End of the road

October 9, 2004 

It was a long ride in a short week. One minute we were grinding up Grandview Drive in mountainous Sparta, the next, we were flying down the backside of the bridge into Oriental. One minute we were enduring a steady rain for 30 miles into Mount Airy, the next we were blessed with days of cloudless skies over the coastal plain. One minute we were putting up our tents, the next, we were taking them down for the last time.

Seven days, 471.2 miles.

Where did the time go?

Odd to realize you could ride a bike across the state of North Carolina for seven days, finish and think, "I wouldn’t mind riding a little more." Yet that’s how many of the 900 or so riders who finished Cycle North Carolina this afternoon felt rolling into Oriental this afternoon.

Sore? Sure. But if there was a chance to meet a few more people, to see a little bit more of the state — Hey, why not? To the very end, riders were meeting new riders.

Rolling out of Washington this morning in a pea soup fog, I had intended to ride alone. Soon, though, three riders of similar speed — Elizabeth Barker of Dallas (the one outside Charlotte), Jason Bost of Statesville and Gene Summary of Kings Mountain) were cruising behind me. Soon, we were taking turns on the lead, swapping stories.

Elizabeth and Jason met on the ride three years ago and have ridden together since. "We’ll call each other after 6 months," Jason tells me, "say, ‘You riding this year? Good. See you on the ride,’ and hang up."

Gene is Elizabeth’s brother and joined the ride a day earlier. He has fresh legs, which pick our pace up to around 20 miles per hour. We go through Bath, then take the 25-minute Bayview ferry across the Pamlico River. A couple hundred brightly clad cyclists surround a handful of bemused and befuddled cars.

There’s a rest stop in Aurora where maybe 20 cyclists sit on a pile of tailings and sift for sharks teeth. "Look!" says an excited rider, showing his find to friends lined up for water.

Then, before we know it, Oriental.

You’d think there’d be more euphoria in the air. We’ve just ridden 471.2 miles in seven days, after all; it’s not like we ran to the corner grocery for milk. And if nothing else, you’d think a bunch of people whose personal saddles are very sore would be euphoric simply to be off the bike. It’s not that way.

Logistics plays a large roll. Most riders are catching buses back to their waiting cars in Raleigh and in Sparta, and those buses leave at 4. Between grabbing your luggage, taking a shower and getting something to eat, there’s not much time for chatting.

But a larger reason may be that, for most of us, this is not a one-time event. It’s more a lifestyle. We may have just completed one ride, but there’s always another around the bend.

On Cycle North Carolina, no one says goodbye. It’s, "See you down the road."

Still, there must be someone willing to wax about the deeper meaning of the week we’ve just shared together. I find my friend Joe Gailey of Apex. Joe, as I mentioned earlier, started cycling on a beginner ride I lead four years ago. Now, on the cusp of his 50th birthday, he leaves me in his dust. Surely he’s game to reflect.

He thinks for a moment, trying to help me out.

"It’s like Christmas and my birthday all rolled into one," he begins. Not bad, I think. Let’s see where he goes with this.

"But that doesn’t say much. My birthday is Dec. 25."

Author’s note: I’m plum outta words for now; I’ve just ridden 471.2 miles and it’s Miller time. I’ll offer a comprehensive look at Cycle North Carolina 2004 in the Sunday Travel section of Oct. 17 The News & Observer.

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