I’m not going to lie. This first week back on the bike tour has been rough. It is a bit of a flashback to our first two weeks touring in WA: rain, cold, questioning the viability of our plan, and then add in a dud birthday for Tango and you have our past week. Contrary to The Farmer’s Almanac forecast of a dryer and warmer spring (2017) in the Pacific Northwest, it had cooler than normal weather with record-breaking precipitation. Despite a summary of weather statistics for the last thirty years in Weather America suggesting we had crossed the geographic line for unbikeable winter weather 200 miles ago, the mid-Atlantic states are experiencing record-breaking cold. Cold that is 20+ degrees colder than average which is grounding us. Even the meteorologists appear caught unprepared as daily forecasts take profound turns for the worse with little notice, too often after we are already in motion for the day. This particular stretch of the route has very limited lodging options and no Warm Showers hosts, which makes for long days battling the elements during the shortest days of the year.
We left Williamsburg, Virginia a week ago. Oh my goodness, how a well-fed month off from biking, of which ten days were spent sedentary in a minivan, undermines your fitness level! Holy smokes, those first couple of days pedaling ended with sore muscles we never expected to encounter again along the tour! Since accommodations are harder to come by in this leg of the journey, there was no option to gradually recondition ourselves. The landscape has changed, with cotton being the main crop we now see. (We jokingly said these white fields would be the closest we would get to a wintry feel for Christmas. Hahahaha….. oh, the naivete of that thought!)
The kids were happy to be outside again, but disinclined to really push themselves to a sweat after being out of that routine for so long. Seemingly, all Tango could do was daydream about his upcoming birthday that he had so eagerly been anticipating since Sissy kicked off the birthday season back in September.
Unfortunately for Tango, his birthday coincided with an unavoidable 50-mile day. On his birthday eve we stayed at a teacherage, the only lodging in a significant-mile radius of our route, and succeeded in an early start the next day to facilitate the birthday festivities we wanted to prioritize for celebrating him. Old Man found a greasy spoon restaurant along the way for his meal ‘out’, located a google-listed grocery store for picking up his dinner menu selection at the end of the day, and made a reservation at the only motel along our route in effort to honor his day. Things went fine through his birthday brunch. The weather was mild, pushing 70 degrees with a mild headwind, and nothing significant in terms of terrain. Despite those mercies, both full-bellied boys checked out and decided they really were not motivated to pedal that day, leaving me increasingly impatient and fatigued trying to haul our 500-lb rig solo for the remaining distance. We finally arrived at the ‘grocery store’ only to find it nominally better than a convenience store. Tango and I pieced together his birthday dinner and dessert, with me acquiescing out of guilt by purchasing ice cream to accompany his Hostess cupcakes (it was that or Little Debbie oatmeal crème pies—the cupcakes seemed more appropriate for donning candles) in expectation of the motel’s listed mini-fridge and presumed tinier freezer. (Aside: Any time I assume they will not include a freezer they do, and when I bank on a freezer, of course it is lacking. This pattern continued this day.) We showed up in a somewhat sketchy part of town, to the only motel in the area, to wait a while for an employee to show up and let us in to our room, to find it clean but lacking in a variety of functions. A broken light bulb hanging precariously from the light fixture, the television did not work, and the bathroom door did not close, among other things. Old Man and I were spent, and my disinclined stokers were bouncing off the walls in excess energy. Not a good a combination. After I finally got dinner made, I served our low-brow birthday dessert, to find the ice cream completely liquified. No spoons necessary—the kids drank it in the name of not wasting it. Another birthday ‘win’. Only presents remained, to find that one of the few gifts Tango had on deck was mistakenly sent ahead to Florida. His siblings successfully salvaged his day with origami crafts they made for him and a handkerchief that has an amazing capacity to serve a variety of roles for someone with an imagination. What a dud of a day when comparing it to Sissy and Otter’s earlier in the tour. However, in typical Tango fashion, he harbored no hard feelings for his compromised celebration.
We did better for Jesus’ birthday, although our Christmas Eve journey was a bit harrowing. The temperature dropped twenty degrees the day after Tango’s birthday and rain entered the equation. We hoped that our recent stint in Montana would thicken our blood, but there is truth to the notion that dry cold does not cut as deeply, as numerically higher temperatures out here feel so much colder than Montana. The worst part of the day was crossing the three-mile bridge to Kitty Hawk, NC that was reduced to two-lane construction traffic. The wind was kicking, the cars were blowing by us, and the rain was pelting our faces. As I loosened my white-knuckled grip on the handlebars at the bridge’s conclusion, I told Old Man I might need a padded room, as long at it was climate-controlled. We made it to the grocery store and our AirBNB and relished finally being warm and dry. The clouds parted on Christmas Day, literally and figuratively, and the kids beamed with pride about finally getting to give their homemade gifts to each other. Happily, they expressed nothing but delight for their reduced Christmas morning bounty.
I came down with a pretty intense head cold that day, that is now making its way through the family, but we were still able to improvise a respectable Christmas feast and recognize the blessings of our comfortable accommodation. We extended our AirBNB stay a night to give me time to recover before tackling another long day. Instead of departing as originally planned, we got all of our ducks in a row with errands and checked out the Wright Brothers National Memorial so the next day’s long ride would be more easily achieved without distraction.
That evening, as we began packing for the next morning’s departure, the weather forecast suddenly changed to rain in the morning. At first the rain was supposed to end by lunch time, then it extended to mid-afternoon. We checked again when we awoke, hoping the forecast would have changed to our favor, to find it the same. Its abrupt arrival in the forecast, gave us hope it would evaporate just as quickly and unexpectedly, or at a minimum not be too severe. Much like the motel fridge-freezer situation, it was the wrong assumption. Half-way into our 40-mile day we had to pull over. The Littles were crying from cold. The relentless, drenching rain in high-30 degrees temperatures had saturated our rain gear and was now chilling all of us. We pulled over at a vacant vacation property carport to take shelter from the blowing rain. (another aside: The east seems to lack the public land we grew accustomed to in the West. Few, if any, city parks or picnicking areas exist, so it was just mile after mile of vacation properties. Not even a gas station anywhere nearby.) We quickly realized we would not be able to complete our remaining 22 miles. We debated going back to the nearest hotel, but that was eleven miles behind us into the wind. There was no way we could have achieved that in our chilled-states. The cold eclipsed any sense of modesty we possessed, and we stripped down in our commandeered carport to put on our long johns and change out our socks as we tried to figure out a solution. We ultimately decided to rent one of the vacation properties in the area of our stranding. All the management companies we called required a three-day minimum, and with the mercury dropping further, we ponied up the premium off-season expense in effort to restore morale and give Mother Nature time to put the season’s weather back in order.
As the wind howled outside last night against our stilted lodging, we were grateful to be inside a sheltered structure. Today, the daytime high never exceeded freezing and Otter and I trekked six miles against the biting wind to get groceries, confirming that our decision to ground our operation was in everyone’s best interest. The New Year begins next week and will hopefully begin with this Arctic blast’s prompt retreat. Additionally, a new year will give Tango another chance to properly celebrate his birthday, God willing. We are closing out this year looking scrappy with our worn gear and clothes, but we are resilient, gritty, and eager to see what 2018 brings.
What do you miss most from our residential life?
Old Man: Having a guaranteed respite from rain.
Me: Cooking indoors, sheltered from the wind and cold.
Sissy: I miss my friends.
Otter: Having pets.
Tango: I miss having heat and having space for playing with Legos.
Lil’ Mo: My dolls.
What do you like most about the bike tour?
Old Man: The constant adventure and seeing new things.
Me: All the people we meet along the way and the constantly changing scenery.
Sissy: Getting to make new friends.
Otter: Whittling, seeing wildlife, fishing, building fires, finding rocks I can spark, exploring, and meeting Warm Showers hosts.
Tango: Using my new multi-tool and helping people with chores at their houses.
Lil’ Mo: I like seeing all of the butterflies and flowers.
What are you looking forward to next on the bike tour?
Old Man: Getting farther away from winter.
Me: Warmer weather.
Sissy: Beaches and a dolphin cruise.
Otter: Catching fish, getting better at whittling, and meeting more people.
Tango: Beaches and warmer weather.
Lil’ Mo: Another Warm Showers host.