ON 13th September, Stuart & Sylvia Morgan fly from Hampshire, UK, to join our friends Mandy & Craig Fulton, currently based in Virginia Beach, Virginia, USA. We'll be two couples, on two Harleys, for two weeks, touring the Carolinas, Tennessee, and Georgia. Stuart & Sylvia are hiring an Electra Glide Ultra Limited from Bayside Harley Davidson, and Craig and Mandy will be riding their Electra Glide Ultra Classic.
Ever since we first got Harleys in 2008, we have been planning "The American Dream" - a three week trip across the States. Although Craig's posting to Virginia Beach restricts us to two weeks, this is a long-planned adventure, so we thought we would share it with friends and family. If we have as much fun on this trip as we have had in its planning, this will be a blast - hope you too enjoy the ride!
Today is Wednesday, and we left Charleston after a leisurely start, taking the scenic route already planned by Craig, and endorsed by Greg our guide yesterday. After a while, we found a quiet section of road, and stopped to take photos of each other riding past. As we did so, the road suddenly got a lot busier! A good number of those that passed us, stopped to check we were all right - it was another demonstration of the kindness of strangers, which we have seen so many times on this tour.
We reached the southern end of Myrtle Beach at lunchtime, and stopped at the Conch Cafe. As you will see from the photos below, this restaurant had an idilic location on the edge of a beautiful white sandy beach that stretched for miles. The tables on the veranda, were all taken, but after just a few minutes we were given a table next to the railings, with a superb view of the beach and sea. As we enjoyed our leisurely lunch, we watched ospreys diving for fish, quite near to us … absolutely wonderful!
Plans are made to be altered/refined:- the second leg of our ride was to take us to Wilmington, but we rode on a little further, and we are now ensconced in The Harbour Inn, Wrightsville. En route we rode though mile after mile to touristy tacky outlets, with mini-golf attractions - you know the sort of thing. Richard (Mandy-Jane and Craig's son) would call it "cheeseville." With all this development, came innumerable traffic lights, so we were glad to put the Myrtle Beach "strip" behind us. Mind you, we did pass three Harley Davidson dealerships without stopping … no bad thing as we're running out of space for more T shirts! We also saw a few other bikers along this road, riding without helmets (which are not mandatory for those over 21 in South Carolina), one with a pipe stuck between his teeth. Of those who wear a helmet, very few are attired as we are: with boots, full length jeans, proper jackets.
Craig and I wandered down to the beach, just five minutes away form our hotel. Again, a beautiful long beach, white sand, and gentle surf. As we paddled, the water was quite warm - the gulf stream runs close by. Altogether another good find, and all the better for being unplanned. After a rest day, we are glad to move on, so our song of the day is "On the road again" by Willie Nelson. It's at:
195 miles today.
Nice spot for lunch:
Ospreys fishing provide the entertainment during lunch:
The obligatory group phot!
Our hotel in Wrightsville last night was ….em…. different. Whilst it was one of the most expensive that we have stayed in on this trip, and was in a superb location, it had a curiously seedy feel to it. Rusty unpainted elevators, for example, and bare concrete steps between floors. The attendant (given the utilitarian nature of his office that term seems somehow more appropriate than “concierge” or “receptionist”) found it rather extravagant that 2 couples would want 2 rooms when there were four beds in each! But the views from the balconies were worth the slightly less that luxurious surroundings, and there was only the one cockroach to keep us company. I guess we were paying for location!
With some regret over how quickly this second week has whisked past we mounted our steeds and headed north and east through Jacksonville. We were happy enough with one aspect of crossing the state line from South to North Carolina however; the helmet laws changed back to normal. It had felt almost embarrassing to be wearing helmets on Harleys in South Carolina. A bit like being the spotty kid who diligently wears his bicycle helmet on the way to school when all the ‘populars’ have theirs on the handlebars.
We made good ground up to towards Cedar Island where we were due to catch the 4 o’clock ferry to Ocracoke. You could tell that were drifting back towards real life again because with a ferry ticket booked we suddenly needed to be somewhere at a specific time. Everyone was rather freaked by this unusual situation so we got there nice and early, well I must be honest, 3½ hours early. At this point we found out that we didn’t really need a booking at all - since it is out of season. So we just drove straight onto the 1 o’clock ferry. Nothing like being ahead of schedule! However, the route to the ferry across the pan flat marshlands was spectacular; long straight roads with deep salt water filled ditches on either side, expansive bridges over spectacular waterways… and no cars to be seen. It must be admitted that without sensible pillions on the back the boys might have got a bit carried away here and tested the speed limits a little more. It really looked too much like the scene of a car commercial!
So over the water to Ocracoke we came. This is the southernmost island of the Outer Banks which, for those with no geographic knowledge of this part of the US coastline, are a long string of islands and peninsulas which separate the coasts of North Carolina and Southern Virginia from the ocean. This leaves an inland waterway which in days gone by were the hiding place for many notorious pirates – such as Blackbeard who was apparently caught just off the coast and killed by a Lt Maynard RN . Three cheers for the Royal Navy & the Maynards!
The early arrival in Ocracoke has left us with a long and leisurely last afternoon and evening and our accommodation here, the “Harborside Motel” is positioned exactly where the name suggests. We sat on the dock overlooking the bay watching the lighthouse come to life, pelicans flapping past and serene looking yachts drift past while the sun sank slowly in the west. Hence our selected song for the day:
A most superb seafood meal of freshly caught bluefish (for normal people) and oysters (for the rest) brought to the end another memorable day.
Bluebird's crew arriving on the ferry:
That must be the hotel...
Stuart and Sylvia relaxing in the evening
On the dock:
Sun sinks slowly in the west:
This morning, we augmented the modest offering supplied by the motel with muffins and some excellent coffee from the coffee house two doors away, and enjoyed our breakfast "sitting on the dock of the bay." After a quick walk to a British War Graves Commission cemetery, where four Royal Navy men were buried, after their anti-submarine converted trawler was torpedoed by a U boat with the loss of all hands, we packed up and left Ocracoke harbour. We had all agreed that this had been an excellent place to stay - such a perfect location.
It was13 wonderful miles to our first ferry of the day. We rode along the narrow part of the island, barely 200 yards wide in places. At times, gaps in the sand dunes on the right gave us the view I had been looking forward to: the seashore on both sides of the road.The ferry crossing between the islands of Ocracoke and Cape Hatteras, passed sandbanks on which was perched the occasional pelican. We rode through Hatteras, with high dunes on our right, sand spilling onto the road in places. Reaching the northernmost tip, we stopped just short of the bridge which took us to the spit of land forming the northern end of the Outer Banks. This is a spectacular bridge, arching high above the sea below. I hope the GoPro video worked!
We rode on, into Nags Head, where we stopped for lunch at a restaurant that extended over the beach, the attached pier jutting into the Atlantic Ocean. As we ate, we watched a couple of surfers riding the rollers that came crashing into the beach. Well done Craig, you've done it again - the perfect spot for a lunch stop! The waitresses in the restaurant all looked well past retirement age, and being attired in very short shorts and low cut T shirts, this is a semi-retirement placement for Hooters retirees! A short distance further on, and we reached the Wright Brothers' museum at Kitty Hawk, the site of the first powered flight. Sylvia and I paid a quick visit to look at the replica of their plane.
Although a long bridge took us back to the mainland, we caught another ferry from Currituck eastwards across the Currituck Sound to Knotts Island, thus cutting our distance back to Virginia Beach, but more importantly giving us another bracing ferry ride. Just forty miles to go, and we will be home. Even this part of the journey was a good ride, with some great curves (American for bends), and waterways by our side. Ah well, we are now back chez Mandy-Jane and Craig. It seems an absolute age since we left here just fourteen days ago. We have crammed in so many memorable experiences and there are more highlights that we we can immediately recall. No doubt, as we re-read this blog, and prepare our photo books, it will all come flooding back. Time has accelerated in the last few days, so our song of the day is "Funny how time slips away" by Willie Nelson.
We should add a song of the tour, and here we will diverge from Country: "(I've had) The time of my life" from Dirty Dancing.
155.5 miles today, and - I'm sure you'd like to know - a total of 2,166.7 miles for the whole trip. By the way, this is not the last blog of the trip. Craig and I will do separate epilogues. We have learnt a lot, we have so many memories and themes to pull together, and thoughts to share. So, if you're interested, look out for just two more notifications in the next few days. Bye for now.
The breakfast table:
Ocracoke's main road
The bikes wait
Here comes the transport...
How can they have anything left to say?
What is now known as "Stuart's dream bridge."
Oh a wonderful bird is the pelican. Its beak can hold more than its belly can!
So that was that then. This time last week we were waking up in the Buffalo Creek Bed & Breakfast with ice cream muesli and grits for breakfast, overlooking a babbling brook in the heart of the Smokie Mountains. The prospect of another week on the road stretched out ahead for the seasoned explorers. And now we are home, and it’s back to work tomorrow. Only one night in our own bed and the whole thing seems like a bit of a distant memory. So, before that memory fades, the Blogmeister (Stuart) has decreed that we try and capture a few thoughts to summarise our adventures. Here goes…
Most sensible people would ask why we would bother to do a tour on a motorbike when a car is so convenient. The automobile is more comfortable, you can take as much luggage as you want, you stay dry in the rain, it is safer, it is more comfortable, you can travel with your friends and converse throughout the journey etc etc. Well, yes, all that is true – but on a motorbike….
1. You become much more absorbed in the environment. You can see the clouds drifting past overhead or the branches as they form a beautiful natural tunnel winding up the Appalachian mountainside; you can hear the rivers raging past at the side of the road or the cicadas in the trees; you can smell the earthy breeze as it drifts up the river valley or off the corn drying in the fields as it is prepared for winter fodder; and you can feel the wind in your face as it cools with the setting sun or tries to blow you off course as you top a spectacular arched bridge along the Outer Banks. The whole experience is just magnified.
2. You meet more people. It turns out that just about everybody:
(a) is a biker,
(b) wants to be a biker or
(c) feels the need to justify to bikers why they are not bikers.
Whether you are packing your saddlebags in the hotel car park, stopping for a cup of coffee along the roadside somewhere, or pausing in a viewpoint to take a few pictures, people seem to catch your eye and come over to share stories and experiences.
3. Everybody seems to care about you. Obviously you are in the fellowship of bikers and receive a warm salute from every motorcycle going the other direction (especially warm when it is another Harley!). But even non-bikers care; I can’t count the number of other people who assumed the mother role and told us to be careful; the kindly restaurateurs, the ladies in the toll booths, the hotel receptionists and all the rest. And you only have to pull over for 30 seconds before someone stops to make sure that you are OK. It is even different when you are trying to change lanes because cars or trucks are quick to make space for you. I think the vulnerability of a biker brings out the best in human nature.
4. You are closer to your partner. Driving in a car with your wife is one thing, but there is something unique about riding with a pillion. Perhaps it is the level of trust required or maybe the physical contact. And conversing over your own private intercom is inexplicably more fun that just talking in a car.
5. Your concern for your friends on their bike, either ahead of you or in your rear view mirror, makes you part of a little team – only connected by CB radio when required. And at the end of the day you share the stories and experiences from a slightly different angle. Perhaps being cooped up in a car with another couple (and Stuart’s jokes) for 2 weeks might have stretched a friendship rather than deepened it.
It added up to the fact that at the end of each day the experience felt somehow richer and more all encompassing. I’m probably getting a bit boring, so I’ll quit while I’m ahead. (if I am still ahead), and the Fulton/Bluebird half of the gang will sign off with our 5 favourite pictures of the trip. Quite a tricky selection given that the 3 photographers managed over 3000 pictures between them!
In conclusion though, what does 2x2x2 equal? I could tell you, but it wouldn’t add up to the same if you hadn’t experienced it. Perhaps you can join us on the road next time out. Thanks for following us this far.
Craig & Mandy-Jane.
Kings of the road...
Ah...smell that open air.
Mj looking like a fighter pilot walking to the spitfire.
Have to admit goggles are good for practical rather than fashion reasons!
A happy crew!
When we started to consider crossing of the USA by Harley Davidson motorcycles, and more recently began planning this trip, we knew we were going to have an adventure, something really special. We hoped it would be worth sharing with family and friends, and that's why we set up this blog.
At times, after a long day, it was a bit of an effort to do the daily blog entry, but it was a good way to consolidate the events of the day, and the "bedtime story" ritual became an event in itself.
Craig's last post summarises the experience of motorcycle touring so well. We have had so many good experiences that it is impossible to restrict the list of highlights to a manageable number.
We have met many lovely people; visited and stayed in wonderful places; had superb weather - just one day of rain; and travelled some spectacular roads. Above all, the best thing has been sharing the journey and the experiences with good friends.
It has been great fun. We hope you have enjoyed the blog.
Now it's time to get back to (I won't say "reality") our normal routines, and time to get planning!
Thanks for looking in.
All the best,
Stuart and Sylvia
Here are half a dozen picures that epitomise the holiday:MORE...
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