The Outer Banks of North Carolina

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With rain on my tail, but a clear forecast in front of me, I headed out of West Virginia to the Outer Banks of North Carolina. A string of barrier islands, where the wright brothers first flew, lighthouses, and some nice beaches.

Went via Athens, West Virigina, where Pabbi's dad was from. Small town. Nice looking old college there. Not big enough to even have a grocery.

Had hoped on getting as far as Raleigh area, but it turns out NC has state parks that are about as smart as Texas. They close the gate at 6pm. 6pm! It's still daylight, and you have to be on site by 6pm if you want to camp. Damn! Only made it as far as Pilot Mountain, which is poorly marked on the NC roads map. (They don't mark an exit off the freeway for it, and that you have to go around, but it does have one!)

Drove up to the top, but you can't really see much. There's climbing here, but you can't actually climb on pilot mountain itself, just on some side cliffs. Not very clear why. The campsite is mostly deserted, and is really quite nice. Hot showers, flat tent spots, and all quite well spaced out, with beautiful leaf litter everywhere.

I'd not been able to work out how to pay at the front gate, so I presumed that someone would turn up at some point. I was right. I went to have a shower and a shave, which I was quite looking forward to. I was in the shower, when I hear a knock at the front door of the shower house. I ignore it, but then it comes again, and shortly, someone yelling if I was camped here.

Quite annoyed I put a towel on, and stick my head out the door. There's a ranger there demanding that I pay now. I ask her if she can just come back, I'll be out shortly. She refuses, so I tell her that I don't have my wallet on me anyway. I told her There was no-one in sight to pay when I came in anyway. She tells me it's my responsibility to make sure I'm available when she comes around to collect camp fees. How helpful. She eventually agrees to come back after she's visited the other sites. I return to my shower.

And then start shaving, when she knocks again. I ask her if she can let me finish shaving, but she's not having it this time. It's not like I can go anywhere. I walk over to the car in a towel, with shaving cream on half my face. Bitch. She then doesn't even have change, and trys to make out like it's my fault I don't have exactly $15, I only had a $20.

She finally leaves me alone. I get the hell out of dodge in the morning, and head east. I'd tried to get in touch with Steve Johnson, one of the guys I'd worked with at Cisco, but was unable to get a hold of him in time. Oh well. Drove through the RTP area, and onwards and onwards out to the the sea. I was headed to the Swanquarter Ferry terminal, to get a ride to Ocracoke island. Mostly uneventful driving, with highways giving way to smaller and smaller roads as the day progressed.

The ferry was pretty cool. I think I was the only tourist. It's getting to be well past tourist season at this time of year, which I find out upon arrival when I discover that the NPS campsites are all closed, it's illegal to camp outside the campgrounds, and the RV park is also closed. It turns out that there's another campground, but I didn't need that.

I was well fed up by this point, so I went to the pub to have a meal, and hang out. I'd found a place I could probably bandit camp down one of the sandy tracks leading to the sea, but I didn't want to just hang out there all night. Had a good meal, and then started chatting to the locals. Talked commercial fishing, and drank various local beers, and eventually around closing time, bought a shirt from the pub, and went back to Donny's (and his wife's) trailer to crash. Quite an experience. Watching cartoons at 6am the next morning and drinking coffee, I decided that it was time to get on my way again.

Went and took pictures of the first lighthouse for the day, the Ocracoke lighthouse, a rather short bland white affair.

Another ferry and miles of driving along a rather artificial road (The army reinforced the dunes and built a road behind it, and they periodically have to move sand back off the road again) took me to Hatteras Island. First stop, a museum dedicated to the reason the Outer Banks have all these lighthouses. The Graveyard of the Atlantic. Many many ships were lost on the shoals of the OBX. The museum was a lovely building, and will probably be a good musuem one day too, but at present, (It's only just opened) they don't have anywhere near enough exhibits.

But the real attraction on Hatteras Island is the Cape Hatteras lighthouse. Tall, elegant, and graced with a very cool black and white spiral design, this one is in all the postcards. Yet again, offseason was a bit of a downer. In season you can climb up the lighthouse, but not for me.

What was interesting is that they moved this lighthouse. It's not even the primary nav beacon for the area anymore. (They have a light on top of a steel radio mast instead) But the lighthouse was considered important enough that as the sands shifted and swirled and moved Hatteras Island back and forth, and threatened to swallow the lighthouse, they raised the money to put the whole thing on rails, and move it inland a few hundred metres. They're goign to have to move it again, and the current lighthouse was only built because the sea had swallowed the previous ones, but still, an interesting project. And it is a cool looking lighthouse.

Went and had a play on the beach up the road from here. Reminded me of Double Island point. Lots of 4wds and fishermen. I didn't trust the suby in the 6" deep sand tracks, that I sank an extra inch or so into when I walked out. It was only a few hundred metres anyway. The water was too cold, which I expected really, but it was my last shot. Had fun playing in the sand for a while though, as it has both black and normal yellow/white sand in different layers, and the washback leaves interesting patterns in it.

Along this strip, there is about 200m width of land, then about another 200 of swamp/marsh then you're back into the sea again. Unfortunately, the dunes are on the ocean side of the road, so you can only see sand and the wetlands on the protected side.

Lighthouse number 3, the Bodie Lighthouse. Smaller and quainter than the Hatteras light, but still cool, this one has horizontal black and white stripes on it.

Went to Fort Raleigh, the National Historic Site, and site of the first English Colony in the US. It didn't last, so most people remember Jamestown, with Fort Raleigh being remembered as the "Lost City" as the settlers were never seen again.

I'd decided that I wanted to try kitesurfing, as this is meant to be one of the world premier spots, and after seeing all the kitesurf shops beside the road. Turns out to be a bit late in the season for this too. Not enough wind they say. But there should be enough for hanggliding, so I sign up to give that a go, and then head on up to the Currituck Beach Lighthouse, making it just before dark.

This one is still in full operation, it's always cool to see the light swing around and around. Pity they've pretty much ripped up the park at the moment. Construction is in progress for something. Found the YHA in Kitty Hawk, and stopped in for the night.

Not the most pleasant YHA. Basically deserted, and with a few permanent residents loitering around. The first person I met flat out said to not leave any food at all in the kitchen or the fridge. Later on I even found that someone had locked themselves in the kitchen (The kitchen also has two small rooms off internal doors) and I couldn't even get in. Everything that is bad about hostels, with absolutely none of the positives. Extremely antisocial behaviour all round.

Hanggliding was ok. Drizzle, and only just enough wind, but I went out for it anyway. Worked out to be a private lesson at least. With such low winds, it was more like falling slowly, but it was still pretty cool I guess. What is neat is that you just get some theory and watch a video, then you're walking up to the top of the sand dunes, strapping in, and 10 seconds later, you're running of the edge of the dune, and flying off by yourself. No tandem or anything here!

I think I would have enjoyed this a bit more with some wind. With only just enough to fly at all, you really had no room to do any manouvering before you were on the ground again.

Also visited the Wright Brothers Memorial at Kitty Hawk, which was pretty neat. Those guys were engineers alright, they built the first windtunnel, and they had a model of that there, along with their original notes on the windtunnel experiments. Meticulous work. What was refreshing was that I found out they didn't just have powered gliders. I really though that they'd just launched off one of the dunes with an engine, but they'd actually taken off from flat land before flying and landing again.

That first flight was pretty damn short mind you, but they got one later that day I think qualified a bit better, at nearly 400m. Then it was more driving, I was trying to meet up with someone in the DC area, but that's a story for another day.

Camp at Pilot Mountain SP

Concentric reflections at sunset Ocracoke ferry

Ocracoke Lighthouse

Hatteras Lighthouse

Cape Hatteras Lighthouse

Bigger than a flagpole

Bodie Island Lighthouse

Bodie Island Lighthouse and attendants house