We departed downtown Charleston, with our morning ritual perfected. Drag luggage and bicycle to hotel lobby and park at the first open space making sure the other hotel guests had no access to the exits. Load water-logged (from sweat / humidity) luggage onto the U-Haul truck. Consume a Kind bar for breakfast. The same Kind of bar that will be consumed over the next 7 hours, and wonder if that is really a Kind way to treat your body. Check your bicycle lights, GPS navigation software, pump the tires and spin the wheels listening to the new whirring sounds that weren’t there before. Seek out the ECG bike mechanic and decide he’s too busy helping others. Decide to troubleshoot yourself. Or at least with select members of your riding team, those without advanced bicycle mechanic skills.
Me: Do you hear that noise?
Bike mates: Hmm. Do the tires spin?
Bike mates; Probably just wet disc brakes.
Me: You think?
Bike mates: Happens all the time.
And with that, worries were over, and it was time to focus on the day’s ride. A nearly eighty-mile day with forty miles on the dreaded Route 17 – high speed, high volume traffic with little to no shoulders.
40 cyclists rolled out of Charleston led by two escort ECG vehicles: a lead car, and the caboose. It didn’t take long for the lead car and the front of the peloton to lose the back of the peloton and the flank car, but fortunately the Charleston rush-hour traffic didn’t seem to mind that our group spanned through multiple traffic lights. We managed to cross the Ashley River, stay on our bicycles over the bridge metal grates and exit the busy roads to be greeted by — an 8 mile-ish bicycle trail.
We traversed the low country without a hint of motorized vehicles and marveled at the low-country marshland. Conversations with fellow riders made the time pass quickly, and then we arrived at the end of the trail, where we prepped ourselves mentally for the first 15 mile stretch of Route 17. Route 17 — a route that is not ready for prime-time bicycling, but is the only way, at present, to travel south. A route that is best — for now — traveled by bicycle in a large group, with escort vehicles.
Moving as a massive peloton, we took the right lane of the shoulder-less highway and with the help of our vehicles blocking 70 mph traffic from behind, we felt surprisingly safe. Eventually, it was time to exit, and we departed from our support vehicles to travel along low-volume rural roads with shade from the large oak trees and Spanish moss, and life was back to lovely once more.
The cloud cover gave way to full-sun, and someone noted they saw a sign saying it was 96 degrees. Soon we came across a gas station that sold water and ice-cream and it only seemed logical to consume both. Another stretch of Route 17 awaited.
We would tackle this last 25-mile stretch of Route 17 without our support vehicles – because this section of roadways had shoulders. Real shoulders, not the meandering disappearing once-in-awhile shoulders, but 3-foot shoulders that stayed 3-feet wide. Sure, there were the rumble strips — renamed to bicycle-death-traps — but surely, we could ride within a 3-foot shoulder.
We learned that many things come to die within that 3-foot shoulder. Car parts — the big ones, whole tires, chunks of metal –come to die. Roadkill takes its last breath, and armadillos are the only creatures that are not flattened to pancake width, and you realize you’ve never, until now, seen armadillos close up. Several times we considered stopping — to take in water and food — but the sight of 2′ mounds of sand filled with ants (just to the right of the shoulder), and the notion those ants are having the last laugh staring at that dead armadillo — we opted to keep riding.
Of course, we couldn’t get enough of Route 17, and missed our turn to Beaufort, so we extended our ride along 17 to the next exit — 7 more miles of highway. Riding in a draft line, without shade, tying to alert riders behind of the shoulder hazards, and not daring to lose focus — we couldn’t get off of Route 17 fast enough.
Our final 20 miles into Beaufort returned us onto back country roads, and the Spanish moss dangled from the trees returning our gaze upward. At the end of the day, the riders convened for a group dinner in Historic Beaufort, along the ICW.
Here we gathered, one last time as 40 riders for this year’s WAY tour – where we shared our favorite moments of the ride, and relived the best of the week.
A fellow cyclist and blogger shares her perspective on this day.