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  • Writer's pictureNancy Bauer

Tiny Adventures: Back-roading in Santee, SC

Updated: Oct 23, 2019

When you finally have time to travel, it's easy to feel less-than for not joining friends on that Antarctic ice-breaker expedition. Not everyone has the interest - or the money.

But not every adventure has to be grand. Even the tiny ones can raise your pulse, bring human connection, and surprise you with beauty.

I’m at the halfway point in my 2-day drive, heading south, and I’ve been feeling guilty about sticking to I-95 the whole way, completely adventure-less. But I’ve got an SUV full of books that I need to start shipping and a lingering cold so I’m powering through to Sarasota, making great time.

Normally, I’d have breakfast at Clark’s Restaurant in Santee, SC, before hitting the road for Day Two. (It’s 25 feet from my room, they have real biscuits, and it’s included in the rate). But I’ve been to Santee a half dozen times now and never once ventured farther into town than Clark’s. So I ask Siri to tell me options, and she says there’s a local café just 10 minutes up the road – perfect! I can buy local, see 30 minute's worth of whatever there is to see, grab some good coffee, and get back on the road.

Siri tells me head west and then take a right. The right is a dirt road; unexpected, but okay. Near-naked cotton stalks hibernate in dirt fields on either side. Is there any better portrayal of the drama of small-town farming than cotton plants, little bits of white still clinging to the dead-looking stems?

The road changes abruptly, from dirt to red clay, conjuring memories of other adventures: Sedona buttes, and Virginia vineyard land. As trees begin to crowd in, I wonder Can there really be a café down here? Should I turn around? CAN I turn around - without getting stuck in a ditch?

Another quarter mile on the road changes again, to sand. This time it’s memories of the OBX, and rear-wheel drives getting stuck up to their axels on the drive-on beach. Let's just say I’m now alert. But I trust my car, and how far can it be if I have to walk back to the road? Plus, Scoob is heavy, loaded with 20 cases of Virginia Wine Travel Journals and another several cases of wine, so we’re unlikely to bog down. (Except, wait, is that the driving-in-snow rule?)

Siri says turns left, and I’ve arrived. At Nina’s Café.

Nina is doing poorly.

And it’s cold and windy and I didn’t pack a coat since I’m heading south. If I’m gonna turn around it’s gonna be now because the road’s too narrow otherwise. But no, I’m being a ninny. Still, it’s probably best to look for civilization.

Which is just up the road.

But Civilization isn't home now, and I don't want to leave a message, so Scoob and I carry on uphill, watching for bear or whatever else roams the woods of Santee.

Going slow around blind turns, thinking about a YouTube I saw last month, of crazy Jeepsters caravanning at high speed over backroads just, like, this…

And, crap, here comes one now. It’s a crazy backroad mangler in a …

A FedEx truck...

...whose driver gives me a honk and a killer smile, bounding off fearlessly into the deep woods.

Cresting the hill, I see fields and fields of what I’m going to call heather (for lack of any actual horticultural knowledge).

Beautiful in the brilliant Santee sunshine, waving in the chilly breeze.

And then, downtown Santee: bait shop, McDonalds, and I-95, heading south.

Adventure? Check.

What tiny adventure did you have today?

60 views3 comments


May 27, 2020

Great story! You weren't far from my neighborhood. I often take this same dirt road on the way home from work instead of taking the closer route, especially on stressful days. It allows me to unwind in the momentary peace and quiet. On cool days, I will turn off the radio and roll down the window. My granddaughter and I have spent many days traveling this dirt road and many others. Cruising, we call it, just to take in nature. My husband I love to go to a certain spot on this particular road late in the day to capture beautiful sunsets. I have taken tons of photos, many in the same spots you shared here. The photo that you…


Nancy Bauer
Nancy Bauer
Mar 29, 2019

I never thought to walk over the bridge! That's a great idea, thanks! I'm sure Nina's is there somewhere - maybe she and Siri aren't getting along. (I'll check out the beet salad. I really love their Buttery Wine Roast ;-))


Mar 29, 2019

I too have stayed many times at Clark's in Santee, but have not ventured out except to walk the old Rt301 bridge over the water. Maybe we'll try finding Nina's next time! BTW - Clark's has an excellent beet salad!

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