Pettigrew State Park, North Carolina

January 3, 2020, Friday: It was a warm night so we slept with the ceiling fan/vent exhausting and awoke to 65 degrees outside and in the low 60s inside.

One final note about Carolina Beach SP that I forgot to mention in the prior post: They close and lock the gate at 6PM. When Jack was checking in, this was mentioned, and when he asked what we might do if we arrive back and find the gate locked, some general arm-waving and vague references to a “driveway” were made, but we never followed up.

When we returned from Michael’s Seafood on our last night at Carolina Beach, it was 6:45. So we wandered around some of the turn-offs from the main road in front of the gate, and at one point ended up turning around in some poor soul’s driveway. 

For the record, if you go past the park entry off Dow Rd. The first right past the Park Road is, indeed, a gravel driveway, but it goes past a house and becomes the cut-through to get behind the gate and into (as well as out of) the park after hours. Sheesh!

Anyway, we left Carolina Beach SP, and en route, we encountered 75 degrees at 10AM, and clear driving the whole way to Pettigrew State Park. The temps were cooling by the time we arrived around 3PM.

Site 13 is in the sun (for solar gain as there is no electric or water at the sites) and nearest to the bathroom (the loop bathhouse remains closed in the winter, but there’s a heated toilet at the ranger’s office). By the way, the folks at the office are incredibly nice). You can get ice when the office is open, and firewood is on the honor system right at the camping loop.

Hal and Dawn (fellow Alto owners) were already there, as were the mosquitoes, which were pretty bad with the wet, warm weather. We put up the screen house and pulled out the Deep Woods Off to save my ankles, still bumpy from bites sustained at Hunting Island. David, Holli, and their dog Digby joined us shortly after we arrived (another Alto-owner family).

First thing, I took the dogs for a walk, and we ended up at the boat launch, where the sun was setting.

In nearby (relatively speaking) Edenton, NC, were additional Alto owners, Karen and Steve, who wanted to come for the birds but didn’t want to de-winterize their camper. Instead, they stayed at a BnB in Edenton, about 35-40 minutes’ drive away. We’d made a reservation in Edenton for us all to gather for dinner at the Edenton Bay Oyster Bar—one of the past registration sites of the Bike NC Spring Ride.

Needing fuel to even make it to Edenton, we googled nearby stations and found the one highlighted didn’t exist. So we had to go farther away from Edenton en route to dinner to get fuel, resulting in our late arrival to the party. Moral: Don’t trust solely on Google in this part of the state.

Very nice dinner—got some excellent seared scallops on risotto, and returned to the camper for a much-needed sleep.

January 4, Saturday: Overnight the rain began and it really pelted down. We were not looking forward to trying to spot migrating birds in the wet, but we all dressed for it and headed out in separate cars, once Karen and Steve got to Pettigrew and joined us around 9:30AM. Despite the rain, the temperature was quite warm. Got away, headed to Mattamuskeet around 10 after deciding that we’d try to find a cafe for lunch rather than packing our lunches along.

During the long drive to the Visitor Center (it’s actually called the “Refuge Headquarters”) on Lake Mattamuskeet, we saw a bunch of American kestrels and kingfishers, and I spotted one perched bald eagle—very wet and unhappy-looking—along the way. We stopped at the informational kiosk at the top of the VC drive to see loads of water birds (mostly ducks) in the wetlands (mergansers, “redheads,” mallards, pintails, herons, egrets, etc.). But in the area pretty far from the road (needed binoculars to see them) were a gang or three of tundra swans—but no snow geese that we could see. And where we’d seen several bald eagles in the wetland on prior trips, we didn’t see any this time.

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Strangely, the VC was closed so we not only were unable to speak to any rangers or biologists to get tips on where to find the big flocks of birds, but also couldn’t get the general introduction to what we might see and experience while there—this VC has a great display and lots of information about not only birds but also mammals, fish, trees, etc. Too bad those who hadn’t been there before couldn’t experience that.

So we drove around the opposite (far) side of the primary wetland (slightly closer to the tundra swans) and then headed to lunch. Found Martelle’s Feedhouse in Englehard and had a quite nice and filling (and warm/dry) lunch. Many of the local hunters and residents were there, so we knew it was going to be good. They served all kinds of seafood, Eastern NC BBQ, sandwiches and burgers galore, plates and smalls, and everything you might imagine at a “feedhouse.” I got a pork tenderloin salad that was superb.

We were headed to Pungo Lake, where we’d seen the most of the arctic birds in the past when we saw a white patch on the muddy landscape alongside the road. There seemed to be an access road to get closer, so we took it and got our first close-up look (and listen) of tundra swans.

Unfortunately, we spooked them as we peeked around the tree line, but it was quite breathtaking to see these enormous birds fly and sound the alarm. 

It was still rainy: When the actual rain abated, a fine mist fell steadily. So we retreated back to the cars after watching the enormous birds a while and resumed our trek to Pungo.

In another 40 minutes of driving along state rt. 45, we got to the Pungo Lake preserve, driving in at the south entrance, where the main road takes a sharp turn and the “straight” roadway turns into Pat Road. The pavement turned to mud and the pools and puddles on the road were quite deep and numerous. But at least the rain had stopped.

We saw a huge flock of tundras in a cornfield at the far side of a thin, raised bank of trees and bushes. We pulled the cars onto the verge and all piled out to cross the stubble field and use the line of vegetation as a “blind” to get closer to the swans. We saw several piles of bear poop in the stubble field, just as is the case back home.

As we approached the line of trees, however, we found that there was a deep, moderately wide canal between us and our “blind.” But a couple of us jumped the ditch and were able to take some photos of the swan gang. We stood there in the relative dry watching the birds landing, taking off, and just hanging out.

We thought that, logically speaking, Pat Road should somehow link to Phelps Lake from Pungo as the two are relatively near one another. But bouncing along the mud lane simply landed us in front of a “No Trespassing—Private Property” sign, so we turned around and bounced back to Route 45 North and drove around our elbows (it seemed) to get back to camp.

I took some shots of the sunset as the sky cleared and the rain clouds dispersed.

Everyone elected to eat dinner separately, and although Hal suggested a campfire, he reported that the mosquitoes were ravenous so we all nixed that idea. In our camper, at least, we turned in early.

January 5, Sunday: At 6AM it was 42 both in and outside the camper, so we cranked the furnace and crawled back under the Rumpl blanket. Didn’t get up until late, and Hal and Dawn headed back to NOVA around 9:30 because Hal had to be at work on Monday.

As they were pulling out, Karen and Steve arrived to see what the pulse of the group was. It wasn’t until about 11 that Jack and I decided to pass up the opportunity for more bird-finding in favor of taking more time to hike around with the dogs. Everyone else elected to drive around some more, although the two cars-full went on separate adventures. Karen later reported seeing a bald eagle. David and Holli headed back to Pungo and later reported good sightings of swans, but also snow geese (which I was sorry to miss).

At the end of the campground along the walk to the Plantation is an interesting hollowed-out tree that Jack can stand inside. He held the dogs with him and they were both intent on some sound or smell within (probably a squirrel). Jack himself was unmoved by squirrel scent.

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We took the pups along the boardwalk from the Plantation to the ranger’s office, and then along the 2.8-mile trail to Moccasin Overlook. Along the grassy trail, however, we encountered a lot of pooled water, and some dogs we were worried had no invisible fence restraints, so we turned around early. In all, it ended up being about a 2 mile trek.

The wind came up and there was significant chop out on Phelps Lake. But it dried things out a bit as the temperatures began to drop.

Around 2 Alison and Andy showed up from Raleigh, just to see what all the bird-fuss was about, and after chatting a while, they headed off to Pungo also. I loaned them my binoculars and when we saw them again, they reported lots of arctic bird sightings and a very satisfactory trip.

I threw the ball for Mischief for a bit and Holli and David discussed sharing a bonfire and some adult beverages, and we set up for that and had a lovely evening with them and Alison and Andy. We set up behind the trailer on the slight rise where Jack had taken down the screen house, so we were high and dry.

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At about 7 the party broke up and Jack and I ate chili and “take and bake” rolls for dinner.

January 6, Monday: Holli and David rolled out of camp around 8:30 and we decided to delay breakfast until we were on the road. Jack had a special mission: to find the butcher who had made the sausages we ate when Edenton was the host site of the Bike NC Spring Ride a few years ago. He had done his research and thought we might have it pegged with directions to get there and an opening time of 10AM.

Tragically, Grandma’s Sausages was out of business. An elderly gent taking the sun in a carport next door to the shop kept trying to sell Jack the business or the building, even though Jack kept insisting that all we wanted were some of Grandma’s sausages. He said his wife used to run the business but had to stop, and now they were trying to sell it.

Sausage-less, we headed along back roads to Ahoskie, NC, where we ate lunch at a Golden Skillet. It was quite the place for “regulars” to gather, and Jack really enjoyed his chicken livers.

We kept to the back roads to NC Rt. 4, which is the Kerr Lake/North Bend Federal Campground road, and we crossed the dam and entered one of our most happy places. While our favorite peninsula was not open in the dead of winter, the loop available to us had a warm shower house sporting private toilet/shower rooms. Site #78 was relatively level so we could leave the truck hitched as we anticipated leaving for home the following morning.

Set up was minimal, so we grilled some bratwursts and re-heated leftover roasted veggies and potatoes for dinner. Then we walked down to the lakeside and watched the sun set as the evening star appeared.

The forecast for back home was for up to an inch or two of snow/sleet/icy mix early Tuesday, so we kept up with John via text and delayed deciding whether to head home the next day (as scheduled) or not.

January 7, Tuesday: The rains came in the night and the deluge continued most of Tuesday. We had only paid for one day as they would not refund if we decided to leave after spending just one night. But the gate attendant said as long as we paid by about 3PM, it was okay to delay our decision. We saw a total of 2 other campers, so there wasn’t any chance someone would come in and kick us out of our site.

At about noon, John texted that they’d gotten a slushy mix that was making driving on the mountain less than ideal. He said if we were to encounter trouble, it would be getting in our driveway.

While it was still pouring down with rain at North Bend, we decided to stay another night, and I walked with the dogs in the deluge to the front gate to give them another $10. The furnace was on when we got back, so my jeans and the dogs were able to dry out in comfort.

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We listened to our audiobook, took nice warm showers (knowing that the water at home was turned off) and simply chilled out for the day. The rain stopped around 3PM when the wind whipped up to blow away all the clouds. We fought the wind down to the beach where a previous camper had created some rock-balanced towers that were pretty neat in the back-lit dusk.

January 8, Wednesday: The temperatures dropped like a rock overnight and we quickly broke camp at 34 degrees under a clear, bright sky, as we were surrounded by frosted leaves carpeting the woods. Initiated the 3-ish hour drive home at about 9-9:30, and were able to begin the long process of re-heating our 48-degree home in the mountains by about 2PM on January 8, 2020.

Home Again & What Preceeded

May 3, 2016 – we’re home and Roomba is unloaded (only just made it before the rain came), but not in his cozy home because we have to take him for an inspection this month. So the backing into the garage part will come later.

But let me back and fill a bit.

Since my last post, the keyboard for my iPad died, and I forgot to bring its charging cable. This makes typing slow and fraught with errors, as I return to learning how to type on the face of the iPad.

In addition, we got notice from our cell service that we are nearing the end of our data plan amount, so this post had to be delayed until we returned to wifi access. So it is a compendium packed full with our 3 days and 4 nights at North Bend Campground.

With a slow start to our first day in camp (Friday, April 29), and overcast but not raining weather, I decided to head out on the bike for a bit of exercise. Meanwhile Kerry and Gloria set up below our site on the beach for a bit of fishing. Jack was snoozing under the awning and I don’t know what Jack, Martha, John, and Lisa were doing.

I rode basically the same route Jack and I had ridden back in March, through all the loops of the campground, when we had come this direction and camped in Occoneechee. I was able to really gain some speed and crank-turns going across the dam toward the closed (until May 1) area D. That is truly a lovely little area with a beach and pretty sites. I ended up hitting that flat dam road and the camp loops twice during my tour, so I managed to work up 10 miles on the odometer. 

A stop along the D-area dam was also a nice place for pix, and it tried to see Roomba from there, but could only see the roof of our screen house, and Kerry and Gloria fishing below.

    
For lunch, Jack and I cooked the truly glorious chicken, spinach, and cheese sausages we’d gotten from Trader Joe’s. On buns with a bit of mustard, it was a flavor sensation that we can repeat, as there were four in the pack and we ate only two.

Later, Jack, Martha, and my Jack took another, shorter bike tour of the area, and we saw some Canada geese with five little goslings moving along the grassy part of the shoreline. I wasn’t able to capture them very well, but some of those brown blobs in the grass are goslings.  

We also rode to Area B, that Jack and I had eyeballed last month, and with more leaves on the trees now, we could readily see that we’d have plenty of sun for solar gain, but also good shade during the hottest time of the day. It’s an unserviced site, but right on the peninsula, with fresh breezes and very few neighbors. 

   
As dinner time approached, we gathered at Jack and Martha’s site, enjoyed the stories, sunset, and watching the flora and fauna surrounding us. Martha had prepared a delicious meal we all shared and contributed to and we had a lovely time.

   
 The plan for Saturday, April 30, was to head out with bikes on cars to Boydton and check out the Tobacco Heritage trail there. Kerry and Glo decided not to ride, but all the rest of us took advantage of the excellent weather, and we drove the route Jack and I had taken in the fall of 2014: the Beaches to Bluegrass section ride we’d ridden with Alan and Mary’s tour.

We found the rail head, and began strongly, on a pretty and nice under-tire surface, for about a mile. Then we hit the end.

   
   
  
Hmmm. We had thought the trail here was supposed to be about 5 miles long, but, unless we missed something (like maybe a section of the oath that was not cindered, and therefore inappropriate for Jack’s and my skinny tires), it isn’t quite there yet.

So we turned around and found lunch at a little diner called Rose’s Pizza Restaurant, right in what passes for downtown Boydton. It was an excellent meal, well-presented, quickly delivered and much appreciated even though we hadn’t really ridden enough to earn such a meal.

   
 Since it was only about 10 miles from there back to camp, Jack especially, wanted to ride home. I was going to drive our car back while Jack rode, when Martha graciously volunteered to drive our car back so both of us could ride.

We set out and maintained a steady 16 mph pace, reversing the driving route that had taken us to Boydton. In no time, it seemed, we were back having exercised our heart rates and pedaling muscles.

Until dinner time, we hung out under the awning reading and such. I pulled out my binoculars to study the teensy birds foraging in the trees and undergrowth in front of me. I think I got a good read on three warblers, although it’s kind of difficult to tell for sure. While the black throated blue and black throated green females I’m pretty sure about, I believe I also saw a Tennessee warbler, which doesn’t nest south of the Adarondacks in NY (apparently), so this might have been a migrant. I’m quite sure that this is what I saw, but I’m always confused by warblers, so maybe not. Here are the photos I was able to find that most resembled my sightings.

 

Female black-throated blue warbler
  
Female black-throated green warbler
  
This is as close a picture as I could find to what I was seeing in the trees
 
Also, I didn’t actually see but heard several kingfishers plying the shallows around the cove. A while after Jack had disappeared from our lounge area, I began to get chilly. So I closed up the windows and turned on the heat pump for a bit of warmth.

I got everything ready for us to quickly grill some hamburgers to be served on pretzel buns and to heat up the mac-n-cheese with Hatch chilies we’d gotten at Trader Joe’s. After an adult beverage up at John and Lisa’s roaring camp fire, we all departed to “fix n’ fetch” our separate dinners, then re-gathered there to consume more of everything: food, drink, lies, tales, and jokes.

As the forecast had predicted, it began raining in the night, and we awakened on May 1 (happy European Labor Day, and Birthday to my niece, Lee) to gray drizzle.

To celebrate a new month and all that comes with fresh starts and birthdays (and to console ourselves for the bad weather that was forecast to stay with us all Sunday) we cooked cinnamon rolls in the Omnia oven for breakfast. I went on a cleaning spree and re-organized all our various stuff and trappings, high had gotten helter-skelter in Roomba.

Then we sat down in our nook to read and play games, write and plan our final dinner of this trip: bratwursts with grilled onions and peppers, fresh grilled asparagus, and fingerling potatoes roasted in the Omnia with rosemary and garlic. When the rain eased for a while in the afternoon (and the temps rose), we moved our lounging out to the screen house and I did a bit of digital drawing (as yet unfinished). Kerry and Gloria headed down to the beach to try another round of fishing between showers.

Jack and Martha experienced some anomalies with their RV, and the boys beavered during the day to fix or mediate the issues, which were electrical in nature. I stayed out of their way, except to find the electrical tape we’d stored in Roomba for use in the fixes.

After all was calm again, we performed another “fix & fetch”  dinner to gather and eat at Jack & Martha’s site for this last night in camp. Another lovely, cloudy sunset over the water, despite the all-day rain forecast, and we enjoyed our time so much, we began planning for another gathering, possibly adding in another Meadows of Dan couple if they’d be willing, for later in the summer.

   
 Our departure AM dawned sunny, but clouds on the horizon and the notes from folks back home indicated a swift departure might be best to beat out the rains apparently deluging Floyd County. Jack, Martha, Gloria and Kerry all broke camp and left before Jack and I had eaten breakfast. We weren’t quite as stirred up about driving in the rain or even arriving in the rain, so we took a bit more time and got away around 11:15AM. Listened to our audiobook en route and had an uneventful drive home, were greeted by our house sitters, who were packed and ready to leave for the Charlottesville area, chatted with them about this and that. We were very pleased to hear they had taken full advantage of our regional amenities, including the best restaurants in Floyd, the Old Mill Golf Course and their restaurant, hiking trails, Buffalo Mountain, and nearly everything we had suggested they might enjoy. They even straightened up and sorted out our refrigerator storage and spice/herb racks. We hope to have them back again some day.

So ends another Blue Roomba adventure. Until next time, may the road rise up to meet you and your way be safe and joyous.