When the time came to start our month in North Carolina, Mike started researching possible campgrounds on the eastern side of the state. We were gambling that we would have less of a chance to encounter snow and ice if we stayed out of the mountains and close to sea level. There is no doubt it does still get cold in that part of the Tar Heel State, but snow was less likely than if we set our sights on the mountains on the western side. After lots of research Mike found a place we could not pass up. Primarily because it was only $12 per night. Yes, that is correct! We had paid much higher rates than we expected to pay throughout the summer in New England, and it was time to offset the average when we had the chance. The park was jointly owned and operated by the City of Kinston and Lenoir County. It was attached to a Nature Center and Park along the Neuse River, across a bridge from downtown Kinston. There were only 23 spots, but they had full hook-ups and free Wi-Fi. The only drawback was that they did not take reservations. The sites were available on a first-come-first-served basis, and there was a 30-day maximum limit for campers.
On travel day we first had to take the Monaco into a shop for scheduled service on the generator, something that should be done once each year. Mike had completed most of our travel preparations the day before our departure. He had even disconnected the water and sewer to save as much time as possible on our morning travel prep routine. I set my alarm for 6am and trekked over to the bath house at Davis Lakes Campground to get my shower. The temperature was in the 20’s that morning and I didn’t want to suffer through a navy shower in the pre-dawn hour. I needed LOTS of hot water to wake up and get motivated. We pulled out early (for us) around 9:00 and drove to a place in Chesapeake. They were expecting us, so they immediately got to work while we went to find a place to eat breakfast. Once we were powered up with food and caffeine, we went back to the shop and they were just finishing the service. The timing was perfect. We were back on the road heading for our next destination by 11:30. We usually pull out around 11:00 on travel days, so we were right on schedule. I called Neuseway Nature Park to see if they had any slots open, and they said come on. We traveled south on Highway 17 for most of the way, skirting the Albemarle Sound. The roads were nice and smooth, the weather was pretty, and we were counting our blessings.
We did not have very high expectations for the Neuseway Nature Center Campground. The online reviews were good, but we still couldn’t believe it would be a very pleasant place at only $12 per night. We cautiously wondered what the catch was. We weren’t worried though. Since they did not accept reservations, we had not paid any deposits and were not tied to how long we would stay. We figured we would check it out, and if it was awful we would move to another location after one or two nights. We didn’t have anything to lose. I am happy to say we continued to count our blessings when we entered our destination. It was nice! The community park section had lots of amenities. There was a giant playground with modern equipment, picnic tables, a little train that youngsters could ride on a circular track about the size of a football field, and a large pavilion for organized gatherings. The whole place was set along the banks of the Neuse River with swinging benches placed by the water every 25 yards, or so. There was a floating fishing pier, a rock climbing wall, and I think they had canoe rentals available. There were also three buildings in the park. The parks hosts were out of town when we arrived so we had to register with the staff people inside the Nature Center. This building was like a taxidermy museum – filled with real stuffed animals indigenous to the region. They also had a live cockatoo inside named Oliver. He loved to sing happy birthday WITH the visitors. Back behind this building were three large sheltered cages. The nature center had rescued two hawks and an owl that were unable to fly due to accidents with automobiles. These birds would be cared for here for the rest of their lives. The owl was a beautiful giant barn owl and the dogs pulled me over to visit him every time we went on a walk around the grounds. Piper wanted to eat him, of course. Cessna, on the other hand, was intrigued and considered making friends. She would sit and stare at him for as long as I would let her. The second building was an educational building, probably used to accommodate programs for school kids on field trips. The last building was a planetarium and science museum geared toward school-age children.
The town of Kinston was the County seat for Lenoir County, but it was a small town with a population of only about 20,000. I was surprised such a little community would have such an impressive city park. The campground section was to the west of the park area. About ½ of the sites backed up to the river and the others across the way backed up to a wooded swamp area. Everything was situated in a small loop. There were about 10 spots that were occupied by both travel trailers and motor coaches. We picked a river front spot next to the park hosts. From this location our coach would be facing southwest, and hopefully we would be able to get a clear DirecTV signal. Mike wanted to be on the water so he could fish anytime he wanted. We figured there would be some big catfish in the muddy water near the banks. It was great! As Mike mixed up our first night martinis we decided we would give it one night to make sure everything worked okay. If we did not encounter any glitches, we would plan to stay for about 2 ½ weeks. This would put us through Christmas and New Year’s. We were feeling settled in for the remainder of the holiday season.
Our first full day at this campground was a typical orientation day. We talked to the staff people inside the Nature Center to see what attractions were around us. They told Mike he was welcome to gather firewood from anywhere he wanted in the adjoining wooded area. He took off with his chain saw and got us supplied for a never ending campfire. They also gave us some ideas on daytrips to take from this location, and informed us that there was a municipal dog park located just down the street – literally within walking distance of the campground. I told him our dogs were not good with other animals, only humans. One of the guys said he had a dog that was the same way, and he took his dog to the dog park all the time. There were three separate fenced areas, so he could usually find an empty section to let his dog run without going into attack mode. Piper and Cessna were beyond excited about this perk. We ended up taking them there every day that it did not rain while we were at Neuseway.
Later that afternoon, Mike fished from the banks and we built a campfire. After dark we noticed our lights were randomly flickering and my washing machine was acting weird. Mike checked the system controls inside and realized we were getting too much electrical voltage from their main outlet. The lights were flickering because the coach was trying to block the surges and prevent a blow-out of our system. He switched us over to 30-amp power. The problem did not go away, but it was manageable for the rest of the evening. We called the maintenance department the next morning and they came out immediately to check on the problem. After a couple of visits from a city employee and a private sector company, a third group of guys came out with a bucket truck. They went up to the transformer at the front of the park and adjusted the voltage. Once again, I was surprised at the wonderful service and attention we got at this place. The problem was fixed and we had no other infrastructure worries for the duration of our time there.
Now that everything was working fine, it was time for us to scout out our new community and the surrounding region. The dogs jumped into the back of the car and we drove out of the park with absolutely no agenda. Mike needed cash and he had located a Walgreens with a free ATM machine, so he drove there first. Next we needed gas, so we drove around town looking for a station with the best price. Pretty soon we were all fueled up and still had no agenda. We cruised the streets of downtown Kinston to see what kind of businesses, shops and restaurants were across the river from our camp. It was Saturday during College Bowl season, and we figured we might find a local place with some televisions where we could watch some games. We didn’t get a DirecTV signal at this park after all; only over-air channels – so no ESPN from our couch. Mother Earth Brewing Company is located in downtown Kinston. Two local boys from Kinston started the brewery in 2008. They revitalized a large commercial building downtown to create the brewery, and then bought the abandoned retail space next door for their tap room. The brewery is open for tours and the tap room is open for tasting. We thought maybe they had some televisions at their bar and we could watch football there. Mike parked by the curb outside, and I ran in to see what the interior was like. They did not have televisions, but I was completely impressed with the interior. Extremely classy. Not at all what I would expect a ‘beer joint’ to look like. It looked more like a chic cosmopolitan hot spot in New York City; very clean, modern, sparse. Low back leather couches were scattered sparingly around the white concrete floor. White silky sheers draped the windows from floor to extra tall ceiling. The bar was in the middle of the room and shaped like a giant horse shoe. The two flat screen televisions that flanked the space above the bar were only showing the featured beers of the day. They had a beer garden in an outside alley area with more modern furniture. This time the space was decorated with big wooden chairs covered in thick red cushions. The whole place looked like they might specialize in champagne or martinis rather than craft beers. We didn’t stay because we were still on a quest to watch football (and I would rather drink cough syrup than beer). However, I was super impressed with such a nice place. As we came to find out, downtown Kinston had several high-end restaurants with tons of personality and big city swank.
I got back into the car and told Mike that although the tap room looked like a fabulous place, it was not what we were looking for on that particular afternoon. I suggested we drive about 30 minutes to our southeast and see about another small town called New Bern. We followed Highway 70 until we started seeing signs for historic downtown, then we followed the arrows for public parking lots. The Neuse and Trent Rivers converge in this 300 year –old community before they empty into Pamlico Sound. I guess we could have jumped in a canoe behind our bus and paddled our way to the same spot where we parked our car! The Chamber of Commerce likes to brag that the city was named one of the Top 10 Greatest Boating Towns by Boat U.S. Magazine. Their downtown area is anchored by water on two sides. One side was a beautiful municipal park and the other was a marina filled with all sorts of boats. Just like every time we encounter a downtown new to us, we took a walk through the streets to see what kinds of restaurants or attractions they had to offer (and wear out the dogs), making a mental note of some of the places we would like to return to and visit inside.
We walked toward the boats first. We like to look at the vessels moored in local marinas and fantasize about which ones would be good to live on after we finish the Lower 48 in 48 Tour. The waterfront was lovely. A pristine promenade was lined with brick pavers, park benches, new street lamps and public art. Off in the distance we spotted a wedding party having their pictures taken. It was that kind of setting. We rounded a corner near the Convention Center and steered ourselves toward the commercial area. Downtown New Bern had an amazing inventory of historic buildings. It did not look like they had lost many structures at all to demolition or neglect. Another surprising thing is that most of them were filled with thriving businesses. We passed art galleries, retail boutiques, bicycle and kayak rental shops, restaurants, churches, ice cream parlors, bars, furniture stores. The list goes on and on. It was also evident that most of the second and third stories of these buildings were occupied by residents. This wasn’t just a downtown, it was also a neighborhood. We came upon an historic drug store where we learned Pepsi was created! A gentleman by the name of Caleb Bradham created a concoction he called “Brad’s Drink” on the corner where we were standing, and it was marketed as Pepsi-Cola after 1898. Fun! Another charming factor about New Bern was that it was nicknamed Bear Town. I didn’t find out exactly why this was, but they had bear statues scattered all around town. Some were in front of local businesses, and others were situated on street corners. The bears seemed to be concrete, but they were each uniquely painted and decorated. During this Christmas season, they were all adorned with extra decorations like wreaths around their neck or a stocking cap on their head. They gave the central business district so much additional personality.
I have an app on my phone called BringFido. It helps us locate dog friendly restaurants, lodging, or parks when we are in a new place. There is a corresponding website called www.bringfido.com. It is a very useful tool. On this night, bringfido told us we could take our dogs into a pub called Bear Town Marker. They didn’t have an outside patio, but dogs were allowed inside the bar. They also had a few televisions on the wall, so we decided to stop for a drink and to catch up on some scores. Piper and Cessna chilled out under our bar stools and everyone was happy until another patron brought his dog into the bar and let him off the leash. The new dog bounced up to ours before we knew what was happening. We figured it out when our two went BONKERS… and not in a good way. It was fortunate we were done with round one, because it was time to pay the tab and be on our way. The other dog seemed to be a regular, and we didn’t want to draw any more attention to ourselves.
The weather was warm enough that afternoon to sit outside, so we had our second drink with an appetizer at a place we had spotted earlier. Morgan’s Tavern and Grill used part of their parking lot behind the building to create a little patio enclosed by a short brick wall. There were about 10 tables out there and we weren’t the only ones that wanted to take advantage of the crisp December afternoon. We arrived there at dusk and got to enjoy a spectacular sunset completely by accident. Another fun thing we saw was Santa getting toasted on his dinner break. He and his little elf assistant were at the bar having drinks when Mike went inside to find the men’s room. Later they came outside and made their way back to Santa’s little cottage which was situated on one of the main streets in downtown. Families were lined up down the block waiting their turn, so the kiddos could share their gift requests and have their picture snapped. As we passed by the quintessential Christmas scene, I wondered if the little kids would know that hooch was what they smelled on Santa’s breath. It made me wonder about all those annual photos where the kids are screaming bloody murder after being placed in the big man’s lap. Maybe they are crying because Santa did not eat a peppermint after happy hour.
Our last stop was for yummy seafood at a restaurant called The Stingray Café. The dining room was attached to a seafood market, so they pulled our fresh flounder directly from the ice cooler before they fried it up for us. No dogs were allowed at this place, so Piper and Cessna took a nap in the back of the Honda while they waited for us to finish our dinner. New Bern had turned out to be a great place to spend an afternoon. We had seen some wonderful buildings, looked into some cute shops, enjoyed some great food, and had a few laughs at Santa’s expense. After an easy drive home, I put on my pajamas and wondered what other fun we might get into the next time we had no agenda.
After a few days of fishing, running errands, cleaning, writing, reading, cooking, and watching the leak that still dripped water from the ceiling when it rained… it was Christmas Eve! When we were shopping back in Suffolk one afternoon, Mike had said he wanted to get me a heart shaped ring as a Christmas present. He had to tell me when we were together so I could pick something out that fit on my finger and that I liked. We found one with a matching necklace and bought it. He had wrapped the two small boxes and set them beside our metal tree. I had also bought a heavy coat on that particular afternoon, so my Christmas was all situated. As for his gift, I had downloaded several books onto the Kindle. The list of his new ‘library’ was printed up in an envelope and also placed under the tree. We did not have any last-minute shopping to do this Christmas. As far as I knew, we were just planning to spend the day relaxing until it was time for church services at 6:00 that evening.
When I came in from walking the dogs that morning, I was instructed to get in the shower and get dressed. My usual routine is to pour a cup of coffee and sit down at my desk. I usually waste about an hour looking at facebook, reading and sending emails, and eliminating spam messages from our website. This morning he said I was not allowed to get on the computer because we didn’t have time to waste. We were going somewhere that was a surprise… and they were only open from 10:00 am until 1:00 pm. Surprises from Mike always make me grin. He cannot stand surprises, but he knows I like them so he springs them on me occasionally. I always appreciate the ‘game’ we play when he has orchestrated something. I asked for a couple of hints and he said wear socks. Okay! I got dressed lickity split and we took a short drive east toward Goldsboro. Pretty soon we were pulling into the parking lot of Country View Western Store. Mike told Cessna and Piper to wait in the Honda while we went in and picked me out some NEW BOOTS. I had one pair of black boots and I had been wearing them a lot lately because they were the warmest shoes I had for the winter weather. I would like to have said they were comfortable, but they were the same boots I had had since high school. When we walked long distances on day trips, the top of my foot would be killing me by the time we got back home. They were obviously molded to the shape of my foot, so I was wondering why they were so uncomfortable. A few weeks earlier I had actually looked inside to see what size they were. The markings said size 7. I wear an 8 ½. I guess my foot has grown a bit since I was 16 years old. I tried on dozens of options and selected a chocolate brown pair that had some beige decorative stitching all over. They were still a ‘neutral’ color, but also a little sassy. After Mike paid for them, we had to leave them to be stretched up at the top. Out of the box, they were really tight around my calf muscles, but the sales lady said they could fix that without any problems.
When our shopping was complete, I suggested we find a Mexican food restaurant for lunch. I spent half of my childhood growing up in South Texas, where there is a serious tradition of eating tamales on Christmas Eve. I had been lamenting the fact that we were not going to enjoy this delicacy in 2013. I had been asking around for days if anyone knew where we could find some tamales, and all the North Carolinians looked at me curiously as they shook their heads. My family was even concerned about this tragic void we were facing. My step-sister Suzanne had offered to send me a dozen via FedEx, but we couldn’t receive packages at our campground in Kinston… so I was going to have to wait until the New Year when we moved to our next spot. It was a serious dilemma. We decided to stop into a place in Kinston called El Norteno to see if they possibly had tamales on their menu. We lucked out. They did! New boots and tamales all in one day. Wow. This was turning out to be one of the best Christmas’s ever! The masa was a little bit thick on the tamales, but they tasted good and our tradition remained intact. I would have to say that our meal at El Norteno was the best Tex-Mex we had sampled since our trip started back in February. After lunch we made our way back home completely content and took a little cat nap before it was time to go to church.
We went to Queen Street United Methodist Church in downtown Kinston at 6:00 that evening for the Christmas Service. We are always conspicuous strangers when we attend church in a small town. Everyone wonders where we are from and why we are there. The congregation was very friendly and the celebration was very nice. The interior of the historic church was white plaster with dark mahogany woodwork. Lighted garland and wreaths hung from the balconies while red poinsettias were placed about the altar and beside each pew. A tall Christmas tree with white lights and white ornaments sparkled on the left side of the sanctuary. It was a very cozy setting and the service was beautiful, complete with wonderful music from the organist and choir. After we got home from church, we changed into comfy pj’s, mixed up a couple of martinis, and feasted on fresh boiled shrimp while we watched It’s a Wonderful Life. A perfect ending to a fabulous day.
Christmas day was pretty low key. We exchanged our gifts in the morning. The dogs got boiled eggs with their breakfast and then we took them to the dog park. I cooked a VERY southern meal of glazed spiral ham, cornbread dressing, baked sweet potatoes and collard greens. The high was only 39 that day, so it was a bit too chilly to be outside for too long. We finished the day in front of the television and the computer with no complaints at all.
Of course we wanted to see the Outer Banks when we were in North Carolina. Even though we were on the eastern side of the state, we weren’t going to be able to enjoy OBX in a single day trip. The 200-mile long string of peninsulas and barrier islands separate the Atlantic Ocean from mainland North Carolina, and there are only 3 ways to get there: via 2 ferry rides or one bridge. We decided we would make an overnight trip of it so the excursion would be pleasant instead of exhausting. As we started to plan the details of the trip, we realized it was going to make for 2 LONG days regardless of how we approached it. The plan was to start at the south end on Ocracoke Island and drive north all day. We would stay overnight at a hotel in the northern section, and then take another route home over a bridge on the second day. We decided to take the Cedar Island Ferry from the mainland to Ocracoke because the schedule was the best. It was about a 3-hour drive from our camp just to get to Cedar Island, so we made reservations for the 10:00 AM ferry and left our house at 6:30 AM on a Friday morning. Getting up at 5:00 AM to spend a day at the beach seemed a little counter-intuitive to me… but there was no other way to go about it.
We arrived at the ferry terminal about 9:15, which gave us a chance to walk Piper and Cessna before we got out on the water. They loaded us on time and we settled in for the 2 ½ hour ride across Pamlico Sound. We stayed inside our car the whole time because the wind was so cold and blustery. I took the opportunity to take a long nap, and Mike read one of the books he got for Christmas. We got back on land at Ocracoke Island at 12:30. It had been over 7 hours since the alarm had gone off, and our daytrip was essentially just beginning! Ocracoke Island is part of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore and is only accessible by ferry, boat or private airplane. The entire island is owned by the US National Park Service except for the tiny village. In 2010 the census showed it had a population of 948. The notorious pirate Blackbeard anchored his ships off of Springer’s Point on the island. He was killed in a battle there during November of 1718. Legend tells that he was beheaded and thrown overboard, and his headless body swam around the ship 4 times before sinking. There is also an historic 1823 Lighthouse on the island, which is the second oldest operating lighthouse in the nation. Except for the little village area, the island is primarily a narrow strip of unspoiled white sand beach, grassy dunes, and crashing waves.
Since it was the lunch hour, we wanted to get a bite to eat. I had read some brochures and looked online for some good restaurant suggestions while we were on the ferry. The village is set in a u-shape around Silver Lake Harbor, where we disembarked from the ferry. We drove through the narrow streets searching for the restaurants I had pinpointed. Each time we came to one of our target spots, it was closed. If 948 people lived here normally, I was starting to guess that 900 of them had gone somewhere else for the winter. Each establishment had a hand-written sign on the door: “closed for the season, be back in March”. We were originally hoping to have lunch somewhere with a view of the water. After 15 minutes of cruising through town we had seen it all and were not feeling very lucky. Our aspirations changed to just hoping to find somewhere to eat at all! We finally found a place on the main drag called Gaffer’s Sports Pub. They didn’t have outside dining, so we tied Piper and Cessna to a picnic table at the edge of the parking lot and went inside. The fresh fish of the day was drum. I had a fried fish sandwich and Mike had a fish basket with fries and cole slaw. It was delicious. Back in the car we made our way north on the famous Highway 12 until the land met the water at the Hatteras Inlet. We got on another ferry to continue toward Cape Hatteras. This time the ferry ride was about an hour. I took another nap. Mike continued reading his book.
When we drove off the ferry at Hatteras, things looked a little different. We were still on a sliver of land with the ocean roaring to our east and the shallow bay of Pamlico Sound lapping to our west. This seemed like less of a village and more of a destination. We were immediately greeted by rows of enormous beach houses lining the edge of both bodies of water. There are seven towns on Hatteras Island. We would drive through a patch of unspoiled sea shore, then come into a cluster of vacation homes, local restaurants, and home grown retail shops. A couple of miles down the road, the buildings would end and the natural beauty would take over again. We flip flopped back and forth between the two for about 50 miles until we reached the Bonner Bridge. We did make one stop in Buxton to see the famous lighthouse. An area called Diamond Shores is located just off shore at Cape Hatteras. It is here that a warm ocean current and a cold ocean current collide, creating ideal conditions for powerful ocean storms and sea swells. After numerous shipwrecks, this area was nicknamed “The Graveyard of the Atlantic”. The original lighthouse was constructed in 1802. A second and improved structure was erected in 1868. After three years of construction, its first light shone in 1871. At 200 feet above ground, it was the tallest brick lighthouse tower in the world. It is identifiable by the black and white diagonal ‘daymark’ paint job, which makes it look like a giant barber pole. From the moment the structure was complete, erosion of the land between the lighthouse and the sea slowly made its location closer and closer to the surf. In 1999, the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse had to be moved from its original location at the edge of the ocean to safer ground 2,871 feet inland. Due to erosion of the shore, the lighthouse was just 120 feet from the ocean’s edge and in imminent danger. It is the tallest masonry structure ever moved and the project was deemed “The Move of the Millennium”. We did not climb up the 268 steps, but we walked the dogs around the grounds of the park and out to an opening where we could see the foamy white waves waves tumbling onto the beach. After our legs were stretched and we had some fresh air in our lungs, we got back in the car and continued driving north.
We had reservations at the Comfort Inn South in Nags Head, and we arrived to the location just at sunset. When we booked the hotel room, we were mostly focused on a dog friendly place with a cheap rate. I wasn’t expecting much, so I was pleasantly surprised when we pulled into the parking lot. It was actually an oceanfront property. I figured we would be located on a slab of concrete along the main drag somewhere, so this was a giant perk. When I checked us in, I asked the desk clerk if we could have a room facing the beach and she said yes! When we got to our room we saw we even had a small balcony. As we unloaded our bags and got situated, we left the door to the balcony wide open so we could enjoy the sound of the waves from the beach below us. The sky was a deep blue with streaks of bright pink slashed across the horizon. The air was brisk, but not cold. The view was great, the sounds were soothing, and the temperature was perfect. It was the wonderful setting for our little post-road/ferry/road/ferry/road-trip happy hour. As we relaxed, I looked at the urbanspoon app on my phone to try and find us a good place for dinner.
Our streak of luck did not end when we checked into the hotel. Sometimes using the urbanspoon app to help us find a restaurant is a good thing, sometimes it’s a bust. That night it was a fantastic thing! At first I thought we would look for somewhere on the water, but it was already dark so having a view was no factor. Next I had wanted to try a place we saw on DDD, but when I called the number guess what? They were closed for the season… they would be back in March. As a last result we picked a place called Blue Moon Beach Grill. Thank goodness the other options did not work out. The place was located in a strip center on the main drag, and did not look too fancy from the outside. However, when we reached the front door we started to think we might be on to something. The place was packed! Standing room only. We put our name on the list and the hostess told us the wait was about 1 hour and 15 minutes. They had a bar, so we didn’t mind waiting while we had a cocktail. The bar was three deep with other patrons that had the same idea we did, so we muddled our way through the throngs of people and found a bit of space at the other end near the kitchen. Sometimes when a restaurant is packed like this one was, the wait staff can be a little tense and gruff, but not here. The bartender got us our drinks with a huge smile. Everyone was so friendly and gracious, it was like we were in some sort of twilight zone episode where they were trying to demonstrate the true meaning of hospitality. The kitchen was wide open to the rest of the dining room, so I turned my attention to the action in there. I had been craving shrimp and grits, but after I saw all the other dishes they were preparing, I started to waiver. Pans were clanking, butter was sizzling in the skillets, and steam was rising off the dishes ready for the tables. There were about 5 guys preparing and plating the meals. Even they had a great attitude in spite of the obvious crunch they were feeling. They started joking with me because I was so enthralled with what was going on back there. They even let us snap a photo with our camera phone. Once we were seated at a table, I did order the shrimp and grits with a side of brussel sprouts. Mike ordered the Angel’s Delight which was shrimp, crab, tomatoes, onions, roasted peppers, garlic and basil over angel hair pasta in a white wine sauce. We shared each other’s dinner, and I honestly cannot tell you which I liked better. We even had leftovers so we took a to- go box back to the room and stored it in the cooler we brought with us. If I lived in Nag’s Head, I think I would go there every day until I sampled each item on the menu. It was most certainly one of the best dining experiences we have had since our trip began almost one year ago.
We were back to our room by 9:00 PM, and that was good because the day had been an ultra long one. We crashed immediately and slept like babies. Our room faced east so I got up with the sunrise the next morning. I knew it would be a beautiful sight with the nice weather and I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity. There was no wind so the water was calm. The tide was out, so the surf was breaking onto a much larger palette of sand than we had seen the previous evening. The sky and the ocean were the same color. The horizon was marked by a bright band of yellows and oranges that grew wider and brighter until the sun burst up over the line and sprinkled a warm haze of gold-dust through the air. It looked like everything was illuminated by a foggy glow of perfect light. We took our time getting dressed. I went downstairs to the free breakfast buffet and brought us back some goodies to snack on with our coffee. The dogs enjoyed the fresh air out on the balcony. Piper was concentrating intently on devising a strategy to capture one of the seagulls that were flying around at his eye level. Cessna just soaked up the view. Pretty soon it was time to check out and head to Kitty Hawk. Of course Mike was interested in seeing the place where the Wright Brothers figured out how humans could fly.
We had a fun morning at the Wright Brothers National Memorial. Although the brothers were from Dayton, Ohio, they came to North Carolina for the wind that would help them fly and the sand would cushion their crash landings. They also practiced their theories in a glider that they could fly from the tall dunes at Kill Devil Hills. This was the perfect environment for them to realize their obsession with flying in a heavier-than-air machine. There was an exhibit hall with stories about the lives of Orville and Wilber, details about their trials and experiments as they explored the concept of flight, and a replica of the 1902 Wright Glider. Except for two small exhibit buildings, the rest of the national park was all outdoors. There was a replica hanger where they built and then repaired their airplane after flight attempts. There was another replica cabin next door where they lived while they were based at Kill Devil Hills. There were 4 granite stones marking each of the distances they flew on December 17, 1903 when they finally succeeded in taking flight. The first three successful attempts lasted only seconds and carried them a little over 100 feet (slightly farther each time). On their fourth attempt the plane went 852 feet and lasted 59 seconds. It was very interesting to see the distances marked out on the ground. Off in the distance, several hundred yards from the place where they flew, was the 60-foot granite monument erected in their honor. The location of the monument is atop a 90-foot dune where they would experiment with the gliders they built. There is also an airstrip on the grounds of the park, along with a wonderful life-size bronze sculpture of the whole ‘scene’ from that freezing day in December, 110 years ago. Our field trip was very inspirational. It was a good reminder about important life lessons. These two brothers taught themselves everything they needed to know about an idea that consumed them. We were reminded that day about the power of science, creativity, ingenuity, and team work. All life lessons that warrant ‘refresher courses’ over time. When we left the memorial park we went to eat lunch at a place on the beach called the Black Pelican. We thought this was an appropriate choice of restaurants, since it was from this historic building that the brothers sent a telegram home telling their father of their achievement. That… and DDD said their seafood pizza was very good. We had a great view of the sand dunes and ocean while we devoured a yummy lunch. Mike even spotted a pod of dolphins playing out in the water in front of us. With another long drive ahead, we paid the tab and got back on the road. This time we drove across Roanoke Island and through the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge. We made it back to our camp almost exactly 36 hours after we had left the previous morning. It was a tiring trip. However, the scenery, the food, and the lessons we learned made it well worth the effort.
The Longhorn football team played in the Alamo Bowl on Monday, December 30th. We never did find s sports bar in the little town, so we watched it at Applebee’s. On New Year’s Eve we walked across the bridge into downtown and had a couple of martinis and some raw oysters at The Boiler Room. This place was a very hip and extremely casual oyster bar. It was named for the actual gigantic boiler sitting off in the corner of the restaurant’s floor plan. We sat at the bar and watched the first half of the A&M vs. Duke Game on the television screens overhead. It started out great and remained exciting until the end. We would have stayed longer and watched more football, but the bar tenders were very eager to close up at 10 PM, in time for their own end of the year celebrations. They didn’t mind telling all of the customers how the boss said they could leave at 10 – unless there was still a large crowd, in which case they would have to stay and continue serving customers. Hint, Hint… they DID NOT want that scenario to play out. By the time we left around 9, the head bartender was taking shots with the customers. She was not even interested in waiting until 10 to get her party started!
New Year’s Day was about as low key as Christmas was for us. Mike worked on the leaky roof from up on top of the coach. We went through the box of mail I had picked up the day before at the FedEx Office in Greenville. Mike built a campfire in the late afternoon. We grilled chili cheeseburgers for dinner and added a salad to trick ourselves into thinking we were eating somewhat healthy. In fact, the first three days of the year were low key because the weather was either cold and windy, or cold and wet. We stayed inside, hovered around the space heater, and kept occupied with the computer and the television. By the time the weekend arrived, the weather had cleared off and we needed to get out of the house. We drove to the small town of Washington, which was northeast of us about 45 minutes away. Their claim to historical fame is that they are the first city in the U.S. to be named for General George Washington. The small town of about 10,000 was established in 1776, and the heart of its downtown is situated on the banks of the Pamlico River. This area of North Carolina is referred to as the “Inner Banks”. There was a very nice community park along the shoreline. Part of it was concrete and brick pavers. As the path moved away from downtown, the trail turned into a long boardwalk with new waterfront condos built on the left of us and their marina across from us on the right. We walked the dogs along the water and then back through the streets that were lined with historic commercial buildings. There were several restaurants and shops in the downtown area, but not every building was occupied. Some of the older buildings were vacant and in need of some tender loving care. Mike stepped into the Chamber of Commerce to pick up a map, and the lady on duty told us about a dog park not far way. We walked Cessna and Piper through the middle of town until we found it. They played a bit inside the fence until another dog showed up with its owner. Then we left because they cannot play well with others. We had worked up an appetite, so we walked back toward downtown and stopped into a little spot called Down on Main Street for a late lunch. I got a plate of house made fried potato chips covered in buffalo chicken, blue cheese, bacon and green onions. Mike got a fried shrimp sandwich with a side of fried cheese grits. Maybe we should have saved our long walk until after lunch!
Our last day in Kinston was a Sunday. We weren’t feeling like total tourists after living in the area for more than 2 weeks, so we acted like locals for the day. We went back to church at Queen Street United Methodist Church. We saw all of the same people we saw at the Christmas service. Everyone sat in the same pew where they had been sitting on the 24th. Some people were just too curious about us since we were back, and had to ask what our story was. We told one gentleman we were traveling through the area and he asked enough questions to get all the details about the Lower 48 in 48 Tour. Then he started bringing others from the congregation up to meet us. When the minister started the service, he whispered our story to the neighbors around him in his pew, and then those nice people started waiving at us. I sort of felt like we were on display in a zoo or something, but it wasn’t bad. The citizens could not have been more polite and welcoming. The church community has lost 2 members of its family since we had been there last, so it was a very sad service on that Sunday. After church we went to a place called King’s Restaurant World Famous BBQ and Chicken out on the highway. They had a buffet on Sunday from 11-2. I’d say 20% of the customers in the place were folks I recognized from church. The other 80% in the building had just left services from churches of other denominations. The family owned business started out as a country store and filling station 75 years ago. They are famous for their chopped pulled pork in Eastern Carolina vinegar sauce, and for their fried chicken. We tried both, along with fried fish, cole slaw, mashed potatoes, turkey with gravy, collard greens, deviled eggs, fried shrimp, crab cakes, hush puppies, chicken and dumplings, sweet tea, pecan pie, banana pudding and chocolate cream pie. We probably should have walked home and returned in a cab later to pick up the car. We waddled out to the parking lot and drove the Honda on the 3 mile route back to the bus . Watching football in between naps was not the healthiest activity to select after that mammoth lunch, but it was the most enjoyable. We eventually mustered enough energy to get outside and pack up all of our gear in preparation for a travel day on Monday. Our plan was to leave Kinston in the morning and drive to a new park between Wilmington, NC and Myrtle Beach, SC.