One Week of Bicycle Touring and One of Us is Hooked

Adam and I decided about two weeks ago that it would be a fun and exciting challenge to ride our bikes as far as we could during the month of March. We’re taking a bike route called the East Coast Greenway south from Durham, North Carolina and hoping to make it to Tampa, Florida by April 1. We’re about a week in and here are some more updates on our journey so far!

In our full year of travel, even considering everywhere we’ve visited in the US and abroad, this biking trip is the closest we’ve come to being on Adam’s dream vacation. It might sound crazy. Here’s why:

  • Biking is Adam’s preferred method of self-propulsion and his favorite way to travel. (All self-propulsion is great for Adam, especially kayaking, but biking is the most practical.)
  • It’s physically challenging, but not too tough to ride a good number of miles most days, plus it’s the right speed to experience the countryside.
  • We get to eat as many snacks as we can to make up for all the calories burned.
  • Keeping with our minimalist tendencies, we carry all our stuff with us in small bags on the bikes. There’s no room for luxuries or crap we don’t need. Adam didn’t even pack a sleeping bag, opting instead for a smaller blanket for camping.
  • And finally, this whole trip is a little wacky, but biking and bicycle touring is nearby and not too hard for most people. Adam wants to prove it’s feasible and fun even for rookie bikers like us.
BikingWeek1_LeslieandBikes
If it’s not obvious already, I am skeptical on the bike trip as best vacation ever but I am really enjoying the snacks. Helmets are fun too.

Trip Stats – Week 1

In our first week on the trail, we biked about 260 miles from Durham to Carolina Beach, NC. For any of you detail and geography-oriented folks, it’s only about 170 miles between those two, but the East Coast Greenway route we’re following doesn’t go straight down the major highways.

You can see we started out really strong, biking 40-45 miles every day, and then made it to the weekend and crashed a little bit. Biking_Week1_Stats

The drop off happened after Day 5, when I told Adam I was physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted and we couldn’t continue at our current pace. It wasn’t my most rational discussion, I’ll admit, but Adam took it very well. After two pretty easy days and then sleeping 10+ hours for a few nights, I think we’re back on track to cover some good distance again this week.

Any real bikers will probably see these distances and paces as surprisingly low, please just keep in mind that we’re on heavy mountain bikes, with fat mountain bike tires, and a bunch of gear. Random internet data suggests road bikes could be 30% faster, which would be a big help if we were willing to spend money on that. (We are not, obviously! Plus the road bike frames probably couldn’t hold all our gear anyway.) Aside from the bikes, our limiting factor so far has mostly been the number of hours we can sit on the bikes, but my legs and knees are a close second.

Either way, I’m pretty impressed that we made it over 250 miles so far this week. We also only got lost once and we still haven’t had any bike issues like flat tires. (Knock on wood.) Aside from being shatteringly exhausting, it’s been pretty manageable.

The Sites

We saw a lot of North Carolina this week. Here’s the map of our journey, largely along the Greenway, a bicycle route from Maine to the Florida Keys!

Our stops were really, really varied. Of the seven nights, we camped three, stayed in hotels three, and had an airbnb log cabin for one night. Before we set out, I was hoping we’d be able to camp more, but it just hasn’t worked out due to our locations, the weather, and the fact that I just want to sleep inside after a long day of pedaling. One upside is that we are really getting our money’s worth at continental breakfasts. Eggs, biscuits, waffles, bagels, cereal, oatmeal and a banana? Don’t mind if I do!

The Greenway is designed to wind through downtown areas. During the week, we stopped in Raleigh, Wilmington, and Carolina Beach and found good history, decent food, and even a few breweries in all. Both the historic downtowns and the beers were about what you’d expect, so let’s just skip those photos.

On the other end of the spectrum, we spent two great nights camping at two NC state parks, Jones Lake and Carolina Beach. Rangers at both parks were friendly and helpful when we rolled up looking for a last minute reservation. We were the only people camping at Jones Lake on that cold and rainy Thursday, but we did have a nice little campfire to keep our bikes warm.

BikingWeek1_AdamatCamp

These two parks taught us some helpful facts about our saddle bags. First, we learned that neither set is waterproof. Second, when we woke up in the middle of the night and heard what sounded like someone messing with our bikes, we realized the panniers were also not raccoon-proof. It was a very sad moment when we peeked out of our tent in the middle of the night, and shined our lights on two fat raccoons sitting on Adam’s bike, elbow deep in the bags, going straight for our snacks with their tiny little paws.

Of course, in addition to the parks and downtowns, and aside from the occasional slightly major highway, we also passed by some great scenic spots.

The Cape Fear River
The Cape Fear River

Of course, it’s not all sunshine and roses. Many of our stops are at gas stations or just along a quiet-ish part of the road with a big shoulder. This trip has given me a new love for a good a gas station snack section. I am sure that will convince anyone who’s on the fence that this is the vacation for them.

My Assessment After Week 1

After a week on the road, I’m finding bicycle travel challenging and I’m not completely sold on it. With our current setup, experience, etc, we can only pedal about 35-45 miles per day, and it’s often impossible to find a good place to sleep without going too far away from our route. Some of the nights, we’ve found great parks and cool downtowns, but other times, like in Fayetteville, we were stuck at a hotel in a strip-mall section of town. Those parts of the trip feel like we’re pedaling through the bowels of american suburbia, which is not where I want to spend my time. Hopefully the coast will give us better choices to stay in walkable neighborhoods or away from town at campsites and in parks.

The weather has been another factor that’s made biking tough. We didn’t really have room for tons of warm clothes on our bikes, so I’ve been a little chilly while biking and while camping, even with gloves and long pants. My rain jacket has been a lifesaver, just to slow the wind.

The Greenway itself has been a surprisingly awesome route. There’s a varied mix of trails, backroads, and bigger roads. Navigation is a little tough in some places, and would be impossible without our trusty google maps, but we are generally getting by with a list of directions and distances, plus the watch I use to estimate the timing of our next turn.

Overall, I think that traveling by bike is generally awesome, but would be a lot better specifically if I had warmer gear, and we either had a better route or the legs or bikes to cover more mileage every day and get to better stopping points.

While the good news for Adam is that the bicycle trip will continue for at least another week, we are barely on pace to make it to Tampa. We covered 260 miles of the 1,100 total we need. While that’s 24% of the distance in about 25% of the time, I am not sure we can keep up the pace. I am mentally preparing to rent a car once we hit St. Augustine and need to cut west. I’m also prematurely terrified of Florida drivers. We’ll see if they live up to my mental stereotypes.

But, Florida is still a few states away. In the meantime, we’re headed to Myrtle Beach and the weather is supposed to get even warmer as we roll towards Charleston. I’m pretty sure Adam will continue his dream vacation biking on down to Florida with or without me, so I’m crossing my fingers for a tailwind and some sunshine so I can keep up!

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