The quest began at dawn: Rodney Hines would ride a wheelie 50 miles from Nags Head to Cape Hatteras, using no hands, drinking no water, taking no bathroom breaks, pedaling to muscle-ripping triumph across the Outer Banks with sweat dripping into his eyeballs.
I watched him perform his pre-ride ritual at Whalebone Junction, wrapping an American flag to the banana seat of his purple Wal-Mart bike – his tribute to the troops.
“That’s why I’m out here,” insisted Hines, 49. “I ain’t down here for how good I am.”
It’s a familiar mantra from the No-Hand King: a man I’ve admired for a decade, the jewel of Southeast Raleigh, the stone-faced trick-rider who glowers like a ninja and talks trash like a boxer, ready for his craziest test.
On a normal day, he turns heads on Fayetteville Street, riding shirtless and one-wheeled past bankers and lawyers downtown, muscles bulging, flags flapping behind him. For years, he occupied a corner of South Person Street, a fleet of kids’ bikes spread across his yard, making endless wheelie circles for cars stopped at the red light.
But on this day, he was in Nags Head with an entourage: a camera crew that filled four cars, filming the finale of a No-Hand King documentary that opens at the Rialto Theater in August. Raleigh filmmaker Patrick Shanahan spent two years following Hines, building up to this day.
“I believe we can cause a stir with this thing,” said Shanahan, 28. “To show and tell his story. It’s been written down. It’s been written down well. It needs to be told visually.”
Hines pushed off down N.C. 12 wearing a No-Hand King T-shirt, front wheel in the air, a state trooper riding behind to direct traffic around the spectacle.
After a dozen miles, Hines hit Bonner Bridge, a 2.5-mile hump that rose high over Oregon Inlet. Pelicans and gulls flapped around his head. Waves crashed underneath. And the No-Hand King, on his first-ever trip to the Outer Banks, shot up the bridge like he was climbing his front steps.
“You think he’s got this?” asked Shanahan, riding behind in a pickup with a GoPro camera mounted on the grill.
“I know he’s got it,” said Walt Coleman, a longtime friend. “He’s a wildebeest.”
I first met the No-Hand King in 2007. People warned me he was hard to interview. But that’s only because they expect him to be funny and tell jokes like he’s part of a circus act.
But this is life to Hines. Over a series of weeks, he told me about growing up around Walnut Terrace, not knowing his father, getting into trouble, getting arrested for breaking and entering, going to jail and deciding in a cell one day to switch directions: to become the best in the world at one thing. He talked about celebrating the people who inspire him – soldiers, mostly – in everything he does.
When Hines first met Shanahan, he was living in his art studio, where he painted in relative squalor, squatting on a couch with his work all around him. Hines appreciated that.
“I see you struggle,” he told Shahanan. “Like I struggle.”
The pair needed a big ride to finish the film. The Guinness World Records site lists the longest no-hand wheelie ride at 292 feet, comically short compared to what Hines does regularly. The No-Hand King had long wanted to ride cross-country on one wheel, then across the state. Hines suggested the Outer Banks, flatter and more manageable, with iconic scenery.
“He won’t be miked while he’s riding,” Shanahan told me. “He doesn’t say much when he’s riding anyway. He’s like a monk.”
For almost two hours, Hines rolled down the Outer Banks at 10 mph, ignoring the sun, horseflies and eyes stinging from the sweat.
Cars honked as they passed. Cyclists rode past wearing Lycra shorts, gloves, goggles and huge smiles on their faces. Hines stared straight ahead as the big bridge approached.
“He’s got to go over that?” Coleman asked, riding in a truck behind his friend. “Maaaaan ....”
“This is history here,” said Shanahan.
Hines flashed a peace sign as he crested the bridge, 200 feet high.
“Endurance of a (cotton-picking) animal!” he told me later. “Not a man!”
Then he fell.
It happened about 15 miles into the ride, after an hour and 40 minutes on one wheel, in a spot of N.C. 12 that had been torn apart by storms. The No-Hand King veered onto an old section of highway that looked like an access road, not realizing that it didn’t reconnect. He tried to rejoin the main highway, riding no-handed down a foot-high asphalt hill and across some sand – an impossible maneuver.
He came up unhurt, fender dented but morale intact.
“That’s still a record,” he said.
The No-Hand King pushed on for another 16 miles through Rodanthe, Waves and Salvo, treating himself with water and Icy Hot. But cramps in his thighs kept burning and the heat index passed 100.
He packed it in at 31 miles total, more than the distance from Raleigh to Durham. We all pounded his fist and told him nobody in the world could duplicate that feat, then we drove the remaining miles to the Hatteras lighthouse.
“What pushed me a step beyond was thinking about the men and women behind the lines, giving everything they’ve got,” he said. “Once you give everything you’ve got, you’re satisfied.”
He stood on a dune with the lighthouse behind him, the man from Walnut Terrace with cameras whirring around him, his quest complete.
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