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Monday, November 29, 2010

Welcome to Charleston!


Shortly after meeting Mike (see my previous post), we met a nice fellow named Don, a carpenter and the owner of Don’s Cabinet Shop in Conway, SC. He showed us his workshop, his super cool and one of a kind three-wheeled motorcycle, and his bicycle-converted-hand bike. He also pointed us towards a good camp spot in a cemetery behind a local church. It was a nice camp spot, and Mike, ever the Alaskan at heart, decided to sleep under the stars, sans tent. Sounds like a good idea, except when the temperature gets down to a balmy 35 degrees (Fahrenheit) and you wake up to a blanket of frost!

The modified foot- and hand-bike

Pile of ice/frost on our rain fly. Brrr!

We had a cup of coffee on the way out of town to try to warm up (riding when it’s that cold just plain hurts!). We were also excited to use our HotHands, those little chemical packets you put into your gloves to keep you warm. They work so well! Luckily, the day warmed up to about 70..it’s amazing how the temperature can change so much in just a few hours.

The three of us camped in Francis Marion National Forest about 50-60 miles out of Charleston. Mike was kind enough to share some chocolate and Nutella with us, and definitely inspired us to buy some as soon as possible!

The next morning, we met a nice older couple on our way out of the National Forest - they talked to us about military service, since he had been in the Air Force. Basically, their advice for Ed, a soon-to-be Army lawyer was that the military is what you make of it. If you put a lot in, you’ll get a lot in return. Great advice!
We ran into a couple of trains, and of course Ed got excited. He loves trains. We also ran into a farmer with a huge pig, who seemed to be excited to see us. He waddled over to the fence, grunting and oinking, and looked at us with curious little eyes (the pig, not the farmer). We couldn’t help but laugh.

Oink!

Heading into Charleston, we were enjoying a nice paceline, when POP! Another flat tire for me. This time it was my trailer tire. My trailer was used when we got it, so the tire had completely worn through. Luckily, we had a spare, and Ed and Mike talked up a local aspiring marathoner while I finished changing the tire. I think the flat tire count is about even for Ed and myself now!

No life left for this tire.

We stopped and had some delicious boiled peanuts, a local delicacy, before heading over a super cool double suspension bridge that had just been built over the Ashley river (or was it the Cooper river?), heading into Charleston. It had a dedicated bike/pedestrian pathway, too! Way to go, Charleston!

Boiled peanuts - the local favorite

Bridges are awesome

Mike, contemplating the end of his ride

We stopped at a local restaurant, the Noisy Oyster, for some chow and to celebrate the end of Mike’s ride. The oyster and bacon po-boy was delicious, as was the generous helping of collard greens. Perhaps even more delicious (if that’s possible!) was the 5-layer chocolate cake that was dessert (I'll keep an eye out for this picture... I think it's on my phone). The glorious thing about riding your bike for several months at a time is that you can eat whatever you want. Cake. Donuts. Brownies. Fried chicken. Bring it on!

We headed over to meet Mike’s dad, Mick, who is a caretaker/gardener/jack-of-all-trades at a local Charleston mansion (that old style of architecture that you picture when you think of Southern homes) for a super nice couple, Mr. and Mrs. B. Mick gave us a ride in a car (cars go super fast!) to their house, where we met his wife Shawnee, and had a most excellent dinner of broccoli cheese soup and chicken and some beer. We also got to meet the local wildlife: the dog, the birds, and the crazy neighbors, who materialized out of the woods after an evening deer hunt went stale. Thanks to Mick and Shawnee and Mike for the hospitality; you guys are fantastic!!

Ed making friends with the birds (they pooped on him)

This little guy reminds me of one of the birds I used to have, except not evil

Halford, the sweetest dog ever

New post! Flat tires and new friends

Sorry for the delay! We took a detour (via car) to Tampa for Thanksgiving. Now we're back on the road (we biked from the same spot we hopped in the car, so we're not cheating, Dad!) I'll try to catch you up on what's been going on since Ed's last post.

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Also while in Wilmington, we happened upon the Front Street Brewery, where we had some delicious bratwurst, shrimp and grits, IPA, brown ale, and Baltic porter. Yum! Speaking of good food, we happened upon a BBQ place as we were riding out of Wilmington, and had some delicious fried chicken, hush puppies, and homemade chicken soup. We had a nice quiet ride past Fort Fisher , a civil war era fort that was used to protect blockade runners. Ed and I have both been surprised by the amount of history we’ve run across on this little trip.

We hopped on a short ferry to Southport, NC, a cute little tourist town with a decent amount of traffic around 4pm. We were pedaling furiously away from all the cars when, POP! I got a flat tire. I had actually worn out my back tire completely (always a great feeling!) so we stopped for some quick maintenance.

The next day we made it into South Carolina, where we met a wonderful addition to our little bicycle group. Enter Mike, a fellow touring cyclist (only the third touring cyclist we’ve seen for the past 2000 miles!). Mike is a park ranger in Katmai National Wilderness in Alaska and his bicycle has been all over the country (with him in tow, of course). On this trip, Mike was heading from Pittsburgh, PA to Charleston to have Thanksgiving with his dad. We all decided to ride the next few days together into Charleston. What a great decision!

Welcome to South Carolina

Us with Mike

Sunday, November 21, 2010

We made it to Florida, baby! And we've surpassed 2400 miles for the trip. Bring on the orange juice!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Wilmington, and its mojo

In our last episode, your heroic heroes brushed elbows with America’s fighting forces and possibly suffered the side effects of America’s fighting all-beef gas station frankfurter.


Enter: Wilmington, NC.

About 6 months ago, Vanessa and I spent 23 hours in Wilmington for a dear friend’s wedding before I had to get back to Texas to study for the bar exam. 23 hours well spent, because I saw my friend enter the life matrimonial and I also passed the bar. However, 23 hours spent in Wilmington is about a week too short.

Wilmington is a town with moxie, and deserves more than 23 short hours. We also selected the proper weekend for a visit to Wilmington, because the city was hosting an Ironman triathlon the next day. 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike ride, and a full marathon…all in the same day. When the locals spied me and Vanessa clad in bicycles and spandex, they assumed that we were Iron-people about to try an athalon. (Editor‘s note: the author refused to omit this unsuccessful attempt at humor. Our apologies.) Unfortunately, cherished readership, Vanessa and I are not Iron-people. We did, however, meet some Ironman triathlon participants. In a battle of perspective, the Ironmen tried to convince Vanessa and myself that they could never do what we are doing, and Vanessa and myself tried to convince the Ironmen that they were invincible endurance-psychotics. In all seriousness, the Ironman participants are inspirational folks, with mettle made of steel.

Thankfully, Vanessa and I didn’t have a crazy race for which to prepare, so we found a pub/Laundromat where we drank a few beers and made clean clothes. Wilmington was particularly vibrant that night because of the Cucalorus Film Festival, which attracted swarms of “folks interested in film,” otherwise known as hipsters and rich people. The film festival meant that most nightspots would be showing films that night, with a sizeable cover charge. In lieu of crowds and steep covers, your heroes ducked into Fat Tony’s for great all-you-can-stuff-into-your-face pizza and…….drum roll……WEEPING RADISH BEER! Our ride through North Carolina has come full circle! Brian, your beer keeps following us (or maybe we follow it)!

Wilmington, thank your for the clean clothes, the full bellies, and the quenched thirst.

Any day above ground is a good day.

Back on the road, and onto the condo-lined beaches. There are certain beach communities whose waterfront looks like an advanced game of Monopoly. Fortunately for your humble heroes, the tenants of said condominiums were elsewhere during their visit. This made for clear roads and an empty beach.

We made (a most excellent) camp at a public beach access, and enjoyed a clear sky on a deserted beach that night. As corny or lame as it may sound, we stared up at the clear sky for a few hours. We didn’t say much to each other, but we didn’t really need to. Oceanfront skylines are talkative, especially with the Milky Way cameos and the Cape Lookout lighthouse blinking miles and miles away. The next morning we had breakfast on the beach, which had come alive with fishermen and seagulls. This is the kind of life that you could get used to.

Get used to it we could not, as the road beckoned. That day we rode long. We passed Camp Lejeune, which boasts probably the highest concentration of badass fighting man-machines per square mile anywhere in the world. Our cycling landscape was populated that day with humvees, armored personnel carriers, and signs warning us of impending military training exercises.

A few miles removed from Camp Lejeune, I began to feel the effects of the (inedible, yet delicious) gas station hot dogs I had wolfed down earlier. As I struggled to mash down on the pedals, and I saw Vanessa pulling further and further ahead of me. I was utterly unable to make up the distance between us. Reasonable mind may differ, but I don’t think I bonked. I attribute my lack of muscular enthusiasm to the “all beef” hot dogs. (Editor’s note: Vanessa also ate a hot dog, and suffered no ill side effects. Ergo, Ed must be some kind of ninny.)
In our last episode, your wandering heroes discovered a side of North Carolina dotted with lighthouses and traversed by the ever-friendly Wimp and Midge.


The morning after the long ferry ride, we woke up at dawn to see the sun peeking its head over the Pamlico Sound, which made up the front yard of our campsite that day. Vanessa and I are typically slow risers, but that morning, a gaggle of ducks passed by our tent, which caused Vanessa to open the tent flap so she could greet the gaggle. As Vanessa kibitzed with the ducks, an ornery gander bit her finger. Don’t worry, though, kind reader. The bite was nothing more than a pinch, and didn’t so much as leave a mark.
Wimp and Midge poked their heads out of their camper and invited us to coffee, which the caffeine dependent authors graciously accepted.

We then decided to go ride bikes for the rest of the day. The first few hours into the ride off of Cedar Island were rather picturesque. Marshland and reeds went on for miles in every direction--the kind of scenery that makes you feel like you're the only person in the world. Once Wimp and Midge passed us in their truck, we didn’t have a single car’s worth of traffic coming from behind because the ferry had not yet arrived. It was desolate….almost.


The sense of isolation was broken by the sound of jets roaring overhead. Try as we might, we couldn’t see the responsible jets. We almost decided to become confused when a pair of fighter jets screamed overhead. As we would soon learn, isolated marsh is a fantastic place for Marine Corps pilots to practice sky ballet. Alongside the marsh ran a Marine Corps auxiliary landing strip, which provided me and Vanessa some entertainment as we pedaled down the road. The jets would bank and turn and roll in a most cinematic manner, and then provide us with a delayed and deafening audio track. One word encapsulates our fighter jet entertainers: cool.

PRO-TIP: When ogling supersonic fighter jets, keeping your eyes on the road keeps you upright!

As our isolated marsh broke into small towns, we decided to stop at the first coffee opportunity available. The first available coffee opportunity also happened to be the best available coffee opportunity on the eastern seaboard. The Davis Shore Provisions general store served coffee in all varieties, and employs the services of a Most Talented Baker Indeed. Pumpkin whoopee pies. Sourdough cinnamon rolls. Most talented baker? Indeed.

While inside the store, Ian strolls in. Ian, adventurer extraordinaire, had been strolling for quite a while. He was finishing up a hike from the mountains in western North Carolina to the Outer Banks. He had been hiking for a month or two with nothing but his backpack and a friendly disposition. Absent was the distinctive odor of someone who had been hiking for two months! What was supposed to be a quick coffee stop became a story-trading session between hiker and bikers. Another round of whoopee pies, please!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Hello Charleston, SC! We also hit 2100 miles for the trip.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

In our last episode: Rain, monster trucks, rites of passage, and a brewer's welcome.

Many, many thanks to Brian for taking us into his home and showing us the Kitty Hawk nightlife!

For our next attraction, readership, I humbly present to you.....the Outer Banks of North Carolina! The Graveyard of the Atlantic, final resting place of the pirate Blackbeard, and birthplace of flight!

Riding the Outer Banks (OBX) has been, quite possibly, the best detour we've ridden thus far. The 25mph tailwinds allowed us to boogie down the blacktop with ease, carrying us to the birthplace of modern aviation. At the Wright brother's monument and museum, a park ranger explained to us the Wright brother's engineering creativity, which is something of an historical relic in the "Space Age." It took the Wright Bros. over thousands of test designs before they settled on a design for a flying machine. Those gentlemen were no amateurs, and their slavish dedication to discovering flight changed the course of history. Just think, without areospace engineers, we wouldn't have the aluminum that comprises the frame of my bike! Thanks, Orville and Wilbur!



While the venerable Wright Bros. have definitley left their mark on human history, a different feature of the OBX left its mark on my history. The lighthouses! As the tailwinds carried us through the OBX, we passed by the Bodie Island lighthouse, which lit me up. They may not seem like items of marvel, but North Carolina's lighthouses are sentinels that remind us of our seafaring history. The OBX lighthouses are like very huge and important lamps. They tower over the land/seascape to warn sailors of old that certain death awaits them if they approach the intermittent blink of the lights. They are tall, they sport unique paint jobs, and they are cooler than any lifeguard you'll ever meet.


We continued down the OBX's only road and saw a sunset the likes of which you can only see when you're on the open ocean. The OBX is a strip of land no more than a few hundrend yards wide in the middle of the Atlantic, so we saw both sunrise and sunset in epic settings. Perfect.





Those epic settings have to end, do they not? No, readership, they do not. The next day, we planned to ride to land's end, whereupon our arrival was scheduled for 10:30AM. As we arrived at land's end, North Carolina's Department of Transportation provided us with a ferry to Okracoke Island. Unfortunately for your heroes, the former tailwind morphed into a headwind. Pedal as we might, we were not able to arrive at the ferry's morning departure. Ever the improvisors, your heroes did what they do best. They rode their bikes slowly. Slowly down a deserted road bordered on the left by sand dunes and on the right by miles of pristine beach. Perfect.



Along those pristine beaches ran a flock(?) of wild horses (Editor's note: the Okracoke horses are more properly seen in "gaggles"). The conclusion of the slow ride dropped us off at another lighthouse: the Okracoke Lighthouse. We caught the 2 hour ferry back to the mainland in the shadow of the lighthouse as the sun slipped away. Perfect.



We loaded our bikes alongside cars on the ferry, and assumed our seats in the lounge of the ship. Next to us sat Wimp and Midge, a travelling couple themselves. Wimp and Midge had a camper shell on the back of their truck, and they were cruising the OBX with their dogs, Iggy and Chloe. We struck up conversation, and resumed the conversation for the 2 hour ferry ride. Conversation was so good that we all agreed to camp at the same campsite, where Midge fixed a great dinner for us. Wimp pulled out some lawnchairs, and the night carried us past our bedtimes as we hemmed and hawed...
Just arrived in Wilmington, NC. First stop: Front Street Brewery!

Friday, November 5, 2010

This is a title.

So, after departing the dry breakfast restaurant and saying goodbye and thank you to our new friend Lucy, we headed on down the road in the rain. We stopped to get some groceries and it looked like there was no end in sight, so we decided to make it a short day and get a hotel. That way, we could wash clothes, clean bikes, and let everything dry out from the past 15 or so hours of rain.

It was a pricier hotel than we usually stay in, but pricy hotels mean nice continental breakfasts! We loaded up on yogurt, waffles, weird egg concoctions, cereal, juice and coffee. Bicycle jerseys have three pockets in the back, which are convenient for storing extra breakfast items (sans syrup, of course).

We happened upon a marching band practicing, so I wanted to stop and reminisce. They were, perhaps not as good as the legendary Woodlands High School Marching Highlander Band, but they had heart and they made me smile. We stopped at a random convenience store and were greeted by the delicious aroma of barbecue. Ah yes, we were truly in the South. Pulled pork sandwich....yum!!


Went through Fredericksburg, where they had a park dedicated to the civil war battle, and then hit Ashland, VA the next day (I think?). It's the home of Randolph-Macon college as well as a really cool train town. There were tracks running right through the middle of town. We hung out for a bit at The Station Cafe and talked to the owner (nice guy) and also picked up some groceries.  We went across the street (and across the tracks) to a wine shop, where they were having a wine tasting. Camped out nearby that evening, and came back to The Station the next day for coffee, hot dogs, and a few electrons to put into our cell phone batteries.

Ashland, VA

We got on the road and headed toward Richmond. We hadn't covered a ton of miles in the past couple days, but we decided to stop and snap a few photos and then stop and get a pint of beer and watch college football at a bar. Nice people there - a bit strange, but very friendly.

Richmond, VA state capital building

Stayed out near the airport in Richmond and got dolled up for Halloween the next day. Ed had a Frankenstein mask (see the photo stream above) and, well, there are no words for my costume:

Some kind of bicycle fairy princess..?

We got a lot of friendly honks and waves that day.  Rode through a Civil War battlefield site, complete with cannons.  We made it about 30 miles early in the day, and after stopping to have some beans, Ed's bike started making funny sounds, and the back derailler (the thing that changes gears) basically fell off. We limped to a bike shop, about 6 miles away. The shop is called Pedals, Chains, and Things. The owner, Gary, was closed that day but answered the phone and came out to help us out. (Thank you, Gary!)  He, unfortunately, didn't have the part we needed, but gave us a ride to the only motel in town, a super classy one that didn't smell terrible at all. (Can you sense my sarcasm?)

Anyways, after some emergency surgery, we shortened the chain and turned Ed's bike into a single speed. He secretly wants to be a hipster anyways. We were stuck for the day, so we had some beers and watched Forrest Gump.

The next day we got up early, stored our bike trailers with the hotel manager, who spoke approximately 12 words of English, and booked it into Richmond (30 miles away) to get to the next bike shop in hopes of finding our part. We stopped about halfway and got a free coffee from some nice ladies (and a nice dog, Whiskey) who had bought an old bait and tackle shop and were turning it into a little market and art shop.

We ended up at the Bunny Hop Bicycle Shop, where they had our part and even sold Ed a new (used) mountain bike derailleur for a great price.  While we were waiting on the repairs, we went to a local barcade - a bar that had tons of arcade games - and had an interesting Thanksgiving sandwich - turkey, stuffing, and even cranberry sauce. It was tasty! We had a good time playing Mortal Kombat and there was even a game where you were playing as a bartenter, getting drinks to people before they got too angry, catching empty glasses, and picking up tips. Super fun!


Random picture from DC. Look, we look like normal people!!

Things worked out well in Richmond, we ended up with a working bike for Ed (yay!) and we got back to our motel in Hopewell get our trailers back.  The hotel manager had apparently misunderstood how long we'd take in Richmond, and yelled at us for taking too long and making him have to move our trailers around. He was un. happy. We apologized but he basically told us to get lost. Oh well, you win some and you lose some. We camped out behind the motel that night - it smelled better and it was free.

We got on the road the next day and finally got to covering some serious miles.  Southern Virginia and northern North Carolina were pretty remote, so there's not too much to report from those days. The land is pretty flat, luckily, so we can get some good mileage in.

Welcome to North Carolina! Yes, I'm still wearing my tiara.

We went through some swampland in North Carolina, where we saw tons of ducks and even a bald eagle! Definitely didn't expect that.  We camped out behind a little roadside cafe and almost got carried away by swarms of mosquitoes. It was awful! We hid in the tent and were mostly spared from them. The next morning, the owner came out and told us it was fine we'd camped there (it was already closed for the day when we showed up so we hoped for the best) but to be careful where we camped because in rural North Carolina we might get shot by folks who weren't quite as welcoming!

We had a great breakfast at Peggy's cafe and went on our way, hoping to avoid the rain that was forecast for all day.  We were headed towards Kitty Hawk and the outer banks of North Carolina.  We did well, but it started pouring on us the last 20 miles.  We did happen to stop by the home of Grave Digger, an apparently super famous monster truck:




There were tons of trucks everywhere and a huge garage where they rebuilt the crashed rigs. Sounds like it'd be a cool job!

We stopped into the Weeping Radish Brewery for a pint of beer, since the rain wasn't letting up. The folks there weren't very busy, so they asked us lots of questions about the trip, and gave us huge glasses of beer and some delicious homemade broccoli cheese soup and some pizza. Yum yum yum!


At the brewery, totally soaked but happy to be drinking a beer.

While we were there, Ed got a call from his old roommate. Bar exam results had come out. Ed passed! Conveniently, we were at a brewery! Congratulations to Ed!

One of the brewers, Brian, invited us to stay in a spare room in the house he was living in. He had hiked the PCT (Pacific Crest trail, like the Appalachian trail, but on the west coast) a few years ago and had been lucky enough to meet a few 'trail angels', people who feed hikers, leave them water, or put them up for a night. So he was kind enough to put us up, since he knew what it was like to be in our shoes. We stayed last night in a great house, drank a few beers with Brian to celebrate Ed's passing the bar, and ate some fantastic Cuban salad and bratwurst which was a gift from the brewery. Thank you, Brian, for your amazingly generous hospitality! You're awesome!

Now we're taking a day off, might take another one tomorrow (we'll see) and we'll be riding down the outer banks hoping for sunshine and no rain. Stay tuned!

Headed into the South!

In our last episode, your heroes were touring the nation’s capital, dining on worldly cuisine and feasting their eyes on monuments to our founding fathers. The next morning, Bobby Chui played the role of a most gracious host and cooked your brave heroes a breakfast of pumpkin pancakes.



We were set up for a great day of riding out of D.C. Bellies full of pumpkin pancakes. Decent weather. A dedicated bike trail into Mt. Vernon. We jumped onto our bikes and rode past the Lincoln Memorial once more. As Vanessa dismounted to snap a picture, something else snapped. One of the steel rails under her saddle snapped in half. We stared at the broken piece for a few minutes scratching our heads, wondering how the actual saddle could snap in two. Our spare parts bag is rather comprehensive, but we neglected to pack a spare saddle. But, we had the next best thing: duct tape! We taped up the seat well enough to get us to a bike shop that was only a couple of miles away.

After the pit stop, we rode the Mt. Vernon bike trail, which begins at Arlington National Cemetery and runs alongside the Potomac for some 20 miles. This was probably one of the best stretches of riding we’ve enjoyed thus far. The trail ran through green parks and fields, and seemed to be mostly downhill. At one point, we stopped to tighten up the spokes on my rear wheel just in time to see an overzealous rider wipe out as he tried to pass a couple of other cyclists and a woman pushing a stroller. This goes to show that there is no room for riding aggressively on a lazy bike trail.

Along the bike trail, there was a park that abuts a runway at Reagan International Airport. As we pedaled by, a plane passed not 50 feet over our heads! I felt like that we were in that scene in Wayne’s World (you know the scene). Later, my wheel got wobbly again, and we conveniently spied probably the best, and most properly targeted advertising on a bike trail. “Bike mechanic: 1 block to the right.” Ron at Wheel Nuts trued my wheels, and got us riding smooth.


The next day, we woke up to rain. We packed up the tent like two people possessed, and got on the road before 8. We made it approximately a half mile before the rain gods became angry again. We pulled into a little breakfast joint, where the waitress Lucy was thrilled that we were riding our bikes down the east coast. She gave us rosary beads, brownies for the road, and some free sodas. She told us that she had never gotten a post card from Key West. That, kind readers, shall change in roughly 3 weeks!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Mechanical problems kept us in Hopewell, VA last night and tonight. All's fixed now and we'll be in NC in a few days!