Lake Marion Passage:
This 33-mile passage of the Palmetto Trail skirts along the high water mark of the north side of Lake Marion. Trail users will enjoy some of the most magnificent vistas in the coastal plain with opportunities to spot abundant wildlife and colorful flora. The Lake Marion Passage is marked with orange blazes from Mill Creek County Park to Sparkleberry Landing, with the remainder being marked by yellow blazes. Much of the land along the trail is open for hunting and users should wear bright colors during big game hunting seasons, which is from the middle of August to January. Because of the trail’s proximity to Lake Marion some sections may be flooded during the wet season. However, these wet conditions add to the beauty of the area with a profusion of wildflowers. Almost year-round the pink, yellow, and blue colors will thrill you with their beauty.
The day started well enough with some pavement, dirt roads, a couple of sausage and cheese biscuits at the cabins on Belser rd and then lots of single track. In fact, today, I would encounter the first elevation induced hike a bike section of the trip.
There was lots more swampland and some unexpectedly ride able trails. I was able to turn the cranks until I arrived at Mill Creek County Park. This park had an awesome campground and in future trips will plan to stay here for the night, but since I arrived around 1 pm, and the temps were around 95 degrees, I decided to take a nap instead.
After my nap, I got back on the bike and things went quickly south. It was still hot, but I was determined to make Columbia by nightfall.
I was now on the High Hills Passage:
The 9-mile segment adjacent to the Wateree River swamp was named after the high, sandy ridges that lie wholly within a geographic region known as the Sandhills of South Carolina. The narrow band of rolling hills in portions of Aiken, Lexington, Richland, Sumter, and Kershaw Counties formed the shoreline millions of years ago. Poinsett State Park, Mill Creek County Park, and Manchester State Forest constitute the southern end of the High Hills.
A multi-use trail for hikers, mountain bikers, and equestrians, the trail is steeped in history. Catawba Indians, Revolutionary War soldiers, plantation owners, traders and travelers of the past have left their marks along the trail.
The above picture shows the trail 1 mile into it. It was now a shared use trail and it appeared as though someone had tilled the trail and I was pushing the bike in 95 degree temps, through ankle deep sand, that had been churned up by horses. I had 8 more miles to go and knew that if I had to push the bike the whole way, I would die, not make it, still be out there pushing, or die. I chose to get off the trail and bush whacked to the nearest paved road. I believe that decision saved my life.
I followed the pavement to Poinsett State Park and The Wateree Passage:
The 7.2 mile Wateree Passage begins in Poinsett State Park and runs to the Wateree River, crossing through Manchester State Forest and along the old SC Railroad bed. The passage is one of the most diverse sections of the Palmetto Trail, traversing a variety of landscapes, from near mountainous terrain down to a magnificent river swamp. After two miles, the trail begins the ascent to the "High Hills of Santee," which is one of the highest elevations in Sumter County. The High Hills provides spectacular vistas of the swamp and Richland County.
Refilling my water I headed up the trail into Manchester State Forest. The next 7 miles was fun. It included some hike a bike, rolling hilly sections that then turned into rail to trail with lots of trestles across swampy land. I enjoyed this section a lot, especially since the temps were cooling. Then I hit the stairs at the end of the section, hiked down into swamp land, followed a fisherman's trail, found a gravel road, went one way then the other. I was lost. This was not on the map, and I followed my gut. I followed my gut right onto the power plant property and out the front gate.
I had failed to bring along a map of SC but fortunately, I was able to call the Palmetto Coalition to figure out where I was.
The next 34 miles were some of the worst of the trip and I highly recommend finding another route into Columbia. 15 miles of HWY 601, with heavy truck traffic was not fun, at all. And then add in a road with giant rolling hills and my progress was slow. I made it safely to Leesburg Rd/ Hwy 262 and turned left towards Columbia. Somewhere along this road, the actual trail enters the woods and parallels the road. I opted for the second time, to get off route and stay on the pavement for the sake of making Columbia before nightfall. Several times, as the sun sank closer to the horizon and the thunderstorms raged all around, I considered turning into the woods to camp for the night, but with a 100 yrd buffer between the paved road and Fort Jackson's training grounds, I was concerned again about my safety. So, I pedaled the pavement. There was still traffic and rolling hills but to a lesser degree.
I eventually arrived at Fort Jackson and took a right onto the property through Gate 5, to follow the trail across the campus. Halfway across the sun set, leaving me in darkness as proud trumpets played Reveille over the loud speakers. I got chills and felt honored to be in that place at that time. Then I heard the troups, somewhere on campus cheering, which brought on more chills.
I got to Gate 1 and onto Leesburg Rd. I asked for directions and found that I was 2 exits down from where I wanted to be. I battled darkness and city traffic to find some hotels.
I got settled in my room, took a shower, ordered pizza and went to sleep, tired.
Next: Day 4- Columbia to The Enoree Passage