Trees to Keys Chapter 3
|Total Trees-to-Keys Miles
We arrived in Durham, NC last night and hitched a ride with friend Jonathon to our hotel. Todd, from Durham Cycles, who’d kept the bike for us during the summer “intermission’ had delivered it to the hotel, complete with our water bottles. We had dinner at Geer Street Garden, the same place we dined when we wrapped-up Chapter 2. Pretty sure we ordered the same dinners as in May, fish tacos for Andy and grilled cheese sandwich for Kim.
After a quick sleep, thanks to the 3-hour time change, a standard breakfast, and getting the bike gear packed-up, we were on the road a little before 9:00. Yep, that was a little before 6:00 our time. The first section of today was about 23 miles on the American Tobacco Trail (ATT), a Rails-to-Trails project which starts at the Durham Bulls Stadium. We saw hundreds of joggers and bikers, but not one smoker. And, we didn’t smoke either! We managed to avoid all the kids, dogs, and yuppies but almost did collide with a family of four that had trouble with the left/right thing. Thank goodness for disk brakes and the professional tune up by Todd.
At the end of ATT we pedaled past a few tobacco fields and then stopped at the first mini-mart we saw (and the first one of Chapter 3). We actually purchased a package of 2 Pop-Tarts – the brown-sugar-cinnamon flavor (210 calories each) – along with Frappuccino, Gatorade, breakfast bars, and cashews. Then we were back on the bike pedaling along excellent paved roads, with almost zero traffic. The trees are just beginning to turn to Fall color – similar to last year’s Chapter 1, which we started pedaling on 9/3/16.
It was a beautiful, fast day of pedaling into Sanford, NC. We stopped for lunch at Café Vesuvio, and they were amazingly friendly. They even moved around the furniture, including both the Super Bounce-a-Roo AND the Punch-ball vending machines, in their entry area so we could park the bike inside. And, our server, Jesse, was so terrific we returned there for dinner!
So, Day 1 is complete, and Chapter 3 is off to a great start.
Well, Day 2 resulted in us pedaling along actual tobacco fields...not just on the rails-to-trails version. Other than this stop, it was a beautiful day of pedaling through North Carolina countryside.
After about 35 miles of pedaling, with zero (yes, zero) mini-marts, we talked with a local couple in Southern Pines, near the Pinehurst golf course, and they gave us directions to the “real” part of town. We found Broad Street Bakery and Café, which had yummy French Toast – on homemade bread, for Kim, and a bacon omelet for Andy. The service was very friendly, and the outside tables had lovely views of the town.
Back on the bike, we navigated through town, and returned to the roads of homes on acres and acres of green grass – with no sprinklers required – and beautiful views. There are many more pine trees here than we expected, and huge fields of corn and soybeans, trees, wild morning glories, awesome blue sky with beautiful clouds (matching our spAIRtray jerseys).
After 68 miles, mostly on Bicycle Route 1, we arrived in Laurinburg (no, not Lauren-berg, sorry) our home for tonight. Tomorrow we'll arrive in South Carolina!
After seeing a beautiful photo in the hotel lobby last night, Kim asked the front-desk manager if it was a local home. It turned out that it was the John Blue House, and that the manager had gone to school with one of John Blue’s decedents. So, we decided, since it was less than a mile off our route, that we’d pedal by on our way out of town, and we’re very glad we did! It’s a well-maintained historic home, with lovely detail, and other historic buildings on the property.
On our way out of Laurinburg, we found ourselves pedaling by St. Andrew’s University Equestrian Center. Talk about amazing!! The fields and stables were huge and beautiful, and the “campus” covered hundreds of acres. There were many other horse-ranches along today’s journey, along with acres and acres of pine trees (which we’d not expected to see here).
Then, the first, of a recurring adventure, happened… After using Google Map on the cell phone, we turned onto Hay Field Road, which turned out to be a sand-dirt road, rather than paved. So, we decided to backtrack a few miles, re-check Google, and try a different path.
And, then… it happened again! We’d pedaled a long way down a Google-directed road, only to find it turned into dirt, too. We decided to stick with this one, with fingers crossed that it would turn back into paved. The next result was for the dirt road to have a fence across it. Fortunately, we could see beyond the fence and decided to navigate through. We arrived at this American Legion fishing pond and walked the bike across the dam. It wasn’t yet open for fishing - $5 per day – and the exit fence was open, so we were back on the open-dirt road.
We successfully navigated our way back onto pavement, into South Carolina, and found a mini-mart in Clio that was actually open! We got some nutritious snacks and sat at a table next to four guys who were having their coffee chat. They provided lots of helpful info (including that the fishing pond was the headwaters for the Little Pee Dee River). They were very friendly, one is a Vietnam veteran and current American Legion member.
Back on the bike, we pedaled by many more fields and trees, with low traffic, and reached the Great Pee Dee River (yes, the real name) as opposed to the Little Pee Dee River. We saw several large turtles swimming along, and Kim decided to make this the location for her South Carolina rock-picking. Success!
After 10-ish more miles of pedaling, we noticed we were cruising past cotton fields, with some cotton ready for harvest. So, Kim decided to learn some new skills, and we have one bloom of fresh cotton – complete with seeds. Back on the bike we found our way to mini-mart two of today. A young family had just re-opened it, compete with dine-in food and lots of fishing decorations.
That was our last break for today until we arrived at our destination, Florence, SC. It was a much bigger city than expected with good food at Burger Bar, about 50 yards from our home for tonight, so it was the destination for both lunch and dinner. Success, yet again!
The official name for today’s ride is “H-H-H”.
The first “H” which stayed with us all day was “Humid”. Apparently, we started today’s ride about 10 minutes too early. Just as we began to pedal out of the motel parking lot, the rain began to fall, and fall, and fall, for about 5 minutes. Yep, just 5, and we were, officially, hydrated for the rest of the day – given the 80% general humidity.
The second “H”, which also stayed with us all day was “Hot”, with temperatures rising early, and staying in the upper 80’s to low 90’s. And the third “H” was “Headwind”, which, yes stayed with us all day, for the full 70 miles. So, the flatter roads felt more like hills.
Along with H-H-H, Day 4 started out very much like Day 3. We were on the correct road, and when we reached our first turn, yet, again, there was no pavement. Just sand and dirt and gravel. Fortunately, there were three guys at the corner with their utility trucks, who were very helpful in coaching us to alternative roads. Back on track, it was more huge fields of cotton and beans, more acres of pine trees, many beautiful lawns, and so many flowers.
And, yet again, it was closed mini-mart after closed mini-mart. Not just “not open”, but out of operation and boarded-up. So, we were glad we’d stocked-up on plenty of water and a couple packs of mixed nuts. At one mini-mart a local guy was waiting for it to open – by the owner, who, apparently, lives in the modular home attached to the back of the mart. He gave us directions to a “hidden” mini-mart across the highway from where we were. It worked out great, since we wouldn’t have seen it without his help.
We stopped in to restock our provisions, which, it turns out, is tricky to do if you’re looking for anything other than Pop-tarts, Twinkies, chips, or soda. Inside were two retired guys, smoking cigarettes, dining on the above items. They were very friendly, and provided helpful navigation suggestions, which Andy understood. Kim’s had difficulty with the “foreign” Southern language, and, apparently the Southerners have had trouble understanding her, too!
Back on the bike, we saw a beautiful flock of white birds – looking a bit like geese – all taking-off together out of a green field filled with cattle. After a quick, sit-down lunch at Pizza Hut, we pedaled by numerous, large hotels and motels that were closed. We’re still trying to guess why.
The final, and biggest, adventure of the day was when we reached a mini-mart in Adams Landing, about 3 miles from our home for tonight, after riding parallel to monster highway 95 on state highway 301. The local folks let us know that highway 301 Francis Marion Bridge, which would take us across Lake Marion, had been closed in advance of the eclipse because they were concerned too many people would park on it, and, perhaps, cause it to collapse.
We were in a bit of a quandary, since we’d looked at the highway 95 signs which prohibited cycles (and pedestrians). So, we decided to have a look and see if we could pedal across the bridge. After less than half a mile of pedaling, we saw the signs and a fence across the bridge. The road beyond looked great, so we decided to navigate our way around the fence. As we were prepping, a local guy, Bobby, pulled-up in his car and told us that there would be a fence on the other end of the bridge, too. We thanked him for the info, and decided to continue the adventure.
After successfully navigating the bags and bike around the fence, it was a beautiful pedal across the bridge, and we could see the cars and trucks speeding across the highway 95 bridge alongside us. We felt much safer. Then we saw the other fence, with a man leaning against it. It turned out to be Bobby, who’d driven on the new bridge and come back to help us navigate the fence. It was much appreciated, as the exit was more challenging than the entrance. Success! Bobby, a 1956 Clemson graduate, even offered to take us out to dinner and let us stay overnight at his place. Wow!
We’d pre-paid for our hotel, so we declined, and offered to take him to dinner, which he declined. So, with friendly smiles and handshakes we headed our own ways. So grateful for the wonderful Day 4!
We got an early start today. Fortunately, we didn’t get rained on, but it’s definitely dewy, misty, and really, really humid. We pedaled by many more fields of cotton and soy beans, and along a much more swampy territory. We’re definitely getting closer to the Everglades.
We stopped to take pictures of just a few of the beautiful flowers we’ve seen, and, as Kim was snapping the photos, she noticed this huge spider. Back on the bike, without being caught in the spider’s web, we continued pedaling past many more closed mini-marts, beautiful homes on acres and acres of green grass, and being passed by kind and friendly drivers.
When we found our first open mini-mart, Ryan’s Corner, we stopped for some delicious, if not totally healthy, snacks. There were about 5 or 6 local guys in the shop, who asked lots of questions about the bike trip, and told us how lucky we were to be in great shape. Back outside, we talked to other people coming and going from the shop as we drank our Gatorades, and noticed, after a bit, that the stand-up “table” we were using was really a box of crickets for fisherman to use as bait. No, we didn’t dine on any of them.
And…then…when we were getting ready to leave, the store manager came out and handed us a pack of 8 cookies, just to be sure we stay healthy as we pedal. The South Carolina people are certainly challenging the Kansas people as super kind, friendly, and helpful.
We enjoyed the cooler weather, cloud-cover, more gentle head-wind, and 20 fewer miles of pedaling. With about 6 miles to go, we stopped and the next open mini-mart. When we came back outside, we noticed that the bike was covered – yes, really covered – with flying black bugs that have a tiny bit of red on them. Waving the bugs off the bike only encouraged them to cover us instead. When we made our next stop, a few hundred yards down the road, so Andy could get a new toothbrush, the check-out person, who was hit in the face by one of the bugs that escaped from Andy’s bike bag, told him that they’re called Love Bugs. We didn’t love them.
We arrived in Walterboro (the last stop in South Carolina), our home for tonight, and walked to the nearby Cracker Barrel for lunch. It was an interesting experience, once we navigated our way through the gift shop to the dining area. The result was that we decided to take a bit longer walk for dinner, to the Ruby Tuesday across the Highway 95 overpass. And the winner is… well… us, since we were refueled.
Well, today was anticipated to be Day 6 of 12, instead, thanks to Irma, it was our last day. We arrived in Savannah, GA after a beautiful, and long, day of pedaling, making our transition from crop-land to swamp-land. The day began in Walterboro, SC, and, although the day was lovely, we stayed on the look-out for Irma, paying attention to all weather reports. We knew we’d stop this section of the trip early, the question was where: Savannah or Jacksonville.
We were on an I-95 frontage road for a good part of the day, and we could see much more traffic headed North than South – including many, many livestock and horse trailers being followed by pick-ups and other trucks loaded with feed. There were also lots of RVs with Florida plates. Several cars had ice chests and gasoline cans strapped directly onto their roofs, the escape from Hurricane Irma was on.
We stopped for a brunch-break at McDonalds, and were shocked by how great their mochas and egg McMuffins tasted after days on the back-roads of South Carolina, with back-road mini-marts and their selection of essentially salt or sugar in a thousand different forms. Also notable at the McDonalds were the many Florida cars packed to the gills. Back on the bike, and back on the back-roads, we discovered that we’d pedaled much further than we thought – apparently approaching Switzerland. Yippee!!!
Pedaling through more “tree tunnels” protecting us from the sun, we could see how much farther south we’re getting, as the trees began to look like those we’ve seen in New Orleans – covered with hanging moss.
At our last mini-mart stop, about 25 miles from Savannah, the exodus from the coast and the south were more noticeable as folks were filling up gas cans and the shelves that had been filled with bottles of water were bare. There was also more of a sense of urgency in the crowded mini-mart. But we knew we were back to civilization: this mini-mart had real trail mix!
When we arrived in Savannah, GA, it felt even more like NOLA, with multiple park squares downtown, cobble-stone roads, and a classic old home converted to the Pink House Restaurant, just steps from our home for the evening. After a nice dinner, with a friendly server and maitre d, we watched more, and more, on the Weather Channel, and decided this was the safe place to stop. We picked up a rental car at the airport and decided to head to Atlanta first thing Friday morning and join the migration north. Savannah is scheduled to be evacuated Saturday.
Tomorrow, we’ll transport the tandem to a bike shop in Atlanta, where it will be kept safe, and hopefully, dry, until we figure out when we’ll start Chapter 4. Progress made.