The New Year has begun and it is still cold. Bitterly cold. Weather terms like bombogenesis, bomb cyclone, or a properly named winter storm get our attention. In recognition to the severity of the weather descending upon us, we shortened our daily travel distances, took more days off, and continued the trend of staying indoors that began upon our return to the tour. Doing so does not fall within our limited daily lodging budget, but in breaking our budget we have shared an invaluable lesson to the kids about the necessity of always having a rainy-day fund, or in our case, bone-chilling temperatures and icy road fund. Morale has become a bit brittle in the cold, as we never anticipated facing this kind of weather for this long. Seemingly, no one else in North Carolina did either.
One of our shorter travel days involved two ferry rides that ended our time on the Outer Banks. The ferries were welcome sources of heated respite surrounding fourteen miles of pedaling in icy temperatures and a strong cross-wind. One of the ferry operators even sought confirmation from us that we understood it was fourteen miles to the next ferry on the other side of the mostly uninhabited island. Yes, we knew. While I can imagine his thoughts following that exchange, he diplomatically refrained from voicing them.
Even with our consistent overnight sheltering, we struggled with water for a spell, both indoor plumbing and outdoor precipitation. One motel’s water pump power tripped in the middle of Sissy’s shower (replete with shampoo in her hair!). At an AirBNB the next night we discovered shortly after our arrival that their pipes were frozen and had already burst. While inconvenient, we were thankful to camp indoors out of the frigid overnight temperatures and blustery wind. The lack of water at the AirBNB forced us to move on the next day when Winter Storm Grayson was scheduled to hit.
We minded the hourly weather forecast closely and structured our 30-mile journey ahead of the storm’s arrival. North Carolinians were clearly out of sorts with this weather. Traffic was intense in the small towns as people stocked up on provisions and picked up their kids early from school. Yet, a few kind strangers took the time to notice us amid this chaos and express concern. One person pulled over to confirm we had a warm place to be that night, presumably to offer some sort of accommodation had we not. Another person pulled over to advise us on a better route through town and to make sure we were adequately stocked with water and food. We successfully made it to our (operationally plumbed!) hotel about half an hour before the cold, blowing rain began.
We hoped the storm was over-hyped and that we would still be able to leave the following day and continue our progress south, but the blanket of snow in an area without snow removal equipment made plain our need to hunker down for another day. In effort to manage kid energy, we walked to the grocery store as a family. As we walked back, all of us carrying a varying number of bags, another kind stranger pulled over and offered to drive us to our destination. Adolescent Sissy, who in all other circumstances loves the attention we receive on our bikes, was embarrassed, assuming we were perceived as homeless (which we technically are) and in need of charity. We declined as we were not that far from the hotel, but were touched by the kindness nonetheless.
While on our walk we got a wider view of road conditions and decided to head out the next day after lunch, when the sun would be at its highest to melt any lingering ice from the overnight lows. Pride and impatience contributed to our decision as well. We have been charged a cancellation fee for not being able to honor a reservation due to weather obstacles and since we are already exceeding our budget, cancellation fees add salt to the wound. We have already rescheduled several rendezvous dates because of our continued weather delays, and even though we have been upfront about our circumstantial scheduling challenges from the very beginning, I cringe at the possibility of being labeled as flaky or unreliable now that those challenges are coming to fruition. We also have a sense of urgency to get further south as quickly as possible to reduce, or eradicate the risk altogether, of getting caught in this type of severe weather again. We are tired of being in winter where winter is not supposed to be.
The road condition assessment was indeed accurate for the stretch of that highway we rode. It was wet, but no remaining snow or ice on it. However, once we turned off it onto a slightly smaller highway conditions quickly deteriorated. This highway was not as commercially developed, so there were trees closer to the highway that shaded parts of it and preserved the packed snow and ice. A few miles into our day we realized we had made a grave mistake by setting out, but the eastbound roads were exponentially worse in their all-day winter shade, so we had no recourse but to continue. Throughout our ride, I prayed continually for God to protect us and to protect those around us, that we would come out unharmed and our erroneous presence would not cause harm to any drivers. We ultimately made it to that night’s AirBNB unscathed, but as a reminder to not make light of our folly and to remember that our safe arrival was afforded by divine grace, and not by our own brawn or brains, Team Eleanor crashed on a sheet of ice (that was wrongly thought to be slush) about 100 feet from our destination.
Our current AirBNB host has been incredibly patient and accommodating to us. We were supposed to arrive here on New Year’s Eve and ended up rescheduling our arrival twice without penalty. Learning from our misguided ride to get here, we extended our stay an extra night to delay our return to the road until the thaw begins on Monday. In the meantime, all this down time indoors has enabled us to belatedly celebrate New Years with running water and an oven, and get ahead of schedule with homeschooling. Idle children cooped up indoors is a recipe for discontent. No one wants to play outside having had enough of the cold, so thankfully a weather-displaced lizard was found indoors this morning and is contentedly occupying the kids. The kids are pretty sure they are saving Lizzie’s life, but I question whether or not a painless death in the cold would be more humane than the excessive ‘loving’ attention being paid to her indoors (building homes for her complete with paper airplanes and matchbox cars for recreation, scavenged bugs and spiders supplied for her food, repeated water freshenings, and AMPLE less-than-gentle handling).
Tonight’s low temperature is expected to break records. We continue to hear car tires spinning aggressively on the days-old ice sheet next to this house. We are grateful to be safely indoors, warm and dry, with full bellies and each other.