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  • Writer's pictureThomas Curran

Still in South Carolina – Sumter to Aiken

It took me 5 days to walk from downtown Sumter, SC to Aiken, SC and it was a pretty long, grueling walk physically speaking. But, along the way, I had a lot of fun and met some really great people and stayed with some amazing families and new friends.

Leaving Sumter was great the first 5 miles or so. The west side of Sumter is definitely the side of the Haves and not the Have Nots. Big, beautiful homes and parks greeted me as I walked out of town on a very large, almost 10 foot wide sidewalk. The weather was great and my body felt really good. I had music on, people waved and said hello and I was really getting into a groove that felt right. The road turned left and the sidewalk continued for quite awhile.

Around the 5 mile mark or so the weather started to sour a bit. We started getting some drizzle and that quickly turned to rain BUT – not to worry!! – I had my awesome bright red umbrella and was kind of excited to test out my umbrella holder on my cart. It worked beautifully! The only issue came when big trucks passed me but I quickly adjusted and figured out how to avoid creating a parachute effect and getting blown into the brush.

This was going to be a long day with my goal of making it to an abandoned ferry under a bridge about half way to Columbia where I would camp. It started to get VERY cold and the rain was pretty hard. I was on the 378 still and, suddenly, I lost my sidewalk and sadness creeped in. The road heading towards Columbia was mostly uphill. It wasn’t terribly steep but it was long, long, long uphill stretches in the rain and cold and I had no shoulder at all. Luckily the highway was 4 lanes so I was able to play nice with the cars and they mostly gave me plenty of room in the beginning. But as the weather got worse I decided to not play dodge car all day and just push Alexa on the grass/dirt shoulder. Uphill. In the rain. YUCK!! This truly sucked. This turned out to be my hardest physical day yet. We went for several miles this day…almost 22 or so.

We finally made it to the ferry where I was to camp only to have some major disappointment. First was the cold and wet land which was EVERYWHERE! Although we found a spot under the bridge that was relatively flat and dry, the metal bridge above us proved to be a problem for Wink. Every car that went over made a very loud banging sound and he barked out of fear and protection. Part of the problem with the bridge and road heading to Columbia was that it was all under construction and there were only 1 lane going each direction. I pushed Alexa and Wink back into the rain to look for a better spot only to be stopped by some construction workers who just wouldn’t let me pass due to safety concerns. So, I had to make a decision I didn’t want to make. I had to get some help forward.

I was planning on staying with Melissa Byrd the following night in Columbia. I called her and explained my predicament and she jumped in her car and came out to pick me up and take me to her house that night. So, I took my first help forward and was determined to make those miles up somehow. I know I’m not running a race or proving anything to anybody but the idea of getting forward help is just not part of the plan.

Melissa has 5 Bloodhounds and those are pretty awesome dogs although they always look incredibly sad!! She took me to do a bit of shopping at Walmart and then made me grilled chicken Caesar salad. So sweet of her. We did some laundry and crashed. We had another big day ahead of us! On the way out of her house she gave Wink two new coats! One for warmth and one for the rain.

We left Columbia the next morning which was February 20 without a clear goal in mind. This date was significant because it was the anniversary of the death of Ben Teach, the child of Liz and Todd Teach back home. On that day I was walking for Ben.

We didn’t have a place to stay but we had a few contacts that I hadn’t yet firmed up. So, we just walked in the direction of Aiken which was our goal town in several days time. It drizzled rain most of the day but it only slowed us down a bit. We stopped at several churches to shake off the water, eat snacks and figure out our sleeping plan for the night. I was finally able to reach a family in Lexington that was willing to meet us and, if they felt comfy, they would host me in their house or, at a minimum, let me set up my tent in their backyard.

It was about 2 miles from the Wall residence that we celebrated our 200th mile!! Boom! We took video after spray painting 200 on the street. I know…seems like a small distance compared to my next several months but it was a big milestone considering only a week and a half earlier I thought my journey was over.

Mile 200 baby!

I arrived at the Wall residence and met Joli, her husband Philip, daughters Sarah Grace and Emily. Their third daughter, Caroline, was gone for the night so we unfortunately didn’t get to meet. We became instant friends and they offered me a room in their beautiful big home. They had a big backyard so Wink ran around with their little dog and pretty much crashed early. Philip and I went to the store and picked up some groceries. Philip was going to make Beaufort Stew – sausage, corn, shrimp and potatoes boiled in a broth spiced with Old Bay. It was awesome and I ate so much!! Sarah Grace and Emily drew pictures in my guest book and Sarah Grace played and sang Somewhere Over The Rainbow on the Ukulele and she was really good!! Emily, the youngest, was a huge bundle of energy and super funny. Her pics in my book are awesome.

We left early the next morning knowing we were going to have a monster mile day. Our goal was Monetta – a town 26 miles away. It was around this day that I started getting some pains in my left shin. I had been doing some pretty big days so I just assumed it was fatigue. I was absolutely determined to make it to Monetta. No rain this day and it was overcast and cool so PERFECT walking weather!! Problem again today, like most days here in South Carolina – zero shoulders or sidewalks. So we had long miles, lots of dodge car and grass/dirt/mud walking.

At the start of my day we had no clue where we were going to sleep and Monetta is a very, very small town. There’s a big drive in theatre, oddly enough. It’s called the Big Mo and I guess it’s a pretty big deal in these parts. I messaged the owner to see if I could camp there but they said no. So I called Monetta city hall and they said I could camp there! Boom! Sleeping spot ready for me. We finally made it to Monetta at 5 pm with about 1 hour of light left. We set up camp, ate some dinner and crashed really early.

I met a lot of great people that day. I had a 10 minute conversation with a woman whose accent was so thick (and she was about 80 years old) that I didn’t understand a single word. She would ask me questions and I’d keep saying “California” or “Yeah, my dog is great” or “I’m walking”. Whatever. No clue what I was saying that stuff to but she didn’t seem to care. She gave me $20 and I think she said God Bless. Another guy pulled over and gave me $20 and told me to go to the only market in Monetta, ask for the owner Gail, and tell her that he said there are 3 things that are great about Monetta – Big Mo, Peaches and the prettiest girls in the world and that she is the prettiest of them all. So, for $20, I became a messenger pigeon.

The next morning we woke up very early and set out before the sun came up. I stopped at the market to deliver my message but Gail was not there so I wrote it down and left it for her. I bought some Slim Jims – me and Wink’s fav snack – a bunch of water and hit the road. My shin was on fire. Fire. That means it hurt like hell from the get go and I was planning a 23 mile day. Guess what – didn’t make it. My shin was swelling pretty quickly and it was very red and a little bit of what looked like bruising. I pulled out my insta ice packs and walked with them strapped to my leg all day. It was the first time I dipped into some of my more aggressive pain killers I brought with me. Kinda worked but not really. At mile 17 I was done. I was 6 miles away from my destination host family and called for some help. They had already offered to pick me up anywhere and deposit me back there the next day.

Joel and Tammy Hanson have a RAD ranch. Joel picked me up in his truck and we made it to his place in a manner of minutes. Wink was beside himself. We pulled up to the gate and he saw horses, mini horses, donkeys, dogs, goats and lots of land! We unloaded and Wink was off. They had two dogs – Rags and Chili. Rags, the “puppy” was Wink’s new buddy. Chili wasn’t having any of it. Wink and Rags spent the next two days wrestling and biting eachother’s ears and slobbering all over the place. Chili growled and barked disapproval of the new dog in town but eventually got over it.

We ended up staying 2 nights at the Hanson Ranch. They had some friends over for drinks and apps on the second night and it was nice to enjoy some worldly conversation with them. Tammy is British as was one of the friends while the other was German. It was really great to talk about American politics with three foreigners (although they’ve lived here a long time they still travel home and have friends abroad to add to the conversation).

On our last day we had some fun hooking up one of the mini horses to Alexa (that’s the name of my cart if you haven’t figured that out yet) and I climbed inside Alexa to play with my new horse drawn carriage. Pretty funny. We left fairly early knowing we had a pretty short day ahead of us. I needed to make up the 6 miles from where Joel picked me up and then about 5 more to our next host house with Jenn and Terrie Krauss.

Back up to day one in Aiken and my visit to Woods Farm Market and Flanigan’s Ice Cream Shop. Woods Farm Market is the brilliant idea Pamela Ely and she built it herself. She started out a few years ago on this property under a tent selling local produce and such. She ended up leasing the land and building the market and it is incredible. All local produce, meats, sausage, cheese, raw milk, canned and jarred goods, gifts, wood craft and on and on. Pamela, a former paralegal, decided that life in a cool little market supporting local farmers was her calling and I’m happy she did. Jenn and Terrie Krauss were a huge help from day one in Aiken. They carted me around, helped me run errands and I ended up crashing at their place a few nights.

I was only planning on one night at their house but Holden called and asked me to go to Atlanta with him to see a concert so that required 2 more days off. Worth it. Time with Holden is golden so I’ll take what I can get and when I can get it!

Holden picked me up on Tuesday and we drove to Atlanta to see Pinegrove and the show was really good. We stopped at a great coffee place called Muchacho and visited a few neighborhoods that were interesting. I have not been in a bar where smoking is allowed in many, many years but, in ATL, no law against it! So weird! We ate some pretty good pizza and headed to the show. The venue is called the Masquerade with three different venues inside on different levels. The three venues are called Heaven, Purgatory and Hell. Pinegrove played in Hell and it was an insanely great place to see music. The sound was incredible and the beers weren’t too expensive! We drove back to Aiken that night and got a cheap hotel. Holden had to get back to Charleston fairly early because he had to pack his whole house because he was moving to Asheville the next day. Love procrastination!!

Some other fun moments in Aiken – I was in the local paper and the day it came out I was quite the talk of the town! I was sitting outside a place called Tailgate Tavern and a guy saw me and bought me a beer and then someone picked up my whole food tab! Several people came up to say hello and tell me they saw me in the paper. I told our story so many times that day!! I had some pretty amazing vegan nachos that Jenn made me for dinner and seriously one of the BEST breakfast egg and sausage sandwiches that she made me and Terrie one morning. I ate at Tako Sushi – a small chain in this area that has really good Mexican and Sushi! Weird combo but it works!

As I say good bye to all of my friends I’ve met in South Carolina, I look forward to crossing the border into Georgia tomorrow as I head to Augusta. Keep watching and keep reading….more stories coming soon!!

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