Thursday, January 28, 2010

Shakedown Trip, OBX NC, Day 1

Two weeks ago, Adam and I did a short, two night trip around the northern outer banks in North Carolina to shakedown our gear and bikes.

We parked the car at the ferry in Swan Quarter, southeast of Lake Mattamuskeet:

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We got permission from the ferry staff to leave our car at the ferry for a couple of days, loaded the gear onto our bikes, and headed out.

We took US 264 east, went past Lake Mattamuskeet, through Englehard, on north into the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge, past Stumpy Point and Manns Harbor, crossed the old Umstead Bridge which brought us to the northern end of Roanoke Island, just north of Manteo.

It was a pretty long ride - about 75 miles for the day. Wind was not against us, but not always with us. The route was unpopulated for the most part. US 264 goes through some of the most sparsely populated areas in North Carolina. We passed miles and miles of forested swamp, the road cutting straight through without bend or turn, with a wide canal on each side of us.

Monotonous as the road was, the wildlife and solitude was great. So few cars travel this way that we could take the whole lane side-by-side, with more than enough warning when cars would approach us from the rear. We scared up innumerable Kingfishers and Great Blue Herons hunting in the canals. They were much more scared of us than they were of the cars that would occasionally pass.

We thought we would buy some oysters in Englehard or Manns Harbor to roast as we camped that evening. The couple of places we stopped were sold out. We were told that the boat would be back "in about ten minutes", and that they might have some oysters aboard when it came in. We opted not to wait. We were not getting very welcoming signals from the incomprehensively accented locals hanging around.

It was a good thing we weren't able to find any oysters - it was not possible to build a fire at our campsite that night, and we would have been unable to cook them. I can eat a few raw oysters, but not a whole peck.

The Dare County Penninsula is connected to Roanoke Island by two bridges - The Virginia Dare Bridge and the Umstead Bridge. The Virginia Dare Bridge is the newer of the two, and the longest bridge in the state, at five miles long. It has four travel lanes and a nominal bike lane, which resembles a small shoulder, and a pull-out on the top of the span, which was added explicitly to give cyclists a place to stop out of traffic.

The Umstead Bridge is older, built sometime in the 50's north of the new bridge. It has two travel lanes with no median, no shoulder, and is three miles long. This is my favorite three miles of highway for cycling that I've found yet. It has a large area at the top of the span meant as parking for utility vehicles that come out to service the bridge. This is a perfect spot to pull over, enjoy the view, and eat a snack.

I love cycling across this bridge. The guard rails are low, the bridge is narrow, and it feels like you're flying across the water when you're on the bike. I've seen all kinds of wildlife from this bridge, from dolphins to sea turtles, numerous kinds of jellies, purple martins, gulls, cormorants, and pelicans.
We crossed the Croatan Sound using the Umstead bridge, and took a nice break at the top.

After completing the trip across the bridge, we camped on private land right near the shore of the north end of the island, not far from the Lost Colony staff housing. There was ice forming on the rocks on the south shore of Roanoke Sound, and it was in the low 30's when we stopped for the day.

We ate spaghettii with pesto, dry sausage and cheese for dinner. I put in a few extra miles on the bike to pick up a 22 of Fat Tire to wash it all down with. Very satisfying meal.

We had not been cold while cycling all day, but it started to get chilly by the time we were cleaned up from dinner. We were sheltered from the wind, but it felt like the ground was leeching all the heat out of our bones.

Once in our sleeping bags, we were as warm as we cared to be. We had good digital coverage, so we caught up on email before falling asleep. Even when the ground is hard and cold, it's pretty easy to get to sleep after putting in around 80 miles on the bike.

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