To Bethune SC 119km
To Kingstree 116km
To James Island 135km
Before I left Winston Salem, I prepared all my warm weather, dry gear. I changed the lenses in my cycling glasses to the darkest shade. I was expecting to be moving into warm, dry sunny areas. Instead, I left in heaving rain, and have been wet every day since.
The rain is not conducive to comfortable camping, and as I'm cycling a little traveled route, along very quiet, narrow country roads, there are very few Warmshowers Hosts. I have needed to resort to "Option III". Almost every town has a Fire/Ambulance base, and the volunteers and permanent staff have been incredibly welcoming. Mostly I am given the run of the station. Often I am offered beds, always food, a shower, and best of all, company. I'm pretty much over long nights alone in my tent.
At some stage during the evening, I get to tell my story. Initially it is received with a little disbelief, or lack of understanding. That's when I bring out my "progress" map, and show them where I've slept for the last 720 nights, where I started, how many countries I've passed through, and where I'm expecting to go before heading back to NZ. That's when the jaws really drop. Suddenly, I'm raised upon a pedestal, somewhere I'm not comfortable standing, and phones and texts start flying. Families and off duty members start turning up. My visit seems to have quite a bit of "Wow" factor. I try to bring my exalted status back closer to normal by explaining that "I'm just an ordinary, but slightly crazy, old man, with an exceptionally understanding wife, who is attempting to cycle an average of 60km a day, for two and a half years." I also tell them that in reality, they are the hero's. They're the ones who drop everything at the beep of a pager, wife, kids, work, meals, sleep, and head out into the unknown, because someone, they don't even know, is in distress or danger.
But the best part is when the excitement settles, and I get to chat to these "ordinary" Americans.
One guy explained to me why he wears a sidearm whenever he leaves his house. "There are bad guys out there. They might confront me at anytime. Should my wife and children be with me, I need to be able to protect them. If either my wife or children were injured in any way, because I didn't have my firearm with me, I would not be able to forgive myself."
Another guy knows NZ only as the place where Bert Munro comes from. He has a "motorsickle", and has watched "The Fastest Indian" five times. He doesn't ride his bike much these days, as "It's not too family friendly." A young fellah knows NZ because some of his hero's come from there. Works out this fellah and I have hero's in common..... Sir Ed Hillary, Rob Hall, and Mark Inglis. His dream is to visit Mt Everest. He almost cries when I show him photos from our cycle trip to Tibet's Base Camp.
I meet a young 19 year old female. She is very proud that she has almost paid off her mortgage for her own house, and has almost finished refurbishing it. She has all sorts of plans for further study, new businesses, and travel.
Sam, is retired. He was once in the US Navy, until he was seriously injured my an exploding mine. Then he became a Forestry Commission Firefighter, and fought fires all over the south of the USA. Now he is the grandfather/mentor to a whole new generation of young firefighters and EMT's. His passion is collecting shoulder patches from Fire and EMT units. He has none from outside the USA. How about we change that? I know many Firefighters and EMT's. Can we get a bunch of shoulder patches together to send to Sam? Let Juliet or me know.
Another young lady, she looks about 17, tells me she has a three year old, and is pregnant again, but her passion is being a member of the local volunteer fire brigade. She turns up to every call out, and practice, and tonight is helping redecorate the new fire station.
The wife of one of the permanent staff, he is a Firefighter and EMT, is very excited to meet me, and hear my story. She asks me to visit her kids school tomorrow. Okay. The visit is a treat. About 40 eleven to thirteen year olds. We have a great time. I tell my story, and they ask intelligent questions. Young "Johnny" is in the front row..... " If ya'll going to Florida, my Granmammy lives there. Sh'all put ya'll up and feed ya'll. And I've got Ants in Georgia. Just tell them "Butter" sent ya'll, and ya'll be welcome.
They all know me there".
I met Ian, the Chiefs son. He is six years old. He "whipped" me at volleyball, soccer and tic tac toe. I asked him whether he was going to be a Firefighter when he grew up. "Nope. I'm going to be an EMT, a Policeman, a Fireman and a Soldier".
Last night I was invited to play cards with the duty crew. Somehow they managed to not have any call outs until I had won the game, and gone to bed. Then they spent most the rest of the night out being hero's. Simple "thank yous" don't seem to be enough.