Monday, January 19, 2015

2014 Carolinas' Road trip wrapup

Chance re-encounters. 

Pee Dee River
We ran into an old "friend" in Cheraw, SC. Horace King is the remarkable slave who became a master bridge builder, was freed by the Alabama Legislature and later supported his former owner's family. We learned of King during last year's road trip through Georgia ( This year we discovered he learned his engineering skills in the 1820s while constructing a bridge across the Pee Dee River in Cheraw, SC, near where he had been born.


Camp Welfare dates back to slavery when lenient owners would allow their slaves to gather for a camp meeting here once a year. It has developed into an annual reunion that attracts thousands of their descendents. The permanent living structures are referred to as "tents." The graveyard dates back to the 1700s.
Camp Welfare



Timely. A quick, around the block stop in Winnsboro brought us next to the Town Clock. Built in 1833, it has been running ever since making it "the oldest continuously running town clock in America." Don't you just love finding another "est" - biggest, longest, oldest, etc. - for your experience bucket?


Did you know?

Turkey talk. All domestic turkeys evolved from one semi-domestic breed of turkey that dated back about 4,000 years. The Spaniards found them with the Mayans and Aztecs and brought live specimens back where they readily adapted to the European farm system.
The Puritans brought these domesticated turkeys with them to the New World where the Eastern wild turkey was already entrenched. 
Today, 99 percent of domestic turkeys are broad-breasted whites and are so big they can't get off the ground. Can't breed either, which must be done via artificial insemination, The largest domestic broad breasted white turkey weighed in at 95 pounds.

Patriotic. So many young men from Union County, SC, volunteered during World War II that a draft was never needed.

Favorite toast.  Members of the Clover Club, a "private" men's club in Chester, SC, came up with this beauty:
A long life and a merry one
A quick death and a happy one
A good girl and a pretty one
A Coke bottle and another one. 

Rosy canaries. We learned at Childress Vineyards in Lexington, NC, that rose bushes are the wine growers' canary in the coal mine. The roses are an indicator crop, showing any signs of distress before the vines can be endangered. 

So many to thank. 

In North Carolina, Our pal Carol Timblin opened her townhouse and guided us to the gold mine. PR pro Craig Distl and Robin Bivens, from Visit Lexington, organized the incomparable Swine, Wine and Dine Tour that introduced us to Lexington, a barbecue haven, and its attractions.

Barbara Ware and Vicki Loughner set us up with great itinerary, lodging and food in the Old 906 District of South Carolina. Becky even became our chauffer, saving untold hours of our getting turned around, confused and otherwise lost. Kelly McWhorter of the Greenwood Regional Visitors and Tourism Bureau and Donna Livingston from Edgewood County Chamber of Commerce were also invaluable as were the staff at The Fairfield Inn & Suites, our home away from home.

The indefatigable Jayne Scarborough was our chief of itinerary, schedules and driving once we arrived in South Carolina's Olde English District. Sonja Burris, communications manager for York County, and many, many others.
The Marriott Courtyard in Rock Hill was the best kind of a home away from home, providing great, made-to-order breakfasts and welcome cocktails.

All in all it was another memorable road trip of discovery for the Good Girls.  Every year we become more convinced that wherever people have settled, however small,  there are stories worth finding and exploring.

The hardest part is deciding where to go next. Where do you suggest? Recommendations truly are appreciated. 

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Giordana Veldrome and Rock Hill Outdoor Center

We ended our tour of South Carolina's Olde English District in Rock Hill at the city's 250-acre outdoor recreational center. The area includes a new scenic Riverwalk for walkers and joggers along the Catawba River, mountain biking trails, a BMX/Supercross track, and velodrome. There is also canoe/kayak access to the Catawba River and open space.

In my eyes, the Giordana Velodrome is the shining star. I felt I was walking into an Olympic Stadium. I would never have expected such an amazing world-class facility in a suburban area like Rock Hill.  Clearly the city officials had a terrific idea and didn't hold back.

Although talk began back in 2002, the velodrome wasn't completed until 2012. It was built at the cost of $5 million with what I heard referred to as "innovative financing."  No property tax or general fund money went toward the project.  While five million may seem like a lot of money for biking, what a sound investment it was. Not only can residents come and ride but the center draws numerous events and national and international championships. Those events bring overnight visitors who need lodging and dining in addition to giving Rock Hill a name on the map.   

Cyclist on the Rock Hill Velodrome
"From our perspective, we believe investments in recreational amenities will serve as a catalyst for the overall development," said John Taylor, operations supervisor for the city's Parks, Recreation and Tourism Department.

Thad Fischer, cycling coordinator for the velodrome, gave us a tour and explained the building process. "Once the workers started pouring concrete, it became a continuous, 7 day a week project. Twenty-four dedicated workers poured concrete by hand using painstaking detail to create a perfect 250-meter, 42-degreed banked oval track. They worked an entire day to pour one inch of concrete in 24 expanses. Over 200 tons of steel rebar were also used."
Giordana Velodrome in Rock Hill, SC

The stadium is capable of hosting national and Olympic caliber events and can seat 800 spectators. The facility also has an overhead judging station.

"Because it's a velodrome and has a steep embankment, it takes a certain level of confidence and skill to do it," said Thad.  'Cycling is a lifestyle... But the velodrome is not all about competition. ...It's a vehicle to take adults and children down a really good road."

The velodrome's programming targets all levels, including:

Bikes at the Velodrome

• "Kids on the Track": Designed for ages 6 through 14. Children learn track basics on the infield. Advanced riders move to the banked track. The class is free.

• "Giordana Try the Track": Directed at the beginning cyclist. The staff introduces track-riding and safety. The program is a stepping stone to the more structured programs. It can accommodate two people per day and is free.

• "Track Basics": This program is required for all cyclists who don't have extensive track-riding experience, or have taken the other programs. It discusses track rules and safe techniques. Experienced riders must also complete this 8-hour class, which costs $20.

Bikes for the track's introductory programs will be provided. The bikes used on velodromes have no brakes and use a single, fixed rear gear. This helps increase speed while reducing weight.

While I wish I were a good enough biker to try out the velodrome, I was happy to watch a lone cyclist put in some practice time.

Next we moved on the Novant Health BMX/Supercross Track which had just opened after three years of construction and a cost of $7 million.  I thought I was watching Evil Knievel flying on his motorcycle when I saw a young boy take off down the steep embankment and literally jettison himself and his bike over the track.  Awesome! 

BMX bike rider on the Rock Hill Course

The facility features an 8-meter elite supercross start hill, 5-meter amateur start hill, pump track, instruction and community events, and programs for all ages and skill levels.

Rock Hill has done it again, building the first Olympic-caliber BMX training facility open to the general public on the U. S. East Coast.

Rock Hill, population 69,000, truly seems like a grand community. I think I would like living there.  

Watch my video of a BMX biker going down the Supercross start hill.


Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Carolina Adventure World

Laura's Tea Room
After sipping tea in Ridgeway, we stopped into nearby Carolina Adventure World, perhaps the ultimate dream retreat for ATV enthusiasts and dirt bikers. Quite a change of pace, but we like it all!!

This attraction is tucked into the mountains and offers 100 miles of trails, 10 miles of dedicated dirt bike tails, a banked oval track and multiple mud bogs. Plus, they recently added horse trails. It's the Southeast's largest ATV-UTV and dirt bike riding park. Guests can rent all the equipment they need or they can bring their own.

Carolina Adventure World

We didn't have time to ride an ATV (and let's face it, riding an ATV was not a good idea with Judy's menacing hip). So, we were driven around for a tour on the trails. We found an awesome mud bog and have to admit it looks like a hoot -- assuming you like mud. See if you agree below:

Carolina Adventure World is located in Winnsboro, SC. Guests can rent cabins and campsites or bring an RV to their facility  which has electrical and water hook-ups, bath and shower house and barbeque and fire pits.  Everything for a weekend of adventure. 

ATV Muddin' at Carolina Adventure World

We ended the day in Rock Hill, South Carolina at the Courtyard by Marriott Rock Hill. This hotel was the winner of Trip Advisor's 2013 Certificate of Excellence and Marriott's 2013 Silver Award. 

Courtyard by Marriott Rock Hill

We were delighted to discover this Marriott was rather extraordinary. The lobby offers a sitting area and a bistro area where guests can order freshly prepared choices from the  breakfast or dinner menu, a cocktail or a Starbucks beverage. The little cafe is terrific; we walked in and had a glass of wine after a long day of touring. Others came up and ordered from the posted menu and a server brought out the food. You can sit at a table or the bar or ask for take-out. Some beverages are self-serve. We found the breakfast choices were healthy and just what we wanted: quick, tasty food at reasonable prices.

Courtyard Marriott Bistro
The guest rooms are over-sized with "dream bedding" - which, in fact, was dreamy - a coffee marker, and free high speed Internet. This hotel is perfect for a business traveler and also for groups. We met an interesting group of athletes staying over the weekend.

We had no time for the fitness gym or pool, but they looked nice!  We give the Rock Hill Courtyard by Marriott our highest recommendation.
Fitness Room we did not use!

Monday, December 8, 2014

Ridgeway, SC, good things in small packages

Ridgeway's main street
How big must a town be to be worth visiting? Not very if Ridgeway, population 330, is any example.

We headed there for lunch at Laura's Tea Room and the Thomas Store Deli and were soon charmed by the tiny town.

The one-block downtown, three-block residential town sits smack in the middle of what once was the Catawba people's hunting grounds. Much of the surrounding land is still used for hunting only now it is in the hands of private hunting clubs.  The population of the whole county is a mere 26,500.

Small town, small police station.
Look quickly as you enter town or you will miss the world's smallest police station, now a help-yourself visitor's center. Carrabelle, FL, also claims it has the smallest, a phone booth. Ridgeway's is just large enough for wooden desk, a rotary telephone, a small file cabinet and a small wood stove, so it was more of a true station than a place for police to make phone calls.  The new police station one street over doubles the space.

Miss Laura's is in the Thomas Building.
Laura's is owned by Carol Allen and named for Miss Laura, the last member of the  Thomas family to run the mercantile that once filled the circa 1911 building.

Samples of Grama's expertise.
The deli and shop are downstairs, the tea room upstairs and the baking is done by Grama, Carol's 93-year-old mother. Many thought Carol crazy when she opened here in 2008, but the enterprise is still going strong and garnering rave reviews.

The library ladder of the old mercantile store is still used.
Downstairs is a fun shop, the deli and dining area.

A little "Downton Abbey" tea?

Upstairs is the dedicated tea room which, if you didn't wear your own chapeau, comes with a large selection of loaners.

The Good girls in their "loaners".
 We saw several mother-daughter-granddaughter combos that were having a lovely dress-up time.

Mrs. O'Brien's Quiche
The tea and food are good, too., and reasonably priced. Mrs O'Brien's Quiche (broccoli and cheddar), served with a salad of mixed greens, fruit and veggies, is $8.95. Upstairs teas are by reservation; afternoon tea is $18.95, the High Tea $26.95. Menus for these change but you will always find sweets and savories. If they have the ginger peach black tea, don't miss it.

We took a quick, post-lunch ramble down Palmer Street, ducking into the cute accessories shop next door. Alas, not time for retail therapy.

We could have spent even more time at the antiques shop across the street and especially Ruff & Company Hardware.

The old wooden hardware store is adjacent to its new - 1901 - replacement.
The old store, circa 1840, is next to the "new" one, built in 1901.  It, too, has a library ladder, still in use, but its shelves are chock-a-block full. The wooden floors have that walked-on spring and the range of merchandise spans as many years as the store itself.

Judy covets this cabinet.

We met owner Dan Ruff behind the cash register. He's the sixth generation to punch its keys and has as many stories to tell as there are items in his store. We yearned to stand around and hear them but he was busy and we had more places to see. However, is would have been a crime to miss his unique, mule shoe filing system.
Dan Ruff and his mule shoe filing system.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Camden, SC, is a jumping place

Camden, the first inland city founded (1732) in the state, is my kind of town. Gracious homes, many of them antebellum, sit regally on large, heavily-treed lots, and signs of horse culture are everywhere.

A horse-lover since birth, my nose twitched happily at the familiar aroma  of leather and hay and my eyes spied the signs from horse-fenced pastures to the ones warning riders that horses are not allowed on the sidewalks.

Suzi Sale, tourism development director for Camden, filled us in on some of the city's history. Camden was on the Catawba trade path and King Haigler, whose face we had seen on Catawba pottery, is considered its patron saint for all the help he gave early residents.

The town had a large British presence, including General Cornwallis,  and the Battle of Camden (August 1780) was one of the patriots' biggest losses. The next confrontation a year later, the Battle of Hobkirk's Hill, although a loss for the Patriots, prompted the British to abandon the city.

Bloomsbury House, built between 1849 and 1854 by South Carolina's third-richest man for his daughter, is now the Bloomsbury Inn, a bed and breakfast.
During the Civil War, Sherman's troops didn't go through Camden, sparing its homes for future generations.

Today, the invasion is of equine enthusiasts who swell the town's population by 10,000 February through April for the Carolina Cup steeplechase in March (March 28, 2015) then return for the Marion du Pont Scott Colonial Cup in November (Nov. 15, 2014) at Springdale Race Course.

Between those, the Camden Training Center and the South Carolina Equine Center, Suzi said there's an equine event of some sort every weekend year-round with the season running late September through May.

A life-sized statue of Lonesome Glory, five-time Horse of the Year, fronts The National The Steeplechase Museum .
It made sense to locate The National Steeplechase Museum, the only one in the country, in the Steeplechase Capital of the world so that's where we headed next.

Colors of Mrs. George M. Sensor, owner of 2014 Carolina Cup winner Top Striker.

Colors of Gregory D. Hawkins, owner of 2013 Colonial Cup winner Alajmal.
At the entrance of the Camden cottage-style building  you encounter two lawn jockeys painted in the colors of the most recent winners of the Carolina and Colonial Cups races.

Inside, if you're lucky, you meet Hope Cooper, executive director.

Hope gave us a tour of the museum and information about steeplechasing, which, like all other forms of racing, began when one owner turned to another and said, "Mine is faster than yours."

In Ireland and England during the 17th century, church steeples were the most easily points for starts and finishes. Racers had to negotiate any obstacles - walls, hedges, creeks - in between and the steeplechase was born. When the numbers of proud horsemen grew, courses were laid on which more than two horses at a time could race and the sport as we know it today was formed. By the mid 19th century race meets were being held along America's East coast.

Scene from The Grand National by Paul Brown.
Since 1927, steeplechase racing has been a highlight of life in Camden; the museum is adjacent to Springdale Race Course. Today there are two divisions, steeplechases with wooden rail jumps and those with brush jumps like large hedges. The Carolina Cup falls in the latter category. Races are 2 to 2 1/2 miles in length with 12 to 17 fences and last about 4 minutes.

Steeplechase riders weigh in at around 130 pounds compared to flat race jocks at 112 pounds. Most are from England and Ireland; only one American rider was on last year's card. Unlike Thoroughbreds that race at 2, steeplechasers aren't allowed to race until the age of 3, giving legs an extra year to strengthen for the jumping efforts.

Winners' silks and trophies.

Purses are smaller and oh, in South Carolina there is no pari mutual wagering, putting steeplechasing more on the level of a sport than a business.

Jockey silks surround the second floor cupola.
The museum is spacious and airy with silks of winning owners displayed around the second story cupola. Winners' plates and trophies fill niches, paintings and photographs of influential participants and famous horses on the walls.

Spacious and interesting.
In the library are 19 originals of England's The Grand National, the pinnacle of steeplechase races, by famed equine illustrator Paul Brown.
It wasn't the time for Judy to get in the saddle.
A favorite is the "trainer," a mechanical horse tacked with a race saddle that visitors can mount and see just how strong a jockey has to be.

Hope Cooper shows Debi the proper racing form.

Debi was laughing but admitted it was a lot harder than she expected.
I was dying to try it but with a slippy hip and knee-immobilizing brace, Debi had to do the honors. Yet another "next time".

Springdale Race Course grounds.
Walk out to the patio and you can see the grounds of Springdale Race Course. Makes you want to sit, relax and wait for the next race.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Thrills and No Spills at Carolina Motorsport Park

As a child I didn't know anyone who raced in a soap-box derby.  I never had a go-cart or Moped when they were the fad. In fact, I didn't even get my driver's license until after I graduated from high school, but I must say I love the excitement of jamming the gas pedal to the floor and feeling the car's acceleration. While that may sound a bit macho, women enjoy power and speed, too. Certainly the Good Girls do!
Go-Karts at Carolina Motorsports Park

I was in for treat the morning we arrived at Carolina Motorsports Park in Kershaw, SC and was told I could drive a go-cart! After one quick look at the place, I knew this is not your average go-cart track. Carolina Motorsports Park is the work of famed track designer, Alan Wilson. It opened back in 1991 and has continued to expand its facilities and services including: a 200 ft. diameter skid pad, timing tower with meeting and classroom space, race fuel station and open air garage for both cars and karts.

Ready to Go!
Weekdays, the 2.235-mile road course is primarily used for race team practice, car manufacturer testing, TV show and commercial filming as well as law enforcement training. Weekends are busy with auto and motorcycle races, track time events and driver education.

Debi driving the course.

“Carolina Motorsports Park allows drivers of all skill levels to practice, make mistakes and tune up in a safe environment,” said retired NASCAR driver, Ricky Rudd. Rudd has spent a lot of time there doing just that. "It’s the only course of its kind in the Carolinas, I think it’s the best kept secret around.”

Debi in her helmet
I wouldn't be racing a car, just taking a go-cart for a spin. I was given a helmet and maneuvered my body in the low seat (practically on the ground low) of a Birel Racing Kart and followed the leader out onto the 0.7- mile, 16 turn course. My kart had racing tires and was capable of 50 mph, but we didn't go anywhere near that speed. (Judy's hip would not allow her manage getting in and out of the kart.)

Fun?  I should say so; driving the course was a blast, a real adrenaline rush. Each lap I tried to go faster and  really felt like I was racing. Another great secret- driving a go-cart only costs just $20 for a 10 minute session.

Children ages 12 and up are also allowed to rent go-karts. (I imagine my grandson would nominate me for best grandma if I took them there!) Children who join the track's race series get instruction from track manager and guru, David Watkins. He has worked with kids as young as five and six. They are grouped according to age, of course, when sent out on the course. I saw a few of these "kiddie karts" in the garage and they were adorable.  

Child size Go-Karts in the Garage

Carolina Motorsports is home to the 10-race POWERADE Karting Championship, the Maxxis Summer Series and two WKA national events are held at the facility. In 2015, CMP will host The Rotax Max Challenge Grand Nationals, one of the premier annual events in Karting.

The Party Room at Carolina Motorsports Park 

The facilities would also make a grand outing for a corporation, think team building, or for a group or party. To find out more call 800-475-5006. Carolina Motorsports Park is a fun place!