Myrtle Beach, are filled with miles of flat pine forest, crossed by razor straight narrow highways filled with screeching pickup trucks that scare a bicyclist.



The bicycling on this trip was mostly a downer.  Pickup trucks with knobby tires produce a fearsome roar as they rumble by.   In a trip of one night and two days, however, the three meals were definitely more interesting than the roadside scenery.


After and long and stressful bike ride from where I parked the Ford Focus in Centenary SC, lunch the first day at the J&J Cafeteria in Conway SC.  The meal was a “meat and three”  choice of meat plus three vegetables. $ 6.99.   One overweight woman across from me was chipping away at a bucket of oysters, shuck them yourself at the table.    It looked delicious, I have hardly ever seen oysters served that way at a restaurant.

Guns are quite welcome around here.    This was the men’s room at the J&J.



Forty miles further late that afternoon, I glided into Georgetown, just inland from the coast,.   It is an old town, with lots of structures built in the 1700’s;  a town with aristocratic Charlestonian pretentions, amplified by all the yachts that stop over there on the way north / south.    There is a local commercial fishing fleet as well.



I got a room by the water at the Hampton Inn.  Dinner was at the Rice Paddy Restaurant,  about a mile each way by bike in the dark.    It is a fine restaurant, by any standard.   The talk at the bar was about oysters, yachts,  trucks, and hunting dogs, in that order.    At one point a guy started a tirade on Obama’s position on welfare.    The rest of the crowd grunted, and he backed off.   I still am not sure if this grunt was in approval, or if it was to encourage him to back off politics and go back to having a good time.

The bartender was a short blond forty-something woman, and most people there seemed to know her.    One of a couple of preppily dressed but masculine women would bark at her every half hour:  “Pee Wee, can I have another drink here?”

One of the guys there was in town to promote his line of camouflage clothing, where the cammo is pictures of oyster shells.   Really.  I managed to snap a picture with my cell phone.

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Dinner was so delicious I even got dessert.

Bicycling the next day was again stressful, as pickup trucks zoomed by on the narrow roads.    Three fourths of the way back to the car in Centenary, I stopped at Kenny’s in Hemingway SC.   Everybody in town seemed to be there for the after church lunch.   All you can eat,  fried chicken, barbecue,  green beans, etc.





I escaped for one night midweek to Myrtle Beach.  The winter wind whipped in the cold.  Even after bicycling up and down the Grand Strand, it was becoming difficult to find a positive thing to say about the whole place.   Almost all the restaurants are a quarter mile from the beach on US 17,  six to eight lanes of American Beauty.  Luckily, you can bicycle on minor roads, only having to go on US17 for short stretches.

US 17, Myrtle Beach

US 17, Myrtle Beach

Myrtle Beach does have dozens of nineteen fifties and sixties motels.   They are an endangered species.   At least ten that I passed were in the process of being torn down.   Others resembled single person occupancy hotels for poor people on the oceanfront, a hundred and fifty dollars a week in the winter.

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This place is in the process of being torn down.

This place is in the process of being torn down.

Still, many of these motels are lovely to look at, and we can only hope that Myrtle Beach can discover that they are really something worth saving.

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