There are deadlines. Then there are deadlines. I put ferry schedules in the latter category. Miss the 5 p.m. Swan Quarter to Ocracoke ferry, a 2.5-hour ride across the Pamlico Sound to North Carolina’s barrier islands, and you’re stranded overnight in a town that is 25 miles from nowhere, with no restaurants, no stoplight, one convenience store and a courthouse. I think there’s a hotel another 10 miles up the road. Never seen it but it shows up on Google maps.
I looked up my old times doing Blackbeard. It usually took me 12 to 12.5 hours to cover the 177 mile route when riding solo. I planned accordingly, striking out at 4 a.m. to catch the 5 p.m. ferry. I figured I’d have a few minutes to shower off with the hose behind the ferry office, change into street clothes.
I sauntered through the first third of the course at a leisurely pace, stopping to take a few pictures, put on sunscreen, put away the night riding gear.
All was good, until I hit a major detour just before Belhaven. Along our coastal areas, the bridges get pretty beat up by the weather and the salt. It’s not unusual to find bridges being replaced in the summer months. But this one necessitated a 10-mile detour. I was already shaving the time pretty close. This could prove to be my undoing.
The last two hours were not pretty. I ran out of water, and ran into a headwind. Not fierce, but enough to drop my top speed down to about 16, working hard. I badly needed a drink of anything and stopped when I saw a drink machine at a closed roadside store. The machine took 85 cents. I had 80. I rolled on, passing a mileage sign – 17 miles to Swan Quarter – and did some quick calculating. If I could keep my speed at 16.5, I’d make it into town with 2 minutes to spare. When I got into Swan Quarter, it was 4:55. I still had a mile or so to the ferry. Three or four locals were standing at the stop sign. They laughed as I stopped, checked, made the turn. “You better hurry.” They knew what was up.
When I made the final turn into the ferry, the boat was still at the dock, and a worker was standing outside the ticket window. The time: 4:59. “You just made it,” he said, taking my $3. “They’re waiting on you.”