Well mama said, "Son before you goThere's something I want you to doPromise me that you won't go wrongAs you travel down Highway 52."With a map spread across our table at a rooftop bar in Charleston, South Carolina, we began calculating the daily distances of the upcoming tour. More than 2,000 miles of fascinating terrain lay ahead of us along Highway 52, the historic route that will take us from the Carolina coast into the American heartland and the prairies of North Dakota.
Charleston, SC - Winston-Salem, NC
With temperature and humidity of equal measure, the oppressive heat in South Carolina's low country slows our pace to a languid Southern rhythm as we explore Old Charleston, regarded by many as the most beautiful city in the US.
Relaxing and surveying the scene from a porch swing at the Anchorage Inn, just a few steps away from Waterfront Park, we have a magnificent view of the Charleston Harbor. In the distance, there's Patriot's Point, where the giant WWII aircraft carrier, the USS Yorktown, is berthed. Further south at Battery Park, the array of antique artillery pieces reminds us of Charleston's place in history. And although there's some controversy about it, many historians say the first shots fired in the Civil War came from Fort Sumter, visible from the park on an island in the harbor.
While others are enjoying the leisurely tempo of excursions in horse-drawn carriages, I decide it's time to hop on the Honda to soak up some low country atmosphere and more thoroughly familiarize myself with the burly bulk of the Gold Wing. The jaunt down narrow, cobblestone lanes quickly exhibits how easily the Honda handles. Later, we had a problem finding "our" highway when leaving downtown Charleston, but after a brisk run on I-26 to whip some cooler air under our thick riding clothes, we locate Highway 52 and roll through the Francis Marion National Forest.
There's almost no traffic on the two-lane highway as we drive through the woods and towns. A sign says this is "Where the living is easy" but that doesn't seem to be the case. Nowhere near the exclusive resorts along the coast, this is old lowland farm country where generations have toiled to scratch their living from cotton and tobacco fields.
A few miles beyond Cheraw, birthplace of jazz trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, we pass into North Carolina, and further on in Salisbury, it's all four lanes to Winston-Salem. Now we can let it roll the day's last 35 miles. After 290 miles, we check in at the Village Inn in Clemmons, NC, only minutes from the RoadRUNNER office.
Winston-Salem, North Carolina - Bluefield, West Virginia
It's clear to partly cloudy the next morning when we start out, but the cloudy part is really dark and rain seems to be waiting on us as I direct the Honda northwest for the Appalachian Mountains. After battling truck traffic on I-74 for 45 miles, we exit where 52 becomes its own road again, a nice country road that leads to Mt. Airy, the childhood home of Andy Griffith, perhaps better known throughout the world as Sheriff Andy Taylor. And while the similarities between Mt. Airy and Andy, Barney, and Opie's Mayberry aren't as close as they must have been when "The Andy Griffith Show" first aired, the town has taken advantage of it's TV notoriety, and tourists travel here just to have a snack at the Snappy Lunch, the only real business ever mentioned in the show. Heading through town toward the border with Virginia, we enjoy our ride on the Andy Griffith Parkway, a ten-mile stretch of Highway 52 that was named for the star in 2002.
As soon as we cross the Blue Ridge Parkway at the top of Fancy Gap the rains begin. Now we're grateful to have the heavy bike gear that made us sweat so much in the Low Country. The weather doesn't improve any as we drive deeper into the Appalachian Mountains, and I'm tempted to roll down to Bluefield on the interstate. But we stay on 52, and after Wytheville our perseverance is rewarded with a wonderful mountain road through the woods of the Jefferson National Forest. Great, tight curves for almost 40 miles! I can't just throw the Honda around the corners the way I would like since the surface is wet and there's some gravel as well; but even if the roads were dry we wouldn't be making too much better time in these mountains. Getting dark as we reach Bluefield, West Virginia, and all we're looking forward to is a hot shower.