Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Suffolk 400K -- Workers' Ride Report

I love Raleigh’s 400K route through the Uwharries, but I’ve ridden it many times, and I was in the mood to see some new asphalt. So last Saturday I joined Tidewater RBA Keith Sutton and recumbent rider extraordinaire Jacob Anderson for the workers ride of the upcoming Suffolk 400K.

 The real ride goes off this weekend at 6 a.m. Be there or be square.

All in all, a great day on the bikes. This ride and this region deserve your attention.

Roads. If you like quiet rural roads with virtually no traffic, you’re gonna love Dr. Keith’s route. Have a look at Keith and Jacob zooming by on Beef Road....not to be confused with nearby Barley Road. Clearly, the folks in this part of the world have a good sense of humor or they love soup.

You’ll find a couple busy roads – most notably, the stretch into and through Ahoskie, and a few miles around Lake Gaston, where we dipped into North Carolina.

Otherwise, get ready for mile after mile after mile of quiet country lanes. I cannot recall ever riding such a long route with so few cars. A tip of the hat to the route planners. Did I mention it was windy? Check out the trees in the above animation.

Virginia has never met a road it couldn't chip and seal, and you’ll see lots of it on this course. If you have 28 or bigger tires, bring em. We saw a few potholes, mostly in the first 25 miles and around Franklin, where roads get heavy use from logging trucks heading to the paper mill. Roads on the North Carolina side don’t have the English lane feel of the Virginia ones, but they were equally pleasant.

Terrain. The terrain is flat east of I-95, and features gently rolling hills on the west side of the interstate, from mile 70 to mile 125. The biggest lumps are around Lake Gaston. There is nothing very demanding.

Wind. If the prevailing wind is out of the west, and it often is, you’ll have headwinds until Lake Gaston, around mile 100, and tailwinds for much of the return trip. With any luck, the wind will come up in the afternoon and give you a push home.

Food / water. There are waffles to be had in Boykins, at the first control, and there are plenty of dining options in other towns along the way, with lots of fast food choices and a few local eateries. The landscape is dotted by convenience stores. Even at night, we were never more than 25 miles from an open market.

Highlights. The paper mill in Franklin is not to be missed – it’s just too big, frankly, and that telltale smell gives it away. We passed through several towns that were new to me – Boykins, Enfield, Murfreesboro and Ahoskie, where a helpful police officer actually ran interference for us as we exited.

Most of the riding is in the Tidewater region, and you’ll cross several cypress swamps. Those are my favorite kind of swamps because the trees look spooky until they’re turned into wood paneling. As for swamp creatures, Dr. Keith just about got a real snake bite, as opposed to the tire kind, when we passed through one wetland.

You’ll definitely want a picture at the Post Office in Valentines, Virginia. Thousands of Valentine’s Day letters flow through there each year just to get its signature heart-shaped, hand-cancelled postmark.  Get there now, before the USPS shutters the place or cuts back the hours of operations. Here’s an article about that possibility.  http://www.timesdispatch.com/news/local/columnists-blogs/bill-lohmann/lohmann-uncertain-future-for-valentines-va/article_7091ec4a-3c85-5f3e-a2a4-86bec9321f9f.html

A mural in Enfield depicts the three cash crops down east – peanuts,  cotton and tobacco.

Did you know Enfield once had the world’s largest raw peanut market? No? Well then, you’re welcome.
Way back when Enfield also had a riot going on. From Wikipedia:
One of the most significant historic events in this small rural town was the Enfield Riots, which helped spark American Independence. The Crown governed the area, and Robert Earl Granville, heir of John Lord Carteret, possessed land rights in the district. The riots were set off by a controversy over corrupt agents, land grants, titles, and the collection of quitrents (which often ended up in Granville’s pocket). A group of Colonists -- many of them land owners and office holders from Halifax, Edgecombe and Granville counties -- went to Edenton on the night of January 25, 1759, and kidnapped Francis Corbin and a co-agent, Joshua Bodley. Corbin and Bodley were brought to Enfield, where they were thrown in jail for four days and forced to open all land records for public inspection. Corbin returned illegal fees he had collected, but he filed a lawsuit against his abductors after his release.
The suit was eventually dropped, but the Colonial Assembly jailed some of the men who had kidnapped Corbin and Bodley. A group of citizens in Enfield expressed outrage against British tyranny and on May 14, 1759, broke into jail and freed the men. It is thought that the actions of these rioters probably encouraged Willie Jones and the other radical leaders of North Carolina to push for independence from England through the Halifax Resolves of April 12, 1776.
As I said, a great day on the bikes through one of the best cycling regions in the world. Thanks to Keith and Jacob for the company and conversation along the way. A few more pix....

Thermometer at the Valentines Post Office.
Sign near Halifax, NC

Train delay.

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