The road to Richmond is looking a bit ominous. Not because we might be suspect as Union sympathizers, although this is probably obvious, but the long range weather forecast is not good. We just weathered the last snowstorm to hit Richmond by staying an extra day in Wilmington. That turned out great but now it is time to go. First stop is Surf City, NC. We have some trouble making reservations and when I discuss this with Stemmerman’s Mr. Michael, he says that he’s surprised we aren’t just going all of the way to Jacksonville. (Who knew that there was a Jacksonville in North Carolina?) I should read between the lines but I just respond that we were looking at a cold day with 20 mph winds in our face and I don’t think that we could do 70 miles. He understands and tells us we’ll be fine finding a place.
When we get there, we realize Surf City, NC is a little bit like the Jersey Shore at it’s worst in the off season. Not many choices. Our motel is very colorful (primary colors) and appears to be classic 50s design without a lot of update – as in unpaved driveway and lot. Ok wi-fi and takeout pizza and we get by.
Leaving in the morning is interesting. As you head North on Topsail Island you see many Coastal Mansions and also many trailer parks, kind of a mixed up, in between, gentrification project. And many, many for sale signs. Heading off the island the scenery is beautiful, but the bridge, very long and narrow. Anyway, the weather is improving and we’re on to Jacksonville and then to New Berne/James City, NC.
New Berne is a delightful town, formerly the residence of the pre-Revolutionary governor. A great deal has been done to restore its historical glory. Beautifully set on the Neuse River with river walks, great restaurants, and hip coffee houses. Originally we thought we’d need to spend an extra day, but the forecast shifts and we figure we can make it to Bath, NC before the weather darkens. So we leave and it does.
While waiting for the ferry to cross the Pamlico River, the rain starts. Lightly at first and still warm. An hour later, we arrive in Bath, soaked but glad to have a place to hide from the storm. Then the rains pick up and it gets colder. We know none of our northern friends wants to hear us complain about 40 degree rain but it’s not exactly great biking weather. After two days it looks like the rain will lighten a bit and the temps will be back in the mid 40s, so we leave for Plymouth, NC.
We are tested: steady drizzle, and 25 mph winds in our faces for 30+ miles. We’re pretty foul on arrival, but our innkeeper, Mac, lets us know he appreciates bikers. He’d pre-warmed the room for us, and later will take me to pick up Italian takeout while Shelagh rests.
Next morning, we go into the “historic district” for breakfast. It’s along the Roanoke River and could be a beautiful spot but the whole area looks deteriorated and mostly closed up. We really get to thinking about what makes one area revive and survive and another just slowly wither. At home we’ve been struck by the comparison of Bristol and Vergennes, Vermont. Over the last 40 years Vergennes seems to have steadily prospered while Bristol just holds its own. One friend suggested that Liz Makowski, a nurse that I had worked with when first coming to Burlington, who left the hospital and then opened a shop in Vergennes, was instrumental in the success of the city. Maybe that’s what it takes. Just one person can make the difference. I’d certainly like to think that’s true.
Our ride out from Plymouth is long, but at least the wind has diminished. We also continue our run of rides without places to stop for lunch. This, for us, is very bad. But the area is primarily agricultural, which for me means very beautiful. We’re seeing a lot of last year’s cotton and this year’s winter wheat and tobacco.
75 miles later, the weather has mostly improved, but still no shadows, and we arrive in Sunbury, NC. Our stay there is quite different. Our B&B, The Teacherage, is run by two innkeepers, Graham and Brenda. After living in Buenos Aires and Lisbon for many years (Brenda is Argentinian) they bought the place with the goal of remodeling the unused former elementary school next to the Inn into elderly housing. Needless to say, much paperwork, and many meetings have passed and they are still hard at work pursuing the project.
The next morning we look out and for the first time in four days to see the sun. Makes it a lot easier to get back on the bikes and head into Virginia.
As another aside, when you are on long bike rides, earworms can be annoying. When I thought of the title for this segment I was quite pleased with myself. Hours later, after listening to Take Me Out to the Ballgame going around in my head, I am not so sure.