The famous Black Bears of the Croatan National Forest will share their domain with some 800 cyclists on Saturday, March 18th as the 5th annual Croatan Buck Fifty bike race unfolds with a start/finish at Carteret County Speedway in Swansboro.
“This is like the Daytona 500 of auto racing,” say’s race promoter Matt Hawkins, “Because it’s the first big gravel bike cycling challenge on the 2023 tour.” Bikers from across the country and Canada will compete but the bulk of competitors are from the East Coast including many from Coastal Carolina cities like New Bern, Greenville, Jacksonville, and Willmington.
Hawkins, who runs a cycling apparel store in Cedar Point, started the Croatan Buck Fifty in 2018 and it has grown to where this year he had to limit registration to 800 racers. “This is a premium event unlike any other in the country,” boasts Hawkins. Racers have their choice of three separate races, a 50-mile race, then 100 miles called the Buck and the Buck-50 which is 150 miles! All three races start with a lap around the paved oval of Carteret County Speedway and then its forested dirt roads all the way until a finishing lap back at the speedway. “We run what are called Gravel Bikes,” explains Hawkins. “They are drop bar bikes with wider tires designed for dirt roads like those through the Croatan Forest.”
Hawkins believes this could be the most challenging race of all the Gravel Bike events because the course is flat. Most courses have some hills which allows for coasting but the Croatan Buck 50 requires bikers to pedal the entire race which can take 7 to 12 hours to complete. “They come to this race for the challenge,” claims Hawkins who says the race provides prizes and payouts but it’s the experience and challenge that lures the multitudes.
Saturday’s start times are 8am for the Buck 50 (150 miles), 9am for the Buck (100 mile event) and 10am start for the 50 mile challenge. Rain is in the Saturday forecast which would certainly add to the task at hand but somehow you get the feeling any adverse weather combined with North Carolina’s rugged Croatan Forest are just part of the game for some dedicated 800 competitors.