Days 40-42: Andrew Pickens RD of Sumter NF & J. Strom Thurmond Dam & Lake at Clarks Hill

Road Miles: 194.2

Total: 4310.6

Trail Miles: 0

Total: 114.9

Sites: Andrew Pickens RD of Sumter NF; Parksville Wayside Park; J. Strom Thurmond Lake & Dam at Clarks Hill

When I woke up, the skies looked threatening. It wasn’t too cold though, so I hopped out to pee, and smelled rain coming. I got back in the van to dress and check the weather. Rain all day. Awesome. A few minutes later, I heard a vehicle coming. What? Why?! There aren’t any waterfalls up here! A truck rounded the last bend and I saw the driver’s camo-covered elbow poking out the window. Oh… yeah. People hunt around here. I suddenly felt wildly relieved I’d already got the naked peeing out of the way, because yeah. That would have been awkward. I chatted with the hunter who was after turkey for a few minutes before he turned around and made his way back down the hill.

By now, the rain had started. I wasn’t sure what the road to Riley Moore Falls was like, but the road here had been a little dicey, and that was when it was dry. Also, chasing waterfalls in the rain is not nearly as much fun. So, I decided to hit up nearby Walhalla for a hot meal and hopefully some wifi. I chanced upon the Oconee Heritage Center on my way into town, and stopped to check it out. This museum and education center focusing on the history and culture of Oconee County is great! The staff is incredibly friendly, and I spent quite awhile with one of the curators, learning some of her favorite local places on public lands. She also recommended the nearby Steak House Cafeteria for lunch. This restaurant is ironically-named, as there is no steak, but the fried chicken is amazing, and their fried yellow squash was delicious as well. They also have free wifi!

Because it was still pouring, I decided to head to Cherry Hill Campground as opposed to trying to disperse someplace where I might get stuck in the mud or have a tree fall on me or trap me in the forest. Again. Also, the forest website said the campground had warm showers! Which was great, as I was definitely overdue. Although you can reserve a site at Cherry Hill, I was able to score a walk-up site reasonably close to a bathroom for $5 with my America the Beautiful annual pass. Here, I learned that the Forest Service takes some liberties with the term “warm showers.” That was one of the quickest showers of my life, freezing my ass off the whole time. The campground and facilities were super clean, although I did enjoy a sample of local graffiti on a bathroom door, inviting me to: “RASE HELL EAT CORNBREAD!”

The next morning, it was still cold and rainy, so I gave up on waterfalls in favor of heading south to the lowlands and hopefully warmer weather. I took a crazy circuitous route in the direction of Congaree National Park (what? The Cherokee Foothills Scenic Highway? That sounds nice!) which is what you do when you want to soak in as much of the country as possible – this is flow travel. I took Hwy 11 south to Hwy 24 east, turned south again on Highway 187, then cut east again on Highway 412 toward Starr. The drive was beautiful! Once I got to Highway 81, I continued south, and stopped for lunch at Michelle’s Restaurant in McCormick (great burgers!). There, I checked Congaree’s website, and saw that because of all the rain, most of the trails, most of the park in fact, was underwater. Oooook… Plan B. But I don’t have a Plan B!

I got on freecampsites.net to look at my options, and saw there weren’t many. Only 3.7% of South Carolina is public lands, so camping options are slim. Finally, I found Lick Fork Lake Campground on the Long Cane Ranger District of the Sumter National Forest, and camping would only be $3.50 with my interagency pass discount. En route, I saw a roadside picnic area next to some water, so I stopped to check it out. This was the Parksville Wayside Park, a large tidy area with covered picnic tables and access to the Savannah River. While I was there, I double-checked the directions to Lick Fork Lake, and realized that they hadn’t yet opened for the season. I was two days early. Dammit! Plan C, then…. except I had no more of a Plan C than I’d had a Plan B.

I got back on freecampsites.net and saw that Modoc Campground was just a few miles south of where I was sitting. Unfortunately, their least-expensive campsite was $18 per night unless I could score the 50% off discount with my interagency pass. The $18 site (less expensive because it doesn’t have any hookups or water) looked amazing on the map, though, so with no other reasonable options, I resigned myself to the much more expensive site cost and hoped for the best in scoring it, especially since this was a Friday afternoon. 

Lucky me! Although the campground at this U.S. Army Corps of Engineers site was already 80% full when I arrived, Site 11, the one I’d hoped for, was still available. However, my annual interagency pass did not get me the usual 50% discount here (although it is available for holders of the lifetime passes). Then, the host told me that they have a 2-night minimum on the weekends. He must have seen my face fall and deep sigh, because after a brief pause he said, “unless you’re just passing through…” I assured him that I was indeed just passing through on my way to Florida, paid my $18, and headed off to Site 11. I stopped briefly to help a red-faced, profusely-sweating, out of breath dude pushing a Sportster up the road with a jump-start. Hello, neighbor! (He was not at all friendly – you’re welcome, though!)

I finally got to my site, and instantly realized how insanely awesome it was: my own peninsula! Far from any neighbors! Warm calm water lapping at my own personal beach! ZOMG! I immediately got back in the van and went back to the camp hosts. “um, so.. your 2-night minimum? That seems fair enough…!” I paid $18 more dollars and felt instantly elated at the idea of a zero day here, just flapping around in the water, soaking up some warm sun. 

I went into Martinez, Georgia to hit the market there for some re-supply items after making a quick stop at the Thurmond Visitor Center (it was closing in half an hour, so I decided to go back after my stay at Modoc). This is the closest, most cost-effective place to stock up for a stay at Modoc. There are only a couple of options closer to the campground, and they are over-priced with minimal selection. I didn’t realize until I looked at a larger map later how close I’d been to the Augusta National Golf Club, although I definitely stuck out like a sore thumb with my crazy-ass van among all of the Beemers and Benzes rolling around.

Finally, back at my spot, my happy place, I settled in and enjoyed the hell out of Site 11: the sunsets were killer, the water was perfect swimming temperature, near-total privacy, I even saw a gorgeous little fox on one trip to the bathroom to get water and a shower. I had everything I needed, and all the sunny skies and warmth my heart desired. It was a glorious stop, one of my absolute favorites the entire trip.