By Caroline Atkins

I received such warm responses from those that read my 600k report last year, that I decided to ride it again so I could write another account. NCBC Brevet Series 600k (375 miles). Morrisville, NC (Raleigh) to Wilmington and back. June 3-4, 2006.

6 a.m. and we were off, full of anticipation and curiosity about the day(s) to come. The most recent weather forecast that I caught in my motel room at approximately 4:30 a.m. consisted of a grinning weatherman reporting, "If you're headed to the coast, today will be a wash-out." Sweet. Indeed, the rain did begin, in my vague memory, within the first 10- 15 miles and revisited us throughout the day, with some nice dry periods in between.

Within the first 5 miles a VERY strong recumbent rider from Ohio established himself at the top of the pecking order, sailing off the front in impressive fashion. 4-5 of us settled in next and worked together in various combinations, essentially for the remainder of the ride, with some taking solo stints for periods of time.

We were making nice progress, somewhere in the vicinity of miles 50- 60, when we saw ROAD CLOSED-BARRICADE AHEAD signs. Check the cue sheet. No turns scheduled in the near future. Hmm. . . surely we'll be able to get through on bicycles. Nope. The road had a gaping chasm in the middle of it, thanks to some diligent workers installing a culvert. The workers were very friendly, and pointed to some planks/walkboards down at the bottom of the chasm. Cleat covers on, bicycle on shoulder, scale down a muddy/sandy bank, walk the 2 planks, up the other muddy bank. Cleat covers off (along with handfuls of mud), a hasty attempt at cleaning off my tires, and I took off after Glen and Wes, who were apparently in a hurry to get out of there. And people ask me why I don't mountain bike. Gee-now I see what I'm missing. :o)

Arrived at the convenience store checkpoint in White Lake (mile 111) and pondered the Saturday projects of non-cyclists (some would refer to them as "normal people"): buying ice and other supplies for barbecues, bait for fishing, gas for the lawnmower, etc. And why is it we can't be satisfied with such activities? Good question to think about for the next 265 miles.

Between White Lake and Wilmington (the turnaround) we experienced substantial heat and wind (maybe some rain, also?). I do recall a beautiful river crossing, and it was cool to ride far enough to encounter palm trees!

I enjoyed a much-anticipated sandwich from Subway at Wilmington. The organizer rents a motel room, and our drop-bags were there. I took a quick shower and changed into dry clothes and shoes just in time to witness the most torrential downpour (and lightning) of the day! Thankfully, the guys I was riding with were not eager to leave in the middle of that mayhem. I was still scrambling around trying to get things situated: light on my helmet, reflective gear on, clear lenses in my glasses, change the cue sheet-hope they'll wait for me! Mercifully, they did.

So. . . the dry clothes didn't stay dry long. Even though the downpour had eased, there was still a light rain and a lot of healthy spray from the pavement beneath us. I always appreciate having folks to ride with on these rides, but now is when I became VERY thankful for my riding buddies! We inevitably experience low points on rides of this distance, and mine occurred somewhere after the White Lake checkpoint. The shoulder of a dark road looked very comfortable to me during this period. I would not have made it without the quiet encouragement and patience of these guys—Glenn, Tony, and John.

There WERE magical moments in the night riding. The sounds of the frogs and night birds were incredible! Adding to the challenge was a blanket of thick fog (no windshield wipers on my glasses), coupled with brand-new pavement (blacktop) WITHOUT markings (no white lines to define the edge of the road, no yellow line down the middle)! THAT was an adventure! Thankfully, we all had good lighting systems, and the curves in the road were marked.

The 4 of us arrived at another 24-hour store approximately 50 miles past White Lake. We bought some sustenance and sat down at the booths. Within minutes, we all fell asleep. A huge THANK YOU to that store clerk for letting us sleep! He certainly would have been warranted in shooing us away for loitering. In a semi-conscious state, I became aware of the arrival of a customer in the store. This person had an extremely raspy voice, and exclaimed, "Boy! Them bikers is tired! Them bikers is dead meat!" I did not have the energy to open my eyes, nor did I want to encourage any sort of exchange with this individual. I thought it best to remain dead meat.

It was daylight by the time we left that store. A BEAUTIFUL, sunny day. Yippee!! Shortly thereafter, we encountered the closed road again. This time, we skirted it on a farmer's sandy road. Much better.

Approximately 30 miles from the end, Glen, Tony and I stopped at a McDonald's for breakfast. John pedaled on. I proceeded to march into the restaurant, place my order, and sit down and eat my breakfast, all while wearing my helmet. I turned to Glenn and scolded him for not advising me of this status. He just grinned and said, "at least your light isn't blinking." In hindsight, it probably was an added safety benefit—it was not out of the question that I could negotiate the restaurant without falling down at that point.

Glen and Tony nursed me back to Morrisville, where the sight of Alan's house was a welcome relief! I vow to become stronger so that I can help these guys on our next ride together. And regarding that earlier question to ponder for 265 miles... . not sure that I have a clear answer, but I do know that riding a bike is still a blast, and I never cease to be intrigued by what our bodies are capable of, with the help of our minds and terrific friends!