When completed, the Palmetto Trail will consist of 425 miles of multi-use trails running across the state of South Carolina from the mountains to the sea. http://www.palmettoconservation.org/maps.asp
The trail is being built in phases called “passages” with close to 300 miles now open. I had previously mountain-biked the Croft and Enoree passages and decided to combine the Lake Moultrie, Swamp Fox and Awendaw passages for my first multiple-day bikepacking trip. It was, without a doubt, one of the most enjoyable adventures I have ever experienced on a mountain bike. I saddled up at the northern trailhead of the Lake Moultrie passage which is near the Santee Cooper power plant (close to Cross, South Carolina), continued on through the Swamp Fox passage (longest passage of the PT) and then finished up on the Awendaw Passage which ends at the Intracoastal Waterway about four miles south of McClellanville and north of Charleston. The maps indicate a total of 75 miles which turned out to be fairly accurate but with a scenic detour here and another there (such as the 6-mile Sandy Beach loop), along with riding the Awendaw passage three times, I finished up with close to 100 miles on my bike computer.
The Lake Moultrie passage started with a few miles of service road through the piney woods and then turned to nice singletrack skirting along the lake. Then came miles of big-chain-ring trails along canals followed by more singletrack ending at the beginning of the Swamp Fox Passage. Contrary to what I had been told, hand pumps at the primitive campsites worked perfectly and the water was both cool and tasty. More singletrack through the swamps of Swamp Fox intermixed with just enough more service road mileage for nice breaks. No potable water on Swamp Fox so I had to rely on my water filter to remove all those tiny little bad guys before taking a drink.
Then came the Awendaw passage which was virtually a super highway compared to much of what I had been riding on. North of Hwy 17 was just more of what I had already ridden for many miles on the first two passages but the last section from the canoe/kayak launch ramp on to the end had some of the prettiest scenery of the entire ride. Soon after making it to the end I discovered that a Lezyne tire pump I had purchased only a few days before was missing. I recalled using it about two miles before completing the Swamp Fox passage so I dumped all of my gear except for a water bottle and off I went for another there-and-back on Awendaw (yes, the pump was where I left it.) Sans gear, the bike felt like a jet-propelled feather.
I had originally intended to carry a good bit of stuff in a backpack but instead opted to carry only a three-liter hydration bladder for water, camera, water filter and a day’s supply of nourishment in a small pack’ Everything else was on the bike. That proved to be one of my better ideas. During the day I munched on Clif Bars and beef jerky with an occasional Power Bar gel booster (tangerine or strawberry). During afternoons it was backwoods dining at its finest, compliments of those big freeze-dry machines at Mountain House. My two favorites are Chicken Teriyaki With Rice and Chili Mac With Beef. An entire meal weighs about five ounces and no post-dinner dishes to wash; simply open the zip-lock bag, pour in 1-1/2 cups of boiling water, close the bag and wait 10 minutes before eating right out of the bag. Quick too—my Jet-Boil stove brings that much water to a rolling boil in just over a minute.
For the bike I carried a spare rear derailleur hangar, a master chain link, two spare tubes and a patch kit and ended up needing neither.
Saw lots of deer, turkeys and hogs (one was a sow with seven tiny piglets). Several gators, most small but one probably big enough to swallow my bike. Only two snakes, a fairly small cottonmouth about four miles into Lake Moultrie and a huge diamondback rattler on Awendaw. Unfortunately, most of the wildlife vamoosed before I could come to a screeching halt and go into action with my camera.
The northern trailhead of the Lake Moultrie passage is fairly close to the Santee Cooper power plant. I spotted my first gator here while loading up my bike
The starting point is not exactly a big production; easy to miss unless you know exactly where to look. The Eutaw Springs trailhead starts just across the road from here and heads north for 18 miles.
First of many bridges I will eventually cross. This passage starts on a service road but soon transitions to singletrack.
Then comes miles and miles of big-chainring pedaling on dikes skirting the lake. I saw plenty of wildlife on the dikes.
I could hardly believe my eyes when the map indicated getting to the opposite side of the rediversion canal by crossing over this railroad trestle.
A bikepacker’s eye view of the railroad trestle. While crossing it I could not help but think of the train chase scene in “Stand by Me”, one of my favorite movies of all time.
Nice scenery along a very large Lake Moultrie.
About time to call it a day.
No rain predicted so I never used a tarp over my bivy shelter. On this night I fell asleep with the big dipper directly overhead while being serenaded by a whippoorwill, one of my favorite sounds of nature.
Water delivered by the hand pumps at the primitive campsites was both cool and tasty.
View from the back window of my bivy shelter.
Dense fog on the lake next morning which was good since the sun did not break thought to heat up the day until close to noon.
Lake Moultrie passage ends and Swamp Fox begins.
It started out like this----
-----and soon turned to some of the prettiest singletrack I have ever ridden.
An unusual bridge; to the left is across the creek and to the right is down to its edge for fishing and gator-gazing.
Forty seven miles from here is the south end of the Awendaw passage and the finish.
This creek crossing was a bit tricky. I had to push my bike almost to the water’s edge and then lift it up to the floor of the bridge.
Everything along the way that was supposed to be blooming was doing its best to do just that.
Thirty miles to go from here.
Swamp Fox passage ends and Awendaw passage begins.
North of Hwy 17, Awendaw was just more of what I had already ridden but once past this canoe/kayak launch dock it really got pretty.
Like I said, really pretty. Plenty of roots in some sections too.
Awendaw ends with a nice boardwalk at the Buck Hall Recreation Area on the bank of the Intracoastal Waterway.
The boat and I arrived at Buck Hall at about the same time.
Happy trails to one and all.