Free Wheelin’ Magazine, March 2011

Free Wheelin’ Magazine, March 2011

Published for Southern Bicycle League

Charleston on Tour – Bike Tour That Is

By Eileen Robinson Smith

As you know the world looks different from the seat of a bicycle. It was my mode of transportation as a kid, it was the horse I didn’t have; it was my independence. Over the decades I had happily straddled a bicycle during my travels, but, admittedly, I hadn’t been on a bike hike since childhood.

As a means of introduction, I am a freelance journalist and a veteran writer for Fodor’s Guides (19 years). I have done the guide for Charleston (SC) over the years, as I have the pleasure and privilege of living in our fair city.

While conceptualizing his new enterprise, Charleston Bicycle Tours, Alex Graham invited me on a bike hike in the hope that I would be sufficiently impressed to include the adventure in our sports section. (I did.)

I found that Charleston looks even more enchanting from a bicyclist’s perspective, with your feet off the ground. I met Alex and his affable wife Karen, at White Point Gardens, downtown at The Battery. This park, shaded by our revered live oaks, bearded in Spanish moss, overlooks our storied harbor and the adjacent blocks with homes that can be centuries old. Many qualify as mansions, all are enviable. Alex’s commentary about the area’s history was both knowledgeable and entertaining…spiced with preternatural tales and gossip from past centuries. He has braggin’ rights in that he is an 11th generation South Carolinian, a licensed tour guide and a colorful story teller in the southern tradition. On a Saturday morning, when the streets were quiet, we began our ride though the city’s most desirable and historic neighborhoods. We took safe streets and alleys less-traveled by the random foot-tourist. As it was a Saturday, we made a pit stop at the Farmers’ Market in Marion Square, a simple joy always. The produce vendors range from African-American farmers to earthy, organic food types. The acoustic guitarists singing classic folk songs add to the flavor and conviviality.

We then tooled around the Citadel campus outpacing a parade of cadets. It could have been a page from a Pat Conroy novel, but in this day in time females do the marching, too. For the uninitiated, The Citadel is the celebrated military college for our honorable state, Conroy is South Carolina’s famed author (Prince of Tides, etc.) who graduated from the Citadel as did Alex. As they were both there at the same time, we were titillated by the inside scoop on what Pat had done to at least one professor.

Nearby Hampton Park is a “good ride.” In the late 1700s it boasted a mile-long circular race track, the outline of which still exists. Horses then, horses now, and we cruised past the stables for Charleston’s mounted police, calling an enticing, “Here boy, here!” to a muscular Morgan.

When we reached the base of Charleston’s latest landmark, the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge, this soaring suspension bridge was more than a little intimidating. I had mentally been gearing up for it, trying to remember my Little Engine Who Thinks She Can chant…”I think I can, I think I can.” I did it!

I felt so female macho when I made it to the other side – the other side being the fashionable suburb of Mount Peasant! During the ascent, the water views were unrivaled and the variety of boat traffic fascinating, from fishing skiffs to container and cruise ships. On the descent you had a good bead on the popular visitor attraction, the USS Yorktown, an aircraft carrier from WW11.

Next we pedaled around the new Mt. Pleasant Waterfront Park, where I had never ventured before. The town has done a fine job, for it has piers, bike paths and boardwalks. The surprise was the sign that warned of coyotes! Had we ridden so far than we had made it to Montana? Alex explained that coyotes, like many “transplants,” had migrated from the northeast to southern coastal states to “cull” our white-tailed deer population.

We explored other Mt. P’ neighborhoods that fringed the water and the town’s Old Village. A delightful bit of Americana, with brick buildings trimmed in green ivy, mothers pushing baby carriages down to the harbor, and more majestic live oaks providing shade. Bike life was good, the pace comfortable, it was an active relax, if you will.

Destination Fort Moultrie was our next goal. We crossed over to Sullivan’s Island, a favorite coastal isle, it’s classy, old school, beachy, unpretentious. Why don’t I live here I thought?

The fort remnants date back to the Revolutionary War, but its visitors’ center, is a contemporary structure with a “screening room,” where we viewed the clever video that details the fort’s history. Fort Moultrie served our country in several wars, right up until the 1940s when spotters would watch for German submarines. In the ante-room of the center were mannequins dressed in uniforms from the various eras…up to the Waves’ navy blue with sturdy, utilitarian shoes. For the uninitiated, the Waves were the women’s branch of the Navy, initiated in the 1940s for World War 11.

And finally we broke for lunch at a popular Sully’s Island watering hole. I gave the kickstand a whack and put my helmet under my arm in a slightly militaristic mode. I felt like an Indian scout who was tying up his pony, head held high, after a job well-done.

Eileen Robinson Smith is a travel writer and former editor of Charleston magazine, and a veteran contributor for Fodor’s Guides (19 years). She has written features for travel magazines like Caribbean Travel & Life, Conde Nast Traveler, Delta’s SKY and American Eagle’s Latitudes.

Posted: June 23rd, 2011 under articles.

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164 Market St Ste 104, Charleston, SC 29401, Phone: 1-800-408-1830 or 843-881-9878
            alex@charlestonbicycletours.com    www.charlestonbicycletours.com