Currently sitting in a comfortable coffee shop in Beaufort, South Carolina on a fine, rather blustery afternoon. As anticipated I arrived early; earlier even than I expected, thanks to a 31 kph average over the first hour-plus.
Having left Jacksonboro not long ago, I came to a cute little pie shack off the side of the highway near where I was to make the turn eastward, where I would then be crushed and swallowed up a bit by the winds gusting relentlessly westward. The shack was one of those slightly kitschy little places one must stop, where the provender is assumed to be delicious and of local supply. I bought a mini pecan pie and a chocolate chip cookie. They were good—not the best I’ve had, but not the worst either. Everything in the store was tempting. The cider was tempting. The jellies were tempting. The chocolates were tempting. The other snacks and baked goods were tempting. Ultimately, I thought the pie and cookie more than enough, as I am attempting, and failing, to stick to a nebulous budget, and so I left with only them.
Prior to this, as I was pedaling along Highway 17, a splash and a heavy flapping of wings I abruptly and suddenly heard. I looked up in time to see an enormous, grey bird glide swiftly and fluidly off into the forest, weaving between the gaps in the trees with the precision of a hawk or any other bird that would exemplify the gracefulness and nimbleness of flight, rather than the sure-footed, keen-eyed, stately patience of a bird known for wading on long, stilted legs. It was a bit like watching an aerobatics pilot weave his way through an obstacle course in a narrow canyon, or the speeder bike chase in Return of the Jedi. The weaving of a weft in the warp. Of the mind coming to an understanding. The whole experience was mesmerizing; the perfection of symbiosis along the edge of disparate worlds.
Leaving Beaufort, and to enter Bluffton it was necessary again to pedal eastward—not something to be looked forward to. And what did I do it for? A picture of a tree. Not just any tree, of course, but the tree that is known as the Secession Oak. Robert Barnwell Rhett gave the first speech encouraging South Carolina’s separation from the Union on July 31, 1844 under this tree, which is estimated to be 350-400 years old, and it looks every bit of it. Ancient, glorious, majestic, colossal. It’s branches create a serpentine labyrinth when gazed upward at from beneath—the sky a bluish-white lightbox against which the twisting, turning limbs of the great tree are silhouetted. The Spanish moss hangs in wide curtains. Broad branches carpeted in resurrection ferns. It’s only unfortunate that this tree is in someone’s yard, down a long private drive—something I didn’t know when I went to take a look. One would naturally think an icon of such historical importance would be on city-owned property to be made more available for public consumption, but, alas.
The day ended with a double flat, and swarming gnats, but as I was on my way to find an appropriate site to setup camp it wasn’t too bothersome when I looked to my right after repairing the punctured tube to see a nicely tucked away spot down a slope just off the highway. It was on the grounds of a funeral home, but I’m not one to quibble over details like that when the evening is getting on and the day had been as long as it was. In actuality I couldn’t have asked for a more convenient spot to catch a flat.
Breakfasting at the very pricey Quality Inn at Georgetown. I’m making sure to get my money’s worth, except I’m not because there is no way I could eat enough of this rubbish they call food to possibly put a dent in the extortionist rates I was charged yesterday evening. The only reason I stayed here to begin with was because it was the only decent lodging in town, and I was too exhausted after putting in the bunch of miles I did, and it was getting on near dark, and I really wanted a shower, and I figured I won’t be in another inn, motel, or hotel for a long time, and so it was justifiable. Unfortunately I expected the rates to be about half what they were.
Getting butter on my copy of Tropic of Cancer. I don’t know why I have it with me; can’t read and eat breakfast anyway, especially if the book won’t lie open. On television a man is proposing to his girlfriend—the first ever deaf person to receive cochlear implants. What a thing to hear so suddenly. How overwhelmed she must have been. Though you could see it coming from a mile away, the way he kept asking if she could hear okay, and if she was listening to him. It was like watching a pitcher coming set before delivering the pitch. My legs are still sore. I want to go back to bed.
Cycling through a neighborhood here I’m struck by the prehistoric beauty of those large trees, live oaks I’ve learned they’re called, or, Quercus virginiana, which line the streets of this town, and are so indicative of The South. How I love them so. Their branches sprawl out wide like a fishing net thrown from the prow of a small boat on a river in a country exotic and far, far away; and that’s a little bit how I feel when I cross that invisible, wavering line that separates The North from The South, even though that line doesn’t really exist and there’s really just a gradual shift which most people are unaware of unless they’re walking or traveling by bicycle, but I draw that line anyhow because even though I know it’s not real I love the drama and the excitement that unfolds because of it. And watching the palm trees blow in the wind when I rode into town. It’s almost like I’m on a vacation… I’ve become nostalgic: about scenes in Florida where I would go on business trips when I used to sell sunglasses at a small shop in Annapolis; about the Dominican Republic whose palm trees were massive—long, tall, solid things so much larger than those seen here; and, about the last time I was in Charleston only nearly three months ago.
Then there are the buildings: an old church in particular, Prince George’s Parish Winyah, erected 1745-50, encircled by its ancient, brick wall, cemetery out back, bell tower with clock and cross standing staunchly over the neighborhood in the bright sun; the antebellum houses, some with their wrap-around porches, other, larger ones with their Romanesque columns, are icons of the south, immortalized in novel and poem alike. When seen together with those gnarled trees in yards and along the streets, their limbs askew and asunder, some with Spanish moss draping from their wild branches, like scarves on a coatrack, so intermingled, so indeterminate in their parts, and the moss, lichens and other vegetation growing up and around and over these structures so that they always appear to be in some state of decay, like at any moment they might collapse into themselves to be reclaimed by the green verdure of the earth, they all appear to be one and the same entity, inseparable, like that colossal network of mycelium in the Pacific Northwest that stretches itself out for over two thousand acres. Altogether, this neighborhood as a whole, so halcyon, so serenely calm looks as though it has been here since the dawn of civilization. It is as old as the Aztecs and the Mayans, no younger than the Egyptians.
Eventually the time came that I could make my way back to the NotSo Hostel and check in. Pretty simple. It’s a beautiful old house with a big porch out front. It appears to have once been a duplex which was modified to become a single, stand-alone unit. Facing the building from the outside the door on the left, which is typically locked, gives access to a dorm room, while the door on the right opens into the office. Beyond each of these rooms is a kitchen with a small set of stairs leading up to a platform between them. From the platform, at a ninety-degree angle is another set of stairs leading to rooms upstairs. Bathrooms are off each kitchen, as well as backdoors which are the entrances for guests.
I ended up staying in Charleston for five or six days, the whole time at the hostel. Lovely people were met, a friendship made, and good times had. One of the things that I love about staying at a hostel versus staying in a hotel, or couchsurfing is the feeling of community that is fostered by sharing a space with so many people, and the regular in and out of faces; one never knows who he might meet. There’s sort of a constant ferment going on. A lot of energy, usually very positive. I was lucky that my few days there coincided with Nico’s time there. He had come to town to volunteer for the Bernie Sanders campaign, and was working at the hostel for housing and breakfast. His was a generous, sympathetic soul, and we got along with each other superbly, and ended up spending a fair bit of time together when I wasn’t off wandering around the city, and he wasn’t busying himself with the campaign or hostel-related work. I shouldn’t forget to mention Fallon, either: an employee of the hostel who I definitely saw the most of, and whose company I enjoyed immensely.
Most of my time in Charleston was spent wandering the city with my camera, wondering when I was going to leave, eating delicious food, passing judgement on cafes and coffees, failing to get caught up on my blog, worrying about the money I was spending, and, as mentioned previously, hanging out at the hostel/with Nico.
I found Charleston to be a pretty city, and particularly magnificent closer to the battery, which overlooks the mouths of the two rivers that bound the peninsula which Charleston is situated on and empty into the Atlantic. Here one sensed the slightest scent of salt on the air, and seagulls drifted on the continuous breeze looking for handouts. As I walked through the park that is part of the battery, tall trees spaced appropriately forming a thin canopy over head, a wedding party was having photos taken, and a small, string musical ensemble was playing within the confines of a gazebo. Families were all over walking and sight-seeing. The atmosphere was that of an energetic calm. A peaceful complacency.
I wouldn’t say that I loved the city, though. I did love the food, however. I recommend Leon’s, Butcher & Bee, Minero, and Hominy Grill. For baked goods I recommend WildFlour Pastry. For coffee I recommend The Daily, Blacktap, and Kudu. And I loved donuts from Glazed Gourmet Donuts, and ice cream from Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams. Obviously this list is criminally short but, as I was on a rather tight budget that I exceeded tremendously, and I’m not keeping this blog merely for recommendations of food and drink, I offer no apologies. In fact, one could visit Charleston for a week or more, eat from no more than theses places, and never grow bored of the variety of provender available.
At the Savannah Amtrak station, which is significantly larger than Columbia’s. I lie down on a bench, put my stuff sack of clothes behind my head and try to nod off for a bit. Bruce Springsteen’s “Born In The U.S.A” is playing ever so softly over the speakers, just intrusively enough to make sleeping not so easy. There is a television set in a far corner airing CNN.
The station starts filling up again—people for a train south that leaves before mine. This lasts perhaps a half-hour and then the station is empty again but for me, one other guy, and the station employees. It is quiet. I get a Snickers from a vending machine and nap again.
The train ride to Charleston is only a couple hours. The scenery is absolutely marvelous. Everywhere is marshy and swampy wetlands. Wide open vistas punctuated by large clumps of reeds and grass; glass-smooth, placid waters meandering between; all of this bounded by trees, and sometimes the trees take the place of those clumps of grasses, and what I really want to do instead of sit in the train is canoe over those waters, amongst the rushes and reeds and trees with a set of binoculars, just scoot around happy as a clam, nothing important to do, nowhere to go, but just maintain an equilibrium, feel at one with the world, push my way lazily along, the oar dipping into the water on one side and then the other, and then just _______________ But I’m on a train, with a definite destination, and despite that I’m excited to arrive.
Charleston immediately strikes me as a shit hole. But then I realize of course that I’m not in Charleston, but North Charleston, about ten miles from the city. At least there is a bike lane littered with glass, sand, rocks and rubbish. It takes some time, what with my battered bike and all, but eventually I arrive in town. I stop at The Daily, the most quality cafe in Charleston in my opinion, and a go-to spot for coffee and breakfast unless one is planning on milking the wi-fi, in which case that person will be sorely disappointed because there is none. But the coffee is good, and the food is excellent. The food in Charleston outshines the coffee by a large margin. And if one needs any reason to go to Charleston it should be for the food. The culinary scene has been exploding for some time, and is still continuing on that trajectory.
The Daily is located on King Street just on the edge of where one would want to be downtown. It is optimally located in the same lot as Butcher & Bee, which makes sense since it is basically an offshoot of that most marvelous of sandwich shops and brunch places. Butcher & Bee probably tops my list of favorite places to eat in Charleston: spacious and welcoming ambiance, lots of light, short, simple menu, incredible food, great bread, fair prices, courteous service. There are shelves with various books on cuisine, cooking and pretty much anything food related. The tables are mainly communal in style, and there are tables and chairs for seating outside.
While in The Daily, having my first decent espresso in a while, I ran into an old acquaintance from Annapolis. This was the only time I would see her while I was down there but, how wonderful that the world so large can sometimes be made to seem so small. We shared brief life stories, she promised to recommend some places for eating, mentioning one while I was there—Leon’s, which I did go to—and then I never heard from her again, despite sending an inquiring text. Que sera sera.
I was needing to find the NotSo Hostel (a place I heartily recommend to stay at while visiting) and so bid Mel an adieu. The hostel is several blocks down Spring St. and I was to discover didn’t open for bookings until five. This meant that I was needing to kill some time, something which had become standard practice for me over the past couple of days. Of course, when bicycle touring one doesn’t often find it difficult waiting for things because, really, there is nowhere to be nor anywhere to go; time is of the littlest essence. The hourglass has been smashed, and the sand thrown into the wind. What meaning has it then?
I spent some of this time “waiting” in the Karpeles Manuscript Museum, which is on the same street as the NotSo Hostel, though located closer to King St., so I had already cycled passed it. The museums, there are in fact twelve, are scattered all over the country in historic buildings. The one in Charleston is particularly interesting and immediately eye-catching in that it was originally a Methodist church built in 1856 in the Greek Revival style inspired by the Temple of Jupiter, which no longer stands, in Rome. Once I caught a glance of the six columns supporting the front entablature and pediment I couldn’t tear my eyes away, and knew that I would have to come back and investigate. The library of documents and manuscripts that makes up the content of the museums is the world’s largest private collection. The current exhibit at Charleston’s location was focused on the War of 1812. In fact, there was even one of only two extant copies of the original manuscript of the Star-Spangled Banner on display.
There were only two other people in the museum when I entered, not counting the sole employee. Ed, the employee, was warm and welcoming, and interested in who we all were. Clearly he doesn’t get many visitors which leads to a natural curiosity about who we are, where we’re from, why we’re there, etc. Coincidentally, the couple that was in the museum with me were from Washington D.C. After they left Ed and I had a bit of an extended chat. The usuals were mentioned. He was, as so many people of his type are, interested in my trip. Thought it was the grandest, most important thing, etc. When he was younger he had traveled around North America three times, big looping trips of a combination of hitchhiking and walking as far north as Alaska. Says he lived in Europe and Africa for many years as well. We talked about society and knowledge, by knowledge I mean self-knowledge, the type one gets from traveling, and existing outside one’s “comfort zone.” At one point we were talking about the great mass of people who’ve never exposed themselves to this type of thing, who live there lives in their own private, gated world where nothing goes amiss and everything is just so, and he articulated something which I believe I had recognized but never consciously thought: talking about these people, he said they were, “people who don’t even know what they don’t know,” meaning that these are people, mostly because of their lack of life experience, who are unable to fathom anything beyond the simple world that they’ve put themselves in, or have let themselves be put in. It’s not just a matter of simply not knowing some thing(s), but goes deeper still. It is being completely and utterly unaware that there is some other thing to know (or not know). In short, it’s ignorance. By traveling, by exposing oneself to that which is beyond one’s own scope of knowledge, or insight one begins a transformation. It is a little perhaps like growing wings, and then those wings growing ever more strong, so that as one gains experience he is able to look down from ever loftier and loftier heights, and, thus, see more, be aware of more, know more.
Too, when I re-read this phrase of Ed’s an Alan Watts quote springs to mind: “There was a young man who said, although it seems that I know that I know, what I would like to see is the I that knows me when I know that I know that I know.” This is a comment on the conscious, and one’s attempt to get at the “self” which can never be done. While these two statements refer to two different groups of people—those who are hopelessly ignorant, and those who, despite its impossibility, are determined to get to the bottom of themselves—there seems to me enough overlap to justify their comparison (not that I should need to).
Ed’s a great man, and it was a shame we didn’t get to spend any more time together because we got along well, and I could see that he would make an excellent friend, but perhaps when I’m back down there in March he will be at his station, and I will walk in, and we will talk again.
and then lightness.
The previous night I found a huge welt on my ass. Some skin must have been getting pinched between my seat and my leg the other day all day. I was used to saddle sores by that point and hadn’t give the discomfort much thought. It wasn’t until checking into my motel room and going to take a shower that I discovered it, painful to the touch. The touch! How I was supposed to sit on my bike the next day…
I left anyway, after a decent breakfast at the motel. They even had a waffle maker, and toast, and cereal, and scrambled eggs, and bacon, and sausage gravy; a whole variety of things. Juice. And bad coffee, to be sure. So I left, sitting side-saddle, my right butt cheek hanging off the side. How long was I going to be able to pedal like this? My thought was to struggle into Charleston and formulate some ideas from there. It would be two fifty mile days. I supposed I could manage.
I got my first flat of the trip in one of the ugliest suburban development areas I’d ever seen, in Cayce, a small city bordering Columbia to the west, on the opposite side of the Congaree River. Multi-colored houses all exactly the same on a flat, sandy lot. It brought to mind that scene in Edward Scissorhands of everyone in the neighborhood backing their cars out of their driveways to leave for work. All the houses identical but for their colors. Lawns all neatly manicured. Paradise. A Tupper-ware paradise. The flat was fixed in a matter of minutes, and I was on my way.
Google Maps routed me onto Old State Road which delighted me once I laid eyes on it. It appeared to have not been used as a proper road in years, but mainly as a trail for the occasional cyclist or ATV. It was an old gravel and dirt road that ran through a forested wetland, spanish moss dangling majestically from the trees like garland. Pretty lichens and mosses, and other damp-loving plant life in abundance. It was very jungle-like, and I would not have been surprised in the slightest to observe monkeys swinging from tree to tree, their chirps and howls punctuating the silence of my rolling tires. It was all quite beautiful, if a wee bit soggy after all the rain that was had.
I had only cycled a half a mile along the road when I came to an impasse; a lake of water submerging the road stretched for about eighty yards ahead of me. I had no way of telling how deep it was, but it was quite obvious that if I were to cycle through my panniers and some of my trailer bag would be getting soaked, and too, I had no idea what the surface of the road looked like underneath; the first half mile that I had just cycled wasn’t in the best of shape, with depressions, ruts, and various obstacles abounding. To my right it was more of the same through the trees, but sans road. To my left there was a low ridge, or mound of earth, waist high with vegetation, but nothing impenetrable or impassable, that ran parallel to the road for the length of the lake in front of me. It seemed the only obvious, immediate solution the problem of getting around the road.
The temperature was in the 70’s, it was extremely humid, my jersey was already nearly soaked through with sweat, and now I was to discover that the vegetation that ran along the ridge was nearly all brambles (and a spot of poison ivy). And because it had been raining so much the earthen ridge these brambles were growing in was slippery mud. Despite all this I still thought that I could push through. My only other option was to turn back the way I had come and search for an alternate route, which was something I didn’t want to do as I thought it would be too time consuming.
After wading over and through these brambles, which weren’t so much bushes as they were long, thick, flexible ropes protruding from the earth, peppered with thorns, sort of arched over at varying degrees, and criss-crossing each other, catching on my clothing and skin, I eventually came to anther impasse. This one a channel about six feet across, of maybe a foot or two of water, connecting the submerged road on my right to a parallel channel of water to my left. There was no way across this gap; not with my bike, panniers, bar bag, and trailer with twenty or thirty pounds of gear in it. However, from where I was standing the ground on the side of the channel to the left of me appeared to be in navigable shape. There was plenty of plant life still, but the ground was flat at least, and there looked to be more space between plants so that maybe it would prove easier to maneuver myself, my bicycle, etc. through. The only issue then was negotiating the channel. I backtracked a bit, through the thorns all over again, to find a narrow enough spot where I thought I could make the leap while carrying my trailer, as it was the heaviest piece of equipment I had. I would of course have to remove all the various pieces of baggage from the bike in order to make the crossing.
Having managed this delightful task, I reassembled everything and began pushing once again, until for the third, and final time I came to another dead end, this being the not-so-surprising one of a wall of vegetation. I finally admitted defeat, but not without having spent at least an hour pushing my bicycle, and negotiating my trailer through an obstacle course of brambles and mud. Of course, everything that I had just gone through I had to go through again, only in reverse this time in order to get back on the road.
And so, once again on the road I turned around and began pedaling back the way I had come. It was then that disaster, yet also my salvation, struck. Pedaling through one of the cratered portions of road shallowly filled with water, that was also entirely comprised of fist-sized stones, my pannier hook slipped loose from the rack and slingshotted upwards catching in the spokes of the turning wheel. The bungee cord it was attached to then began to rapidly wrap itself tightly around the hub axle. The pannier, with my computer and electronics, immediately flipped upside-down and began dragging through the water. I think the words, “fuck” and “shit” slipped out of my mouth at this point. As I was slowing down and also nearing the end of the puddle I heard a loud “crack!” This happened to be the sound of a breaking spoke. Once clear of the water and having come to a halt I leapt off the bike to take a look at things. At first, for the life of me I could not figure out what had happened. It wasn’t until examining a bit more closely and noticing the bungee cord wrapped around the axle of the hub, and the pannier hook bent at a ninety-degree angle, latched onto a spoke that I understood exactly what had taken place.
After several minutes of struggle I managed to get everything unraveled. The pannier was unusable because the metal hook had bent, and I would need a vice and pliers to bend it back, so I had to stash that in my trailer along with everything else that was in there. My wheel I noticed was well out of true as well from the pressures the pannier had exerted on it, so much so that I had to let out a fair amount of cable in order to prevent the brake pads from rubbing on the rim. Not at all rideable for any length of time, particularly as I was carrying extra weight.
I was shocked. I was furious. But only for a moment before a pristine calm washed over me, and that sort of amusement that arises when after so much struggle one realizes that there is absolutely nothing to be helped, that there was no way to prevent what happened, and that there is nothing to do about it but continue going on in whatever capacity is possible. I had a good laugh all alone there covered in sweat, mud, blood and scratches, my feet soaked from the whole ordeal. I had been struggling with the choice of continuing on despite all the aches, pains, and mechanical issues, or simply stopping and going home because, really, what was to stop me, and what did I have to prove? The correct answer to that question is nothing, and nothing. This event resolved the issue for me entirely, in one fell swoop. The mental struggle was over, and it was an enormous relief. So I began to walk, and the rain began to fall.
Once I got back to some pavement I hopped gingerly onto my bike and gently cycled back to the motel I stayed at the previous night. I called my mom. The shower was bliss. I began to formulate a plan.
Rain. Glorious rain is what I woke up to. Looking at the weather report I saw that it was to clear up sometime around noon. With check out time at 11, and my penchant for late starts, I figured the worst of it would pass while I was still at the motel. This conclusion come to, I quickly headed over to the front office to see about breakfast, because most of these joints serve a continental, which, while of middling quality, is at least calories, and also means that I don’t have to cook. Unfortunately for me they only offered the usual foul, pre-dosed bags of coffee, and a miserly selection of the most uninspiring, sorry, pre-packaged pastries I’ve ever seen. It seemed I would be cooking.
Outside it was still drizzling a bit when I left the motel. This lasted a good hour into the ride before a rent in the clouds allowed sunlight to pour through over the earth, deluging everything in air and lightness, and softly shimmering pixie dust; the road like a long, silver tongue that you could slide along forever, it was so pure and without imperfection. The whole world was dazzling—a beautiful woman with whom you might make love, in a negligee so sheer you could hardly tell at all that it was there without its constant glimmering; none but the finest details hidden, every contour visible. And as you keep looking, staring, this woman becomes a kaleidoscope that you are in, and everything is showered with glitter, and then the top is removed and brilliant light shone in, and all you can do is stop and stare and maybe take a picture but hate it afterwards because it’s just a mere postage stamp on the envelope of the world that you were caught in for just a moment…
I waited too long before stopping for a break. Again. There are times (most of the time) when I just get rolling, and I want to keep on rolling, and so I continue to roll, and boy, was I rolling, rolling, rolling. Good energy and super flat roads were helpful assistants in that. About three hours in I began to hit some hills. These slowed me up a bit, and I noticed my energy was flagging so decided to stop and eat what had recently become my standard lunch/snack/whatever—tortillas with banana, peanut butter, and honey. Unfortunately, this provided little aid, or, more likely, came to late. The hills continued to continue and my energy continued to wane. I had wanted to do another ten miles and find a motel somewhere outside of Columbia, but once I arrived in the city, and after eating an actual meal of sorts, I decided to stay in the area. There was still at least an hour or so before it was to get dark and I could use that time to explore a bit.
Lunch (I guess I’ll call it that) wasn’t anything marvelous; just a wrap and a small bowl of fruit from a cafe that served poor shots of Counter Culture coffee. It was located in a bit of an odd area, though something that’s become a bit more of the norm within the specialty coffee scene, anyway, the lobby of an office high rise. The interior space was a bit minuscule, with a small bar at a window and a couple of tables, but they had a very nice patio space outside where a man who looked distinctly like Santa Claus in overalls and plaid was sitting at one of the umbrella’d tables, occasionally glancing up at me from a notebook in front of him. I could only assume he wanted to speak with me after watching me arrive on my bicycle, so, upon leaving I did just that. This man (I forget his name) was a bit hard to understand with the heavy, unidentifiable accent he had, and was perhaps a bit daft, at that. I told him about my trip, and that while in the cafe I had been looking for a cheap motel that had something better than consistent one-star reviews, and comments about roaches, pealing wallpaper, poor or no wi-fi, and unhelpful staff. This immediately stimulated the good samaritan in him because he had to tell me right off the bat that all the hotels in the city would be expensive and out of my budget, as if this wasn’t something blindingly obvious. He then stopped to think and recommend a few places that he knew of off the top of his head that would perhaps fit my criteria, despite my assurances that I had in all actuality already found a suitable place. I got the distinct sense that he had stayed before in these motels he named; he exuded the air of a vagrant or fringe, someone without a proper home, as we would call it; his home being, perhaps, just the city itself (but that accent?!).
He spoke to me of the clouds above, and how, if one looked at them through binoculars they moved in a certain way. I couldn’t make heads or tails of what he meant by that, and simply nodded along with a, “mhmmm, I see, yes, is that so?” to keep things flowing along like those marvelous, fluffy clouds of his. Our conversation of sorts, spiced with pinches of awkward silence, finally ended after I asked him about what he was writing in his notebook. His answer was that he was writing a mystery novel. He then asked to use my name for a character, to which I consented with a nod. I couldn’t understand why he would want to, what possible import it could contain. He said that maybe I would be an attorney’s assistant, and whether this character had been written into the novel already I had no idea. He could have said he wanted to use me, my name, as a janitor or a monkey. What difference would it make? Still, I really couldn’t understand why an attorney’s assistant, but if that’s what he sees in me, that’s fine by me. I can’t imagine how he might fit a touring cyclist into a mystery novel anyway. Who knows. Anyone as crazy as that old bugger could shoehorn one in somehow.
At last I wished him luck on his book, and took off on my bike happy to have escaped. The state house was a mere couple of blocks away, so I decided to pedal that way. I wasn’t the only one with the idea of visiting the state house. Children and a few families were playing on its steps and taking pictures. Couples were walking, hand in hand throughout the grounds. I marveled at my first siting of palm trees on my trip. The sky was the color of explosion along the western horizon, silhouetting those very same palm trees, as well as oaks and maples in tangerine and cantaloupe, crimson and honey, scarlet-red, periwinkle blue. I began cycling towards the motel, which was west, where that ball was burning, melting below the horizon, and above me the blue sky darkening, curling over, and closing in—a great wave to quash the fire that burned.
I left Charlotte late, as is my standard, but still managed to put in the 50 miles necessary to make it to the town of Chester, SC., though it wasn’t long before my groin was nagging at me again, even after the five days of rest. I stopped at a Food Lion after a couple hours, sat down on the concrete outside the store, and had some lunch in the shade, as it was warm and uncomfortably humid in the sun. I was really feeling irritable about pretty much everything regarding the trip at this point and didn’t really feel like going on, but there wasn’t much else to do, really, so…
There were periods of cycling through some brilliant green, bucolic farm land, and the largest, most open landscapes I’ve seen thus far (well, that would likewise be the farm land). I got my first look at cotton fields, most of which were picked clean, though there were a few that had not been harvested yet, and the roads which were nicely flat made for easy and speedy cycling.
When I arrived in Chester it was already past dark. The town was decorated for Christmas with large, wire-framed, light-wrapped Santas, angels, reindeer and what have you scattered throughout the tiny center of town. Again, at first glance it seemed a charming place, what with the Christmas decorations giving it a sense of merriment, and some of the houses on certain streets being quite grand in appearance, but only so long as I didn’t look too closely at the empty buildings in the town center, which I did of course, and then came to the conclusion that I was in another ghost town. I can only wonder for the reason of the town’s, and the many others like it that I’ve written of before, economic downfall. What was the town’s past source of economy? Where has it gone?
The ground being soaked I didn’t feel like camping. It was also night, as I mentioned already. Actually, at this point of the trip I was quite sick of camping altogether, regardless of the state of the ground. Probably my overall frustrations with everything from my bike not shifting properly, to the crappy saddle I’d been sitting on for nearly a month uncomfortably, and my sore groin (again)… and that probably covers it. Physically sore = mentally sore. Things not working properly = a constant source of agitation.
I stayed at the EXECUTIVE Inn on the edge of town. A nice enough place, as all these “cheap” inns and motels are. The shower was naturally fantastic, as was being able to write in comfort. There was even an awful restaurant right next door where I could, and did, have dinner. I’ve forgotten the name of it already, but it was named after the city: the Chester some such something or other. It was one of those lugubrious places with a wooden fish nailed in place over the entrance denoting that they do indeed serve seafood. Immediately upon entering I was assaulted by the smell of old grease and deep fryers. Whether open or closed I imagine that aroma has permeated every table, brick and seat in the place, and it probably reeks of it morning, noon and night. I was then greeted by the host, standing at her station by the cash register to the left. She seated me in a booth and supplied me with a glass of water. Now, this booth was no ordinary booth. The padded seats were merely busted mattress springs wrapped in dull, red vinyl, and the surface of the table a faux-wood laminate such as one might find in an elementary school. The restaurant was essentially one long feed hall, reminiscent of a low barn. At one end was the kitchen, hidden behind a wall and a door, and the register. The rest of the place was just row upon row of booths or tables, all obviously of the lowest quality. On the far wall opposite the kitchen was a nonsensical juxtaposition of a white board side by side with a flat screen tv. Above these two fixtures was a captain’s wheel framed by two large harpoons. Hanging on a column in the center of the room was a life preserver, and all throughout the restaurant were framed pieces of “modern art” one might find at a Big Lots or similar store. Some photographs of a bunch of nobodies’ faces, and a twenty foot long mirror that probably hadn’t been cleaned since the place opened.
I wasn’t expecting much after sitting down, taking a look around, and then looking over the menu, but even the low expectations that I had were disappointed by the meal, which was probably the worst I’ve ever had. However, for $6 (!!!) and free hush puppies, which, until I got to Charleston, I could only describe as breaded, deep-fried balls of insipid, uninspiring, doughy calories, it’s maybe hard to complain. And the service was friendly enough. Actually, more so than at a lot of other places. It saddens me that this is the type of food that people find to be normal, or good in so many places throughout the country. Nothing fresh. Everything canned or frozen, and trucked in from a warehouse somewhere. No wonder obesity is so rampant here. I didn’t linger for long, despite having brought a book with me to read; I could do that easily enough back at the motel, and so I did.