Monday, September 24, 2012

Outer Banks - September 2012

After my usual summer outings to music festivals and camping in Maine, I was looking for a new place to experience with my RV.  My RV, a 20 ft Roadtrek 190 van, is great road trip vehicle.  I was reading a travel article about the Outer Banks of North Carolina and it caught my interest as a place to see that was an easy drive from my home.  Late summer, after schools are in session and the tourists are gone, seemed like a perfect time to go.

I planned a route down the mid-Atlantic coast that would take me down thru New Jersey to Cape May.  I had seen pictures of Cape May and it looked like another interesting place to visit.  Also, there is a ferry that will take you across to Delaware and the Outer Banks are an easy drive from there.  I planned a nine day trip and just waited for a stretch of good weather to set out.

We had an easy drive out of Massachusetts into Connecticut.  With the RV, I now have to avoid most parkways, due to restrictions.  So we took I-84 thru CT, crossed the Tappan Zee Bridge in NY, and then took the Garden State Parkway all the way down to Cape May.  Prior to leaving I checked with the NJ Turnpike Authority and RV's are ok on the Garden State Parkway.

There were some good campgrounds to choose from in Cape May.  We stayed at Seashore Campsites, which is about 3.5 miles outside of the Cape May town center.  The campground caters to seasonal campers but has plenty of nice sites for traveling campers.

I planned a two night stay figuring we would spend a day biking around the town and taking in the sites.  Its about a 3-4 mile bike ride into Cape May.  There's a bike path that takes you part way and then you need to bike over a large canal bridge and then into Cape May.  Anne and I spent the day biking and taking in the sites.  Cape May is a popular vacation destination with lots of hotels, B&B's, and fine restaurants.  The signature aspects of Cape May are its beach and its colorful Victorian era homes - its loaded with them. 

The town is bordered by a nice white sand beach that has a boardwalk and several changing stations and public bathrooms.  Here's a short video of the boardwalk.

Washington Street is the center of the shopping district and on the day we were there, the shops were having there annual end of summer Side Walk Sale.

This was perfect for Anne.  We split up and she spent a good part of her day on Washington Street and I biked around the town.

The homes are really spectacular.  Most all have porches and are painted in multiple colors.  Some streets are quaint and lined with shade trees.  It also seemed like many of the homes have been built into inns or B&B's.  Here's a collection of some pictures of houses in Cape May.

After a day of biking, the next day we set out for the Outer Banks.  The first stop was the Cape May to Lewes Ferry, which departs about 2 miles from our campsite.  The ferry runs every hour and we were booked on the 9:30 am.

When we got to the ferry terminal, there were perhaps 50-60 motorcycles lined up for  the ferry.  It was Bike Weekend in Ocean City MD and the bikers were on there way to the event. It was a pretty loud when that all fired up and roared onto the ferry.

The ferry crosses the Delaware Bay.  Its 17 miles as the crow flies and takes about 85 minutes.  It added a little bit of adventure to our trip.  It was a nice sunny breezy day which made for quite a bit of rolling on the boat.

From Lewes, DE we made our way to Rt 113 and took that down to Rt 13 all the way to the eastern shore of Virginia. These are divided 4 lane highways that were good but had more stop lights than I would have liked.

We took the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel over to Norfolk.  This is the longest bridge I've ever seen - its 23 miles from shore to shore and has a $12 toll each way. It was windy as we crossed which required keeping 2 hands on the wheel.

From Norfolk, we took a beltway around the city and then got on Rt 168 which brought us down to the Outer Banks.

When I planned the trip, I had heard (and seen on Google Maps) that the northern part of the Outer Banks is quite commercial and developed.  I wanted to experience the more remote sections and be as close to the water as possible.  While camping in Maine, we had met a couple that had recently camped at Rodanthe, which is on the northern part of Hatteras Island.  In this area, the land is only about 1/4 mile wide and the town is bordered on each end by the National Seashore.  The National Seashore runs three campgrounds on the Outer Banks, but they have limited facilities (no hot showers or electricity).  I chose Camp Hatteras in Rodanthe that has sites on the ocean as well as the bay side. It also has full hook up, pools, laundry, and cable TV.

As we got onto the Outer Banks, we drove thru the heavily developed areas of Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills, and Nags Head.  If you're looking for strip malls, mini golf, go carts, shopping centers, and lots of chain restaurants, then these three town have it all.  It reminded me of Route 1 in Southern Maine except a lot bigger.  But after you leave these towns, and enter the National Seashore, it becomes quite desolated - dunes and ocean on one side and bay marshes on the other.

Rodanthe is at mile marker 40 and we rolled into Camp Hatteras just as the sun was setting.  The campground is nice.  Each site has a concrete pad and picnic table but there is no shade.

In August 2011, Hurricane Irene came thru and flooded the campground and most of the surrounding area with 3-4 ft of water.  It also took out most of the road leading into Rodanthe.  Camp Hatteras has done really well at rebuilding.  The KOA campground down the road is still rebuilding.

This section of the Outer Banks looks like its pretty prone of getting washed out when a hurricane comes thru.  Its very narrow and there's not a lot of vegetation to hold back the sea.   All the houses sit on high stilts so the ocean water can pass under them.  I think it also explains the lack of businesses in this area.  In Rodanthe, there is a couple of sandwhich shops, two restaurants, and two gas stations.  I guess getting wiped out every few years makes it tough to maintain a business.

Our campsite was about 150 ft from the beach.  We couldn't see it because of the high dunes, but could sure hear it and feel it.  While we were there, the surf was high, the wind blew a steady 15-20 mph and the air was filled with salt spray.  It covered everything and you had to shower at the end of each day to wash it off.

I spent the next day doing a little biking around town and just relaxing on the beach.  The waves were huge and mesmerizing to watch.

On our third day we drove down to the end of Hatteras Island to see the famous lighthouse and to go over to Ocracoke Island.  There are two towns that border Rodanthe to the south, Waves and Salvo, then there nothing until you get lower on the island toward Cape Hatteras.  Here's a short video that shows what it's like between Rodanthe and Cape Hatteras.

Cape Hatteras Lighthouse was neat.  We climbed up all 268 steps.  Its 208 ft tall and is the tallest lighthouse in the US.  I did fine, had no panic attacks even though I am terrified of heights. Anne even got me near the edge for a picture.

When we got to Hatteras Village there was a large line for the ferry to Ocracoke.  The ferry is free and usually runs every 30 mins.  We had to wait 90 mins to get on.  The ferry ride is about 40 mins and is a nice trip.  It goes thru some shallow water and and we hit bottom and kicked up mud a few times.

Ocracoke Island is small, about 13 miles long and 1/2 mile wide.  It's got more trees and vegetation than Hatteras Island and the structures are older.  There's a National Seashore campground and a small village on the south end of the island.  The village is a small artist colony with shops, bars, and a few motels.  Nice, but I was disappointed with it.  I though it would be more quaint and less commercial.

The only noteworthy thing about it for me was learning that the pirate Blackbeard (Edward Teach) was killed in a battle with two British Navy ships off the tip of Ocracoke Island in 1718.  Blackbeard was caught by surprise and fought to the death - shot 5 times and suffered 20 stab wounds.  Arrgh!

Howard Street Ocracoke Village
On Tuesday, we hung around the campground and did laundry.  We got some showers, threats of severe thunderstorms, and a tornado watch but nothing much materialized.

On Wednesday, we headed north to check out the Wright Bothers Memorial at Kitty Hawk and to drive north to the towns of Duck and Corolla.

The Wright Brothers Memorial was interesting.  I never knew why they chose Kitty Hawk, but learned that they needed the winds and the soft sand for landing.  It was a pretty remote place back in 1903.

We drove north on Rt 12 to the small town of Duck.  We were told that the northern sections of the Outer Banks above Kitty Hawk were very pretty and that advice turned out to be correct.  Duck was a very nice little town with several upscale shops and restaurants.  We didn't make it up to Corolla but were told that was also very nice.

On Thursday, we decided to head home.  It was overcast and the wind was still blowing pretty hard - not making for a nice day to spend outside.

Over the six days we spent on the Outer Banks, we pretty much saw it all.  It was a pretty place to visit, but the weather and conditions can be harsh.  While we were there there were severe rip currents in the water.  We saw the beach rescue get called out a couple of times for rescues.  At Rodanthe, the beach is narrow, steep, and constantly changing.  One day there was a nice 20ft flat shelf section to sit on and then the next day it was gone.

The place is also at risk being severely impacted by weather.  The damage caused by Hurricane Irene was extensive and my guess is that a few more years of bad hurricanes could cause more inlets to form and separate sections of Hatteras Island.  I'm glad we got to see it while it's still accessible.

Overall, we drove 1,560 miles, burned 86 gallons on gas, and averaged 18.1 mpg in the RV.

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