Charleston, South Carolina, a true southern beauty. This year she is 352 years old, she has a long past. In the early days of America, its importance competed with New York and Boston. Shipping as well as rice and cotton production created an extraordinary wealth. Hurricanes, wars and captivity brought great despair. Like Scarlett O’Hara, Charleston has survived, and today she receives the “Best City” awards for her food, culture and history.
One of the best ways to experience Charleston is from sitting on a motorcycle, flying over its many bridges. Charleston Bridges bind more than land and water. They connect the past and the present, problems and answers, people and places. These days, the rotation of the throttle over the Charleston bridges provides reflection and hope.
Since Charleston is an hour away from the I-95 superplate, many riders miss its charms. It’s a shame as Charleston hits the red line on the motorcycle dial to smile up a mile. For you northern bikers jogging around Florida, this is a fantastic place to stop. I bet a flounder sandwich will be the highlight of your trip. Housing is plentiful at all price levels, and local cuisine is world-renowned, combining farm, ocean, south and soul.
This trip can be done at any time of the year, but be careful: Charleston is in the south. Summers can be stifling and rains can be heavy. In the summer months, it is strongly recommended to wear fishnet clothing, keep rangers on hand and avoid moving in the afternoon.
From I-95 head southeast on I-26 for an hour. Take the ramp I-526 East to Mount Pleasant. Driving high over the salt marsh, for the first 15 minutes you will jump over two main bridges – Don N. Holt across the Cooper River and James B. Edwards across the Vendo River. You ride over Low terrain, a sprawling coastal region just above sea level. When the tides change four times a day, most of the wetland spends half of its time underwater.
Take the exit onto Hungry Neck Boulevard, then turn right onto Isle of Palms Connector (State Route 517). Traveling through the estuary, raise the canopy and enjoy the salty air and the view of the coast. At low tide you will see piles of “stones” in the swamp, which are actually wild oysters. Raw, fried or brushed with Blood Mary, they are delicious.
You will cross two more bridges before reaching Palm Island. When the connector runs out, keep going straight to Front Beach. The Bikers Act says you can’t get that close and not get into the ocean, so it’s a great place to drop your boots and get your toes wet.
Continue southwest on Palm Boulevard (State Route 703). Drive with the wind along the inland waterway until you cross Breech Bay on the HL Hanley Bridge, named after the first submarine to sink a ship in battle. In 1864, the Hanley manually sank a Yankee ship, but then disappeared off the coast of Sullivan Island along with its crew of eight. It was only found in 1995. Stay in Thomson Park to enjoy the scenery and learn more about this historic site.
From the park, turn left onto Middle Street. Now you drive around Sullivan’s Shebby Chic style, South Carolina’s richest zip code, and you’ll see bars and restaurants. All right, but I love the crispy / spicy tacos of Bangin ‘Shrimp in Mex 1 Coastal Cantina. Salt in the air, the beach on your boots, tacos with shrimp in hand and your faithful horse parked under a palmette tree. Life is good!
Continuing southwest on Middle Street, you will come to Fort Multry Historical Park. This hill has a long history as a military point, dating back to the War of Independence. The self-guided tour and harbor views are interesting, inspiring and a great way to place your feet.
Return to where Route 703 turns north and become Ben Sawyer Boulevard, the dam that cuts through the swamp. Feel the aroma of salt, oysters and tidal “plush” mud. The Ben Sawyer Bridge is a swing bridge that rotates to allow tall boats to pass. First opened to traffic in 1945, it was badly damaged by Hurricane Hugo in 1989. When the islands were evacuated, the tender left the bridge unlocked. When a hurricane-force wind blew over the bridge, it spun like a peak, and one end plunged into the water.
Going through Ben Sawyer will take you to Mount Pleasant. The traffic increases through this lively area, with many good restaurants and bars that attract the hungry and thirsty. Another bridge on Route 703 crosses Shem Creek, and below are boats, kayaks and bars killed by people having a good time. Fresh local seafood is sold right at the docks. To take a closer look, turn left and visit Shem Creek Park.
Continuing west on Route 703 (Coleman Boulevard), the road merges with Route 17 USA before crossing the most notable flight of Charleston, the Arthur Ravenell Jr. Bridge over the Cooper River. Driving over the Ravenel, you are at the highest point in Lowcountry, offering spectacular views of Charleston Harbor and the USS Yorktown, a World War II-era aircraft carrier anchored near Patriots Point. Yorktown is now part of the Patriots Point Naval and Naval Museum, and military enthusiasts can easily spend an entire day touring the ship, imagining or reminiscing about the challenging days of our greatest generation.
After crossing Ravenel, follow the signs for US 17 South to Savannah and drive to King Street. Turn right onto King Street to enjoy history, from modern hipster hotels to well-preserved colonial-era homes. This is a great time to reflect on the past, present and potential of our nation.
Walk down King Street until it ends at Oyster Point overlooking the harbor. The views are impressive, but Charleston is more than just her beautiful skirt and umbrella. She is beautiful and strong, old and new, happy and sad. Like America, it is not perfect, but real and amazing. This trip makes me proud and hopeful of what will be across the next bridge.