Skydiving and Blackwater Swamps: Overcoming Fears in South Carolina’s Olde English District

Skydiving and Blackwater Swamps: Overcoming Fears in South Carolina’s Olde English District

Breaking Through Fear!

Posted June 15, 2024

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Buffeted by ferocious winds, I stared into the abyss of an open airplane door. The bright South Carolina June sky and cotton candy clouds seemed a cruel contrast to the darkness gripping me — an innate fear of falling that has haunted me for years. I could barely hear my Skydive Carolina instructor Cathy Abelleira’s words in my ear as I clenched my jaw.

“When I count to three, we are both going to stand up but keep our knees bent to walk to the edge,” Cathay said, way more chipper than I felt. My heart felt like it would burst from my chest as I looked into the blue-sky void.

Just a day before, I lazily paddled my kayak through a classic South Carolina blackwater swamp in one of the most relaxing afternoons I’d had. I learned all about South Carolina’s railroad history at the South Carolina Railroad Museum in Winnsboro. I rode horses and played with baby goats at the family-centric outdoor nature reserve of Anne Springs Close Greenway. In the university town of Rock Hill, I explored the hip and vibrant vibe.

On my last day in this area, I was about to drop out of the sky.

Letting Go

We were tethered so tightly I practically wore Cathy as a parachuted backpack. Stepping to that threshold felt like crossing into the void itself. Yet amid the terror, an odd calm washed over me. I was doing this — either conquering my basophobia or not. So, I chose to savor the moment.

At the count of three, we tipped out into a roaring cyclone. But instead of panic, elation surged through me. I opened my eyes to brilliant blue skies and started laughing. I sailed like a falcon, free and wild, fear cast away. When the parachute bloomed, silence enveloped us, drifting among clouds tinged with South Carolina’s summer clouds. In that profound peace, I breathed the crisp, clean air and marveled at how easily I let my terror go.

Olde English District South Carolina

The author beats her fear of falling with Skydive Carolina!

 

The Olde English District of South Carolina

Tucked along the border of North Carolina, and just mere miles from Charlotte, the Olde English District of South Carolina promises a relaxed and surprising journey. Here you’ll find a blend of small-town charm, outdoor adventures and rich history. Spanning seven counties—Chester, Chesterfield, Fairfield, Kershaw, Lancaster, Union and York—this region unveils a fascinating past and celebrates trailblazers.

Whether you’re jumping out of airplanes, tracing the footsteps of revolutionaries and history-makers, paddling serene waters, or witnessing urban renewal, this district has plenty of ways for families to explore, learn and savor its unique character.

South Carolina Pecan Estate

Pecan Hill Estate B&B

 A Place Worth Exploring

The Olde English District of north-central South Carolina doesn’t seem like the obvious place to plan a four-day vacation or beat a fear. Its beaches are tucked along swamps and rivers. Its towns are too quaint and small for raging parties. And, it doesn’t have the snooty sophistication (and cost) of bigger cities in the state.

However, The Olde English District’s timeworn towns, shadowed by antebellum homes, whisper hospitality and history rather than heart-pounding pursuits.

This juxtaposition of quaint charm and outdoor adventures makes the region alluring. Ridgeway, a Fairfield County hamlet, seems frozen in time with its white picket fences and ancient pecan trees shading the streets. Here, the Negro Leagues’ Mamie “Peanut” Johnson was born, her fierce pitching talent inspiring generations.

In the segregated 1940s, Johnson blazed a trail by becoming one of the first women to play in the Negro Leagues. Her blistering fastball and tenacity on the mound shattered gender norms. Her pioneering spirit opened doors for generations of women in baseball and furthered dreams of inclusion in America’s pastime.

Today, the town honors its hero with the annual Mamie “Peanut” Johnson Classic youth tournament. But while exploring that history, be sure to roam the walkable downtown’s boutique shops and book a stay at the century-old  Pecan Hill Estate Bed & Breakfast., where owners Tina and Rick Johnson’s warm hospitality and decadent pecan candies embody southern graciousness.

South Carolina Railroad Museum

South Carolina Railroad Museum

 Riding the Rails

Just down the road from Ridgeway stands the South Carolina Railroad Museum in Winnsboro. This unique treasure trove immerses visitors in the rich heritage of railroading in the Palmetto State. Situated in the town’s historic former railroad depot, the museum’s exhibits feature an impressive collection of rolling stock, including various types of freight and passenger cars. A highlight in the collection,  steam locomotive #44, once belonged to the Hampton and Branchville Railroad. Additional acquisitions include cabooses, freight cars, and diesel engines from CSX, Norfolk Southern, the Lancaster and Chester, and other railroads.

In October 1983, the Museum received the former Rockton and Rion Railway from Martin Marietta Aggregates, which it reconstructed. The line was renamed to The Rockton, Rion and Western Railroad (RR&W), and today, visitors can watch a vintage turntable demonstration, speak with docents about South Carolina’s rail history or even take a ride on a vintage railcar during special events like barbecue dinner trains, Christmas trains and private charters.

I didn’t get to take a ride that day, but I had different mode of transportation to explore.

Kayaking at Goodale State Park Canoe Trail

Kayaking on the Goodale State Park Canoe Trail

 On a Watery Trail

Deep within the cypress-studded blackwater swamps of South Carolina lies Goodale State Park, an otherworldly ecosystem teeming with ecological wonders just outside of Camden. As sunlight filters through the canopy, it dances across the coffee-hued waters, courtesy of tannins released by decaying vegetation. This distinctive hue gives the swamplands an air of mystery as I kayaked with Park Manager John Wells through the park’s 4-mile canoe trail.

“This was a Civil War-era mill pond, and the creek was dammed to create the pond,” Wells said. “The natural current of the creek still runs through it, so that’s what we use for the canoe trail.”

With tiny frogs hitching a ride on my leg, we floated past a forest of lily pad flowers. We also watched a mating pair of hawks screech down at us from a nest high in the cypress trees. Red-cockaded woodpeckers and the bright pink roseate spoonbill also call this park home, as does a legendary 11-foot alligator named Elvis… maybe!

“I’ve never seen him, but others say they have,” Wells said. “My favorite organisms are the carnivorous pitcher plants and the carnivorous snails that eat other snails. We’ve been doing a lot of work at this park, which was kind of neglected for a while. But, of all the parks I’ve worked in, Goodale is one of my favorites.”

With $10 kayak rentals for the full day, this gem of South Carolina’s wilds is also one of the most budget-friendly activities in the area, leaving you enough cash to enjoy a fancy dinner of fresh seafood and rich bourbon in nearby Camden’s new B. Colson restaurant.