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Erik Trautman

“Everything you can imagine is real.”
-- Pablo Picasso

The Mid Atlantic and the Carolinas

After a brief couple of days grilling, organizing my life, and hanging out at my family’s house in Newport, RI, it was back on the road again. I love the Eastern Seaboard for reasons that are entirely unrelated to the quality of the driving there. Because, frankly, the driving sucks. The I-95 corridor is just home to too many humanoids and there’s no avoiding them without taking a significant detour inland. So from a motorcycling perspective, my trip down to the southeast was pretty poor, particularly through the length of Connecticut.

I try to drop into New York City whenever I can to see friends and it’s always a great time. I just HATE riding my motorcycle there. On this particular trip, just during my ride in and out of the city, I had three major near-death incidents which would have been remarkable experiences on their own but in the city are just par for the course. Anyone who owns a motorcycle in that place needs their head checked out. The only positive about the whole riding experience is that it was actually warm for a change.

I spent several days staying with my longtime best friend and his future wife at their new apartment in Brooklyn before leaving to continue my ride down the coast. I was determined to at least try to minimize my time on I-95 so I looped out west to Harrisburg, PA for a long but scenic detour on my way down to see my girlfriend in Springfield, VA. The weather was a cool off-and-on-again drizzle that didn’t flatter what would have otherwise been a pretty ride. As if I hadn’t had enough cold rain already.

The hills, forests, and occasional farms that started cropping up in Pennsylvania began to recede again as I turned east towards Washington DC. I limped the bike to my girlfriend’s house, concerned about some of the noises the chain had been making. I had a chain and sprockets replacement scheduled for Norfolk, VA, but I was a bit worried about whether I’d make it or not.

After a couple days of football, pumpkin carving, and delicious food, it was back on the bike again. The ride to Norfolk, VA took place beneath a familiar gray sky that misted me just as soon as I’d managed to get dry. The topography changed as I neared the coast from dense forest to wide bays and long causeway bridges. Nice houses with docks poking out into the water dotted the coastline. I was still pretty nervous about the chain but some sound mechanical advice helped me get to the shop in one piece and the bike rode like a dream once it got the new hardware.

Norfolk, VA is a military town but I didn’t get to see too much of it before continuing down the coast. Once I got out of stoplight hell the country roads lengthened considerably. At one point it was over 60 miles between gas stations as I passed through the rural coastal landscape of North Carolina. Between patches of small single story homes, the forest was interspersed with cotton fields and it took me a while to figure out why that unsettled me. I realized that, unlike the farms I’d seen throughout the rest of the country, these were orphans. They had no farmhouses, no barns, and no evidence that anyone actually owned them. I would later learn from a local that most of these fields were legacies of the Bad Old Days and the sharecropping arrangements of former slaves. Most of them now rented out their land and didn’t think twice about it.

The other thing I noticed is that the whole countryside seemed to smell like wood smoke and BBQ. Riding through at sunset, that smell drove my stomach nuts and I had to stop off for some local flavor before settling into my motel. The meat was tender and delicious as I’d expected, but North Carolina style BBQ doesn’t seem to have the same emphasis on thick sauces that you’d find in something like that of Memphis.

I wanted to swing through the Outer Banks but it just didn’t seem like it would be the right atmosphere to do so during mid-October. It was certainly warmer in the south than it had been in New England but it was hardly beach weather. So I continued onwards towards South Carolina, passing through Wilmington and miles of timber country. The road was littered with wood chips and crowded with slow moving logging trucks (and little else). It was hard to get too deep into the country mindset because just when I’d catch the peaceful vibe of the open road, I’d come upon another batch of stoplights and strip malls populated by the same dozen-or-so low-rent stores and fast food restaurants.

The ride got better as I crossed into South Carolina and the strip malls gave way to more open sky, ripe cotton, and fascinatingly decrepit farmsteads. I spent the day enjoying the tentative sunshine until I finally made it (after many wrong turns, thank you Maps) into Congaree Swamp National park where I pitched the hammock and spent the night. Luckily I’d arrived at the end of the season because the “Bug-O-Meter” at the Visitor’s Center, which had a scale from 1 to 6, was only a 2.

The next morning I ventured into the swamp, traversing the boardwalk amidst cascading birdcalls and warmed by the sun’s first rays in the otherwise chilly morning.

The swamp was not quite what I had expected — I had ideas of rotting trees sunken into murky water, writhing masses of snakes, and swarms of insects. Perhaps again owing to the mid-October season, I found the journey not dissimilar from a walk through the woods in New England. The trees were taller and their roots had “knees” that stuck up from the ground but otherwise the floor was relatively dry and the forest felt deep but inviting.

Though I didn’t see a single reptile or amphibian, the locals I spoke with told stories about rescue trucks showing up from throughout the state to dump whole barrels of snakes into the swamp. Given that knowledge, I was doubly disappointed to miss out on the wildlife. I did, however, almost take a pretty sizable spider to the face as I wandered away from the main trail.

From Congaree I rode past a pleasant but nearly endless blend of fields and trees on my way back towards the coast. The highways eventually became causeways which crossed over a landscape of winding rivers that twisted slowly through miles of cattails and reeds. Towns clumped together around major intersections and the houses all seemed to have docks and piers that stretched out into the slow-moving water.

I skirted the edge of Charleston, SC, and pushed east over a massive bridge to Sullivan’s Island, where a highly recommended burger joint by the name of Poe’s Tavern awaited my ravenous appetite.

Sullivan’s Island is a great, quaint little vacation spot that lies within sight across the bay of Charleston proper. The street is lined with nice bars and cafes and the pace of life is obviously a notch below the nearby city. I took the opportunity to get out onto the beach to soak up a few minutes of sunshine before heading back across an even larger bridge towards Charleston, which didn’t really seem to have much to see, and then onward into Georgia.