The Trek Begins . . .
The afternoon was hot and muggy, with a nice layer of cloud. Walking is, well, walking. At first there was just the idea of what I was doing. That I had let my friends drive off, leaving me 120 miles from home. There was no quick escape should things go wrong. Captain Kirk had his communicator, and Scotty to beam him up. Today, we all have communicators, cell phones that can fit in our pocket. In 1974, the cell phone was scarcely more than a dream. If something went wrong, I was on my own.
The walk became steady. The first, frightening feelings slowly washed away. Like climbing the first hill of the roller coaster, and taking that first plunge, you then begin to settle into the ride. After a few miles, the air began to change. It took on a salt and sour, coastal water smell. The land began to open up a little bit, the trees not so dense. Ahead I could see a wide-open space. To my right was an inlet. One of the major inlets that marked this chunk of land as an island. A long, straight roadway bridge led across that finger of ocean and brine.
The air was still, and between the sun and brackish smell, I was starting to feel the heat of my first five miles with the pack on my back. I could see a small building ahead, maybe half a mile on the other side of the bridge. Perhaps a place to stop and take a little refreshment.
As I crossed the bridge, I thought about Marty. What a nice gal. I could see where she and Smed hit it off. I had learned that she lived in Monks Corner, a small town north and east of where I was, more or less on my way. A bit more east than I had originally planned, but it was close to main drags that lead toward home. Wouldn’t it be a hoot if I just popped up on her doorstep a few days into my quest?
Before I got off the bridge, the clouds had evaporated. The sun was beating down hard. The old building I could see ahead looked inviting. A place to sit down and crack open my canteen.
It wasn’t long before I reached the two-story structure. Old would be an understatement. Other than the two rusty gas pumps outside, there was little about it that spoke of the 20th century. There wasn’t a speck of paint on its dry, rotting timbers. The large main window said, in chipped and fading paint, “LOBECO, S.C.” There was light coming from within, so in I went.
Normally, when you walk inside on a hot spring day, you expect the soft feeling of conditioned air. At least, you expect it in the south. But the air inside this building was as warm and humid as outside. An old, tall, rusty, freestanding oscillating fan squeaked and cranked away noisily, slapping me with warm air as it passed by.
The place was a general store straight out of the past. Coveralls and tea cups, ice cream and shotgun shells, curtains and toilet parts, all packed in a room about 30 by 30. There was an old, beer-rounded guy behind the counter. The counter held an ancient, mechanical, big button, pop up numbers cash register, almost as if it was a prop from an old western movie. I half expected to see horses on a hitching post outside.
The old guy says, “Yu’re a long way from anywhere to be walkin’.” He spoke with a thick, low-country drawl, which is a little more slurred, but also a bit faster than the southern accents I am use to. I said, “Yeah. I’m hiking.” He replied, “Ya’d have ta be, ta be here without a car.” I ask if he has anything to drink, and he indicates a large cooler chest resting on the floor near the counter. I open it up. Beer, Pepsi and Orange Crush, all in the same box. The beer was in cans and bottles. The sodas were bottles only. I grabbed a Pepsi and paid him. Cha-Ching went the cash register.
I asked, “What’s the best way to Monks Corner?” “Monks Corner. Ya can’t get there from here.” I looked at him, puzzled. You can get anywhere from anywhere. I said, “What?” He smiled, “Son, yu’re in the middle of nowheres. Ya have ta go someplace else first.” Okay, I get it. Then he said, “Go ta Yemassee. From there head ta Walterboro. Ya can get ta Monks Corner from there. Go down the road a ways. Yu’ll come ta Gardens Center. Go left on US17. Real quick yu’ll come up on the Ol’ Sheldon Church Road on the right. Since yur walkin’, take it. It’ll save ya a few miles. Five miles or so on, yu’ll hit Yemassee. Just ask how ta get ta Walterboro from there.” I drank my Pepsi and thanked the old guy, shouldered my pack and continued down the road.
With the mainland now under my feet, and the estuary behind me, the open land was slowly overtaken by trees and heavy growth. As dusk was settling in, I came upon Gardens Center, which at the time was a sign and the spot where US21 intersected and merged with US17. I bore left, and after a short distance there was a small side road intersecting the main road. It was the Old Sheldon Church Road. The main drag, US17-US21, was a basic, well kept, marked, two-lane country highway. The Old Sheldon Church Road was an old, narrow, barely two-lane road. Trees laden with Spanish moss grew over its course. What was dusk on the main road turned into almost black on the old pave-way. I wasn’t going to be able to go much further, between my tired legs and the dark.
So right there, near the intersection of US17 and the Old Sheldon Church Road, more or less in Gardens Center, I walked into the woods and found a nice, flat spot. I pulled together some pine straw as padding, and set up my one man tent. The tent was little more than an expanded sleeping bag. The entrance was a triangle about three feet wide at the base, and two feet high at the apex. It was seven feet long, tapering down to a much smaller triangle. There was enough room to slide a sleeping bag into and store a thing or two. It would do fine to keep rain off, and with the mosquito net doors zipped, good for keeping critters out.
Once it was set up, I pulled up an old log for a chair, and pulled out my portable stove and cooked up some beef-a-roni. My tummy full, I carefully washed up my cookware, and then grabbed my roll of tp and snuck deeper into the woods to find a secure spot to take care of nature’s business. I brushed my teeth and washed my face and my private bits, and settled in for my first night, alone, in the middle of nowhere.