Running Under the Lightning on the Ravenel Bridge in Charleston
Travel Stories, Stories From the Road

A bolt of lightning streaked over our heads and the thunder boomed almost immediately. Rain was coming down as if from a giant shower head in the sky. Amanda was worried about getting struck by lighting but I couldn’t stop smiling. It was a pretty messed up situation but we survived and it became one of my favorite travel moments of the year.

Less than twenty-four hours earlier I met Amanda for the first time in the small kitchen of Notso Hostel in Charleston. I was working on photos from my day exploring Shem Creek and Amanda was just checking in. We became fast friends and immediately began sharing stories of our travel adventures. I had just come from a week on the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina and she was traveling across the country from Arizona.

The next day Amanda and I met for dinner with a few of our fellow hostelers. After dinner we decided to take a walk on Wonders Way on the Ravenel Bridge for an amazing sunset view. I am normally borderline fanatical about keeping up with the weather but I had been too busy having fun with my new travel friends on this day. It wasn’t until we began the long walk to the first overlook on the bridge that I paid attention to the dark clouds quickly moving in.

A brilliant sunset across the Cooper River, seen from Wonders' Way on the Arthur Ravenel, Jr. Bridge in Charleston, SC on Sunday, September 8, 2013. Copyright 2013 Jason Barnette

On days without an approaching thunderstorm the sunset view from Wonders Way is really quite amazing.

It’s exactly one mile from a gas station in Mt. Pleasant to the first overlook at one of the support pylons on the Ravenel Bridge. The concrete path ascends a couple hundred feet so the walk there is slow and mildly strenuous. The 10′ wide path is shared by people walking, jogging, and bicycling across the bridge. We passed a lot of people heading down on our way up, but we were the only ones going up.

About halfway up the bridge the sun beamed from a small gap beneath the approaching storm clouds. Warm orange colors bounced across the bottom of the clouds for a few minutes and created a beautiful, peaceful display. But a few minutes later the sun dipped below the horizon and suddenly the darkness of the approaching storm surrounded us. I kept moving because I was determined to reach the overlook with Amanda before the storm hit.

Mount Pleasant, SC on Monday, September 19, 2016. Copyright 2016 Jason Barnette

This is the one photo I managed to capture before running down the bridge in the middle of the storm. Can you see the wall of rain on the right, across the bridge?

I failed. Almost as soon as we arrived at the overlook the temperature dropped several degrees and a strong wind picked up. Lightning was already flashing on the other side of the bridge. I could see the wall of rain approaching. We stayed for just a few minutes while I captured a single photo before deciding it was most definitely time to leave.

The walk back is always easier since it’s downhill all the way but we picked it up double time while keeping an eye on the approaching storm. No, the storm was no longer approaching. It was on top of us. Lightning streaked across the sky over our heads and the thunder boomed almost immediately. It was really the worst kind of situation we could have been in: walking in the open on a towering bridge surrounded by metal in the middle of a thunderstorm.

The rain was almost as thick as standing in a waterfall. It came down so hard there was an inch of standing water on the path. Our socks, shoes, and feet were soaked, which only made it more difficult to walk quickly. I had pulled the rain cover over my camera bag but neither of us had thought to bring a rain jacket.

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We were drenched to the bone but couldn’t stop smiling while snapping a selfie to remember this little adventure.

By the time we made it back to my car we were drenched to the bone. Not a dry spot on either of us. We quickly jumped into the car as lightning continued to flash and deafening thunder boomed. We looked at each other and suddenly couldn’t stop laughing. We had survived the little misadventure. The smiling didn’t fade for hours as we took a quick selfie and then went out for ice cream because what else can you do after an experience like that?

Throughout 2016 I had many amazing adventures. I spent a week exploring the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Drove the entire Blue Ridge Parkway from end to end during the fall. Saw the Chicoteague Pony Swim in Virginia. Went on an epic Appalachian Fall Tour road trip from Syracuse to Chattanooga. But out of everything I did throughout the year this was one of my favorite travel moments of the year. It was absolutely crazy and I wouldn’t recommend anyone else attempt this, but Amanda and I had the time of our lives.