Triathlon Across the USA: State #40-North Carolina

Wilson, North Carolina; September 29, 2018 – Battle at Buckhorn Triathlon, Buckhorn Reservoir.

The triathlon outside Wilson, North Carolina was the fourth of five sprint triathlons I completed on consecutive weekends during the fall of 2018.

Travel to the North Carolina Triathlon

After completing the Lake Lanier Islands Triathlon in suburban Atlanta, Joy and I traveled to the South Carolina coast and central North Carolina.

We left Georgia, not sure what to expect in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence. In the previous two weeks, Florence had dumped over three feet (91 cm) of rain in parts of the Carolinas.

While some roads around Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, remained closed because of flooding, we traveled through the area with minor detours and delays. Sadly, however, we saw several houses still partially under water. The many downed trees and twisted road signs added to the picture of the hurricane’s force.

After two days exploring Myrtle Beach, we headed northwest for a couple of days in and around Raleigh. We spent part of the time at the Apple store to resolve an issue Joy was having with her phone. I also took this time to catch up on some writing related to the recent triathlons in Ohio, Tennessee, and Georgia.

Around midday on Thursday, we made the short drive from Raleigh to Wilson. The route we chose took us to Wilson through the countryside. Here, we would spend a few days sightseeing in this historic city before joining the Battle at Buckhorn Triathlon. One aspect of this triathlon adventure that we have especially enjoyed has been seeing the states from country roads, rather than only interstate highways.

On Friday morning, we met Drew Parker at the Wilson Welcome Center, hoping to learn about the city. Drew pointed us to several landmarks, including Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park.

Whirligig Park is a collection of ‘kinetic sculptures’ designed and produced by the colorful and creative Vollis Simpson. Given the number of sculptures involving cyclists, I am sure that Mr. Simpson must have loved biking.

After our tour of Whirligig Park, we explored Wilson’s southern style mansions and downtown business district.

Video showing a few of the many ‘kinetic sculptures’ in action at Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park, Wilson, North Carolina.

14th Battle at Buckhorn Sprint Triathlon

The Battle at Buckhorn Triathlon, managed by FS Series Events, (Raleigh, North Carolina), included both individual and relay sprint distances.

The mascot for Buckhorn Lake and namesake for the Battle at Buckhorn Triathlon. Both the bike and run courses took us past a pasture with this and several other Texas Longhorns.

Distances for the individual legs of this USAT-sanctioned sprint triathlon were:

  • Swim: 0.47 mile (750 m)
  • Bike: 17 mile (27.4 km)
  • Run: 3.1 miles (5 km)

Thank You to the Volunteers

Volunteers are critical to a triathlon. They provide directions, drinks, and encouragement. We also need them to prevent collisions and other mishaps.

So, when I received an email requesting additional volunteers for the triathlon, I passed their request to Joy. Without batting an eye, she agreed to volunteer.

If you know Joy, you know she is a seasoned triathlon volunteer who adds spirit to a race. She would prefer to do almost anything but sit along the sideline waiting for me to complete the race. This is just another thing I love about her.

During packet pickup on Friday afternoon, Joy negotiated a position along the bike and run course. Her spot, a few hundred yards from the transition area, was at an intersection that doubled as the first turn for both the bike and the run.

After the race, she told me about the fun she had. “My job was busy and necessary, especially because I prevented runners and bikers from colliding.”

Triathlon tip: If you have not taken part in a triathlon and have some concerns about doing one, start by attending one as a spectator or, better yet, as a volunteer.


The water temperature today was a comfortable 78°F (26°C). This put it at the upper limit for a ‘wetsuit-legal’ triathlon, according to USAT rules.

Do I Use a Wetsuit?

Removing a wetsuit after a triathlon swim adds a few tens of seconds to the T1 (swim to bike) time. You can reduce the extra time by unzipping the suit and removing your arms from it while running into the transition area after exiting the water.

On the flipside, the extra buoyancy provided by a wetsuit leads to a faster swim. For the distance of the swim for this race, the faster pace and reduced swim time would more than offset the added time in transition to remove the wetsuit.

In the end, I used my wetsuit.

The Battle at Buckhorn Triathlon swim took place in the Buckhorn Reservoir. You may see the reservoir dam on the far shore on the left side of the picture. An orange turn buoy and yellow sighting buoy (visible at the right side of the picture) were on the third leg of the triangular swim course.

A Triangular Swim Course

Racers started in three waves: (1) all women, (2) men age 39 and under, and (3) men age 40 and over. Those who raced as part of a relay team started according to the gender and age of the team member covering the swim.

Swimmers within each of the three waves left on the triangular-shaped swim course from the ramp between two docks. In my particular wave, 57 males age 40 and over started together a few minutes after the previous two waves of females and younger males.

We swam toward the first orange buoy, initially using a yellow sighting buoy to guide us to the first turn.

After the first turn, we swam southeast into the sun, with the sun a few degrees off the horizon. Considering the sun and distance, the round yellow sighting buoy midway between the two turn buoys became the key to reaching the second turn buoy efficiently.

Once we reached the second orange buoy, we made a left turn and headed to the exit, guided by another yellow buoy and a red inflatable waving pillar.

From the map generated from my GPS watch, my actual path was reasonably straight.

The triangular swim course (purple line) in Buckhorn Lake from a recording made using my Garmin Forerunner GPS watch.


The 17-mile (27.4 km) bike course comprised a series of rolling hills described by one racer from Raleigh as “about as flat as it gets around here”.

According to my bike computer, the temperature was in the high 60s °F. With no wind, these conditions were ideal and certainly a lot more comfortable than on the previous two weekends.

The bike course was open to automobile traffic, with portions on a state highway. Since all the turns were to the right, we did not have to cross traffic. As the race director stated in the pre-race meeting, “If you take a left turn on this course, I don’t know where you will end up.”

The course took us on a gentle, roller-coaster of hills through rural residential areas and past small farms, country churches, and a few small businesses, including Triple J Produce near the end of the ride.

In the more rural areas away from the state highway, we passed corn and soybean fields. We also rode by pastures being cleared by grazing cattle who seemed unfazed by what had to be an unusual amount of bike traffic.

Given the series of right turns, good condition of the roads, and relatively light traffic on this Saturday morning, I felt safe throughout the ride.

Only One Problem With Traffic On This Open Course

Ironically, my only experience with traffic was in the parking lot just before transitioning to the run.

Riding into the parking lot near the transition area at the end of the course, I came up behind a white SUV crawling along, the driver apparently undecided about where he could or should park. (He shouldn’t have even been there, but that’s for another day.)

Since I could not tell if the driver would turn left or right into their parking spot, I waited before riding past him. He finally pulled off to the right.


The run course involved two loops of the same path, most of which was on a portion of the bike course. The flat course left the transition area onto the road leading into and out of the Buckhorn Reservoir boat launch. Once again, I passed and was greeting by my favorite volunteer, Joy.

At the end of this road, we turned right and made a second right turn at the next intersection. Had we continued on this street past the run course turnaround, we would have reached the dam on the eastern edge of the reservoir.

I remember chuckling at the young boy running around his yard trying to herd the family’s chickens back into their cage. Apparently unsuccessful, he was still trying to gather them on my second lap.

After returning to the parking lot next to the transition area, we looped around a table containing cups of water and sports drinks. It was time to repeat the course and finish the race.

Battle at Buckhorn Triathlon age group winners Paul Bloom (age 71) and Sharon Roggenbuck (age 80). Sharon’s approach to the podium to receive her age group award included a cartwheel.

After our North Carolina Triathlon

After a stop at our hotel, we started our journey to Kentucky for the WinSprint Triathlon the next weekend. The first stops were in western North Carolina. Here we visited Mt. Airy, Andy Griffith’s hometown, and Asheville, home of the Biltmore Estate.

We will always remember the large patches of orange and yellow wildflowers in the median of the divided highways.

After leaving North Carolina, we spent several fun-filled days in southwestern Tennessee. Here we visited the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Gatlinburg, and Pigeon Forge (home of Dolly Parton’s Dollywood). It was then onto Winchester (Lexington), Kentucky for the next triathlon.

Scenes from visits to other North Carolina towns, Mt Airy and Asheville. Mt Airy was the home of Andy Griffith. Asheville is home to the Biltmore Estate.
After the Battle at Buckhorn Triathlon, Joy and I visited Mt. Airy and Asheville, North Carolina. Mt. Airy was the home of Andy Griffith, while the Biltmore Estate is outside Asheville.

Race Firsts

  • First time racing past longhorn cattle, something expected in Texas but not in North Carolina.


Do you like to combine trips to compete in a triathlon with sightseeing? Please tell us about one of your most memorable trips in the Comments section below.