Days 14-15

September 19th, 2010

Savannah:
Given how well we did on camping, this was my first real opportunity to be a marauder of the hotel breakfast buffet.  Waffles, biscuits and gravy, cereal, hard-boiled eggs, donuts, fruit, etc.  If they had it, I ate it!

We relaxed in our room, then checked out at 11am to see more of the city, leaving our bikes behind.  We visited many of Savannah’s famous squares, which are presumably annoyances for drivers who must navigate around them, but form beautiful park-like oases for those on foot.  Public spaces all around the city, not only the squares, are shaded and cooled by spreading canopies of iconic Live Oaks, with their hanging beards of Spanish Moss.  A natural air-conditioning, they make the city liveable under temperatures that would otherwise be unbearable.  Along with the countless stately historic buildings, there is seldom a stretch of flat sidewalk to be found.  Stone, brick, and even seashells underfoot add to the old-world charm of the city.

We lingered for some time at an independent coffeshop (root beer float and a spinach scone for me), frequented by many still-comfortingly-idealistic students from the nearby Savannah College of Art and Design.  Then after some more sightseeing, it was time to leave Savannah behind, riding our bikes at below-sweat-threshold speed to the Amtrak station out in a desolate wasteland that made the historic city even more beautiful in comparison.

At less than 12 hours, it was a “short” train ride to DC, and despite the wailing 2-year-old across the aisle, I somehow got excellent sleep, which made it go even faster.

Washington DC:
Union Station in DC is by far the most-impressive train station I’ve been in.  Perhaps the the clientele attracted to the high-speed Acela Express service (connecting major centers of finance and government) is a bit different than the standard Amtrak customer, and their cash flow keeps the station well-maintained and full of amenities?

We sat down on a park bench, enjoying yet another perfect morning (though somewhat cooler than we’d been used to) and used our phones to select a hotel.  We ended up at the Grand Hyatt, for the 3rd $99 hotel in a row, though this was by far the classiest.  We couldn’t check in, so instead got a recommendation for breakfast at Lincoln’s Waffle House, a packed-in little spot presided over by an Asian man cheerfully “woo”-ing and “ayy”-ingg as he took orders and directed traffic.  Food was nothing special, but it was a fun local spot.

Then we got in a bit of monument-seeing before hopping the Metro for a subway ride back to our hotel.  This classy hotel (grand piano floating in a lagoon on the lower level) was so full of finely-dressed African-Americans that I almost felt out-of-place as a white dude in shorts.  It took a day and Dre T. Turner to help figure out what was going on.  Dre was a man in white pinstripe suit who stopped us in the stairwell as we were heading up to bed, telling us to check out his music: “Dre T. Turner, Facebook, YouTube, cdbaby.  Dre T. Turner!”  Gotta respect a man hustling that hard to get his music heard, so of course I had to check him out.  His Facebook revealed that he was actually from Chicago, and was in town to perform at the Congressional Black Caucus’s annual conference.  Ah ha.  And then that explained why, earlier in the evening, while having a beer in the brewpub across the street (amazingly, this brewpub/hotel combination was completely unplanned), we saw the streets get shut down and the President’s motorcade stream by!  The initial word was that he was actually going to our hotel, but now I think he was probably just going to the conference center a couple blocks away.  Still was cool to see.

We ended up at the brewpub after meeting the Bansal ladies and having dinner at an old Washington tavern.  Old friends of Swati’s, I’ve now met Mrs. Bansal in DC, in India, and of course many times in the Chicago area.  I’m pretty sure she’s stalking me.  :-)  They were the third group of friends we’ve met on this trip, which was very cool, because although Dennis and I seem to do remarkably well spending  350 hours straight rarely out of each others’ sight, it’s always nice to add some fresh voices to the conversation!

Before that, we had done another stretch of Metro-fueled sightseeing, including the Pentagon, Arlington Cemetary, the Lincoln Memorial, the Vietnam Memorial, and perhaps my favorite, the Albert Einstein Memorial: finally a statue honoring someone for something besides skill in politics or killing people!

The next day we bagged the three branches of the Government (White House, Capitol, Supreme Court), and also visited the Air and Space Museum, where we saw no fewer than three bicycle-related exhibits: an exercise bike in Skylab, a rare example of a bicycle designed and manufactured by the Wright Brothers (resembling a bicycle of today 100 times more than a 747 resembles the 1903 Wright Flyer), and the Gossamer Condor, the first airplane to fly on human (pedal) power.  Ourselves, we were operating on foot-power alone, as we shipped our bikes straight through from Savannah to Chicago.  Plenty of bicycles around town though, many annoyingly piloted on the sidewalks.  Git in the street, people!

It was my third visit to Washington, but first in 15 years, and still very enjoyable.  I was fearing that the post-9/11 Washington would be a defaced mess of high fences and concrete barricades and blast walls.  Certainly things are more locked-down and surveilled than I remember them (we were sudddenly herded away by police from the White House South Lawn when a visitor for the President was arriving), but on the whole, the monumental edifices are able to overcome their lowly barriers.

So it was another great day in an interesting place, and with a mere 18 hour train ride remaining, a good end to what, on the whole, was a pretty darn good two weeks.

Day 13

September 17th, 2010

Alarm went off at 5:50am, so that we could get up and out of our motel as soon as possible to cover the 107 miles to Savannah before the heat would suck out all our drive and motivation.  The original plan had us doing another night of coastal camping between Charleston and Savannah, for two days of about 80 miles apiece.  Getting to the coast takes you significantly off the direct route between the two cities, so compressing those two days into one cuts the total distance considerably, but it would still be by far the longest effort of our trip.  In the middle of the day before, as the oppressive heat was sucking out our life force, I didn’t think it would be doable, but checking the route and weather after a relaxing evening, my confidence returned.  The main advantage would be that it would give us a whole day to actually see Savannah, and given how much good camping we’d done, I wouldn’t feel bad about missing another night.

The morning got off to a rough start for Dennis, as I stabbed him in the eye with my finger, when reflexively snatching to grab my tipping bike as I was attempting to hook up my headlight.  Luckily no serious harm was done, and after that, everything went very smoothly.  We broke the ride into 13-16 mile chunks, switching leading/drafting positions halfway through each chunk, and then breaking for drinks, food, stretching, and hand/butt relief between them.  We managed to cover the first 63 miles, a full day’s ride for a few other days on this trip, by 11am!

Those were the easy miles, even if it was glasses-fogging humid early in the morning.  In contrast, the next 44 to Savannah put us on butt-bruising I-95 frontage roads, turned us into the wind, and rained molten bits of the sun down upon us.  But when you know that you have 7 hours to cover the final 44 miles of a bike tour, and will have no riding to do the next day, the mental trickery to keep yourself moving is almost automatic. 

The final 14 mile stretch was the worst of all, as we returned to crazy US 17 traffic, on a narrow two lane road with hazy illusions for shoulders, and winds trying to prevent you from staying on that straight narrow line.  Hardly a recommended Adventure Cycling route!  But the truck drivers, trying to blast and frighten us off the road, had no idea who they were dealing with.  We’d already gone 100 miles, and nearly 1000 in 12 days, so it takes a bit more than jerk truck drivers to bother us. We pressed on doggedly, eventually coming to a twin of yesterday’s towering cable-stayed bridge that would take us into Georgia.  Mr. Talmadge didn’t put the same cycling facility into his bridge as Mr. Ravenel did, but it was more manageable than I’d feared.

As we crested the summit together, 107 miles in, and saw the downhill ahead with Savannah awaiting at the foot of the bridge, I had one of the best “end of tour” feelings I’ve had.  We’d made it, and I was especially happy for Dennis, who could feel that special emotion he missed on our last tour.  The roll down was glorious, and a fitting end to a pretty awesome bike tour.

We repeated the the brewpub-hotel strategy and got another place (the Inn at Ellis Square) that was very accommodating to us and our bicycles.  We meandered over to the brewpub, stopping for an appetizer drink off one of Savannah’s many squares.  This brewpub (Moon River) had much better beer, and very good food too, though surely anything would taste better after an epic tour-ending ride than it does the night before. 

So that brought an end to the riding portion of the trip, but there are still some (relaxing!) days to come before we return to the real world.

Day 12

September 17th, 2010

Hauling all my bags inside the tent seemed to finally be enough to foil the evil raccoons of North Carolina.  At some point I heard one brush up alongside the tent, but there were no incidents beyond that, which meant I could sleep pretty well.

I got up in the gray light and headed down to the beach to watch the sun rise over the ocean.  It was beautiful and peaceful and some other people who had the same idea as me were there to improve my photos by unwittingly posing as anonymous backlit silhouettes.

The ride took us back onto our dear friend for the rest of the trip, US 17, with whom we have a love-hate relationship.  The mounds of deafening morning traffic inches away, heading to/from Myrtle Beach made it a “hate” phase at first.  But then after passing through Georgetown, traffic nearly disappeared, and it turned to “love”, as we were suddenly in the Francis Marion National Forest.  Gone was suburban hell, replaced by an almost-Western naturalness and emptiness.  However, this meant that the road was also empty of services: a nearly 40 mile stretch had only one or two gas stations.  This is normal out West, but on this ride we had been conditioned to expect services everywhere, so it was a bit of a shock to the system.  The worst part was when we finally exited the forest boundary, and started entering the outer suburbs of Charleston.  We passed miles of civilization, including a giant hospital, signaled intersections, big shopping centers buried far off the highway, but no place to get a cold drink! Where do all these people get gas?!?  So we just pushed on and on, and finally, heaven appeared, where Dennis stuck his head in the ice chest, and where we got ice drinks, ice cream, and stood in the ice-cold beer cooler.  Yes, there was some oppressive heat out there, and we needed a serious cooling.  At one point after leaving my bike computer in the sun, it read 120F.

A final push took us over the new cable-stayed Ravenel Bridge and into Charleston.  The bridge has a dedicated bike/pedestrian section, and it was really cool to see all the runners/cyclists out there taking advantage of it.  And cool for us to stop and take pictures and enjoy the great views of the city and harbor below.  Rising 186 ft. over the water, I’m pretty sure it’s the biggest bridge I’ve gone over on my bike.  A guy who stopped at the top told us he rides it just because it’s so flat everywhere else.

Our original plan had us camping a little west of downtown Charleston, but Dennis had the great idea to just get a hotel.  That would make it much easier to see the city.  I used my tried-and-true hotel-finding method: search for brewpub, then find hotel right near that brewpub.  That put us right in the middle of historic downtown Charleston, where the hard-bargaining clerk talked herself down from a $129 rate to a $99 rate.  Ok, if you must!

We spent some time strolling around the city, which is very pretty and European in feel (largely due to the “designed before cars” aspect).  Eventually we wander over to Southend Brewing, in an old historic building, where the beer was pedestrian but the food was excellent.  There was also a lot of good people-watching, from tourists to hot college girls out for a run.  It seems like a very active and vibrant city, and I was quite taken with it.

Back at the hotel, we used the business center computer to explore some route-modification ideas (ideas too wild and crazy for our phones to handle!), and once we came up with a new plan, went straight to bed without even writing up any journal entries.  The next day would be a long one!

Day 11

September 14th, 2010

After the previous night’s assault on my bike by raccoons, I immediately packed up all my food and hung it from a hook.  But I left the panniers on the bike.  Shortly after we went to bed, we could hear the raccoons methodically opening garbage cans around the campground and emptying them of their tasty contents.  Also heard plenty roaming through the campsite, but when several hours passed without incident, I figured we were in the clear.  No such luck.  At 4:30am, wham!!  Down goes my bike again.  Well, I guess that experiment failed!  Got up and hung my panniers from the pole with the rest of our bags.  I’ve camped in over a hundred campgrounds around the country, and I’ve never had this raccoon problem.  I figure it must be something to do with the parks’ suburban settings and bad campers training the raccoons, but maybe it’s just an evil line of raccoons in this part of the country.

Today was another day to cover miles, and our first 8 miles to our final ferry was a bit more of a race than it should have been, partly because I failed to make sure  Dennis was awake when my 6:15 alarm went off, and partly because we didn’t do a good job of measuring or normal pack-up times.  Still, we made the ferry with some minutes to spare.

After spending 5 nights in North Carolina, we finally crossed into her southern sibling, where the roads immediately got crappier.  The blazing heat and high traffic didn’t help matters, though the vast majority of drivers are still pretty good.  We went through another BAC, Myrtle Beach, where the miles of oceanfront hotels make Virginia Beach seem like Murdo, South Dakota in comparison.

We pressed on to Huntington Beach State Park, where we were shockingly told that there was only one site left, after a week of nearly empty campgrounds.  It seems to be quite a retiree RV hangout, where many sites have fake maiboxes and elaborate signposts announcing the occupiers.  Needless to say, we don’t really fit in, but at least we got a site.  Ice cold slushies, contraband beers in our water bottles, and then a quick trip to the beach to dip our toes in the surf had the always-magical effect of relaxing away all the day’s heat and hurt.

(Ok, as I was sitting at the picnic table writing this at 8:30pm, a raccoon sauntered through the campsite, apparently doing advance scouting for tonight’s action.  Seriously?!?  And no fancy hooks at this campground!)

Day 10

September 13th, 2010

I awoke at 11:15pm.  “Neil! There’s a raccoon on the picnic table!” He was after our tightly-wrapped bag of garbage, which usually doesn’t attract critters in most campgrounds.  Ok, pain-in-the-ass raccoon made me get up, hop on the bike, and take the trash to the dumpster.  But when I got back, he wasn’t done.  “Neil!  He’s at your bike!  He’s humping your pannier!”  Then, wham!  Down goes the bike.  And the raccoon, not scared in the least, just took that as an opportunity to get a better angle.  Ok, get up again, shoo off the raccoon, which takes some doing as he isn’t even particularly scared of bricks thrown at him, and take all the food out of my panniers, put it in a bag and hang it from the hooks-on-poles provided for such a purpose.  That ought to do it.  For most raccoons.  But not this guy.  He STILL went back to attack my panniers!  So I got up for a third time, and hung all my panniers from the hook, while Dennis did the same with his bag.  Finally, I think the raccoon gave up.  That was the hardest-working fatass raccoon I’ve ever seen.

Today’s ride was about putting in the miles.  Last evening after dinner I recalled that a gentleman we had talked with earlier in the day had casually mentioned “…and if you’d applied for a permit a week in advance, you could ride through Camp Lejeune, and take 5 miles off your trip!”  Hmm, I think our route already assumed we were riding through Camp Lejeune (and why not, since, though I learned the road was closed to civilian traffic in 2007, mapping services will happily route you that way).  Since we certainly didn’t have any permits, this news actually added 5 miles to our trip (well, 6.  Drivers always underestimate!)

On the road that bypasses the Marine base, I saw a higher density of barber shops than I’ve seen anywhere in my life.  I assumed (from the movies) that haircuts were a free service provided on base, but maybe the 3rd-party guys add a flair to military cuts that the Marine barber just doesn’t have in him.  Beyond that, the only real clues that we were near a military base were a couple of genuine Humvees that passed us, and a cool twin-prop plane flying overhead.

Later in the day, we delivered a glancing blow to the BAC (Big-Ass City) of Wilmington, NC.  It’s probably the first BAC we’d been in since New York.  Its BAC qualification indicators include an Ethan Allen store, crazy traffic at 2pm, an Indian restaurant, and perhaps the largest bike shop I’ve ever seen.  We stocked up on several items at the last, including a water bottle cage for me, to replace one that now needs two tie-wraps to hold it together.

Due to our neverending streak of weather luck, the north wind and drier air helped us cover the 88 (again!) miles in near-record time, and we made it into Carolina Beach State Park with the sun still a few hours from meeting the horizon.  Yesterday at the coffee shop while I was flipping through a National Geographic, I coincidentally noticed in an article about carnivorous plants that Venus Flytraps grow naturally in exactly one part of the world: the region within 90 miles of Wilmington, NC.  Huh, who knew?  So today, we took a short hike on the park’s Flytrap Trail, but unfortunately didn’t spot any.  Oh well, like I said on my ride through Yellowstone, I don’t actually need to *see* a Grizzly; the knowledge that he is out there, and we are sharing the same environment, is enough of a thrill.  And so it is also with the mighty Venus Flytrap. Ok, maybe it’s not quite the same.  But still, it’s a plant, that eats animals! Madness!!

Day 9

September 12th, 2010

It rained last night, and quite a bit too, which made it even nicer that we ended up in a house!  If you’re going to spend one of seven nights under a roof, the night it rains is the one you want!

After a late, sleeping-in-a-bed start, we got hammered by some high humidity and gray (but rain-free) skies.  In Beaufort, we saw a McDonald’s AND a Burger King, right across the street from each other.  After a day’s exile, we had returned to civilization!  We found out later on that that sort of civilization is pretty new to Beaufort, a town founded in 1722 and made up of many families that have been living “down east” for hundreds of years, nearly maintaining their own version of English.  And they like to bury dead family members in the front yard, right along the road.

We got this local color from a couple we met at a swanky brunch (prime-rib, Eggs Benedict, shrimp-and-cheese grits, etc.) in Morehead City.  We also met the cheeky old cougar of a hostess, who in ten seconds of conversation managed to both mention our buns of steel, and ask about us riding with our shirts off (and suggest that she might like to do the same).  She also sent us on our way with a box of pastries, so that was cool.

We’d had a sort of crazy dream about kayaking to an island to camp this night, but given our shortage of time left in the day, accumulated stresses, questionable weather, and work ahead, we decided to bag that idea when we got to Swansboro.  Instead we chilled out drinking milkshakes and smoothies in a coffee shop (and getting spit on by evil 2-year-olds), and then backtracked a few miles to a nice campground in the Croatan National Forest, which is by far the least-remote National Forest campground I’ve ever been in (a major shopping center is half a mile away).

Earlier we’d had the luck to find a bike shop open on Sunday, so I got a new derailer cable, after I got the nice-but-bike-ignorant guy minding the store to let me rummage through their supplies to find what I needed.  “Have a good ride, even if y’all are a coupla Yankees!” (ok, he was a former Yankee too.)  In camp, I almost felt bad replacing our hack-job, since it had worked perfectly all day.  But I figured better to do it now than when it fails in the middle of a 90 mile day.  We had a taco dinner, with a seashell centerpiece and candlelight left by our site’s previous residents. 

And now that’s the end of the lazy short days, from here on in we blaze to Savannah!

Day 8

September 11th, 2010

During lunch yesterday we talked about how we had to catch two ferries, separated by the 16 mile length of Ocracoke Island.  We got out the schedules and determined which departure we wanted to shoot for on the second ferry, but somehow never got around to extrapolating that back to the first ferry and thus, our wake up time.  So it wasn’t until I half-woke at 3:30am that I realized I ought to work out the times and distances.  I think I did foggy math over the next 2 hours as I dozed, and I surprisingly ended up getting it about right.  We needed to get up at 6am to be sure to catch the 8am ferry to Ocracoke.

In the cool (56 degree) dawn, we made it easily, and 40 minutes of boat-riding later we were on the nearly deserted road on Ocracoke Island.  It was a beautiful morning ride, with the road seeming to be a giant strip of tape holding the bits of sand and vegetation together in a contiguous island (description borrowed from Dennis!)  It’s interesting how often I’m reminded of our last tour in the desert Southwest.  Here, the scrub vegetation growing out of sandy soil could have been in Utah, except in Utah it would have been at 7500 feet, and stunted by temperature extremes and lack of water rather than salt spray and wind.

We reached the town of Ocracoke at the southwestern end of the island in time to have a relaxing breakfast at a place that reminded me of Dawson’s Creek with a waitress that reminded me of Joey.  When we headed over to catch the 10:30 ferry,we learned that it had left at 10:00, and the next one wouldn’t leave until 12:30.  This time I know I didn’t read the schedule wrong.  Instead, I read the wrong schedule.  On our first North Carolina ferry, I had picked up a nice paper schedule of all the NC ferries, figuring it would be easier and more reliable than using the PDF I had saved on my phone.  Well, turns out that was the 2010 schedule published in January, while the one on my phone was the updated version published in August.  Ugh, take your out-of-date schedules off your boats you idiots!

Well, that gave us time to wander around the charming little town of Ocracoke in a style a bit more like the other tourists rolling around on their rented bikes, and less like bike tourists who are always moving on to the next place.

The 2+ hour ferry ride passed quickly due to napping and time spent trying to stop my bike from creaking while I ride (an annoyance Dennis has generously avoided complaining about).  Arriving at Cedar Island, we were a bit unsure what kind of services to expect since we’d been without cell phone coverage for a while.  We got some confusing information, and no one knew anything about our targeted campground 30 miles down the road.  So we circled around, and then got a late lunch at the run-down Driftwood Motel near the ferry dock, thinking it might be our last chance for food.  Turns out there was a good universal store (Oreo cookies, panty hose, and PVC pipe fittings all next to each other) a short way down the road, but after that, nothing.

We were into a strangely beautiful dead-flat marshland, an ongoing negotiation between sea and land, where the road was the only apparent solid ground for miles.

Eventually we made it close to our destination,  got some more frustrating “maybe”s to the question of whether this campground exists, and then got a recommendation to head a few miles further out to Harker’s Island, which surely has a campground.  The confidence behind that advice and the setting (looking across the water to Cape Lookout, a hard-to-access extension of the Outer Banks) convinced us to go for it, especially since we hadn’t gone that many miles today.

Shortly before reaching, as we stopped at a bait shop advertising cold beer, my rear derailer cable snapped.  Uh oh.  My 27-speed bike was now effectively a single-speed, and we seemed to be pretty far from the kind of civilization that supports bike shops.  Well, if you’re going to do loaded touring with one gear, these pancake-flat lands are the place to do it.

The recommended campground turned out to be an RV park without bathrooms, and thus no tenting allowed.  The proprietor recommended a motel just down the road, in this suddenly built-up island area.  But before we could reach it, she came speeding by in her pickup, recommending a house that a friend/family rents out instead.  Ok, plan change #6 of the day.  We took her up on her offer to cart us there in her pickup, and found a nice little house for $65, which is a pretty sweet deal when campgrounds are more than $30.  Finally we had found a place to sleep!

We ate some of our food purchased with camping in mind while watching the White Sox get clobbered, and then I set to work on my bike.  I actually had a spare derailer cable with me (smart), but it was too short (dumb).  Dennis came up with the clever idea to splice the new and old cables together with a nut and bolt, and helped me do it.  It seems to hold pretty well, and hopefully it will allow at least some limited shifting tomorrow.

We should get some kind of award for stretching relatively few miles into such a long day.  It’s been a week since I’ve slept in a bed, so this ought to be pretty nice.

Day 7

September 11th, 2010

Last night we left the pizza place, and turned on our lights for dark ride back to the campground. Dennis was off like he was shot out of a cannon, and while I could keep up, it was probably 50% higher intensity than I did when leading the ride all day.  When I asked later, it was as I’d suspected: he hadn’t even thought about how fast he was going; probably the lights made it seem like a commute home, so he reverted to his default, Dennis-Speed, which in metric is approximately equal to “asfastasicanpossiblygo”.  See people, this is what I have to deal with out here!  Just when I thought I may had been getting him trained to ride a bike at less than maximum speed!  Anyhow, he wasn’t going to hurt his knee on a two mile unloaded ride home, and it was kind of nice to crank away at a different intensity level for a bit.  But the bike psychologist in me was clucking in dismay.

Breaking out of Kitty Hawk in the morning, we stopped at the Wright Brothers Memorial atop Kill Devil Hill.  There was some sort of old-time motorcycle convention/photo shoot going on there, and I think that’s what allowed us in an hour before official opening, and for free too.  Quite serendipitous.  We rode our bikes up the hill, hitting 14% grade, which Dennis told me I should be keeping him from doing, so it was good to see that my therapy sessions have not been for naught after all.

Breakfast was at a very cool place (Stack ’em High Pancakes?) where it became clear we were now on an Adventure Cycling route.  Within three minutes we talked to the cashier, who became a WarmShowers host after her husband did a 6 week tour of New Zealand, dicussed panniers-vs.-trailer with an intelligent and handsome pannier-toting waiter who had toured Europe with a trailer-towing dork, and were told by an old dude working there that we should have parked our bikes on their porch.  Oh, and food was great too!

Then those steady winds that blow over the sands and Kill Devil Hill, those same winds that brought the Wright Brothers there to experiment with their flying machine, blew us straight as an arrow down the Outer Banks.  We spent most of the day easily cruising at 21-25 MPH, so happy that we weren’t going north.  I know I’ve said that the weather has been perfect so far, but compared to today, those other so-called “perfect” days may as well have been 37 degrees with stinging sleet blowing in our faces.  Today was unlimited sun countered with thosei cooling ocean breezes to keep things at a perfectly balanced upper 70s.

And the setting wasn’t bad either.  A thin strip of land with water sometimes simultaneously visible on both sides, beach houses on stilts, or sea oats whiskering the dunes.  Bulldozers were just finishing their job of pushing the sand off the road that Hurricane Earl had uncaringly thrown there a week before, and some spots still had a bit of standing water.

Perhaps that should have made us suspicious, but we were surprised to find that our intended National Seashore campground was closed when we arrived there (especially since there were many opportunities to indicate that along the lengthy campground road sooner than the actual campground!!)  We learned from a man mowing the roadside that they’d closed it for the season after Earl came through, but another down the road was still open.  Luckily the miles had been easy, and it was still quite early, so going further was no problem.

On our way back to the main road we stopped to climb to the top of the Hatteras lighthouse, which is impressive for both its size and its views, and now also for its relocation 11 years ago which dragged the 62-million pound structure to safety, away from the ever-shifting sands of the shore.

After a late lunch and grocery stop, we were happy to find sites still available on this beautiful Friday evening at Frisco, just across the dunes from the ocean.  I went for a better-planned swim this time, and soon Dennis joined me; for the better part of half an hour we acted like little kids, battling the waves breaking over our heads, while the late-summer sun hung low over the beach.

Day 6

September 9th, 2010

Dennis was up before me for the 2nd day in a row. How embarrassing! We skipped any camp breakfast, intending to stop at a place a friend had recommended in Virginia Beach. Unfortunately it had closed and moved to Norfolk, but that gave us an excuse to go over a couple blocks and get breakfast overlooking the beach at one of dozens of high-rise hotels that proceed in an unending line (I swear I saw 3 different Hampton Inns.)

We had a couple different route possibilities to reach today’s destination, one through a more rural area, but with a ferry crossing, and the other more direct,  but through miles of Suburban Hell.  Dennis is generally a bigger fan of Suburban Hell than I am (well, at least more tolerant of it), so I was quite pleased that he had chosen the more rural route.  He took a shot at leading for several miles and did a good job (meaning, resisting his natural urge to push too hard), but I was happy that he was smart enough to hand the leadership duties back to me for the rest of the ride.  Still better safe than sorry.  The route took us across some marsh areas, which reminded me of Kerala’s backwaters in India, which is actually where Swati is right now.  I said that she should sail back a few of their rice-barge-cum-houseboats, and we could start up a new business doing Indian backwater tours on the Eastern Seaboard.

A favorable wind and Dennis’s self-sealing Slime tubes helped us make it to the ferry, 40 miles in, with 20 minutes to spare.  On the other side, we pressed on, hoping to find a lunch spot on our route, and shortly before we were about to give up and settle for a gas-station lunch, we were saved by an excellent BBQ place.  Appropriate, since we had just entered our 5th state, North Carolina.

Another 30-some miles brought us across a 2 mile bridge, and onto the Outer Banks (or OBX, as the cool people say).  Yet again the weather gods smiled upon us, as a cool front moved through last night, making it downright beautiful if you’re close enough to the ocean.

We’re staying at non-sucky private campground #2, Adventure Bound.  It’s a curious place, tent-only with no designated sites, a communal fire ring, and a towering 3 story bathhouse. And wandering peacocks. When I read about the setup on their site, I was worried that it was a lure from some strange religious cult, but no evidence of that has appeared.

A post-shower/post-laundry unloaded ride into Kitty Hawk brought us to a pizza/salad buffet where I got my money’s worth with 8 slices.  When I stepped out of the shower I noticed my ribs were more visible than normal, so hopefully this will help remedy that.

Day 5

September 8th, 2010

I usually stay pretty out of touch on bike tours, but I talked with my parents about my job situation, or lack thereof, and I’m glad I did.  Thanks for being there for me mom & dad!  Saw a shooting star while on the phone with them, and I’m happy to latch on to any remotely good omen that passes nearby right now. 

Slept pretty well considering the circumstances, until a strong wind began whipping the pine trees high above and dropping pine cone bombs on our tents.  It sounded like the wind that comes seconds before rain pours from the sky onto our uncovered tents, but luckily the stars were still visible, as they have been this whole trip.

The ride today was down hwy 113/13, to the tip of the DelMarVa peninsula. We crossed from the “Mar” into the “VA”, where, across the road from the official state welcome sign was an establishment with a giant Stars’n’Bars, and the slogan “The South Starts Here.”  Indeed.  Actually, the roads and drivers in Virginia, and everywhere else we’ve been, have been surprisingly awesome.

Dennis again did a good job of following in my wake, so he could take it easy on another long (88 mile) and windy day, while still making it to the 20 mile Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel in reasonable time to be driven across in a pickup.  Then on the Virginia mainland, a short ride to a good Mexican dinner, and then to First Landing State Park.  Before even setting up camp, we made a quick dash to the beach just in time to watch the sun set over Chesapeake Bay.  And then we couldn’t resist taking a dip, especially after such a long hot day.  I think it may be the first time I’ve been in the ocean, and I have to say, it ain’t half bad.  Nothing could wipe the stupid grins off our faces.

Maybe this is just me, but if you’re going to lose your job, I highly recommend being in the middle of a bike tour when it happens.  I don’t want to say that we’re in denial, because we talk about it a lot, often with black humor when we see something that reminds us of our situation.  For example, a planned stop at 77 miles aligned us with an extremely doubtful “Fabric Outlet”, and we just had to get a photo, because what better place to get a job using my newly-developed sewing skills?  So it’s not denial, but maybe “deferral”?  When you have to ride 88 miles between two campgrounds, you are simply too busy with so many other duties and thoughts that there really isn’t much time to dwell unhealthily on the job situation.  Surely it will be a merciless dragging back to reality when we return home, but hopefully we can even ease that transition over the next week and a half on the road.

Actually, on a tour as good as this one has been so far, I think I could take a baseball bat to the gut every few hours and still feel like I was the one walking away a winner.  Not that we need to test that theory.