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  • Thomas Curran

Aiken to Athens, SC to GA

After a 4 day break in Aiken to let some pain in my shins subside, I hit the road with Georgia on my mind! I could taste my first state border crossing and, although it was further than I wanted to walk that day, I wanted it and I was gonna get it! We played in the rain most of the day and the highway was not awesome. On and off shoulders, wet grassy shoulders and wind at times but Augusta was not too far. I could see the Savannah river on my map at all times that day. I kept my GPS zoomed out so I could see that border.

About an hour or so before the border a guy called me over to a parking lot and said that he had seen me in Aiken at the New Moon Cafe and he was back and forth between Aiken and Augusta, saw me walking and wanted to chat. His name was Ron. Nice guy. Gave me some human and dog treats and off I went.

When I made it to the bridge that spans the Savannah River which, in the dead center, marks the official Georgia border line, I realized this was not going to be easy. I wanted to do a FB live for my crossing and I knew it was gonna be rough for people to see what I was about to cross. The bridge was pretty long, there was quite a bit of traffic, there was no sidewalk on the bridge, it was raining and the shoulder was about 1/2 the width of Alexa. Crap. This was gonna suck a bit.

I fired up my facebook app and started the live feed. Quite a few people were online with me. I turned the camera around and tackled the bridge. It was HAIRY!!! In hindsite I probably shouldn’t have done the FB feed…no reason to worry folks by watching this but what the hell. We made it across the border in one piece and I was super excited. That was a really big deal. We were pretty tired and entering Augusta which is NOT a camp friendly environment – at least where I was.

We walked into downtown Augusta to figure out where to sleep. Interestingly, as we were walking down Broad Street, I saw a New Moon Cafe! Same as the one in Aiken. So, to get out of the rain, we stopped in and there was Ron! How weird to see him twice in one day. We had some food and a hot chocolate and sat on the patio. That’s where I met Madison Ryan. She runs marketing and social media for New Moon and she came out and did an impromptu interview for their media pages. She was super cool and gave me a travel mug and t-shirt. We decided to stay at the Holiday Inn about a mile away. Def needed some good sleep. I think we crashed by 8 after a very hot bath.

The next day we decided to vacate Augusta. I was really wanting to get some good miles in since I had had two pretty significant breaks due to my ankle and shins. My body felt good and I wanted to jam. Augusta was rough on us. It was raining but not cold. Our route took us through some rough areas and, those that weren’t too bad, were all under construction so sidewalks and shoulders in the city were non-existent. We were curb hopping from parking lot to parking lot pretty much the whole way through the city. But we did see a really creepy swimming pool right on the side of the road next to a big creek. OK – so there’s this BIG pool filled with greenish brown water and a very old diving board just a foot or so from the sidewalk. Algae and weeds and old trees all around it. And next to the creek was this thing that looked like an outhouse with a pipe coming out the side of it. Water was pouring out of that pipe and there was a line of people waiting to fill their water jugs with that water. Huh? Is that just an open well for people or is it creek water being pumped? I watched for awhile and I never saw anybody turn a crank to shut the water off or anything. It just poured out of this big white pipe. I didn’t take a pic of it because I didn’t want to offend the people using it. I’ll have to investigate where that water comes from. Especially with that weird pool right next to it. No thanks.

As I was finally on edge of the city I called Brett and Adam and we were having a fun conversation when Alexa decided to snap. Just walking along and my front tire fell off. WTF?? I hung up with the guys to discover my front axle broken. No, I do not have a spare front wheel or spare axle. I was about 1 1/2 miles from my destination with no front wheel in the rain. I almost laughed at the position I was in. So, I called a few bike shops and one said it was an easy fix but they were closing soon and couldn’t help me till the next day at 9 am. And they were 8 miles behind me…pretty much where I started that day. OK. I got this. I’m self sufficient and I can problem solve!! I tilted Alexa on her back wheels, made a hotel reservation and walked that last mile and a half on two wheels. Once I figured out the balance point it wasn’t too bad. If I didn’t look homeless before, I certainly did now!! I rolled into the hotel and the lady behind the counter had no clue what to do with the mess that just walked in. Either way, we were in a hotel and we could figure it out tomorrow.

We cleaned up and went to a bar and grill near the hotel. I ordered a burger and a big beer and some grilled chicken for Wink and struck up a conversation with the table next to me. They all worked at a local Harley shop and “Duck”, the guy I talked to the most, picked up my tab! He also offered to help me get Alexa fixed at his shop if the bike place didn’t work out. What a great guy. Back to the hotel and sleep.

Next morning I took an Uber to the bike shop which was on Holden Street! Guy was great. Took 5 minutes to put on a new axle and he gave me a spare. I was back at the hotel by 9 am. (He opened early for me) and we were on the road by 9:30 headed to….??

This was going to be a day of “where do we sleep tonight?”. On my google map there was a veterans place about 12 miles out. I figured I could ask them if I could camp out but, when I arrived at where my map sent me, there was a big gate and it was closed. So, back to google maps, I decided to go an additional 12 miles or so to a town called Thomson. Not happy about the add on miles I powered forward but, about 1/4 mile later, some guy from across the road whistled at me and asked if I was hungry. I said, “Yeah, I really am!”. He said, “Get down here and eat with us!”. So, down the dirt road I went and guess what was down there? The VFW Post – Veterans of Foreign Wars. My google map was wrong!! I found it! This place was awesome! Huge property with a lake and a bar and about 20 or so vets and some family members hanging around, drinking beers and eating fried fish, fried chicken, hush puppies and all the fixins. We ate a ton of food and they said I could camp there that night. So I had several more beers! Mark and Mindy run the place and Mark was the one that whistled me over. Mindy ran the bar. Everyone there was so nice to us and Wink had good time. We finally set up our tent and hit the bed around 8. We set up right next to the lake and it was perfect. Right before bed I asked if there was anything I needed to worry about and they said to keep an eye out for the gators that sometimes like to come out of the lake at night. WHAT??? Laughter. Ha Ha. These guys were really funny, weren’t they? They said the only thing out there were lots of frogs and they’re loud at night. And they were right about that.

We left Harlem VFW early. The weather was not good and it was going to get way worse. I had about 6 hours before it was going to dump on us. We started up the highway and, about 3 miles into the day, is where we crossed our 300 mile marker!! Quick celebration video and off we went. Our goal was Thomson and pronto! We had a safe place to camp in someone’s backyard but shortly after we left the VFW we got multiple tornado alerts for exactly where we were and all over Georgia and Alabama. No tent for this guy. The rain started coming down and the clouds got real dark, real quick. I was booking it towards Thomson. I made a res at a little place and got my butt inside. Within a few minutes the tornadoes started touching down. I was watching the news and it was horrible. Lots of people in Alabama had died and several tornadoes touched down about 30 miles from where we were. The rain was unbelievable. For about 20 minutes it rained harder than I have ever seen rain come down. I shot a video of it but it just doesn’t do it justice. Wink was crashed out so he didn’t care. I did some laundry and got my tent all dry from the night before. Then I woke Wink up and forced him into the tub. He was pretty smelly. Have I told you how much he HATES taking a bath? So, that was fun. I treated myself to a few snack sized snickers and crashed.

The next day was going to test me quite a bit. It was brutally cold and the forecast was low-mid 20s for the next three nights. OK…here we go. We’re gonna test this 0 degree sleeping bag I got! We walked 23 miles that day so we could make it to the VFW post in Washington. The sun was out for several hours that morning despite the cold temps. The sun felt so close to us and the position of the sun and the terrain made for some really cool shadow photos. We stopped often to take pics so I’ll share them here! We made pretty good time and got there about an hour before the sun went down. Del, the commander of the post, was also a sheriff so I felt pretty safe. We didn’t socialize much. I had a few beers with them and set up my tent. Forecast was 29 degrees that night and a bit of rain. Around 9 someone from the bar came out to tell me that they were all leaving and that I should be fine but that if anybody did bother me I could shoot them if i needed to protect myself because the sheriff was the commander and I’d be ok. Um. Huh? Was this place going to be a problem? Then he laughed and said he was just joking.

It started raining around 1 am and lasted a few hours. Then the freeze started and it was cold. My air pad has failed and I won’t be able to get a new one until Atlanta so the ground is a few layers below me without a good gap and that kinda sucks. Especially on freezing nights. I set my alarm for 5:30. Yuck. But there was a bus stop pretty close to me and I wanted to be out of there before kids started to arrive. It was dark when the alarm went off and I was pretty cold when I rolled out of my sleeping bag. I was really warm inside of it but the second that zipper opened up I was damn cold. I unzipped the door on my tent then unzipped the fly. (Reference – my tent has two layers – the tent itself which has a mesh top on it for cool/warm nights/no rain and then a fly which is like a tent over the tent that is water proof and creates a small barrier between itself and the tent. It keeps water and wind out and helps warm the tent up by keeping body heat in) Now, normally, the door to the tent and fly just fall down when they’re eunzipped because they’re light fabric and nothing is holding them up but the zipper. The tent door was normal but the fly door didn’t move. The fly over my tent was a solid sheet of ice. I was inside an igloo! It was crazy! I had to push the fly door to open it and it swung in one big piece just like a normal door would! I climbed out and, although I was freezing my ass off, it was pretty crazy and cool to see my tent and Alexa completely covered in ice. The wheels on Alexa were frozen as was my water and food.

So, I chipped away at the ice on Alexa so she would roll. What’s nice about the ice on the tent vs. water is that I was able to just grab the fly after releasing it from the stakes and shake it really hard and the ice popped off! So my fly was relatively dry which was great! We cleaned up the site and went over to the VFW building patio and made coffee.

So, with that in mind, the next night was looking to be very interesting. Here’s the deal – I was in Washington, GA. Athens was 47 miles away. No way I could do that in one day. Sorry, just not that guy. The ONLY civilization between the two was a town called Lexington and, directly next to it was a town called Crawford. The sheriff who helped the previous day said he would try to find me a place to camp in Lexington which was about 27 miles away. I asked if there was any public land in that direction and he said no. So, it was below freezing and I had no camp options for at least 27 miles and that’s assuming he found me a place in Lexington. OK…27 miles it is then! We were moving really well that day. I felt good. I was cold but I’ve learned how to layer better so I can manage the cold vs. body heat/sweating/wet clothes. Sidebar – you sweat a lot when you walk. A lot. Cold or hot outside you sweat. If it’s cold, that’s not good because your clothes are moist from sweat and then your clothes are super cold. So I wear layers of shirts and jackets that wick moisture quickly. My two outer layers have zippered fronts so open then close then open then close. Open let’s cool air in so I don’t sweat so much then close them up when I get cold. When I start to warm up, open them up to cool down. It’s like that all day. Same with hats and gloves. They get sweaty wet then I have to change them. Guess what I’m buying today in Athens – new beanies and gloves. Mine are worked.

I hadn’t heard back from the sheriff and it was getting late in the day and windy. And cold. You knew that it was cold, right? I was about 5 miles from Lexington with no place to sleep. It was about 3:30 or so. And it was cold. And windy. So, I called my mom to help me out. I couldn’t take the time to stop and look for a place to stay so I asked her to do that for me. There was 1 hotel in Lexington and it was more of a super wealthy plantation type resort hotel for $200. No. But there was a place called the Chicken Coop B&B. I asked her to call and look into it for me. She called me back and said that Sonja, who answered the phone, was very sweet and they did have space. She said I should call her. So, I talked to Sonja and she was very nice. She said she would have a snack and cocoa ready for me when I arrived. I was barely going to make it by sundown. And it was cold. And windy. I plugged the address into Google maps and that’s when I realized it was in Crawford, not Lexington…5-6 miles further than my original plan of 27. OK…so 32 miles it is!! Let’s go Wink!

Wow. That was a big day for us. We made it to the BB with zero energy left. Sonja was there with her grandson Kory. He was 6 and was so excited to have company and a dog. He followed us everywhere and never stopped telling me stories. He was a bundle of energy! I had some hot cocoa – homemade BTW – and sat with them. Then it was bath time. While I was taking a hot bath Kory knocked on my door a few times to ask when I’d be done. It was pretty funny. This place was a house that had a mother in law suite built on several years before. I was the only guest there and there was only room for one family/guest. I came out and helped Kory with his homework. That was nice. I remember Holden at that age. He was a nice kid. Then Sonja fed me a giant baked potato, bread and a salad. We talked a lot about her family and mine and what we were up to and why. She told me she was going to have a big breakfast for me the next day.

NO LIE there!! Holy moly. I came out to a platter, a whole platter, of homemade biscuits, fried chicken, gravy, grits, scrambled eggs and fig jam with hot coffe and orange mango juice. All for me. Nobody else. It was enough food for a family and it was all mine! I ate a ton and took the rest with me for lunch and Wink. It was awesome!! The little place was old fashioned and perfect. I was so happy that I didn’t have to camp out! We packed up, signed each other’s guest books, said our good bye’s and hit the road to Athens. After a 32 mile day I was looking forward to only 15 or so.

The day turned out to be very easy and 17 miles to the house. I was Couchsurfing at a graduate student’s house real close to downtown. That’s where I am right now. I decided to take a day off here in Athens and see the town and rest a bit. David offered his place for two nights. So cool. I had drinks and dinner last night with a girl named Jessica who is a local that I met online. That was a lot of fun. We went to a place called Sister Louisa’s which the locals call The Church. Very cool place. We then went to a bar called Manhattan and then a place called The Globe for a bite to eat. I loved getting a small tour of downtown from a local and learning about Athens.

Wink and I are off today. We’re heading back to downtown to walk around and see the town during the day.

I must say that I believe I have found my groove. It’s taken me awhile. I’ve adjusted everything a hundred times to find what works for me – my clothes, my gear, the way my cart is packed, how i manage power and my phone during the walk, how I talk to people. Everything just had to get mushed around a lot till it was comfy. I think I’m there. Tomorrow we will leave Athens and head towards Monroe then Snellville then into Atlanta. Tomorrow we will cross our 400 mile marker. That’s pretty damn cool.

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© 2020 by Thomas Curran

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