Friday, June 1, 2012

I Wanna Go Back To The Island…….

Thanks to Mr. Buffett for the inspiration in that song.

MB and I have been working very hard for the last six months and were more than ready for a vacation.  Fortunately, her family loves to get together for reunions at least once a year.  This year, a large group got a huge house on the beach in Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina.  For those of you not from around these parts this area is called the Outer Banks (OBX), a large string of barrier islands on the Atlantic Ocean that helps to protect the mainland from large storms and the constant pounding of waves.

If Kill Devil Hills sounds familiar to you, it’s because that’s where the Wright Brothers first flew a heavier than air machine on December 17th, 1903.  (Thus beginning a long, strange trip to standing in long lines while removing parts of clothing, getting x-rayed, and felt up by bored government employees, all while hoping against hope that you’ll be able to get your luggage into a ridiculously small space.) The monument to that achievement is within sight of the house in which we were staying (see picture) and is well worth a visit.  

You can see a replica of the original Wright Flyer; the original hangs in the Smithsonian’s Air and Space museum today.  You can also walk the flight path and see the spot where that famous photograph was taken.  It’s great fun, particularly if you’re an airplane fan (like me) or a history buff (like me, too).

The reason the Wrights, who were from Dayton Ohio, chose this spot to perform their flying experiments is the wind.  They wrote to the National Weather Service and were given several locations for “sustained winds” including Kitty Hawk, NC.  That was actually the nearest town at the time.  I’m guessing there were only a couple of dozen people living here, back then, a far cry from the huge crowds and enormous houses that populate the surrounding area today.

First ride

The day dawned clear and beautiful on Monday morning.  After being cooped up in a car for the four hour ride and then the house the prior evening due to the rain, I was ready to hit the bike.  My wife’s cousin’s husband (cousin-in-law? I’ll refer to him as Cuz) had brought his road bike and we were planning some rides together.  I loaded up the water bottles, grabbed a Honey Stinger Waffle, and we headed north on NC 12 also known as Virginia Dare boulevard.  (Virginia Dare was person born in the Lost Colony of North Carolina.  Google it for a fascinating read.)  Our plan was to ride for a couple of hours.

We chose a northerly course as the wind seemed to be out of the northeast and I’d rather have a tailwind when I turn for home.  There wasn’t much wind but you could feel it, mostly across rather than helping or hurting.

The road is dead flat here.  As someone who lives in the hillier area of Virginia, this is like heaven!  No hills? Sign me up! It is so much easier to keep a pace on this.  Wow, what a difference.  Additionally, the roads, for the most part, have excellent shoulders / bike lanes which make it easy to feel safe even on a 45 mph speed limit area like this. 

We rolled for an hour or so, continuing up into Duck and Corolla, keeping a fifteen to sixteen mph pace, and then stopped for a quick blow and drink.  Since I had been doing more riding than Cuz, I allowed him to decide how fast and far to ride this morning.  When we stopped, he mentioned that he felt good and since it was such a great morning, why not continue northward?  I could only agree.  He then said, he was tempted to ride all the way to the Currituck Lighthouse and I agreed, again.  We rolled on for another few minutes and then saw a sign that said the lighthouse was another 9 miles.  We pedaled on.

After chugging along for another forty five minutes, we pulled into the lighthouse parking lot and dismounted for a drink and a short rest.  I realized that we would soon be coming up on two hours and since that’s when MB begins to develop road carnage ideas, I knew it was important to let her know that we’d be later than I’d planned.  I called her cell phone and got voice mail.  Called one of the daughters and got voice mail.  Called MB’s work cell phone and got voice mail and left a message this time.  (Of course, I realized that all those messages would drive her to think we’d been hit by a car and were in dire straits but it couldn’t be helped at this point.)

We split the waffle I’d brought; I wished I’d brought a handful of them as I knew I was going to be starving by the time we got back to the house.  We had a drink, chatted about the ride so far, and prepared to head back.

I took the lead as we headed out of the parking lot.  As soon as I turned onto the road, I realized that the wind had switched around and was quartering into us.  I put my head down and bumped the pace up to about 18 mph, Cuz got on my wheel, and we motored back towards the southern beaches.  I kept this pace going for the first couple of miles when I noticed that Cuz was dropping back, slightly.  I backed off on my efforts and we hooked back up.

We continued along for just over an hour and then pulled into the convenience store that sits near the entrance to the Outer Banks for a breather. Cuz mentioned how glad he was that I’d slowed down; when he saw the pace I started to return, he was worried about how long he’d be able to hold it.  I called MB again to let her know we were about thirty minutes away and got her voice mail.  I left a message giving her a time when we’d be pulling in.

We pulled back onto Rt. 12 for the last 7 miles and kept to the 15 mph pace again.  About 3 miles from home, I heard my cell phone going off in my jersey pocket.  I ignored it and kept my head down into the wind.  A couple of minutes later, I heard it again.  Sigh.  Road carnage thoughts were causing cell phone motivation.  I kept pedaling and ignoring the subsequent calls.  I was starving and needed to eat soon or face the Bonk.

About 15 minutes later we pulled into the driveway and I was able to grab my phone and call MB to tell her we’d returned and ask her to make me a PBJ, stat.  After stowing my bike, I navigated two flights of steps, ate the sandwich, and grabbed a quick shower so we could run out to lunch at the OBX Brewing Station, a local micro brewery that is the only wind powered brewery on the East Coast!  What a great way to start a week at the beach!

Shorties but Goodies

The next couple of days I went out on shorter rides, some solo and some with Cuz.  One day I rode twice, a 20 miler in the morning by myself and a 25 miler in the afternoon with him. 

I actually preferred early morning riding there because the wind is usually down a bit, in the 3-5 mph range.  Afternoons the wind is more like 12-15 mph and, while that’s manageable, it can be grueling.  The old saying, “Hills make you stronger, the wind just makes you mean!” is never truer than at the beach.  If it’s a headwind, you really have to grind through it.  Crosswinds, and in this area it’s almost always slightly across you, can be exciting because they can shove you into traffic or off the road and into the sand if they’re gusty enough. (Tailwinds are so wonderful I’m thinking about a separate post as an ode to them!)

In any case, these frequent, short rides felt great!  I was beginning to feel like a cyclist!

Big Plans, Small Breakdown

I was feeling so good in fact that I decided I wanted to put down a longer ride.  I decided to ride south on Thursday across Oregon Inlet (a big bridge of about 3 miles; here's a picture) on to Hatteras Island and back for a 60+ mile tour.  Cuz said he was ready to try it, too.  I told MB we’d be back in about 4 hours or so and pulled out around 8 am.

It was a gorgeous morning with a very light cross/head wind.  We pedaled south along Rt. 12 enjoying the ride.  Every so often, the dunes on the left would give way to a view of the ocean waves gently sliding up the sand.  Once we got about 10 miles south, the area turned very residential.  The traffic lessened and the views got better and better.  We took a short break in a maintenance parking lot next to Bodie Island.  We talked about having to pull out onto the main road in a few hundred yards where the speed limit is 55 and the shoulder is a little less forgiving.  We decided that the drivers, thus far, had been fairly reasonable so we shouldn’t have any worries.  Just the same, Cuz made sure that the red blinkie I’d given him was working properly and secure on the back of his saddle bag.

We turned onto the main road and began to pedal across Bodie Island. Off to the right, we got a look at the Bodie Island lighthouse.  The lighthouses in this area are quite famous and wonderful places to visit.

About 4 miles down the road, I spied the Oregon Inlet Bridge in the distance.  I had no idea how wide it was or what it would be like to cross it on a bike and it occurred to me that the wind was picking up, too.  This was going to be interesting.  Or something.

As we got closer, we could see that the bridge itself was made up of flat sections at each end with a rising structure in the middle to accommodate boats moving from the sound out into the ocean.  Based on the flatness that is the area, that rise looked pretty big although it only appears to be 50 feet according to my computer.

As we moved out onto the bridge, I noted that the lanes appeared to be pretty wide which was good.  The shoulders, however, were less than 18 inches wide and the curb at the edge was very tall, meaning (see the picture below) that if you hit one with a pedal or wheel, you were going down.  Things were getting very interesting, indeed.  And the wind was picking up and was blowing about 15 steady with gusts to 20, in our faces and slightly towards the curb.  (Carl SpacklerSo we got that going for us, which is nice!)

Vehicle traffic was reasonable with packs of five or six cars and trucks going by at a time.  All the drivers were good about making sure there was ample room to pass so it never felt too frightening.  In fact, whenever a really big one went past, there was a slight pull from blocking the wind for a second.

That last 200 yards to the top of the bridge was brutal. (Yeah, I’m not going to be in the Tour this year.)

I was trying to hold a decent pace and saw that Cuz had dropped off my wheel and was now about 200 yards farther back.  I shifted to a smaller gear to keep my revolutions up and put my head down.  As I felt the road level off, I sat up and looked back at Cuz. He was cranking hard and I thought I saw his lips moving, rhythmically.  I stopped at the top of the bridge and put my right foot up on the curb, with my bike pulled as far over as I could, to wait.

Cuz chugged up behind me and stopped, mimicking my position.  We caught our breath, enjoyed the view of the highest point for about 25 miles around, and drank from our water bottles.

“I had a mantra going up that last climb,” he said, after he’d caught his breath.  “It was ‘f&%k me, f&%K me’ over and over again.”  That’s what I’d seen his lips mouthing!

I cracked up.  “I had the same one.  It’s my favorite wind song.  And that climb with that wind deserved it!” 

We stowed the bottles, waited until the last car rolled by and then headed down the other side.  Despite the wind, we hit almost 28 mph on the descent without really trying. 

Once we got off the bridge proper, the dunes that the road wove between blocked the wind remarkably well.  We pedaled across the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge (the next island in the chain) looking at mostly sand dunes.  Views of the ocean were pretty scarce but the desolate feel of this stretch was, somehow, engaging to me.  Here's an example.

Cars and trucks continued to pass us, most giving us a wide berth.  Occasionally, traffic in both directions would cause the vehicles behind us to have to slow down to our speed until it was clear to pass.  No one seemed to mind, however, and I began to get comfortable with riding in their midst.  Getting comfortable is when bad stuff happens, unfortunately.

In my mirror, I noticed a very large Ford F150 pickup coming up behind us.  It didn’t appear to be moving over to give us a wider berth but it did slow down which always makes me feel better if for no other reason than I know they see me.  The driver continued to slow down until he was at about 25 or 30 when he passed us.  When the front bumper of the truck had reached a spot directly behind me, probably less than 2 feet away, the driver blew the horn!

My body flinched in a reflex action and adrenaline shot through me.  I managed to keep the bike on the road as the driver accelerated past me.  I shouted the first thing that came to my mind and it wasn’t “Have a nice day!”  As I did, I heard the driver let off the gas and saw him looking at me in the rear view mirror.  So, I said it again, clearly mouthing the words so he could lip read; didn’t want him to misinterpret my thoughts!  At that point, he touched the brake and started to weave back and forth in a rather aggressive manner.  I responded with, “Yes! Please stop!  Let’s chat!” as I began really pounding the pedals to catch up.  He took off, instead. Hmm, must have seen my face.

I truly don’t think I’m a violent person.  The adrenaline shooting through me would have worn off by the time I caught him, I think.  (If it hadn't I might have torn his head off with the first punch.  Man, I was pissed.)

What I wanted to point out to him, of course, was that his actions constitute attempted vehicular assault, a felony in most states.  And I had his license number committed to memory. (NC OBX31459 – I’ve got your number, dude!) I’m sorry, but that kind of shit has no place on our roads today and I’m not going to allow it to happen to me.  And if I can get one more clown to stop, I’ll even risk taking a pounding to do it.

The rest of the ride was uneventful and we stopped to take a break at a very small bridge.  We had come about 27 miles.  This bridge looked rustic (or decrepit depending your point of view) and the lanes were narrow with no shoulder.  We broke out snacks and water and discussed our options, eventually deciding that there was no need to tempt fate any further, at least not into the wind.

After a fifteen minute rest, we saddled up and headed back the way we’d come.  The wind through the dunes had been very small coming down and the tailwind wasn’t much either.  At least, it wasn’t much until we started out across the bridge on the return trip.  That tailwind made the climb a pleasure to take and we were able to clock 30 mph going down the back side without touching the pedals!  What a joy!

We cycled across Bodie Island, passing the lighthouse on our left this time.  The wind held fair for us and we were making much better speed heading back.  After pedaling for about an hour, we stopped in the same maintenance parking lot for another rest.  Cuz was looking a bit worn but said he felt okay.  I felt great and was thinking about adding a northern loop of 10 or 15 miles after we got back to our starting point.

A cyclist on a recumbent bike passed us going in the direction from which we’d just come.  He returned about three minutes later and asked where we were heading.  After finding out our direction, he decided to ride back with us.  He was on vacation from Minnesota and was a nice guy.  (Let’s call him Odie.) We set off as a threesome, enjoying the day and the tailwind.

We were about 5 miles from the house, I was leading our pace line, when I suddenly heard a hissing sound and Odie hollered, “Your flatting!”  I hit the brakes and got off the pavement into the grass, dismounting quickly.  Sure enough, the back tire had lost its air.  Damn.  My first flat tire in 40+ years.  Cuz, who had been lagging a bit for the last few kilometers, mentioned how glad he was that we stopped, not realizing it was due to a mechanical.

I did a quick inspection of the tire and couldn’t find any kind of puncture.  I remembered riding through a sprinkling of a broken beer bottle about 4 miles back but there was no evidence of it cutting the tire and the tires I’m sporting these days are well known for being tough; I’d gotten them because I was looking less for performance and more for safety.

I carry a repair kit, a pump, and a spare tube.  But after about 45 miles, so close to safe harbor, I didn’t really feel like fixing it here.  So I used the best tool in the bike repair kit, a cell phone, to call MB to come pick us up.  She said she’d be there in 15 minutes or so.

Once Odie learned we had things in hand, he bid us good day and pedaled off.  I enjoyed getting a chance to learn about recumbent bikes during the ride from a nice guy.  There are trade-offs to them, in terms of weight and climbing capability, but at some point, I can see myself switching to one at least occasionally.

MB showed up a few minutes later and we loaded up our bikes and headed back to the house. 

After a shower and lunch, I went out to see about a repair on my tire.  After removing the wheel (bear in mind, I’m not a mechanic just yet) I managed to get one side of the tire off the rim and pull out the tube which I then inflated in order to find the leak.  I could immediately here air hissing out from around the valve seat.  Turns out the failure had occurred there, causing the flat.  It was weird that nothing in particular had made it happen, it just did.  Oh well, at least it wasn’t during a fast descent of a bridge with cars all around!

I rechecked the rim to make sure there wasn't something wrong that caused the failure, replaced the tube, re-inflated it to pressure, reinstalled the wheel, and then took a quick spin up and down the road to ensure I’d gotten everything back together properly.  Everything seemed to be in order so I parked it and drank a beer to celebrate my craftsmanship. 

No place like home when you’re this far away……

The next day was Friday and I had planned to get one more ride in before heading home.  The weather was crappy; kind of cold, really windy, some ugly clouds lurking around.  We decided to head out earlier instead of later so we packed up the car, hung the bikes on the back and drove back to Richmond.  I got a couple of short rides in over the weekend.  Want to make sure I stay in good form.  Next weekend is my first century ride and the blog will have a ride report next week.

Is cycling in the OBX worth the trip?

From this first trip, I have to say unequivocally, yes! The roads are very navigable for cyclists with generous shoulders in most cases.  There are even bike lanes and some bike trails in a couple of places.  The flatness of the area makes for a very pleasant cycling experience. With the exception of the one aforementioned idiot we encountered a very bike friendly area, too.  One of my solo rides, I was cycling past a small municipal area in the town of Nags Head.  A worker was cutting the grass right next to the road and this was throwing the cuttings out onto the road itself.  When he saw me approaching, he shut off the mower so I wouldn’t be exposed to this!  That’s bike friendly!  I waved in thanks and he smiled and waved back.

I’m going back for another week with July, staying much farther north with MB and some friends.  I’ll report back based on that.

Keep the rubber side down!


  1. The next best thing to being there is having a friend go there and tell about it. You did a fine job. It has been many years since I drove through the area and of course, it is one of the Good Places.

    As I (for some inexplicable reason) am always telling people, the Wright Brothers started out as Bike Mechanics. I realize you already know that but I have some strange compulsion as regards Orville and Wilbur.

    That valve area leak is a damnable nuisance that I have suffered from and I wonder if that tire continues to hold air.

    On another note I wanted to make sure you have my e-mail address. trailerparkcyclist at gmail dot com. I posted a reference to your 'fitness" post and it has started me thinking, which doesn't happen all that often. Thinking, I mean. Brian! Thanks for a great post. I guess you didn't get in any pool while you were there. Or did you?


    1. Thanks TJ! Actually, the Wrights published a newspaper first, for a short while, before taking up the craze that was sweeping the nation, the safety bicycle. They were very successful and had their own brand of bike, some of which were ridden by the premier racers of the time. The profits from their bike shop allowed them the money to invent the airplane, a total expenditure of about $1000! They are two of my American Heroes.

      Thanks for email addy. I'm sure our paths will get a chance to cross, amigo. In fact, I'll make sure it happens.

      I did play a little pool as the house had a small table. Gave my daughters boyfriend a proper beating but he was probably laying down.

      Thanks for the reference, BTW. I've had several people reach out to me asking for advice about how to start their own road to health. You've made me feel far more important than I am.

      I'm off for my first century on Sunday. Best to you, my friend!

  2. We all look forward to the ride report. Have fun.

  3. Brian, excellent post. I did a little cross country traveling back in 1992 in a '77 VW camper van and one of the places I went to was the Wright bros. museum in the OBX. Your photo brought back some memories. The rest of your story made me wish I had been into biking and packing a road bike back then ;-). Your bridge story reminds me of a similar bridge over the hoods canal on the Kitap Peninsula here in WA that fellow cyclists refer to simply as "the bridge of death" doesn't keep us from riding over it but its pretty sketchy. Good luck on your Century I am sure you will nail it, just remember to eat and drink regularly. I bonked on a century ride once - not recommended.

    And thanks again for your advice, calories are being logged and counted.


  4. Hi,
    My name is Sarah and I'm with Dwellable. I was looking for blog posts about the Outer Banks to share on our site and I came across your post...If you're open to it, drop me a line at Sarah(at)dwellable(dot)com.
    Hope to hear from you :)