I arrived in Columbia, SC around 6AM. The train was two hours late, which was fine with me as arriving at 4AM doesn't sound that fun. I found one of the few open coffee shops in the area, (thanks to my Yelp app), and headed over for some much-needed WiFi.
A little before 10AM I set out in search of a barber shop. I was looking a little scruffy and I figured I should clean up in preparation for my spot on the Today Show. And with a week before the appearance, my hair would have time to grow a bit in case the cut didn't look so good. The barber grew up in the area and has been working in the shop for about thirty years. He took his time cutting my hair and I got a little nervous when he took out a straight razor to clean up a few areas, but it ended up looking pretty good.
Next I was off to University of South Carolina. I was meeting up with John Parks, the executive director of their Innovista initiative. They're working to redevelop a portion of downtown Columbia which will include a few new research buildings. Part of that research has to do with hydrogen fuel cells, and they hope to have fuel cell buses transporting students and faculty around the campus soon. They didn't have a hydrogen-powered bus or car to try out yet, but they have built a fuel cell powered segway which I was able to go for a spin on.
Next I met up with Jay who picked me up in his vegetable oil-powered ambulance that he bought on ebay a few years back. Jay owns two Melting Pot restaurants in the area and didn't know what to do with all the wasted oil, (which was still pretty clean), that the restaurant uses to warm the fondue. Then one of his servers mentioned bio-diesel and fry-brids to him, and he started searching for one online. He ended up finding the ambulance in a nearby town, and because it already had two gas tanks there was barely any conversion he needed to do.
He pours the oil through a sieve and then dumps it directly into the gas tank. Jay admits that he's seen bits of mushroom and broccoli go in there too, but the car's still running fine. We stopped by the restaurant to see the process in action before we hopped in the ambulance and drove to my next stop on the Un-Road Trip, (which happened to be on the way to Jay's other restaurant).
About an hour later, Jay dropped me off in:
I had gotten a call from Lauren Ponder at Spartanburg's Convention and Visitor's Bureau a few months back, and she strongly encouraged a visit to this former Hub City. Back in the day, there were trains coming into Spartanburg from eight directions. Now there's only one or two passenger trains coming through their un-staffed station, but there's still a lot to see. When I got to town Lauren took me to Partners for Active Living, an organization that seeks to make the city a more healthy and livable community. One of their coolest initiatives is their Hub Cycle program. For a $15 deposit, (which is later refunded), you can borrow a bike, helmet, and lock for three months, (and keep renewing it for as long as you like). Lauren and I borrowed bikes and she pointed out some Spartanburg landmarks as we biked back to her office.
We made some plans for the next day before I set off to my hosts for the night. I biked through town and on Spartanburg's awesome Rail Trail, paved over one of their old lines, which is shared by bikers, skateboarders, and walkers. About forty minutes later I arrived at Betsy Teter and John Lane's house. Betsy is a founding member of Hub-Bub, an awesome arts organization in Spartanburg. In addition to hosting frequent art shows and musical performances, they also have an incredible Artist in Residence program where they invite four twenty-somethings to live in town for a year and create art in the community. John is a professor, adventurer, and author- you can check out his recent columns at Kudzu Telegraph. They live in a beautiful eco-friendly house in the woods that they designed themselves to LEED standards.
After a great night's sleep I headed out on my bike again and stopped by Hub-Bub briefly before meeting up with my newest mode of transportation.
It's the Eco Mow, Chad Lane's new electric riding lawn mower. It can charge a few acres on one charge, and he's working on a solar-powered model too. I'd never ridden a lawn mower before, so the zero-turn steering took a little time to get used to, but it was pretty thrilling. Chad told me that because riding mowers don't have any pollution limits imposed on them, (like cars do), they can be huge polluters. I was one of the few people to have ridden one of these so far, but they'll be available to the public in a few weeks.
Next up I met up with Partners for Active Living again for their Friday bike ride at noon. Around a dozen people showed up for a quick six mile bike ride along the rail trail and through a nearby park. On the way back, we noticed an abandoned shopping cart near the trail and we couldn't pass up the opportunity to check out another mode of transportation.
After mowing a few lawns, I headed over to meet up with the guys from Longleaf Development and RJ Rockers. Longleaf was providing my accommodations for the night and RJ Rockers is a local brewery, but there's some overlap in their management. They handed me their Bell Ringer brew and showed me my home for the next day and a half.
I took the next day to explore the town a bit more- checking out the local produce at their farmer's market, vising the local museum, and joining a historic downtown walking tour. And before I knew it my time in Spartanburg was nearly done. I headed to the Amtrak station to catch the midnight train north, but I had a feeling I'd be back. Spartanburg is truly a great town with some of the nicest people I've met this entire trip. It's surprisingly progressive, and I'm excited to see what programs and initiatives these guys come up with next. I hope to back soon to find out, and I hope that some of the people I met there- you know who you are- will come out to Portland on June 28th for the "End of the Un-Road Trip Bash."
Next up- Charlottesville!
P.S. This is what a bale of cotton looks like. I've always wondered...