Thursday, May 5, 2011

OBX Rambling

Sunset at Nags Head

I haven't been keeping up with this as much as I had hoped to.  None of my travels this year have been as inspiring as our bike trip that ended in April.

Many times I have been on the verge of posting a write-up on some little piddly 150 mile bike trek, excursion or family trip, and then erased my post because I thought, "no one cares!  this isn't good enough to post".  Well, a year has gone by, and I haven't had anything to post I thought was up to snuff. (No such excuse for Adam - he's been all over the world since then, he's just been slack about posting here)

So I decided to say, "forget it! If you don't like what I post, then don't check the site".  Easy enough.  I'm sure I'll put something interesting up here eventually.

Over a year ago, Adam and I took a short, two-day, 150 mile trek around Dare County as a shakedown ride for our cross-country trip. Last weekend, I had the opportunity to head out that way again, and while I was not able to do any overnight touring, I was able to spend a large portion of my time ranging all over the Dare County Outer and Inner Banks.

I used to live in Dare County, in a small house situated right on the water in Manns Harbor, just across the Croatan Sound from Manteo and Roanoke Island.  Here's a picture of my old house I took from a piper cub when I rode along with my roommate for a flying lesson :

I used to line in the small one

His instructor was our next door neighbor - his house is the one with the pool. Here is a view from my house. Choosing the appropriate image here was a challenge, so many to choose from.

Sunrise Over Croatan Sound

I include this to give you an idea of how much I miss living there. I was part of a research project funded for 2 years, and when the project was over, my job disappeared. I moved back to Raleigh, knowing that I had about zero chance of ever living somewhere as cool again. I peaked at 25 years old. OK, here's another picture taken from my old house:

view from my old house - Umstead Memorial Bridge on horizon
 I could spend several posts just going over what I love and miss about Dare County. I'll spare you. Last weekend, I got to do two of my favorite things; relive those days as an OBX resident, and spend massive amounts of time on my bike.

This weekend was nominally a weekend with my father; one of his old friends hosts a party for her rather large social circle at The Tar Heel Motel in Nags Head. I did my familial duty and spent quality time with my father, but I was able to get in around 150 miles in three days, all over Dare County.

I owe much of my riding this week to my support crew. Here he is:

Not his best picture ever, but it's hard to get him to sit still for the camera.

Each day I would head out, Dad would track me down several hours later, and we'd spend some time exploring the area by car and he'd drive me back. The fact that he was willing to do this more than doubled the amount of road I could cover. Not only did it save me the back part of an out-and-back trip (not many loops on the OBX), but I could plan to get the wind at my back for most of my miles.

We headed out Friday morning, and took a detour through Greenville. Dad is a BBQ aficionado, and has long told of B's BBQ in Greenville, the BEST BBQ EVER (emphasis Dad's). The one time I'd been there before, they were closed. The building is a small shack. No internet site posting their hours - there is not even a phone line to the place! They are open from 10-ish, to whenever they run out of BBQ.

I won't go into too much detail here - but the BBQ was excellent. Savory and tender, with a little sweetness to the sauce. There's a great writeup here, from my favorite BBQ blog:

Continuing on towards the northern Outer Banks, we stopped on Columbia, NC at their lavish rest stop. If you've been through Columbia, or are familiar at all with Tyrell County, this rest area, and much of the town's infrastructure, is a bit surprising.Tyrell County is one of the poorest counties in our state. Columbia has a huge unemployment problem, and when I drive through during business hours, there's always a distressing number of able-bodied adults hanging out on street corners and on porches. There's also lots of teenagers hanging out, and they distress me no matter how many of them there are or what time it is. Shouldn't they be inside playing video games?

In spite of the poor shape of the area's economy, Columbia has some really nice infrastructure. The bridge into town, the rest area, and the greenways and boardwalks are very attractive and are in excellent condition.

How does all the expensive infrastructure end up in Columbia? There are two reasons from what I can reason out. There are plenty of rich folk that have purchased water-side homes in the area, and have parked their yachts in the water. Their taxes undoubtedly help the area out.

Tyrell County is also one of the biggest speed traps in the state. My father has been busted so many times in Tyrell County that he drives 5 mph below the speed limit every time he comes through. The last time he got pulled, there was a sheriff's deputy standing on the side of the road waving people over. He gave out 5 tickets at once and Dad still swears, 10 years later, that he wasn't speeding.

I got dropped off at the elegant rest stop, and headed east on 64. I stopped not far down the road, and was immediately the victim of a gang assault. Gang of deer-flies, that is. I dumped my bag on the side of the road, dug through my gear, and lathered myself in Deep Woods Off. I'm not a huge fan of putting such powerful chemicals on my skin, but neither am I a fan of getting carried off by malevolent creatures. I felt like Dorothy with the flying monkeys.

NC Hwy 64 was pushed through into Dare County sometime in the 50's, according to my old landlord, Harry Mann. Manns Harbor (located just across the Croatan Sound from Manteo) used to be accessible only by boat, and when it did get a highway connection, it was to Roanoke Island and Manteo to the east, not to Tyrell County in the west. When 64 finally did cut through to Dare County, it was a much different road than it is now. The old road had narrow shoulders, and often no canal along the side. Here's Hwy 64 between Columbia and Manns Harbor as it is now:

Notice the large canals. The canals were dug to provide fill to raise the level of the road slightly above the swampy forest-marsh that passes for dry land in this area. Old Hwy 64 often didn't have this advantage of added elevation, there were places where no canal was dug, and the road was just paved onto the forest floor. When the road was updated, much of the old road was paved over. In a few spots however, the new road took a different path, and the old road was left abandoned. For the most part, these spots can't be accessed by car, but anyone with a bike and a healthy disrespect for gates and fences can still travel portions of the old road. Here's a piece of it I was able to ride:

Tyrell County ends at the bridge over the Alligator River and the Inter-coastal Waterway. This 3 mile long bridge features a swing portion in the middle instead of a traditional draw bridge. The bridge is rated as being in poor condition, but if you have the guts to cross the Bonner Bridge over the Oregon Inlet (Day 2), this bridge shouldn't bother you too much.

After crossing the Alligator river, 64 takes you through the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge. This refuge, which contains somewhere around 154,000 acres, takes up a substantial portion of Dare County's dry land. It is managed for all kinds of wildlife, but concentrates on migratory birds and red wolves.

No one seems to have too much problem with the birds, but local farmers and hunters dislike the newly-reintroduced wolf pack. They claim the wolves kill livestock and reduce the population of deer that the locals like to go out and shoot. There is really no evidence of either, but some people will stretch for any excuse to shoot an endangered animal.

In truth, the wolves almost exclusivley hunt smaller prey than deer, and most livestock kills attributed to wolves are in fact caused by wild dogs, disease, or accident. The Fish and Wildlife Service compensates farmers whenever a wolf kills a farm animal, so there is incentive for farmers to cry wolf.

I once got a sneak peak at a few members of the pack from a biologist friend who works at ARNWR. I snapped this picture at an undisclosed location on the Dare County Peninsula:

Red Wolf at ARNWR
Controversy surrounds the Red Wolf program at ARNWR. Some even claim that there is no such species as a red wolf, they are merely a cross breed between the gray wolf and a coyote. Mention this theory to the biologists who work on the Red Wolf Program at ARNWR, and you're likely to get a pretty chilly reception. If the naysayers are correct, I've never seen a wolf face-to-face, so nuts to those people.

On the eastern side of the Dare County Peninsula, Hwy 64 crosses the Virgina Dare Bridge to Roanoke Island:

Virginia Dare Bridge
The Virginia Dare bridge is the longest bridge in the state, and has a couple of great features - bike lanes and a protected pull-out at the top of the span designed specifically for bikes! I always love to stop here and take a break.

Break Time on Virgina Dare Bridge - 2.5 miles to shore in each direction!

Fully Protected From Traffic
After a little break, it was a short cruise down the bridge to cross Roanoke Island. Roanoke Island and Manteo (and Wanchese) are incredible places with rich history and great scenery. Unfortunately, I felt I should bypass all of that and get to the hotel. I didn't want to seem to anti-social.

One more bridge to cross - the Washington Baum bridge between Roanoke Island and Nags Head. No pictures from this bridge - the span is steeper, the wind is stronger, the traffic is heavier, and there is no pull out or bike lane. I kept my attention on the road and cars. Evidently, 5PM on a Friday is a popular time for people to arrive at the beach!

My arrival at the Tar Heel Motel was perfectly timed. Drinks were chilled and ready to pour, and the group was just getting ready to head to Owen's Restaurant for dinner. I did my stretching, cleaned up and walked to Owens for a dinner of Blue Crab Remick. I've been craving some fresh blue crab for a while, but I'm usually way too lazy to clean them myself. Already-cleaned crab is usually prohibitively expensive, but I was willing to let Dad splurge on this occasion.

After that is was a couple of drinks before an early retreat to the bed. My plans for the next day required me to wake before dawn to get as far down the road as possible.

Here's my route for the day. Just under 40 miles, about ten of it over water on large bridges!

It was a great start to a great weekend. I can't think of any other place in North Carolina I would rather ride my bike. I'll cover days 2 and 3 in upcoming posts.


  1. I'm glad you're blogging again. Nice of you to let your father splurge! Mom

  2. That wolf is flying!!

    It almost appears as though none of his feet are on the ground. Wolves are awesome.

    By the way, you mis-spelled "Bridge" and "shore" under the photo of the VA Dare Bridge picture.

    And you left out an 'o' in 'too' in third paragraph below that same photo, fifth line down.

    I share because I care :)

    And why is it so freakin' hard to post a comment on this site??

  3. Glad you're posting again. I share your love for that place, though I wasn't as permanent a fixture as you were. My bloggishness has strayed towards beer recently. Maybe I can add an adventure or two to spice it up a bit.