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The Herald Jan. 6, 1989
You just can't escape
A 200-mile bicycle ride is a great way to tour our beautiful state and learn fascinating things about what goes on 100 miles from home.
If you stay alert and observant, you're guaranteed to learn things they never taught in school.
I never realized, for instance, that all of Sumter County is a zoo. They even have bonafide highway signs with pictures of animals on them. the first time I saw the silhouette of a cow on a florescent yellow sign, I thought the sign meant there was a burger joint up ahead. Instead, I saw herds and herds of heifers.
The next sign down the road had a picture of a leaping deer, and I expected to see a tractor dealership. Soon I was delighted by the sight of a real live deer crashing through the underbrush beside the highway. Now, how did that deer known to hang around near that road sign?
And snakes. There were dead ones in the road, and healthy ones on the shoulder. Some of the larger dead ones were crisscrossed by skid marks from both directions. Maybe it's legal to drive on the wrong side of the road in Sumter County as long as you're trying to run over a snake.
I had safely avoided all predators until I reached the intersection of S.C. 261 and U.S. 76 about 20 miles south of Camden. I needed to check my road map, so I set my bike off the pavement and leaned it against the stop sign. I stood beside the bike and unfolded my map.
Barely 10 seconds later, I felt a strange sensation down below. There was a teeming black mass covering my shoes and ankles, rapidly making its way up my leg. I was standing in a bed of ants. I jumped over to the asphalt, stomping and slapping and cussing as the tiny little devils chomped on my ankles.
I left that scene in a hurry, lest the ants should happen to dismantle my bike and carry the parts away. There were enough of them to do it.
After a quick tour of the Poinsett State Park (more snakes and lots of lizards), I turned back toward home. I was scowled at by a huge buzzard eating carrion on the road, just as I passed by the entrance to an Air Force bombing range. I thought about fast planes and big noises for a second, and I tightened the chin strap on my cycling helmet ... "Roger, Charley One, I'm locked onto some guy riding a bicycle. Hey, who took the safety locks off my machine guns?"
Despite all the day's creepy undercurrents, my appetite was still in top form, so I pitted in Wedgefield to see what cuisine was being offered by the local big game check station. The first and last oasis for miles, the place was a gas pump, grocery, hardware, fishing tackle, you-name-it operation. In the back of the store, there was a huge bulletin board called the Braggin' Corner. There were a zillion snapshots of fish, deer, wild turkeys, and all the happy hunters and anglers thereof. My favorite was a shot of a smiling couple all decked out to attend some very formal affair. The caption was, "Jeff's Best Catch Yet." At last ... people. I was glad to escape all the jungle madness outside for awhile.
I pulled down a handmade pimento cheese sandwich and climbed atop a bar stool to enjoy the air conditioning. Soon I noticed a large sign hanging from the ceiling of the store. It said, THIS YEAR'S HUNTING TIP - SEE ONE, THINK TWO. Mounted right there on the sign were two rattlesnake skins, each one about four feet long. Good grief. These folks go out looking for deadly snakes. On purpose. For fun.
I looked away and attempted to finish my sandwich. There, right under my nose, about two inches from my pimento cheese, was a picture under the countertop. The mimeographed photo depicted a man holding a world class dead rattlesnake. The man himself looked very large, as he held both arms out at chest level. The rattler was draped over those muscular arms. The snake's tail touched the ground by one shoe, and its head rested on the ground by the man's other shoe. Where the midsection of the snake passed over the man's forearms, it looked to be the diameter of a football. The caption on the picture said, TEN FEET LONG, 125 LBS.
The picture sent chills up my already twitchy spine, but that was before I noticed what was handwritten up in one corner - FREE TANK OF GAS FOR BIGGER SNAKE.
That did it. That was all I could take. One last guzzle of Gatorade, and I'm outa here before some nut comes in dragging his free tank of gas "Fill 'er up, Ray! Some beauty, huh? You'll never guess where I found him. ..."
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