and the Outer Banks
3 April 2012 – 9 April 2012
Coastal North Carolina
Since 2000, my family has spent several weeks a year on North Carolina’s Outer Banks. Basing ourselves in Corolla, I’ve spent most of my life getting to know this ribbon of coast exceptionally well from the Virginia line to Ocracoke Island. I’ve gotten to know it intimately, but I’ve always done all my exploration as a loop journey from northernmost Corolla.
As I went through college, my trips became more focused around my school schedule, while my parents and brother would continue to go under the bounds of his middle school and high school schedules. As my graduation from Fordham University neared in April 2012, the crossover between the two became especially slim, with my last class before the break on Tuesday afternoon in Manhattan. I decided that with this situation, and with a solo road trip in the Range Rover beckoning in one of these last moments of “freedom” before working full-time (and being liberated from the academic calendar), I decided it was time to complete the coast.
As a lighthouse enthusiast, my large number of photographs of the Currituck Beach, Bodie Island, Cape Hatteras, and Ocracoke Island lights was directly countered by my complete lack of photographs of the Cape Lookout, Bald Head Island, Oak Island, and Price’s Creek lights further south. I’d also had a hankering for a bit to camp overnight on the beach at Cape Lookout National Seashore, which is only accessible by 4×4 via a ferry from the mainland. The timing all fit together; I would drive from New York City to Wilmington, North Carolina, and then head northward hugging the coast by ferry to the family Easter celebrations in Corolla.
And so I bailed out of my Russian Literature class and headed for the Rangie in a parking garage. The goal the first night was Tyson’s Corner, Virginia, where I would encamp at my geocaching friend Alan’s house. I’d kill the first few hours of the New Jersey Turnpike and Washington roads, and be able to continue the journey the rest of the way in relatively little traffic.
I met Alan in his local Harris Teeter, the Rangie looming large over the underground carpark. A few provisions and a foam cooler later, it was off to a night of catching up before catching a few zeds on his guest bed and heading southward further at 7:00 AM. I cleared the Capital and it was southward, hitting Richmond just after start of business and then taking the North Carolina state line.
South along I-95, to I-40 at Benson and eastward. A few hours’ drive took me to Currie, and Moore’s Creek National Battlefield. As I’m always trying to rack up the path to every National Park Service unit in America, I stopped here to learn the story of the Loyalist charge on North Carolina Patriots on the partially-dismantled Moore’s Creek Bridge on 27 February 1776. The victory by the Patriots would be the first significant victory of the American Revolution. Today, the site is very interpretive, with a visitor’s center showing a film and interpretive signs telling the story of the battle. I stepped out onto the boardwalk trail a bit, until the mosquitoes overtook me.
Passing Wilmington and the USS North Carolina, I headed in the goal of Carolina Beach, where I believed I could find the Oak Island Light, and a view towards the Bald Head Light. To get there, I planned to take the Southport-Fort Fisher ferry, passing by the Price’s Creek Light, then to my evening campsite at Carolina Beach State Park. I pulled the Rangie into the queue, snapped a shot of the current southernmost terminus of our journeys together, and waited to board.
As the ferry slipped by, the Price’s Creek Light to port, I looked to starboard and realized I’d mixed up my beach towns; behind us, slipping past the last ferry of the day, the Oak Island Light blinked from far-off Caswell Beach, not Kure Beach as I’d thought, becoming further off as we sailed on. Kicking myself, I decided it was a sign that a future trip was just going to be necessary. Gulls followed the boat across the river mouth as we approached the dock. I drove over to the Fort Fisher State Historic Site, parked the truck, and took the time to call my friend K to catch up. As I paced around the truck, I noticed a spot of rust on the rear body crossmember. So began the beginning of a slippery slope for Spenny.
Tonight’s camp was Carolina Beach State Park, and I pulled in, set up the back of the truck, and settled in for the night. After a long drive I needed good rest.
The next morning, it was off to a very okay diner breakfast, then northward around Camp LeJune on the famous “Coastal Highway” US-17, then down to NC-24 to cross over to the eastern reaches of US-70, and Davis, NC and the Davis Shore Ferry Service.
The Davis Shore Ferry connects to the southern Core Banks, and the island which contains Cape Lookout and the Cape Lookout Lighthouse. In the shoulder season, they run a large barge ferry across the sound, which I found myself loading Spenny onto along with a family heading out in their F-250 for a weekend of fishing. The lines were cast, and it was a short ride over the placid water to the beach, where the ramp at the stern was lowered and I backed the truck off.