Outer Banks Tandem Tour 2010
Back in February, we decided to take the tandem to the Outer Banks of North Carolina for a week long credit card tour. We had never been anywhere on the east coast, and the Outer Banks seemed to be a bike-friendly option. We chose the first week of May to avoid the summer crush of beach-going tourists.
After a bit of research, we had mapped out a 250 mile loop starting on Ocracoke Island, going as far north as Currituck, then looping back to Ocracoke on the mainland.
The Trip to North Carolina
I love to travel, but I detest the act of traveling! Especially by car. This trip was a 20 hour drive each way, so we knew it would be an ordeal. Our original plans were to head out early Saturday, but at the last minute decided to head out of town early Friday afternoon. In hindsight, that was a very luck decision.
As we left town, we knew we were racing the storms that had been forecast for Springfield. We had a few sprinkles, but quickly outran them and had smooth sailing to just the other side of Nashville where we grabbed a hotel room for the night.
As we rose early the next morning, the skies were absolutely scary black and the local weather forecasters were calling for massive amounts of rain. Those forecasts were exceeded, as the Nashville area received 15-16 inches of rain Saturday. Luckily, we were long gone, but had we been our original schedule, we would have arrived in Nashville at the peak of flooding. The interstate was shut down, with cars completely submerged a couple of places and Titan Stadium was completely flooded. Talk about a mess that we just barely avoided.
By mid-morning on Saturday, we were well into North Carolina and moved our ferry reservation to Sunday morning instead of late afternoon and made it our goal to hit the coast before stopping for the night. We rolled into our hotel about 9:30 that evening. From there, we would have a leisurely drive to the ferry landing in the morning.
Sunday: Ocracoke Island
We caught the 10:00 ferry from Swan Quarter, North Caroline to Ocracoke Island. It didn’t take long to realize we needed to apply sunscreen, but I ended up burning the top of my head on the 2 hour, 45 minute trip to the island.
After arriving on Ocracoke, we checked into the Ocracoke Harbor Inn and quickly headed off to grab lunch.
This inn is located right on the harbor in Ocracoke village. The village itself is pretty touristy, so I felt privileged to be there on the shoulder season. In summer, I’m sure it’s a crowded mess of tourists.
We decided that the best way to see the island was by bike, so I quickly assembled the tandem and we headed out.
Ocracoke is home to one of four working lighthouses on the Outer Banks, so that was our first stop.
After checking out the lighthouse, we headed out of town to check out the beach. Ocracoke is supposed to have the best beach on the Outer Banks, but this day the wind was howling pretty hard, so we didn’t stay very long at all, having decided to come back when we return on Friday.
After supper, we enjoyed the deck chairs down on the harbor front, where I made a new friend for the evening!
Monday: Ocracoke to Buxton on Hatteras Island
The wind was in our favor as we pulled out of Ocracoke Village on Monday morning, and it’s a good thing. It was blowing pretty strongly, so it took hardly any effort to cruise down the highway at 20 mph.
Shortly after leaving town, we came to the place where Ocracoke’s Banker Ponies are kept. We were pretty disappointed when we saw them, because it looked like only three horses were penned in an area that was said to be 180 acres, and there wasn’t any information at all on display. There was a viewing deck, but heck, we’ve got horses here in the Ozarks!
Shortly afterwards, we came to the free ferry that would shuttle us from Ocracoke to Hatteras Island. We arrived just in time to see them shut the gates in preparation for leaving, so we had an hour to wait for the next one.
It was just prior to this that we started getting cell phone service again, so Pam was frantically checking and updating Facebook while we waited to load.
Upon landing, we spent a few minutes in a museum dedicated to the many shipwrecks of the Outer Banks, then wandered down to the beach to check out the activity there.
I was particularly fascinated at the ease with which the Kite Boarders got onto their boards and took off. Pam and I used to have a few 4-line stunt kites, and it looked like the big para-sails those guys were using operated on a similar concept.
Once we got on Hatteras, the development really started. The big houses you see above is pretty typical of the rental units and summer dwellings that line the beach road as from this point northward.
Just a few miles to the north, the island narrowed to just a sliver wide enough for the highway, with the Atlantic on one side and the Pamlico Sound on the other. The water in the Sound is a lot calmer and warmer than the ocean, and it was at this point that we discovered literally hundreds of Kite Boarders having a good time.
Our final stop for the day was at the Hatteras Lighthouse. America’s Lighthouse, as it’s called is a real treat to see and climb.
You’ll notice that I’m hugging the wall pretty tightly. When I get up that high, all reason leaves me and I turn into a driveling idiot who is afraid to move. I consider it quite an accomplishment that Pam got me out on that landing at all!
Our home for the evening was the Lighthouse View Motel. It was a decent little place right on the beach. After grabbing supper just down the street, we enjoyed an evening sitting on the deck watching the ocean.
I even managed to find aother friend for the evening! What’s with the cats?
Tuesday: Buxton to Nags Head
We had been watching the weather forecasts for Tuesday for several days, and unfortunately, the predicted rain caught us shortly after we left the hotel. It was pretty light, but we ended up riding about 20 miles in it before everything was said and done.
At one point, we took shelter in a beach bath house to see if we could see on radar how close it was to being past us.
When it cleared, we moved on down the road to our first planned stop of the day at the Outer Banks Lifesaving Station. It was the predecessor of the Coast Guard, and very similar to a station we once visited in Michigan. What was interesting about this one was the number of people who had served in the Coast Guard around the Outer Banks who were named Midgett. I’m assuming they were all distant relatives, but there were literally over 100 listed on the plaque we saw. In addition to their service in the Coast Guard, the Midgett family was the first to offer vacation rentals on Hatteras Island. They started a huge industry!
After leaving the Lifesaving Station, we headed toward something that I had been worrying about for a couple of days. There is a significant bridge between Hatteras and Nags Head that was advertised to be narrow and busy. On the way, we hop-scotched with a couple of other touring cyclists from Montreal. As we approached the bridge, Marc and Tom had stopped to assess the options. After discussing it with them, we decided there might be safety in numbers, so we headed off across the bridge. Fortunately, my fears were for nothing because the bridge was plenty wide and nearly devoid of traffic! We were so worried about getting across it that we totally forgot to take a picture!
Immediately after crossing the bridge, we approached the Bodie Island Lighthouse. Unfortunately, this is what we found!
After leaving the lighthouse, I managed to make the only real navigation error of the trip. We should have gotten off the main highway onto a beach road, and I totally passed the turn. The net of that mistake was that we had to ride in a little more traffic than we would have preferred for a few miles.
Our home for the evening in Nags Head was a Comfort Inn, but it was right on the beach.
We took advantage of the laundry facilities in the hotel to take care of the wet clothes from riding in the rain earlier. The good thing about that is we had planned to do laundry on Tuesday or Wednesday anyway, so it pretty much fit into our plans.
We weren’t sure about the close options for dinner. There were several options within walking distance, but nothing seemed to stand out. We ended up in a place called Owen’s Restaurant that totally amazed us. It was one of those places that seemed to have been in business for years and was way nicer inside than we expected. We split a seafood dish that was very good. Unfortunately, I can’t give them a photo credit because we left the hotel without a camera, thinking that there wasn’t much of an option. That’s what we get for thinking!
After dinner, we had the pleasure of sitting on our room’s balcony and watching a pod of dolphins playing in the ocean right in front of us. We probably watched them for at least 30 minutes!
Wednesday: Nags Head to Corolla to Kitty Hawk
Wednesday morning, we awoke to bright sunny skies. After spending a few minutes re-lubing the bike, we headed off for a day of adventure.
We got a kick out of our audience while I worked. There was a bus loading up with senior citizens in front of the hotel. At the Hatteras Lighthouse the other day, a bus of senior citizens was unloading as we were leaving. Well, we didn’t realize until one of the gentlemen on the bus told us this morning that they had seen us the other day that it was the same bus!
Our first stop of the morning was at Jockey’s Ridge State Park. The defining feature of Jockey’s Ridge are the big sand dunes.
We decided that we had seen big sand dunes before on our Michigan trip, so there was no need to get off the board walk and get all sandy. There is normally a lot of hang-gliding at Jockey’s Ridge, but there were none to be seen while we were there.
On our way out of the park, we stopped to photograph this load of oyster shells stacked by the roadway.
There were signs all over the park encouraging people to recycle oyster shells. We conjectured about what an oyster shell could be recycled for? I guessed that maybe they were used in some construction or road work. We found out later in the day that recycling oyster shells involves hauling them back out to the oyster beds and dumping the empties back into the water to make a sort of a reef. Oysters attach themselves to the shells of their dead predecessor’s. That’s what an oyster bed is…a pile of oyster’s and shells.
Our next stop for the day was the Wright Brothers Memorial in Kill Devil Hills. Don’t tell anyone, but it’s very possible and easy for cyclist’s to sneak in for free! We did it accidently! Actually, it was an easy mistake to make. We were trying to avoid the major highway, so we got on the bike path that encircles the Memorial. From the bike path, there are two separate paths that take you right into the Memorial. One goes through a maintenance garage’s parking lot, so I was a little suspicious of it. The second, however, went to the airport on the back side of the park. Pull into the airport parking lot and the sidewalk/path takes you right into the park as well. That’s the route we took!
Almost as soon as we got in, we saw Tom and Marc riding toward us. We asked them how they had came in (because we had never really seen an entrance), and they replied, “At the main gate, where you pay the admission.” Admission? OOPS! Anyway, we got a good laugh out of it.
Here are Tom and Marc assisting Orville with the first flight:
Actually, there is a really neat sculpture of the first flight that is pretty fun to play on. Here’s a shot of me and my sweetie in our matching HHH jerseys on the tail of the plane:
We spent some time checking out all the other exhibits, including the first flight line. What was new information to me was the amount of time the Wright brothers spent working with gliders from the top of the dunes at Kill Devil Hills. In addition, I had always heard that they were bike builders and had a shop in Kitty Hawk, but what was pretty apparent from the exhibits was that they took a pretty scientific approach to building the plane. They had to have had an engineering background to have used some of the calculations and studies that were mentioned.
As we left the Memorial, we decided to go out the main entrance. As we left, we just waved goodbye as we pedaled past the admission gate!
Our final stop of the day was to be our northernmost point of the trip. From Kill Devil Hills, we pedaled north through several very upscale communities to the town of Corolla. The Currituck Lighthouse is the centerpiece of a very nice park there.
We climbed this light as well. It is actually an exact duplicate of the Bodie Island light that we weren’t able to climb, so I jokingly suggested we should climb it twice! We didn’t.
For some reason, my fear of heights really kicked in on this light. I didn’t hardly move from that spot in spite of the gorgeous views all around.
As we headed back down, guess who we met coming up? Tom and Marc again. We tried to grab a picture of them since we were beginning to feel like old friends but unfortunately, the flash got fooled by a window and the picture of them on the plane is the only one we got of them.
One thing we found very interesting during the afternoon was the temperature difference between the air over the ocean and the air over the island. The wind coming off the Atlantic was very cold, and it was hot inland. As the cold air hit land, a big cloud of fog would form and rise a couple of hundred feet before being dispelled by the wind.
As we left Currituck, we headed back south toward our B & B destination for the night in Kitty Hawk. We had enjoyed a decent tail wind going north, but the ride back to the south was hard. By the time we had traversed the 15 miles back, I was on the verge of bonking. Not a good thing. Compounded with the heavy, end of day traffic, and I was really glad to see the bike path when it appeared.
Our destination was the Cypress Moon Inn in Kitty Hawk. It sits right on the Albemarle Sound, offering really nice views of the sunset.
After getting our bags to the room, we headed out in search of supper. As we were mounting our bike, another pair of guests arrived. As we greeted them, the lady (perhaps our age) saw the need to declare how exhausted she was. It seems that she had a long day “climbing that lighthouse”. Pam and I shared a smirk as we pedaled away. We had also climbed a lighthouse, toured the Wright Brothers Memorial, checked out Jockey’s Ridge, and pedaled 71 miles. And this poor lady was exhausted from climbing the lighthouse. Go figure….
Thursday: Kitty Hawk to Englehard
After a leisurely breakfast on the deck of the Cypress Moon Inn, we headed out to what we knew would be a pretty long day. As soon as we set out, we realized that the headwind would be against us all day long. Our planned stop for the day was the town of Manteo on Roanoke Island. We planned to spend a few hours there before setting out on a long, empty road to the town of Englehard, on the mainland.
As we started pedaling southward, we were keeping our eyes out for a little drive through coffee shop that Pam had spotted the prior day. We don’t drink coffee, but Pam wanted a picture of it. Finally, we spotted the Brew Threw, and quickly realized that instead of being a drive through coffee shop, it was a drive through liquor store! Oh well. We got it’s picture anyway.
At about the 20 mile mark, we had to make our 2nd bridge crossing of the trip. I hadn’t worried too much about this one, but in reality, it was nastier than the first because it was the main access to the outer banks and had continuous 4-lane traffic at about 55 mph.
While we were stopped to assess the situation, a lady stopped to give us some advice about what to see and do in Manteo. She recommended a restaurant to us called Stripers and gave us directions to get there. It was a good choice, and afforded us a harbor view while we enjoyed lunch.
Just a few blocks down the road, we stopped at the North Carolina Maritime Museum, where there were several old working boats on display and where volunteers were in the process of hand-building a skiff to original specifications. It was a pretty interesting place to spend a few minutes.
We walked out on the pier to go inside the restored lighthouse that was on display. Unlike the prior ones, this one was relatively small, as it’s purpose was to warn vessels in the Pamlico Sound of the Manteo Marsh area.
Just across a small bridge we paid our admission to venture onto the Elizabeth II, which is a reproduction of a 16th century sailing vessel. The ship had been built by the volunteers of the Maritime Museum. It was pretty interesting, but what really stood out was it’s small size even though it was built to exact scale. It’s hard to believe that 20-30 people could be crowded onto such a ship for a trans-Atlantic voyage in those days. I don’t think I would want to do that!
After leaving the Elizabeth II, we knew that it was time to buckle down for a 45ish mile slog into the wind with absolutely no services. After crossing the old bridge to the mainland (which is the wisest choice for cyclists) with absolutely no traffic, we stopped at a convenience store to fuel up for the journey. After calling the lady from our B & B for the night to let her know it would be late when we got there, we headed off.
Talk about a brutal ride. The wind was bad, so our plan was to try and conserve as much energy as we could and just survive the ride. It became obvious very quickly that 10-12 mph was all we were going to manage with the loaded bike and the wind, which put us at about a 4 hour slog to Englehard, where we planned to grab supper in the restaurant before heading a few more miles down the road to the B & B. After the first 10 miles, we adopted the strategy of riding 10, then stopping to get off the bike for a few minutes.
After finally arriving in Englehard, we stopped at the restaurant for dinner. We had planned our day to arrive there at suppertime, and I think it was about 7:15 when we finally pulled into the parking lot. A little later than we hoped. As we parked the bike, we noted with interest that there were at least a dozen other bikes parked out front. As we dragged in, a large group of guys took notice of us, so I went over to chat. They were a group of friends from Virginia and beyond who did an annual ride together and were on a 3-day loop of the Outer Banks. They had also come over the same route as us. Most of them were on hybrids and trail bikes, so I can imagine how brutal it must have been for them. I heard them joking about 8 mph, and wasn’t surprised given our average speed for the day.
When I walked into the rest room to wash some of the grime off, I realized how rough I really looked after a hard day.
Englehard is actually a fishing village with a pretty decent sized fleet of fishing vessels. What really surprised me was that the seafood served in the little restaurant was right up there with the best we had all week. Imagine that!
The Sallie Dixon B & B was about another four miles down the road, and after a great meal, it wasn’t a big deal to head that way. As we started out, I remarked to Pam how amazing I felt after a 45 minute break and a meal. By this time, it was starting to get pretty dark, so we had a little trouble reading signs. We were looking for white sign at the drive of a white-two story farmhouse, and believe it or not, most of the houses we passed were white two-story farmhouses with a sign at the drive. It eventually go so dark that when we saw a sign, I had to swerve over to the other side of the road to be able to read it.
Eventually, we found the right place and were able to end the day at 79 miles, our longest tandem ride of the year.
Friday: Englehard to Ocracoke
Our experience at the Sallie Dixon B & B was enjoyable, if not just a little bit unique.
I had a heck of a time finding anyplace to stay in Englehard as I planned the trip. There is a hotel, but it looked a little aged and not what Pam might have been expecting, so I finally found out about this place from the Hyde County Chamber of Commerce. When I called, I could tell that it wasn’t a “traditional” bed and breakfast.
The proprietors, Anita and David were retired folks living on the family farm. The housed dated from the 1820’s. They had retired there from Ocracoke, where David had been a game warden. When they lived on the island, they actually lived in the light-keepers house at the Ocracoke Lighthouse. When we arrived, we found that Anita had prepared fruit and a warm, freshly baked lemon poppy seed cake to celebrate our arrival. After getting cleaned up, we all sat around their kitchen table visiting and eating! Not a bad deal.
David had originally been a commercial fisherman, and he enjoyed having an audience for his stories! We sure learned a lot about life on the outer banks. It was a pretty neat experience. When we came down for breakfast in the morning, we all gathered around the kitchen table again for a family style breakfast and more stories. We could tell these folks really enjoyed having the company, even though we were paying guests.
Oh. I almost forgot. While Pam was showering and I was downstairs visiting, David got a phone call from their pastor. After talking a bit, he excitedly came back to say that their pastor had just passed their house and seen a black bear passing between them and the neighbor! Darn! Wouldn’t that have been cool to see from the bike? I think so. Pam says NOT!
Our ride in the morning was a short affair of about 18 miles from David and Anita’s house to the ferry back to Ocracoke. Believe it or not, we had a favorable wind and managed to cover that distance at an average speed of 18.34 mph, which was sure a record for the trip.
As we pulled into the ferry station, the same group of cyclist’s from last night were already there waiting to load. One guy came over to visit and we found out that he had attended College of the Ozarks and MSU before moving to the east coast. He had recognized our MSU jersey’s the evening before.
After a ferry ride that seemed way too long, we were able to grab lunch and check into our hotel. They didn’t have our room ready yet, so we grabbed our swimsuits and hit the beach for an hour. Oddly, even though we had spent a week on the outer banks, this was the first quality time we spent on the beach. The other times we ventured close, we were careful to not get sand all over ourselves. With the sweat and sun screen, we were sand magnets, which left us pretty nasty feeling until we could find a shower for the evening. Needless to say, we were kind of tired from yesterday’s ordeal, so it felt pretty good to just bake in the sun for a while.
When we arrived on Ocracoke, a lady had recommended the Back Porch restaurant, but it had been closed the first Sunday we were there. It was open tonight, and well worth the visit.
We enjoyed one final vacation meal before going back to the hotel to pack and prepare for the long drive home.
It’s a shame that all great vacations eventually have to end!