Dave and Kathy Williams have been riding a bicycle built for two since Oct. 3 from the North Carolina mountains to the beach.
“It’s absolutely different than seeing the state in a car,” Kathy Williams said. “First of all, you smell things on a bicycle. And you see things at a slower rate so you see more. And you hear things. You hear the sounds of nature. You feel the air on your face. It’s a perfect way to see a state or the countryside.”
The couple was among 650 bicycle riders who converged on Mount Olive on Oct. 8 on the bike tour, part of Cycle North Carolina, a nonprofit group that does different rides during the year. Most of the festivities were at the historical train depot.
Mount Olive pulled out all the stops to show the bicycle riders just what the town is made of. That included handing out free Mt. Olive pickles, taking the bicyclists on the pickle train and opening up the historical David John Aaron Museum for them to tour.
This was the first time that Mount Olive has been chosen as a rest stop on the bicycle tour for Cycle N.C.
“We’re trying to showcase who Mount Olive is and what we’re all about because our focus is about Mount Olive pickles,” said Julie Beck, Mount Olive Chamber of Commerce president. “We’re giving out free pickles, pickle stickers and stress pickles. We’re also selling some of our Pickles, Pigs and Swigs T-shirts, our new event that’s coming up Nov. 20.
“There are pickle cutouts for riders to have their photos taken in. The thing that people love the most is our pickle train ride. They’re having a big time out here today.”
A DJ played music for the bicyclists, some of whom danced. Skullies Street Gourmet Grilled Cheese food truck was on hand selling the sandwiches.
Riders had the opportunity to sign a full-size white door.
“This is something we use at the Pickle Festival,” Beck said. “We asked people to sign their name and where they’re from. Then we can get a feel where everybody’s coming from.”
She said Mount Olive will keep the door until the Pickle Festival, then paint over it and use it again. But town officials will take photos of the door before they paint over it.
“We wanted to make it a fun environment,” Beck said. “We’ve never done this before, so we weren’t sure what to expect. It far exceeded our expectations.
“They’re (bicyclists) loving it. Somebody said that this is their favorite stop so far. That’s amazing.”
She said the event was a coordinated effort between the Mount Olive Chamber, Mt. Olive Pickle Co., Mount Olive Parks and Recreation and the Mount Olive Police Department.
“We want them to know that Mount Olive is a place we hope they come back and visit again,” Beck said.
Chris Wicker with Cycle N.C. has been doing the bicycle tours with the group for more than 20 years. The 66-year-old lives in Roanoke Rapids.
“This is the annual mountains to the coast tour,” he said. “Today’s trip is 75 miles from Smithfield to Wallace, with the option of doing a hundred mile ride extra.
“We’ve had a great week. We’ve got about 650 riders coming through Mount Olive. Our riders love Mt. Olive pickles.”
Wicker said the bicyclists are from about 40 states and two or three other countries. The average age of the riders is 58, but there are all ages on the ride.
The tour started in Sparta in the mountains Oct. 3 and ended Oct. 9 in North Topsail Beach.
“This is a tour, not a race,” Wicker said. “It’s a vacation for folks. They’re coming to see the back roads, small towns and special places. We purposely came through Mount Olive for that reason.
“We’re trying to share the heritage and rich stories and the special places in North Carolina, and give folks that opportunity to say, ‘You all come back now.’ That’s our purpose.”
Wicker said when he gets to see a place like Mount Olive telling its story, it’s festive.
“I heard a lady say a minute ago this could be the highlight of her week,” he said. “There’s so many places where people tell their story, and that’s what makes it fun for me. That’s why I do this.”
Wicker said the group has had many people who’ve retired in their late 50s and early 60s who start to get back on a bike and do the tours. He said there was even an 81-year-old on this ride.
“North Carolina is beautiful, prettier from a bike than in a car,” Wicker said. “You can see so much more. You can experience so much more. You do it at a slower place. And you can see it in so much more detail, and enjoy it.”
This was Dave Williams’ fourth tour and his wife’s first. He is 65 and she is 62, and they live in Decatur, Ga.
“People we’ve met on our route in North Carolina have been so welcoming,” Kathy Williams said.
Once they’re finished with the ride, a bus will take them back to the starting point in Sparta.
Melanie Cahoon and husband, Ben, from Nags Head, both 59, said they enjoy riding together.
“This is typically how we spend our vacation, riding bicycles,” she said. “One of the advantages of biking rather than driving the route in a car is that you really get to see the scenery.
“One of the highlights was riding Sunday in the mountains from Sparta to Mount Airy. There’s a farm that has big boxwood plants. I’d never seen anything like it before.
“Being able to see small towns in North Carolina and the hospitality we receive