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The Herald Friday, June 28, 1991
Coast yields treasure
The third day of my bike trip to the coast began in Wallace, N.C., by virtue of a not-exactly-planned 104-mile ride the day before. Despite heat and winds, the prior day was stretched out because of a lack of available lodging. Somehow I survived and was only a little stiff for the remaining 50 miles to Surf City.
The ride to Surf City was easily the best in my career. A pre-set 50-mile day can be taken casually. The terrain was gentle and N.C. 50 is a superb bike road. I was surprised that the Tarheel boonies extend right up to the coast. There are hundreds of thousands of acres here not yet touched by developers.
When I finally rolled into "somewhere," things did turn a bit hectic. This was a beautiful Sunday afternoon, and all the regional beach lovers were flocking to do their things. Traffic streamed past my elbow as I gave thanks for the extra bike lane. Still, some nut in a pickup truck saw fit to stand on the horn and run me off into the weeds.
Surf City lies just over the drawbridge on Topsail Island, and N.C. 50 ends at a beach joint named The Sandpiper. Here a crowd was gathering for a free show from a live band. I rode right up to the sand bank and stalled out, a fitting conclusion to a mainland quest to the sea. Several guys up on the boardwalk hung over the rail, whooped and gave me a hearty thumbs-up as I took my helmet off. Now, that's the way I like to arrive.
I dragged my bike up the steps to the porch and began making friends immediately. Folks congratulated me and complimented me for undertaking such a trek.
A man with a deep tan introduced himself as Terry, a commercial fishing trawler captain. He took me out to the beach to introduce me to some of his people. The volleyball game was thumping, the crowd was growing, and I could no longer see my bike. When I got antsy, Terry said, "Man, don't worry about your bike. People here don't steal. We have small dogs that bark and big dogs that eat people. If somebody does steal something, we go find 'em ourselves, and then turn them over to the police." Two days later I would learn Terry was exactly right about the locals' honesty.
Terry introduced me to a fellow boat captain, and they talked briefly about business. Terry said, "I caught an 8-foot hammerhead in my nets this week, right out there." The other guy said, "I got a 6-foot grey, about 5 miles out."
They gazed toward the waves, where surfers and swimmers were frolicking with abandon. Terry said, "Would you be out there?" The other captain snapped, "Nope." Terry turned to me and said, "If you write anything about this place, tell 'em it's gonna be a bad year for sharks."
Somebody suggested I get a room down at Barnacle Bill's Fishing Pier, a modest room at a modest price. Surf City, it seems, is still a poor man's beach. It is also an honest man's beach.
One of my bike bags has elastic things on the inside of the lid to hold stuff. I went for a day ride on Tuesday, and put my wallet there for the first time ever. When I got back, I threw the lid open to get the motel key, and my wallet flew out (I had no idea).
An hour later, somebody banged on my door, and there stood Barnacle Bill himself, holding my wallet. "Some guy came by and threw this on the counter. I didn't get a good look at him...he just walked off."
There was all my cash, my identification, my credit cards, my everything, just exactly as it ought to be. Barnacle Bill said, "Have a good day."
Thank you, sir, I already did.
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