Standing guard over the mainland of coastal North Carolina is a thin chain of ever shifting barrier islands known as the Outer Banks. This sandy vanguard has been hammered by countless hurricanes and lesser storms and is in constant flux. The Outer Banks of today is not the Outer Banks of a century ago and years from now they will have morphed into another version. As testament to the ferociousness of the weather the surrounding waters are littered with shipwrecks, some dating back to pre-colonial days. Both pilgrims and pirates have peopled these shores. History buffs have plenty to explore in the Outer Banks
As much as I love the mountains of the Smokies, I am equally drawn to the wind swept dunes on the opposite end of the state. Every year my wife and I head out to reconnoiter another corner of the North Carolina coast. This year’s tour held some challenges as our visit followed hurricane Sandy’s. But despite the mountain of sand dumped on the road to Corolla and the destruction of our planned route south of Kitty Hawk, we pieced together a pretty decent excursion.
We began and ended on Roanoke Island, site of the “Lost Colony”. Swept away by the hellacious wind, eaten by animals, carried away by the indigenous people or teleported into space; no one knows. From Roanoke we crossed the sound to Nags Head and from there we meandered north avoiding the buried sections of route 12 and made our way to Duck; buried neck deep in sand from hurricane Sandy.
With plenty of good places to eat and a cool greenway known as the Duck Trail, Duck is a neat little town. It marks the ‘about half way’ point between Nags Head and Corolla. We lunched and Guinnessed ourselves to stave off the cold before leaving Duck and plowed into the headwind towards Corolla. I have lots of respect for coastal riders in these parts. Although lacking the long steep climbs, the wind here blows with a hateful vengeance. We fought a wet and frigid headwind the whole ride from our first turn north in Nags Head all the way up the coast to Corolla. But after a long hard day in the saddle we reward ourselves with luxury accommodations at The Inn at Corolla Light.
We awoke the next day to more of the same, cold and wet, and headed out to poke around in the old lighthouse. (To Be Continued…)
Traveling the world for free is the dream of most of us. Here’s an ingenious scheme to do just that. Here’s what you’ll need: A zip-tie long enough to go around your neck, a carabiner and a three by five card. Inscribe the following message or something similar. Unless you’re particular furry, change ‘teddy bear’ to uncle, brother, cousin. You get the idea.
My name is (insert cute name here). I am the teddy bear (sister, brother…) of (Susie, Tommy or Timmy work well as they conjure up images of cute kids in the minds of most people). I would like to join you on your trip! Would you take me and make a picture of me on your holiday location? Then e-mail this picture and the name of your holiday location to (you can use anyone’s e-mail or send them to me if you’d like. email@example.com). This way class (whatever) of primary school (wherever) can follow my travels around the world. Would you then give me to another traveler? Thank you very much and enjoy your holiday.
This scheme seems much safer than the traditional approach of mailing yourself places ‘Postage Due’ and sneaking out of the post office in the middle of the night.
Happy travels, Jack
Dutch Ultralight bike tourist and sports medicine professional Eelco dropped by to do a few days of hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and (of course) to visit yours truly. Eelco is an avid ultra-distance and Ultralight cyclist in The Netherlands. He came to America last week for a business meeting in Atlanta and decided to extend his trip for a short bike tour to the Smokies. He rented a Trek 2.1 in Roswell (just outside of Atlanta) and cycled his way up through the pretend mountains of North Georgia and into the ‘oh so real’ mountains of North Carolina. In true Ultralight fashion, he is carrying his kit in a small backpack. Eelco is an ultra-distance cyclist in The Netherlands and is quite accustomed to pushing the envelope of riding extreme distances with the barest of essentials. After a few days of hiking in the park with my wife Raquel, Eelco headed back to Atlanta to catch a flight home.
Traveling with Eelco was Joppie, or as he has become known in America, Jake. Jake is a refugee from class 6c of primary school De Leerlingst Haelen (The Netherlands). Jake and Eelco decided to split up here in the Smokies citing “artistic differences”. The tension between the two was so thick you could cut it with a knife. Jake pulled me aside the first night he was here and asked if he could stay for a week then travel with us on our Outer Banks tour. He said the whole trouble started before leaving Europe. Jake had decided the two should cross the Atlantic by stowing away on a cargo ship, but Eelco insisted on flying. Once in Atlanta, Eelco insisted the two would cut costs by renting only one bike. Quite naturally, Jake was very insistent he have his own bike. Eelco would have nothing of it and Jake finally relented. Riding double on a single seated bike caused Jake more embarrassment than he could handle.
By early Saturday morning the two were no longer on speaking terms and neither made eye contact. But oddly enough as Eelco turned the corner of our driveway and disappeared from sight Jake broke down. He was inconsolable. Tears and snot poured from Jake as he began telling us of all the good times he and Eelco had enjoyed; the sunsets, the camp fires, the long conversations about philosophy, religion and women. “You never really know what you have till it’s gone”, cried Jake. He spent the next day crying, eating ice-cream and listening to country and western love ballads. We will try to get him back on the open road as soon as possible to break this miserable funk.
One feature of my Hennessy that I really like is that it’s pre-hung. What I mean by that is that each end is fixed to a specific length of line. This automatically creates a ridgeline for the fly without all the fuss and muss of hanging an additional line and makes setting up the hammock a lot quicker and simpler. I recently purchased a Grand Trunk Ultralight hammock. Not that there is anything wrong with the Hennessy. After ten plus years of use it’s still in great shape and my favorite piece of camping equipment. But in my ever present obsession to trim weight from my kit, I’ve decided to put together an even lighter hammock system than my pound and a half Hennessy.
My new setup has three ingredients. The Grand Trunk (10.5 oz.), 550 paracord (approx. 2 oz.), Kelty Trip Tease line (well under 1 oz.) and my Equinox UL poncho (6 oz.). I trimmed some weight off the hammock by removing the steel S-hooks from each end. I’d say this off-sets the weight of the paracord, so my estimate is that this system comes in at a pound or just under. I’m saving half a pound, but sacrificing bug netting and the ultra-cool bottom entry of the Hennessy.
I’ve pre-hung the hammock on a single strand of paracord using Prusik knots at either end. The hanging straps are 550 parcord with a series of knots every few inches for adjusting the tension. Additional Prusiks for the rainfly/poncho finish off the assembly. At a complete disregard for safety, I’m using sticks I pick up off the ground to keep the hammock line from slipping out of the hanging straps instead of using the steel hooks. Danger is my middle name.
I already owned the poncho, so I’ve spent about 30 dollars putting the system together. I may buy a rain fly from Hennessy later; we’ll see how the poncho works out. I believe I paid about forty buck for the poncho years ago and used it hiking as a shelter/poncho many times. If you like to build small fires in your hammock the poncho’s hood acts like a chimney to vent the smoke. Kelty Trip Tease is used to guy out the poncho’s corners.
I still intend to use my Hennessy; I think I can get another decade of service out of this well-built hammock. I’ll use my new setup when I’m camping at higher altitudes and spending the day climbing and when I’m touring with my wife or a friend who wants to borrow a hammock.
A note about hanging straps: I understand the hammock industry need to over build hammock equipment for liability reasons. But if you’re making your own stuff, ask yourself if you really need to use one inch webbing strong enough to do a cargo drop out of the back of a moving airplane. I weigh less than 170 pounds so I think the 550 paracord is over-kill, but then again, Danger is my middle name.
Here’s a video tour of the hammock: (sorry for the wonky “smart” phone video. The next one will be much better, ’cause it can’t get much worse.)
“Never let a silly little thing like not owning a touring bike keep you from touring” Some Wise Guy.
Every bike is a compromise. Racing bikes compromise comfort and cargo carrying ability for speed and agility. Touring bikes compromise speed and agility for comfort and cargo capacity. There is a spectrum of bikes that fall somewhere in the middle. If the bike you own is of the speedy agile variety, and you thought you could never tour on it, think again.
I had a great time last weekend doing a quick S24O with bike shop co-owner and mechanic Andy of Bryson City Bicycles. Andy knows bikes. He spends his days repairing, building, selling and renting bicycles. Being a shop owner, and having a fleet of rentals available he can ride just about any type of bike he likes. So why chose an all carbon bike for a bike camping trip? Because that’s the bike he enjoys riding. You may make that choice for the same reason or because that’s the only bike you have available.
Andy’s bike is a Marin Stelvio and he added a handle bar bag and a seat post rack. Although in the picture it looks as if the bike is loaded down, we were carrying light but bulky items to stave off the cold night-time chill. One word of caution, if you chose a rack of this type with pannier side stays, be mindful the rack doesn’t shift and get into the spokes. Andy’s setup was solid. I weighed my bike before heading out. Bike and gear (including three full water bottles) weighed a tad less than 35 pounds. I lifted both bikes to compare, and they seemed to weigh the same. Andy’s bike may have been a bit lighter than my own.
By knowing your bike’s limitations, and designing the tour around the bike, there’s no reason to let the lack of a touring bike stop you from touring. Here’s a few things to consider:
- Racing bikes lack eyelets for racks. You can get around this by using a seat post rack, handle bar bag, frame pack or small back pack.
- Racing bikes lack the clearance and attaching points for fenders. Don’t ride in the rain or cowboy up and deal with the wet stuff.
- Racing bikes have a tight and rigid geometry. Avoid pot holes and try to pick a line on the smoothest part of the road. I’ve found that the center and often the white line is the smoothest.
- Racing bikes (and often their wheels as well) are not designed to carry a lot of weight. Pack light and explore Ultralight gear options. Hammocks are often lighter than tents. Leave the cooking gear at home. Consider touring Inn to Inn and leave the camping gear at home.
- Racing bikes are usually not geared for loaded climbing. Avoid a lot of loaded climbing.
Andy’s computer told us we averaged 14 miles per hour on our ride to Smokemont. That’s pretty speedy considering we’re in the mountains on loaded bikes. On one stretch of road coming out of the park, we took turns drafting and were clipping along at 22 miles per hour. Great fun!
The bike I rode was a Specialized Sequoia, an aluminum sport/touring bike with carbon front forks and seat stays. My Sequoia is geared super low and I tend to spin up hills instead of ‘mashing’ up them. Andy’s bike is geared with a compact double and he was much faster on the climbs and much faster in the straights. I think where the gearing difference would reveal itself the most, and I might find an advantage in my super low gearing, would be on an extended tour with multiple days of mountain climbing. I think spinning up mountainsides takes less of a toll on the body. But, for short overnight trips, mashing up the hills doesn’t seem to be a problem (if you’ve got the legs to do it). By adding the option of overnight camping, Andy has added a whole ‘nother level of fun to riding a speedy racing bike.
For years my wife Raquel has toured on her vintage lugged-steel Tommaso racing bike. She carried all she needed in a small handle bar bag and a large trunk bag sitting on a seat post rack by packing with thrift. Her Tommaso made a great Ultralight tourer for inn to inn trips. Here’s a picture:
The 2013 ICF Canoe Freestyle World Cup qualifying trials came to town this weekend. Boaters from around the world as well as the press, vendors and spectators you’d expect to see at a World Cup event; so what better time to slip out of town on my bike to avoid the circus and enjoy some solitude in the National Park.
About six miles north of Cherokee NC, nestled in the picturesque Oconaluftee valley and just within the boundaries of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, lies Smokemont Campground. It’s about 20 miles from my backdoor making this a great S24O destination. The road from my house to Smokemont passes through Bryson City, my hometown.
Not bragging but, Bryson is a beautiful little town. While other small towns in our area are showing evidence of hard economic times, Bryson seems to be doing well. Every store front is occupied with an eclectic collection of coffee shops, restaurants and gift shops. There also a friendly local bike shop, Bryson City Bicycles. But the main attraction is the train. When not out on an excursion through the countryside, you’ll see a beautiful vintage locomotive parked in the middle of town. The Great Smoky Mountain Railroad offers a unique way to experience the mountains here in Western North Carolina.
I stop by the bike shop and meet up with Andy. Andy is Bryson City Bicycles co-owner and head mechanic. He’s also an avid fly-fisher who has begun dabbling in the cult-like world of Tenkara. With only a little persuading, Andy quickly swings a leg over his bike and we head out for an overnight fishing/biking adventure. Just because they said it could never be done, Andy is S24Oing on an all carbon racing bike. I look at him with some doubt as if he’s off on a deadly mission never to return, but Andy has the confident look of a Mercury astronaut about to be shot into space. This should prove, if Andy returns in one piece, that Ultralight bike touring can be done on any bike.
Leaving Bryson City on US19, we wind our way up and over a small mountain pass and drop into Cherokee. Traffic Sunday mornings is light here in the bible-belt as most folks are attending services; only the wicked are out bike touring. We make our way past countless souvenir shops and into the center of Cherokee.
The home of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians is rich with cultural and outdoor activities. The Museum of the Cherokee Indian is well worth the visit. I’ve been three times over the years and every time I visit I learn something new. The theatrical production of Unto These Hills is another ‘must see’ attraction for those with more time. But not us, this is an S24O, so we push on through Cherokee and enter the Oconaluftee Valley on US441.
Elk crossing signs mark our departure from Cherokee and entrance to the GSMNP. The best times to see elk are early morning and late evening. The GSMNP visitor’s center is worth a stop too. US441 is the main drag bisecting the park and leading to Tennessee. So this visitor center and the one on the other side of the park, Sugarlands (just south of Gatlinburg), get a lot of visitors. They are well provisioned with guidebooks, maps and souvenirs. But of course, the gift shop is not the reason to stop. A short walk from the center is the Mountain Farm Museum with an old farmhouse, barn, smokehouse and corn cribs. This is a good place to get off the bike and stretch your legs. Just watch out for the occasional copperhead coiled up under the numerous outbuildings. Almost nothing takes the fun out of bike camping like the bite of a deadly viper.
Not much farther into the park is Smokemont. We’ve reserved our spot online (thanks for the help Raquel) to be assured of a place to sling our hammock-tents. Reserving online also gave us the opportunity to pick a nice spot close to the river for more privacy, not that there is much of that to be had in a front country camp. Once the hammocks are pulled taught between trees, we break out the Tenkaras and head for the river.
Fishing the Bradley Fork River, which flows through the campground, is usually productive and I’ve caught a number of small trout here on prior fishing trips. I believe the river benefits from being upstream from Cherokee, where the river is kept well stocked for the tourists. The Tenkara rod is particularly well suited for narrow Appalachian rivers. Fishing our local streams is often like fishing in a tunnel of fly-snagging vegetation. Long graceful over-arching fly casts are things of dreams around these parts. Anglers here get very proficient at short side shots up-under overhanging limbs. The Tenkara also packs down small making it the perfect bike-fishing rig.
After terrorizing the local trout, we ride back into Cherokee for a well earned dinner. I pull into the first place we find, a Chinese restaurant which will remain nameless (but really, how many Cherokee-Chinese restaurants can there be? You figure it out). There I find the most dried out, unappetizing buffet I’ve ever experienced. I eat three plates.
We leave the Cherokee-Chinese restaurant and head out in search of elk. We find a big one munching on grass just inside the park. The elk, bear too for that matter, are quite accustomed to the gawking gaze of tourists, so he’s just calmly hanging out by the side of the road with moose-like majesty.
Back at camp we enjoy a fire and sip a little Irish soup till the sun slips behind the jagged horizon. Smokemont is at a lower altitude than much of the park, so nighttime temperatures are tolerable. Hammocks are notoriously cold sleepers, and hammockers need to be prepared. An extra layer of clothing and some form of insulation between you and the bottom of the hammock is a good idea as temps drop. Still, hammocking is my favorite way to sleep outdoors. It’s true adventure sleeping where you are one slipped knot away from thudding to the ground and becoming the laughing stock of the whole campground.
I wake the next morning to find myself still hanging from two trees, and I’m happy that I hadn’t become a dangling play toy for a bear during the night. Another twig fire built in my hobo stove (tin can) heats a mug of cowboy coffee that leaves our teeth peppered with coffee grounds. Cowboys must have had horrendous dental problems. After we breakfast ourselves, we roll out onto the blacktop and cruise back home.
The bicycle gods have blessed me with bunches of fine S24O destinations within striking distance from my backdoor. I’m looking forward to doing more and sharing them with you.
Follow along on Facebook and Twitter for pictures and snippets on the fly, and here at The Velo Hobo for more detailed ride descriptions. I’ll give more detail later on Andy’s bike!
As always, thanks for reading. Jack
Hot off the presses here in the mountains of Western North Carolina is Zeke’s article uncovering a doping scandal of epic proportions within the ranks of amateur cycling. Unfortunately I’m named in the article, but as I have already confessed my sins I feel completely absolved and somewhat compelled to help spread the word.
Zeke also tells of a local cyclist who was harassed. Someone actually threw an M80 (explosive) at a rider! Check out an online version of his article at The Mountaineer and read Zeke’s full post at Zeke’s Great Smokies 2 Wheeled Adventures .
Bouncing around the Twitter is a report of an editor of a snooty British magazine who wrote in an editorial that the “The only good cyclist is a dead one”. Apparently editors of snooty British magazines aren’t very nice people. Here’s an account of the hubbub.
On a happier note, Bike New York, producers of the 5-Boro Bike Tour, are promoting the 11th running of “The Twin Lights Ride” on September 30th. If this ride is anything like the 5-Boro, I’m sure it will be well organized and a lot of fun. There are four ride options, from 30 to 100 milers. For more information visit www.bikenewyork.org and tell them The Velo Hobo sent you, they’ll be impressed.
Check out Hendrik’s great looking bike with frame packs and read about his S24O er S90…sometimes things just don’t go as planned. But still a great trip report with, as always, beautiful pictures!
I’m planning another S24O this weekend; the first since having a cadaver ACL installed in my left knee. Follow along on Facebook and Twitter (see the links in the side bar) and check back here in a couple of days for a more in-depth ride report. I’ll be joined by Andy of Bryson City Bicycles.
And just because they said it couldn’t be done, Andy is riding an all carbon racing bike; proving once and for all that touring can be done on any bike. Well I guess if Andy’s bike bursts into flames we may have to adjust that theory.
As always, thanks for reading, Jack