Getting ready, he said…

It never seems to happen in a timely manner, though in my defense, the whole thing was quickly decided and begun. There just wasn’t time for timely manners – yet I could still have been a bit more applied. Here’s the thing: getting ready for a bike tour is a feat of organization. Or a feat of disorganization.  ahem. I am what you might call “organizationally impaired”, which of course doesn’t matter if the tour is going to happen anyway. Stuff still has to be done. It just means that I’ll be busy right up to the last second prior to leaving for the jumping off point.

And I was! I was. If you have something you’re good at, you stick with it, I reckon. But everything got packed that was going to get packed. Some things that were packed got unpacked and left behind… every single one of which I wished I had while traveling. Every. Single. One. dang. But that’s what the trip was about – gear and processes and fine tuning. And I learned some stuff, but I’ll get back to that later.

I spent a lot of time carefully balancing panniers side-to-side. Then, on the trip, stuff got moved around and all of that work was for nothing. I mean, it’s got to be close-ish, but not to the degree that I made it. And funnily enough, it rode better as stuff got moved around. Eventually I got it all in panniers and bags and on the bike. Then I took it all off and loaded the whole mess into the car and we went to Raleigh, where my wife dropped me off at a hotel near the Neuse Trail, my route to the route, so to speak. The bike route didn’t come close to Raleigh and there weren’t any hotels near the route, so I had to start where the hotel was and make my way to the route. Thunderstorms and torrential rain left few options, so I found myself in an industrial hotel, close to the Neuse Trail. I said goodbye to my wife and got everything fine tuned. Then I went to bed to sleep restlessly until it was time to head out in the morning!


Getting my wheels under me again…

The last year has been interesting, what with dealing with a partial knee replacement and some weird heart thumpisms, out of the normal. But my various and sundry docs (and at 63, you can be sure that there are docs…) are pretty sure all is well, or most certainly well enough, so I’m aiming at bike touring again!

But my rickety old self can’t just jump into a thing like that, so training is involved. Training.  What a word – it evokes sweat and effort, and possibly the sense of being run over by a train. Gee. What fun. So I figured, after riding my local routes to the point of boredom, if I want to train for a long tour, what better way to do that than short tours? Genius, right? I posited this theory to my wife who told me, basically,  to shoo – to get on out there and go someplace. She’s just a marvel, I tell you. Or I’m generally underfoot. Or possibly both. 🙂

I got out my tablet and checked out the maps. I usually gravitate toward the coast, rather than the mountains (hills, shudder) and yet another genius thought came to mind: the NC DOT Bike Routes! I’d wondered what they were like and here was a chance to find out! Their BR #2, the Mountains to Sea Bike Rte (different from the Mountain to Sea TRAIL – a hiking trail) passes close to the house and goes to the outer banks. Looked both accessible and interesting. I figured that would be my choice for the ride. I went on the ride, but didn’t take the tablet or any computer,  other than my phone, so I journaled the ride and over the next few days I’ll enter it here, for those who might be interested. If you like it, share it why dontcha? If you don’t, feel free to throw popcorn at me next time you see me. I’ll understand.  🙂  So let’s see what’s around that next curve, why don’t we?

A Short Trip, and Some Big Lessons…

I didn’t last very long, really. A few days of riding and a stay with Warmshowers hosts and long-lost family. A hundred miles on the bike (sigh) and 75 in a car. Double it all on the train. Just not that long – certainly not the 600 miles I had in mind when I started. But I didn’t expect my lower legs and feet to swell up like biker balloons, either. Nor my hands. And I didn’t expect to find myself oddly exhausted. Exhausted, yes. Oddly exhausted, not so much. But in that 9 day stretch the entire journey took, I learned a fair amount…

1. I learned that no matter what my ego and wants might try and tell me, otherwise, I have to take care of myself first and foremost. Now, admittedly, that doesn’t seem like much of a stretch, as lessons go. We all know that, right? Sure we do. But it’s different in the middle of the thing – on the road, everything packed up and waiting for me to get back on and GO… it’s hard to see that clearly when I have maps in my eyes. My wife, Maria, was invaluable to me in this – as we talked and texted, she gave me some much needed perspective. I could see a bit more clearly and the solution to the situation became obvious. I’ve thought about it a fair bit since and, while I could have gone to a doc down there, first I would have had to ride for a couple of days through some very rural/forest/park areas. If things had gone further south, I wouldn’t have been anywhere near a doc. Maybe I could have gone to see someone in Charleston. Dunno. Given all that’s scheduled for me this next week coming up, I think I did the right thing. Had the concern been less… cardiac… I would have (and next time will) seek out local help, getting a ride to a doc and just riding on from there.

2. There are a lot of good folks out there – a LOT of them. I met good people pretty much every day I was out there – Randall, who carried me to the bike shop; Walt, who went and got me gloves, bless his heart; Brent and the folks at the drugstore in Shallotte; Chief Paul, who put me up for the night and let me eat with the firefighters after he made spaghetti (I almost embarrassed myself, I ate so much. Really.) Chief Randall Bork in Calabash who also put me up for the night – and the firefighter (whose name I do not recall, to my shame) who cooked dinner and fed me so very well. The Warmshowers hosts, Bill and Jan (and Tessa, the yellow lab), at the Waccamaw Wildlife Refuge (a great place – go visit!!) who went above and beyond the call of duty in hosting me. Wonderful folks. My long-lost relatives in Charleston – especially Sheila and Mike, both of them just salt-of-the-earth people, couldn’t ask for better folks, couldn’t ask for better relatives! Think about it – this is a lot of folks for just a week or so, and yet there they all were. I was blessed, pretty much every day.

3. There are some jackasses, but not nearly so many that ya need to fret over them. I had three, two and a half, really – a redneck girl who needed to lean out of her boyfriend’s car and scream something at me for being on the road, I guess; a “christian” (small “c”, not much Christ in him that I could see) who got up close behind me and just laid on the horn, again protesting my presence in the world generally and on the road, specifically – I saw his Christian symbols and bumper stickers after he passed (on a FOUR LANE ROAD, I might add – he wasn’t even really inconvenienced!); the propane truck driver that ALMOST, but NOT QUITE, sucked me under his wheels when he drove so fast and close to me that the vacuum from his truck tilted me over in his direction. It took a lot to get tilted back away from him and then I had to fight to keep control of the bike. He was a jackass and a half, the other two about half a jackass, each. Not much considering all the wholely good folks I came in contact with, you know?

4. NO MATTER WHAT the (800) Amtrak ticket guy tells you regarding having to break down your bike, ALWAYS CALL THE STATION and ask them. They’re the ones that REALLY know. 🙂

5. A train ride is a moving picnic, treat it as such. Be prepared. The snack car is some kind of pricey, where a sandwich, a banana and a water cost over $11.00. Really.

6. Take half the stuff and twice the money! No further explanation needed.

7. There’s no place like home, even if you’ve only been gone a week and a half.

That’s it – what I learned, in the form of off the cuff musings, worth about half what you paid for them. Once I get a handle on what was going on with me – once I know it isn’t a monster, really – then I’ll be getting ready to try it again. I liked doing it, though not every minute (or even every hour of it, to be honest). When I do, it won’t be in the (hot hot hot) summer, at least not down here, but it will be happening. It’s a good thing to do, I think, and I meet people and see things I would never have in a car, or even on a motorcycle. I’m looking forward to the next one. Shoot, maybe Maria and I will do an inn-to-inn tour of the Great Allegheny Passage later this spring or early summer! It’s a big, wonderful world out there – let’s go see what’s around the next curve, shall we?

Fried Green Tomatoes, Mules, and Southern Baroque

Today was a day for celebrating all things Charleston. Well, many things Charleston, anyway! We, my second cousin Sheila and I, headed into town and went to the Marina Variety Store and Restaurant, which is a much better place to eat than the name might suggest. I had a cup of gumbo to start, and then brunched my heart out with Fried Green Tomato Benedict – english muffin halves with pimiento cheese, topped with a fried green tomato, eggs and hollandaise sauce. The fried potatoes and the yellow stone ground grits are equally good, so I got both… but not to worry, nutrition police! I only ate half of each and every thing I ordered! (But I would liked to have eaten it all!)

I took a walk along the Battery – the riverfront area that had been part of the fortifications protecting the city of Charleston. The guns have been replaced by million dollar homes, though there are still cannon in Battery Park.

the reason they call it the Battery!
the reason they call it the Battery!

The houses are simply amazing, with beautiful entryways into the grounds and up to the houses…



I love the tile roofs…


and the mix of classic and modern…


We then took a mule-driven (Rhyme and Reason are their names!) carriage ride looking at a wonderful array of various types of antebellum and later homes, adorned with both cast and wrought iron…


It’s just an amazing place to live, looking out their front windows and seeing the river!


(Charleston is bounded by a couple of rivers – the Ashley and Cooper Rivers… get it? Ashley Cooper? Gone With the Wind? Now how cool is that?) EDIT: WILKES, Ashley. Freaking. Wilkes. Not Cooper. Gah. They’re gonna yank my Southerner card…

Charleston is like so many cities, south and north alike, and is so very different from most anywhere else – and I’m not talking about having more horse drawn carriages than any other city in the country. It’s a place where the uber-rich live close to the ultra-poor, a place where a ramshackle (I’m talking literally, here, people), falling down house just sold for over $800,000.00.  It started out rowdy – a tavern for every 13 people, and over 200 nowadays. Charleston’s called “The Holy City”, a name given it by the colonial sailors who, on arrival saw all the church steeples in the city. It was tongue in cheek.

Tuesday, I’ll head over to Amtrak and head home. I’ll be posting about the trip because, hey, trains! Ya gotta love trains, right?

Well, dang…

What do you do when common sense and what you want to do conflict? Well, you do what common sense dictates. I mean, that’s what common sense is, right? Sense about common things? (It’s certainly not sense that is common, because little sense is common, these days – and sense is becoming more and more rare with each passing day.) So when a couple of physical things are turning up kinda iffy, and when those things, in conjunction, could spell a problem, I think the thing to do is call the trip. Nothing life threatening, I don’t believe, but still significant enough that I’ll go see the doc next week.

It’s tough to stop something you want to do, and tougher still to stop it so soon into the journey. Yet there’s something positive to be had from doing the right thing for myself, even at a real cost – or, perhaps, especially because of it. I was… depressed… this morning after making the decision, but I think it’s the best one, now, and am ok with it. Mostly.

I got a ride to Charleston, SC, with Bill and Jan and Tessa, the wonder Lab. We had lunch at Appleby’s and I called my second cousin Sheila, whom I had not seen in 40 years. Sheila came down and picked up me and Tank, who got unceremoniously loaded into the trunk of her car (with the aid of a bungy cord). We then came back to her house where I took a nap that is still with me four hours later. yaaaawn. My “Aunt Pat”, who is really my first cousin once removed (and I know what that means – how do ya like them apples!) and Sheila’s brother David joined Sheila and I at Wong’s Asian Bistro for far too much sushi, calimari, dumplings and other things. I tried to eat like someone who isn’t going to be riding a bike 30 miles tomorrow. I really did try. I just did not succeed.

Now, gentle readers, I’m sitting here in a recliner with my feet up, yawning my life away and thinking of y’all – wishing I was still riding, wishing I had something to talk with y’all about other than the details of a day spent on foot and in a car, but I don’t, so tomorrow I’ll tell you about Charleston and the waterfront and seafood and container ships that sail down the river right in town. I’ll tell you, maybe (if I can find it again), about the house that’s supposed to be haunted and about the Battery, which is a place and not a crime. And just for tomorrow,  we’ll act as if I’m still on tour – which I kind of am. Monday I’ll tell  you about the train, because, well… trains!

Praying for Deliverance… and getting it

Thursday, April 9, and Friday, April 10

What a day this was – I woke up after a surprisingly restful night’s sleep at the Econolodge on Church St. in Conway. It cost $65 plus tax, but short of curling up behind a bush in someone’s yard like a hobo, that was pretty much my only option. The Fire Department doesn’t take in bike tourists without prior arrangement, I was told, and I was so out of gas I really couldn’t go any further. Plus the only cheaper option was a skeezy hole-in-the-wall that cost $45/night. No thanks. So I got up after a good sleep and got the bike ready. I started to gear up and, deja vu, I had no gloves. Again. SORRY, Walt!!! Mea Culpa! (I really, really feel bad about losing the gloves that Walt was sooo gracious to get me) They weren’t in the room, they weren’t in the office, they weren’t on the parking lot. Dang. The closest place to find some was possibly the KMart a quarter mile away on the dreaded 501. This highway is packed with traffic, a large percentage of which is comprised of tractor trailers whose drivers still seem to think that they’re on a rural highway. There is NO shoulder, just an 8″ vertical curb 4 inches off the tarmac. It’s more of a river of traffic, between two banks of concrete. So the good folks of Conway ride their bikes on the sidewalk. Let me tell you about the sidewalk – where hedges intrude, and phone poles intrude, leaving you about a foot and a half of sidewalk space, on the outside of which is that vertical 8″ drop, a foot away from which are tractor trailers rolling 45 miles an hour. I couldn’t hardly cross the street without risking my life and I couldn’t get to the dang corner without risking my life. Gotta love it, but not really. Conway, I will not miss you. At all.

I did have a very old pair of gloves tucked down into a saddlebag, so I dug them out and started making my way back to 701, to head south towards the Waccamaw Wildlife Refuge and my Warmshowers hosts, Bill and Jan Suttie. I got about 5 miles down the road and the bonk began. I ended up stopping to rest every mile or two for the remaining 11 miles, eventually heading into the Peedee Grocery at a  crawl. I took refuge, plus slaw, french fries and red rice (and gatorade) for about 30 minutes. I only had maybe a mile to go, but I could not have made it over the Peedee River bridge had I not stopped. I needed a rest day. Now, admittedly, this is kinda lame for bike touring, with the other folks I know traveling 60 to 80 miles a day, day in day out. But I’m not them. Weather, knee, and a certain inherent laziness had combined to have me starting out in… lesser shape than I might have, otherwise. But as my loving and wise wife said to me, “take your time – you’re not in a competition.” Words to rest by, I think, and so I shall. Friday, April 10, will be a rest day off the bike, and with a high in the 80’s, that’s for the best, I believe. The Suttie’s have graciously extended their hospitality to include and extra day and night.

While I’m talking about it, let me tell you about the Suttie’s and their hospitality: it’s amazing! Like the folks I’ve stayed with, they are wide open to me, as a guest – the difference is, this is their home. The Waccamaw Wildlife Refuge is a wonderful place to visit – they have trails and critters and information about the riverine environment. They even have a movie! (I haven’t seen it yet, but I will!) They are great folks, each accomplished in his or her own way, and I’ve truly enjoyed talking to them.

I took a rest day, today, after a bit of a difficult night dealing with hand pain – it kept me from sleeping, but didn’t wake me up enough to take some ibuprofen or apply some aspercreme to them. I spent today mostly talking with Bill, writing, and a long three hours getting the hammock stand measured out and working – but yay!! I did indeed get it functioning properly (after getting dumped on my butt a couple of times. sheesh) and spent a bit of time lying down in it, off the ground and happy! We’re fixing to have some dinner, after which I’ll get the panniers loaded up and ready to be put on the bike.

No room at the inn… oh, wait, yes there is! A day of lessons.

It’s been a long, but satisfying day. Forty miles pedaled, though three of them didn’t x”count” because I did the worst thing… I overshot and had to go back. I had my first flat while actually on the trip and also my first successful flat repair! Only took me hours… well, that’s how it felt. Especially galling because I caused the flat – valve blew out while I was trying to pump the tire up a bit. This was preceded by the bike doing that fork turning rolling escape maneuver straight into a brick wall, breaking one of my headlights. I was able to put it back together, though, just like I could fix the flat. Eventually. At one point there I wondered “Is this (touring) something I can actually succeed at? Should I even be doing this?”, but the day was gorgeous and the road was good, so I kept riding. That’s what we do, right? We keep pedaling. I had to ride a mile on US 17, which has four lanes, mucho traffic and zero shoulder. One guy just laid on the horn to let me know I shouldn’t be there. When he passed, I saw his gray and big SUV. And ok saw the proudly displayed Christian bumper stickers and fish emblem. He must attend, what? the church of the Belligerent Christ? Sigh. I’m working on my charitability. Not totally successful, yet. Ok, I’m pooped. Enough. Ok, a bit of sleep was had and now I’ll finish up here. Finally (finally!) got into Conway and found the fire department, but no joy – they now only take folks who have contacted them in advance, which sadly was not me. There was, however, an econolodge literally across the street. I was way too tired to think twice about that and that’s where I spent the night. I got close to 8 hours sleep, though I desperately wanted ten. Still do, for that matter, but I fear sleep has escaped me for the night. I have a short – 16 mile – ride to a wildlife refuge where I’ll be staying with a couple who are warmshowers hosts. If tomorrow is still t-storm-y I’ll take a zero day and start back up on Saturday. Belatedly, kudos to the Calabash FD, Chief Randall Bork and Lt. McLamb – they all took good care of me and their help was invaluable. Quite the contrast to Conway, although the firefighters I dealt with were good folks, even though I was a busted mess.

Grinding, gifts and war cries…

I’m safely tucked in at the Calabash Fire Department, a good end to a difficult day. It rained on me and the roads and traffic were… uncooperative. I had the bejeebers scared out of me by a jackass in a propane truck who passed me so closely at speed that the vacuum created was pulling me into the truck. I had to jerk the bike away from the truck and then had to fight to maintain control. This is where the war cry came in – um, in the form of a particular name aimed in his direction. Loudly. It was… ineffective. Just as well, I suppose.

I got into Sunset Beach and stopped at the Island Hoppers Bike Shop in the hopes of regrouping and starting the day over. I picked up an orange reflective safety vest to put around my black hydration pack – when I asked how much it was, the owner said “Ten dollars – you know what? I’m going to give it to you. Maybe it will help you on your tour.” That was the gift, and I’ll put it to very good use. Already have!

The disconnect of the day may have something to do with blood sugar – I’m diabetic and I ‘m going to have to pay close attention to what my blood sugar is, though I’m testing it. Perhaps I’ll need to do so more often and adjust my meds. I’m not insulin dependent, but I do take some oral meds and can adjust those downward as necessary. I’ve eaten dinner here at the firehouse, tonight, and feel normal again. Well, normal-ish. Normal for me, anyway. It’s a fluid term. 🙂

It was a short day, and problematic to the end, but not without its charms. I rode along the sound between the mainland and Sunset Beach (the island), smelling the salt marsh and feeling the nearness of the ocean. The last third of the ride was good, and though I was tired, and lucky the ride was so short (18 miles), I was glad to be grinding my way down the coast. It’s supposed to be 70% chance of thunderstorms tomorrow, so I’ll have to figure out what I’m going to do. I don’t mind rain, but that might be outside my comfort level. On the other hand, maybe my comfort level is set too comfortably. I’m new at this and have to figure almost all of this out. It’ll happen, though sometimes we figure things out by figuring them out wrong, first. But what doesn’t kill me, right? Let’s see what’s around the next corner, shall we?

Angels and smiles and the road to the road…

After all the effort trying to find a bike shop open on Easter Sunday (as if…), we decided to take the ferry to Southport and find me a place to stay, so I could go to a bike shop in Southport and get a pump and check out the front rim. We met Scott and Jazmine and their two outrageously cute Shih Tzus.

Scott and Jazmine on the ferry!
Scott and Jazmine on the ferry!

We had a tasty lunch at Fishy Fishy, a pretty cool seafood (did ya guess?) restaurant on the water. I got a room at a local ($$$) motel and my loving wife abandoned me, heading home while I rearranged things, yet again.

The abandonment! My lovely wife heading back home, leaving me to the road's mercies...
The abandonment! My lovely wife heading back home, leaving me to the road’s rough mercies…

The next morning I loaded up the bike (which took forever, but I’m getting faster) and headed off to the Locals Restaurant, about two blocks away from the motel. I got about 100 feet and felt the Wobble of Doom. The front tire was going flat. Again. This time I decided that I was NOT going to try and repair it – there was obviously something wrong with the wheel that was killing tubes – but I was 4 miles away from the shop and needed to find a way there. I had a number, but the guy wasn’t answering the phone. And that’s where angel #1 came in…

Randall, who I met at the restaurant
Randall, who I met at the restaurant

I started talking to Randall and after he learned what my situation was, he volunteered to take me to the bike shop. We ate breakfast together (of course I bought!) and then loaded up Tank into his van. We went to the bike shop where Charley of Cycle Dynamics discovered the rim strip was bunched up to the side allowing a burr on a spoke hole to puncture the tube. He deburred the rim and replaced the tube, getting me road-ready in no time at all. Not bad, considering he didn’t intend to open the shop to the public today! Randall, who valiantly hung around to make sure all was well, gave me a ride back to the highway (the Route), saving me two miles of road construction. A great guy and truly one of the blessed in this world.

After Randall left I got the bike loaded up again (finally figured out where to put the two canes!) and went to the Lowes Home Improvement store to, um, use the facilities. Afterwards, I was messing with the bike, preparatory to riding off on my adventure. I was talking with Walt (I don’t have a pic of him, but wish that I did! If he sends me one, I’ll put it here!). Walt also rides and we talked bikes and local roads. I was gearing up as we talked and I realized that I didn’t have my gloves. I probably left them at the restaurant. I decided to just head on out, barehanded. Within three miles I was regretting that decision. Around mile four, though, a dark SUV pulled off the road in front of me and someone got out. As I got closer, I realized it was Walt and he was holding a pair of gloves! He went and got me a pair of gloves, and the day absolutely would not have been the good day it was if I hadn’t met Walt and he hadn’t done that for me.

I rode to Supply – a short twenty miler, which was about as far as I intended to go, planning to take it very easy for the first few days. I stopped in at the convenience store at the corner where route made a left. I walked in and joy of joys, I found a Dairy Queen! A hot fudge sundae later (it was a small, honey – I promise!) and all was right with the world. I checked out the map and decided to go on to Shallotte. It was only 7 or 8 miles further. Turns out it was 7 or 8 miles of either bad road or worse traffic, but I made it to Shallotte in one piece. I stopped at a small, local pharmacy to get the info on the town – parks, fire dept, etc. I met Brent, an avid mountain biker who wants to tour some day. The local Fire Dept was pretty close, so I went there and asked the Chief if they could help. Chief Paul Durwell welcomed me and offered the run of the house, including bunk, laundry and shower – plus a great homemade spaghetti dinner. I write this as a stuffed, and sleepy, man. Angels number 3 through 5 are the guys at the Shallotte Fire Department. (yeah, there are more than three, total, but three on duty tonight.

Tank and the pumper truck!
Tank and the pumper truck!

It’s been a damn good day. My knee, which hurts to walk, never hurt me on the bicycle. I had folks offer to help me – and help me without even offering, just doing it. It’s been a damn good day. Tomorrow let’s see what’s around that next curve, shall we?

An auspicious beginning….

This was supposed to be published on the Ridin’ Around the Southeast Coast page, but I’m apparently unable to figure out how to do so… I expect my sister Annie will let me know soon enough if it’s possible, and how, or not. Thanks, Annie – couldn’t do this without ya!

Had my first flat of the trip! In my hotel room! The night BEFORE I started! No idea what happened – I didn’t feel anything in the tire, but in my inexperience I didn’t check the rim, and that’s where the teensy little cut was located. Of course, by that time I had already put a new tube in and remounted the tire. So I got to do a number of things for the first time, outside of the reassuring confines of my local bike shop (Clean Machine, in Carrboro, NC – check ’em out if you’re in the area – good folks, all). Patched the tube, changed the flat, found out my pump doesn’t work… seriously, really? Happily, I also have a CO2 inflator and was able to get the tire functional, but my early morning start is off until I find a local bike shop and get a functioning pump. And a better air gauge. There’s a place here in Wilmington called Bike Cycle that’s open on Sundays, but today is Easter, so they might be a bit iffy. I’ve still got one CO2 cartridge, but I’m not happy with heading out able to fix only one flat. Still, honestly, getting a flat in my hotel room was likely the best thing that could have happened.

It’s amazing how long it’s taken to figure out how to rig the bike. Shoot, it took me over an hour to figure out where and how to put the two canes on the thing in a way that didn’t interfere with my legs or the bicycle. I know, I know, but that’s how long it took. Don’t judge! 🙂 But I’m happy with it as it sits, though I want to replace a bungie with a strap. It’ll be fine until I do. I’ll post a pic when I’m ready to head out, so even in you’ve read this, check back in for the edit!