Above: The most fashionable guy on the road
The rain finally arrived last night after much eager anticipation from locals here in North Carolina. For days, people have been talking about the rain, speculating about how much we’d get, and pining about how much the fields need it. September is usually a rainy month in these parts, but no significant amount of rain has fallen in over three months.
Well, last night and early this morning, the rains finally came pouring down.
Down on the parched fields of soybean and corn that roll on for acres and seem lonely and forgotten. Down on the buses full of sullen prisoners heading off to particularly dirty sections of roadway. Down on the trailer parks and their bright spinning lawn ornaments. Down on the matted fur of the animals left to melt into the asphalt like punished outcasts. And down, down, down on me.
I woke to the pitter patter all campers hate to hear–the sound of water trying its hardest to get through a nylon tent rain fly. Luckily the rains abated just long enough for me to break down my camp and start riding.
After 15 minutes on a wet and dreary Route 1, the rains returned. At first, drizzle fell from the sky and I felt optimistic about my chances of covering decent mileage by the day’s end. A light tailwind coaxed me along, seemingly sending me a sign that nature would cooperate with me for yet another day. As the tailwind picked up, as I hummed along through the drizzle at a brisk 18-19 m.p.h. under the protection of my rain jacket, the rain started thickening. When I came up over a hill an hour into my ride, I saw a thick curtain of rain ahead. Cars became lost in it.
I lowered my head, tightened up my hood, and met the curtain at full speed. The rain pelted my eyes and face and instantly found its way into the neck of my jacket and under the cuffs of my sleeves. Realizing that wearing a rain jacket in the midst of such a downpour was futile, I took it off and packed it, along with my wallet and money belt, inside my dry bag. The rain was going to soak me no matter what, so I let it have its way.
I pushed on in the driving rain and kept my speed up to stay warm. The section of Route 1 that I was on at the time was a freeway. There were no exits around for miles and few overpasses. For you Jersey folks out there, it was exactly like the New Jersey Turnpike.
I rode on the shoulder as trucks and cars flew by at over 65 m.p.h., spraying huge clouds of water at me as they passed. Some of the trucks passed with such speed that their mere passing gave me a 2-3 m.p.h. boost as they blasted by me. I rode and rode and kept hoping the rains would let up long enough for me to see clearly enough to feel confident riding. After 20 minutes, the rains subsided and returned to steady drizzle.
I rode through rain and drizzle for two-and-a-half hours, covering 36 miles before I gave up. I couldn’t take it anymore. I was exhausted, completely soaked to the bone, and 25 miles from the day’s destination. I pulled off the highway and pedalled to a supermarket. I ate and rested.
When I got back on the road an hour later, the rains had drifted off to wet some other place further north but had left behind a nasty 10-15 m.p.h. steady headwind. Still wet, I pushed off downhill and struggled to keep a 9-10 m.p.h. pace (before, even in the rain, thanks to the tailwind, 18-19 m.p.h. was no problem).
After an hour of pushing and grunting and not getting far, after my sweat and rainwater had formed close bonds on my body and clothing so that wet dogs might have sniffed me and found me attractive, I stopped the bike. I was done for the day. I propped the bike up, took off my goofy sun hat, and stuck out my thumb.
That’s right, I stuck out the ol’ thumb.
I tried to hold out as long as could, but today I had to hitch. There have been dozens of times throughout the ride thus far in which I’ve been tempted to hitch. I enjoy hitching. I’ve done it a bunch in Australia and parts of the U.S. I’ve met great people through hitching, and although I don’t advise that everyone do it (kids, don’t hitch!), it can get you out of a bind when the going gets really tough.
Within 20 minutes of stopping and putting my thumb out, a white pick-up pulled over.
The man rolled down the window and I instantly noticed his military uniform. For some reason, this made me feel at ease.
“Where ya off to?”
I told him.
“I ain’t going there, but I can put you 10 miles down the road.”
I was hoping to go further, but I was worn down and wet. I loaded up the bike and hopped in the cab.
He told me he was stationed on a base in the area and had a son stationed at the Cape May Coast Guard Base in New Jersey. Ten miles came and went pretty quick and we didn’t have much time to chat. He did tell me that he likes to pick up people hitching because he enjoys helping others. He’s a Sunday-School teacher at his church. He once kicked a hitchhiker out of his car because the man wouldn’t stop asking for money. When the man refused to get out of his car, saying something like, “I don’t have to get out if I don’t want to,” the man said, “Listen, you can get out on your own, or I can remove you from my vehicle. You pick, friend.”
When he let me out, he told me he’d be back by the same spot in about an hour and if I hadn’t found a ride by then, he’d take me further down. I thanked him.
I waited 10 minutes before catching the next ride. Again, I flagged down another pick-up truck because smaller cars can’t really hold me, the bike, and my trailer. Melvin Graham introduced himself to me and excused the appearance of his messy, beat-up pick-up. I assured him I didn’t mind how his truck looked as long as it ran and it ran south.
Melvin told me about how he is a land surveyor and does a lot of the surveying required for condominium and estate development in the area. Like many locals I’ve spoken to, Melvin’s family owns farmland that his relatives once lived off of. Developers have made offers to buy the land many times, but he and his brothers always refuse, opting instead to pass the land down from generation to generation. I found it interesting that he surveyed for some of the developers he refused to sell to, but didn’t have time to ask him about it before the ride ended.
We parted ways on the main street of Southern Pines, a quaint town with a historic district and many cute boutiques.
I just stopped at the bike shop to get something adjusted. A friend of the owner heard I was looking for a place to set up my tent for the night and offered up his property. I’m all set up behind a big ol’ Victorian house under construction. Life is good. The rain is gone. Time to eat.
hope everyone is well,