"Man this bridge is awesome! I can't believe it's here."
We were speeding along the Palmetto Trail, on an old railroad bed. We'd just descended some fun switchbacks through Poinsett State Park. A while ago we even passed a guy in a truck trimming back the gnarly weeds along the corridor.
These were not normal Palmetto Trail conditions. From Charleston, we'd been loosely following the route - South Carolina's longest hiking and biking path.
"It's not a trail like you're used to," Missee, our Warmshowers host in Charleston had warned us. "This is South Carolina. We're flat!"
When the sun came out again, we'd ridden out to the ocean on Sullivan's Island, so we could have a real cross-country ride.
Then we headed back inland, into the swamp and the Palmetto Trail.
Volunteers have put a lot of work into the trail, blazing and cutting weeds and building wooden bridges over the deepest swamps, but it's still pretty undeveloped in spots. I kept stopping in the middle of the woods to hunt for yellow blazes marking the route. Montana really liked it.
There were also a few sections that didn't quite link up, a couple trains in the way of the trail, bridges that were closed and a some that have been eaten by the swamp.
These are trail features that Montana loves. They make him feel like he is on a real adventure, I think. Usually they make me feel annoyed, especially when I'm a bit hungry. That's because I'm fundamentally lazy.
But he likes to weasel around barbed wire fences and slog across the swamps. Usually he carries my bike across too, so I don't get too salty about the ride. Such a gentleman.
This part, though, was great. Nice and clean, big long trestles across the swamp. We were going to get to Columbia early! Then our bridge was over.
Thenext 200 yards of trestle were connected by a series of wobbly planks. It looked like a feature in Frogger.
"Well, we could turn around and ride down on the trail," I said, wet blanketing.
No, Montana insisted that we could walk or bikes across. He picked up his bike and shuffled over the first set of wobbly boards. I held my breath, sucked it up and followed.
After the first set of planks, the side supports ended. I looked down, 15 feet to the swamp below. There was a trail there, for sure. I tried to haul my bike on the next set of boards, wobbled a bit, set it down. My heart jumped up in my throat.
"Hey, let's just go back and ride the trail!" Montana looked exasperated. He kept shuffling.
"What if there's a swamp on the other side?" He said, as if that had stopped him from riding through a swamp before.
"This is so stupid!" I yelled, frozen to my trestle. "What if this doesn't even go all the way across!" He finally stopped, hauled his bike around.
We went back, looped around under the bridge, found a definite trail. And the end of the plank-walk, 20 feet from the other side. Ha. I was real smug about that one.
In Columbia we stayed with Scott, another awesome Warmshowers host. We went out to dinner and talked about the cycling scene in South Carolina. It's not huge, since the state prioritizes rumble strips for cars instead of rideable shoulders for bikes.
Scott is a big advocate for cyclists and pedestrians in Columbia, and he's been busy nagging the city for more bike lanes and bike stands. But it's an uphill battle, without much help from the city.
The next day we went to the post office, and I said farewell to my Nikon.
Last year I broke my mirrorless Fuji X-T10 on a mountain in New Zealand. I wanted to take nice photos on this tour, though. So I optimistically decided to ride with a big camera. I'd been carrying my camera in a massive REI fannypack. Even though I just have a DX body with a 35mm lens, it was absolute torture to have five pounds bouncing around on my waist. It wasn't worth it.
(For the record, now I'm saving for an X-100F to use on our big tour to the South end of the world in a couple years. In the meantime, I've upgraded my iPhone to a Google Pixel, which supposedly has the best smartphone camera.)
From Columbia, we got off the Palmetto Trail and headed west toward Athens, Georgia to see my brother.
It was a trafficy ride to a place called Leesville, where we spent three hours sitting at a Mexican restaurant until it was dark enough to set up our tent in the weeds next to the church.
Once we pedaled away from Columbia's suburbs, the riding got better on some nice dirt roads through South Carolina's pine plantations. Now, in Athens we're waiting out more rain and testing flat pedals .. also eating all the wonderful food and drinking terrific coffee in this town with my brother and sister in law.
From here I'm hoping for warmer weather that probably won't come until we hit the deep, deep South. But right now the Georgia mountains await. Hopefully it doesn't snow up there.