Introduction - Atlantic Coast 2017 - CycleBlaze


The U.S. Atlantic coast is not a popular long distance cycling route but it appeals to me because it's so far from Oregon that it seems like a foreign country. The terrain, climate, spoken accent, ethnic makeup, and culture are dramatically different. Most of the route is in the south which is aggressively friendly, more conservative, and more overtly Christian.

This tour completes a 30 year on-and-off project to travel by bicycle in all 50 U.S. states. Georgia was #48. South Carolina was #49. Delaware was #50. The "first state" was the last U.S. state I visited during bike tours!

The 27 day tour started at the Jacksonville airport on April 16 and ended in Atlantic City, New Jersey on May 12.

The region is extremely humid so I started in spring before it got too hot. The weather was still uncomfortably hot and humid for the first 3/4 of the tour.

The terrain is flat. The highest elevation is 200 feet (60m) on bridges in Brunswick and Charleston. The highest land elevation is 80 feet (24m) when circling around Marine Corps Base Camp LeJeune in North Carolina.

The prevailing wind is from the south, giving me a tailwind most of the time. The sun was behind me most of the time. Stores are frequent and my cell phone had service everywhere.

This is the least challenging route since my 1989 grand tour of Florida (Jacksonville-Key West-Jacksonville).

Two Separate Tours?

The first half of the route is actually inland. The roads cross many tidal rivers and inlets but the ocean is always miles away down a dead end road. Historic cities are the main attraction. The culture is very southern.

The second half of the route is close to the ocean with long distances on barrier islands. The barrier island roads tend to have dense development and heavy traffic. Beach towns are the main cultural attraction.

The Route

At the beginning I followed busy US 17 near the coast to see the historic cities of Brunswick, Savannah, Beaufort, and Charleston.

Then I followed the Adventure Cycling Association Atlantic Coast route and Outer Banks alternate from Charleston through the remainder of South Carolina and all of North Carolina. That segment includes 4 car ferries.

The bridge authority transported me across the 18 mile Chesapeake Bay bridge/tunnel. Then I pedaled the peninsula east of Chesapeake Bay, starting on country roads and finishing in busy beach towns.

The final ferry crosses Delaware Bay from Lewes, Delaware to Cape May, New Jersey.

After pedaling through a string of south Jersey beach towns I ended the tour in Atlantic City.

My original plan was to pedal to the Philadelphia airport. But I learned that bicycles aren't permitted on the Delaware river bridge south of Philadelphia. Biking to Philadelphia airport would require a big detour north through downtown. Instead I pedaled to Atlantic City and hired a shuttle van to take me 65 miles to the Philadelphia airport.

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Map image. Blue segments are ferries. Black segment is Chesapeake Bay bridge/tunnel.
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The mapped route is 1187 miles (1899 km) including 5 ferries and the 18 mile Chesapeake Bay bridge/tunnel that I can't pedal. The actual pedaling distance was 1265 miles because of touring towns and detours to restaurants and motels.

I stay in motels every night but seldom reserve a room in advance. That gives me flexibility to take a day off if I'm tired or the weather is awful.

Most of the route has simple navigation such as "stay on US 17 all day". Parts of the route do have complex navigation but for the first time I didn't carry paper maps. Instead my route was loaded on the RideWithGPS smartphone app. I didn't pay for turn by turn voice commands but the "you are here" function is handy. I also regularly use Google Maps to look up services. Unlike the rural west, wireless service is everywhere.

Tourist Destinations

Near the beginning of the tour I detoured to Jekyll Island near Brunswick, Georgia. It was the first place I saw the ocean and it has a fascinating historic district.

I toured the cities of Brunswick, Savannah, Beaufort, and Charleston. I was impressed by the huge number of historic structures in every city.

While visiting Charleston, South Carolina I took a ferry to Fort Sumpter where the U.S. civil war began.

In the Outer Banks of North Carolina I walked the stairs to the top of Cape Hatteras lighthouse (tallest in the U.S.) and Bodie Inlet lighthouse.

In Kitty Hawk, North Carolina I visited Wright Brothers National Memorial and learned a lot about Wilbur and Orville Wright's development of the first controllable airplane.

I took a 40 mile detour to Crisfield, Maryland, then the mail boat to Tangier Island in Chesapeake Bay. Possibly the highlight of the tour.

Beach boardwalks were the main attraction near the end of the tour. I toured the boardwalks in Virginia Beach, Ocean City MD, Rehoboth Beach, Cape May, Wildwood, Ocean City NJ, and Atlantic City. I saw other beach towns that have beach access but no oceanfront boardwalk.

Of course I walked a few beaches along the way. I didn't go more than knee deep in the ocean because I was traveling alone.

There were also serendipitous experiences such as blue sky flooding south of Virginia Beach. Several roads were underwater due to a high tide, even though a strong northwest wind blew the water out to sea.

Getting Ready

I booked the flights to Jacksonville months in advance. 3 flight segments, all booked on Alaska Airlines so the luggage fee is only $75 for the bike.

I can no longer get the Alaska Airlines bike box in Eugene. That box is too flimsy to survive 3 flights, anyway. So I found a super-strong box in the trash at my local Toyota body shop. The box is double-thick corrugated 8 feet long, 4 feet tall, and 8 inches wide. The edges are a double layer of the double thick corrugated, about 1/2 inch thick. The width is just wide enough to fit my recumbent seat. Perfect. I cut the height and length to fit my bike tightly. It's the strongest, stiffest box I've ever used to ship a bike.

I leisurely packed the bike on April 14. I leave home on April 15...

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