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The Most Outer of the Banks

Whoa.  It’s been awhile.  Hello, there, I suppose we should catch up.  There’s been a few things that have happened since that epic trip up the Pacific Coast Highway, though you can rest comfortable and know that I’m still here to talk about motorcycles.

First off, I joined Adwerx, as referenced in the last post, and I’m still there, loving it.  It’s a crazy, awesome, challenging, ever-changing, growing, exciting, rewarding and frustrating all at the same time.  I suppose that’s the nature of startups, and this one’s no different on that front.  For those of you who can directly relate to the rollercoaster, I cheers you with my morning coffee and a knowing wink.

We’re still in Durham, though we’ve moved a bit outside of downtown into a house that’s been a joy to renovate.  Erin’s still with Empire, though she’s moved into a Fine Wine consultant role and continues to rock it there, as you would simply expect of someone of her caliber.

Yes, there’s a million other things that’ve happened, but let’s pretend we’ve spent the last three days chatting on a southern front porch, rocking chairs in perfect synchronicity over coffee, lemonade, or bourbon depending on the time of day.

Which brings us all the way up to last weekend…. Whew.  That was a quick recap, glad we had those three days on the porch.

Ocracoke is something else.

These days I’m riding my 2014 Suzuki V Storm DL650.  It’s a dream, no joke.  I was riding a 1997 BMW R850 for a couple years until the brakes stopped working and I wasn’t about to go through that repair after I found out how much it was going to be.  So I upgraded, and haven’t looked back since.

The original plan was to head to West Virginia, but, alas, Hurricane Delta and rain determined it wasn’t to be.  So I redirected to sunny weather and determined that I was going to tackle the full Outer Banks loop, which is something I’ve been eyeing for a number of years.  Just start at one end, head as far as possible to the other, and call it a day.

What a ride.

I headed out on Friday, getting out a little later than I wanted, as I had a ticket on the 4:30 ferry from Cedar Island to Ocracoke.  This meant I wasn’t really able to just leisurely cruise, stop for coffee, stop for lunch, take a break, etc.  I basically had to push most of the time, though thankfully I still had enough time that I wasn’t forced to hit any major highway.  This meant it was all backroads, which is the way to do it if you can.

Of course, these days you can’t really just hang out anyway due to Covid.  North Carolina isn’t really leading the country in our safety numbers, which is in part due to the need to exercise our freedoms: freedom to shoot guns and the freedom from oppression of the mask. 

This stance, of course, basically means that I’m never going to just hang out in a coffee shop.  Overblown fears?  Maybe.  But I figure why risk it?  There’s not really much upside to the risk in my mind.  I’m fine to take risks (motorcycling, anyone?) as long as the reward your receiving for taking the risk is worth it.  I also eat raw beef, a.k.a. steak tartare, and have somehow still lived, but the reward was pure deliciousness.  Not quite the same balance in my mind, but people do get to make their choices.

So, in the end, it wasn’t bad to push it.  I stopped at a McDonalds for some lunch, and that was about it besides gas.  The ride was an amazing vista of NC farm country.  Dozens of school buses dropping off hundreds of mostly-Hispanic farm hands to work a field.  I thought we were waaaaay past that type of manual labor in the agriculture industry, but apparently not, as this was a repeated scene. 

I was prepared for the Trump flags, of course, but I wasn’t prepared for the combination of the Mexican national flag next to Trump flags.  I nearly turned my head all the around trying to make sure I saw what I thought I saw.  Bonkers.

Early in the ride, I stopped at some traffic, which was due to a race weekend and the Galot Motorsports Park. I’m not sure how many people attended, but it looked like it was going to be an event.  Fun to see, and nice to get out of the Durham blue bubble, where you’re mostly surrounded by people who think they same way you do.

The last section of the ride was a preview of what was to come.  I didn’t think of Cedar Island as an island until I hit that last piece.  It was a large stretch of road cutting through a massive tidal area.  Half water, half grass, and for as far as the eye could see.  Just gorgeous.  I had no idea, which is the whole point of being out there.

Finally, the ferry ride itself.  Other than trying to figure how to park a motorcycle on a boat that’s going to be moving around so that it doesn’t fall over, it was super straightforward. 

And… 2.5 hours later, we arrive in Ocracoke.  It’s mostly dark, I check into the hotel, only to realize that there’s a full bar in the room.  No joke, a full bar.  $129/night, and I got a 2 story deck, a bar, and one of the weirder rooms ever.  A quick dinner out and I was done for the day.

The Most Outer of the Banks

What to say about this ride.  Whew.  Amazing.  You’re just… out there.  Ocracoke is a sliver of land in the middle of nowhere.  The town is clustered on one side, tucked around a beautiful bay, and then the rest is just open dunes.

At times, there’s essentially just beach and ocean on one side, and the sound on the other.  You can’t really even see shore, you’re so far out there.  I had no idea it was going to be so awesome.  I want to go back immediately.  (Except for the fact that I had terrible phone reception and the hotel had no wifi, which, come on now, that’s basically required these days.)

The day was gorgeous, sun fully blazing but temps sticking around 75˚.  I could have just done laps and ended up happy.  But alas, the world keeps turning and I had places to be.  Which brought me to the next ferry to Hatteras.  I timed it perfectly, where I didn’t even wait.  There ferry was literally loading when I pulled up, so I swung into the back of the line, and the ferry took off before I had even parked the bike.

Hatteras felt much like Ocracoke, which isn’t surprising since it’s in the middle of nowhere.  That section of the Outer Bank Scenic Highway was as amazing as the one on Ocracoke.  The highway system felt way overbuilt for the amount of civilization it reached, but then I suppose the pork has to go somewhere, and I enjoyed every mile of it.

The crazy part about the whole Outer Banks system is the evidence of the power of the ocean.  These are tiny spits of land, protecting the shore.  The ocean is constantly moving them around, and we pesky humans keep building houses on shifting sands.  The ground moves under the houses essentially however mother nature wants. 

Yes, there are techniques to sort-of-kind-of keep the shores in place, but being out there just brought it all to light.  On Ocracoke, I found out that there was a civil war fort built on an island that disappeared in the early 20th century.  It was only recently discovered by a diver, and I was reminded of the James Michener book Chesapeake, which *spoiler alert* ends with the house being pulled down into the ocean due to erosion.

It puts you in your place in the world and makes you feel very, very small.

Unfortunately, once I hit Nags Head, the traffic really started to kick in, and didn’t really let up, all the way to Corolla, where I ended the day.  This hotel had a huge pier on the sound side, and was wonderful to be out on.  Quick run on the beach, sunset, dinner, obligatory photos, then bed.

Then it starts raining….

Next day was the ride home.  I knew it was going to have a chance of rain, but was hoping I would have the first few hours free, maybe until around 11 or so.  I left around 8:30. The rain started at 8:45.  Sad. Wet and sad.

We didn’t cover this in our porch chat, but I had scotchgarded my coat recently, so I had some false hope, which was quickly dashed.  Once again, mother nature wins, but this time in the short term, not just the long term. 

I basically just pushed through.  There was one moment in a tiny, nearly dead town where a freight train had inconsiderately stopped on the main intersection of the town.  So, I popped up on the curb to wait it out.  Of course, there was no reception to find an alternative route around the train.  Argh.  So I just waited on the side of the road and contemplated why I ever though scotchgard would save me from rain if it really tried.

My final, better decision was to stop at a Walgreens to pick up some hand warmers.  I hadn’t even scotchgarded my leather gloves, so they were soaked straight through, marking my hands with their tell-tell black stain on my skin. 

After that, it was just a straight push through to the end, 6.5 hours after leaving from Carolla that morning.

Worth it?  Absolutely.  I would do this route again in a heart beat, though I would figure out a way to get up to Carova, the beach past Carolla.  It’s a beach-only access, and I wasn’t about to test my bike on that without some planning.

But Hatteras and Ocracoke, get ready. I’m coming back when Covid’s at bay and you’ve put on your full mid-summer, weekend polish.