Paceline early in the ride with Lin on the recumbent and me on the right in orange. Jerry Phelps on the left.
The looming question was whether to ride 400 km, since I hadn’t yet ridden a 300 km this year. Riding buddy Lin Osborne and I had been trading e-mails all week leading up to the ride. Were we trying to convince each other or ourselves that we were ready and willing to tackle the 400 km?
I had logged sufficient winter training miles. The route promised to be scenic. And the forecast called for seasonable weather. Consequently, I finally jumped at the chance to ride. I had always wanted to tour this part of the state by bicycle. Why not this weekend? I didn’t know whether I would ever have another opportunity like this handed to me. Lin and Gary near Comfort, NC:
The 400 km and 2 X 200 km groups started their rides together. The majority of riders formed a paceline taking advantage of early-ride exuberance but also seizing the opportunity of tucking behind one another and hiding from a northerly headwind. The paced quickened with each new leader assuming the front. Eventually, the 400km group splintered into several smaller groups. I was one of a half-dozen or so riders who dropped off the lead pace. Now my “tour” of southeastern NC had officially begun. I could pull out my camera and snap a few pictures for my scrapbook.
Here is UMCA Year-Rounder, Paul Smith, at the Trenton, NC, control at mile 45 enjoying the ride. Because our morning route had been tacking a northeasterly direction, Paul and I kept joking about when the northerly wind—which kept harassing us, lying in wait, only to harass us again—was finally going to turn into a tailwind for good.
The road sign in Jones County attests to the fact that NC has a sizeable bear population and not just in the western mountains. Two summers ago, rare pictures of a mother bear and cubs roaming a north Raleigh neighborhood appeared in the Raleigh News and Observer. I didn’t spot any bears on this particular trip, however.
Tony is waiting for our group at the ferry entrance with food and drink, which we heartily consumed during the downtime crossing the river. Tony covered more miles than any of the riders over the weekend checking on riders’ whereabouts.
We then headed for the next control at Bogue Inlet, still on the outer banks. We were intercepted by Tony, who informed us that a group of riders had taken a supper break just five miles up the road at a Chinese restaurant.
After a plate of high-carb noodles, Lin and I put on an extra layer of clothing in anticipation of falling temperatures at sundown. When I stepped outside of the restaurant, I could see my breath. We headed over the high-rise bridge toward Cape Carteret on the mainland and then on to Jacksonville. After clearing the control we headed two blocks west for McDonald’s to make some clothing adjustments. The combination extra clothing I’d donned back at Bogue Inlet and our brisk pace to Jacksonville had caused me to perspire a little too much in spite of the near freezing temperature. I dried my base layers under the hot-air dryers in the restroom. Off came the nylon shell in favor of a dry layer of wool that I’d been holding in reserve. I had no problem staying warm and dry in spite of the fact that the temperature would dip even lower, some say to 25° F, during the long night ahead, much colder than predicted.
The last 74 miles of the ride, from Jacksonville on in, was my favorite part of the trip in spite of the cold and dark. Perhaps it was in part because of the cold and dark that made it so memorable.
The night was peaceful. There was little wind and the traffic on the rural out-and-back spur to Surf City was almost nonexistent. There was only the hum of smooth asphalt turning tires and the whir of spokes slicing the cold, dense air. An orange gibbous moon followed me for a while perched just above my right shoulder. A constellation-mottled sky reached down and touched the leafless treetops. Avian sentinels called out periodically tracking our progress at consecutive control points. We met three other riders on the short out-and-back spur to Surf City, the only souls for miles around in the early morning hours. Sharing the same cold, dark servitude, we exchanged hearty greetings if not words of encouragement. Our pace quickened.
At Surf City, the temperature was milder due to the sea breeze. We could hear the pounding surf as we approached the dunes. On the return, the temperature dropped quickly. My Perpetuem had turned into a thick milkshake. Ice crystals were forming in the siphon of my Camelbak.
At this point, we were about an hour away from the all-night convenience store where we could warm our hands and get something hot to eat and drink. We kept pedaling to the rhythm of the nocturnal sounds that followed us along under a starry, moonlit sky.
Arriving at the store, I noticed before going in that frost had covered my panniers. Once inside, Lin exclaimed that I had ice in my beard! The dimly lit convenience store would be our home for the next half hour. We sat down at a table where we spread out our belongings, draped excess clothing on the backs of chairs, and kicked off our shoes on the floor to warm our feet. Lin was somehow able to catch a few minutes of sleep sitting upright in a wooden chair. I solved the problem of cold hands and fingers by donning the latex gloves I normally use for gripping and protecting my hands when changing flats.
I ordered an egg sandwich and drank a cup of coffee. After spending a little over a half hour getting warm, Lin and I decided to push on in spite of the fact that we would be approaching the coldest part of the night. Back outside the frost had spread from my bike panniers to the bicycle frame and onto the tires. Taking leave of the warmth of the all-night convenience store at a crossroad with no name, Lin and I disappeared into the dark once again. Thirty minutes later, I noticed that the hot tap water I’d poured into my Camelbak at the all-night convenience store had frozen solid in my drinking siphon. No matter. I could easily go an hour and a half, by my calculation, the time that separated me from sunrise, a hot shower, and breakfast.
At the end, with 253 miles behind us, it was literally all in a day’s work. What a great ride and sense of accomplishment. Thanks to the riders who kept me company, especially Lin, and to Tony for being such a great host and organizer. You can find Tony Goodnight’s remaining brevet schedule here which provides for some more interesting excursions.