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The Herald October 14, 1988
Lemonade's worth the 100-mile ride
I am a member of the Ultramarathon Cycling Association, also known as the UMCA. This is the same outfit that stages the annual Race Across America, in which a select group of super-conditioned athletes begin in California and race to the East Coast, with only brief stops for rest.
Throughout the year, the UMCA sponsors a less
demanding form of cycling endurance called the National Points Challenge.
Points are awarded to UMCA members for completing rides of 200 miles or longer
within a 24-hour period. The standings are kept up with and shown in the club
newsletter, and at the end of each year all the top dogs get fancy riding
jerseys and a long distance pat on the back.
While I'll never be a threat to earn a jersey,
I have really enjoyed tossing my hat into the ring. A 200-mile bike ride is a
wonderful adventure, and it's an interesting test of raw determination. At
least in my own case, there exists a whole new breed of demons that materializes
at around 130 miles. These beasts try their best to convince me that if I ride
fifty more feet I will surely fall dead. The competitive half of the mind knows
better, and the mental skirmish rages on while the miles add up. A fantastic
sense of accomplishment waits at the end of a successful Points Challenge ride.
My first Challenge ride in 1988 took me to Due West SC, the home of Erskine College. I chose Due West for two important reasons. First, it looked on the map to be about 100 miles from home, and I needed a spot at that distance to turn around. Also, I had heard a rumor about Due West from a man I work with. It was such a wildly unrealistic tale, I felt compelled to go and check it out myself. After confirming every detail of Henry's store, my tale sounds word for word like his.
Due West has to be one of the more isolated towns in the state. It's 20 miles north of Greenwood, 30 miles west of Laurens, and maybe 50 miles south of Greenville. There is no through traffic. To see Due West, you have to go there on purpose. Heading west on S.C. 184, it all happens rather suddenly. Wilderness turns into the campus of Erskine College, and then there's the main drag.
The sight of people milling around downtown seemed unusual after all the countryside I had ridden through to get there. Up on the left was the target of my interest -an incredibly well-preserved piece of true American history. A veritable time capsule, the Due West drug store somehow got lost when everything else in the world changed toward modern.
The building is old. The ceiling is ridiculously high by today's standards, and the walls are covered with all sorts of antique drug store-related objects. All the business is conducted over a genuine soda fountain countertop that runs half the length of the place. The back of the store has the pharmacist's gallery, traditionally raised up above the floor level, and there are some booths for enjoying the fruits of the soda fountain.
I knew what I wanted when I walked in. I had ridden my bicycle 105 miles to try the store's own lemonade. The stuff had been quite soberly described to me as being criminally dangerous. Nothing that good can be legal. Let the buyer beware.
I nervously ordered one large lemonade and gasped as the man behind the counter pulled down the biggest cup I had ever seen. He put the cup on the mixing table and turned around to open a cooler. The cooler revealed a whole bunch of chilled fresh lemons. Real lemons. He cut one lemon in half and ran it through a machine that left nothing but the skin. The rest of the lemon was now in the huge cup. He then made all kinds of mysterious motions, adding a shot of this and a squirt of that. He turned around to hand me an iced lemonade with, get this, a fresh cherry on top. The price was 85 cents.
Friends, that cup of lemonade had a least five dollars worth of labor in it. And the taste ... well, words could never describe it. There's no point in even trying. I highly suspect that the stuff is actually Fountain of Youth Juice incognito.
I downed one and ordered another while I told the man about my ride. I could tell that he simply could not believe I had actually ridden a bicycle 105 miles just to try the lemonade. He shook his head and said, "Well, sometimes there's this guy from Greenville who rides down here for a milk shake, but I guess you've got the record."
A milk shake? An honest-to-goodness, made-from-scratch drug store mild shake? With sweat hanging on the side of the cup? It was too late to try that delicacy. I had already swallowed 12 gallons of the handmade lemonade. On my way out, the man behind the counter flatly ordered me to bring my water bottles in so he could fill them with chilled soda fountain water. I raised no argument whatsoever. Never before had I witnessed such homespun hospitality. I left Due West with a genuine feeling of having been someplace very special.
When I got back to work, I told Henry that he was exactly right. The drug store is indeed a time capsule, and the lemonade defies description. Henry said, "What did you think of the hardware store?"
Darn. It turns out that the Due West hardware
store is every bit as classic as the drug store, and I missed that attraction
altogether. Well, I'll see that on the next visit. I have to ride back and try
the milk shake anyway ...
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