“You have a lot of people arriving by car, by bus, by plane,” said Bethel resident George Ivey, who completed the ride last year. “A lot of people will come in a day or so early, maybe two days early, just to get their bike put together, ride around and enjoy the host city.”
This year, that host city will be Waynesville.
“I think it will be a great, exciting weekend,” said Town Manager Marcy Onieal. “I can’t imagine having hundreds of tents on the front lawn of the Rec Center. It will be like a mini festival in and of itself.”
The weeklong ride will leave from Waynesville on Saturday, Sept. 26, but the bikers will start trickling in a day or three before, an expected 800 to 1,000 of them. Onieal said the town’s getting started now with plans to welcome the bikers in a big way. Some kind of music, hopefully, events at downtown businesses who want to participate — just an overall “we’re glad you’re here” to the pedalers pouring in to town.
“About 60 percent of the folks are from in-state, and about 40 percent out of state,” Oneail said. “We anticipate a lot of folks will be coming to Waynesville for the first time, so we want them to like what they see and come back.”
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They’ll get to see plenty in their seven days on the road. The ride will feature overnight stops in Hendersonville, Shelby, Concord, Southern Pines, Lumberton and Whiteville before finally finishing in Oak Island, way over on the beach south of Wilmington. Those first few days will be the hardest, especially for bikers used to flatter ground.
“It’s very satisfying to do the whole week,” Ivey said. “You’ve cycled 500 miles across the state. It was a challenge for me even as a seasoned cyclist but felt great to accomplish it.”
Hosting the ride’s kickoff puts Waynesville in prime position to make that happen, Ivey said. Bikers will get a chance to really explore the town, something they don’t much do at the other towns along the way. They’re too tired.
“Being the start city, people will spend a lot more time there and have a chance to really get to know it,” Ivey said. “When you’re [in] one of the towns along the route, you’re focused on cleaning up, getting food, getting sleep and starting out the next morning.”
Taking the host spot couldn’t come at a better time for Waynesville, Onieal said. The town and county as a whole have been pushing recently to look for ways to define themselves as a bicycle destination. Plans are afoot at the Haywood County Tourism Development Authority, Haywood County Chamber of Commerce and Haywood County Economic Development Commission. A long-range plan to expand Waynesville’s short greenway into a countywide network is in the works. Waynesville’s taking some first steps toward making its streets more bike-friendly and is collaborating with bikers to work toward some bigger projects.
“The Mountains to Coast Ride is a good thing for Haywood County for a number of reasons,” said Lynn Collins, executive director of the TDA. “First and foremost, the exposure it will bring Haywood County through the efforts of Cycle N.C. and Visit N.C. This event will build on the efforts of the Blue Ridge Breakaway (a September bike ride sponsored by the Haywood County Chamber of Commerce) and we just received the completed master plan for cycling tourism in Haywood County. This opens up a new market segment for us to grow with in the county.”
Onieal said the timing of the CNC event couldn’t be better.
“I think we’re just seeing a lot of elements come together at an opportune time,” Onieal said. “We’re glad to put ourselves on the map as a bicycle-friendly community, and this is just one way to announce that to the world.”
Collins concurred with that sentiment.
“Having the cyclists here in September gives us the opportunity to showcase Haywood County as a cycling destination. The fact that Cycle NC chose Waynesville/Haywood County as the starting point for this year’s event shows that they consider us a cycling destination,” said Collins.
Ivey, who in addition to the Mountains to Coast ride has pedaled end-to-end both the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Natchez Trace Parkway, which stretches from Tennessee to Mississippi, hopes that message gets out loud and clear.
“It’s a great chance for us to show off Waynesville and Haywood County, see the beauty, see the rides,” he said. “Hopefully they’ll all have a great experience and want to come back.”
Collins said the ride was also a great example of entities working together to showcase Haywood as a cycling destination.
“This event will be a great opportunity for the TDA to strengthen relationships with the cycling community in Haywood County by involving them in this initiative. We are very appreciative to the town of Waynesville for partnering with the TDA to bring this event to Haywood County,” she said.
Join in the fun
Registration is open for the Mountains to Coast ride, with the early bird rate available through Aug. 18. Cost for riders over 17 is $310, with cheaper rates available for younger riders.
If you’re not in the mood to pedal 500 miles, consider helping out on the home front. Waynesville is looking for people willing to help organize the events and volunteer force that the weekend will demand. 828.452.2491.