Day 4 – Henderson to Rocky Mount – 73 miles (280 total)
This was “hump day”, which is never quite as exciting as the name would imply, however it did provide the most down hill riding of any day of the trip, beginning at 454ft above sea level in Henderson and ending at just 89 feet in Rocky Mount 73 miles later. Mostly downhill riding was exactly what the doctor ordered for day four as we were beginning to feel the effects of the ride – sore leg muscles and fannies the approximate color and texture of well tenderized porterhouses (how’s that for a visual?). This was the last day of anything really resembling rolling hills – from here on out it would be flat and windy until we finished in Corolla – so we enjoyed the scenery, the continued outstanding weather and the mostly down hill riding.
Upon arriving in Rocky Mount, we rolled into their Municipal baseball facility where we camped for the night. We were determined to explore the downtown for dinner and ventured out in Fran’s car around 5:30 or so. I can tell you that Rocky Mount has seen better days. The downtown was nearly abandoned – both void of foot and vehicular traffic – and apparently, from the number of vacant, crumbling buildings, suffering acutely from what appears to be a decades-long economic decline. There was a street-scaping project in progress on Main Street – a testament to the optimism of city leaders (“Build it and they will come” must be their mantra), but from what we saw, it’s going to take more than optimism and Federal grants for city beautification. “Rocky” seemed, indeed, to be a most apt description of this city’s fortunes. We ate at a locally owned restaurant – Madison’s Seafood. I ordered a crab bisque which came out cold. Melissa ordered a soup, which never came. The service was slow and when the waitress did meander by our table, she seemed distracted. When the check came, predictably, it was wrong. We noticed several other customers complaining about the slow service as well. At one point I thought a customer (who had the look and temper of Ike Turner) was going to come to blows with the manager. It was a strange dining experience and seemed to encapsulate the troublesome times of Rocky Mount itself.
We returned to camp at the baseball facility and hit the sack by 9pm or so. (In all fairness to the City of Rocky Mount, the baseball facility is wonderful – lovingly maintained fields, squeaky clean, an obvious source of civic pride – this facility is likely the envy of many cities of greater population and economic prosperity).
Hump day concluded, tomorrow we would roll on to Plymouth.
Day 5 – Rocky Mount to Plymouth – 76 miles (356 total)
Fran had been looking forward to this day all week. After we headed out in the morning, he drove down to Raleigh to pick up Melissa’s Mom, Nita, who would join us for the remainder of the week. It worked out perfectly that this also happened to be the warmest day of the entire ride, so we were able to go without our warm cycling clothes in the morning – the only morning that we wouldn’t have been able to meet up with Fran at rest stop one to jettison jackets, full gloves, etc. Our luck with the beautiful weather continued. We continued to lose elevation on day five – going from 87 miles above sea level to 19 in Plymouth. There was a price to pay for all of these warm temperatures and flat roads though… wind.
This was likely the hardest day of the entire week. Melissa and I agreed about it. Every rider I spoke with agreed as well. There was a nearly non-stop headwind of 12 to 15 mph with higher gusts. Long, monotonous, flat stretches of two lane that roads that felt like wind tunnels and had all of us thinking wistfully back to the relative windless hill country back west. Everyone seemed to agree that hills were preferable to windy and flat. But in the end, it was still a day of cycling with my wife – we were outdoors, we were on vacation, we were closer with each pedal stroke to finishing this ride. It was hard to justify too much in the way of complaints.
We rolled into the diminutive yet historic river town of Plymouth around 4:30. After a visit to the shower truck, had dinner at camp (baked potatoes and chili) and caught up with Fran and Nita. We were both completely whipped from five days of riding and the constant wind that day – we were probably asleep by 8:30. Two days to go…