Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Choosing Roads

Given a choice, would you spend 60 miles on quiet, two-lane backroads or on this boring, four-lane highway, sharing the asphalt with some truck traffic but also having exclusive use of a wide, smooth shoulder?

Sometimes boring is the way to go.

On yesterday's trip from Wilmington to Raleigh, I opted for four hours of four-lane travel up Highway 421 to Clinton, where I switched over to Highway 701.

Normally, I'm a backroads kinda guy. But not yesterday. Fact is, I came down on the back roads, mainly Bike Route 5, and I'm tired of that route. It's the one we have used for years on our 600K. It has extended sections of rough chip and seal, and then there's a pocketapocketapocketa 19 mile stretch down Highway 53 after you pass through White Lake. It's a toin coss  whether you'll lose your eyeteeth or your sanity. 

The Deaner!
The ride to the beach was for a work convention, and it was a good opportunity to shake out any kinks in new components I've installed on my PBP bike. Those include new wheels, tires, cassette (thanks Bob B!), chainrings and bottom bracket. (All went fine but it appears the left crank arm moved out slightly on the axle. I'm going to reinstall this week.) The highlight of the outward leg was running into Dean near the finish of one of his populaires. Small world!

I did not fully trace our 600K route. In the town of Currie, I turned right onto Blueberry Road, and that put me on to 421 for a 12 mile run into Wilmington. That portion of 421 is actually signed as Bike Route 5, and the shoulder is plenty ample for biking, although shoulder debris and traffic picked up considerably about two miles from Wilmington. Still, I felt comfortable on the way down, so I began contemplating the return trip back up that same road. Why turn off on Blueberry Road again when I could simply chug on up the highway to Clinton, about the halfway point between Wilmington and Raleigh? The return trip would be 130 miles, according to Google Maps, rather than the 165 miles required for the White Lake route. And nearly all the traffic that used to head to the beach on 421 would be on the newer, faster I-40, which runs parallel a few miles to the east.

One of Map app turn-by-turn directions.
I used a Google Map app for the iPhone to generate a cue sheet. However, it really wasn't all that useful, and it doesn't appear to give the turn by turn maps that are available on the resident Maps feature on the iPhone. That acts more like a true GPS, displaying your position as a blinking blue dot and giving you a detailed look at each turn as you advance the directions one by one. There is no biking option on that map, so I used the walking one. The image shows one of those turns.

The route to Clinton was superb, even after the road turned to a two lane about 20 miles out of Wilmington. I still enjoyed a nice wide shoulder and the trucks that passed, cargo trailers from Wilmington's port or livestock transporters, were all courteous. The only drawback on this portion of the route was the heavy smoke in the air from a nearby wildfire. 

Once I got into Clinton, the bypass route I stayed on was joined by Highway 701, the speed limit jumped to 65 and the shoulder had a rumble strip. That meant for about 6 miles I had about 18 inches of pavement to work with, and there was often lots of debris. Finally, 701 split off, but it was a two lane road with a shoulder that carried a lot of end-of-day traffic. After stopping for a soda and ice cream, I used Google Maps to generate a side-road route the rest of the way home.

I found a small barn in Sampson County, just below Newton Grove, to wait out a massive thunderstorm, and that cooled the evening off, making for a pleasurable ride for the last 40 miles. Here's a shot after the storm.

With another big storm approaching, and the rain beginning to fall, I found a grill in Meadow Village for a quick cheeseburger and two Mountain Dews.

Traffic picked up as I came up Cleveland Road, approaching Highway 50. Subdivisions have sprung up out that way that put pressure on what were once empty farm roads. Drivers were courteous with the exception of two carloads of teenagers.

Once I hit 50, it was smooth sailing through Garner and into Raleigh. I've ridden those roads many times, and there is comfort in knowing the little climbs and the stoplights and the busy stretches. But there is also adventure in trying out new roads, like 421, and in navigating on the fly. I arrived home at 11 p.m., for a 9.5 hour trip and another great day on the bike. 


skiffrun said...

Nice post, Mike.

I am reminded of something Janis said during a recent ride: she expects "the facts" from my posts, "fantasy" from Dean, and from you ... well, it was agreed you can tell a story very well. This post is another of the well told stories by MikeD.


bullcitybiker said...

Exploring new roads is one of the best things about riding. Timothy Road out there close to Newton Grove is where a truck full of good-hearted teens checked on me during a recent nighttime thunderstorm. But I'll stay off NC50 south of Faison from now on.. it makes NC53 out of White Lake feel like glass.