Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Clear Across South Carolina in 232.9 Miles

I was out on the road at 6:45 in the dark. My hotel was a half-mile from the entrance to the bridge, so I was right there to start my day. It was a warm morning, so fortunately there was no shivering. There were streetlights in town and along the Talmadge Bridge so disobeying the no-bicycles sign was a non-event. It wasn’t ideal, climbing the approximate 200 feet up the tallest bridge in Georgia to start my morning, but I could think of worse things. There was a wide shoulder along the bridge, which even allowed me to pause and look down on Savannah as I was riding away. The only issue on the bridge was riding over the expansion joints, but it is the same on most bridges, so I have that pretty much figured out.

As I came off the far side of the Talmadge Bridge, I saw a police car with its lights on just up ahead. I figured he was waiting for me, but no, he had pulled someone over. I rode past without the cop giving me a second glance. I was in South Carolina.

Once over the bridge I learned the real reason that bicycles weren’t supposed to be on the bridge: the approach road. The approach road was one narrow lane in each direction with no shoulder. Fortunately, traffic wasn’t bumper to bumper in my direction. My bigger problem was when no cars were coming at all as it was black as pitch and I couldn’t see a thing as there were no streetlights. I could have ridden off a cliff and I would have had no idea until I was plummeting to my ultimate demise. I again rode with the white-knuckle grip of death on the handlebars and waited for the sun to rise. I only had to ride for about 20 minutes longer in the dark before it was light enough for me to be able to see. Eventually I made it out of the danger zone and to the town of Hardeeville, SC.

I got lost for the first time of the day in Hardeeville. As I was hoping to have a big day, it was the last thing I wanted. It seems that South Carolina is doing so much work on its roads that new roads are cropping up and other road names are changing at a pace that maps cannot keep up with. With a little local help, I was able to find the route out of town on the roads which I had initially planned on taking, all under their new names.

As the morning wore on it was all business. I was in a lane of traffic for most of the morning. It makes for somewhat less that ideal conditions when I am constantly wondering if the driver behind me is paying attention. Or if the driver behind him can see me quickly enough to move out of the way. I would learn the hard way that South Carolina is not about to waste any of its road funding by building shoulders on roads.

The day warmed up quickly and I worked up a good sweat. I did the best I could at staying hydrated. I knew throughout the day I would have some long stretches without services, so I tried to keep my water bottles topped off. Sure the long stretches weren’t like what I went through out west, but I didn’t want to be caught without fluids with temperatures in the mid-80’s.

I was keeping a good pace and hit the 100-mile mark in 5 hours 39 minutes. Shortly after the hundred-mile mark I was nearing Charleston, SC. I saw a sign for a bike shop in a shopping center, so I pulled in to ask about the best route through town, as I had to take bridges to get both in and out of Charleston. I looked around the shopping center and for the life of me couldn’t find the bike shop. I spent almost 10 minutes looking for a bike shop that was seemingly non-existent. As I rode another few miles down the road I spied another bike shop and was given some great information from the guys there. They walked me though the directions to get in and out of Charleston, but warned me that once I was north of Charleston, I would be on busy roads and riding in traffic. The guys apologized for the lack of good riding roads in the area and sent me on my way.

I had wanted to check out Charleston, but as it is about 100 miles from where my father lives is South Carolina, I figured I could always drive down at some other point when I was visiting in the future. With that thought, I was able to justify to myself not stopping and having a look around.

On the north side of Charleston, in Francis Marion National Forest I had drained my water bottles. There was a house here or there where I could have asked for water, but I figured I would wait until I found a place to grab a sports drink. Around every bend I eagerly anticipated finding a convenience store. Finally I was rewarded with a well stocked shop. I loaded up on drinks and continued on.

While riding along I heard a clicking noise coming from my bike. It wasn’t the same noise that had previously been repaired. I began investigating the noise as I rode along, but couldn’t seem to find the source. I had narrowed it down to something with my tires. I stopped to check my front tire where I thought the noise was coming from, but couldn’t find anything wrong. I was going to ride on, but checked my back tire. There was a one-inch piece of rusty metal jabbed in my tire. The Kevlar in my tires did their job in protecting the tube. I pulled out the metal piece and rode on. I was quite glad as I really wasn’t in the mood to change a flat tire.

By mile 145 I was feeling a little tired. I had at least 22 miles to the next set of hotels. I knew my father was probably another 40 miles past that, so either I could stay in Georgetown, SC and have a short day the day following or I could just knock it off. There was rain in the forecast, but it had held off. I decided I would go for it.

It was typical Kevin. If I have it in my head to get someplace, I will do what it takes to get there. For example when I was hiking the Annapurna Circuit and Sanctuary in Nepal I had a couple of days of hiking left, but I kept thinking about having a steak for dinner the following night. So I got up early the next morning and hiked some crazy distance through the Himalayas at a good clip, climbing massive mountains and having to avoid the Maoist Separatists just to get my steak. The steak was really good though.

I took a look down at my odometer, which showed me that I was 192 miles along. When I checked my time it looked as if I would ride the 200 miles in a little over 11 hours. As I really wanted to keep my time under 11 hours for 200 miles, I stepped up my speed. I used the drop bars (which my back generally never agrees with) and rode hard for the next 20 minutes to come in at 10 hours 58 minutes for the 200 miles. While I was psyched that I crossed the 200 mile mark, I was more proud of myself for bearing down and riding hard to keep my time under 11 hours. I rode the second hundred miles in 5 hours 19 minutes, 20 minutes less than the first hundred.

Darkness slowly creeped in, but I had a mostly full moon to help me out, at least until the clouds rolled in. By dark it seemed that Savannah, my starting point that morning, was hundreds of miles away. Perhaps because quite literally, it was.

I was able to work out a system where I would ride in the middle of the lane until a car approached from behind. As the light from the headlights grew stronger I would move over to the side of the road. A bigger problem was the oncoming traffic could not really see me as all I had on the front of my bike was a small reflector. There were several occasions where cars turned across the road in front of me, not knowing I was there. I had to lock up my tires on one occasion to avoid an 18-wheeler turning in front of me. After that I was far more cautious. I got a token streetlight every now and again, or some light from a residence or business, but for the most part I was in the dark.

By 9:00 the rain began. It started slowly and picked up. It was a relatively warm rain so I wasn't chilled to the bone. I kept calling my Dad & Stepmom to give updates as to where I was and when I projected getting to them. I rolled up to my fathers road...and kept riding past. He lives near enough to North Carolina that I wanted to continue on to the state line so that I could say I rode through the entire state of South Carolina in a day. The rain started getting heavy and I began shivering. I made it though. My ride was 232.9 miles. I put in some overtime and it was a pretty good day of work. It took me just shy of 13 hours to ride the 232 miles. In the future when I go to the gym it is going to seem rather pointless spending a half an hour on the stationary bike. I probably burned more than 10,000 colories on the day. I would have to eat 19 Big-Macs to replenish them. On the day I covered the distance from Los Angeles to Las Vegas, the distance from London to Paris, almost a third of the distance from New York to Chicago, 70% of the distance from Los Angeles to San Francisco and well, the distance from Savannah, GA to Calabash, North Carolina.

Obviously I was tired, but I was glad to see my Dad & Stepmom. I also knew that I had a few days off until after Easter. I gave the bike a quick wipe down to dry it off, wolfed down a couple of sandwiches enjoyed a beer and took a shower. It was my longest day ever.

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