Sunday, January 31, 2010

Shakedown Trip, OBX NC, Day 2

I thougth when we started this trip that the hardest part of sleeping outdoors would be getting up in the morning and starting to ride on sore musles and minds dulled from poor sleep on a cold, hard ground. I was completely wrong. We slept great, and the hard part was breaking camp in the cold. I looked forward to getting on the bike, as I wasn't very sore, and I wanted to work up a little warmth.

We woke right before dawn, packed our tent, and made our way back to the road. It was chilly when we got out of our sleeping bags, but after a few minutes on the bike, we warmed right up.

Our first stop was in Manteo at the grocery store to buy a little food for breakfast. Another mile down the road, and we stopped at the rest area on Hwy 64 just south of Manteo. We claimed a picnic table, broke out the stove, and proceeded to cook cheesy grits and eggs. It was pretty cold at breakfast, as there was nothing to cut the wind coming off the sound.

We ate breakfast quickly and got on the road. From previous experience, I was not looking forward to crossing the Washington Baum Bridge, which crosses from Roanoke Island to the Nags Head causeway. Though it is not the longest bridge in the area, it is steep, the winds are high, and there is often lots of traffic.

We found the bridge as steep as I remembered, but the wind was at our back, and traffic was not too bad. We cruised right across and headed south on Hwy 12 towards Cape Hatteras.

We had a great ride heading south on the outer banks. The wind was at our back, and we kept a pretty good pace.

After going through South Nags Head, we had to cross the Bonner Bridge, the bridge over the Oregon Inlet.

I have a long history with the Bonner Bridge. Twenty years ago, I biked up the outer banks with a summer camp group, but we were required to ride across bridges in the support van, with the bikes in the trailer. When I lived on the outer banks, I never made it far enough south on my bike to have an opportunity to ride the bridge. I had been looking forward to this for some time.

The Bonner Bridge is long, curvy, narrow and windy. The view is spectacular, however, and the traffic at this time of year is not so bad. We fixed Adam's camera to the handlebar of his bike and recorded video as we began to cross the bridge. With the wind still at our backs, we were able to keep a good pace, and soon found ourselves at the top of the span.

This bridge has no bicycle facilities built in, but there was no traffic at the time, so we were able to stop and take a good look. On the south side of the inlet, the old abandoned Coast Guard Station was visible, contrasting sharply with the modern, clean-looking Coast Guard Station located on the northern side of the inlet. Marsh and the open water of the Pamlico Sound stretched as far as we could see to the west, and to the east we could see the angry, turbulent water whipped into a froth where the ocean tide, wind and the still water of the sound all collide.

Winter is my favorite time on the outer banks. The tourists have gone home, the weather is often raw and bleak. The ocean seems more powerful, and takes on an angry, vengeful aspect. Nor'easter storms can turn the breakers into a foamy mass of whitewater for hundres of yards out. Wind whips at your clothes, blowing sand dances across the beach like the first light dusting of snow on asphalt. There is plenty of wildlife present, but the tundra swans and snow geese present this time of year just remind you of how harsh the weather can be.

Never does nature seem more present, more immediate. There is no warmth, no shelter, no concession to humanity.

It is desolate, forbidding. I have found no place more beautiful.

I would have like to set up camp right there. At the very least, it would have been nice to break for a few minutes to soak in the view. As it was, traffic started catching up to us, and we had to continue down the bridge on to Pea Island.

We took this picture just south of the bridge:

Not sure where this spur of road used to go, or if it was perhaps a boat ramp at some point. Unless I'm mistaken, the Bonner Bridge was the first bridge to span the Oregon Inlet, so maybe this is where the old local road used to end.

What I found interesting was the make of the car pictured on the warning sign. It seems this sign cautions agianst driving your El Camino into the sound. Good advice, I think. Only Volkswagons float.

A dozen or so miles further down the road, we stopped at the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center. They have some nice telescopes set up for viewing the birds that forage in the fresh water ponds maintained by the USFWS. We picked up a few post cards, checked out the maps and some of the bird ID sheets, and headed out on our way.

The rest of the trip south was pretty monotonous. The two lane road runs straight, and has a narrow shoulder. A man-made line of dunes, constructed to protect the road, blocked our view of the ocean to the west, while the view to the east was of expanses of marsh and low sandy dunes. The power lines overhead streched into the distance, fading into the salty air well short of any turn or deviation from their course.

These long expanses were broken by a few developed areas, little towns indistinguishable from each other. Old, smaller cottages side up to huge 20 room beach mansions, with small shops and numerous restraunts.

One of these towns, Chicamacomico, while unremarkable in appearance now has a small claim to fame. It was home to the first all African-American Life Saving Station in the US. This service eventually evolved into the US Coast Guard.

These were brave men. Brave, or insane. They would row out to wrecked ships to pull sailors to the safety of shore before their ships broke up and they drowned in the surf. Since the ships didn't often run aground in nice, clear weather, this feat was most often performed in highly dangerous situations. When the waves and wind made it impossible to row out, many of the members of the service would swim out in hurricane conditions to drag back survivors. It was dangerous and deadly work, and they lived out here at a time when they were often the only inhabitants for miles around. And since the Chicamacomico station was all African-American, these particular servcie members often found their thanks chilly and reluctant.

We passed Buxton and had a distant look at the tallest brick lighthouse on the east coast, the Hatteras Light. In Hatteras village, we caught the free ferry to Ocracoke, which was a nice, warm break.

Ocracoke was a nice ride. Since the ferry only runs every hour this time of year, and the ferry is the only thing to drive to on the east end of the island.

We pulled into Ocrocoke village just before sunset, and scoped out our camping spot near the Springer's Point, part of the North Carolina Coastal Land Trust. Springer's Point used to be a hangout of Blackbeard the pirate.

There is more than just pirates to worry about at Springer's Point. If you are not careful, the turtles will drop from the trees and ambush you:

We watched the sun set over Springer's Point. It was one of those rare sunsets, when you can see the last sliver of sun as it dissapears below the horizon, unobscured by land, trees, or clouds. Watching that last bit of light wink out is the perfect way to end a day.

We ate dinner out at Daijo, and were one of only two groups there that evening. Daijo was one of only two places open for dinner in Ocracoke this time of year.

After dinner we turned on our lights, rode back past Springer's Point and set up camp. I was fast asleep in no time, and slept well until our alarm went off well before dawn.

It was cold and dark as we broke camp and brought our bikes out of the woods. We warmed up in the ferry office with coffee and trail mix while we waited for our final leg of the journey to begin. The sun rose over the Pamlico Sound as we rode the Swan Quarter ferry back to our car.

We had a great shakedown ride. Our gear (and our legs and lungs and bums) held up admirably. The cold was penetrating, but not miserable. As long as it doesn't get much colder during our long trip, we should be OK.

The hardest part now is waiting for the real trip to begin. Our tickets are purchased, our gear is ready, and the open road beckons.

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