Anthony and I rode together to Columbia, while Rachel drove. We left at 10 am, arrived at 8 pm and clocked up 110 miles in the process. Anthony barely slowed me down, which is incredible considering he hadn't trained at all and only rode seven miles for his daily commute, with the occasional twenty mile jaunt at weekends. Apart from the distance, all the other ingredients were in place for a perfect bike ride : blue sky, no wind, gentle undulations, twisting roads and pretty scenery. It was cold, but this only served to chivvy us along in order to keep warm. Anthony had mapped a route, which was fairly direct, yet also took us along quiet roads, through a densely wooded landscape. The earth is sandy in these parts and it's fairly dry, but there's a rich mix of trees, including coniferous varieties. We had our lunch by a pond slightly off the road and then saw a 'No trespassing' sign. There were a couple of women standing outside their house across the road, so we thought it best to ask if we could sit there. They were friendly and chatty, and they said it was OK. It's funny to me how people own several acres of land around their houses, but don't seem to do anything with it and there are usually no fences. It grew much colder when the light failed and we had a few tricky turnings to make on minor roads. Luckily there had been an AT&T cell phone shop right next to the motel and I had bought some urgently needed credit for my phone, so that we could keep in contact with Rachel and ask tonight's host for directions.
We were both exhausted when we arrived in the suburb of Blythewood a little after eight, where Scrabble club director Peggy, a nurse, lived with her two dogs, and two cats - one of whom was deaf. Here we were reunited with Rachel, and also met up with Peggy's sister, Sue, another nurse (who Peggy referred to as her 'Sue Chef') and her Scrabbler friends; Cathy, who would soon graduate to become a Doctor of Nursing, and Mike, who worked for a telephone company. They all had lilting Southern accents and I could have listened to them all night. Anthony and I were embarrassed to have arrived so late, as they had waited to dine with us. Tonight's sumptuous Southern celebration included : pork loin, fried rice, creamed sweetcorn, asparagus, fruit salad served in little sweet baskets, beer and 'Red Bicyclette' wine! Scottish-American relations were improved further with shortbread and Scottish flags.
Cathy and Sue had to leave after dinner, which left four of us to play two games of one-on-one Scrabble, while Rachel played with the lively little dogs. I managed to win both my encounters, against Peggy and Mike, largely due to being the only one to bingo in each (UNVOICE & SIGNAGE) and the free 50 points makes it hard for the other person to catch up. The game against Peggy was very close though, because she picked up three of the four 'power tiles' (J,Q,X,Z) and used them to good effect. The last few moves were very tactical and tense on both our parts, as neither of us wanted to open the board up. I told myself I was going to win and I really believe that can make a difference. Anthony had never played with a clock before and neither had he played with the American word list, even though he had resided in the country since the early nineties. Like me, he uses SOWPODS, and played a few erroneous two letter words. He acquitted himself well however, being naturally competitive, just like me, and with the unchallenged phony SHOALERS, he won one of his games.
Anthony & Rachel headed off to the motel at this point, while I slept at Peggy's house. The next day she had half a day's holiday and took the three of us to a local restaurant called 'Lizard's Thicket', where in addition to my usual bacon & egg, Peggy was adamant that I try 'grits', which is a bland porridge-like substance and I didn't see what the fuss was about. Peggy had travelled extensively, to Europe and Australia, and also belonged to a skiing club that skied in the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina and Virginia. Anthony was surprisingly keen to get back in the saddle, although he found getting in and out of the car quite an ordeal! Peggy said goodbye with a bag of South Carolina goodies, which was very nice of her, and it contained : guide book, cookbook, penknife, bookmark, teabags, tea strainer, 'peanut crunch' and... grits mixture...