Sunday, September 13, 2009

Chewing up the scenery in Charleston

Saturday, Sept. 5 -- Charleston, S.C., is where the Civil War began and the city isn't going to let folks forget it. Bombarded and seized in April 1861, the Confederacy held the fort and the harbor for the duration of the war, only returning it to Union forces on April 14, 1865 -- exactly four years after its surrender and five days after General Robert E. Lee's surrender at Appomattox.

Unfortunately, there was no place to leave the motorcycle with all the gear strapped on it. I stopped at the old Market, where grass weavers sell baskets, horse-drawn carriages ply the streets and Labor Day weekend tourists thronged the shops.

The historic Market in Charleston is a tourist magnet

This visitor found a fountain in Charleston's Market most interesting

I did stop on the Bay Street waterfront and took a few pictures where visitors strolled the seawall and a local entrepreneur sold bottles of water out of a cooler.

A tiny crowd gathered around the KLR. One young man asked how many miles it had on it and how it was running. "I just bought one and I'm wondering how it holds up," he said.

I said it was running fine for a thumper, a single-cylinder bike that shakes pretty good, except at a few favorite speeds. I told him to watch the oil level and he shouldn't have any troubles.

A second man said he rode a KLR through Mexico a few years ago and thoroughly enjoyed it. He asked about my trip, which was a month old by now.

The Bay Street waterfront looks out on the harbor and Fort Sumpter, seized by Confederate forces on April 13, 1861, beginning the Civil War

Mortars like these sealed the fate of Fort Sumpter in 1861

The Battery Park, also known as White Point Gardens, at the foot of Bay Street includes monuments to the Confederacy in addition to huge siege mortars like the ones used to lob explosives into Fort Sumpter. The Fort was built to defend against naval forces and was at a disadvantage when it came to fending off attack from the shore it was designed to protect.

The park was also the site used for the city gallows and a number of pirates were hung there in the early 1700s. Now, it's the scene of many weddings.

Charleston's beautiful mansions are squeezed into choice neighborhoods

Charleston has beautiful neighborhoods with well-preserved or restored colonial mansions and cottages on narrow, shady streets. My friend Merrily Dunn said both Charleston and Savannah are captivating, but many folks prefer to visit Charleston because it has more variety. On this holiday weekend, I could see why that would be the case. Still, despite Charleston's many virtues, I was captivated by Savannah's old-world charm.

Charleston's spectacular Arthur Ravenel Bridge opened in 2005

Leaving Charleston, I crossed the Ravenal Bridge, one of many new suspension bridges along the Atlantic coast, and took the coast road on Sullivan's Island at first. When I'd had enough of the two-lane traffic, I crossed back to US 17 and after a few miles spotted a roadside cafe.

There were four or five dozen Harley Davidson's parked out front, which to some people means trouble. To me it means cold beer, hot cheeseburgers and sometimes interesting conversation. I was right. Besides a tasty meal, I got to see the Best Bike contest, which was won by a chopper with a Honda 750 four engine. Go figure.

Fortified, I continued north, determined to make it to Myrtle Beach and camp for the night. As darkness closed in, I was still a few miles south of the city when I stumbled on Lakewood Camping Resort which calls itself "the best resort value in Myrtle Beach." At $50 for a tiny tent site within earshot of a late-night country music concert, I find that claim arguable, but without an easy alternative I paid up.

Then, the receptionist said I couldn't drive the motorcycle into the campground -- which was packed with hundreds of RVs -- but I could take a campsite right by the entrance and park next to it. The good news: The weather remained dry and pleasant and I got a good night's sleep.


  1. $50 for a tentspace? Is that a normal price on the east coast? That is a stunning figure!!!

  2. No. In fact, that's the highest price I paid in 6,000 miles. It was a private campground on the ocean in Myrtle Beach on a holiday weekend, though. State parks and National Forest campsites averaged about $16 a night without electricity -- a few bucks more with it. Some were free. They were much nicer, too.