Ragan Williams wants people to see North Carolina from a fresh perspective.
Williams, 36, is director of Cycle N.C., a nonprofit that sponsors long-distance bike rides along the state’s scenic back roads. The next one — the Mountains to Coast Ride from Sept. 26 to Oct. 3 — will take bikers from Waynesville to Oak Island, roughly 450 miles.
“A lot of us are creatures of habit,” says Williams, who graduated in 2003 with a degree in parks, recreation and tourism. “We know the routes we want to take and very rarely veer off course. This event provides a chance for people to explore.”
Since the first cross-state ride in 1999, bikers from 50 states and more than eight countries have traveled more than 4,900 miles on Cycle N.C. tours, passing through more than 600 communities, according to its website.
Williams, who became director in 2005, oversees three long-distance bike rides a year, including one at the coast in the spring and another in the mountains in August.
The Mountains to Coast Ride alone takes more than a year to plan. Williams and his colleagues are already beginning to map out the 2016 event.
They look to vary the routes and the overnight stops from year to year, to keep riders coming back and also to provide an economic boost to different towns along the way. This fall’s event makes overnight stops in Hendersonville, Shelby, Concord, Southern Pines, Lumberton and Whiteville. Each town provides entertainment, a beer garden and other activities.
“With this ride, we’re working with eight towns and eight organizing committees,” says Williams, who was a varsity swimmer and active in club sports at State. “We try to encourage them each to do something a little different, so the craziness is just following up, doing last-minute site visits, making sure that the towns have everything lined up.”
Bikers cover 60 to 80 miles a day. Cycle N.C. deliberately chooses the roads less traveled, even if it is farther.
“We try not to take the shortest route from point A to point B,” he says. “Sometimes, taking that extra five miles to get to a historic mill is worth it for us.”
Not only are back roads more interesting, but they’re also safer, a key concern for organizers. There have been no accidents involving cyclists and motorists in the west-to-east ride’s 17-year history, Williams says, “and I’m knocking on my desk as I say this.”
Williams urges motorists to put down their smartphones and pay close attention when they encounter bikes.
“Cyclists are part of traffic too,” he says. “Just stay alert and give ’em some room.”
–Carole Tanzer Miller