How the sausage is made…part 1

I felt it was time we talked. That is, some of you may be curious as to how I’m doing this, day in and day out. This happens entirely on an elegantly designed self-propelled vehicle weighed down by some equipment. Today, we’ll just cover two items; the bike and where to go.

The Bike and Me

I’m about 145 lbs and carrying about 50-lbs of stuff in 5 separate bags that is everything in the world to me while I’m out here. It was my decision to also include camping equipment and cameras – things I think make the trip more memorable at the expense of their weight.

The bike itself is 22 lbs and is a custom-built Seven Cycles model called the Expat S. The frame is titanium, the fork is carbon and the handle bars and wheels are aluminum. Most of the 50 lb weight I’m carrying is distributed in the rear of the bike on a strong aluminum rack system. There are two Iberia pannier bags that hang on the sides and one commuter case on top of the rack. I’ve upgraded my tires since starting this trip in the Keys to super-durable Continental Touring 37c tires – probably the best technical move I’ve made on this trip.

One pannier contains two plastic shopping bags – one bag has my cycling clothes and the other all my casual clothes. Each has a minimal amount of clothes for 2 or 3 days. The other pannier has camping equipment and some backup cycling tools and parts.

The commuter case that sits in top of the rack contains all my electronics and camera gear. Also, it carries my money, ID, energy food, toiletries and few other things. It’s also great to use for going shopping or going into town as a place I can stash stuff.

There’s also a top-tube bar bag in the middle of the bike with a basic cycling repair kit for flats, wrenches and a cable and lock system to secure the bike when I leave it in public. Hanging off the handle bars in front is my ultra-light 2-man tent, weighing in at about 5 lbs.

Riding this type of bike, fully loaded, is a new experience. It is very easy to tip to a side and bring the bike and me quickly to the ground. I learned that quickly the first few days. This usually happens when stopping or starting to roll. Once you get the bike rolling its an amazingly solid balance and even tank-like when going down the highway. I’ve learned that even in wind, it usually holds a steady course. Of course, working the margins of a shoulder or even a traffic lane requires concentration and a steady hand. Quick turns must be avoided. One more thing. Don’t try pedaling standing up – you’ll quickly throw yourself off-balance.

It takes me an hour or more each morning to repack and examine the bike before I set out, between 6:00 to 8:00 a.m. depending on what’s ahead.

In Google I Trust…sometimes

The night before I usually examine the route I’m going to take. For me, the route should be about 60 miles which is my current daily target. That will vary each day depending on the route, the lodging options and how I’m feeling. The specific route is a variation of what Google thinks are bicycle routes to a destination. Just go to http://maps.google.com and you will see between any directional points one and usually more routes suggested. That route becomes my compass for the day.

Right now I view the directions I choose and set out, often with Google maps audio instructions on when to turn, just like you might in a car. One problem at the moment is I do not have earphones so hearing the exact turn is difficult most of the time. Also, know that Google’s verbal instructions are often wrong or lead you to places you wish you never saw – such as deserted gravel roads…

The last problem using the Google maps technique is that it eats up smartphone power like crazy. Within 3 to 4 hours my iPhone 7 is on 10% power warning, at which point I hook up one of my two backup power supplies – an absolute must for this ride In fact, I’m using a solar panel backup for one of the supplies.

In any case, it works as long as you know it takes some fine tweaking. For some out there, you might be wondering why not use a proven course someone else has laid out, like the East Coast Greenway or a GPX Strava/Garmin route? My two points here are that marked trails usually based on maximum safety and community-minded factors that make them inefficient if you want to cover as many miles as as you can in the shortest period of time. And, choosing the best digital route take too long to figure out. For a long distance challenge, the best method is still ad hoc using at least some of the quick and effective wisdom that Google maps offers.

That said, I wasted a couple extra hours yesterday thinking I was following the right course and then realizing that I was going in the wrong direction. But, eventually, the miles go on, I get closer to home and the cycling sausage is made.

The Expat

A tuned and cleaned bike is a happy bike

 

 

 

 

 

 

I got kicked out of the Marines

Maybe it was the fact that I looked like a rolling nuclear device or maybe with the new gray scruffy beard they realized I was too old to be a recruit. In any case, 3 big Marines were quickly upon me as I easily rolled past the gate. No kidding.

I feebly explained that the LeJeune bikeway just kept going into the base. Then I tried to blame it on Google. It looked suspicious. Thank god they did not inspect my bags. They are not a pleasant site right now.

Anyway, I backtracked and began my trek on a big wide smooth highway. Camp LeJeune is enormous and well guarded. Although I can say that at least for 1 day I was either a weird recruit or terror on wheels.

Fear Creeps In

I just happen to be in Wilmington after a great day of cycling from Calabash. It was a magical day that started off woken in my airbnb stay by the sound of thunder at 4:00 a.m. or so. The weather forecast looked great as I went to bed so this put just a bit of fear into what might be unexpectedly in store for me today. In Charleston, I had tried on my rain gear and went out in a pretty good downpour for about a 5 mile ride. All held up okay but I’m still untested in the rain.

IMG_5871But just as I was about to leave the skies opened and it was clear rolling all day. This day I had little to do with major highways as we rolled on secondary county roads, still busy and fast but with some shoulder consideration. My goal was to go 40 miles to an unknown state ferry service that was to take me and cars to Fort Fisher on the other side of a big river. Then I would ride another 20.

It’s all about waterways now.

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So, I made it to a nice gentile ferry that had about 5 miles of river to cross. The landing was Fort Fisher which I later learned was the beginning of Cape Fear. This stirred in me a memory of the movie(s) of the same name, both are classics that should not be missed, The first one in 1962 with Robert Mitchem and the second with Robert DeNiro. Soooo sooo good as a psychological thrillers.

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Long story short was the protagonist is a lawyer who might have done a bad job defending a psycho killer (Mitchem, DeNiro) is haunted by the same, years later as he is released. The twisted killer stalks the lawyer (Gregory Peck, Nick Nolte). I guess it was so good a story that Scorsese had to do his own version.

Anyway, the scene is a backwater area where a marginal lawyer and a revengeful killer parry at each other ending in an unforgettable houseboat scene. I’m here thinking I’m in the cast somehow. Both versions are worthy of a view and a comparison, Excellent work in so many ways, Guess this trip is getting to me.

Some memorable lines:

Still, things won’t ever be the way they were before he came. But that’s alright because if you hang onto the past you die a little every day. And for myself, I know I’d rather live.

You’re scared. But that’s Ok. I want you to savor that fear. The south was born in fear. Fear of the Indian, fear of the slave, fear of the damn Union. The south has a fine tradition of savoring fear.

Really, the area is quite lovely and more than calm and peaceful. But there’s always the storms here, the southern way and a chance that something can go wrong,,,

Robert Mitchem, Robert DeNiro, Joe Don Baker, Jessica Lange and Nick Nolte will forever make it a legend in my mind… https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0101540/mediaviewer/rm4016899584

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I close on the upbeat and lively fearless scene at the Blind Elephant Speakeasy of the Cape Fear area, Front Street in Wilmington, NC. No kidding. In a turn from yesteryear. There are bars opening up that are closed to some. Unless you know about them. There’s no sign on the door which you would easily miss in this alley between buildings. Might be a Brooklyn thing. But, here in Wilmington you need to where it is and to join as a member for $1 then you can drink and mingle with the bar and the music. Don’t worry its a cool thing. Great atmosphere and creative drinks. Guess I drank to that!

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Toby playing the keys at the Blind Elephant Speakeasy on Front Street

 

Serendipity Happens

Tonight I am in Calabash, NC. It’s just over the border. The reason I’m here is that I have to map out where I’m going based on two principles: 1) the direction I’m headed (toward Jersey, along the coast) and 2) distances of about 60 miles. I only needed to ride 40 or so to get here but this looked like a populated spot on my way to Wilmington and beyond. Not enough time to super analyze each stop.

One pleasant surprise today was that I arrived here at about 12:30 ahead of schedule so I had a couple hours extra to experience the area. The roads today were pretty good and much of it was along the ocean and very easy and chill. The other surprise was that this town of Calabash, where I’m staying, and the neighboring town of Sunset Beach are little hidden gems along the coast.

If you look at a map, like I did, it would appear that is is a backwater place but actually it’s a beautiful area of the lowlands. Islands intertwine here in an easy way that dissolves all the hustle and bustle and angst of the highways nearby.

My airbnb host, Rebekah, pointed out that I needed to see Sunset Beach, just down the road about 1/4 mile. So after I arrived I set out on my bike to check the area out. This is a special place with commanding views of the inlets and marshes along with manicured golf courses and even a gator observation area.

You’ll see a few pictures here that do not do the area justice. Its calm, peaceful, wet, wild and not overly commercial. There are wealthy communities among average developments. You can tell here that the people love and respect the natural area they live in. It’s just a little piece of the coast that is not known by many but loved by those that visit and end up living here.

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My first gator sighting here at the oveservation area of Twin Lakes at Sunset Beach

Take me to the bridge

True confession. Some bridges scare me these days. It wasn’t always that way. But maybe I was always in awe of the idea. This time I am faced with the challenge almost daily of engaging with them.

It’s complicated because they can be both challenging and satisfying. I mean crossing over anything that spans two bodies is worthy of respect. Being in my own funk these days and in the south, my mind kept  coming back to James Brown, “The Godfather of Soul.”

He’s famous for the line “Take me to the bridge.” Of course, who knows what he was talking about exactly? But the Google consensus is that he was doing a musical shift to his horn section bridging the way the song was going. I keep thinking of him sliding across the floor and his guttural “Hey” with horns blasting and then the music stops and all goes back to the rythum.

Well I’ve had my share of heart stopping bridges where I try to remember James while I plow on. The Seven Mile bridge with 4 ft narrow shoulder for 7 miles.

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7-Mile Bridge in the Florida Keys

The bridge Broad River Bridge near Beaufort which is over 500 feet high and nearly 2 miles long was a monster at the end of a 60-mile day.

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Broad River Bridge

But Charleston threw some new challenges out to me today.

I was staying on James Island just below Charleston. It had a fairly small draw bridge  with metal grating that needed to be crossed to get off the island then another similar draw bridge with all the traffic fury of the Rt 17 morning rush. These bridges are tricky in normal conditions, but can be extremely slippery after the rain we had the day before. I decided to get off the bike and walk it, except there was no place to walk tbe bike. So, I had to piss off a lot rush hour drivers. Harrowing? Yes.

Then, soon after ending up in the city of Charleston I made my way thru to the “Big Bridge” aka Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge, which I knew nothing about. It’s a 2.7 mile span peaking around 500 feet with a commanding view of Charleston. Viewing this from the bike from afar at 7:00 am led me to an “Oh s__t!” moment. But, as I got closer I found that it was designed with protection for cyclist and pedestrians! Sweet Baby Jesus, there was nothing to fear and much to admire and awe. It might just be the most beautiful bridge I have ever crossed!

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Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge from the beginning

Today, I hear there are two bridges here in Georgetown to cross as I start my way to Myrtle Beach. I cringe a bit but Joseph, my Airbnb host, says you can always walk it. He’s right and I just might do that and Georgetown is a much more chill place. At least I’ll get it over in the morning and lose that anxiety for the rest of the day.

Let the spirit of James “Take me to the Bridge” Bump, bump, bump, bump, bump.

 

Salt of the Earth

The Rolling Stones said it well…

Say a prayer for the common foot soldier
Spare a thought for his back breaking work
Say a prayer for his wife and his children
Who burn the fires and who still till the earth

I’m guessing that most of us give little thought to everyone around us unless we faced with meeting and greeting others.

If there’s one thing this trip has taught me is that we are all connected with great and interesting people. Maybe its my daily riding outfit or just being in places where others are strangers too. Its renewed my faith in our brother and sisterhood. Here’s just a bunch since I started:

Singers at the bar…

Fishing as a way of life… The bridge pier is so high and the fish so big, most can’t be brought up. But its all about fishing.

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Family fishing is a way of life. Fish here are bigger. No wonder that.

Ferry as a lifestyle. Katherine is retired but crosses the St James River to help care for invalid women for her church. Her husband retired from military as so many around here do.

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Katherine filled me in on the details of the ferry and the area.

Sandra and Ed vacation here in Florida to visit kids who have moved to the area. They are from Vermont.

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Sandra and Ed from Vermont

John and Joan rolled into Charleston in their deluxe RV. They retired to Tucson but prefer roaming the country. Warm areas in the winter, cool areas in the summer. Their original home base was Connecticut.

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John and Joan from Tucson

Where do you turn on a Sunday morning for some energy and good vibes? Your local roadside produce stand. This guy gave me a Red Navel orange and would not take any money for it. Pay it forward…

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Red Navels for sale or to give away. Kindness everywhere.

Here’s Carl (aka “Port Arthur”) a former trombonist who looks like he now admintsters wisdom to locals and travelers near Charleston. Everyone seems to know Carl.

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Carl (“Port Arthur”) the resident sage of these parts with a friend.

Then there were some “trail angels” right before Charleston where the road made me weary. Min and Carl pointed out a real bike path that let me ride 6 miles to town and saved my ass.

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Min and Carl who helped guide me to safe passage along the W. Ashley Greenway.

All hail the good people out there.

And now a word about biking

Today, I finally arrived at Charleston at 4:30. It was probably the toughest day so far puting in about 75 miles, most of it in headwinds and tough road conditions. There’s something that’s so elemental to doing this. I have a direction, I create a destination and I HAVE TO get there. There’s no support team that’s got my back. But maybe there is.

If you have ever engaged in the cycling community you know there are a lot of characters that it draws. It has its long peculiar history and customs and yet it depends largely on the latest technology and ideas of fitness and conditioning. Let’s just say its a conundrum that I don’t understand myself but and I’m caught up in.

Some cycling fanatics will think nothing of dropping $10K for a bike while others will carefully shop the best online deals and ways of fixing things themselves. Most would agree that biking is blend of art and science that pushes us to our limits. The one thing we have in common is the love of the idea of riding. The bike is the art form we just are just happy to be able to use it.

I was reminded of the brotherhood of cycling just yesterday when I was 50 miles into a 60 mile ride and was dying for something to eat. The trip that day Savannah to Beaufort provided few opportunities to stop in the morning so I kept plowing on. Before I knew it, it was after 12:00 and my stomach was telling me to find any place for something to eat soon. I glanced across the road and saw a business park area that had a “Cafe” sign and I quickly turned in.

In the first set of stores I passed, I saw a sign that said “Lab Cyclery” and a guy that was waving me over. I pulled up and after remarking what a sweet ride I had said “Come on in and let me look over the bike for you. Looks like you have been on the road a bit.”

Bill immediately notices a few loose bolts, things that need adjustment and of course the grime and dirt. He puts the bike on a rack and checked every bolt, gave me a handful of bolts for that rack that has been a problem and says “Give me a few minutes to clean this up for you.” I go and get lunch next door and come back with a fully tuned and really clean bike ready to ride! I am amazed.

Bill is the owner and recent transplant down here in the low country. He is a bike lover and has worked on more bikes than I could imagine for other shops. He comes from the Syracuse area and also has skills as a machinist. A trade that is dying in this age of mass production and globalization. But Bill also had a dream.

Inside Lab Cyclery

Inside Lab Cyclery. Right now he specializes in Eddie Merx and Felt brands.

He answered an ad for store manager and mechanic for a well known bike store in a neighboring town of Bluffton and moved with his wife here. No sooner had he moved than a week later he got notice that the store was closing. So, he decided to open his own shop. I wish him the very best luck and wished I could do more. I know starting any business is difficult. Starting a cycling shop is far harder than most.

Bill represents the heart and beauty of cycling which none of us want to die. He wanted no money from me after working on my bike for an hour, giving spare bolts. I needed to beg to pay him something. I bought a tire pressure meter which was needed anyway. We empathize and know what the pain and pleasure of riding is all about and we share that among ourselves. This business thing is just an unfortunate way to carry on our obsession.

The best I can do for Bill is let everyone know he is there and should be patronized and lionized for his act of kindness which I am now obliged to pay forward. Cycling is such pain, pleasure and glory.

Here’s where I want you to promote or go if and when you get to the “Low Country”

Lab Cyclery
149 Riverwalk Blvd. Suite 12
Ridgeland, SC 29939
843-540-3079
pro_fitting@yahoo.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Loveallbikes/

Thanks once again Bill. You da man!

The Expat

A tuned and cleaned bike is a happy bike