Friday, June 24, 2011

Pedaling the Piedmont

MST - Day 52 – 4-9-11 – Sam’s Stop & Shop, Hicone Road to Little River Presby Church – 41 Miles
Danny and I have made plans for hiking the Outer Banks section of the Mountains-To-Sea Trail and I felt a push to get the interim road miles completed.  Jim agreed to sacrifice another weekend for me on the back roads of the North Carolina piedmont (call it a birthday present – nothing better than the gift of time). 
I mapped out the miles between where Danny and I left off east of Greensboro and where we started the Falls Lake trails near Durham, about  70 miles.  Ian Fraher, a recent MST thru-hiker, took a slightly different route than outlined in Scot Ward’s book to include 8 miles of a recently designated route through Eno River State Park and West Point On the Eno Park in Durham, NC.  My crazy optimistic plan was to bike and then hike this in two days (again:  did not happen).
Driving a long distance and setting up a shuttle hike is nothing new.  It takes time and makes for hiking later into the day, but if it’s no more than a couple of hours of driving I prefer it to arriving the night before, setting up and then sleeping somewhere besides my own bed (i.e. a hotel room).  However, setting up a bike shuttle takes substantially longer because the end points are three times farther apart.  Nevertheless, because we are cheap so we drove two cars on Saturday morning to set up and bike 41 miles.  The weather forecast was threatening afternoon storms, adding to the urgency to get the ride done. 
Driving from Point B back to Point A, we followed our route on the lookout for convenience stores (i.e. fine dining for cyclists) and rest stops.  There were rolling hills, but I was confident after my 40-mile days near the coast (hint:  NOT the same). 
Our bikes took us through classic rural North Carolina dotted with small farms, country stores and buildings from times past, reminiscent of my childhood home in Brunswick County, Virginia. 
Storage for hay bales
A volunteer fire department building with awesome azaleas blooming out front
This barn painting demands stopping for a better look - check out their website
We took a short break at the Haw River Paddle Trail access at Altamahaw

Also in the community of Altamahaw sits this extraordinary brick building – the word “office” is part of the brick work.  It is currently owned by Glen Raven, a fabric technology company.
We passed a tiny white church with a tent set up in its gravel parking lot and what looked suspiciously like the beginnings of an outdoor pot luck meal.  We quickly turned around and went back to investigate.  Yes, it was a fundraiser fish fry (yay!) but they were not cooking yet (boo!).   We made a pact to stop there when we came back to retrieve our car.  

Lunch today was catered by Shak’s Gas, Grocery & Grill.  We parked our bikes and headed inside to see what was on the menu.  A mental picture:  Jim in his skinny black bike shorts, stylish colorful bike jersey, clackety-clack bike shoes, helmet still on his head, strolls into the joint.  As the bell tinkles over the door, five guys in full hunting camouflage turn to look at him.  I had to turn around and go back outside to compose myself.
From the looks of the long line, Shak’s is the hub of the community with the best (only?) food around.  We placed our order for a hot dog and a tuna sandwich and stood aside to wait.  A steady stream of people came to pick up take-out orders, and after 20 minutes I sweetly asked the gal behind the counter how our order was coming.  She looked me over with humorless eyes and said, “I’m workin’ on it.”  We waited another eternity before receiving our food.  Lesson learned:  don’t question Bertha when she’s making your lunch.
A utility building cleverly decorated with birdhouses
This place is probably a lot of fun when it’s open (not today)
Alas, today’s 40 miles were not as easy as our last outing and I struggled for the last 10 miles, stopping often to whine (which did not help at all).  But Little River Presbyterian Church finally came into view, and as we packed up the bikes inside the car (taking off the front wheels and securing the frames upright with bungee cords) we noticed the darkening sky.  We had been in the car no more than five minutes when giant raindrops plopped onto the windshield, and then the proverbial bottom fell out.  With crossed fingers we sped back to the fish fry, but by now the rain was washing across the road and the church tent was deserted.  No choice but to retrieve our first car and look for supper elsewhere before going to our hotel to rest up for tomorrow.
Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

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