Slow Boat to Ocracoke

After five long years without a motorcycle trip together, Brian and I finally rode away from my house on Halloween morning. The heavy traffic and straight roads in my part of the state are pretty high on Brian’s list of dislikes. I’ve learned to put up with it. I made sure our route started out on the right foot. The half mile of S-curves on Holly Springs Road was short, but it gave us just enough fun riding to kick-start our day like a good cup of coffee!

A few miles down the road we passed by a field full of ripe pumpkins. There must have been 10 acres of jack-o-lantern wanna-be’s out there. Halloween morning seemed a bit late for them to still be sitting in the field, but they were appropriately scenic for us in the crisp morning sunlight. It was too early in our day to consider stopping for photos. Is there a good helmet-mounted camera out there that can be easily triggered to capture these last-second sights as one rolls by? I probably need one that activates when my eyes suddenly open wide. Anything else would be too slow.

Our first checkpoint was Devil’s Racetrack Road, which turned out to be just an enjoyable rural road ride. Despite the name, nothing spooky or supernatural happened. Maybe mid-morning on a sunny day isn’t the best time to expect spooky? Google never returned any info on the origin of the road’s name but I did find a recent You-Tube video by someone trying to start a legend to go with the name.

Devil's Racetrack Road
Devil’s Racetrack Road

I was surprised when we rode by the entrance to Howell Woods Nature Preserve. There was a rest stop at Howell Woods on the 2013 CycleNC bicycle tour across the state. I didn’t even recognize the road this time until I saw their sign. That just shows how different the bicycle travel experience is from the motoring experience!

Not far from Devil’s Racetrack Road, we saw a sign for Crow’s Foot Road. Also somewhat Halloween-appropriate.

Crow's Foot Road
Crow’s Foot Road

Our next checkpoint was Cliffs of the Neuse State Park, a few miles south of Goldsboro. In keeping with the Halloween theme, we agreed the park’s name was a misspelling, at least for today. How could we pass up a stop at Cliffs of the Noose on this trip? Thoughts of a town of gold and a hanging were theme-appropriate. Besides, the location provided a well-timed pit stop.

Cliffs of the Neuse
Cliffs of the Noose

Heading further south, we kept to the back roads north of Jacksonville so we could pass through the community of Half Moon, NC. We pulled over at the local volunteer fire department and chatted for a minute with a fellow sitting outside. He tried to sell us a pumpkin. We were able to decline the offer based on the limited cargo space on our motorcycles. A few of their pumpkins were pretty scary, being well on the way to gooey compost already. We snagged some pictures with the witch full of hot air.

Half Moon VFD
Half Moon VFD
Half Moon witch
Half Moon witch. Not sure who looks more scared!

A few miles later we rolled into Pumpkin Center, NC. I’m not sure we saw any pumpkins there, but we did take a picture of the name on a sign as proof of our visit.

Pumpkin Center
Pumpkin Center

The next milestone on our trip was crossing the bridge to Emerald Isle. This event was significant not for any relevance to our Halloween theme, but because this was our first motorcycle venture onto one of North Carolina’s “outer bank” islands. We had both been to Ocean Isle Beach before, which is technically an island, but Emerald Isle is separated from the mainland by Bogue Sound, not just by the narrow Intracoastal Waterway.

At the far end of Emerald Isle we crossed back to the mainland for a lunch stop at Tight Lines Pub and Brewing Company in Morehead City, NC. I’m sure the owners had some kind of fishing or sailing jargon in mind with the name, but “tight lines” and “more heads” fit nicely with our earlier “noose” stop. The pub name was a bit of a misnomer anyway. It turns out they weren’t actually brewing yet, but the fish tacos were good!

Tight Lines Pub
Tight Lines Pub

An hour’s ride from Morehead City brought us to the Cedar Island ferry landing around 4:20 pm. The third and final ferry run of the day departed at 4:30 pm. As I rolled up to the ticket master’s booth, the attendant greeted me by my first name. That was a little spooky. But then I remembered making reservations and it turns out we were the only motorcycles expected.

We felt pretty special when they told us to pull all the way to the front of the #4 loading lane. Then we sat there while all vehicles from the other three lanes were directed onto the ferry. They waved us on last and had us park with our front tires pulled up against the tire rail along the side of the ferry. We put our bikes on their sidestands and a crewmember stuck a small wood block behind our rear tires. Just a few feet behind us was the nylon webbing “gate” strung across the open back of the ferry. Churning seawater lay just beyond that. That was just a bit scary.

On the ferry
Loaded on the ferry

The motion of the ferry on the waves caused the bikes to sway some. After a few tense minutes of watching the bikes bob, we decided it was just the rear shocks compressing and unloading as the weight shifted. We hesitantly agreed they were not going to fall over (and fall overboard) and we could walk around and find a place to get out of the chilly sea breeze.

Two-minutes of walking revealed all there was to see on the ferry. We found a couple of seats at a booth in the mostly deserted back end of the lounge. Brian plugged his phone in to charge and we tried to slouch down enough in the booth to get comfortable and catch a quick nap. The droning of the engines and sway of the ferry helped, but no good sleep was to be had.

Sunset at sea
Sunset at sea

Eventually we got tired of trying to rest. The evening colors started creeping across the sky so we went back out to watch the sun set. We were sailing off into the darkness on Halloween night to an island where pirates once plundered. As the daylight faded behind us, the shadowy shape of Ocracoke Island emerged from the dark waters ahead. Night fell thickly upon us as we passed very close to the spot where the infamous pirate Blackbeard was captured and beheaded. His body had been tossed overboard in these very waters. Pretty spooky, arrrgghh!!!

Continued in part 3 Trouble in the Dark

part 1 – Getting on the Road Again

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