[posted to the Wheeled Migration Yahoo Group on March 19, 2005]
I had planned to ride into North Carolina Wednesday, but I didn't quite make it... it was farther than I thought (remember I had lost my maps), and there was a constant, cold rain that really took the wind out of my sails. I had to stop at several shopping centers during the day just to warm up and dry off so I could keep functioning.
The town of Myrtle Beach is absolutely packed with hotels, and in this off season they're competing madly for business. I could have gotten a room for just $24 ... if I had felt like stopping at 9 in the morning! I thought North Myrtle Beach might have comparable deals, but it's a less competitive market, so the prices weren't as low. There were plenty of camping options as well -- two of them boasting over a thousand sites each, though most of the RVs I saw were in off-season storage -- but I was soaked through and my tent was plastered with mud splashed by the heavy drops falling from tall pine trees. I kept going to Little River, just shy of the border, and was lucky to find a room there under $40. Naturally the rain stopped as soon as I unpacked ... that's the second time that's happened!
Thursday was cold and drizzly and generally unpleasant. The hotel owner wouldn't let me bring my bike inside, so I had to postpone re-packing my front wheel bearings although I could hear them complaining about being wet; there was no way I was going to work on the bike in the drizzle.
North Carolina has a network of bicycle highways that are not only signed on the road but are also shown on my maps! (If you can remember back to August, you may recall my frustration at not being able to find any map showing where Wisconsin's signed bike routes lead.) I had planned to follow one of these east along the coast to Wilmington, then pick up another one and follow it northwest into Durham. However, when I got outside Thursday morning I decided I didn't want to go an extra 40 miles east after all, especially since there was a state park due north. The hotel owner warned me that there wasn't much at Lake Waccamaw State Park, but I was unprepared for how remote it is! It's on the south side of the lake, but the only road in comes from the north -- you have to go all the way around, and it's a big lake, "the largest of the Mysterious Carolina Bays."
By the time I got to the campground the sun was setting ... and I saw that it's a primitive group camp (i.e. there are no individual campsites) and I was the only person for miles around. I was so tired that I went ahead and made camp anyway... the worst they could do would be to give me a free ride to a warm night in jail! When a ranger came by, I figured the jig was up and started apologizing for my misunderstanding... but he informed me that they do actually let individuals camp, and he registered me without further ado.
Friday was so much better than the last couple of days, I practically fell in love with North Carolina! The day was sunny and warmer and I got to ride on quiet back roads. With its fields (freshly treated with liquid manure) and forests and friendly people and paved rural roads, North Carolina keeps reminding me of Wisconsin. I slept in a little and re-packed the bearings, which were swimming in rusty water after soaking for two days, but the sun seemed to hang in the sky all afternoon. A young man in Elizabethtown called me over and gave me a glass of sweet tea and introduced me to all his friends, who were hanging out in the front yard, and griped about how the landlord doesn't like him having so many people hanging out in the front yard. It struck me that this was only the second time I'd received Southern hospitality from actual Southerners, the rest having been Northerners who'd moved south as adults.
I spent last night at Jones Lake State Park and picked up the bike route first thing this morning. The roads it follows are not much better than the ones I chose myself the last few days, but it's kind of fun to not have to consult the map every few miles; just watch for signs. In the little town of Cedar River, southeast of Fayetteville, I met a Christian cycling group called The Cycling Cell that had just finished a 10-mile "time trial" -- training for a race. They were incredulous that I had traveled 7,000 miles and took lots of photos. I had to explain some of my leftist bumper stickers, which was awkward.
I'm writing from a small town east of Fayetteville. I should be in Durham Monday evening, so next time I write I'll have photos to share! --Ben