Another wonderful week on the road has come and gone. The weather has been great and the time really does seem to fly out here. I've been enjoying central South Carolina, an area I've spent very little time in in the past. There's lots of history here, and a beautiful National Park. I've enjoyed some great food and caught up with some old friends. It's been a great week.
Since I had problems keeping my days straight last week, I will start this week with Friday. Friday I got an early start and headed out from Camden towards Congaree National Park. On the way, I made a few really cool stops. I stopped to take some photos at Boykin, a tiny town with a few old stores and an even older mill. There was even a cool little covered bridge. It was a neat little place.
From there, I went to pay my respects at the grave of Thomas Sumter. Thomas Sumter was a revolutionary war leader who led a militia unit during a critical time of the war in the state. Along with Francis Marion and Andrew Pickens, Sumter helped keep pressure on the British and the spirit of independence alive in the countryside. A fierce fighter, he was nicknamed The Gamecock, the name later chosen for the mascot of the University of South Carolina. His grave is in a small park in the county that bears his name.
Nearby is the tiny hamlet of Horatio, South Carolina, very much a "blink and you'll miss it" kind of place. It is home to the Lenoir Country Store, an old place which has been in the same family for over 200 years. There's not much to it now - drinks and snacks and a few necessities, but it is still run as a country store and it's still in the Lenoir family. When I walked in, I met Beverly who, along with her brother, is the 7th generation to run the store. She was as friendly a person as you're likely to meet in your travels and told me about growing up in town and the store and the community. They don't do much business anymore, but they do house the local post office which keeps them afloat. After buying a cold soda and a moon pie, we stepped outside. Another lady called to me from across the street and asked if I could lend a hand. She was decorating the community hall for Easter and couldn't get the door latched. When I went to help out, she told me to go ahead inside and have a look. It was quite a building, old and tired but you could tell it has had a lot of use over the years. She and Beverly told me the community comes together at the holidays, everyone brings a dish and a musical instrument and they play music and sing and eat and laugh together. I had a great little visit to Horatio, but it breaks my heart that this way of life is dying out. If you're ever in the neighborhood, stop in for a cold drink and some conversation, you'll be glad you did.
Heading out from Horatio, I made my way down to my actual destination for the day, Congaree National Park. Congaree protects the largest tract of old growth bottomland hardwood forest left in the United States. I spent the day taking photos and hiking deeper and deeper into the wilderness. You can see my photos and read my post on it HERE.
After a wonderful day of hiking, I made my way to Columbia. I got a hot shower and some delicious barbecue with a wonderful South Carolina mustard sauce at Maurice's Piggy Park. I also got a side of barbecue hash and rice, something I'd never even heard of until I ordered it. Apparently it's quite a concoction made from all the scraps and organs of the pig, mixed with some veggies, boiled and seasoned and served over rice. It was delicious and I vow to explore it more. From there, I headed to Tin Roof to see the Band 76 and Sunny. They are a 90s cover band, so it was a lot of music from my high school and college years. Tin Roof is a chain I can get behind. In a time when live music venues are getting fewer and further between, Tin Roof seems to keep opening up new locations and thriving. Depending on where they are, they sometimes have live music seven nights a week. I'm always happy when someone is supporting local and regional bands in a bigger small-venue setting. If you've got one near you, you should check it out.
Saturday morning, I headed back to Camden for the Carolina Cup. The Carolina Cup is a horse race which included steeplechase racing - a longer race with jumps involved. It was pretty cool to see. More interesting, though, were the outfits of the spectators. Decked out in their spring finest - seersucker and big hats and bright pastel colors - the crowd made for some great people watching. Since football season is still months away, this also seemed like the perfect opportunity for some tailgating. I saw some amazing spreads of food and drinks and everyone seemed to be really enjoying themselves. Horse racing isn't really my thing, but it was a very southern event and I'm glad I saw it.
Afterwards, I headed back to Columbia and straight to a crawfish boil at the World of Beer. While it's late in the crawfish season, and they were waaaaaay overpriced, sometimes beggars can't be choosers so I tucked into a small plate of the mudbugs and washed it down with some cold Abita Purple Haze. I may have struggled with shucking my own oysters along the coast, but after 2 years of living in New Orleans, I can pick some crawfish. It was fun. They didn't quite fill me up though, so I headed out for a great bowl of Ramen noodles at Menkoi Ramen House. I lived in Japan for two years as well, so I'm a little baffled by the "Hibachi Bowl" Japanese restaurants I see everywhere in the south. This was real, quality Japanese food and it was great. Then I headed over to Uncle Louie's, a great dive bar in the Vista neighborhood for a few cold ones and some good conversation.
I was up early on Sunday so I could make it to a sunrise Easter Service. I celebrated with the congregation at the Park Street Baptist Church. There were surprisingly few people there, but the choir sang some beautiful hymns and they invited me downstairs afterwards for some food and fellowship. It was really nice to meet and talk with the folks there, and they gave me some great ideas for the rest of my time in the state.
From there, I went to catch up with a friend of mine from home. I met Sandy when I was in High School and I actually took her to my senior prom. We lost touch in college in the days before the internet or cell phones, but reconnected almost a decade ago and have been really good friends since. Her husband, Tom, and I also get along really well and I love spending time with either or both of them. As it turned out, they were heading down south on a road trip of their own with their adorable Rottweiler Clover. We caught up for an amazing breakfast experience at The Devine Cinnamon Roll Deli, an awesome and welcoming spot in Columbia. It was great food and company and always nice to run into a friend on the road. After a big breakfast, I took a bigger nap and then spent the rest of the day working on my next podcast, which I swear will be done this week, in lovely Finlay Park.
After a great breakfast at the Lizard's Thicket where I tried another local treat, onion sausage, I spent most of Monday at the wonderful South Carolina State Museum. While it wasn't as good (or as free) as the state museums in either West Virginia or North Carolina, it did have a lot to offer. I only wish they had sent me all the way to the forth floor to get started though, as the lower floors were pretty generic and not very specific to the state, and also seemed more geared towards school groups and kids. The fourth floor, though, was pretty great. It delved into the history and culture of the state and had some pretty cool artifacts and displays. It looked at some tough issues like slavery and reconstruction and did a pretty good job with them. With lots of new knowledge in my head, I headed over to the University of South Carolina to catch up with some of my fraternity brothers at our chapter there. Their house is pretty awesome and it was cool to meet some of the undergraduates and think back on my younger days. Then I headed back to Uncle Louie's for the NCAA Championship Game and perhaps a beer or two.
Tuesday I went to visit the South Carolina State House and took a tour. It is a beautiful old building which dates back to after the old statehouse was burned during General Sherman's destructive "total war" campaign in the south. It was an interesting place to wander around. Architecturally, it is a beautiful place, with some wonderful paintings, statues and stained glass. Politically, it is definitely less progressive than the State Museum was. There are a lot of nods to the Confederacy, including a marble scroll of their declaration of secession, and a statue of Ben Tillman who was pretty famous in his day as a white supremacist (he was the SC senator I mentioned in my last podcast). South Carolina only took down the Confederate flags from the building recently (they're in the State Museum now). While there are some great paintings of prominent African American South Carolinians around the building and a wonderful African American Memorial on the grounds, it was a difficult place for me to wrap my head around. Having spent the day there, I'm going to do some thinking on the subject and maybe try and write down some thoughts.
From there, I stopped at Groucho's Deli in Five Points for an awesome STP Dipper sandwich, then went and saw a few pieces of artwork around the city before heading out of town. I made my way down Route 1 to Aiken, a small town not far from the Georgia line. It's Master's Week in Augusta which is just over the border, and folks are definitely celebrating around here. I'm sure this is a quiet town most of the time, but last night there were a lot of people around. I'm not a huge golf fan either, but it's interesting seeing the crowd that has gathered here and I'm always up for a celebration. The Aiken Brewing Company made me a great salad last night and I had a good conversation with the bartender, a couple of pilots who had flown in some wealthy clients from Texas, and a man from Maine whose daughter just moved to Washington D.C. It was a fun evening.
Today, I'm in the fabulous Aiken Public Library. I got my podcast recorded and will spend the rest of the day editing it. I've also started assembling my South Carolina Gallery which you can view HERE. From here, I am heading west and then north again through some state parks and small towns and then on to Greenville and Spartanburg. I hope everyone out there has had a good week too. Time to start thinking of some travel plans of your own. You don't have to go far to find yourself somewhere new and exciting. I'd love to hear where your spring and summer plans will lead you so please comment below. Also if you want to get my weekly newsletter which comes out on Thursdays and lets you know what I've been up to the previous week - click the "Subscribe Here" button below. Until next week, have fun out there and don't work too hard!