Charleston to Myrtle Beach

Charleston has been a nice stay, although I really didn’t check out the city proper much – I guess I didn’t want to mess with the van in traffic. Instead, I found a few nice places to park, including spending my days at the lovely James Island County Park – their fees for overnight camping were exorbitant (designed for RV use, dumping and hookups and whatnot), but their day use fee of $2 was an excellent deal. There’s a very large dog park fronting on a large pond with geese and small alligators in it, that Ritchey would have LOVED (ashes, check), although Hops of course has no use for water. We did enjoy the free range, though.

Hops keeps his toes dry at the dog park
I grabbed a shower and used their coin-op laundry while I was there, too. I also spent some time parked down on the water (Wappoo Creek), and drove up and down the main drag in Folly Beach – I’m sure it’s a nice little beach town, but I couldn’t so much as pull over and see the water for less than $10 parking, so I didn’t. On my way out of Charleston, I did drive through the old city center, which is gorgeous – old trees, old buildings, that charming ornate architecture like New Orleans’s French Quarter – but also thick with Confederate monuments and museums. The air around here is perfect (temperature, humidity), and with that soft scent of the sea, I really liked being here. But I also felt fine moving on.

On our way north up the coast we stopped at a camping area in the Francis Marion National Forest and checked out a fire lookout.

And then really appreciated pulling into Garden City on our way into Myrtle Beach: a town with free parking and beach access! Hooray!

look at that

Our first night and most of the next day in Myrtle Beach we sat in the van during a downpour as the waters rose around us. But no matter, the sun comes out again…

Hilton Head and environs

After finally departing Poinsett, we headed for the coast – I thought I’d check out Hilton Head (always a sucker for an Isbell lyric). I’ve had the loveliest stay at a city park, of all places! There’s a small park on the waterfront of the May River in Bluffton, SC that allows overnight parking; there’s a bathroom and everything. The breeze and sound of wind in the palms and waves on the beach, the temperature – it’s one of my nicest free parking spots yet, which is surprising.

As an added bonus, on the grounds of this park is one of the earliest freedmen’s houses still standing on the May. Cyrus Garvin built this house himself, circa 1870, on the land of his former owner; he later bought the land from the former owner, and then added a section of waterfront to his holding. The city (or a land trust? I’m unclear) restored it recently, and they do give public tours, although none while I was there; I just walked around outside. I was very pleased to encounter this piece of history, and I’m intrigued by the story of Garvin, who amassed property wealth after emancipation, and apparently kept a connection to the man who had “owned” him under that previous peculiar institution.

Garvin-Garvey House

(Remember you can always click to enlarge these pictures.)

I’ve also found a few nice breweries, and homemade ice cream at one of them!

Hops got to see the Atlantic Ocean for the first time. He does not care for water, but finds running around on the beach and harassing the shore birds diverting; this place was too busy for off-leash play, though. We sat calmly and I did some reading. And Ritchey, who never got to see the Atlantic but loved all oceans, beaches, and bodies of water (except the bath), joined with it via one pinch of his ashes.

I sort of hate to leave, having fallen in love with this first east-coast beach of my trip. But, unless I move on, I’ll never know if this one is special or if it’s all east-coast beaches that have my heart. So, in the name of science, onward.

moving slowly through South Carolina

I have had a lovely interlude. Ended up staying five days at Poinsett State Park, because of the reasonable price and perfectly fine amenities and plenty of trails – Hops and I had a hike every day and all the trails were bikeable, too, but it kept raining off and on, and I had plenty of reading to do, so I didn’t ride much. There was even a little take-a-book/leave-a-book station so I was able to leave some behind, whew! And I met up, entirely by accident, with a Sisters on the Fly camping group – they fed me dinner one night. That was nice, a little social time in my (very pleasurable) solitude.

It’s time to move on – and find a laundromat – but this has been a fine place to stay. Now, the beach!


Not far from Congaree we camped at Poinsett* State Park, a very affordably priced location (maybe the best since Texas!) with miles of trails to hike and ride. It had been uncomfortably hot in Columbia, and we are glad to get under the trees. Well, as I type this, Hops is moving a few feet an hour, following the sun; but I appreciate the shade.

There is a red-tailed hawk visiting us from time to time. I am waiting in line (online) to buy tickets to see Hamilton in a few months, and reading a good book. Dell is emailing me asking how my laptop is treating me, and the answer is, it’s covered in pollen! but otherwise fine. All’s right with the world.

*Remember the Poinsett Bridge? Poinsett turns out to be a Charleston, SC native who served on South Carolina’s Board of Public Works, as a U.S. congressman, ambassador to Mexico, and U.S. Secretary of War. He is also – yes – namesake of the poinsettia, a planet he sent home from Mexico during his travels in that region.

on my way out of Columbia

… I visited a couple of urban ruins. I love this stuff.

I heard these buildings referred to as a sanitarium; signage refers to the South Carolina State Hospital, which was originally founded as the South Carolina Lunatic Asylum. From a historical marker:

South Carolina State Hospital: Institution authorized 1821 by General Assembly, mainly through the work of two members, Samuel Farrow and William Crafts, Jr. The original building, designed by Robert Mills, shows a pioneer grasp of the ideas of humanitarian treatment.

I’m not sure how a building shows a grasp of humanitarian ideas, but okay. Mills is still in use as an office building today (and still associated with mental health services), but the rest of these grounds vary. The Babcock building is boarded up and copiously wreathed in chain link and warning signs boasting of arrests “in the last 30 days” (and a cop car was conspicuously parked out front). The Chapel of Hope is boarded up but approachable. I was originally attracted by a huge brick complex that I imagine housing residential units. Such brick beauty! I hope they manage to renovate and reuse these lovely structures, but they’re looking pretty far gone. On the same grounds is a new-ish baseball stadium doing fine business, though, as well as the barbecue restaurant I enjoyed the other night. Again, a strange and complicated world.

Next I visited the Guignard Brick Works, where they used to make the bricks for these lovely old buildings. The site itself is a construction zone; I parked at a bank and Hops and I walked over. The apartments under construction are going to be the “Brickworks Apartments,” but nothing seems to be being done with the old works, themselves. Fascinating stuff.

Leaving the city proper we headed for Congaree National Park, which according to their literature “protects the largest remaining tract of old-growth bottomland hardwood forest in North America… Trees average over 130 feet in height, making Congaree one of the tallest deciduous forests in the world.” Hops and I walked a few miles through American beech, bald cypress, loblolly pine (the tallest trees in South Carolina), switch cane, dwarf palmetto, and much more. The bulk of our hike was on boardwalk over swampy earth or over water, where I saw a bunch of fat crawdads and one crab, but no snakes (some folks I met had counted five). I also saw an old still, left over from Prohibition (again so says the pamphlet). The dominant feature was cypress knees, on and on as far as the eye can see. We walked out to Weston Lake but I had not brought Ritchey’s ashes with me.

And then on to our campsite for the night.

Columbia complications

As always, I have really enjoyed the down time, and use of a house: laundry, showers, electricity, wifi. I’ve been reading and writing and catching up.

And having a lovely time with Brad. We took a rainy walk around downtown Columbia, visiting the state capitol building and grounds. Recall this is the site of one of our most recent & contentious (& nationally visible) takings-down of the Confederate battle flag. Brad tells me the flag once flew from the top of the capitol building’s dome; upon complaints, the “compromise” was that they moved it down to ground level in front of the building, where it was many times more visible. The flag finally came down only after the murders at Charleston, SC’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in 2015. Brad worked across the street at the time, and tells me his whole office turned out to see the flag come down. There is an African American History Monument on the same grounds – dedicated in 2001, one year after they moved the flag from the dome to the street level. The South is a complicated place.

The grounds are beautiful, but the statues are conflicted. There’s Benjamin Ryan “Pitchfork” Tillman, George Washington, a Confederate Soldier Monument, a Liberty Bell replica, and much more. I only took a few shots.

From here we wandered on to a delightful underground dive bar: a very fine dinner and drinks.

Columbia has been everything I love and some of what I don’t. Beautiful, lush, and verdant, with kudzu, azaleas, wisteria. Friendly and humid; excellent barbecue and a complicated history. I love complication; I do not love an ongoing argument about the legacy of the Confederate battle flag. Any place that makes me think of mint juleps on a veranda will also make me think of plantations and slavery. I haven’t figured out the answer yet.

Columbia with friends

Just kicking around Columbia… Brad and Liz took me to a brunch that was more than I’d expected; we left at 11pm, making it a full twelve-hour day at the home of a lovely man with fascinating collections of books, cameras, skulls and the macabre, medical equipment, so much… the party was rich in terms of food and drink and excellent company (including our gracious host), but I rather wished for a separate visit just to take it all in. I’ll give you one representative picture of his beautiful library.

We’ve also had some quiet time in my friends’ peaceful backyard.

One of the deep joys of this trip has been checking in with people I don’t see often enough. Although Brad and I have kept in touch, I think this is the first time we’ve seen each other in person in five or six years. I’m so glad to be here.


I like this town. It has an impressive 22-mile hike-and-bike path, with clear efforts made to line it with businesses: bike shops and bike rentals, cafes and restaurants. Also Falls Park on the Reedy, which is an absolute gem. It has several breweries (more than I was able to see in my days there), and it has diversity. As my father said, all-white in Washington state is one thing. All-white in the Carolinas is quite another.

On the other hand, I was really sorry to hear about the controversy following a Drag Queen Story Hour event at a Greenville library. I was at a brewery wearing a librarian t-shirt and so this came up; my initial info came from a retired librarian at a neighboring table, and then I did a little Googling. My new friend reported it pretty accurately, from what I see. A local group booked a library’s meeting space, according to all rules and regulations, for a story hour for children in which drag queens would read children’s books. The intolerant folks of the world circulated a petition for the event’s cancellation, and protested outside the event when it went on. The manager of the library branch in question lost his job. It’s been an uproar, and one that really saddens me. And I was letting it color my impression of Greenville – until I read that the same events had just played out in Houston, at my home branch library in the historically gay part of town.

No place is perfect, is it.

Besides the sad story of the library, Greenville has offered me good beer, beautiful walks, and some very fine food: I took the advice of the couple I met in Brevard and did one Mediterranean meal and one Jamaican one, and both were highlights. I would totally come back here. Need to see where the nearest mountain biking is…