The year was 1984 and my husband Greg and I, newly married, decided it was time that Hante took to the road. He had recently completed a cross country bike trek and we had just done a Winston-Salem to Charleston tour over a spring break. At the time the Birch Tree program was also running and I had led some tours for adults along the Outer Banks. We were loving our time on the road and decided it was time to get some kids on bikes.
The Fall of 1983 we hopped in the car and set about planning our route – leave camp, ride out by DuPont State Forest (which was an X-Ray film plant at the time), up and over Caesar’s Head, down to South Carolina, back up to Highlands, NC, through the Smokey’s and back to camp via the Parkway. It was a hefty route for sure with lots of elevation losses and gains. We were confident and excited.
Summer came and our intrepid crew arrived at camp ready to hit the road. First things first though, we had to learn some basic skills. Everyone was put through their paces learning to change tires, fix minor bike problems, how to safely ride across railroad tracks, how to track, how to use gears properly and so much more. Our team was green and had a lot to learn. After some ½ day rides and spending time with our bikes, it was time to hit the road. The group was excited and nervous for this inaugural Hante.
Everyone was strong out of the gate but halfway up Staton Rd. near Dupont, it became clear that we had some muscle building to do. And then the first big mechanical issue – a broken derailleur followed by a call to camp (from a pay phone at Cedar Mountain) and a delivery of a new part. As we waited for the part to arrive we had a lovely time sitting in the pine straw along the side of the road, snacking and enjoying the summer sun. Little did we know that each of us was being dosed with large quantities of chiggers which emerged over the course of the next day requiring several bottles of finger nail polish to squelch the itch.
We made it through that huge day and pulled into Table Rock State Park tired, ravenous, and ready for sleep. Each day we grew stronger and the crew began to pull together into a real team. There was the fast crew, the middle of the pack crew and those who liked to meander along the country roads – each in their own way making it along our route. Then the rains came and they just didn’t stop. Nine days total for that Hante but our crew was strong and kept on going. Between stops at laundry mats to dry out, hanging out extra time at the grocery stores to stock up, and hunkering in bathhouses; we did it.
In the end, we had to cut our route a little short as the rain just made it too hard to do all the miles we planned and our last leg on the Blue Ridge Parkway got nixed by the rangers because it was too foggy. That didn’t dampen our spirits though – we had done it – the first Hante Bike Trek of what turned out to be many over the coming years. We learned a lot in those three weeks but above all, we learned how tough we can be when the challenge is on. I was really proud of those kids – they persevered unlike any other group I have seen. And I happen to know that one of those participants went on to be a professional bike racer and is now a team coach – to think he got that start on a Hante!
By Noni Waite-Kucera