March 7-8, 2015
2-Day loop through eastern North Carolina
So… after being sick for most of the week, and couch-ridden, I was glad to see the sun come out after all the nasty weather we have been having in southeastern Virginia. I mean, seriously, we have gotten snow, ice, sleet, and cold weather, and then repeat everything… for the last month. I am sick of winter and also was just plain sick of being sick.
Early Saturday morning I had scheduled my six thousand mile service with BMW. Yes, six thousand miles in just 3 and ½ short months. Even though the tires I had were only half worn, I was getting new tires in addition to the regularly scheduled maintenance, which included an oil change. The new, beefier tires I wanted because the ones I had were just not cutting it when I ventured off the beaten path, so I opted for the new Continental TKC70’s. Good bite off road, so they say (because I haven’t tried them yet), but also good on the road, which I CAN vouch for, although the tread pattern does make for a bit of a squirrelly ride on grooved pavement.
When deciding where to go, I first looked to the mountains for a nice motorbike ride, but even Skyline Drive was closed, which I didn’t really understand because the nice weather we were expecting in Chesapeake was also predicted there. So, I looked south. Although I have taken many of the North Carolina back roads, I had not been down all the way down to Atlantic Beach, about a 5-hour ride. And because I had a Saturday and Sunday all to myself, and with the weather looking to be fantastic, I decided to make a big loop, stopping halfway along an inland route in Atlantic Beach, NC, and then taking the Outer Bank route up Highway 12 the following day, which includes nice long rides on two ferries.
Well, despite the wonderful mid-50s sunny temperatures, I am here to say that highway 17 in North Carolina has to be the most boring road I think I have ridden on. Farm after farm after farm, endless it seems for a hundred miles. There are no features that I can remark on as remembering worthwhile.
I did manage (finally) to get off 17 south of Washington, North Carolina, onto Route 33, one recommended by Mad Maps, and that took me through some of the poorest country I think I have ever seen. Mobile homes, most of them rusted and dilapidated, dotted the roadside. I like Mad Maps, and 33 was a recommendation from them as twisty and scenic, but I would not recommend it. I headed back to 17 from Highway 306 in Grantsboro and then hit James City and Havelock. It was then you could tell you were nearing the coast, with boat dealerships and seafood restaurants as far as the eye could see. These roads were OK because they were 55 and there was a lot to gawk at, all the way into Morehead City. Once there, you cross the Bogue Sound onto Emerald Isle, which includes Atlantic Beach and Salter Path, where I stayed for the night at the Hampton Inn.
I got a nice off-season rate bit was disappointed that the ocean front room was 500m from the oceanfront across Highway 58. I asked to put my bike in the lobby or in the entrance and they said no… They said the property is fairly secured, so not to worry.
The plan tomorrow is to take it easy. It’s about a 90-minute ride from the hotel to the ferry in Cedar Island, and there was no way I was getting up to catch the 7am first launch. However, the second launch isn’t until 1030, so I immediately came to the realization I would be getting home late. See, the ferry from Cedar Island to Ocracoke is two hours and 15 minutes, and then I have to catch a ferry from Ocracoke to Hatteras, which is an hour, however I am not quite sure which ferry I will catch having just disembarked from the other ferry. From Hatteras home is a good 3 and half hours, so I think tomorrow will be a long day. I made reservations on the 1030 ferry relatively easy using the NC DoT website. The fee was $10.
This part I am writing the next day, Sunday, on the ferry from Cedar Island to Ocracoke. The NC Department of Transportation runs several ferries from points all along the Outer Banks. This is one of the longer rides. The ferry appears well maintained.
The day started beautifully, sunny and 45 degrees and the ride from Atlantic Beach to Cedar Island along US Highway 70 is slow, 35 to 45, most of the way. It was a nice ride and I think I was the only one on the road. The parts that are 55 are long stretches in the NC marshlands. Cedar Island is a sleepy little community, very quiet and peaceful. Although the trip was only 35 miles or so, it took me the full 90 minutes to get here. I arrived early around 920 and was greeted at the ferry terminal with, “You must be Brent.” Haha. Since I had made the reservation the night before, and apparently I was to be the only motorcyclist, they knew who I was. The nice lady printed my receipt and directed me into one of the waiting lanes. I had a wait of about an hour before the departure.
They have a nice visitor center there to relax and get a cup of coffee, typical of any rest stop you might find along the highway. You could also walk 100m or so and stroll along the beach adjacent to the terminal. I struck up several conversations with folks, including a Vietnam Vet Surgeon who was one of the first folks in country in 1963. I listened to some of his stories and we chatted for a while. Turns out he and his wife are from Greenville, SC and I told them I would be visiting there in a couple of weeks to go to the BMW off road school they have there. Small world.
I had been slotted in one of the lanes that made me think I was going to embark first, but when the ferry operators began waving folks onboard, the cars went first. I understand why afterward. They wanted to put my bike angled into the bumper on the side of the deck, with a wheel chock behind. I was OK with that, but because I had straps, I used those as well. The bike was secure.
The ferry ride was slow, maybe 10 knots, and the ferry looked capable of holding 30-40 cars, but only 9 were on this trip, including one motorcycle – mine. The seas were flat calm and I suddenly recalled the only other time in my life when I’d been seasick. After 20 years in the Navy sailing all around the world, I had never been seasick. But, one time – on another ferry no less – I experienced a bad combination of a greasy breakfast, diesel exhaust, and vibration, and got violently ill. I began to worry…
I did see a flock of amazingly beautiful pelicans, all white with black tipped wings. The ferry, after leaving the Cedar Island channel, turned toward the flock, which was resting in the swaying seas. They suddenly all took off in unison, it was majestic.
We pulled into the southern end of Ocracoke Island, right on time, and because of the positioning I was again last to move. Ocracoke Island is a relatively short sliver of sand, with one main road, Highway 12, running through it. Some of the folks I talked to on the ferry were just coming here for the afternoon to escape the world. I can see why, the place is desolate and caters to fisherman and tourists sightseeing. Well, I wasn’t really here to spend that much time. It was coming up on 2 o’clock and I was ready to head home. Knowing it’s a 3 plus hour ride from Hatteras home, I wanted to get to the Ocracoke to Hatteras ferry and keep moving.
Now, the ride from Hatteras to Chesapeake I have done before. Hatteras is definitely a fisherman’s paradise, quaint, with many seaside inns and restaurants. One of the big attractions for tourist, obviously, is Cape Hatteras and the lighthouse there. This lighthouse was actually moved several years ago when seas began threatening the remaining sand dunes.
The ride from Hatteras up Highway 12 is not great, from a scenery perspective, as the steep dunes between the road and the ocean block what would be great views. There are several pullouts where you can park and throw down a towel.
Oh, and I never did get seasick.
Here’s a video of the trip…