Thirty years ago in 1976, while stationed in Charleston, South Carolina, I fell in with a group of friends who became an ensemble cast in my life. Their friendship made my Charleston years some of the best in memory. Since then, we’d often talked about a reunion, but it took 30 years before all would gather in Charleston once again. For me it was an opportunity to tour the Charleston area on the bike, rolling along scenic highways where I had lived 30 years before. I looked forward to seeing how things had changed.
Interstate travel on the motorcycle was what it always is—boring and noisy with wind. At Augusta, I exited east on Interstate 520, the “loop highway” around the city, then took SR28 to Highway 278 for the first leg of the open country ride. I had picked an easterly route, Highway 278, to Highway 78 and then Highway 61, remembering it as a particularly scenic road. This is also a more direct route to Charleston than the interstate, so while small towns slow the pace, travel time is approximately equal, with the rural scenery improving the ride.
Once on Highway 278, I was treated to the perfect combination of light traffic, an open two-lane highway and a bright and sunny day, making interstate speeds the norm. While it was the beginning of summer, cooler than normal temperatures and low humidity made the ride very comfortable.
West of Williston, SR781 connects 278 to Highway 78. Near Elko, I stopped at an antique car junkyard featuring ’50s vintage autos to take photographs contrasting the modern motorcycle in front of these aging examples of classic Americana. It seemed a shame to see automobiles with such style simply wasting away unappreciated in a field.
As I picked up Highway 61 approaching Charleston, clouds gathered, readying for an afternoon rain. I debated stopping to don the rainsuit, but cloudless sky and sunshine were several miles ahead so I kept moving. I rode through light rain, but the BMW’s fairing and forward momentum kept me mostly dry. Riding past Summerville, I was glad to see that the highway hadn’t changed much in 30 years. Overhanging great oak trees dangling Spanish moss line the road on both sides in several sections, giving the feel of riding through a green organic tunnel. Closer to Charleston, old southern plantations like Middleton Place and Magnolia Gardens have long ago been converted to state parks, and remain as tourist attractions. Here, the road hasn’t changed, but housing and retail establishments now line its western side. This area is growing fast, and sadly, the road must follow.
Near Charleston, I picked up Interstate 526, the loop highway constructed around the city in recent years. Thirty years ago, only local roads allowed access to Isle of Palms or Folly Beach north and south of Charleston. The highway connects these beach areas and makes travel around the city quick and easy. The elevated road also takes you over the Port of Charleston, giving some perspective of how big port operations are here. The cargo ships— with the stacked crates, containers and loading cranes—are massive, and take up a mile of the Cooper River on either side of the highway.
Exiting I-526 and going north on Highway 17 at Mount Pleasant takes you to SR517 east, which leads out to Isle of Palms, offering fine views of undeveloped marshland on the way. Crossing 703 near the beach and a quick right turn at Ocean Boulevard got me to the hotel. I arrived just in time to meet friends in the lobby checking in. The weekend was spent with good company and great fun—although it had been 30 years, all fell in together like no time had passed.
Sunday dawned and after breakfast the group parted company, agreeing to do it again. Now it was time to ride again. One of the great things about taking a vacation on the motorcycle is that “vacation” lasts until you pull up to the front door. Going home is not anticlimactic, just another interesting day.
After stops for “seascape” pics in Isle of Palms, a few of the boats on Shem Creek and the bike in the Charleston Battery area, I began the ride home. Highway 61 was worth another ride, and led naturally back to 78, 278, then Interstate 20 back to Atlanta.
As I started north on Highway 61, the MP3 player randomly selected a 20-minute-long “classic rock” musical piece from the ’70s. The song’s intro and the combination of riding a road unchanged since the ’70s caused an “other worldly” feeling of being
transported back in time. I simply smiled and rolled down the road, knowing it like an old friend, and taking in the entire déj`a vu experience. Had I chosen the music, I wouldn’t have picked this piece, but now it seemed a perfect choice, causing me to reflect on who I was then, who I am now, and reliving a bit of my own history. The music ended just as I rode away from the most picturesque part of the highway—perfect timing.
At Augusta I got back on the interstate, locked the throttle and made time to Atlanta. With stops for photos, it had been a long riding day. I pulled into my driveway, finishing the 330-mile ride from Charleston at 7:30 p.m., with another great tour behind me and one of the best weekends in memory. I’ve heard it said that you can’t go home again, but every once in a while if you catch it just right you can find yourself taking a truly memorable ride on The Road Back.