Dave and I decided to go on a vacation for no reason – just pick a place we both were interested in and go there. We decided on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Yoga North was on break for the last two weeks of May so that’s when we went. I still had a bit of a problem with my schedule since I teach off-site too but thankfully two of my co-workers were able to cover for me.
Day 1 – Wednesday, May 19th
We decided that we should take advantage of our MN park pass and camp in the southern most part of the state for our first night. Of course that wasn’t really a full day of driving but darn it! – we were going to get our money’s worth out of that one year pass (which we’d only used once last spring). We camped at Beaver Creek Valley State Park. The campsites were ok- nothing special, but there were only about 5 groups camping so it didn’t really matter that the sites weren’t super special. The birds were amazing. Tons of tweets all over the place. We slept with the rain-fly off (living dangerously in Minnesota) so we were really able to hear the birds in the morning. The coolest thing about the park are the natural springs which gush out of the sides of limestone cliffs. It’s enough water to create a small river. The artist in residence was a woman who had been to Antarctica – small world, huh?
We drove along some very small and picturesque roads in the morning until we reached Dubuque, IA. Then we started to realize that unless we put the peddle to the metal we were never going to reach the Outer Banks. We had only driven about 100 miles and it had taken us 3 hours! We got on the freeway and hightailed it all the way to Indianapolis. It was pouring rain most of the afternoon so we decided to get a hotel. We traveled with Petra when she was a puppy (about 10+ years ago now) and we could not get a hotel to let us have a room since we had a dog with us so we were nervous about being able to find accommodation if we weren’t camping. We had done our research and knew that the Outer Banks were dog-friendly, but what about all the places in between? So, we picked a hotel by the freeway, Dave went in, asked for a room and said we had a dog. The girl didn’t say anything so he wondered if she had heard him. So he says again, “We have a dog.” She’s like, “Great!” We had never stayed at the Jamison Inn before so she kindly waived the pet fee. You know, even after camping for one night, getting a hotel is so luxurious! Plus, after driving for 12 hours it was nice to not camp in the rain. (BTW – at this point in our trip I am starting to get laryngitis.)
We left (not so bright and early) and hit the interstate again. I had chosen a southerly route to the Outer Banks because I wanted to see some of the towns in North Carolina and because it looked like the southern beaches were less populated. We wound our way south and ended up in the Smokey Mountains. How beautiful! We camped at Big Creek Campground, a National Park Service campground. There were just 12 sites (tent only) plus some horse camping sites about 1/2 a mile down-river. As we were looking over the sites to choose one, a fellow came up and asked if we had picked yet and if not, then we should go look at number 12 because it was the best site. Sure enough, it was open (he said the people had just left) and it was the best site because it didn’t have anyone else next to it and the creek was just down below. Wasn’t that nice of him? All the sites but one filled up that night so we really lucked out getting there when we did and getting good advice from a fellow camper. Getting to the park we traveled on a tiny, one lane road. Luckily we didn’t meet anyone in a horse trailer.
We continued our drive to the beach. I had really wanted to see Asheville and some other NC cities but since this was already day 4 and we had a whole day of driving ahead of us, we ended up just zooming through. I thought I could at least get a feel for each city as we drove through but we couldn’t even see them! At all! The trees along the highways completely obliterated any views that there might have been. Even in the middle of the city! It was amazing. I thought Minnesota had tree tunnel roads but we’ve got nothing on North Carolina. Anyway, we finally made our way to the very end of the land, Cedar Island, NC, where we could catch the ferry to Oracoke and find our next camping site. We drove at least 2 hours though countryside completely devoid of tourist amenities – I was worried we were going to have to sleep in the car. We were too late for the ferry that night but fortunately there is a strategically placed, somewhat dumpy motel at the end of the line, the Driftwood Motel. It’s where everyone stays who needs to catch the morning ferry. We didn’t really care that it was dumpy. We were pretty tuckered out anyway and I was developing a cough. Dave thought he was traveling with a 3-pack-a-day smoker because my voice was so gone by now. Our neighbors were a bunch of Harley motorcycle guys (a.k.a. retired accountants) so I fit right in with my raspy voice.
We were signed up for the 10:30 am ferry (in case we didn’t make it all the way there the night before we opted for the 10:30 instead of the 7 am). This was fine because we had time to walk on the beach in the morning. The night before some folks had told us that there were feral horses and cows on the island and that we might see them if we walked far enough. Well, we did see a feral bull without really walking far at all. We had been walking a short while and I was noticing these funny hoof prints – not horse. I thought, “Those look like cow prints but how could that be?” (I had forgotten what the people the night before had told us.) But sure enough, wild bull, right there, on the beach, in front of us. Yikes. He was just laying there, practically in the water, so it was hard to tell at first what we were looking at. But suddenly, as we got closer he decided to stand up and check us out too. That’s when we decided it would be smart to go back to our motel and pack our bags.
We had a lovely ferry ride from Cedar Point to Oracoke. The sun was shining, the temperature was lovely and the passage was smooth. It’s about 2.25-2.5 hours to cross. Oracoke was the cutest little town. Everything was all cottage-y and cedar shingles and fancy architectural details. We were prepared to camp again though so we left town and headed towards the only NPS camping on the island: Oracoke Campground. Most of the sites were nothing special except for the row that was just on the other side of the dune from the beach! YES – at last, we are here!
Immediately after setting up our tent we climbed over the dune with our beach chairs, snacks and water and set ourselves up to hang out for the rest of the day. Petra did great. She laid under Dave’s chair in the shade while we played in the waves, belly-busting breakers (and sometimes getting slapped up side the head). The water was a super comfortable temperature. Even I could play for hours without freezing my behind off. We played for the whole afternoon before giving in to hunger and headed back over the dunes to our tent. After supper we headed back to the beach for a walk and to watch the Piping Plovers. They are the cutest little birds. Always running their little legs at blur speed. And they never get knocked over by a wave the way we do. Smart. The beach on the Outer Banks is fantastic! White sand, warm water, big waves, and on Oracoke, not very many people either.
Now, does karma dictate that you have to pay for the best day ever? Because we did – with the worst night ever! No-see-ums (biting gnats?) plagued us all night long. Any bit of skin uncovered was fair game. Naturally it was hotter than hell because a storm was brewing so who wants to get in their winter sleeping bag? All night it was slap, slap, slap (both of us), cough, cough, cough (me), and then the rain came. Poor Petra was so hot and tired that she didn’t even notice that it was raining in on her (at our feet) through our still opened front window (too hot to close up everything). I finally thought to check on her and she was soaked as were the bottoms of our sleeping bags and by morning we had a small lake in our tent.
It was still raining in the morning when we got up, so we pulled up our stakes, dumped the water out of our tent, stuffed everything in the car and took off without coffee or breakfast. We drove back to Oracoke town thinking we could get breakfast or coffee or something. But, no, Monday’s are the day all the little restaurants aren’t open. So we drove to the other end of the island and caught the ferry to Hatteras Island. Yes, all in the pouring rain. Luckily the ferry ride was much shorter. Only about 40 minutes. There was no protective overhang on this ferry so we had to stay in the car the whole time. When we got off the ferry we found the cutest independent coffee shop. Their cappuccino and chai were delicious and so were their pastries. We were so happy to be out of the rain for a bit.
After our worst night ever camping we decided to go nuts and rent a cottage for a few days. After looking at a few places (again – in the pouring rain), we found a place in Avon with a decent price, right on the beach (back of the dunes) and dogs are acceptable. It was a side-by-side duplex. The upper story was the living area and the couch was situated perfectly to lay on it and gaze over the dunes to watch the breakers. Ahhh, heaven (in a homely wrapper). The bugs didn’t come in on the 2nd floor so we could keep the sliding glass doors open all the time to enjoy the ocean breeze. As soon as we moved in (in the rain) the skies cleared up and we were able to go play on the beach again. Avon has a beautiful beach. We were at a spot where the waves were cross crashing though and it seemed like there were rip currents so we didn’t go out as far as we had down in Oracoke. Getting swept away in a rip current on your vacation would really put a damper on things.
How do these old piers even stay standing?
There was a storm warning for today. Gale force winds expected. And yeah, it was pretty windy and the waves were huge. We walked on the beach in the morning and got sandblasted (I think you have to pay for that service in some high priced salons). We decided it probably wasn’t too safe for swimming, especially since the Weather Channel had a guy right by the pier just down the beach from our cottage, reporting on the “terrible” weather. Of course we are used to the Nor’easters on Lake Superior so we just thought it was fun to be out in it.
In the afternoon, Dave went to visit historic Hatteras Lighthouse (tallest in the nation) while I stayed home with Petra and napped. He climbed to the top and encouraged a number of out-of-shape folks that they too could make it up there. I had been up a lot coughing through the night but was able to lie down for 2 hours and gaze at breakers, enjoy the breeze and nap without coughing. Just a heavenly napping site. We had a lovely dinner that night and decided that if the weather cleared up we would stay another day but if it was rainy or cold we would start to head home.
Cold and rainy. Gale force winds still in effect. Time to pack it in and head for home. We drove north on Hatteras and realized how lucky we were that we had come in from the south. We had so much more open space, wild space, in the southern part of the Outer Banks. The northern part is much more touristy and developed. Tons of McMansions, cottages, chain stores. If anyone ever gets down to this area I highly recommend going as far south as you can.
We chose a more northerly route home. We drove through Washington DC – not that we could see anything – but we made it through without getting stuck in traffic which we thought was a major accomplishment. We also lamented the fact that we didn’t have months to travel the east coast area. There are so many signs for historic this or that which would’ve been awesome to go to but no time on this trip. Now we know that we want to return though – when we have lots of time.
We spent the night in Pittsburgh at a Holiday Inn Express. Don’t believe the ads – it doesn’t make you smarter to stay there. As a matter of fact, I feel a little dumb since it was our highest price accommodation. However, the pillows were excellent. We decided we could make it to Chicago the next day so we called Siri and Deborah to see if they wouldn’t mind some unexpected company. And yea! they were happy to have us drop in.
Another day of highway driving. We drove mostly on toll roads. Traffic was pretty manageable except for one area where we saw the aftermath of a terrible car accident. There’s no way a person could’ve made it out alive. The car was crushed like a can. I’m so sorry for whoever was in there. We made it all the way into downtown Chicago without getting hung up in traffic. Then, 5 miles from Deborah’s house we lost our luck and drove at about 5 mph for the next hour, finally getting to our turn off.
It was so fun to drop in on family in Chicago. We walked to Siri’s garden plot to pick strawberries, had a wonderful dinner, and then, while Dave and Deborah talked about taking canal boat tours in France (our plan for next year’s vacation), Siri gave me a Tui Na (sp?) treatment for my cough/cold. I don’t know what all she did but it sure felt good and I was able to sleep all night without coughing.
We visited for a while in the morning and waited for rush hour to be over. We left for home around 10 am. The remainder of our trip was uneventful. We were happy to be heading home because it was obvious that everyone and his brother were on the road for Memorial Day. Generally, once you get north of Eau Claire on 53, there is no one else traveling with you. But today, the roads were packed with cars, RV’s, and trucks hauling boats and ATV’s.
As we drove over the bridge from Superior to Duluth we realized what a beautiful part of the country we live in. Lake Superior and the St. Louis river frame the hillside of Duluth in a picture postcard perfect kind of way. We loved our trip and we are happy to be home.