Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Experiencing the Outer Banks

At last the time came for Steve and Janet Sisson to join us, on Friday April 4. Enterprise Rent-a-Car picked us up at our B&B and drove us to their office a few miles away and set us up with a Crown Vic so we could fit in the Sisson tandem, and off we went to do some chores before their flight arrived. Found a laundromat with a barber nearby and started the laundry, then Jeff walked through a time warp into the barber shop. It was a one-room white wooden building that appeared to have been decorated by Norman Rockwell, and for the first time in 30 years, Jeff was in a barber shop where the barber and all the other customers were older than him. Since none of them had a lot of hair left to cut, it wasn't too long a wait. It did give Jeff a chance to check out the magazines, and an issue of Ducks Unlimited had a very informative and useful article on how to handle your duck when you plan to add him to your trophy collection. Rule #1, even if your dog has lost all his teeth, DO NOT let him retrieve your duck, go get it yourself and hold him by the legs. Rule #7 was one FedEx must love: When it's time to take your duck out of the deep-freeze and ship him to your taxidermist, spend those extra bucks and use next-day delivery, not 3-day ground. Oh, the things we are learning on this trip!

Steve and Janet flew into New Bern, about 40 miles from our B&B in Beaufort, and we got to see what those "Share the Road" signs look like at 55 mph on the way there. Whew, glad we weren't biking that road! Had lunch at a restaurant where our table was next to a floor-to-ceiling mirror,
and got this self-portrait with the help of the timer on our camera. At last the Sissons arrived and off we went to Beaufort with their boxed tandem in the trunk
(there's a second steel case in the bottom of that deep trunk!).

Beaufort NC is an old, old city, and we had a nice walk around town on Saturday after a group effort reassembled the Sisson tandem. Came to a 250+ year-old cemetary with more than its share of stories.
One was the grave of a woman whose husband was lost at sea. She remarried and had a child. Then husband #1 showed up. The gentlemen talked it over and reached an agreement: she could spend the rest of her natural life with husband #2, but would spend eternity buried next to husband #1, where she indeed now rests. Then there was the little girl who wanted to see London in the 1700s. Mom was against it, but Dad said not to worry, I'll take her and bring her back. Off they went and had a nice time of it. On the voyage home, however, she died at sea, weeks away from Beaufort. Dad was disconsolate -- he had promised to bring her home! At last he had an idea, and purchased one of the barrels of rum also making the voyage. Today she is known as "the little girl buried in a barrel of rum."

On Sunday we began our bike trip to the Outer Banks. We had to make it 40 miles to the ferry by 2 pm, and got there in plenty of time to set up our little stove and heat up soup for four, accompanied by cheese and crackers.
The ferry ride was nothing like the ones in Puget Sound. The boat is fairly small, the trip was 2 1/2 hours, and we went so far out into Pamlico Sound that you needed binoculars to be sure that was land on the horizon when we were half-way out. We landed in the small but attractive town of Ocracoke, with its small lighthouse,
and had very comfortable rooms at "Edwards of Ocracoke" and a great seafood dinner nearby.

Monday was another story. The temperature was in the mid-50's all day and the wind was now 15-20 mph in our face. There was an occasional mist that captains Jeff and Steve had to keep wiping off their glasses to see the road. The scenery was stark, but the weather no doubt made it seem all the more so. We stopped once to take this shot of the beach on Ocracoke Island,
almost all of which is protected seashore, then had a short respite on another small ferry that took us on a 40-minute voyage to Hatteras Island. We were delighted to find hot-air hand blowers in the rest rooms at the visitors center, which we used to restore feeling to more body parts than just the hands.
We slogged out a total of 53 miles in this weather, only stopping for lunch and for the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, tallest in the US and more ambulatory than most -- in 1999 it moved 2900 feet back from the eroding seashore where it had been for 129 years.

Needless to say, this was one of our toughest days in a vey long time. Then we got to our motel and found out that all four of the restaurants
in Rodanthe NC were either closed for the season or closed on Mondays. The motel owner lent us a microwave and drove us to a convenience store, and you can visually share in our repast of microwaved broccoli and cheese and
microwaved lasagna, washed down with convenience store red wine. Yum!

Well, things went downhill from there the next day. Not literally, since Rodanthe is as close to sea level as you can get without a soaking. And on this day, a little below that. We biked this time to the convenience store and breakfast at their little breakfast-and-lunch counter, and learned that the road ahead was washed over.
After breakfast we rode 1/2 mile up to assess it, and sure enough there was at least half a foot of water over the road, with no dry way around. It was now in the low 50's and the headwind was staying fairly steady at 20 mph. We tried for 1/2 an hour to thumb a ride from a pickup, but it was a hard sell with two large bikes and four riders standing there. No luck, and hypothermia was beginning to seem like an option. So back to the convenience store to formulate Plan B.
The store owner told us about an inter-island taxi sevice that had a pickup truck, and $95 later we were loading the bikes and bags on and scrunching into the narrow back seat of the truck. Good thing!
Not only was the water deep enough to have risked drenching our feet had we tried to bike through, the 3-mile bridge a little further on turned out to have a shoulder of only 6", which is essentially no shoulder at all. Biking it in that headwind would have been not very vacation-like.

We did manage to bike another 10 miles after we got dropped off in the town of Nags Head, and it was a tough run against the wind and cold but manageable thanks to a bike lane the whole way. Our reward was the Atlantic Street Inn. It's a former lifeguard boarding house converted into 6 bedroom suites plus a common kitchen and dining room, and we were the only guests. We emptied the panniers and headed back into the elements, returning an hour later with four bulging panniers holding the makings of 3 great suppers and 3 big breakfasts and a few "adult beverages." The wind could blow all it wanted now, we were going to have a nice time of it!

Wednesday it was still blowing hard out of the northeast and cold, so we stayed off the bikes and walked to the beach. And quickly left, as it was NOT FUN! Instead we found a good lunch spot, then hiked 2 miles over to
the spot made famous by the Wright Brothers, ironically the most famous bicycle mechanics in history. The museum was great, and you can see the full-size replica of their plane in the museum (the original is in the Smithsonian).
Our docent gave a terrific explanation of how they solved the problems of flight, in part with the help of this wind tunnel Steve is examining. Outside they have markers for the take-off point and landing points for the four successful flights of December 17, 1903.
They were SHORT! Most of you can probably ride no-hands on a bike further than the first three flights, which Louise, Janet and Steve are demonstrating, and even the longest flight that day was less than 3 football fields in length (you can see the stone marker in the distance past Steve). For the record, the first flight was 12 seconds and 120' long, at 30 mph against a 22 mph headwind for a ground speed of only 6.8 mph. The longest flight that day was 59 seconds.

At last the wind calmed down to 5-10 mph on Thursday, and the air warmed into the low 60s. We left our panniers at the inn and biked 40 miles over to Roanoke Island, known best for the "Lost Colony" that disappeared into the mists of time sometime between 1587 and 1589, when the next ship arrived.
On the way back we stopped at Jockeys Ridge State Park with its immense sand dunes, highest on the East Coast, and at Nags Head Woods, a gorgeous nature preserve owned by the Nature Conservancy,
where we took in these remarkably dense woods on the lee side of the Outer Banks, and looked out over Albemarle Sound back towards Roanoke Island.

Friday was our day to head northwards again, and Mother Nature apologized for the early part of the week with a nice tailwind for the next three days. We took back roads mainly on the west or leeward side of the Banks that morning, and found rolling sand dune hills that were now covered by trees. The topography and flora reminded us of the Northeast. The Atlantic beach is interesting at this time of year, but it is a hard, harsh environment. There was none of the sense of Spring there, which surrounded us on the west side with clouds of dogwood blossoms, azaleas in many front yards, wisteria in full bloom climbing trees sometimes up to 30 or 40 feet above us, and pale green leaves sprouting everywhere on the trees.

We ended our 10 days together with two nights in some of the nicest B&Bs yet. The owners of Barclay Cottage B&B in Virginia Beach were some of the friendliest, most helpful innkeepers we've ever encountered, and they served a great breakfast.. The inn was a late-19th century Victorian only 4 blocks from the ocean, which we explored on the way in, and out the next day, on this nice bike path We also rode several miles en route to Norfolk on this old railtrail through the woods, although the soft surface was a little worrisome for our skinny road tires.
Nonetheless, we made it through intact.

Our final night was in The Patriot Inn in Portsmouth VA, a town that claims to have the most historic homes of any city between Cape May and Charleston, and the Patriot Inn was one of them with a construction date of 1784. It was gorgeously restored by the current innkeepers, but it IS an old building, and 6' 4" Jeff whacked his head three times on the 6' 3" doorway to our room until Louise rigged up this Early Warning Device
out of a hanger and some bike gloves. And did we mention the baked eggs and homemade crepes we were served for breakfast! What a windup to our Davis-Sisson adventure.

Steve is one of those guys who still enjoys work, however, so off they returned to Seattle. Remember that 8-foot-long tandem they were riding? It's right there in those two steel suitcases in the back of their taxi to the Norfolk airport. Since we have an almost identical Rodriguez tandem which will have to end up in two
exactly identical steel suitcases next September, Jeff paid very close attention to the disassembly and packing of their bike.

It's now off to Williamsburg and a vey different adventure with Spokane friends Jim and Nancy Schoepflin. They are meeting us for 2 weeks of non-biking exploration of Williamsburg, Jamestown, Yorktown, Richmond and Washington DC, the latter two cities to be reached by Amtrak. We'll then take Amtrak back to Williamsburg on April 29 and resume biking north. We may be "blogging" again even sooner, however -- Jeff's son Matt and his wife Akiko are currently at the hospital in Tokyo, and we're anxiously awaiting word about little Tyler, as their son will be named when he gets here.

1 comment:

Mea said...

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