By Scott Graber
It’s Saturday, in the time of Covid, and I’m in the middle of the Beaufort River. I began this swim — with several friends — in Port Royal and now we’re 50 yards from Beaufort Memorial Hospital. In thirty minutes we ought to be staggering up the boat ramp in Downtown Beaufort.
In an ’open water’ swim one’s mind wanders.
“Will I make it?” is the first question many ponder as they jump into the opaque, gray-green water.
“Will my heart seize-up?” is another topic for those of us advanced in years.
“Wasn’t a Great White recently tagged just off Charleston Harbor?” is yet another thought that invades the mind.
But this morning my mind settles on the small bobble-headed swimmer awarded to those who do well in this 3-mile race.
“But wait just a minute! This is not the official race — Beaufort’s Open Water Swim won’t happen until June 6. There won’t be any ‘bobble-heads’ awarded today. Nor any commemorative t-shirt or complimentary tote bag.”
Some of you might know that I have a small assemblage of ‘bobble-heads.’ You know this because I have them lined-up and lighted in a way that makes it impossible to not see them as one enters our living room. These ‘bobble-heads’ are living testament to my self-absorption; a non-stop craving for praise; a galloping end-stage narcissism.
I started swimming as a boy at Ocean Drive Beach (a/k/a North Myrtle Beach) but got serious as a teenager in Texas. There, as part of the Fort Sam Houston Swim Team, I became competitive, chlorinated, convinced that exercise taken in the company of young, Speedo-wearing girls was as close to Nirvana, or Bora Bora, as I was going to get.
Later, when I got to Beaufort, I had the good fortune to swim for Dick Fetters on the Beaufort Masters team.
In the last five years I’ve done my laps with Donna Altman and John Harris. These three-times-a-week (2,000 yards or so) workouts have become essential to my sense of well-being and to my physical health in general.
When the pandemic hit town, the swimming pools at Beaufort High and Battery Creek closed down. Then the YMCA in Port Royal shuttered its pool. This sent me out to Hunting Island. Although swimming laps in the ocean is difficult, and keeping track of one’s yardage almost impossible, the beach was beautiful and largely deserted.
But then South Carolina closed Hunting Island and that left the “Sands Beach.” Then, alas, Port Royal’s Town Council closed down their little piece of water.
I am aware that these are extraordinary times and social distancing is the strategy that has been employed to contain and defeat the virus. But for many hip- and knee-replaced, brittle-boned boomers getting regular, robust exercise is — was — part of our lives.
And as the Governor’s lock-down continued, many of those Lipitor, Lovastatin and Motrin-gulping grandparents wondered how to slow the atrophy, calcification, stenosis.
Dean Moss — widely credited as the principal architect of the Spanish Moss Trail — went to the Beaufort County Administrator early on asking that she keep the path open to the public. He said there would be signs saying that one must maintain a 6-foot setback. He said this last, best venue for serious exercise would not be abused.
Dean, and his wife Wendy Zara, ride their bicycles the full length of the Spanish Moss Trail several times each week. Don and Donna Altman do an early morning, several-miles-long hike that includes parts of the trail every day.
And as I ride my fat-tired bike along the trail, I see mothers pushing baby strollers, fathers running with their young sons, and muscular, spandex-wearing bikers zipping down the pathway.
Importantly, County Council has just allocated $160,000 of tax accommodation money for the purpose designing and permitting for the intersection that will happen where the trail crosses Ribaut Road in Port Royal.
This intersection — enthusiastically endorsed by the Town of Port Royal — may bring a new cohort of bikers and runners right down to the Sands Beach within a year’s time.
Dean Moss has been less successful extending the Trail into downtown Beaufort. He wanted an off-the-highway-pathway paralleling Bay Street.
But this pandemic has introduced the Trail to a whole new battalion of bikers, and walkers, and runners who will get themselves, one way or the other, to the trail head.
Scott Graber is a lawyer, novelist, veteran columnist and longtime resident of Port Royal. Email Scott at email@example.com.