Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Ravanel, South Carolina


A gentle tail wind from the south put me in position to make it to Savannah and it’s two Carnegies Sunday evening rather than the next morning as I had planned.   I could arrive an hour before dark, hopefully with enough time to search out its two Carnegies then cross over into South Carolina and find a place to camp.  It would be cutting it close, but it would be nice to get in and out of this large city on a Sunday when the traffic was minimal rather than entering with Monday’s rush hour traffic.  

I checked my GPS  to see if there might be some sanctioned camping within the city proper or nearby as a last resort if I were desperate for a place to pitch my tent.  It revealed a campground and RV park fifteen miles out of town at the end of the bay on the ocean that was opposite the direction I’d be heading.  The GPS also showed a rather dubious “homeless camp” by an interstate cloverleaf a couple miles from the city center that I didn’t much trust.

The four-lane highway I was on leading into the city had a bike lane, so biking in during the rush hour wouldn’t be as intimidating as it could be. I was still undecided whether to push on or camp on the outskirts of Savannah when I came upon a small forest ten miles before the city was too inviting to pass up sparing me of the tension of all the uncertainties  of trying to find a place to camp as night closed in when I could still be within the urban sprawl   It was the first time in these travels I set up my tent  with the sun above the horizon.

I was the lone cyclist the next morning taking advantage of the bike lane.  No one seemed to take exception to my presence.  I arrived at the first of the two Carnegies as the sun was beginning to peek over the stately two-story neo-Classic building.   A handful of homeless with carts and bags were awaiting its opening.  A late-arrival asked, “Does anyone have a bag of chips or a sandwich?” No one responded.

“I’ve got some rice cakes,” I offered.  I had a few leftover from an unopened bag of them  I’d found along the highway the day before.  He gladly accepted them.  I didn’t think to ask any of them about the homeless camp, but I later biked by it and discovered it was a swamp not even fit for alligators.  All wouldn’t have been lost if I had hoped to rely on it the night before, as there was a nearby forest I could have slipped into.

Just half a mile from the grand library was the other Carnegie, the “Colored Branch.”  It was less opulent, but equally dignified and substantial, built in red brick in the Prairie Style with “Carnegie” on its facade in contrast to the other Carnegie which identified itself as “Savanah Public Library.”  A plaque to its side said it was one of two “Colored” libraries donated by Carnegie in Georgia and that it had been the library Clarence Thomas frequented growing up.

I shared the roads of downtown historic Savannah with horse-drawn carriages and trolleys filled with tourists on guided tours.  I was in need of a bike shop, as one of the bolts securing my rear rack to the frame had snapped.  I hoped to find a mechanic who could drill out the broken portion of the bolt stuck in the eyelet of the frame.  There were two bike shops in the town center.  One was on the main street next to a movie theater that was playing “Wildcat,” which I had seen at Telluride in September.  The marquee said Ethan Hawke, who directed it, would be in attendance. I thought maybe that connection was a sign of good luck for me, but the shop didn’t do repairs.  

The second shop a few blocks away had a mechanic, but he said he was loaded with repairs and wouldn’t be able to tend to my bike until the next day. It was the first time in all my travels of showing up at a shop with my loaded bike, clearly someone traveling, that the shop didn’t gladly come to my rescue and have me back on the road. So much for southern hospitality.  

I asked if I might borrow a vice grips to grab the nub of the bolt protruding from the eyelet and twist it out.  The guy gave an immediate programmed response of “We don’t lend out tools,” but then realized he could make an exception in this case before I could offer him a substantial down payment.  He just said I’d have to work on my bike on the sidewalk in front of the shop and not to block the door.   All was for naught as the vice grips broke off the smidgeon of the bolt.  I’d just have to wait until the next bike shop in Charleston, over a hundred miles away, and hope the wires I had wrapped around the arm of the rack securing it to the frame would hold.

My route out of Savannah took me over the Savannah and Little Back Rivers into South Carolina.  The Savannah River was the larger of the two and could accommodate freighters.  The roadway was packed with trucks transporting truck-sized containers from and to the freighters.  It was a bustling port with containers stacked high.  My introduction to South Carolina was wetlands that in a generation or two will be fully submerged as the glaciers continue to melt at an alarming rate.  I’d barely been above sea level in all my miles from Orlando and hadn’t a hill to climb other than the inclines over rivers and interstates and railroads.  It’s all land that is going to need significant dikes in the years to come.

The first of nine Carnegies on my agenda in South Carolina came in Beaufort, fifty miles after Savannah.  I’d only gotten to five of the fourteen remaining Carnegies in the statr on previous visits.  There had been eighteen, but four are no more.  Four of the nine awaiting me are still libraries, but not Beaufort’s.  It now provides office space for the Visitor Center next door in the old arsenal.  It was just a couple of blocks from the Beaufort River meandering a few miles through marshy terrain to the Atlantic, preventing Beaufort, like Savannah and Jacksonville, from extending to the ocean.  A plaque beside the library credited a women’s organization for soliciting the funds from Carnegie.  They’d formed a library association in 1802.  Their collection of books was confiscated by Union soldiers in 1862 and hadn’t been replaced until 1918 with the opening of this building.

I was back into forested terrain as I headed to Charleston, one hundred miles away.  I could bike right up to dark with camping awaiting me whenever I pleased, allowing me my first ninety mile day of the trip.  The two thermal bottles I had filled with ice and water at a Taco Bell in Beaufort four hours earlier and had cached in a pannier still rattled with ice when I unearthed them in my tent.  A fine end to Another Great Day on the Bike.


Bill said...

Now you've got got us wondering, George. What did the Union army want with a library collection? Was it simply an instance of harassment? Never could happen today, if that's it!

george christensen said...

Could be the soldiers were just desperate for something to read.