Timmy Finch joined 4 friends and rode from pizza parlor pizza parlor, 228 miles apart.
On Saturday April 20, 2019, four of my friends (Nick D’Allesandro, Myles Lietzke, Bo Keller and Jason Layne) and I rode, essentially, across the state of South Carolina. This is not my first time riding across the state (as a SC bike accident attorney at Bike Law, I did so as part of the Palmetto Cycling Coalition’s rolling bike advocacy summit in 2014), but this is the first time I did it on one day. We started in Greenville at the D’Allesandro’s Pizza (D’Al’s) and ended at the D’Allesandro’s Pizza in Charleston — 228 miles apart. Why? We may have done it for the adventure, maybe for fun, or to celebrate life on the bike. Who knows, really. For each of us it was the longest single day ride we had done. We had no idea what to expect and no other expectations than to finish it and that was not guaranteed. I am not sure if it was “epic,” but it sure was something.
Our departure from Charleston the day before the ride was hampered by a stormfront that was ripping across the state from southwest to northeast. If we left on time, we would have been in the path of tornadoes right around Orangeburg as we made out way northwest. When we heard about a tractor trailer getting blown over in North Charleston, we decided it best to wait out the storm. The Bike Law van is a sturdy beast, but susceptible to cross winds.
Loaded and ready, we hit the road after the storm passed. Traffic was light on the interstate for the three-plus hour drive. We traded stories of rides and races done while optimistically “planning” the next day and counting on favorable weather. The forecast looked good for a tailwind or at least cross-tail for most of our ride. We broke the ride up into digestible mental bits; Greenville to The Sumter National Forest near Clinton, SC; The Forest to Columbia (where a lunch stop was planned); Columbia to Holly Hill, SC; and Entering Goose Creek, SC, which was close enough that we assumed that adrenaline would carry us the rest of the way no matter how hard it had been or how tired we were.
At the Greenville D’Al’s we met Kay Lehman our friend and volunteer support driver of the Bike Law van. We fueled up on #pizzawatts and beer. The food and company made us warm, but it was starting to get cold and the wind was no joke. Off to bed, or a couch, or the floor to sleep.
As my father is fond of saying, “five o’clock comes awfully early.” Yep. Up and dressed to get to Waffle House for a pre-ride meal before the sun came up. We had to be ready to leave at first light. After an All Star breakfast it was back to D’Al’s for the official start; a quick photo and a brisk roll out.
Leaving Greenville via a direct, safe route is not easy. We spent a lot of time tacking through neighborhoods and even the Greenville Mall parking lot to get where we needed to be as safely as possible. This is not to say that there are no good cycling facilities or infrastructure in Greenville, because for in-town transit by bike and supporting trials, the city is leading the state. But to get where we needed to go, it was an effort that showed that a direct route out of the city was still lacking.
Once out of town, car traffic was light and that was good because our focus was getting up and over the hills before reaching the promised “extended downhill” towards the coast. It was cold and windy and not in a good way. The roads were in fairly good shape and our journey past Simpsonville and Woodruff were thankfully uneventful except for the rain. [Unplanned] rest stop number one — a lonely gas station near Enoree, SC — gave us a chance to sort out clothing and food and chamois cream. It was quick because the longer we stood, the colder we got.
We rolled on, steadily sharing the work and chatting on our slightly southeasterly path. The wind swirled giving us a tail wind, a cross wind, and a head wind whenever it wanted. The rain came and went and came, again. As car traffic picked up, we were glad to have Kay and the van shielding us from passing cars as the roads were not designed for sharing. We plodded along through the mostly rural roads near Clinton, Whitmire, Cross Anchor, and Cross Keys. Stopping in Pomaria for [unplanned] rest stop number two we had a chance to refuel and consider how far we’d come and how we had to go; a fair amount and a long way, respectively.
I’m pretty sure that none of us had ever been to Pomaria. The wind and rain notwithstanding, the roads that took us there and away were pretty nice. I would like to ride them again in the warm sunshine. It was about then that I decided that if we do this again, we must approach the start like a NASA launch; If the weather is not perfect, we abort. But when you’re riding, the weather is what it is. Once you’re wet, you’re wet. No sense complaining. Back on the bike.
The next stop was our second big rendezvous of the day; Columbia. The temptation to give in to hunger and stop before we got there was overridden by a desire to check off the “halfway” mark as we sat and ate Mexican food and drank a Mexican beer. But before we could do that, we had to tackle the steepest hills I had seen since Moving from Seattle; one after another until we plopped into downtown.
The rain started again. Once inside the shelter of the restaurant, I couldn’t help but look around at everyone else there and think about how delightfully ordinary their days were going to be — or at least I imagined them to be. I thought about how other people had likely ridden bikes from Columbia to Charleston but likely not starting those rides at almost 3:00 p.m. nor after a prelude through the western half of the state.
Stopping started to seem like an option. Secretly, each of us was thinking about calling it a day and getting into the van for a short ride (by automobile) home to the sunshine and wind, but no one said a word to betray our goal. We collectively found out about our self-mutiny at an unplanned rest stop a bit further down the road and too close to home to throw in the towel.
Columbia was delivering Seattle weather and it called for Seattle antics. Off to Starbuck’s for a coffee before we rolled out into the rain. Out of Columbia, and away from honking horns and yelling drivers, we rambled on to US 176 which would be our companion until we reached the roads closer to home. We rode 176 — a steady stretch of almost dead-straight road through Sandy Run and edging past St. Matthews — before we took a break at another unplanned, but no less welcome, rest stop in Cameron, SC. There, in the front yard of a church, we checked the time and the remaining mileage and hoped to make it back before dark. The roads and the rural setting were still plenty nice, if the wind and rain were not, but the number of grumpy drivers along with the size and sonic force of the their vehicles increased regularly. We were lucky and happy to have the van behind us.
From Cameron we stayed on 176 and barreled, as best we could, through Providence and Wells. The roads were in the condition to be expected for a state that spends precious little on infrastructure, giving us plenty of opportunity to yell “hole” as the terrain flattened out. By the time we reached Holly Hill, our thoughts were no longer about enjoying what we had left of the ride, but with dispensing with it as soon as possible. It was starting to get dark and there wasn’t enough ibuprofen to fix everything. “Home” was calling.
Somehow Goose Creek, SC appeared faster than it seemed it should have, but that could have been due to delirium. One last unplanned stop and we were back into the stream of cars that were filling the town on a Saturday night. The potholes and manholes toward the right of the lane kept us vigilant and yelling and swerving in the dark. The van’s lights were helpful but often blocked by the zigging and zagging of the riders in front of them.
We were a sight for the locals. A man waiting to turn left, and thankfully yielding to our illuminated caterpillar of a paceline, yelled “What the hell?” Exactly what we’d been thinking all day.
An eventual right turn put us on the path toward home. On an “outer space” dark boulevard in between towns, we pedalled in our tiny cone of light until we reached Hanahan and then North Charleston where the street lights welcomed us. From there it was a dash through the streets we knew well enough to debate their varying degrees of debris and choose a final route “home.” It was dark, but the rain was gone and the wind didn’t feel like bothering anyone anymore.
It felt good to be back. Night riding with friends, as tired as we were, is always a rush.
Before you knew it, it was “two more,” then “one more” turn and we were there. In the street ahead were relieved family and friends. They cheered. We coasted and called it a day. As much fun as it always is to ride, it was glorious to stop. We made it. Pizza and beer never tasted so good.
It was a great day. We stayed together. We looked after each other. We had great support. Amazingly, we didn’t have one flat or mechanical. It was the hardest physical effort I have ever produced. It was fantastic.