Biking through North Carolina and Virginia to a Family Reunion, 2008

Page 1: New Bern to Ocracoke
Page 2: Ocracoke to Kitty Hawk
Page 3: Kitty Hawk to Williamsburg
Page 4: Williamsburg to Fredericksburg.
Page 5: Visiting family and hiking in northern Virginia.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Kathy and I really love self-supported bicycle touring. We've toured with our tandem bicycle every year since our wedding, starting with our ride across the United States in 2002 and 2003. In 2005 we worried that the birth of our son would bring our bike tours to a halt, but instead we put him in a child trailer for tours of Florida and Arizona.

This year we have a new challenge - our daughter Maggie was born in January, and we're planning to tour with both children and all our usual camping gear. During a test ride a few weeks ago we fit everything onto our bike and trailer, but just barely. Since my parents and sisters haven't yet met Maggie, this bike tour will be a combined vacation/family reunion. We will start at the southern end of North Carolina's Outer Banks and ride north from there into Virginia, visiting family in Richmond and Fredericksburg on the way. Between our kids and our equipment, we will be pulling a huge amount of weight with us, so we're thankful that our route will be mostly flat. Our route passes plenty of water and sandy beach, plus several historic towns like Jamestown and Williamsburg, so we should find many fun diversions.

Planning this trip has been so complicated that it feels like a mission to outer space. Kathy and Maggie began driving to the east coast 2 days ago, with our bike and all our luggage packed inside and on top of our car. Today Daniel and I flew out to meet them, using free airplane tickets that I acquired through a series of credit card promotional gimmicks. Over the course of the trip we will travel by bus, airplane, rental car, bicycle, ferry, and personal car (plus train, if I count the underground train at Denver's airport,) and we will visit family or friends in 4 Virginia cities spread across 150 miles. There will be many opportunities for problems during this trip, not even counting the normal bad weather, mechanical failures and sick children. As always, we will hope for the best but adapt to whatever this trip brings us.

Tonight we will spend the evening with our good friends Steve and Hope in northern Virginia, and tomorrow morning we will drive a rental car almost 400 miles south to New Bern, North Carolina, to start our bike trip.

Training for our bike tour in the Colorado foothills.

Kathy and Maggie prepare for their 3-day drive to the east coast.

Daniel waits to board our airplane in Denver.

Daniel takes a nap at Chicago O'Hare during a layover. It was a long day.

Sunday, June 1

Distance: 16.1 miles
Riding time: 1 hour, 4 minutes
Average speed: 15.0 mph
Maximum speed: 27.4 mph

I'm somewhat amazed that tonight we are camping in Croatan National Forest, next to the Neuse River, just as we had planned. So many things in the past few days could have gone wrong and changed our plans, but nothing did.

This morning we managed to get our family up, dressed, into our packed rental car and on the road before 8 a.m. (6 a.m. Colorado time.) We're not an early rising family, so this was an unusual achievement, especially with our tired children. After a long drive to New Bern, we had a new logistics problem - we had to find a business near the rental car parking lot that would ship our trunk-mount bicycle rack back to my parents' house on a Sunday. The Sheraton Hotel agreed to help us, so I gave them our shipping box and then biked 5 miles from there to the car rental parking lot.

Next came what I thought would be the biggest challenge of all - loading up the bicycle. We had so much gear, groceries, and diapers that I didn't think we could make it fit, but it did fit without much trouble. In fact, our bike and trailer felt lighter today than it did during our tour of Florida when we had only one child. By the time we started riding it was past 7 p.m. and we had 11 miles to go. Along the way a policeman pulled us over and told us that highway US-70 was way too dangerous for bicycles, but we respectfully disagreed, told him that we would ride as safely as we could, and rode on. Sure, the traffic speeds were a little high (55 mph,) but the lines of sight were excellent on the perfectly flat and straight road. All the roads in this tidewater area are very flat, which is exactly what we were hoping for - our bike is just too heavy for big hills.

At the Neuse River campground our generous campground host greeted us: "I have an extra tarp, do you want to use it?" "I'm going out to the store now, should I buy some groceries for you?" "There's a storm coming tonight, do you want to pitch camp in the sheltered breezeway by the bathroom?" We declined with thank-you's, but we did lock our bike under the sheltered breezeway. Kathy finished cooking dinner just in time for us to eat in the tent while a rainstorm poured outside - an answer to prayer. Rain can make a bike tour miserable, but it's not too bad if it rains at night while you lie in your tent.

Now the final challenge of the evening - getting both our children to sleep in the same tent. Daniel hates going to sleep when he's excited, so he keeps himself awake with loud shrieks that keep everyone else awake too. Combine that with tonight's high heat and humidity, and I don't expect to sleep much myself. Drops of sweat are rolling off my forehead even while I lie relaxed on the tent floor. No need for my 20°F sleeping bag tonight, and I wonder if I will need it at all during this trip.

Daniel and I start packing our trailer and bicycle.

Daniel plays with a bungee "necklace" while waiting for me to finish packing the bike.

Maggie and Daniel upon arrival at the Neuse River campground. They slept for much of the ride.

Our campsite in Croatan National Forest.

Monday, June 2

Distance: 62.6 miles
Riding time: 4 hours, 47 minutes
Average speed: 13.0 mph
Maximum speed: 28.2 mph

I think that Maggie slept the best of the four of us last night. That's partly because she's a baby, and needs lots of sleep, but it's also because she slept in a comfortable hammock that I built just for this trip. I'm quite proud of it. The hammock sling is actually a store-purchased infant sling for our bike trailer that she rides in during the day. At night we take the sling out of the trailer and attach it to a supporting frame that I built with aluminum tubing. Together, the sling and frame look kind of like a hammock. During the day we convert the frame into a handlebar for our trailer, which can be used as a stroller. The frame attaches to the back of the trailer with retaining pins. The hammock requires only a few ounces of additional weight and no storage space, so it's much better than the heavy, bulky, cardboard box with blankets that I made Daniel sleep in during his first bike tour. We get a little smarter about bike touring every year.

Maggie wakes up in her hammock. The frame is made of aluminum tubing (taken from a old tent) and PVC plumbing joints.

When we woke up this morning it was wet and drizzling outside, but that wasn't a problem. We had planned to take our time getting ready today, eating a big breakfast and letting Daniel play at the campground. The rain stopped before we started cooking, and the roads were dry by the time we began riding at noon. We cooked breakfast on a beach along the south bank of the Neuse River, a tidal river about 4 miles wide beside our campground. Daniel liked playing in the sand, but he wished he had a shovel or bucket. We'll need to buy or improvise a shovel and bucket when we get to the Outer Banks tomorrow.

Our ride was really, really long for us given our heavy load and late start. We arrived in historic Beaufort for "lunch" at about 3:30, and ate at a seafood restaurant that has been in business for over 100 years. This coastal region brags about its seafood, so we hope to sample seafood all along the coast of North Carolina. After lunch we hit the road again because we want to catch a ferry at Cedar Island tomorrow afternoon. We had two choices: ride to a campground 15 miles away and feel rushed getting to the ferry tomorrow, or ride more than twice that far to make getting to the ferry easier. We chose the longer option, but now our whole family is exhausted. The kids started breaking down during the last half-hour of our ride, and we didn't reach our campground until 8 p.m. Cooking and eating dinner in the dark isn't much fun when we feel too tired to move. We've got to give the kids and us a break tomorrow.

The scenery was good today, with lots of water and trees. We saw whitetail deer, egrets and a white ibis, but we didn't have time to watch them or take pictures. Fighter jets entertained us as we rode past a navy base because they were practicing for an air show later this week. I never knew how very loud Harrier VTOL jets were until we rode past a Harrier that hovered for several minutes. Tonight the weather is clear and less humid, so we've left the rain fly off our tent to stay cool and watch the stars.

Daniel eats breakfast beside the Neuse River.

Biking in Croatan National Forest.

Taking a snack break at a small, rural convenience store.

After our snack break, Daniel slept until lunchtime.

Wetlands near Sea Level, North Carolina.

This bridge goes over the Intracoastal Waterway, which is dredged to permit ship traffic. The waterway follows a series of sounds, canals and bays all the way from Wilmington, Delaware to Key West, Florida.

Tuesday, June 3

Distance: 19.4 miles
Riding time: 1 hour, 21 minutes
Average speed: 14.3 mph
Maximum speed: 24.5 mph

We were supposed to have an easy, 14-mile bike ride to the Cedar Island - Ocracoke ferry today, but we managed to make it difficult. This morning we chose to catch the noon ferry rather than the 2 o'clock so that we could have more time on Ocracoke. Noon may sound like an easy goal for a 14-mile ride, but it took us so long to pack up, cook breakfast, change diapers, etc. that we didn't start riding until 11:00. Our tired legs pedaled as fast as they could for an hour, getting us to the terminal right at noon. Luckily, the ferry was behind schedule and hadn't started boarding yet. Daniel spent his hour in the bike trailer playing peek-a-boo with Maggie. The ferry ride was 2-1/2 hours and cost us just $3 (the price for 1 bicycle - cars must pay $10.) I'm sure that the ferry will be a highlight of Daniel's vacation, since he's talked about it for days and was super excited to board the boat.

Michael and Daniel wake up to a clear morning.

Eating breakfast at our campsite in Sea Level.

Packing up camp.

Kathy tells Daniel about the ferry that we're about to ride.

Our bike on the ferry. The 24-mile ride cost us $3.

A shrimp boat in Pamlico Sound.

Ocracoke is a 14-mile-long barrier island owned by the National Park Service except for a small (but dense) village at the south end. Our campsite is 3 miles from the village, and the ocean is a few hundred yards from our campsite on the other side of a sand dune. I took Daniel out to the beach while Kathy cooked dinner, and gave him a cup and spoon to use as a bucket and shovel. He was perfectly content to sit and dig while I walked the beach watching birds and looking for shells. After a while we walked closer to the ocean, where a sudden large wave knocked Daniel onto his bottom and soaked his pants. I guess the tide was starting to roll in. The beach looks wonderful with its long shoreline of soft sand surrounded by sand dunes and ocean. There are no buildings in sight, and a constant ocean breeze keeps us cool when we are by the water.

The only drawback to this place is the mosquitoes. On the beach the ocean breeze is strong enough to keep them away, but over by our tent they keep biting us despite our frequent use of bug repellant. This evening we sprayed the children about twice per hour to keep the mosquitoes away, and when I called a friend from an outdoor payphone at dusk (no cellular telephone service here,) I was eaten alive. After the call I counted 14 bites on just my left hand. I'll be inside our tent before dusk tomorrow.

The Ocracoke lighthouse. Built in 1823, it is the second oldest operating lighthouse in the nation.

Kathy on the Ocracoke beach adjacent to our campground.

Daniel plays in the sand with a plastic cup and spoon that I dug out of a trash can.

Sandpipers forage along the beach.


Page 1: New Bern to Ocracoke
Page 2: Ocracoke to Kitty Hawk
Page 3: Kitty Hawk to Williamsburg
Page 4: Williamsburg to Fredericksburg.
Page 5: Visiting family and hiking in northern Virginia.