A bike tour that turned out a little different than expected.

Photos by myself and Matt Bozek.

After our very successful tour from Montreal to Boston in 2015, my friend Matt and I spent a lot of time trying to come up with a good plan for another week long tour. Since this year our window of availability came in May, our options were a little bit limited because we wanted to avoid going somewhere that would be too cold. After looking at a lot of different options, we decided on a plan to start in Kitty Hawk and bike along the Outer Banks, eventually connecting to the mainland via ferry and continuing on to Charleston, South Carolina.

Like all of my tours I spent a lot of time planning out the routes we would take and the stops we would make along the way. As the tour got closer we booked reservations at campsites and made GPS routes to avoid the busier roads and keep our mileage from getting out of hand each day. This kind of planning is very helpful for making the days less stressful, until something comes out of left field and throws a wrench in the whole thing. This was a case where something came alone.

Packing and getting there

As usual I spend a lot of time planning out exactly what I would bring on the tour, trying to minimize weight while having all the gear I would need to make camping and riding fun.

The trip began by flying from Chicago to Raleigh, where we would meet up with my family who live out there to hitch a ride out to the Outer Banks.

Like the Montreal Trip, I used a plastic bag to transport my bike on the flight. This time I didn’t have a CTC Bike Bag – I actually used a plastic mattress bag from a mattress store in my neighborhood. In the future I’ll probably stick with boxes, as they’re more reliable and there’s less risk of damage.

After landing in Raleigh, my brother picked us up and let us use his garage to put our bikes back together and get situated.

The following day we my dad and brother drove out with us to Kitty Hawk, where we stayed the night at an AirBnB.

Before heading out for our first day of cycling, we took a stop at the Wright Brothers’ monument.

Ride Day 1 – Just South of Kitty Hawk to Ocracoke Island, NC

The first day of riding went great. My brother and dad dropped us off at Pea Island, just south of the Bonner Bridge. This was a great idea because the bridge would not have been pleasant to bike, considering the amount of traffic and lack of a shoulder.

Riding highway 12 was not bad – while the shoulder wasn’t huge, there wasn’t a lot of traffic so the riding was a lot of fun. Towards the end of the ride we took a ferry from Hatteras to Ocracoke Island, where we’d be camping for the night.

Ocracoke Island had almost no traffic, so the riding there was great.

The campground was nice, though the mosquito were coming out in force once it got dark so we got in our tents pretty early.

Ride Day 2 – Ocracoke to Morehead City, NC

The second day of riding was where it became clear that we had to rethink our plan for the trip. While the day started off very well with a ferry ride from Ocracoke to Cedar Island, there was clearly a storm on the way and it was bringing with it the cyclist’s worst enemy: headwinds.

Camp breakfast of champions

Leaving Ocracoke Island

After landing on Cedar Island, it became immediately obvious that we had some tough riding ahead. The island was flat and the wind was coming directly from the south at at least 20 miles per hour. It felt like riding into a steep incline for miles and miles. We originally planned to bike 60 miles that day, but after an hour and a half of riding in the wind and barely making it 12 miles, we decided to rethink things.

Matt added the American Flag to the back of his bike in the hopes that it would motivate patriotic drivers to give us a little extra space when passing.

Windy or not, at least it was pretty.

After about 30 miles of dealing with the brutal headwinds, we decided to abandon our plans to make it to a campsite outside Wilmington and luckily found a closer one just a few miles down the road.

The Storm Hits

The following morning it was very clear that there was no biking through this storm. Even if we toughed out the rain, the prospect of riding into headwinds for the remaining 300 miles of the trip did not sound appealing at all. So we came up with a new plan: Savannah.

The new plan was pretty simple: rent a van, drive south and then ride north to Charleston with the wind at our backs. We’d spend one night in Wilmington and then one night in Savannah waiting out the storm before hitting the road again.

The storm hit hard right around when the taxi driver showed up to take us to the Enterprise
Luckily we had a nice break in the rain while we packed up the rental van.

After a little bit of driving we made it down to Wilmington and booked a night in a local hostel.

Driving Wilmington to Savanna, GA

After spending the night in Wilmington we loaded the van back up and hit the road to Savannah. We went right through the worst of the storm on the drive, which made me very glad we weren’t on bikes at the time.

The hostel we stayed at in Savannah
Savannah is full of gorgeous live oak trees, draped in Spanish moss.

After spending the evening exploring Savannah and having a few drinks we came back to the hostel to discover a major roach infestation. It was too late to go anywhere else so we put all of our stuff in trash bags and tried to forget about it.

Ride Day 3 – Savanna to Beaufort, SC

Getting out of Savannah involved riding through some pretty industrial areas, but we were able to find enough roads with sidewalks and shoulders that it wasn’t so bad. The storm had completely passed by then so it was beautiful out and made for some nice riding. We ended the day at a campsite just outside of Beaufort, which was a very charming small town on the coast.

Feuling up with some of the best biscuits and gravy I’ve ever had at a brunch place in Savannah
Bikes loaded back up and ready to hit the road

About 40 miles in I started hearing something strange coming from my tire. Turned out to be a thick nail that had somehow gotten lodged in there. The amazing part was that it somehow didn’t manage to puncture my tube. I pulled it out with some pliers and we were back on the road.

Ride Day 4 – Beaufort to just outside of Charleston, SC

I won’t lie – this day kind of sucked. The previous day had involved riding a lot of miles along the side of a two lane highway, but there had almost always been a comfortable shoulder to stay out of the way of traffic. That was the case for most of this 70 mile ride, but around the 50 mile marker we go to a stretch of the highway which had no shoulder at all. The traffic was moving so fast that it didn’t feel safe to ride on the road, so we ended riding a mile or so through the tall grass off the side. It was not fun at all, but luckily we were able to find a side-road eventually which was a lot safer and didn’t take us out of the way.

This was not a route I would want to ride again, and I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone thinking about a tour through South Carolina. Sadly there just aren’t a lot of other options without going far out of the way though.

The campsite outside of Beaufort was very nice

There were ruins of an old church from the 18th century near our campsite. The cement was made of oyster shells.

My handlebar setup
Most of the day involved riding on the side of the highway and hoping drivers stayed in their lanes.


Last Stretch of Riding and Arriving in Charleston

Since we were so close to Charleston now, this was an easy day. The best part was that we didn’t have to spend much time on the highway, as there was a trail that covered most of the route.

This gravel trail felt like heaven after the previous day’s stressful highway riding.

While the route ended up being very different from our original plans, in the end we still made it to Charleston.

Celebrating a completed tour with some amazing seafood pasta

Packing Up and Flying Home

After spending two days in Charleston, I was ready to get home. We found a local bike shop that was kind enough to give us some bike boxes and got packed up and ready to go.

Back home in Chicago, bikes intact!

In the end, while the tour turned out to be very different from what we planned originally, it was still a great experience. That being said, while we did have a lot of fun and saw some great sights, I’m not sure if I would recommend the routes we took on this tour to other cyclists. Maybe if we had gone further out of the way to find some less heavily trafficked roads it would have made for more pleasant riding, so that’s something I’ll definitely keep in mind for future tours.

The end.