Archive for the ‘Bicycling’ Category

Bald Head Island, NC, revisited

September 27, 2012

We returned to lovely and car-free Bald Head Island, NC, last weekend, partly to check out the new Barrier Island Study Center and also for my final stop (at the Bald Head Island Club) as a judge in the NC Best Dish contest (more on that in another post).

Afterglow of sunset over Southport, NC

The 20-minute ferry ride from Southport started things off on a high note – we had a glowing pink and orange sunset and even saw a pair of cavorting dolphins. We stayed at a lovely house near the ocean, which was quite the treat. We could hear the waves as long as the neighbors’ air conditioning units weren’t humming. (We thought AC was totally unnecessary!) BHI is a somewhat odd mix — an upscale “gated community” feel with a true conservation mission, and a blend of high-income homeowners and the hoi polloi, like us.

Front view of Barrier Island Study Center

The Barrier Island center is a new addition to the Bald Head Island Conservancy, whose mission is to “foster barrier island conservation, education, and preservation to live in harmony with nature.” The Conservancy has long been associated with its protection of sea turtles, which nest in the dunes. (This year’s tally: 70 nests and 63 hatchings — so far!)

I should add here a bit about Bald Head Island, which along with Middle and Bluff islands, makes up the Smith Island complex, which includes 10 miles of beach and dunes, 10,000 acres of salt marsh, and 4,000 acres of barrier island upland and maritime forests. And let me also define barrier island: A relatively narrow strip of sand parallel to the mainland coast that creates a barrier system. I’ll let you in on a secret: the “island“ is really Bald Head Island Peninsula, since Hurricane Floyd (1999) filled an inlet with sand, but let’s not tell anyone.

Tom Hancock, director of conservation at the Bald Head Island Conservancy

The Conservancy runs many nature and education programs, but has long been known as a  “turtles and t-shirts,” spot, said Tom Hancock, director of conservation, during a tour he gave us. Now, because of the study center, it is poised to become a nexus of barrier-island research in a major way, including offering university students semesters “abroad.” Findings here will benefit all barrier- island communities. The energy-efficient building is gorgeous, especially because of the light filtered throughout both floors and the stairs, floors, and doorways made of reclaimed pine salvaged from the Cape Fear River. The study center’s lobby is now the main visitor information stop for the Conservancy, so do check out the building and the Conservancy’s activities. Amazingly, the center was funded solely from grants and private donations, many from residents.

Diane kayaks under blue skies along a tributary of Bald Head Creek

Afterward, we rode on the beach cruisers that came with our condo (thank you!) to Riverside Adventure Co., where we hopped into kayaks and tooled along Bald Head Creek, taking narrower and narrower tributaries, flanked by reeds. Beautiful and peaceful! From a distance, we heard the wedding march from Village Chapel next to Old Baldy, the state’s oldest-standing lighthouse (from 1817), which gleamed in the late afternoon sun. What a day!

Lina enjoys a tailwind on the ride back from Bald Head Island State Natural Area

On Sunday, following a tip from Dr. Tom, we directed the cruisers into a wicked headwind along the packed-down beach toward Fort Fisher State Recreation Area until, at Lina’s urging, we reached Bald Head Island State Natural Area, an area so remote you feel shipwrecked — that is until you see the official marker. An awesome tailwind took us back to civilization quickly, a good thing because the tide was coming in.

We capped the outing by cycling along one of our favorite spots — Cape Creek Road, a dirt road along Middle Island that feels like a step back in time and conjures images of early settlers who once called this land home. I wonder what it will all look like 100 years from now!

Tackling Moab’s twists and turns on two wheels

May 19, 2012

My story on mountain biking (with trepidation!) in and around Moab ran in the Boston Globe travel section on May 13.

Diane rides her mountain bike on the family-friendly Bar M trail

MOAB, Utah — “Do you know the trails here?” a woman called out from a station wagon with Colorado plates and three bikes strapped to its rear. She motioned to the start of the Moab Brand Trails, a series of mountain bike loops a few miles north of town. A man sat behind the steering wheel and a young girl slumped in the back seat.

“Just the loop we’re going on — the Bar M,” I said.

“It looks kind of . . . ,” and then she whistled a cheery melody as if to say cycling here would be a walk in the park.

“Yep, it’s supposed to be pretty soft core,” I said reassuringly. “That’s why we’re doing it.”

“Oh, OK, I guess we’ll go elsewhere,” she said, rolling up her window.

Here in this internationally known road-bike region, it’s all relative. One person’s tame is my death defying.

Mountain bikers conquer the roller-coaster Slickrock Bike Trail

The truth is, mountain biking scares the bejeebers out of me. I’m a pavement-preferring cyclist. I rode here before, in 1995, and even nervously pedaled a short slab of the expert roller-coaster Slickrock Bike Trail — 12 miles of two-wheeled torture that ignited the mountain-biking craze in Moab in the mid-’80s.

But if anything can coax a “roadie” back on fat tires, it’s the scenery in southeastern Utah, where reddish-hued rocks gleam against brilliant blue skies and fantastical palaces of sculpted sandstone appear to have been deposited by Martians. On a mountain bike, you can be a part of the landscape instead of an observer.

I was more interested in placating my fears than conquering them, so I studied up on the “easiest” trails by searching online and asking bike shops about “family friendly” rides, not mentioning that I, a fit and family-free 54-year-old, was the timid one.

The good news is that in the past four years, Grand County has more than doubled the number of its mapped and marked dedicated bike trails of all levels, from 43 miles in 2008 to 95 miles today, with 30 more on tap next year, said Marian DeLay, executive director of the Moab Area Travel Council.

Another big change, which I would have told the adventurous Coloradan had I known, has been the formation of multilevel trail systems, of which “the Brands” is a perfect example. There, hairier routes loop off a gentler main path, in this case Bar M.

“Look, we’re even on a plateau,” said my wife, Lina, a more-confident rider, as we headed out, the shocks of our Giant Trance X1 XC Full Suspension rentals absorbing every bump. “It’s as flat as a pancake,” she added in a tone hinting at disappointment.

“Excellent!” I shouted, relaxed until we rounded the first corner. The path narrowed, dropped, then rose quickly, with scattered rocks along the way. Already, the young girl in the family ahead of us had gotten off her bike to climb the hill. I made it up one crumbly incline, then lost my nerve on the next and dismounted. Lina, ahead of me, became smaller and smaller.

Lina and Diane at the Delicate Arch in Arches National Park

In the end, I rode about 80 percent of the trail. I grew especially fond of the pocked and crevassed “slickrock” sandstone, which when dry, as it was on this April day, provided a cement-like grip. Walking wasn’t so bad either, as it gave me a chance to admire the view — unending rock, scrubby evergreens, flaming red paintbrush blossoms, and even the jagged outline of Arches National Park in the distance.

“I’m just going to take the little Circle O loop and catch up with you where the trails intersect,” said Lina, eager for more action. After I waited 45 minutes for her at our appointed meeting spot, she arrived breathless.

“OK, now I feel like I’ve really been mountain biking,” she said. “It was all rock, with just a brown line that you follow. It took a lot longer than I thought.”

I had enjoyed the chance to rest and ponder how I would fare on our afternoon outing to the three-year-old Intrepid Trails at Dead Horse Point State Park, another family-friendly destination suggested by Chile Pepper Bike Shop, where we rented our rides.

Diane pushes her bike on the Big Chief Loop in Dead Horse Point State Park

At Dead Horse, 30 miles southwest of Moab, three connecting singletrack loops range from 1 to 9 miles. An online guide had said that “most of the trail can be ridden with a single-gear bike,” but when I asked the ranger, he said, “easy to moderate.” Uh-oh. Nonetheless, I let Lina talk me into the longest option, Big Chief. Thanks to steep pitches, tight turns, and sand, my walking-to-cycling ratio doubled from the morning, which also meant more time to appreciate the overlooks onto the Colorado River and Pyramid Canyon.

Walking on jelly legs after the ride, I chatted with fellow travelers in the parking lot. Sabrina Gosselin-Epp, 11, and her brother, Liam, 9, from Alberta, Canada, had just finished the 4-mile Great Pyramid loop with their parents and were ready for more.

“I had to walk some, because of the sand and where it was steep, but it was fun,” said Sabrina. “We might come back and do the longer one.”

Fred and Susie O’Connor, recently of Thayne, Wyo., and former longtime New Hampshire residents, had tackled the Pyramid trail on a whim on their suspension-less bikes and frequently needed to hoof it.

“Do you mountain bike often?” I said.

“We didn’t really know we were mountain biking,” laughed Susie, 65. “It’s like skiing. Don’t be afraid to take off your skis and walk.”

Ready for rest, Lina and I took in the famed sunset at Dead Horse Point Overlook, where we witnessed the walls of the east-facing canyon radiate orange and red.

Steep, narrow hairpins of the Shafer Trail lead down to the White Rim Trail

After carbo-loading in town at Moab Brewery, which offers nine brews and a complete dining menu, we plotted our next rides. We would sample the 100-mile White Rim Trail, a technically fairly easy Jeep road, and attempt the 10-mile Klondike Bluffs trail, rated moderate but featuring irresistible dinosaur tracks.

Naturally, both options held surprises. We started at Canyonlands National Park, exploring on foot and by car. We cycled toward White Rim on the Shafer Trail, a passable twisting dirt road with harrowing vertical drops hundreds of feet. I gasped when we reached the Shafer Switchbacks, a series of steep, narrow hairpins leading down to White Rim. “No way,” I declared, and even Lina concurred.

A dinosaur footprint along the Klondike Bluffs Trail

We fared better at Klondike Bluffs, near Arches, though Lina had to urge me on after a series of dismount-worthy rocky and sandy climbs. My rewards here were a dozen Jurassic-period paw prints and a couple of rigorous but thrilling miles of undulating slickrock.

Klondike is one area receiving a wider variety of trails this year, said Sandy Freethey, chairwoman of the county’s Trail Mix committee, which has a small staff and a team of volunteers working to expand the mountain bike network from beginner to advanced.

“Our young hard-core riders from the ’80s now have children and even grandchildren, and we want to give them all some place to ride,” she said. “We have about 10 more new miles coming right now, most easy.”

Whatever “easy” means, I told her, I would be back to check them out.

Special watery worlds in the Netherlands

September 19, 2011

Giethoorn isn't Venice, but it is cute

We were so lucky. We had to change the day we’d designated for cycling in the Netherlands and the weather cooperated. We had only one rainstorm, and the wind, well, the wind is omnipresent, hence the country’s proliferation of windmills. For hill-loving cyclists like us, it compensates for the flat terrain. And, finally, I made it to Giethoorn, which has been on my list for a while. It’s called the “Venice of the Netherlands” (no comparison) and also got a little attention via a viral email hawking pictures from a Dutch town that has no cars.

 Well, yes and no. Only about a mile of Giethoorn is carless and it’s very, very touristy. But it was indeed cute, and has several places to eat, drink and shop, along with rent bikes and boats. (Bikes were an affordable $10.50 a day.) We enjoyed it, but were also happy to head out for less-populated areas.

Kalenberg was favorite stop of the day

Our 30-mile loop first took us along a very rural bike path (paved, of course) with no traffic and then through marshland and finally to Kalenberg, which I’m guessing Giethoorn resembled before the tourists descended. All houses were along a canal (this one was wider and more open) and one side of town was reachable only by boat or walking. The houses were adorable and everything was tidy and attractive. A little drawbridge joined the two sides and a café there overlooked the canal.

17th-century Blokzijl used to be on the sea

From there we headed for Blokzijl, a 17th-century city with a nice harbor on the former Zuiderzee, aka the South Sea (not to be confused with the South Seas). After they created (in 1942) a polder there, i.e. they reclaimed the land, the city became landlocked. Fascinating!

Lovely Lottie is a touring tekkel

On the way there, another highlight – greeting Lottie, a long-haired tekkel (dachshund) in a rear bike basket. My third tekkel of the trip! The wind about did us in, but we made it to town and thought it was lovely. Even lovelier was the tailwind back to Giethoorn, and the little bike ferry of Jonen that took us over a bridge-less canal. The price of $1.50 seemed reasonable at the time, but when I think about it, for a 30-second ride it was pricey.

All these towns are in the region called De Weerribben in the Overijssel Province. It’s a couple hours east of Amsterdam and a heck of a lot less crowded. Something different!

Farms, trees, and bees in Sampson County

April 7, 2011

Matthis Family Tree, the biggest dogwood tree in North Carolina

Dogwoods are blooming all over here in North Carolina. I feel I never get my fill of them — until this year — when we devised a Dogwood Loop Tour by bicycle in very rural Sampson County (east of Fayetteville). Dogwoods, dogwoods everywhere!

What prompted it was something that’s been on my NC list for a few years — visiting the country’s largest dogwood tree. Or so we were told. As it turns out, the tree in the Matthis Family Cemetery on Highway 24 about two miles east of Clinton has been dethroned. But no matter, it was an awesome sight! And we timed it to see it in bloom, its twisting branches popping with white blossoms. Gorgeous!

Dogwood blossom, a sight of spring.

The “Matthis Family Tree” measures 31 feet tall with an average branch spread of 48 feet and a trunk circumference of 114 inches. But it’s no longer listed on the National Register of Big Trees, and I’m guessing that might be because no one sent in new measurements. Apparently one needs to requalify for the tree registry every decade. (OK, folks in Sampson, let’s get back on track!) Now contending for “biggest” are dogwoods in Hampton, Va. and in Williamson, Tenn. Their overall sizes seems to be similar, so I’m thinking that our NC tree has a fighting chance.

The ride itself was interesting. We passed loads of pink and white blossomed dogwoods, swamps filled with sunning turtles, and many large family farms, as well as a lot of unsavory smelling livestock farms, with either pigs, chickens or turkeys. Small, unkempt trailer parks often were situated near the large farms and seemed to all be populated by Hispanic families, which likely means migrant workers. The ugly side of our state’s rich agricultural tradition are the poor farm workers, most of them from Mexico — an important fact to remember when it’s time to donate to nonprofits that assist them.

One of the many bees in a field of yellow flowers. We're guessing rapeseed. What do you think?

We cycled 30 miles, and, this being early spring, we’re pretty out of shape. So by Mile 20 my legs were starting to complain. What perked us both up was when we stopped to catch a buzz — a bee buzz, that is. A field of some kind of yellow flowers (see photo; you tell me) attracted thousands of bees, and when you stood near the field you could hear their steady hum. Their bellies were yellow with pollen, as you can see here, and they were very, very busy. Exciting!

With temps around 70, blooming trees and buzzing bees, it was a good day in rural North Carolina!

A host of hellos from Lombok, Indonesia

September 6, 2010

Farmer carries bamboo sticks (perhaps for irrigation?) through rice field

For all you folks fascinated with Bali after seeing “Eat Pray Love,” do consider visiting its next-door neighbor, the island of Lombok, a short and relatively inexpensive plane ride away. It’s quite different and equally fascinating. Here’s a piece I wrote on Lombok for the Boston Globe in 2005.

By Diane Daniel

“Whatever you do, keep the bathroom door open and don’t look behind it,” my husband warned. “And don’t ask me to explain.”

“Why not?” I said.

“I’ll tell you after we check out. Just trust me,” he said.

He knows my “ick” threshold is low for insects and creatures dead or alive, so I dutifully obliged by steering clear of the mystery behind the door.

Blue-green crater lake on Mount Rinjani as seen from the crater's rim at 8,658 feet

We were staying at Pondok Senaru, in the village of Senaru on Lombok, one of Indonesia’s 13,000 islands, 6,000 of which are inhabited. Senaru is one of two main gateways (Sembulan Lawang being the other) to Mount Rinjani, at 12,224 feet, the second highest mountain in the country. We would climb much of it the next day, and what our lodging lacked inside it made up for outside with stunning views of rice fields, waterfalls, and mountains.

Our large bathroom had other “ick” factors: no sink or warm water, a dirty floor, and large, unidentifiable insects flying around the ceiling.

“I miss the Oberoi,” I whined.

Ah, The Oberoi, Lombok.

Infinity pool at the 5-star Oberoi hotel

Two nights earlier, we had arrived at the island’s most luxurious and remote resort hotel, in Mataram, on the west coast. We had come from Bali, only 20 minutes by air. Lombok, about 50 miles end to end and side to side, with 2.4 million residents, was a welcome change from its more touristy neighbor. The local people, called Sasaks, say the island resembles the Bali of 25 years ago: a relatively quiet land of beaches, mountains, rain forests, and rice fields.

Typically, we are the mid-range-hotel type, three stars out of five, only partly because we’re budget-minded. We don’t appreciate an excess of riches, especially in a developing country still reeling from an economic crisis in 1997, tourism-directed bombings in 2002 and 2005, and devastation left by the December tsunami, which occurred nearly 2,000 miles west of Lombok.

On the other hand, pumping money into the local economy is a good thing.


Locks, stock, and barrels

August 11, 2010

Olivia and her mom, Alice, cross the first aqueduct on the C&O Canal bike trip

We loved the 59 locks we passed last week along the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal because we got to go downhill. Woo-hoo! OK, a 0.1-percent grade isn’t much, but after more than 180 flat miles, it’s cause for celebration.

Six cycling friends, ages 10 to 52, headed up by our fearless leader Alice Charkes of Vermont, spent six days bicycling from Frostburg to Great Falls, Maryland. Al’s daughter, Olivia, rode her own bike for the first time on a bike tour (instead of on a tandem with her mom). What a trooper!

This was a “self-contained” trip, where we carried our own gear and stocked up on groceries daily. We camped for three nights and slept indoors the other three.

The Bloody Cornfield, one of the battlefield sites where Northern and Southern troops clashed on September 17, 1862.

The “barrels”? Our detour to rifle-ridden Antietam National Battlefield, site of the bloodiest Civil War battle, with about 23,000 casualties.

What we feared most beforehand barely occurred: ticks, mosquitoes, poison ivy, and mud. Heat we had, but the bike trails are mostly shaded, a blessed relief from the stinging sun.

Highlights, you ask?

Day 1: We started on the Great Allegheny Passage rail trail and then jumped onto the C&O towpath in Cumberland, which has a great C&O Visitor Center and historic downtown. The towpath goes between canal and Potomac River, so nice views all week.

Day 2: We passed no towns, but did see many turtles sunning on logs in the canal. We had to conquer major hills to reach our crummy little private campground.

Lockhouse 49, one of the three rental lockhouses along the C&O Canal

Day 3: Toured the very air-conditioned visitor center at Fort Frederick State Park and stayed in a lockhouse, a lodging treat! The C&O Canal Trust recently renovated and opened three lockhouses for overnight stays. Only one has plumbing and a/c — not ours (No. 49), so it was a bit like glorified camping, but a very neat renovated building.

Day 4: Fueled up at the friendly Desert Rose Cafe in cute little Williamsport, then spent hours at Antietam, a very interesting stop, despite my aversion to war tourism. Had a night of luxury at the Mary Hill House in sleepy Sharpsburg, so sleepy that the kind owners offered to drive us to Shepherdstown, West Virginia, for a stellar dinner at Blue Moon Cafe. Healthy, tasty food, way-friendly servers, and a cool college town to boot.

Sunset over the Potomac River from the hiker/biker campsite

Day 5: All this time I’d thought Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, was another historic town when it’s actually mostly a National Historic Park that recreates its fascinating past. Don’t miss it. Our Last Supper was a rare treat — Alice’s cousin from Fairfax, Virginia, came with her family and a carload of pizza, salad, and cold beer. Amen! Our most primitive night of camping at the Canal “hiker/biker” campsite included a scenic sunset, cicada orchestra with a special dueling-owl serenade.

Cycling our final miles on the towpath before reaching Great Falls. The trail continues to DC.

Day 6: With Washington DC in range, traffic picked up greatly on our last day. Still, nature abounded, including a busy beaver, patient blue herons, and wading egrets. We had just enough time to view Great Falls before meeting our hired shuttle. Where to next? We’ll let you know. Meanwhile, more C&O pics are here.

Olives, Italy, bicycling … bellissimo!

April 8, 2010

Ciclismo Classico takes riders through the olive harvest process in Italy

I love olives. I love bicycling. I love Italy. I love this bicycle vacation! My cycling acquaintance Lauren Hefferon, a dynamo who runs Ciclismo Classico, has partnered with Colavita USA (“marketers of the #1 brand of Italian extra virgin olive oil“) to create a tour that coincides with Italy’s October olive harvest. Oh that sounds so awesome. The company is based in the Molise region, three hours southeast of Rome.

The sad truth is I won’t be joining them for the standard reasons: time and money. But you should consider it! Here’s info from the press release. As you can see, the tour includes other food fun, history, charming towns (unavoidable in Italy), and, oh yeah, cycling: 

The countryside around Molise

The journey starts with a  ride to the tiny village of Pastena by way of Guasto and Paduli. On day two, early risers can search for Molise’s famed truffles with a local guide before pedaling to Pietrabbondante to explore ancient theater ruins and the Marinelli family’s renowned bell foundry, which has been producing church bells for over a thousand years. 

Next, it’s pasta day! The group will ride to the Colavita pasta factory in Trivento for a tour – complete with samples of freshly made pasta. Yum. From there, it’s on to the medieval city of Campobasso

Olive trees as far as the eye can see

Days four and five are all about olive oil – from harvest to production to tasting. Guests will experience Italy’s “green gold” as the tour makes its way through vast groves of olive trees. On day five, Enrico Colavita, the company’s president, will welcome the group to his family’s stone frantoio (olive crushing mill) where Colavita continues to produce extra virgin olive oil using traditional methods that date back thousands of years. Next, a tasting of the novello oil, freshly-pressed from the new harvest. That is too exciting! 

On the last day of cycling, it’s on to the rolling landscape known as Italy’s “bread basket.” The group will pedal along fields of wheat, sunflowers, and olive trees before arriving at Cantine Cipressi, one of Molise’s most acclaimed wineries in the town of San Felice Del Molise. Departure is from Rome, another place to visit. 

Departure dates are Oct. 8 and 18. Price? $3,700. And, no, it doesn’t include airfare, sillies. But I will tell you that Ciclismo Classico is a first-rate bike touring group. It specializes in but isn’t limited to Italy. In fact, this year the company is leading a Lofoten Island tour in Norway, which Wessel and I did on our own in 2008

Ciclismo Classic owner Lauren Hefferon

A few other words about founder/owner Lauren, who lives near Boston. Every year she and her elves put on the Jingle Ride, where cyclists donning holiday garb ride the streets of Boston. I did it when I lived there and had a blast. But my most memorable image of Lauren is when I passed her one day on the Minuteman Bikeway. I can’t remember if she was cycling or skating, but she was like nine months pregnant. Cracked me up. That’s Lauren. The woman does not stop, and she has worked so, so hard to keep her company going. 

Please, readers, take this trip, write to me about it, and send me some olive oil! 

Cruising for a brews-ing in Amsterdam

September 3, 2009

While Amsterdam has great art, architecture, modern design and so much more, what do people associate the Dutch capital with? Legalized pot smoking and prostitution. This drives Wessel crazy, rightfully so. Also, as he points out to everyone, that’s one part of one big city. Other regions of his homeland are more sedate, even conservative.

Now, after a recent brewhaha, more of the world has seen yet another party-laden side of Amsterdam — beer bikes, or party bikes. These ridiculous things have accident written all over them, yet they do make me laugh.

For the uninitiated, a beer bike (“bierfiets” in Dutch) is a pedal-powered bar holding 10 to 17 people who are served beer while pedaling through the city. Only one (non-drinking) person steers. That still, of course, has not prevented accidents. Last month, three women were injured when the bike tried to zip through a tunnel that was too low. Oops. Other mishaps have occurred, leading to said brewhaha.

Nonetheless, on Monday Amsterdam officials vowed that the (side)show would go on. The city is, after all, the headquarters for Heineken (which, by the way, the Dutch do not think is a premium beer. Because it’s not!)

Comic character Obelix would probably have summarized the situation as: “Rare jongens die Amsterdammers!”

A joy ride, complete with pain

July 23, 2009
See why it's called Blue Ridge?

See why it's called Blue Ridge?

At 74 years old, our beloved Blue Ridge Parkway has its problems. But it is still a glorious 469-mile joy ride along the Appalachian Mountains, from Virginia to North Carolina. Next year, during the 75th-anniversary hoopla, there will be the usual long list of media events and celebrations, but the best way to appreciate the Parkway is in silence from an overlook or during a hike or, for Wessel and me, a bike ride.

Diane races downhill during a ride in 2007

Diane zips downhill during a ride in 2007

Recently, near Waynesville, N.C., we took our 10th ride together on the Parkway, since moving to North Carolina in 2003. (But don’t forget, y’all, that I’m a native, which is why I can say y’all.) 

Though Wessel and I are woefully out of shape, with me sitting on my derriere in the car half the summer while researching “Farm Fresh North Carolina,” we rose to the challenge. And I do mean rose. During only 20 miles of riding, we climbed a total of 2,900 feet!

View on parkway from the Waterrock Knob Overlook

View of Parkway from Waterrock Knob

I’m glad I hadn’t known that ahead of time. The only thing I insisted on, because I did know from our elevation map in “Bicycling the Blue Ridge” that this would be a grueling-up and screaming-down ride, with no in between, was that we would end the ride going down. That’s just a little obsession of mine.

Wessel at the Waterrock Knob Overlook

Wessel at the Waterrock Knob Overlook

It was July Fourth, and the weather was perfect. Surprisingly, the car traffic was very low. As always, the “other” biker traffic was quite high, as the Parkway is a magnet for motorcyclists. Only at the end of our ride did we see other bicyclists. The highest peak we reached was Waterrock Knob Overlook at 5,718 ft (milepost 451.2). We could have walked half a mile to the summit lookout, at 6,400 feet, but we didn’t want to tax our legs even further.

The Parkway is famous for native flame azalea

The flame azalea is native to this region

While air pollution has diminished the views from the lookouts by some 80 percent since the Parkway first opened, they’re still something to behold. The summer haze, as well as the pollution, gives the mountain ranges a dreamy gray/blue wash. Sadly, some of the overlooks have been closed because they’re totally overgrown, one of the many problems brought on by the park’s $250 million maintenance backlog. (Some of that will be erased by the $14 million in federal stimulus money approved for the Parkway this year.)

Wessel and I still have a lot of ground to cover on the Parkway. We’ve ridden 274 miles on it, but that’s always up and back, so we’ve explored only 137 miles on our bikes. Here’s to the next 332!


The lowdown on Lowcountry cycling

July 8, 2009
The Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge connects Charleston with Mount Pleasant

The Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge connects Charleston with Mount Pleasant

We bicycled by a bunch of fancy waterfront homes on Sullivan’s Island a couple weeks ago, and I’m guessing we rode right past the weekend getaway for SC Governor Mark Sanford and his poor/rich wife, Jenny. If houses could talk….

The residential island was one stop on an action-packed ride we took around Charleston. I’d never thought of the area as a cycling spot, but indeed it is.

Before heading out, we stopped off at The Bicycle Shoppe in historic downtown. You can rent bikes here (they also deliver to the various outlying islands), shop for bike stuff, or just get some friendly advice from this family-owned store in business for more than two decades. (We’d brought our own bikes.)

We were pointed to the guidebook Lowcountry Bike Rides, which details rides within an hour’s drive of Charleston. It costs $15 and is produced by the nonprofit Coastal Cyclists, a wonderful and very active advocacy group in the area. I’ve been in several such groups, and putting out a book of bike routes is no easy feat. I’m impressed! (Some of the routes are on their website.)

Diane prepares mentally for crossing the Cooper River bridge

Diane prepares to cross the 2.5-mile bridge over the Cooper River

We started out cycling over the massive 2.5-mile-long cable-stayed Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge, known locally as the Cooper River bridge. We had, in part, the Coastal Cyclists to thank for the awesome separated bike/ped path. When the bridge was being built (it opened in 2005), bike advocates had to fight the many folks who considered the lane a waste of money. Instead, it’s filled with walkers, runners, and bicyclists. At the top you get a great view of the Cooper River and the city, though the way the bridge shakes is a little nerve-wracking.

Fort Moultrie's canons are pointed to the entrance of Charleston Harbor

Fort Moultrie's canons are pointed to the entrance of Charleston Harbor

Wessel missed our turn for the scenic route, and we had an icky traffic-filled ride to Sullivan’s Island.  Once on the wealthy residential island, we visited Fort Moultrie and the Toni Morrison Bench, to commemorate the spot where hundreds of thousands of slaves were first brought from Africa.

Fort Sumter can be seen in a distance from the shores of Mount Pleasant

Fort Sumter can be seen in a distance from the shores of Mount Pleasant

We made sure to take the scenic way back through tree-lined residential Mount Pleasant, which we so enjoyed. It was filled with more million-dollar homes, but most of them historic and understated. The sweetest part was the commercial “Old Village,” which at one point was the center of this now suburban area first settled in the late 1600s.

People enjoy a late-day stroll in Battery Park

People enjoy a late-day stroll in Battery Park in the historic section of Charleston

When we rode back over the bridge it was filled with an after-work crowd, while the roadway traffic was bumper-to-bumper. They shoulda been cycling. We cycled along Battery Park in Charleston, a famous promenade looking over the harbor and passing even grander multi-million-dollar historic homes, and then through residential streets downtown (more gorgeous houses) and finally to our hotel, The Mills House. They were nice enough to let us roll our bikes through the lobby, into the elevator, and into our room. Some hotels are very uptight about bikes. Not this time.

My only word of warning about cycling in historic Charleston is: watch out for the cobblestone streets! You might end up lower in the Lowcountry than you want to be.