The Outer Banks and Home

Rolling out the east gate of Camp LeJeune, I left the quiet, smooth roads of the Marine Corps Base and found myself dodging potholes and pickup trucks on Bear Creek Road. At the same time, I was looking forward to riding the 56 km to Emerald Isle, the barrier island at the south end of what most people consider the Outer Banks. Nothing could spoil my mood.

The sunny weather continued from the weekend, but the bright sunshine did not heat up the northerly wind blowing down the coast. I was heading east, so most of the time I had a cross wind, not a headwind.

The Holiday Travel Campground had not answered my emails or phone calls all last week, so I felt relieved over the weekend when Liz Cox agreed to be my Warmshowers host on Emerald Isle. She lived only a half mile past the silent campground, which I saw was closed for the season. I wished that they had updated their voicemail message and website, but I was glad not to be there.

Liz was a great host, assisted by the happy collie Bryson. She met me with a seashell that she decorated for me. Born and raised in the area, she provided details about my intended route to the Outer Banks, which only another cyclist could provide. Thanks to her, my research for the next week took no time at all. We swapped stories and enjoyed the delicious dinner at home. The room was dark and incredibly quiet. I wish I could have stayed longer.

Tuesday the 26th would be a long day in the saddle: 134 km. Liz left for work and I headed along NC 58 toward Atlantic Beach,  stopping for breakfast at the public picnic area on the beach. The wind had come around during the night, and now it pushed me gently along the road. At Atlantic Beach on the end of the island, I returned to the mainland and made my way along US 70 past farms and wetlands.

At a fork in the road, US 70 took a right and NC 12 led to Cedar Island. I was now officially at the Outer Banks. It surprised me that so many people lived there, in and beyond the Cedar Island National Wildlife Refuge.

Before the sun set (barely), the ferry from Cedar Island left me at Okracoke. The town appeared wrapped up tight, and, indeed, I found only a handful of accommodations open in the off-season. One of these was the Cove B&B, which I found in the dark past the famous Okracoke Lighthouse. Sidra, the manager, ran a very comfy and luxurious establishment. The warm shower and the soft bed were a balm at the end of the day.

The next morning, the included breakfast filled and sated, so I set off for Hatteras Island well-fortified. The wind came from the northeast, bringing clouds and cooler temperatures with it. Fortunately, it was not very strong, so I did not suffer on the 57 km to the Hatteras Island Inn in Buxton. I was glad that the breakfast was so filling, because I only found one open grocery store on Okracoke Island. I lunched on my emergency stash of fruit bars and trail mix during the two-hour ferry ride to Hatteras Island.

NC 12 is the single road that connects the islands of the Outer Banks. While some might consider sand dunes and sea grass boring after four weeks, I still felt invigorated by the sight. I spun wonderful adventures for my books in my mind as I pedalled mostly alone to Buxton.

I arrived early enough to check in and to ride out to the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, where I took some pictures at the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. It started raining when I got back to the Inn. The rain continued all night. I slept through it, with my bike safe and dry in the room with me.

The next morning, a proper nor’easter drove heavy rain directly in my face as I geared down leaving the Inn. A full hour later, I had barely covered 7 km. I stopped at the only open establishment in Avon, a gas station, to assess the situation. I had committed myself to reaching my Warmshowers host that night, but it would take me ten more hours to cover the 108 km up NC 12 to the Currituck Sound. I decided to see how far I could go before calling them to slip my arrival.

Less than one kilometer later, the water was running like a river down my crotch and legs. I was making about 6 or 7 km/hr into the wind. I already knew that there was nowhere to camp in the off-season or any open accommodations before Nags Head. I turned around and let the wind blow me back to the gas station in less than three minutes.

As I stood under the shelter of the gas pump island, a lanky man in a full-sized pickup pulled up to the pump. His weathered face spoke of a life on the open water. I admired the size of the truck bed and asked which way he was going.

“North to Manteo. Got some work done on my boat, and I have to pick it up.”

“I’m trying to get up there, but not with this wind. Could you give me a lift with my bike? I’ll pay for this tank of gas or whatever. I’ve got a twenty handy.”

“Twenty would be fine. Sure.”

He finished putting twice that in gasoline in the truck. His truck bed was so big that the bike and bags fit inside, even with the cover clamped back down over the truck. Soon we were speeding north on the NC 12. Silently I offered a prayer of thanks that most pickup drivers were like this one.

Captain Ty Luckett made his living on the water, as I had guessed from his appearance. He owned Kite Hatteras, which did a booming business in the season. He also had run deep-sea fishing charters for many years. This was his time to overhaul his boats and get ready for the next season.

As we chatted, I could feel the wind rocking his heavy truck. I knew that I had made the right choice not to try the open road and the bridges on NC 12 that day.

Ty left me at the corner of the end of US 64 and NC 12. Whalebone Junction hosts the Information Center for the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, but it was closed. Ty continued to Roanoke Island and Manteo; I pedalled north to Nags Head, Kill Devil Hills and Kitty Hawk. If the Wright Brothers needed wind to get their winged contraptions in the air, it’s no wonder that they chose this part of the world.

Ty had driven through the storm, so that by the time he dropped me off, the worst was past. I rode in a light drizzle that stopped in Kill Devil Hills. When I turned west onto US 158 to cross the Currituck Sound, I had the wind behind me. I flew into Point Harbor, and never felt so grateful as I was to see the familiar pinewoods and sand of Tidewater. I had ridden to Currituck Sound when I lived in Virginia Beach almost forty years earlier. It felt like a homecoming.

The storm was not over. As the sky darkened and the sun set, I waited by the garage, where Nick Kiousas had located the shop and a sort of guest house, which he and Dawn used for the cycling guests who came through. They showed up with their two children after about an hour, carrying hot pizza. During dinner, Nick told me that he was good friends with my Naval Academy classmate Bob Logan, who lived nearby. He called Bob, who said that he would come by the next day. I had the additional pleasure of meeting Dawn’s father, Dwight, who had just spent several weeks helping with various construction projects. Nice having a mason in the family.

The cottage next to the garage felt like camping without having to roll up a wet tent. With the cold, hard rain that night, I was very grateful for the shelter.

The next morning, Bob Logan came by for a short reunion. It was still raining, but Dwight was returning home to Ohio at the same time as I, so he took me and the bicycle to Richmond.

He left me just off the ramp of Interstate 295 and Airport Road in eastern Henrico County. The rain had stopped, and the road dried as I pedalled south toward the airport. I picked up the Virginia Capital Bike trail that connects Williamsburg and Richmond and soon found myself checking in early to the HI Hostel in downtown Richmond. I had been ready for a long day in the rain, but a short 14 km between rain showers made the 1st of March my lucky day – or so I thought.

After lunch at the Africanne restaurant on the corner, I decided to find a post-prandial espresso at a nearby Starbucks. It was spring break at Virginia Commonwealth University, and I was not prepared to find a neighborhood so dependent on one entity. As I walked, I found that three of the four closest Starbucks were closed. I walked through the Fan District and VCU’s sprawling campus. Walking without pain was still something new for me, and I enjoyed the ease of a brisk walk. About 2 ½ miles from the hotel, I found an open Starbucks and dallied over my caffé, watching the sky darken. Considering the forecast for the weekend, I called Daniel and arranged to meet him at Short Pump outside Richmond the next day, rather than ride all the way to Charlottesville.

When I started back to the hostel, the rain started again. I sped up – and felt something tear in my left knee. The sudden sharp pain forced me to limp the two miles back to the hostel. As I slowly made my way through the rain, I realized that all my long-distance walking since my surgery in 2018 had been in nature: National Parks, mountains, beaches, trails, etc. I had not walked more than a mile on pavement at all. I should not have been pounding the concrete sidewalks trying to walk faster.

I could not ride anywhere. I called Daniel, and he agreed to come all the way into town to pick up me and the bike. In spite of the excellent bunks in the HI Hostel, I did not enjoy a good night’s sleep. It was also problematic trying to negotiate the stairs, but the staff helped get my stuff downstairs the next day.

I had promised to meet Daniel for lunch at Maggiano’s at Short Pump, so I treated him to the lunch on our way home. We both enjoy their rigatoni all’arrabbiata, worth making an exception to any diet plan.

Daniel drove me straight to the Emergency Room at Martha Jefferson Hospital, where we determined that I had strained the ligaments on the side of the knee. They would heal on their own. Indeed, a heating pad at home provided instant relief. I skipped walking in procession at Church for a couple of weeks, and the knee came along just fine. I could ride again almost right away, and the ligaments stopped aching at certain angles after a month.

I had expected to ride 2,000 km on my first tour since 2017. Thanks to the knee, it ended at 1,915 km, but I still felt good about it. On the 29th of May, I returned to the Anderson Orthopaedic Clinic for the one-year follow-up on the two hip replacements. The surgeon raved about my condition and did not want to see me for another four years. I wonder where I will be when that appointment comes around.

Until next time,

Smooth roads and tailwinds,

Jonathan.

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