Riders On the Storm
If you read my blog, you know that our trip cycling through South Carolina brought busy two lane roads, logging trucks, bad pavement, huge rumble strips, no shoulders – in other words – hell for a cyclist. We heard that North Carolina would be different. But, in North Carolina, we would face tropical depression Ana. Learn about whether North Carolina delivered on its promise and what it was like to ride in a tropical depression.
Conway SC to Shallote, NC (51 Miles)
As I wrote in my post about cycling in South Carolina, our last impression of South Carolina was riding a couple of miles on a four lane road, no shoulders. Drivers who would not consider allowing cyclists to have the right lane. As we turned onto a two-lane road into North Carolina, the traffic remained busy. But soon enough, there was a middle lane, and North Carolina drivers gave us a break and passed us in the middle lane.
Rain was forecast most of the day, but we avoided it until after mile 38. We finally got doused with the forecasted rain, so we donned our waterproof jackets, stopped for a picture and headed on. North Carolina has some lovely beaches and beach houses! We soon turned inland to Shallotte and spotted Ann from Peachtree City taking lunch in the lawn chairs at a new outdoor store. We joined her, Elvis and Marilyn for a few minutes, shed our rain gear (without the rain, it was TOO hot) and headed inland to Shallotte.
Ann and I treated Lynda (the woman who has run 97 marathons and counting) and my riding angel Susan to their first ever Waffle House meal when we arrived in Shallotte. Then we unloaded the group’s bags from the van and got a shower. I headed off in search of a cure for my iphone or a new one. (I ended up with a new one and hope that when I get back to Atlanta, we can salvage my old one and Bob can inherit it.) The people at the local telephone cooperative were super! They put on my new waterproof case, uploaded my contacts and photos and sent me on my way back to hotel.
Shallotte to Carolina Beach (38 Miles – The shortest cycling day of the tour!)
The talk in Shallotte was all about tropical storm Ana. When we awoke, the forecast was for continuous rain and headwinds of 15-25 mph, gusting up to 45 mph. The sky was dark. The Weather Channel showed interviews of weathermen barely able to stand against the wind a mere 50 miles to our north.
As a result of the dire forecast, only 13 of us decided to attempt to ride. I’m from south Alabama, where hurricanes and tropical storms are common. I felt comfortable giving it a try. I wasn’t worried about the rain – I can pull off the road and stop if it is raining. The wind was my worry. But likewise, I can stop riding if the wind is too much. (If we were talking sustained winds of 40 mph plus, I would not ride.)
But off we went. Yes, the headwinds sucked. There were times you felt you were not even moving forward against the wind. But the rain was blessedly light, except for one ten minute downpour. And before we knew it, we arrived in Southport, NC and its ferry to the south shore of the next island, where we would find Carolina Beach. (Southport is absolutely adorable – it looks like a New England coast town transplanted to North Carolina. Cute shops, nice restaurants – definitely want to check it out again.)
But we wanted to make the ferry, so on we rode. As we paid for our tickets, we were told each captain would make an individual decision about whether the seas were too rough to make the crossing. Eventually, we saw the cross arm raise to allow us on! While the seas were choppy, I’d been on worse in the Gulf of Mexico with a much smaller craft.
20 minutes and we were off the ferry, and only seven miles or so to our Carolina Beach hotel. In the end, the headwinds made for a slow, hard ride, but no real issues. A shower, seafood for lunch (where we were again the center of attention), a walk around town and dinner. Let us say that Carolina Beach is still looking to upgrade from tacky beach shops. It has a ways to go before it could be considered upscale.
Carolina Beach to Surf City (54 Miles)
While I was pretty sanguine about the previous day’s forecast, cycling today was another matter. The storm was to move on shore – a different matter from bands from a weak storm 80 miles away. But we decided to take the same approach as the prior day – give it a go.
The first 13-15 miles were lovely – no rain and mostly a tail wind. We were easily riding 17 – 20 mph without effort. Then we hit our first of many railroad tracks.
We looked up to see one of our riders lying next to the tracks, not moving, with another rider (Nancy) talking to her. We jumped into action. She didn’t remember the accident and did not know the year. Pam called 911 and Woman Tours. Susan and Nancy talked to the rider and kept her calm and still. I directed cars to slow down and go around, and warned cyclists to walk across these dangerously positioned railroad tracks. The EMT arrived quickly on the scene. The rider is very experienced and wanted to continue to ride. But when we told her about multiple cracks in her helmet, she agreed it was best to be checked out. Off she went to the ER in Wilmington.
Soon, Patty, a Woman Tours guide arrived to stay with the bikes left behind until someone arrived to take them to Surf City. (Patty got very wet and cold waiting to be picked up to check on the patient at the hospital. What a long day for her!)
We walked over every set of rail road tracks that day.
Just as we left the scene, now the last riders of the day, it began to rain. And then to pour as we reached the outskirts of Wilmington. The water was pouring into my eyes and I asked to stop at a convenience store to clear my “devil” red eyes. We discussed how a baseball cap under my helmet would help, but this was the only convenience store in the entire south without ANY baseball caps.
As we went through Wilmington, the Woman Tours van approached, and we knocked on the window and asked if anyone had a cap. Canada Kathy (one of five Kathys on the trip), gave me her only cap, beloved from her cycling trip in Hawaii. She saved my life! I could see again! I LOVE Canada Kathy!
We spent much of the ride in light to heavy rain. There were plenty of headwinds, but fewer gusts that made you feel you had no control over your bike. And one last stretch was a busy four lane with no shoulder for the first several miles. But eventually, a shoulder appeared and Susan, Pam and made it to our hotel!
A shower and an excellent lunch made us all feel like new again!
All in all, we felt the day was better than the day before. Winds were steady, but less gusty. Which made up for more rain.
Learn about cycling through the rest of North Carolina in the next post.