It always takes longer to pack up than expected. After numerous trips back and forth from the FROG I felt that everything that had been brought up had been brought down. But nothing like the Mom question “are you sure you have everything?” to throw doubt in your mind. One more trip to look, nothing was left, so we hitched up the trailer and pulled down the driveway around 11:00. Heat and humidity greeted us when we arrived in West End, and it would say goodbye when we left, my shirt drenched after the smallest effort. The Outer Banks were today’s destination and it looked to be a straight shot. HWY 15/501 pulled us out of Carthage, while HWY 1 would bring us to Raleigh where we would take HWY 64 all the way to the coast. Our timing concerning traffic was good so things were looking up. I made a slight deviation by taking the exit for Old HWY 1 which turned out to be a waste. Most of these excursions tend to be a waste of time, a suck on our progress. But there is always that chance I will see something so cool that these wastes of time will be worth it. Today wasn’t the day.
HWY 64 turned out to be almost like an interstate, just with better scenery. Two lanes allowed traffic to run freely and we had no problems, Arabella humming along the open road. I am anxious to see the ocean as my trip to Sag Harbor didn’t permit it and I have never been to the Outer Banks. In Minnesota, I have seen the car decals announcing the owner as having been to the OBX and always been a little jealous. The iconic Cape Hatteras lighthouse almost as familiar as the Montauk light. We travel in the rain, pulling off at a McDonalds proclaiming a 97% sanitation rating. I hope the 3% of the missed checklist items were not important. Will I ever find an establishment with 100%? Mabel struts in the rain while I try to stay dry, talking on the phone to my replacement at Life Time, glad his problems were no longer mine.
We continue East on HWY 64, still two lanes, soon to become one and stop again, this time in the sun at the Plymouth Welcome Center. There's a wooden bear statue announcing this is home to some of the world’s biggest black bears. I’ll take their word for it. We struck out, no promotional material and I don’t have a clue as to where we will be camping tonight
The highway turns into one lane, the swampy water pushing up against the guardrails leaving me to wonder what types of critter lurk under the surface. I don’t plan on finding out. The road is straight and smooth, lined by trees with needles mixed in with trees that have leaves. Tidy homes look out across lawns intended to offer a buffer from the road. There is no clutter here, the homes with “stuff” putting it in their back yard. Billboards announce OBX attractions and I feel the excitement. I am going to a place that the signs tell me will be loads of fun. Signs don’t lie so this should be the best part of my trip. For some reason, I truly feel like I am headed to the ocean. I don’t know if it is the sandy soil, tree lined highway preventing my distracting excursions, or the buoyant billboards. All these provide a channel upon which I am riding and can’t get off. The Atlantic’s magnetism had me in a tractor beam which felt like the Hotel California line; “you can check out anytime, but you can never leave.”
We cross a small bridge and pull into the Welcome Center at Columbia, NC where I have better luck with camping suggestions. The attendant is very nice and in addition to the state created promotional material, provides me with a pamphlet for the Refuge on Roanoke Island Campground. It had good reviews on Google and the photos looked nice. After a quick call, availability was confirmed and I told the manager I would be there in 40 minutes. Two more bridges, one being the 5 Mile Bridge and I watch the odometer to make sure the length is not overstated. People will do that sometime and I confirm that honesty prevailed. Remembering the instructions from the Welcome Center attendant, I turn right instead of left once on the island. The Refuge is a few miles down the road which cuts through what looks to be fields of high grasses. I see channels of water in the grass and think it would be cool to see a fan boat speeding through them, a local reaching into the water to pull out an alligator by its tail.
We pull in but the Refuge looks different than the pictures; lines of RV’s, some looking permanently affixed to the lot. These are the weekenders, those that use the RV park as a summer home. Mabel has her head out the window and seems OK with the accommodations. She always gets excited when we pull into a new place and I am thinking she knows it’s because the car ride for today is over. We find the manager’s office after initially pulling through only to exit and having to do it all over again. He tells me I was close on my timing, arriving about 40 minutes since we called. I am assigned a spot that backs up to the cove and I like the view, besides with no weekenders’ present, the park is quiet. Mabel roams around like usual between our lot and the neighbors to the left and right. There is a young family on the left with the husband in a tournament that sounds to be deep sea fishing. There were boat problems so they were unable to fish today. The neighbors on the right live about three hours away and have their granddaughters with them for the beach. Both very nice, they tell me about the Lost Colony play at Fort Raleigh and tonight will be their second time seeing it, so you know it must be good. Looking for local culture, I give it some thought and 7:30 finds me in an aisle seat very close to the left side of the stage. I was close enough to see the actors sweat because it was still hot. The neighbors were right, it was a professional looking show and it should be, this is their 80th year. I heard that Andy Griffith, performed in it during the 1950’s. The costumes, sets, amphitheater, and actors made it feel like we were watching a real play, not sitting in an old fort with our view of the ocean blocked by the sets.
The first half ended with the colonists loading the boat for America and intermission provided a chance to stretch. The local Lions Club runs the two concession stands (beer and wine are the theater companies) and they tell me this is their biggest fund raiser. I make my way back to my seat, a big Pepsi in my hand and as I chatted with other theater goers, we could see the lightning flashing from behind the stage. Soon the announcement is made that the play is delayed. I walk with the usher who does this as a summer job, her major is sports management and marketing for the NFL Panthers, her dream job. This sounds like a major for Hayden, my youngest son, who quizzed me on this year’s NFL Combine performances, I swear he will be featured in the next Money Ball movie. We mill about for what seems to be 30 minutes and I should have taken this opportunity to speak with a captured audience. But I was tired and didn’t want to answer anyone’s questions so figured no one else did either. I hate waiting like this but it is soon over, the skies open in a torrential downpour. The play is cancelled for the night and we can call the box office for another performance which does me no good. Sheri asked me later what happened to the colonists and I told her, “I don’t know, I only saw half the show.”
Mabel is snug in the camper when I arrive in the rain. We are treated to quite a lightning show with thunder boomers sounding rather close. A boom crackles through the sky, very close, which had me wondering how conductive the camper is. The storms pass behind me, I can hear the dull thuds travelling through the heavy air. We go to sleep but a frog wakes me up and I can’t catch it, Mabel my watchdog was no help. I am awakened later by the same frog or so I hope as a colony in the camper would be a bad thing. This time I am successful in grabbing it off the camper wall with a t-shirt and depositing it out my side door. Sleep comes back with no more distractions until the alarm went off.