From the Beaufort area, north to more Outer Banks in the Nag’s Head/Kill Devil Hills region. (These names!) I spent a night in Cape Hatteras National Seashore, where a whipping, blustering wind rocked Foxy all night. I didn’t feel so much disturbed as stimulated, and stayed up late that night reading as we rolled in the weather.
We had some invigorating runs (Hops) and walks (me) on the beach. Here’s a video – I’m sorry I can’t figure out how to make it smaller…
And we visited the Bodie Island Lighthouse and the Wright Brothers National Memorial.
lighthouse interior as nautilus
from the top: Outer Banks and ocean
I climbed to the top of the lighthouse, 164 feet: about triple the height of the lighthouse I climbed at Port Isabel. It was very breezy up there, but I was brave. The Wright Brothers Memorial is of course about that first flight, beginning on Big Kill Devil Hill. There were some pretty good didactics, but Hops & I were more interested in the nice long walk around the hill and up to the monument.
It was another shining, beautiful day as we headed north again, for Virginia.
I guess I’ll go ahead and call myself an amateur birdwatcher now. I bought a pair of binoculars, for one thing. I find that the more birds I notice, the more the birds come to me. There have been so many encounters. Some weeks ago (time becomes so meaningless out here) I was pulled over at a cemetery down a dirt road for a phone call with my father when a great big black vulture came stumbling down the road at us, staggering like a drunk, straight for the van. Recall the roadrunner in Palo Duro who wanted to get in my van. There was also a Carolina wren in Poinsett, absolutely mad to get in the van with me through cracked windows, even though I kept discouraging it: my dad says they seek out old barns and such, and Foxy must have looked like a perfect nest. (I don’t disagree.) And then the cardinal who wanted in in Charleston.
I’ve kept a list for a few of my last spots:
little blue heron
Canada goose (& goslings!)
always red-tailed hawks and buzzards – I think I’m seeing more black than turkey vultures.
The binoculars are a boon, if I can remember to keep them on me. Eyes open, friends.
Whew. I’m having trouble keeping up with all of this, myself. Shan’t wait so long next time.
Carolina Beach/Kure Beach/Wilmington were a single location, I’m calling it, with hikes and beach time and bars and several breweries, and I picked up my packages (binoculars and solar!), and then I moved north to the area of Cape Lookout National Seashore. Weather warming and free parking getting a bit scarce, but we make do.
I don’t even know where this photo is from. Hops in a van on a beach, ho hum
pelican, my lunchtime companion near Cedar Island National Wildlife Refuge
looking across at the Rachel Carson Reserve
western end of Beaufort, NC
dusk at the Boathouse in Beaufort
neat little brewery in Beaufort
I had a few nice days up and down this short piece of coast. And we took a boat ride! I found a passenger ferry willing to carry Hops, and we rode across from the mainland to Shackleford Banks, one of the islands in the National Seashore–and one of several that are home to wild horses. These horses (I was told by ferry staff) have been DNA-tested and are descended from Spanish mustangs. Their forehorses were either tossed overboard from ships that were stuck on shoals and sandbars, to lighten the load, or were passengers on shipwrecked vessels. There are about 118 horses on Shackleford Banks now (rumors of a new baby are unconfirmed). Nobody feeds or waters them; they take care of themselves there on the island. Some people call them ponies, but they are genetically horses–just undersized because of nutritional limitations there on this 9-mile stretch of land.
I had my new binoculars with me, and enjoyed some very good views of the horses, which are shaggy and variously colored–some of them have white-blond manes and reminded me a little of punk rockers. But the photos, with my aging iPhone, are not nearly so nice.
Hops does NOT like a boat.
horse bones? (we were specifically told not to remove horse or whale bones)
he’s okay on land though
an exhausting, ultimately satisfying day.
If Hops is ever to ride on a boat again–a small one, where he can tell he’s on a boat–he’ll need sedation.
From the sweet Cape Lookout/Beaufort* area, we headed north again…
*Beaufort, North Carolina is BOW-fert. Beaufort, South Carolina is BEW-fert. I asked.
I have heard from a few different people that cardinals are the souls of people we’ve lost come back to visit. This guy was fairly clear about wanting to come sit with me for a few at my campsite outside of Wilmington, North Carolina.
And the very next day, as I read about bluebirds in backyard nesting boxes, I looked up to this.
It’s all beginning to run together a bit, I confess. Especially with nothing like an important museum or landmark or important trail to tie it all together. I’m working on those things.
Hops and I have had some wild walk/runs (me/him) on the beach, even under tornado watch – we got sandblasted, but we were still happy to be where we were. What do you do about a tornado watch in a van, anyway? You hope. And we got through it all fine, although wet.
Hops runs wild
surveys his domain
look how happy
I called it homesickness at first, but really I was just missing a Lone Star beer (sniff). So I put a Pabst in a koozie and did my best at a local beer bar. Which was fine.
And then we headed north to Carolina Beach State Park – in the state of North Carolina, now – where we are camping and dawdling. We did a longish hike (nearly six miles, longer than usual) and looked for the Venus flytraps that are indigenous to these parts, but didn’t see them. I did admire the pitcherplants, though. And Cape Fear River. Ritchey would have loved it. We visited Sugarloaf Dune, where, I’m told, American Indians lived from 6000 BC until the 1700s (when, one suspects, white folks may have had something to do with their demise).
Cape Fear River
Then there was Kure Beach, which is pretty much the reason we are in these parts – remember Larry from Johnson City? This is one of his and Karin’s favorite spots. We visited their home bar; and of course the brewery down the street which is named after my dog.
We’ve also checked out the city of Wilmington, for its beer (whew) and its lovely enormous Greenfield Park, and its Amazon lockers, where I have finally picked up a pair of binoculars and a set of solar panels. [I’m really regretful that I waited this long – more than halfway through my trip, at least for 2019, now. But better late than never. I can always use the binoculars in any life I lead (I think), and the solar panel I will hope to keep using on future van trips (2020), or I have a friend who’s interested.]
Hops is suspicious of Greenfield Lake, as of all water
posing at Greenfield Park – he’s a good sport
a/c and dog-friendly!!
I have no idea what’s next, you guys. Stay tuned and we’ll find out together.
We stayed a whole week here, which is unusual, and a sign of how well we liked it.
some mornings, some of us have a hard time getting out of bed…
Hops waiting for the next chapter
I cooked myself breakfast on my new stove (just like the old stove. but cleaner!) and headed out for a final day on the fine trails of the Asheville/Brevard/Hendersonville area. This is a beautiful region, and rich and deep in very fine trails; it is a shame to leave, but also has run its course for me, at least in the short-term. Another beautiful ride, and another beautiful sunny afternoon at a brewery; a final night at my campground, and it was time for the next thing.
Leaving town, we headed first up to Bearwallow Mountain, to hike to the top. I felt I’d been sent up this mountain by a book, which has happened to me before. In 2012, my then-husband Chris and I backpacked up a peak in the Gila National Forest to meet an author who was perched at the top, in his fire tower, watching over the trees.
on that earlier mountain
It was a magical experience, and part of a friendship I treasure now, even though we don’t talk much. Now, I climbed most of Bearwallow in Foxy, and hiked only the last mile or so (although it was steep-ish). I was lucky to meet the author of Bearwallow more than a year ago. I was thinking of his book, of what I learned of his place, as I drove and then walked uphill.
hiking in hoarfrost
I love its crystalline structure
There were lovely views from the top –
but also this –
which I thought about not showing you at all, but this is not an instagram-perfect version of vanlife.
There was a fire tower – this one is for Phil, author of the unequaled Fire Season.
Rode another trail, this one in the Dupont State Forest, and the most fun I’ve had/the most suited to my style and the trails I’ve loved most in the past. A wonderful fun ride! Hops and I then traveled a few miles further into Hendersonville, and checked out two dog-friendly breweries. After a delightful and relaxing afternoon I returned to the campsite to cook my dinner, only to find that my stove & fuel had been stolen during the day.
I was angry with myself for leaving them unattended, and embarrassed at my own role in the theft. But then again, this is common practice in every campground I’ve known – and in driving around this one, I see lots of tents, piles of gear, chairs, and yes, stoves, left unattended. So I’m also very angry with whomever took advantage of the opportunity to steal from me my chance to cook my own dinner. In the grand scheme, of course, it’s not that great a loss, financially. I’ve been very lucky on the whole. When Foxy got hit-and-run in Houston, that was another difficult piece of ugly humanity to deal with; but that one turned out fine, financially, thanks to my insurance policy. And this one will be fine, too. It’s just money, and not that much of it. I’ve mostly been very lucky.
This is how I spent the next hour or two of my evening: working to process my feelings, to be upset but also philosophical and not too weepy. I’m still a lucky woman in this life.
Then I pulled it together and made the drive up to Asheville to the nearest REI, where I spent my annual dividend and then some replacing the stove – I got the exact same thing, having shopped and found nothing better suited. And then, what the heck, I was so nearby the Mills River location of Sierra Nevada… I had thought I’d miss this brewery, but why not? One beer later I was headed back for camp. And as Hops and I snuggled in for the night, I thought again: I’m so lucky. I love this life.
riding Dupont Forest
Hops & hops (I couldn’t decide who should be in focus)
It’s been lovely here, and there’s so much riding I didn’t want to miss, and I found a decent campsite, so I’ve just stayed.
I’m camped in the Pisgah National Forest, in an improved campground with toilets and showers and water, for a very modest price. There’s even an old church on the grounds, which is not a service I require, but it’s very pretty.
A wooden version was originally built here in 1860; as it fell apart, the rock church replaced it in 1910.
I have been doing the usual: reading, writing, riding, and hiking with Hops. And enjoying the local breweries.
with beer and book in the sunshine at Upcounty Brewing
in camp: solar charging
Next up is Greenville, SC, and happily I ran into a couple at a brewery the other day who live there, so they gave me some brewery and restaurant tips. They were fans of Hops (and, I guess, hops). It’s a lovely world, most days.
A casual day of milling about… I dropped off the bike in the morning for a few minor issues and general check-up, found the grocery store and fuel for my stove, and walked the historic downtown shopping area. I found a few statues:
(I did not photograph the white squirrels and the monarch butterflies. don’t know why. sorry)
but otherwise it struck me as a pretty typical tourist-oriented historic downtown shopping area. Perhaps I’m getting a bit jaded. We landed at another brewery for a late lunch and to kill some time.
This place was almost as lonesome as the Art Loeb trail, which suits me fine: I brought a book.
Leaving Bryson City, I enjoyed another gorgeous drive through the national forest(s) that, though contiguous, go by several names as far as I can tell: Nantahala, Chattahoochee, Cherokee, Pisgah. We stopped to hike a section of the Art Loeb Trail. This was a short hike up to Black Balsam Knob, which several internet sources told me was both one of the most beautiful and highly recommended hikes in the area, and also (naturally) one of the most popular, meaning that (they insisted) I would not be alone on this hike. Well, there’s still hope: on a rainy Monday in March, Hops and I were absolutely alone, and it was glorious. I found the colors on this overcast day especially beautiful, and Hops was clearly exhilarated.
We arrived in Brevard and headed straight to the laundromat and then a brewery. Life is hard.
And we found a lovely spot in the national forest to park for the night, for free.