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.

Carolina Beach, North Carolina

December 29, Sunday: Took our time on the drive to Carolina Beach State Park in North Carolina, near Wilmington. Arrived at dusk, and set up in site #34. Our “home” for the next 5 nights was deep and wide, well-separated from neighbors. A large graveled (tent-pitching?) area behind where the trailer sat had a lovely live oak branch cascading across it—Jack had to watch his head going back and forth to the bathhouse, but it was quite a nice addition to the amenities. We tied the dog run to it and later, used it to “air out” some of the dog bedding.

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Although our drive was dry, we found many mosquitoes upon our arrival in the waning light. It was rather damp in the air and on the ground all around. We had leftovers for dinner.

Because we arrived at dusk late on a Sunday evening, we didn’t discover the “shortcut” to the bathhouse until the next AM, right off the back of our site. Likely because of the holidays, Jack found the men’s side of the bathhouse to be messy, with too-little paper anywhere to serve. On the women’s side, not much was out of order and the facilities were just fine, including several semi-private showers. In the showers, however, I found few hooks on which to hang stuff (and the bench was small). In several of the showers, they had retro-fitted wooden covers over what I assumed had once been vents or windows, and these had closures on which to hang a shower kit and a net bag to keep clothes off the bench and dry.

December 30, Monday: There was more rain overnight, but we slept until the dogs got restless at around 7:30. Toasted some of Jack’s good bread, showered, and put up the awning, etc.—things we didn’t get around to during our late arrival.

Headed into Wilmington for groceries and lunch. Ate at a Mexican restaurant called Corzano’s, which I thought meant “deer’s” or “stag’s” or some such, due to the images on the sign. When I tried to translate it, the closest word I could find that was a real Spanish word was Corazóno’s, which means “heart’s.” Not sure how that fits, but I tried translating “hart” (another name for a deer, especially a male deer) but the phrase “corazón a corazón” means “heart to heart.” 

So I guessed that Corzano must be the surname of the person or family who owns the restaurant. In any case, our meal was delicious, with portions so generous I had to take some of my fajita burrito back to camp. They have excellent salsa, too.

I took a long walk with the dogs to the second (of two) camping loops. At the top of this loop are some cute (very small) cabins, which appeared popular. My guess is that one would need your own camping gear to stay in one, but I did not peer into any windows.

I found that this second campsite loop was mostly closed off. Not sure why, but not counting the cabins, it’s a small loop with its own bathhouse, and some pretty nice unserviced sites interspersed. In front of the gate was site #46—if one can live with an unserviced site, 46 has a beautiful, deep (private) access point to the Snow’s Cut Trail that traverses the high bluff of the Snow’s Cut River (a tributary of the Cape Fear River). I imagined that carrying a couple of camp chairs out to the bluff would make for some quite lovely sunset-watching with an adult beverage. But the downside would be that the vast trail system at the park is quite popular and that trail would be rather busy. 

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Boat on Snow’s Cut River

Because of the weather and the shady site, we ran the generator for ~3 hours to get our battery up to snuff for the night furnace. We ate leftover game hen & winter vegetables, and added some rice to the mix for our dinner.

December 31, New Year’s Eve, Tuesday: Another “good sleeping” night as the overnight was nice and cool (high 40s) and we decided to sleep without the furnace. Getting out from under the Rumpl blanket was another matter—it was 52 inside, so we hopped up to turn on the furnace and get the space warm before arising at around 8:30 to a lovely, crisp, and clear day. 

The cool temps for the rest of our stay kept the mosquitoes at bay.

In the wee hours, we’d been awakened by a horrible caterwauling and decided it was coyotes on the hunt and it sounded like they had caught their prey. 

Piddled around for most of the day. I wanted to try a breakfast casserole in the Omnia oven, so we’d gotten the ingredients at the grocery and I used the remains of Jack’s bread (going stale) in the mix. The recipe requires refrigeration overnight, so we put the Omnia with the ingredients ready-to-cook into the back of the truck to stay cool overnight. I will include the recipe I used below for anyone with an Omnia that wants to cook a delicious breakfast casserole—if you have space and weather to keep it cold-ish overnight.

I ate the leftover burrito from Corzano’s for lunch, and with the dogs, we headed to the Snow’s Cut Trail to see how it fit with the rest of the trail system. Our goal was to get to the Visitor’s Center and see the carnivorous plants, but the place was closed. In summer there’s a trail where you can spot them growing in the wild, but in the winter they are invisible in the wild and dormant. But apparently, the VC has an indoor display of them in an artificial environment. Even though the VC was closed, the restrooms were accessible so we took advantage and then carried on exploring more of the trails, clocking 2.6 miles total.

Saw lots of interesting plants, fungi, and flowers along the way.

For evening chow, we cooked the remaining half of kielbasa, and I roasted the second “round” of winter vegetables I’d prepared before we left home. This time, I roasted them for less time and they were much better—more flavorful and less mushy—than the first round had been (less time = 35-40 minutes). Got the opportunity to use one of my Christmas presents: a portable Dutch Oven steel cooktop with raised sides for wind protection. The legs are adjustable and can even be removed, leaving a 4-inch rise so the cooktop can be used on a picnic or other table without fear of burning up everything below.

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Enjoyed some kick-back time in the chill of evening, and rang out 2019 with a dram of whisky.

January 1, 2020, Wednesday: The dogs got restless around 5:30-6 on this morning, so we got up a bit earlier than normal to 44 degrees outside. 

After walking and feeding the dogs, I got out the Omnia from the “cold storage” in the back of the truck and cooked it on medium-low for about a half our, then turned it up to medium-high for the last half-hour (or so). Took it off the heat and let it sit for about 10 minutes while Jack grilled some toast to accompany. It was pretty delicious.

We tried to air out the dog bedding, but the site is shadier than expected, and it was quite cool all day, so our need for “sunshine and summer air” wasn’t exactly what we got. Later, we offered an Alto tour to someone who asked to see inside and thawed the filet mignon we’d brought along, in anticipation of our New Years Day meal.

We enjoyed a lovely bonfire, some good wine, and a delicious meal of grilled filets, “smokehouse” style green beans, and potatoes au gratin. Very nice (and hopeful) way to launch us into 2020.

January 2, Thursday: Another chilly night. We again awoke to 44 degrees outside, and only 49 inside. Ate a reprise of the breakfast casserole heated in a frypan, and took a very long hike to Sugarloaf Dune, “a prominent pre-Colombian geologic feature.” I have included the storyboards we read below in case anyone wants to read more about it.

The various trails to get there wind throughout the park and were marked on the map as being ~2.5 miles one-way. The ones we chose went mostly through what I might call “piney savannah”—we traversed the Campground Trail first, then connected and continued along the Sugarloaf Trail past Grass Pond, Lilly Pond, and Cypress Pond. We hit the Swamp Trail on the return (which was not swampy).

While the trails are well-marked, it’s a good idea to take one of the trail maps with you so you can see your options and choose your path.

After the hike, we took showers, and Jack began to pack for our departure. For dinner, we headed into Wilmington to Michael’s Seafood, and the place was packed. We sat on the back (enclosed) patio with enormous gas-flame heaters to keep it useful in winter. But the space was incredibly loud! It was difficult to hear yourself think. We both had shrimp and grits, and although it was tasty, Parkway Grille in Floyd does a better job of shrimp and grits (IMHO).

One final thing I should mention, especially for those who travel with dogs: There are trash and recycling bins all over the camping loops. Literally every 50-75 yards or so, there’s another 4-bin “station” for both garbage (including dog poop bags) and recyclables (single-stream). A true luxury if you’re walking and picking up after dogs.

Given these bins are just wooden containers, I had thought to myself, “Well, I guess they don’t have a raccoon problem here (see the prior post from Hunting Island, SC)!” But they do, indeed, have raccoons, as we saw a troupe of the pests traversing the campground just prior to leaving. I wondered how they managed to keep them out of the garbage . . . 

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Omnia breakfast casserole

Bread: you’ll line the lightly oiled bottom of the Omnia’s silicone liner with sandwich-width sliced bread cut in cubes/chunks. You can use store-sliced bread or homemade, white or multi-grain, crust on or off. How much you need depends on what type of bread you use. I used about 2 slices, chunked up and fit flat on the bottom. The bread should form a relatively unbroken “mat” at the bottom, approx. .5 to 1 inch thick.

  • ~7 eggs
  • ~1.5 c milk
  • ~ 1/2 c store-bought pico de gallo
  • ~ 6 grilled sausage patties, crumbled (or about 1/3 of a “loaf” of ground sausage, fried & crumbled)—can also use ham or cooked, crumbled bacon, etc.
  • 1-1.5 c shredded sharp cheddar
  • Cayenne and chili powder to taste
  1. Spray olive oil lightly on the Omnia silicone liner
  2. Drain the liquid from the pico de gallo as you assemble the rest of the casserole
  3. Mix the eggs with the milk and any spices or herbs you want to add
  4. Place the bread in one layer on the bottom of the Omnia
  5. Sausage on top of the bread
  6. Pico de gallo next
  7. Some of the shredded cheese (save some for the top)
  8. Pour egg mixture over all—the amount should cover easily but not drown the rest of the ingredients. Use a fork to press everything down and get some air out.
  9. Top with the rest of the shredded cheese.
  10. Let rest overnight in a cool place/refrigerator.

Pre-heat the bottom (separate) cooker (7-10 minutes?) before adding the Omnia on top.

Cook on Medium/Medium low for about a half hour. Raise temp to Medium/Medium high for another half hour.

Once steam begins to come out of the holes in the top of the oven, give it another 5 minutes and test with a knife to assure the eggs are solid.

Remove from heat and let it rest for 5-10 minutes.

Serve with toast or fruit.

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About Sugarloaf Dune — At 55 ft. Above sea level, Sugarloaf Dune is part of an ancient sand dune ridge that formed when sea levels were higher. It was named Sugarloaf in 1663 because it resembled a mass of crystallized sugar. The name caught on and Sugarloaf has been on navigational charts ever since. Throughout history, the dune has been a landmark for river pilots traveling the Cape Fear River.

American Indians inhabited the area around Sugarloaf from 6,000 BC until their decline [due to disease brought by Europeans and being forced west by white colonists—LC] in the early 1700s. Artifacts and remnant mounds of shellfish from these former inhabitants can still be found in the area today.

Sugarloaf played an important role in the defense of Fort Fisher and Wilmington during the Civil War. In the winter of 1864-5, about 4,500 Confederate troops encamped here. A one-mile line of heavy earthworks stretched from Sugarloaf on the edge of the Cape Fear River to the Atlantic Ocean. Confederate earthworks can still be seen in the park today.

Twenty-five years after the Civil War, a pier located at the base of Sugarloaf Dune became a major transportation link for the area. A local steamer called “The Wilmington” made regular stops at the pier, often carrying up to 500 passengers. An open car railway then carried passengers from Sugarloaf along what is now Harper Avenue to the boardwalk for a day at the beach.

Before the park was established in 1969, the Sugarloaf area was used and misused by the general public. Four-wheel drive vehicles, motorcycles, and beach buggies trampled the fragile dune vegetation and caused major erosion. Today, exposed tree roots are signs left behind by the activity of the past.

This historical landmark is still being threatened. You can protect it:

  • Stay on the designated trail
  • Do not climb or walk on the dune face
  • Keep out of the fenced areas
  • Report any damage or misuse to a park ranger

Help the park protect Sugarloaf Dune for future generations to enjoy. [Hear, hear!]

Wednesday, January 10, 2018 •

Colder night (30 degrees) than expected, but all of us slept well. I was out on the boat launch dock by about 6:45A and the others came around 7:15 or so. There were lots of swans in more-or-less the same configurations as the day before, and as the sun came up, their noise levels increased. We noticed many, many more different kinds of birds today compared to yesterday AM. Gulls, many differing types of ducks, herons, and, far far away near the eastern shore, two bald eagles fighting—one stayed put and, noting by his body language and movements, was eating a catch I couldn’t see even through binoculars. The other came and went, harassing the lucky eater to no avail. I heard their cries at one another several times when the interloper would come calling and get rebuffed.

It was well past 8 with the sun shining brightly (and warming things on the dock) when the swans began moving off the water. After a while, we all decided to get warm at the campers, have breakfast or coffee/tea. It was colder in the parking lot closer to the still-deep snow than it had been out on the dock.

After breakfast, we readied ourselves to head to Mattamuskeet Lake Wildlife Refuge, and over Alligator sound to another refuge. Jack drove the gang today, and we left around 11.

The bridge over the Alligator sound/river is closed for repairs starting today through about January 19. The detour is not quite 100 miles—awfully glad I don’t live around here (or need to deliver packages to those who live around here) because that’s an enormous distance to add to a commute or delivery.

In our meanderings we took some side roads, and discovered a lovely small inlet called Frying Pan. Mike and Barbara got all excited about this find because it looks quite good for kayaking, and even has a parking area and a boat launch to access the bigger water. Oddly enough, the parking area is off Frying Pan Road.

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In our search for the road, we passed a juvenile bald eagle at the edge of a cultivated (but currently fallow) field. We missed our turn and by the time we passed the eagle again, an adult had landed next to it. We didn’t see any kill or other items of interest, but the two were just standing there, apparently in some sort of face-off. So that sighting amounted to 4 eagles for the day.

We got to Mattamuskeet and hopped out of the truck along the roads to see the small ponds/wetlands around the visitor center, and saw many and varied species of water birds, including tundra swans. We did not spot any snow geese but saw Canadas, and among the ducks and other waterbirds, we noted pintails, goldeneyes, teals, scaups, coots, and more. Not many mallards, no egrets, but many great blue herons.

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En route, we saw a mammal, long and slick, with a long-ish tail. We thought, before it disappeared into the water along the road, that it might be a river otter. We also postulated nutria, as we know they are here as invasives and pests. Jack suggested it was bigger than that, but smaller than a beaver.

As we drove closer toward the visitor center, we saw two nutria, which are significantly large, but not as big as what we’d seen earlier. One of the critters was right beside the road, nibbling on the stalks and roots of the water grasses that grew close to the edges of the water.

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Inside the VC, we confirmed that what we’d seen earlier was a river otter.

Outside the window of the VC, we also saw a woodcock, merrily foraging in the lawn! One of the rangers invited us to her office to see more clearly, and I took a couple of pix there, then went around to the front porch and had the opportunity to take an even better photo.

A group of elderly folks on an airport-style bus were there, too, and they crowded the poor woodcock (all the time calling it a wood duck) and finally chased it away. Stupid, ugly Americans.

There were a few picnic tables under the trees, but one was getting a bit of sun, so we had our lunch there. The average temp at the warmest part of the day was upper 50s, so we still needed a jacket, but it was a very nice picnic.

We spent a lot of time on the back side of the marshy area (called, oddly, Wildlife Drive) taking pictures of some great blues (one of which had caught a small snake, but carried it away into the wetland before we could capture a photo of it) and collections of diverse groups of species. The cacophony was higher-pitched, less volume, and more varied than we’ve heard with the masses of swans and geese we’ve encountered so far. Lots of small duck vocalizations.

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Nearly at the end of Wildlife Drive, we saw another adult bald eagle, sitting on a low snag. None of us had enough lens-power to photo it, but we all were able to see it through binocs. Without going back into the main drive to the VC, where there is hardly any passing space, let alone turn-around space, we would not be able to get closer to it.

Needing fuel, we mapped our way to a small burgh called Englehard, which (happily) was en route to our next destination: the enormous “void” on all our maps called the Alligator Wildlife Refuge, encircled by a “scenic drive.”

Refueled (they are very very proud of their fuel down here and price it accordingly) we found the scenic drive and it was long, flat, straight, and boring. Once we passed a couple of open fields that did not hold any snow geese or tundra swans, we were enclosed by pine forest, much of which had been burnt (intentional or accident?) and signs saying the area was a bombing range for a nearby military base.

Still hopeful to see something new or special on our drive, we did spot a gang of maybe 4 egrets sitting in a snag—big blobs of white in a drowned tree in the middle of a wetland. Passed by too fast to grab a photo, but it reminded me of the “hairy” egrets we saw while we were cycling around Assateague Wildlife Refuge last April.

Mike spotted another juvenile baldie sitting in one of the burnt snags near the road, sunning himself. So that made 6 bald eagles for the day. Later, Barbara spotted a mature redtailed hawk with a lovely white breast, just a little rust color up near its shoulders and throat, solemnly watching us stare at it.

Also along the way we saw many kestrels along roads with open fields beside them; and even a couple of merlins doing their hard-pumping thing over the fallow fields. I really lost count of the non-eagle raptors, because I was trying to see kestrels soon enough to point them out to Barbara, but we were in the back seat of the Honda (which is surprisingly roomy and comfortable) and I never saw them soon enough. We also saw a few red shouldered hawks, possibly 2 other redtails, and at least one Cooper’s hawk. Many, many great blue herons were spotted along the roads and near by in fields and along ditches.

1030-HeronAtVisitorCtr
This great blue was captured at the Mattamuskeet Visitor’s Center, but it’s emblematic of all the many that we saw along ditches and in fields next to the road.

Disappointed at not being able to find all the “scenic” or the “wildlife” around the refuge’s scenic drive, we headed homeward about 4:30, and with only spotty cell service, tried to find a place to eat that was different from where we’d eaten last time, in Columbia.

We thought Englehard had a marina seafood place, but were unable to find it by the time we reached there (about 5:30) so headed on to Columbia to the place we’d eaten before, in the Columbia Crossings Center (at the intersection of 64 and another major road, 94). While the food is as good as we remembered, it is a bit grody and the people are not very friendly. They were offering a fried chicken and “country steak” buffet, and a couple of specials, but we ordered off the menu, getting a variety of seafood. Tasty, but a strange atmosphere. Barbara overheard a conversation when some young folks came in as we were headed out, obviously looking for a place to have a beer (there’s a “tavern” next door and affiliated with this “family” place). The waitress evidently asked her manager, “Can I tell them we’re closing at in a half hour?” When the hostess demurred, she said, “What if they stay here drinking and chatting until after closing?”

That was the extent of the overheard conversation, but we were not impressed with the staff’s capacity (or willingness) to serve their customers.

Finally got home about 8P, after a 250-mile day. Jack and I cracked out the whisky for a wee dram before bed, and we read until about 9:30. Set the thermostat again for 50 and hit the hay. Forecast has changed from rain all day tomorrow to rain only in the afternoon/evening. We called Lacey (housesitter) to let her know we’re planning to hit North Bend for Thursday night en route home, and not arrive back until Friday. All’s well with the world (and with the tundra swans).

1022-TundraSwansAtVisitorCtr

Birdwatching Bonanza

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

We got significant unexpected rain in the night, with colder than predicted temps. With our mummy sleeping bags and the propane furnace set on 50 we slept fine. When we got up, it was 32 and the dawn was red and fire-like, but the clouds rolled in, and then rolled away again.

We all walked down to our hoped-for boat launch camping spot, to watch the tundra swans get up off the ice and fly overhead, on their way to the feeding grounds. For the most part, these thousands of swans in a couple of groups were the only birds out there. Some were merely standing on the ice and others were floating in small patches of thawed water. There were also some small, short-necked, dark-colored ducks in patches of water.

Our plan was made while we watched and took pix—we’d use Mike and Barbara’s vehicle that had on-demand four-wheel drive, because we thought we’d be headed out into muddy tracks trying to get to Pungo Lake, and to a spot across Phelps Lake that was recommended to us by the ranger: Cypress Point.

After breakfast and unhitching, we all piled into their car and headed out for the day. Our first stop was Moccasin Point Overlook, which extends into Phelps Lake only a few miles away from Pettigrew. To access the dock, we took a lovely raised walkway through a cypress swamp—where Mike, Barbara, and I had hiked the last time we were here. We did not see the many, many ducks we’d seen last time, but we did see a pair of woodcock, a very bold squirrel, and just enjoyed the walk and the scenery, even though there was quite a lot of snow. In that snow we saw tracks of all sorts of critters, including the deer we later saw in the woods (but I was unable to capture on film).

Next, we drove to Cypress Point (another Phelps Lake overlook), which had a small boat (kayak, canoe) launch area beside the dock. It was a lovely overlook, with benches to enjoy the view—but contrary to what the ranger said, there wasn’t a migratory bird anywhere in sight. We did, however, see two bald eagles. That was special.

By this time, it was about 1PM and Mike was pretty hungry, so we fetched our lunches from the car and sat on the dock to eat. We were all pretty stiff by the time we’d finished, and several of us had sat too close to the melting snow on the step, and got our bums wet. It was a very nice temp, however—maybe in the high 40s—and with little wind we were quite comfortable and relaxed. It was also quite sunny, those AM clouds having dispersed, so by the end of the day, both Barbara and I felt a bit sunburned.

Next, we headed around to another overlook on Phelps Lake: Pocosin Overlook, in the Pocosin Natural Area. There was a strange elevated platform that you accessed via steep, narrow (icy) steps, and when we all climbed up there, far away across the pond, we saw an enormous cloud of white birds lift off and swirl around — it was similar to a murmuration of starlings, but low over the ice/water, no higher than what could be backed by the trees on the far side. It was truly extraordinary.

0918-BirdCloudCypressPoint

Trying to get to Pungo Lake is a challenge—many roads are closed seasonally, and there’s simply no easy way to get there. We all though that if Phelps was mostly frozen, then for sure, Pungo would be a sheet of ice (it’s smaller than Phelps) but surrounding Pungo are many open fields, some left unharvested for the birds. So we drove around, trying to get to where we might see the sea of birds we’d captured last year.

One final turn that happened to be along Pat’s Road, where we had ventured last time, and LO! We saw millions and millions of birds, covering the partially-harvested corn fields on either side of a muddy road, out of which another vehicle full of bird watchers emerged as we arrived. So we turned right and met the mud.

Wow. We were breathless. The birds appeared to be in nearly-overlapping but separate groupings of tundra swans at one end and snow geese at the other. While they sometimes seemed to mingle (at least in the air) there seemed to be an agreement among them about whose end was whose. The geese had youngsters with them—we were able to distinguish them because they were gray.

Mike and I walked into the field (followed a bit later by Barbara) but our only photographic options to capture the snow geese were to the west as the sun was setting, and too bright for photos. We took a lot of pix of the swans. Far to the north, we heard hunters, presumably hunting geese or ducks.

We watched and listened for a long time. Jack stayed back by the vehicle, and at one point an enormous gaggle of snow geese flew right over his head, and settled near the road, in another partly-harvested cornfield toward the north (but not near the hunters, rather, still within walking distance of us).

As the sun set and our hopes for a mass fly-off dimmed, we re-gathered at the vehicle. Barbara’s feet were cold, Mike had stepped into a water-filled, snow-covered ditch and his feet were wet, and we were all getting tired and hungry. We had parked with the nose of the vehicle pointing north, along a small, muddy side road, along which lay the field where the geese had settled. So we thought we’d get closer by driving straight along. We were not actually able to see the geese better from that vantage, after all.

A couple of trucks met us, and there was absolutely no where to ease to the side without going into the cultivated field, frozen below with a skim of mud on top. So we backed nearly the whole way out, until a wide grass verge allowed us to pull off for the trucks to get by. The first one passed and waved, and the second one stopped and informed us that this and the other mud road were seasonally closed, even though there were no signs indicating such. So we apologized, wondering if he was a ranger or a hunter, and (since we were on our way out anyway) promised we’d exit post haste.

Then we stopped on the paved road (not closed seasonally) and took some more pix of the geese that were packed right next to the road, madly feeding. I was in the back and the photos I took of the snow geese and their gray youngsters came out blurry since I had to take them through a fixed window. Too bad, because we were very close.

Managed to work our way back toward Pettigrew by “going around our elbows to get to our thumbs” as Jack characterized our route, and since dinner was on our minds, we navigated into Edenton, where we were sure to find a restaurant. A place J&I had gone on one of our NC bicycle rides was the Waterman’s Grille, so we aimed for the downtown/waterfront section and parked. That place was closed for their winter break and clean, so we tried something called Bistro 309. Lovely little place, that it seemed everyone in town was patronizing that night (on a Tuesday?) but we didn’t wait long for a seat or service and had an excellent meal. Drum fish was one of the specials, and everyone got that except yours truly, and I got fried flounder. Everyone’s meals disappeared with a nice glass of wine (except Mike, who was driving) and then we endured the long drive home, tired and well-fed, satisfied, and imagining flocks and flocks of large, raucous, white birds.

Pettigrew State Park, NC

Monday, January 8, 2018

AM temp was 20 where we were expecting 10, so it’s good news. We thought to try the new ceramic heater overnight, taking advantage of the electric hookup, so we lowered the propane heater thermostat to 45. By the wee hours, the propane had kicked on a few times—we guess between 3 and 4 total overnight. So the ceramic heater is good for maintenance, but for bringing or keeping the temps up, it’s slightly anemic, at least when it’s really frigid outside.

Had cheesy grits with bacon crumbled in it for breakfast, and headed toward Pettigrew State Park (NC) around 11, after giving a tour of the Alto to one of the rangers.

As we drove east, more and more snow was visible—left over from the “bomb cyclone” that hammered the east, all the way down to FL around New Years this year (if you’re not sure what a bomb cyclone is, check this out: https://www.popsci.com/bomb-cyclone. Anyway, through some of the small towns (we routed via backroads, and it was a pleasant and pretty drive) there were significant lumps of packed ice/snow in the main streets. By the time we were taking our final approaches to Pettigrew State Park, we had to avoid lots and lots of unscraped, hardened, lumpy snow/ice in the roads. Along the NC Rt. 64 (4-lane but not interstate) we traveled quite a lot in the left lane because there were so many shady places where masses of snow were packed solid along the middle of the road.

During our lunch stop in Plymouth, our friend and fellow Alto camper Mike called, because we’d not found any firewood and warned him to look for some early. He had taken the step to call Pettigrew, and the folks said they had firewood available for sale, so we all figured we’d just buy it there. As it turns out, it was far too cold and we were out far too late to mess with any campfires during this trip.

When we pulled in to the park, the Mike and Barbara were already there, discussing options with the staff. One fellow had recently been on the tractor clearing the 4 inches of snow from the campground. Barbara thinks they didn’t really think we were coming until they conveyed the info about the firewood, then they stepped on it to clear our designated camp sites.

The supposition by staff was that it would be inadvisable for us to go to the campsites because the tractor clearing snow had nearly gotten stuck. So we suggested we camp at the boat ramp (the majority of Phelps Lake itself is frozen solid, so no boats would be launched there). The staff laughed, and since we thought that was a real possibility we walked down to check it out.

0981-Jan9MistyAMPhelpsLake
The dock and frozen Lake Phelps.
0867-WalkToTheDock
The walk to the lakefront where we’d hoped to set up.

Alas, it would certainly have been a perfect set up—beautiful and flat/paved/dry—but when we actually stated that we’d like to do that, they (after quite a lot of discussion and trying to find the “right” person to ask, which resulted in a delay in our campsite set-up procedures) decided they would not be able to allow us to do that.

Assuring us that by tomorrow we’d be able to get into the campsites proper, the head ranger encouraged us to set up right there in the parking lot, which we (eventually) did. What an excellent opportunity we had taken away from us. I wonder if he thought there would be some sort of precedent set if he let us camp down there.

All of us who were familiar with snow and cold nights knew we were not going anywhere next day.

Anyway, we quickly set up (mostly 2 bars of LTE near the ranger station) and again did not unhitch the cars because it was late and we were all tired. After we’d both cranked up the heat and fixed our respective dinners, Jack and I carried our food over to Mike and Barbara’s Alto—just like ours but newer, and called Moon Shadow—and shared stories and food. The best kind of camping in the world.

Mattamuskeet Journey v. 2018

Mattamuskeet Journey to see migrating waterfowl v. 2018

In January of 2016, we headed out with a newly-acquired Alto camper trailer (we named Roomba) to accompany tent-camping friends to Mattamuskeet Wildlife Refuge, camping at Pettigrew State Park in North Carolina, just on Lake Phelps.

That was so fun we decided on a reprise of that trip with the same friends, who are now also Alto trailer owners (they named theirs Moon Shadow). Last time, the temps were quite chill, and Mike and Barbara were tenting, although we shared our camper’s propane heat on a couple of occasions. But it was bitter cold.

This time was not as gray and frosty, but still cold overnights, and — well, I’ll let you read all about it in several posts.

Sunday, January 7

Left MoD when the temp was about 10 degrees. We began prep around 8:30 – 9:00 AM and had said goodbye to the doggies and were driving down Rt. 59 by about 11.

The weird thing about the whole stowing and prepping during this type of winter camping is that nothing that would be damaged by freezing could be out in Roomba nor in the back of the truck overnight. So we could not pre-pack as we so often do to assure an early departure. We removed our bathroom kits from our clothes bags, and put all the  food (including the ‘fridge food, as nothing was going in from our home freezer) and other things that would be damaged by freezing into the truck very last before hitting the road. We put the refrigerator food into the ‘fridge without turning it on, figuring that it would not freeze solid in the 3 hours it was going to take us to get to North Bend (halfway point overnight spot). Measuring by past experience, the interior of the camper gets really cold on cold traveling days, so we couldn’t even put the dishwashing liquid into Roomba where it usually stays.

So the whole packing up thing was a challenge. We’d left our bed topper rolled and in Roomba for the entirety of this deep freeze (started about New Year’s Eve and overnight temps were in the low single digits — one AM we had zero degrees F — steadily for the whole of 2018). So the topper was stiff as a board and we probably could not have unrolled it even if we’d wanted to. Our hope was that it could ride in the back seat of the truck and thaw a bit, but it was too wide/stiff to fit into the cab, so we had to leave it in Roomba.

Once we arrived at North Bend Federal Campground (around 3P, after a stop for lunch and another for fuel) we plugged up (site 51–with between 2 and 3 bars of LTE and/or 3G cell service) and cranked the propane heater which solved the problem of the frozen bed topper nicely.

North Bend was 28 degrees, and there was still significant amounts of snow along the roads, especially at the edges. The guard said that there had been about 5 campsites used last night, but everyone had left.

They had sites 51 – 77 open, with one heated bathhouse that has maybe 8 private toilet/bath rooms. Site 51 is far from the lakefront, but pretty close to the bathhouse.

We did not unhitch, only leveled and set up, again pondering what would go where when we take off for Pettigrew State Park in NC tomorrow. We’re about 3 hours away from our next stop and, happily—although tonight will be lows in the teens again—the temps will be trending upwards for our whole stay at Pettigrew.

We have brought yeast rolls rising in Omnia, plus a lovely (but untried) chicken stew in the Billy Boil. After set up and a quick walk down to the lake (water levels are waaaaaay low—the “beach” I walked along was really the lake bottom) we are now happily ensconced in the warmth, and getting ready to continue our listen to another of the “Department Q” crime/mystery series (by Jussi Adler-Olsen) with Carl Merk: The Hanging Girl.

Cycling Tour Final Day Five

September 29 – 

This tour ended with an enormous “bang” as we had great weather and a beautiful, excellent ride to finish this Czech/German cycling adventure. We rode out of the “hill country” leaving Schmilka headed to Dresden. The group actually broke into two parts, four riders and one guide (Milan) for the group that would ride the entire way to Dresden; and the larger group that would cycle about 15-20 miles then catch a paddleboat the rest of the way along the Elbe, north to Dresden.

We began by heading through Bad Schandau, and enjoyed some lovely paths, sights, ferries, and pauses along the way.

Germany’s version of Pilot Knob in North Carolina.
A few climbs but on a bike path like this, who can complain?

Konigstein Fortress was first mentioned when King Wenceslas I of Bohemia affixed his seal on a decree “in lapide Regis” or “on the stone of the king.” In German, Konigstein = King’s Stone. It is one of the largest hilltop fortifications in Europe, but no longer maintained.

Saw this gaggle before boarding the ferry to head to the opposite bank. Once we got there, we saw the rest of our pack arriving to the ferry landing to cross behind us. We waved but none of them saw us.
Typical path surface and situation during this tour.
It looks like there’s a multi-eyed giant watching us from inside this church.

This raft reminded me of an overstuffed doughnut.

That’s not a person atop the rock, but some sort of sculpture.
This is a boat similar to the one the larger group took (except going the other other way).

Bastei Bridge. The Bastei is a rock formation towering 194 meters above the Elbe River, and is part of the Sandstone Mountain range. In 1819, August von Goethe said, “Here, from where you see right down to the Elbe from the most rugged rocks, where a short distance away the crags of the Lilienstein, Konigstein, and Pffafenstein stand scenically together and the eye takes in a sweeping view that can never be described in words.”


We pulled into the lovely little town of Pirna, definitely a spot to which we must return. Its lovely square sits high-ish above the river. Really pretty. A nice local lady, whose bike was on the rack next ot ours, was asking Jack about his rear-view mirror, attached to his glasses temple. That conversation evolved into Milan doing some translating for her, and then answering her question about our destination for the day—which led to the discovery that our intended path was blocked (under construction), and she recommended a detour to keep us out of the urban traffic. So we unexpectedly ended up re-crossing the river and heading north on the left bank for a while. The detour might have added some miles, but hat addition it was of no consequence.

I have no idea what this is.
More church roof eyes . . .

We stopped for a late lunch about 3 miles outside of Dresden, and enjoyed brats and beer at a lovely old beer garden, soaking up the sun, and savoring our final cycling day.

Quite frankly, arrival in Dresden was anticlimactic. Jack and I were astounded at the progress in rebuilding the city that has been accomplished since our last visit, some 10 years ago.


Milan, Jack, Craig, Mary and I waited for the others outside of our hotel (the QF Hotel), located directly on the main Old Town square of Dresden, and had a celebratory beer. I forgot to mention that we finally reached a full complement of riders on this day. Allen had emerged from the van on Day Three, John on Day Four, and Michael—who, behind our group, elected to ride with Vlasta from the boat all the way to Dresden—on day Five. At least he got one day of riding in — and what a glorious day it was, too.


Our closing celebratory dinner was held at one of the oldest taverns in Dresden, Kurfurstenschanke, founded in 1708. During our meal we met our guide for our exploration of Dresden by night, an actor playing the part on the city’s King Augustus II.


After dinner, we gathered for our tour, and our guide was engaging and funny, articulate and knowledgeable. It was quite a fun tour, although most of us were very tired by this time. It was, however, a good launching point for our free day in Dresden tomorrow.

The moon was out for our night tour. Difficult to capture, but one of my efforts at least turned out okay.

Augustus II, our guide, is depicted in the dark coat with the dark tricorn hat, in the middle-right.


Cycling Stats:

  • Ride time: 2:45 hours
  • Stopped time: 3 hours
  • Distance: 34 miles
  • Average speed: 12MPH
  • Fastest speed: 26.5MPH
  • Ascent: 172 ft.
  • Descent: 359 ft.

Cycle NC Day 3 & Goodbye Edenton

With an early start on our 30-mile finish day, and with the temps in the 50s as we rolled, our final Cycle NC day was simply splendid. Jack saw a long-time friend before we left camp and had a nice chin-wag with Hal, and we still got on the road by about 9. 

We were surprised to be met with significant headwinds, similar to Day 1, but with no storm on the horizon as with Friday. But we maintained an excellent pace, stopped at one rest stop and skipped the second, and found ourselves back in town about 11, but with fewer than our hoped-for 30 miles. 

  
So we took the suggestion of another friend, who recommended heading to an island right off the Edenton waterfront and having a meander through what was undoubtedly once a plantation. Today, it is mostly agricultural and part of it has been developed into a small neighborhood of high-end homes on the waterfront. Very nicely landscaped and some modest and some more grand homes along winding pavement and lots and lots of birds and squirrels and other neighbors.

   
   
Tried to have lunch at the Dairy Freeze place where we had our first lunch in Edenton on Thursday, but they didn’t open until noon, so we headed to the local coffee house for a panini. They had changed their wifi pass word to honor the Cycle NC event, and had put a bicycle outside with some of their additional handmade offerings adorning every inch of it – mostly small knit birds, but other critters, etc.

   
 
So we returned to camp through a town emptying of the 800 or 1000 cyclists who’d arrived to temporarily wreak havoc on the little town, and I imagine everyone who worked so hard at the restaurants, inns, private homes, and at the hospitality points of the ride heaved a great sigh of relief. We were so very impressed with how friendly and welcoming and patient everyone was. It was a great event held in a great little town.

Packed and stowed and said goodbye to Edenton ourselves at around 2PM, and headed northward along Route 17 to Virginia, to meet up with our friends, Kerry & Gloria, at First Landing State Park in Virginia Beach. It was a long, nervous trip through the Dismal Swamp as our fuel gauge slowly dipped toward “E” but we finally found a station we could get into and out of easily, just before we got on Interstate 64 headed (with everyone else in the world it seemed) toward the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel. We (very happily) got off the crowded and ever-changing Big Road to head down Rt. 13, also called Shore Drive, straight into VA Beach and our campground.

Gloria and Kerry were already there and set up, and about an hour and a half later, we all decided that dinner was in order, so we re-arranged our car to fit four and headed back into the northern part of VA Beach, where, as we’d come down Shore Drive, Jack and I had seen a cluster of seafood restaurants. 

We ended up at a place called Bubba’s Seafood, but could have gone to the Shellfish Restaurant, or one of the three others right in the neighborhood, right on the water. I took a photo of the restaurant next door to us, but I’m sure the folks eating on the deck at Bubba’s looked the same.

  
We chose to eat indoors because, believe it or not, it was quite chilly and breezy outside on the water.

Had a very nice meal of shrimp with all the expected go-withs, excellent cocktail sauce, a decent draft beer (called Laughing Crow, out of Pennsylvania – of course, I chose it on its name alone – and it was an IPA to boot), and overall a very good meal for taking a total “flier” on an unknown, obviously very tourist-y place to eat.

  
Back at First Landing, the four of us each enjoyed a night cap, Jack and I caught up on more of the goings-on back home, and hit the hay.

Cycle NC – Edenton Day Two

Quite a leisurely start to our day today. Rolled up the road around 9:45 AM to find breakfast, and while the Boy Scouts pancake offering was finished, the Rotary folks were still set up in the high school up the road, and man, that was one of the best breakfasts we’ve had in a long time.

The sausage was Colarains links that the folks got from a place called CJ’s just across the river in the next town. Man, was that great sausage! We asked because we hoped we could pick some up to go with us, but since we’re not leaving until tomorrow (Sunday) we figured they’d be closed. Too bad.

Several things I’ve neglected to mention so far: Some poor ghee is dangling from a hammock under a “tent” just down the way from RV City. Jack took a picture of it, but it doesn’t show the hammock itself beneath this stretched thingie. It simply tipped down last night with rain. I wonder how he did in the weather (including thunder and very bright lightning), and what about the mosquitoes after dark?

  
Another thing I’ve neglected to note are the osprey on their nests all around; and the mocking birds that mimic them. We’ll be riding along and hear one call, and suddenly the call morphs into a totally different bird, and we cuss the mockingbirds for “making us look.”

Finally, there are the frogs we hear serenading our ride along the way in all the damp and wet areas. Tons and tons of frogs. Several of whom we saw squashed on the road during our ride today.

Anyway, we rode the 40-mile route today, which was much the same beginning as the path we pedaled yesterday, but thank goodness the wind was not as fierce. Pavement was better that yesterday, too. Along the route, at one of the rest stops, we saw a tandem bicycle coming in with, in addition to the two people pedaling, two fuzzy mutts in a basket on the front handlebars. It was a hoot and I asked them to let me take their photos before the dogs jumped out.

  
Later I saw another dog in a drag-along basket. That may be how we take our own doggies along on some of these trips with us: tow them behind the bikes in a carrier. Heavy Chase would be in heaven, but I believe Mischief might be a bit antsy riding and not being able to run.

We rolled back into town and went on a search for some milk for my morning tea (the small amount I’d brought with me went off). Ended up at an old-fashioned drug store with a soda fountain and got a couple of milk shakes to “restore our energy.” They also were kind enough to sell us a cup of milk for .75.

A nice shower later, and we had a beverage back at the camper, caught up on some correspondence, and gave our first tour of the Mr. Blue Roomba Alto. A nice fellow named Ken came over and said he’d been researching Safari Condo trailers and he and his wife were planning a trip to Quebec to see some in person, but hadn’t gotten there yet. “I’ve never been this close to one before” he said.

The rain began again as we were talking Alto, and they ran over to their unit (a “GO” trailer) to batten down the hatches.

Part of our registration included a dinner and social tonight including live music and lousy beer, so we waited in another line (I know you’re surprised about that) for about an hour to get our “free” dinner and a beer that we could not drink. Happily, the rain had stopped by this time. After dinner, we gave another trailer tour while we mapped our timing and route from here to Virginia Beach tomorrow. Seeing that it might take as much as 2 or 2.5 hours to drive up there, we feel sure we can take the 30 mile cycling route and have plenty of time to pack up and roll out of Edenton at a decent hour tomorrow.

  • Ride time: 2:34:26
  • Stopped time: 1:53:27
  • Distance: 40.38 miles
  • Average speed: 15.69 MPH
  • Fastest speed: 23.54 MPH
  • Ascent: 147 ft.
  • Descent: 240 ft.

(I can never figure out how we start and end at the same spot and have such a difference in ascent and descent. Mustn’t it be the same?)

Riding Day

Registration for the Cycle North Carolina Spring Ride did not open until this morning (Friday). Just about every soul in the town arrived at the registration area as we arrived, so we got into line. Happily, we did not stand too long before someone pointed out that there were various lines depending on what letter of the alphabet your last name began with. Jack headed to R and S, while I stood in A – D. In a parking lot. With rain forecast.

 

Those dark tents in the distance are where we had to be to register
 
My knees were a bit sore by the time we got our wrist band and t-shirt, and the whole time I was standing there, I was thinking, “If this wait makes us start our ride so late that we get rained on, I’ll be annoyed.”

After that long wait, we jumped on the bikes and wanted to drop off the t-shirts back at Roomba so we wouldn’t have to carry them along, so by the time we finally got rolling down the road (and figured out where the heck we were headed) we realized that we somehow missed breakfast. 

Luckily, at about mile 10 or 12, there was a rest stop serving peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, along with fruit and granola/power bars, along with the usual Powerade and water. Even with the early wait I think we hit the first rest stop at about 10AM. But of course, there were more lines for the porta-pots and sustenance. 

 

Lines for everything are standard operating procedure for these organized rides
 
We both felt really great during the morning. And the famed headwind for whic this ride is notorious appeared to have gone on vacation. This first day offered 3 routes: a 37-miler, a 59-miler, and a 72-miler. Our original goal was to do the 37 miles, have lunch back in Edenton, arrive at camp well before the expected afternoon rains, and maybe beat some of the enormous crowd to the showers.

But man, we were sailing along those flat roads, hitting 20 mph speeds at a stretch (we are quite pleased when we can sustain a 13 mph average speed along the Blue Ridge Parkway). So, when the signs came up indicating the split of the 59 mile route from the 37 mile route, we thought, “Heck yeah,” and turned right for the longer ride.

Remember, this part of the country is flat. Pancake flat. The wind can tootle along and hit nothing in its path for miles and miles, and roar at you from all different directions at once.

 

That yellow line you see at the left of the photo is an enormous, beautiful field of mustard flowers, rape seed being the crop grown a lot of places around here. I wish I’d gotten a photo of the field closer, but I was unwilling to stop and start up again in the wind, and it was a crosswind, so I didn’t feel comfortable taking my hand off the handlebars to get my camera.

  
At mile 30-ish, that old headwind found us, after coming home from vacation. The clouds were rolling in and the wind took our average speed down to 16 mph. In another 5 miles it became worse, average speed = 13.5. We had another rest stop somewhere in there and everyone was a hurtin’ cowboy.

All along this stretch of the ride, the wind buffeted us head-on, then crosswind, then head on again. Since the beginning Jack and I had been trading off being “lead goose” to the other, so the one behind could rest a bit and be drawn along in the one in front’s draft. It’s a great system – except when the wind is coming at you from the side. I felt at times like I was fighting my own bike just to keep it from veering off the road entirely.

We both did pretty well until mile 55, when I simply, totally, popped. I felt that I might not have been drinking enough water, so I “paused” more frequently in the task of incessant pedaling to take swigs of water, and then I wouldn’t be able to catch up with Jack, pedaling strongly away, flying lead goose for no one.

At last we made it back. The things that hurt the most on me were my hands and feet – not the legs nor the place where the bike meets the body. We decided to have a late lunch before getting off the bikes and taking a shower, since a few pb&j sandwiches and a banana or two just weren’t going to cut it. So we rolled into Edenton downtown and stopped at a cafe at about 2:30 for a hamburger. Just as we leaned our bikes against the wall to go inside, the rain began.

It had rained a lot while we were inside, but eased up by the time we were ready to head back to camp, so we rolled home and found all was well around the Roomba homestead. This camping area is somewhat protected from the wind, and the rain had not found its way into any of the openings we’d left to keep things cool. The solar panels had topped off the battery, even with the ceiling fan running on low the whole time we were gone.

We had a bit of a lie-down, and went into town after a bit to get take-away and eat it back at the house so we didn’t have to wait in any more lines (not, at least, until tomorrow). As we finished up our meal of barbecue and beer, the heavens opened up again and we were soothed by the pattering of raindrops on the roof. Early night, and up again tomorrow for another go.

  • Ride time: 3:58:47
  • Stopped time: 1:26:09
  • Distance: 60.32 miles
  • Average speed: 15.16 MPH
  • Fastest speed: 23.30 mph
  • Ascent: 69 feet
  • Descent: 106 feet