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.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Shakedown ride at the Outerbanks

This photo is from Swan Quarter, NC, the start of our shakedown ride on 11-13 January. The gear here is what we will look like when we start riding from San Diego next Monday. I expect that I will post most of the pictures and Dwight will post most of the writing.
I will also write about Operation Free, a veterans group of which I am a member, that is working to improve our national security through controlling climate change. is the website. We will stop to make presentations when we have opportunities. We are using fuel to get to our start, but shouldn't produce many emissions, unless we eat a lot of beans along the way.
I am hoping to have time for reflection, to work through my new life out of the army, and to discuss each of our futures, considering the major changes we are both facing. I better get to bed for the early plane flight tomorrow. I am amazed that this is really happening.

Getting Started

What do you do when you lose your job and find out you're expecting a child?

Drop everything, and escape on your bicycle, of course.

Adam has just got out of the Army, and my job in Durham wound to an end. We have a little money saved, and we decided that this opportunity was not likely to present itself again. After lots of consideration, Karen told me to go for it. After the baby comes, there will be no more trips like this for a long time to come. Its now or never.

On the first of February, we'll start on the beach in San Diego and head east on our bikes. We're fully self-sufficient, which means we'll be camping and cooking our own food. We'll have no support following us, and we'll be carrying all of our own gear - bike supplies, camping and cooking gear, and clothes.

We plan on a two-month trip, finishing up on the east coast on Adam's birthday, March 28th. Our route will keep as far south as possible to avoid the worst weather. We'll go through southern Arizona, New Mexico, El Paso, Del Rio, and on to Austin. From there our route is less well defined - it will be largely determined by how much time we have remaining, what the weather is like, and how we feel.

We'll try to post as often as possible, uploading our location, pictures, and descriptions of what we see and do. This blog is meant to keep everyone interested in our trip up to date, and to relieve the worry of some of our family members. We'll try to post as often as possible, but we'll be limited by how often we can find a keyboard and an internet connection. Check back, and let us know in the comments if you have any questions