It was rough. The road was full of ruts, holes and broken branches. The teens were definitely using their skill of calling out hazards. Almost every 100 feet someone would call out “hole!”, “dip!”, “tree!”. It was slow going with an average speed of about 10 mph. We occasionally had to cross fallen trees that completely blocked the path. Pulling our bikes through the branches. But at each glance of my GPS the mileage to the destination was less. I stayed confident we were on the right path.
Six miles in and we’re at the Trail Head to the swamp. A sort of ‘crossroads’ complete with a map of the swamp and the surrounding area. It was a road, alright but it was designed for mountain bikes. Confirming what we already knew. We were at the “T”. To the right was a road that went off (my) route and God knows where and the path straight was the continuation. I suggested we go straight.
The road was much smoother and the riding speed increased dramatically. One of the teens who always rode in front was in his usual spot. We were rolling now. Hitting speeds up to 17 mph. The heat wasn’t so oppressive with the wind in your face. But it wasn’t long before the joy was taken away. After three and a half miles of riding I heard a voice.
“Why’d you stop?”, one of the teens called out. “Keep going!”.
“Where?!”, the lead cyclist asked in frustration. “There’s no where to go!”
I came to the front to inspect. In front of him was a wall of trees and bushes. The road just ended. He was right. There was nothing there. Looking left I saw the remnants of a bridge crossing a very nasty creek. It was beaten with rotted boards but had to be the continuation of our road. A tree had fallen on it but the supporting I-beams were still intact. I left the boys with Itza to do a little recon on the other side.
Crossing the broken bridge was precarious but manageable. On the other side were more fallen trees and what turned out to be an overgrown a footpath. That was our way out. We formed a fire brigade and get the bikes across the bridge and the rest of the team crossed over one by one.
While I was on the other side of the bridge some of the boys were experiencing a little lack of confidence in me. Being less aware than I was of our geographical location they were petitioning Itza to call the National Guard to airlift us out of the swamp. To distract them she had them break out into song.
We could only ride the foot path for about 500 feet before it became too overgrown. At first I beat back the thorn bushes and weeds with my bike. The heat, sweat and biting flies weren’t necessary to remind us that we were in a swamp. We were in the thick of it and thorn bushes grabbed to cut and make their marks on us and our clothing.
With only a mile and a quarter to go before we were out of the swamp the thick brush fought to hold us in our tracks. That’s when I looked down and picked up a fallen tree branch. It was about three feet long. I used it like a machete and hacked our way out.
Experiences like these help teens discover the joy of adventure and confidence through self discovery. Be a hero without having a tree branch by making a donation today at https://TriangleBikeworks.org.
It didn’t take much for me to be hero for a day this past summer. My “hero-dom” was most likely because I never waver in my joy of adventure and self discovery.
From 2010 to now we’re taking African American, Latino, Karen, Chinese, Indian and Native American youth on biking adventures of over 700 miles linking history, social justice and community service under the Triangle Bikeworks’ program, Spoke’n Revolutions Youth Cycling.
The youth make visits to state and National Parks to speak with knowledgeable and enthusiastic park rangers. Pulling into small towns they meet local historians who work hard at keeping their history alive. Keeping Black history alive.
Our tour themes include:
Buffalo Soldiers/Lewis & Clark
Blues & Jazz Tour
Martin Luther King, Jr.
Gullah Geechee culture
Trail of Tears
With the 2018 environment and social justice themed, Bikes, Water & Soul! Students learned to be environmentally conscious and socially aware about environmental justice. It was on this tour that I was elevated from Coach to Hero in a moment’s notice.
The morning started the same as every morning with a slight difference. This morning we were leaving from a hotel instead of a campsite. The temperature was on the rise just the way it had been for the last nine days. I gathered the team underneath the hotel stairs to keep out of the sun.
“I’m very proud of you all. This is the start of our 10th day on tour. You’re all doing very well and we’re holding together as a team”, I began.
“Everyone checked out of their room and made a final sweep to make sure nothing was left?” Good. Today’s ride is going to be a short 43 mile day. We have the choice of riding on state highway 158W but I know how we hate to ride on the highways here so we’re going to ride through the Great Dismal Swamp. It’ll be a great ride because of its historical value. People escaping enslavement made it to the swamp to hide and were rarely followed there. That gave them one more step towards freedom,” I said.
I told them I did the normal research of using Google Maps to zoom in on the roads to ensure they aren’t gravel (because this happens often to our surprise). Zooming in only showed tree tops with a prominent line for a road straight through the Great Dismal Swamp.
Setting the bike GPS to the final destination was becoming increasingly problematic but I gave it one last try. The final destination was Merchants Millpond State Park. Our first rest stop, Paradise Family Grocery, was only 14 miles away. But with the final destination in the bike’s GPS, for some reason, it added additional miles and looped back on the routes. As a result I made a mistake and had the team continue when the names changed from Old US 17/Northside Road to State Highway 158W. The very road we were trying to avoid. Backtracking, we added five miles to the first rest stop. It should have been a warning sign but wrong turns happen all the time.
Leaving the rest stop we made our way to Horseshoe Road, crossing over Hwy 17 to quiet farmland roads. At the rest stop I made sure to change the bike GPS to our next break location for more accuracy. So far, we were right on course the sky was clear and the wind was in our faces. Everything was good under the sun.
After a few miles we were passing a 29 home sub-division. I’m wondering, “who would put this many houses this far in the cut?!”
We cycled up to a construction crew re-paving the road. The flag man smiled. After a minute or two we were allowed to continue. Looking down at the GPS our right turn onto Bull Boulevard Ditch was less than a quarter mile. But Horseshoe Road veered left. To the right is trees, bushes, overgrown weeds. Was the GPS acting up again? We continue left. I’m expecting the GPS to recalculate the route. With each revolution of the wheel it’s telling me how far off route we are. 93 feet, 150 feet, 1000 feet. We stop.
Reviewing Google Maps we could see that in a mile or two Horseshoe Road ended with little fanfare at a field of some crop or other. Itza, our Program Manager, went back to where we turned to check things out. While she was away thoughts of backtracking went through my head. It meant doubling back. Passed the houses in the middle of nowhere, back to the rest stop and onto the highway. Around the Great Dismal Swamp. Another 5 miles.
Itza called within 10 minutes to say that the road we're looking for was back there but the sign was covered in weeds and branches. We were back on route.
We had to cross a pole gate. The big kind they use when they don’t want you to go there. We dragged our bikes under the big yellow gate and made our way into the swamp. The “road” that I saw on the map was a fire road.
To Be Continued...
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