I drove southwest from Virginia Beach and spent a night in Elizabeth City, NC. I chose it because it had a coffee-shop with WiFi and a Super Walmart. It turned out to be an actual "small town" with a downtown area and locally-owned stores. It had a harbor. It seemed to be trying really hard NOT to be a shithole. I bought a fruit smoothie and slept at the Walmart. I rented "Tropic Thunder" from one of those "Red Box" dvd rentals. The movie was lame; it turned into the very type of movie it seemed to be initially mocking. I cooked soup and had a beer and went to sleep.
The temperature was a radiant 45 degrees in the van. I was able to walk around barefoot and wash my dishes without being in pain. Glorious.
The next morning, I crossed over into the Outer Banks. It was gray, humid, and raining. I always feel a little embarassed for a summer-vacation town when I see it during foul weather. The whole of NC-12 was deserted. Many businesses, motels, and campgrounds were closed down.
I underestimated just how long the Outer Banks is. Or perhaps because the landscape is so repetitious it just FEELS like that shot of the Imperial Cruiser in the beginning of Star Wars. My eyes started to cross after awhile. There seemed to be three "locales" which occured again and again, but never mixed: strip malls, vacation homes, and craggy dunes. It just went on and on. None are very interesting. The vacation homes are monstrous, built only to rent out to multiple families / frats (I imagine?), and they sit in these big ugly plains with no vegetation. And many more were being built everywhere you looked. I can't imagine spending a week at the Outer Banks in the summer.
Upon arriving, I stopped off at a visitor center to dump my recyclables and use the toilet. I also picked up some pamphlets and motel brochures. I was amused to see a pamphlet titled "SO YOU WANT TO DRIVE ON THE BEACH?" with a picture of a sandy SUV on the beach. I guess many visitors have it in mind to drive on sand. What, exactly, is the allure? Perhaps you can get to remote beaches. I don't know. there are so many rental units I imagine that come July there isn't much free sand no matter how far you drive down the beach.
My first order of business was to figure out where I was going to sleep. On a small, mostly-empty island I felt like my chances of going unnoticed while parked overnight on some side road were poor. I called over a dozen campgrounds. 2 were open and both had closed down their amenities (shower, bathroom, laundry, etc) yet refused to lower their rates. I explained that I just needed a place to park and that it was technically impossible for me to even use the hook-ups. Would they sell me a space for a few bucks? No. So I began calling motels. Most of the motel brochures had "rate sheets" and I started with the lower-end ones. Most were around $60/night. The first one, the Avon Motel, was only renting out cottages. I told the lady it was out of my price range and she suggested I call "The Falcon Motel". So I 4-1-1ed the Falcon Motel. But there was an error and the operator connected me by mistake to The Cape Hatteras Hotel.
The man who answered sounded reasonable so we talked. It being the off-season and a rainy Tuesday night, he was willing to lower the price. I really lucked out. The room was on the 3rd floor right on top of the beach. If you fell off the balcony you'd just land in the sand and probably get hit by a wave. In fact the waves were so close and so noisy I had to close the window to sleep. It had a little fridge, free Wi-Fi, coffee, and a TV. I took a hot shower then bought some beers and made sandwiches. I watched an Arthur C. Clarke marathon before falling asleep. It felt extraordinarily indulgent. But, hey, if you're paying for a motel room, you had might as well go all the way...
Who would have thought a classy hotel would lower their rates to accomodate me while those shitty RV parks wouldn't budge? I drove by those parks and they had dozens of empty spaces. What the hell is with that?
I also watched some "Ultimate Fighting" on the TV. I'd never watched it closely. A childhood of action and karate movies has made real-life punches look slow and oddly silent. It's hard to tell if the fighters are even connecting with each blow. But then the cheekbones purple, the noses turn into bloody cloves, the ears explode...
As for sight-seeing, I visited one of the state parks and hiked over the huge dunes. It was spectacular in a low-key way. So much silence and softness in all directions. There was also a nature exhibit (as per the photo at the top of the blog; I'm always a sucker for nature dioramas).
ABOVE: Due to the rain there was no horizon, just this gray wall about a half-mile from the shore.
BELOW: I photographed this unusually comprehensive urinal cover in the park restroom. I'd never seen a urinal cover like this. Usually people just tie a plastic bag around a urinal to indicate it's out of order. These guys built a plywood box!
Continuing on, I parked off of NC-12 and took a stroll on the beach, just to see it. The water was in the 40s.
When I woke up after my night in the motel, I found that my van had once again leaked badly around the windshield. Seeing as how there is a 3" deep ribbon of sillicone around the periphery of the high-top I am now officially at a loss as to how the water is getting in. It's not the windows. It's not the windshield either, as I've had that tested by professionals (and besides, the water comes in slightly above the windshield). But what can I do at this point? I've already spent over $1000 trying to fix the leak. It's hopeless. I think it's just a hexed van in that regard. I toweled it up and begged God for a chance to torture the dumb motherfuckers who originally installed the roof.
I took the ferry from Hatteras to Ocracoke and then from Ocracoke to Swansquarter. The attendant told me to store my bicycle inside the van so I'd fall within the "20 footer" bracket and save $15.
Upon landing in Swans Quarter a very hellish trek to Greenville began. It was already late, close to 4:00, so it was getting dark, and the storm was really getting psycho. The van handles terribly on wet roads. You must constantly grip the steering wheel and watch for every approaching puddle; a bump on the road or a draft from a passing truck makes the nose jerk. That fiberglass high-top is like a sail and crosswinds slap the whole 10,000 pound vehicle about. The majority of the journey was on single lane roads with the locals pulling JasonBourne-maneuvers and passing me on the left. Most were nice about it, seeming to understand that I can't drive this whale as fast as a compact car, but on occasion there was the blared horn, or the teenage goblin in the backseat giving me the middle finger.
I passed many accidents. I probably should have just pulled over and waited out the storm. I'm the only guy on the road who actually can pull over and cook/shit/sleep/watch movies in his vehicle indefinitely while a storm passes. But I continued on like the rest of them. Now I'm in Greenville, NC, heading west.