Thursday, March 27, 2008

Back on the Coast

I don’t know how I could have forgotten; I had a near total wipeout yesterday. I was crossing an open grate bridge and the ridges on the deck that ran in the direction I was riding were a bit higher than usual. I was about halfway across when things started to go wrong. Carrying my gear far back and up high on my bike as I do, didn’t help the situation. Whether the wind pushed me from the side or if I just didn’t hold a straight line in the two-inch groove, my front tire jumped to the left a few groves over, but my back tire didn’t follow. Instead, my bike started sliding, which turned into fishtailing. After a few seconds I was able to straighten out my bike and even managed to keep myself on it. I slowed down crossing the remainder of the bridge. I didn’t think about it until later how miserable a wipeout that would have been. First off, I can’t imagine that landing on solid steel grating would be much fun. Secondly, when you fall off a bike you are supposed to roll. There wouldn’t have been much rolling taking place on a steel grate. It would have been one big metallic thud. Worst of all, there were a number of cars right behind me. I tend to doubt that the cars would have been able to stop in time to not run me over.

I have to stay in hotels with less comfortable beds. They are becoming an enabler to sleep later than I plan to. I got an early start, but still half an hour later than I would have liked. It was possibly the roughest start I had to date. It wasn’t the external conditions, but rather myself. My legs just didn’t want to turn the cranks. I was riding at 13 MPH and that was all I had. I don’t know if I didn’t get enough sleep, I didn’t eat properly the night before or what, but I struggled. I had also lowered my seat somewhat to see if it would eliminate the knee pain I had been having for the last few days. Lowering the seat may have helped out my knee, but it also took away some of the power from the extra leg extension, so I had to pedal just that little but harder to keep the same pace.

Fortunately, by the time I rode past the prison work program on a field trip I had picked up some speed. There were about 10 inmates and two officers with shotguns keeping watch. The officers had some serious shotguns; the kind you use for duck hunting, so that you get good range on the shot. I just wondered what they used for ammo. All the inmates seemed nice enough in their orange jumpsuits and waved or nodded as I passed by. I suspected that they are non-violent criminals, or at least I hoped so. I truly believe that picking up trash is an effective use of their time.

Within an hour of riding I felt like my old self. The wind picked up from behind me a bit to help push me along. The roads were inconsistent for most of the morning. Normally I expect road conditions to change when entering towns, crossing a state line or entering a new county. Today though the conditions seemed to change every ten minutes. When I arrived in Hyde County, there was a sign telling me that the county is “The Road Less Traveled" While that aspect of the county appealed to me, what they didn’t mention was that the county was also where the roads weren’t as well maintained. It couldn’t compete with Texas, but there were consistent cracks in the road about every 20 feet, running perpendicular to my direction of travel. Thunk-thunk, thunk-thunk, thunk-thunk, thunk-thunk. It was doing a number on my back and posterior, not to mention what affect it was having on my bike.

For a 60-mile stretch of my day I was riding through a series of Wildlife Refuges. The road was almost entirely devoid of cars. I rode for 20 minutes before a car passed in my direction. Even after that there was only about one car every 10 minutes. It was much different from some of the busier roads upon which I have ridden, where I would have 1,000 cars pass in that same time. I was really enjoying my own personal bicycle nirvana. It was one of my favorite parts of the ride to date.

While riding through the Swan Quarter, Mattamuskeet and Alligator River National Wildlife Refuges I was kept company by hundreds of turtles. The turtles took up residence on the logs floating on the stagnant river that ran next to the road the entire afternoon. I spent quite a bit of time looking at the turtles. I got a kick out of them dropping off their log and into the water as I rode past. It is the little things that keep me amused during the day. A couple of times I found myself nearly riding off the road as I was observing my hard shell friends. I also had a beaver eye me down as I rode along. As far as terrestrial animals were concerned, there were two deer on the side of the road that freaked out upon my appearance and ran alongside the road with me until they were able to find a clearing in the woods to cut through. I pulled out my camera a few seconds late. They ran with me for a good ten seconds before diving into the brush.

The Wildlife Refuges were wetlands for the most part. With that, the road wound in every compass direction through the area that was most suitable to have a road built upon it. The road was slightly elevated and had water along one side or the other for the entire distance. I meandered through the woods, swamp and low brown grass waving in the wind. The straight-line distance of my trip for the day was 84 miles, but actually riding, it was 134.

Done ask me how the planning commission let this one pass, but smack dab in the middle of the Wildlife Refuges, is a military bombing range. There were jets flying overhead, but I didn’t evidence any actual bombing. I just found it a bit odd to put an area where they test destructive capability betwixt others where they are trying to preserve life.

In heading to the Outer Banks of North Carolina I had to ride over the Roanoke Island Bridge. The bridge was in good shape, other than the expansion gaps being rather wide and deep. I did the best I could to jump over them, but fortunately for me, that was the worst thing I had to endure on the bridge. From the apex of the bridge I was able to see the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse in the distance. It didn’t come as a surprise, being that it is the tallest lighthouse in America at 208 feet.

As I usually do given the option, I stopped at a visitor center and spoke to a gentleman there. He mentioned to me that the bike riding in the Outer Banks is not very good as the roads are very narrow and there is a significant amount of traffic. I found the exact opposite to be true. There are two roads that run the length of the northern part of the Outer Banks. One is a highway of sorts and the other is a service road to get to the beachfront properties. The two roads are close enough that you could throw a rock between them, but both have room for bicycles. I was elated.

The northern part of the Outer Banks reminded me of a cross between Fire Island and Myrtle Beach. There were cars and lots of chain stores, but it still had a small town beach feel. There were many private homes right along the water. It was still early in the season, so many of the homes were shut tight. Several businesses had also not opened for the season. On the plus side, I was able to find a place to stay right on the ocean for an off-season rate. From my room all I had to do was walk over a sand dune to get to the Atlantic Ocean.

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