March 24: Durham

Submitted by Ben on Tue, 03/24/2015 - 08:35

[posted to the Wheeled Migration Yahoo Group on March 24, 2005]
I last wrote you on Saturday. I stayed that night at the KOA in Wade, NC.

Sunday was gorgeous! The weather couldn't have been more perfect. I stopped for groceries in the morning and met a man in the parking lot who was riding his grandson's bicycle, though he said he had many bikes of his own. He asked a bunch of questions and then offered me some military Meals Ready to Eat (MREs) that he gets from Fort Bragg and gives to homeless people and other folks who could use them. I accepted two. They're much bulkier than my usual food, since about half of their volume is packaging.

The day was so nice I decided to go farther than I had to, in order to make Monday a shorter day. I arrived at Jordan Lake State Recreation Area at sundown and fired up one of the self-heating MREs. The "escallopped" potatoes were pretty good once I added mayonnaise. I feel a new sense of solidarity with my cousin in Iraq; maybe I can find a way to send him some mayo!

I slept well in the warm, quiet night of the spring equinox and woke to another beautiful day. No one ever showed up to register me as they were supposed to, so I got the campsite for free! I was the only one there, so they may not have bothered making the rounds.

I rode into Durham without incident and stopped at REI to upgrade some of my gear and spend my membership dividend. Among other things, I got a larger (when inflated) but more compact (when deflated) sleeping pad and a high-pressure tire pump with a built-in pressure gauge. The staff also helped me track down a bicycle shop that has the parts necessary to replace my drivetrain, which had gotten so worn the gears looked like saw blades!

I took my loot outside and pumped up my tires to their recommended pressure range. As I was trying to fit the new pump into the space inside the bike frame where I kept the old pump, the tube in one of the trailer tires decided it just couldn't take the pressure and exploded like a gunshot right beside me! My hearing returned after a minute or so.

As I left REI [on a new tube], I pulled alongside another cyclist who looked like he knew where he was going, and I asked if that was the best road to take into town. He said a paved portion of the American Tobacco Trail started just two blocks away, and he led me there. He turned out to be from Minneapolis, visiting his son and future daughter-in-law, for the latter of whom he had just bought a new bike. I asked if she needed a pump ... and so passed on my old pump and pressure gauge to a new owner less than an hour after buying their replacement!

I followed the Tobacco Trail, which is also part of the East Coast Greenway [still a work in progress 10 years later] all the way into downtown Durham and then found my way to the home of my friends Tami and Erik. Tami is a lichenologist who had just returned that morning from a worldwide conference in fungal genetics with a suitcase full of specimens fresh from California and spent the next few days convincing them to "shoot their spores." Erik is working on a doctoral thesis on Russian poetry.

I spent most of the day Tuesday on their computer, cleaning up and captioning three rolls of photos. Wednesday I biked to Carrboro, which is just west of Chapel Hill and about 2 hours' ride from Durham. There I dropped off my bike for its drivetrain transplant operation.

I walked to the University of North Carolina (UNC) campus in Chapel Hill, the oldest state university in the country. It was absolutely crawling with little tour groups of prospective students! I found the campus map collection and copied the maps I need for Virginia; then I walked back to the bike shop.

My bike has protective guards on either side of its chain wheel, to keep pant cuffs and shoelaces and things from knocking the [very long] chain off the gear. The mechanic had had trouble putting this assembly back together, did it wrong, and then adjusted the tension on the derailleur cable to compensate for the incorrect alignment of the chain wheel. I noticed it didn't look right and made him fix the chain wheel, but I didn't find out about the derailleur maladjustment -- or the two stiff splices in the chain that caused it to jump out of gear -- until I was well on my way home...

But first I met my high-school friend Scott at the Weaver Street Co-op grocery and deli, which rivals Whole Foods in size and selection. Scott just recently moved to Carrboro / Chapel Hill after 10 years in Minneapolis and is really pleased with it so far. I hope he likes the summers as much as the winters! It was great to catch up with him, especially since I've been able to visit several of our mutual friends on this trip.

The ride back to Durham -- in the dark, with the bike constantly jumping out of gear -- was a little stressful, but my Christmas-present taillight performed wonderfully, and I arrived safely. Erik and Tami and I stayed up late playing Settlers of Catan.

This morning I tinkered with my bike and was able to undo the damage the mechanic had inadvertently done, and to replace some other parts that had worn out. Erik packed us a picnic, and we met Tami for lunch near her lab on the Duke University campus. We strolled through the extensive Sarah P. Duke Gardens, bursting with flowering dogwoods and magnolias, and toured the chapel, which is as large and ornate as any cathedral I've seen.

Tomorrow I'll have lunch with another old friend on my way out of town! It feels so good to reconnect with so many old friends after hundreds of miles of new ones. And the gorgeous weather doesn't hurt! --Ben