After hundreds of miles of pedaling through eastern North Carolina, Bill Streit finally rested his legs at the Sampson County Exposition Center. He’s been riding bikes for several years. But for the Princeton, W.Va. native, a long haul to Clinton was something new.
“I’ve never done anything like this,” Streit said Thursday.”I feel pretty good, my hands are a little sore. Some of the country roads are kind of rough. They’re asphalt and they look smooth, but there’s a lot of vibration there. My feet gets sore when my shoes are on too tight.”
Other than that, Streit felt pretty good and was ready for another ride during the Cycle North Carolina Mountains to Coast Bicycle Tour, which began in Banner Elk. Now in its 18th year, the week-long activity gives participants to leisurely see North Carolina on their bikes.
The goal was to make it to Atlantic Beach to finish the journey of more than 400 miles, but some of the event officials were concerned about Hurricane Matthews. On the way to Clinton, there was no rainy days. After Clinton the next stop was Jacksonville.
“We’ve been blessed,” he said regarding the weather on the the way to Clinton.
Streit was also fortunate after being hit by a car on Oct. 11, which broke his ribs and a vertebrae The motorist ran a red light and instantly Streit ended up on the car. He slid off the hood and front tire was close to his head.
“This is the one year anniversary of my survival,” he said.
Streit had doubts, but was encouraged to take the ride. The veterinarian’s trip is part of a fundraiser for the Southern West Virginia Animal League, which is dedicated to helping homeless animals.
“I attend to do it every year, as long as my health holds out,” he said about riding with Cycle NC.
Gil Adams, of Beech Mountain, is no stranger to Cycle NC. His first ride was in 2000 and only missed a couple of years. There’s been northern and southern routes, but in 2016, rider traveled through the middle.
“I enjoy riding a bicycle to start with,” he said. “Things can be bugging me in the head and I can be having a bad day. But after a few pedal strokes down the road, it all disappears.”
Adams expressed his excitement about starting in the mountains and going to the coast.
“You see all of the terrain in North Carolina,” he said. “I come down here and I’ve seen sweet potato farms, cotton farms, soybeans and of course cattle.”
It’s a contrast to what Adams sees everyday up in the mountains, where it’s mostly timber. But locations such as Sampson County allows him to see something new.
“You see a variety of agriculture when you come down here,” Adams said. “I go through these different towns that I never been in. I have not been to Clinton before and I loved going through the downtown part.”
Another new stop for Adams was the famous Spivey’s Corner, home of the disbanded National Hollerin’ Contest. One of his friends was a champion in the late 1960s.
“You see the state on the bicycle as you ride along,” he said. “There’s a lot of rural roads and small towns that you may never go to. It’s a great way to view the state while sitting on a bicycle and going at a slower pace.”
Local tourism and convention officials welcomed thousands of people to the area.Kaitlin Norris, executive director of the Clinton-Sampson Chamber of Commerce, said the overnight stop benefited local businesses.
“It’s going to impact their business greatly,” Norris said about the thousands of visitors. “I’ve always known we had a great number of businesses. But when you end up telling everyone about Sampson County and Clinton, you really realized how blessed you are.”
Officials said all the hotels in the area were completely booked. Riders also slept inside the expo center, outside in campers and tents.
“It was a lot of work and it took a lot of months to get it together,” Adams said. “We’re excited it’s here.”
Many were pleased with the hospitality shown during the event sponsored by the organization. Upon arriving at the Exposition Center, they were treated to vendors and displays about Sampson County. The stop also coincided with Alive After Five, the local concert series.
Sheila Barefoot, director for the Sampson County Convention and Visitors Bureau, enjoyed rolling out the welcome mat to riders from all over the United States.
“They’re just awesome and so excited about,” Barefoot said Thursday afternoon.
When it comes to local tourism, Barefoot considers it to be visitor spending. Shuttles were on hand to take visitors around town.
“They will be going to our restaurants an it’s going to help our local vendors,” Barefoot said. “It’s going to be a huge economic impact and our lodging providers.”
Barefoot is looking forward to following up with local businesses to see how Cycle NC made an impact on the community.
Chip Hofler, director of marketing for North Carolina Amateur Sports, said one of the great things about Cycle NC is changing the route every year and making economic impacts on the town they visit. About 60 percent are from North Carolina and 45 states were represented along with Washington, D.C. Participants traveled from Great Britain and Canada to ride too.
Holfer added that’s it a tour, not a race. That encourages people to take their time and experience historic sites or restaurants.
“This is a really nice setup for the camp site, obviously combined with the Alive After Five,” Holfer said. “Clinton has really gone above and beyond to welcome us.”