Beginning of the Waccamaw Neck Bikeway, early into the all-day rain
When you find yourself shivering and drenched at the Harley-Davidson store in Myrtle Beach during Bike Week and no one wants to help you, so you pull back out onto the highway and Dee spots the Greenway, just to your left, so you start pedaling madly and the rain comes down still harder — all you can do is laugh. Which we did, madly, for a few blocks.
But I’m getting ahead of myself, so I’ll start at the beginning. Our host Paul rose early at our Airbnb this morning to brew us some coffee. He opened his garage for us to get our bikes and yikes, my back tire was flat. He watched us go about our flat-fixing business but at one point, as I’m trying to align the new tube on the wheel and can’t see well through my reading glasses, I realized that his hands were stronger and more adept and I let him finish the task. (And made sure I noted his kindness, over and above the call of duty, in our AirBnb review.)
We probably thought the flat tire constituted our adventure for the day. Nope. We rode off in steady drizzle, over two bridges and 10 miles out to Pawleys Island. We pulled into a Lowe’s Foods grocery store hoping for breakfast and coffee and found even better: free coffee, a little area with WiFi and bar stools where we could sit and watch our bikes, and Wendy, who graciously made us sandwiches (not standard practice) and then came to talk with us about our trip.
Dee, happy with her breakfast sandwich, FREE coffee, and WiFi station
Wendy, our personal chef
Well nourished, we headed back out into the rain and Route 17. But we soon found a greenway segment, the Waccamaw Neck Bikeway, offering quiet and freedom from hugging the highway’s white line. It kept raining but the sights were distracting — funny names for seafood restaurants along Business 17, crazy flooded streets along the beachfront in Garden City and Surfside Beach. When we saw a sign announcing we were entering Myrtle Beach, I called out to Dee to pull into the cover of a little shopping strip so I could check our map. Myrtle Beach is the first city to complete all of its segment of the East Coast Greenway and I wanted to make sure we didn’t miss riding on it.
As I was fumbling with the map on my phone, my fingers too wet to make it work right, the rain started bucketing. I suggested we wait it out a bit, but the rain just got harder. We stood under the small awning of the shops staring out across Business 17, where the puddles were growing to flood stage, to a Harley Davidson shop. Its parking lot was full of pickup trucks, just part of the massive crowds of bikers flocking to the Myrtle beach area for the annual bike week.
Important background information: On that dreadful day in Florida when we were battling heat and headwinds and high miles (the night I went to bed thinking this whole trip might be over my head), we had stopped in to meet John Robson in his Sebastian Inlet surf and bike shop. One of us kidded about how he could drive his big black van in front of us the last 20 miles to block the wind, then he kidded that he had a bike rack, he could just drive us. Ha ha ha, we all laughed, of course we didn’t want to cheat and get a ride. But the next morning, when I was starting to feel human again, Dee and I established that we would have been fine with accepting a ride at that point — each of us thought the other wouldn’t want that. Before I left the office back in April, Debbie urged me to be sensible about things and not be one of those EDIers: the folks who insist they must ride Every Damn Inch.
So, back to the bucketing rain and flooded streets and us getting cold and all.... We tried asking in the pawn shop beside us if anyone with a truck would like $20 to drive us 25 miles up the road to North Myrtle Beach. A few men tried to help but their trucks were full. One woman dismissed us with “We all have to work,” with classist undertones that I’d also heard a few days earlier in rural South Carolina. (I had leaned my bike against a cart of ice bags and the delivery guy moved it, saying “some of us have work to do” before catching himself with something like, “you probably worked too, to earn your time off.”)
So we made our way across the flooded, busy road to the gang hanging out under an awning at the motorcycle store. We thought we’d try the truck idea again, only to get weird stares amidst the cigarette smoke and cracks about how we needed a motor on those things. I looked at the map one more time and thought we were close to the Greenway, so we pulled past the flooded drive, trying to cross the highway again. Dee spotted the nicely paved greenway just to our left, hiding behind a large RV parked on the shoulder. Hallelujah and praise be those blue and green Greenway signs! We sped along, grateful to be moving just to get a little warmer. The skies were letting loose and the puddles were ankle deep and growing, but we just laughed hysterically. “Stupid is as stupid does!” I yelled out to Dee, some of the wisdom we gained this week from Forrest Gump.
We followed the Greenway, happy for the signs and no traffic stress but still getting wetter and colder, and hungry. As we neared 45 miles, with 15 still to go to the Hampton Inn, we pulled up to a Del Webb real estate sales office with a front porch overhang to check the map. Dee went inside to ask about the nearest coffee shop, and the kind women sitting at the front counter invited us in. They had a Keurig machine and all the coffee pods we could want, they said. So we came inside, dripping water with every step. We made coffee and used their nice restroom. One of the women asked if we might want snacks, they had baskets of them. I looked at her like a five-year-old street kid: Yes, please! I’m getting better at asking for favors and accepting gifts on this trip; our needs are so simple yet urgent.
So we stood in the heavily air-conditioned reception area, too wet to sit on their chairs, and inhaled coffee and peanut butter crackers. We chatted with the women about real estate in Myrtle Beach and scrutinized the rest of our route. It was a series of zig zags, crossing Route 17 while trying to avoid it. A couple had strolled in during this time and joined the conversation, telling us more about Bike Week and conferring on our route. With great resolve, we finally gathered up our things, took a photo with the ladies, and headed back out to our bikes and wet rain jackets.
Just minutes before we would have pedaled away, the man came out, looked at me and asked, “Are you dead set on finishing your ride? Because I have a truck, we could easily drive you and the bikes.”
I looked past him to Dee, at the other end of the terrace, who had whipped her head around and held up a big thumbs up. Unanimous, then. “Yes, we would LOVE a ride,” I told him, almost dropping to my knees in gratitude. He said he mentioned the idea inside but told the Del Webb women that we probably were the kind of cyclists who would want to finish the ride. Luckily we had told the women about our Harley Davidson experience so they knew better.
And so Wayne and Brenda became our latest trail angels. We stashed our bikes in the back of Wayne’s beautiful truck and climbed into the comfortable back seat of the cab, complete with plush large white towels they just happened to have on hand for going to the gym and which served to mop up some of our dripping and warm us like blankets. Wayne showed us some of the mega-luxe Grande Dunes neighborhood where they live before driving on to North Myrtle. We watched the crazy, rain-drenched traffic on 17, which we would have had to navigate. We didn’t even have to tell Wayne how to get to the Hampton Inn. Brenda showed us photos of her two boys and beautiful grandchildren and told us about all the cities they’ve lived in around the country.
There’s nothing like a hotel at the end of a long, chilling day with the promise of a hot shower, dry clothes, and a bottomless coffee pot. All those things make us happy, but we are also glowing with the warmth of so many kind deeds today, so many thoughtful people.
Including my brother and sister-in-law, who have agreed to pick us up tomorrow in the face of another all-day rain forecast. Here’s to not signing up for the EDI club. Because stupid is as stupid does, you know?
Our Del Webb angels, offering us shelter, coffee, and snacks.
Wayne and Brenda, our rescuer heroes.