Our journey through North Carolina continued early on Tuesday morning as I drove the cyclists inland towards the town of Hemingway. A journey directly along Route 17 (the coastal road) to Charleston appeared too busy with traffic for the cyclists, so I was dropping them inland for an equivalent cycle ride. On the way, we passed through a drive-thru bank. In the States, almost every type of outlet has been converted to allow Americans to obtain a service without leaving the comfort of their car. As well as drive thru restaurants of every type (donuts, ice cream, burgers), there are drive-thru pharmacies and banks. If somebody one day invents a drive thru that doesn’t require the user to wind down a window and inflict fresh air on the car’s occupants, America will have one more millionaire.
It is easy to assume that the South is made up solely of backward little towns with a gas station and general store, but in fact the coast of South Carolina and Georgia is scattered with wonderful little cities, dating back almost as far as modern American history will stretch. Charleston was founded in 1670 as Charles Town, named for the newly restored British monarch, and it was twice attacked by the British during the American Revolution. After South Carolina became the first state to secede from the Union in 1860, the first shots of the civil war were fired from Charleston at a Union ship entering the harbour. Nowadays, the city is an attractive coastal town with a long promenade fronted by grand Georgian buildings.
On Wednesday morning we once again set off early in the monster truck towards a suitable spot for the cyclists to cycle from. The roads into Savannah were not at all conducive to good cycling, so in the end a 45 mile ride from Hampton to Hardeeville was planned. On the way to Hampton, we stopped for breakfast at a diner. The US immigration service should make foreign visitors aware on arrival of all the possible ways that an egg may be served, to save embarrassment for both customer and waitress. Earlier in the trip, Neil had been caught out by this issue when he asked for his egg to be “fried” – he got a withering look and was asked whether he wanted it sunny side up, easy over or on his face. This time it was my turn. Having ordered an egg and sausage muffin, I attempted not to repeat Neil’s mistake and asked for my egg to be sunny side up (I think this means they serve a fried egg with the yolk on the top; why you’d want it the other way up, I don’t know), but the waitress looked confused and asked me if I wanted it hard over or something equally baffling. I nodded to the first option and sank into a pit of simple-egged embarrassment.
Without wanting to sound like Ed and talk about food the whole time, my sandwich was served with cheddar grits. A grit is a bizarrely (though not entirely inappropriately) named dish served in the Southern states and is basically identical to porridge. The previous evening Alex had been served some with his restaurant meal and now I was being asked to eat it with my breakfast, except mine had been enhanced with cheese. Cheesey porridge is not a dish anybody should eat for breakfast.
Savannah, like Charleston, is a classy harbour town with a long sea front and oodles of history. If I may once again stray into the territory of food (if only to demonstrate to my parents that we don’t only eat fast food), we ate lunch in a little wrap café. We could choose any items off the menu, any meats, any salads, any dressings, anything, to put in our wraps. There were no complicated rules about what combinations I could make, they just made my wrap. What’s more, it came with a bag of crisps (or a pasta salad) and a bottomless drink from the soda fountains. A few minutes later, the welcoming couple brought our wraps right over to our table and even gave us advice on what to visit in Savannah. I find this kind of service so contrasting to typical operations in Britain, particularly with respect to soft drinks. British cafés, restaurants and bars will charge a fortune for a glass of Coke, whereas here the waiters fall over themselves to top up your glass every time you take a sip, they never flinch when someone orders tap water and sometimes they don’t even charge you for the soft drinks at all.
That evening we turned on the news to learn that a bridge had collapsed in Minnesota. Over the next two or three days, the rolling news stations covered literally nothing else, and continued to claim it was breaking news for nearly 24 hours. For the first 12 hours they reported a death toll far higher than the actual one, and repeatedly compared the bridge collapse with 9/11, while at the same time saying that there was no reason to suspect terrorism. At least when the steam pipe exploded in New York, filling Manhattan streets with debris and plumes of steam, it could’ve actually reminded people of the terrible scenes they’d witnessed in 2001. The reason the media reported for the bridge collapse being like the WTC attacks was that “there were emergency services everywhere”.
The following day we continued through Georgia to the town of Darien, just north of Brunswick. After heading to Wal-mart to take advantage of a tax-free weekend on selected items, we settled down to a quiet evening in the motel. On TV we watched a brilliant film called Little Miss Sunshine: I recommend it to everybody – it was the funniest thing I’d seen in ages. That was basically the most exciting thing that happened in the whole of Thursday, so I’ll move on…
We awoke early yesterday to violent thunderstorms and decided to go back to sleep as the cyclists weren’t going to get far in that weather. Apparently, the rain was the end of a long drought for Georgia, so pretty much everybody else was pleased to see it. For us, it meant that the conditions were far too dangerous for the cyclists (I could barely see other cars, the visibility was so poor) so the 75 mile journey across the border into the Sunshine State was made in the monster truck.
Appropriately, the rain eased and eventually stopped as we moved further into Florida to the city of Jacksonville. While returning the cyclists’ TomTom to a Radioshack store, the shop assistant pointed at my tee-shirt and told me that he had the tattoo. I looked down at my shirt, unsure which one I was wearing, only to find that it was the Yankees shirt I’d bought in NYC. I had to admit to the guy that I knew literally nothing about baseball and had just thought it was a cool tee-shirt.
We spent the afternoon and the evening doing wet weather activities (even though the weather had actually brightened up a little). First up, we played three games of ten-pin bowling. It was incredible to see the skills of some of the people playing in the lanes around us as we guttered the ball. We then went to the cinema to see The Simpsons Movie; highly recommended – the first half in particular was hilarious.
This morning I drove the cyclists to the coastal road, the A1A, so that they could cycle the 60-odd miles down to Daytona Beach. The scenery along the road was great, with palm trees swaying on one side and the Atlantic Ocean glistening on the other. Unfortunately, the sun was beating down temperatures in the low 90s Fahrenheit (mid-30s Celsius) which made the experience a little unpleasant for the cyclists. On the other hand, for me it was another opportunity to work on my trucker’s elbow; my left arm is now a significantly darker shade of brown than my right.
For the first time since our unforgettable experience in Flint, Michigan, we had not booked a motel in advance, so I drove along the coastal road through Daytona Beach with a book of motel vouchers and decided to try my luck at a Travelodge. As it happens, my luck was in as for $85 (about £8 each) we ended up with an enormous suite with two bathrooms, a bedroom, a lounge (with sofa bed for our fifth person), a kitchenette and a balcony with a sea view (if you lean over it and look left).
We all went for a swim in the sea (better waves than Myrtle Beach, but not as warm) and splashed for about an hour until Andy yelped after being stung by a jellyfish. Anybody who has seen the Friends episode ‘The One with the Jellyfish’ will be aware of the treatment for jellyfish stings, which Andy bravely performed on himself.
So anyway, that mammoth blog brings you right up to date. Tomorrow the cyclists are riding to near Orlando, then we’re driving back out to the coast to visit the Kennedy Space Center before spending three days with the attractions of Orlando. On 8th August we hope to see a space shuttle launch, though we won’t be surprised if it’s postponed again. Don’t forget to keep sponsoring the cyclists for the pain they’re going through and I promise to bring you Andy’s view of the trip so far in the next day or so.