North Carolina

Sunday, 08 December 2013 15:30
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I ate until I couldn't breathe on more than one occasion in NCSomewhat unexpectedly, my favorite state so far.


To start off, I have to say that North Carolina is probably the most consistently good state I’ve been to on the trip so far. Every state has got its good and great stuff, but there’s also a fair amount of not-so-great stuff to go along with it. California has got Yosemite and and the redwoods, but on the other hand it’s also got Los Angeles and the Salton Sea. Everywhere I went in North Carolina was pretty great, though. The cities were all big enough to be fun and have lots of art and great food and all the good city stuff, but not so big that traffic was bad and you felt overwhelmed by the crowds. All of the small towns were friendly, and all of the countryside between the small towns was scenic and interesting. I certainly didn’t cover every square mile of the state so I’m sure there are some bad spots here and there, but in the 1000+ miles I did within its borders, I never once hit anywhere that wasn’t pretty nice on at least some level, so let’s hear it for North Carolina!

The drive down from Monticello down into North Carolina involved some very twisty roads and some very pretty countryside, and it was a blast. My destination was Lexington, NC, where I’d be staying with the parents of my friend Mary (Boston) and Liz (DC), almost completing the whole “meet the family” multi-state adventure (I missed their brother, who wasn’t home.) Happily among its other charms, Lexington is also the BBQ capital of North Carolina, which meant I’d be getting some tasty dinner that night.

I met Pam (Liz and Mary’s mom) and got my stuff settled in to a very comfy bedroom, and then we went out on a little top-down local driving adventure, as the weather had turned from the frigid conditions I had up in Virginia so something more in the mid-60s, which as a nice change of pace. We jumped in the car and first headed over to the Childress Vineyards for some wine and some lunch. For you NASCAR racing aficionados (and I know you’re out there), yes, it’s that Childress. The winery was very fancy and European looking, which was a little interesting to try to reconcile with the image of a bunch of NASCAR racers, but they produced some tasty vintages. Pam was also very liberal in her interpretation of which areas were public and which were back of house, a viewpoint which ended up with us in the barrel room(s), but nobody seemed to mind (or notice, for that matter), so I got an unexpectedly thorough tour of the place.

Pam getting set for some roadstering Inside the barrel room at Childress One of the conference rooms at Childress
The stainless room; not everything was in barrels Dale Earnhardt wine The gift shop at the winery, decked out for Xmas

After lunch, we cruised over to the gallery of local celebrity Bob Timberlake, a famous American watercolor artist and furniture designer who was raised in Lexington and continues to work and reside there. The paintings were very nice, although some of the prices were a little eye-watering. The whole place was decked out for the holidays too, which added to the warmth and hominess. 

Afterward, we went back to the house and met Pam’s husband Steve, and then we all headed out for some famous Lexington BBQ. Mary had helpfully texted me the “how to order Lexington BBQ” instructions prior to our visit, so I was prepared. I could get it at a tray (just the meat) or a sandwich (in a roll), it could come sliced (big pork slices) or chopped (chopped into tasty bits), and I could order it “brown” (which means “include the crispy brown outside bits of meat” in the mix), and it could come with or without BBQ slaw on top. It reminded me a little of ordering a Philly steak sandwich, where saying “one wit” means “Sir, I would like to order a plain steak sandwich complete with fried onions”, and “one wiz wit” means “I would like to include a large portion of that faux dairy product ‘Cheese Whiz’ on my sandwich as well.” I got “chopped sandwich, brown, slaw”, and it was as super-tasty as advertised. It’s definitely a very regional thing, as I’ve never had BBQ like that anywhere else, and I don’t think you can find it outside of western North Carolina. We also had hush puppies along with the BBQ (of course), and those were equally great. After a lot of buildup, the BBQ definitely delivered the goods.

Famous Lexington BBQ Lexington Barbeque and hush puppies


We went back to the house afterward, and after some fine conversation, I turned in and slipped into a deep post-BBQ coma. The next morning, it was time for some more food, as we went to Southern Lunch, another Lexington institution, for some southern breakfast. I got filled up on grits and eggs (I swear I’m going to be 50 lbs heavier by the time I get to Florida), and then Pam and I took off to see one more local attraction before I left the area. Since it was on my way, we stopped by Boone’s Cave to see where Daniel Boone spent some time as a teenager. The caves were small, but they’d definitely beat living out in the woods while you built some cabins, which is apparently what they did. It was also a nice hike through the woods and along the Yadkin River, after which we parted ways, but not before I received an Official North Carolina Care Package from Pam, including six packs of Cheerwine and Natty Greene’s Ale , a box of Krispy Kremes, and a bottle of Childress’ red table wine (all of which were good, but none of which were going to help me with my southern foods problem.)

North Carolina care package Southern Lunch Boone's Cave, country living at its finest


Some more abandoned stuff near Boone's Cave Some color with the abandonment Still enjoying the textures
More texture And a little more color It's a fixer-upper

My next stop was Asheville, which is a few hours south along the Blue Ridge, and by all accounts is a cool little college town. I was there for three nights, which I split across two different Airbnb stays (due to availability issues), but both of which were within walking distance of downtown. At the risk of sounding a little monotonous, this also turned into quite the food stop, with amazing breakfasts and dinners at Tupelo Honey, Early Girl Eatery, Sunny Point Café, and Fig (among others). I also got a little trip housekeeping done, getting my hair cut downtown at Asheville Barber & Beard, and taking advantage of my second host’s washer and dryer to get caught up on laundry. I was also lucky enough to catch the local Christmas parade (although it did seem a little early for that), which was indeed a very local affair, with floats by area churches and businesses, music from high school marching bands around the area, and of course an appearance by the big man himself, Santa. All of this fun and food was taking place in the midst of a bit of a cold snap, with temperatures not getting out of the 30s for most of my stay. It was a great place though, and well worth a visit.

Mmm...biscuit with jam and tupelo honey Stewed tomato, egg, applewood bacon, and cheddar with cheese grits Fried green tomatoes over goat cheese grits, with a little pickled okra
The remnants of the Friday night drum circle in Asheville Part of the Christmas parade. Santa-in-training up front. Handing out candy to the kids
A few not-so-tiny reindeer The big guy, with secret service detail One of the nicer spots I've blogged from, Battery Park Book Exchange

I also stopped at the Biltmore on my way out of town (en route to Charlotte), the giant estate built by George Washington Vanderbilt in the late 1800s. It was as opulent and over-the-top as rumored, with dozens of rooms, giant dining areas, an indoor swimming pool and gym, and all sorts of other crazy features for the time it was built. They didn’t allow photography inside, but I did sneak a couple of blurry ones with the GoPro, since it’s got that wide lens on it. The tour was self-guided, but along a preset route through the house marked out with signage and velvet ropes. The exterior was equally amazing, and the wisteria trellises must be really amazing when they’re in bloom.

The Biltmore Estate Some awesome wisteria, even without the flowers Inside the atrium area
Today's houses need more gargoyles The outside of the giant spiral staircase More wisteria
The big spiral staircase from the inside Blurry pic of the main dining hall. Note the triple fireplace a the end. More atrium

I got to Charlotte late in the afternoon, basically just for a pit stop on my way to the Carolina coast. I’d been generously offered a whole house to stay in on the Outer Banks by a fellow Roadster enthusiast (and blog reader), which sounded pretty great to me, so I was gradually making my way in that direction. However, North Carolina is a deceptively wide state, and it’s a long way from Asheville to the coast, so a couple stops were in order on the way. I grabbed a little bungalow in Charlotte via Airbnb (which was very nice, even though all I did was sleep there), then continued heading east in the morning. By that time, the weather had dropped in, and it was raining hard and steady all day and all night, which isn’t really great for fun Roadstering. My leak abatement program seemed to have been effective as I stayed dry the whole time, but weirdly the paint touchups I did in Boston didn’t survive the onslaught, so I’ll have to do that again sometime soon.

Not great Datsun driving conditions

I was slowly getting closer to the coast, and my next stop was a little town called Washington, NC. This whole area is south of the Chesapeake Bay, which I’d sort of just driven around by heading west from DC, then south from West Virginia, then east from Asheville, which meant I’d skipped the whole Richmond/Norfolk area (maybe next trip). Interestingly, this also meant that I’d gone around the largest impact crater in the United States. You don’t generally think of “meteor impact craters” when you think “east coast”, but the Chesapeake Impact Crater is a big one, although it hid in plain sight for a long time. Clues were discovered in the early ‘80s through core samples taken in New Jersey, then confirmed in the early ‘90s during oil exploration in the area. This doesn’t really have much to do with my trip itself as I never got within 100 miles of it (and couldn’t really see any signs of it even if I did, as it’s 35 million years old and pretty well buried), but these are the geeky things I think about when driving for hours and hours in the rain.

Anyway—I got to Washington late in the afternoon, and cruised the couple of blocks over to my Airbnb stay in a really nice old Victorian house with an equally nice hostess, who treated me to wine and cheese on arrival and to breakfast the following morning. I enjoy the Airbnb stays where you get to talk with the hosts for a while the most, and this was one of the nicer versions of that. I also took a walk downtown to the turn-of-the-century main street area and waterfront, both of which were charming in that Atlantic seacoast kind of way. It’s worth a visit if you’re ever in the area.

Brief break in the storm Oystering country Stormy weather
Part of the local fleet The local message board in Swan Quarter, NC. What WAS she thinkin'? More fishing fleet elsewhere, including Wonder Woman


In the morning, it was still raining, and now it had the added pleasure of high winds, but I pushed on regardless. I stuck to the backroads that went through all the little fishing and shellfishing towns tucked into the numerous estuaries along the way, and took more pictures of some of the abandoned buildings (which is apparently going to happen a lot for the next month or so, considering where I’m traveling…apologies in advance if this isn’t your cup of tea, but I’m still sort of fascinated by the features and textures of this sort of thing.) This was also a swan migration route, and there were numerous flocks of the big white birds huddled together in the fields, riding out the storm. I made it over to the Outer Banks at Roanoke Island and Nag’s Head, and stopped there at a local grocery store to pick up some provisions for the house, including enough stuff for a rudimentary Thanksgiving meal. I drove down along Route 12 where in many areas I could see the Atlantic on my right and Pamlico Sound on my left. The wind was still howling, which made for some dramatic scenes along the shore, and in spots the road had been flooded across, but remarkably the car didn’t immediately flood with water when driving through these deep spots. Let’s hear it for copious amounts of RTV silicone applied in a nice dry garage in Las Vegas.

More abandoned stuff, waterfront edition The phone's for you More waterfront abandonment

I got to the house a little after nightfall, and everything was right where my generous host Dave said it would be. I had a whole house to myself for the first time since visiting my place in PA, and it was a great way to relax over Thanksgiving. I basically just hung out at the house, made dinner, and watched cartoons for Thanksgiving, as the weather wasn’t the best anyway, and it was just nice to not be driving for a bit.

Still some pretty heavy weather coming in Working the weather The wind was pretty serious
The road down to Hattaras The pelicans didn't seem to care There were a few spots that were a little deep for the car, but it made it
Different abandoned stuff: Old go cart track Boat racing, too More go cart stuff
Even a water slide! It was probably a lot of fun back in the day Adventures in black & white

The next day was windy, but completely clear and sunny, so I went off exploring for a bit. I was close to the Cape Hattaras Light, so I started there and then just wandered around on the beach a little. There was a surprising number of people surf fishing, although I didn’t see anybody pulling in any fish. I walked for a few miles up and down the beach, then returned to the house to do some quick maintenance on the car while I had a good driveway to work in. I rotated the tires, as the fronts were really starting to show some wear…I will probably be OK with ending the trip on the same rubber I started on, but it’s possible that I’ll need a new set before I get home. Depends how spirited the driving gets as I get back into some of the mountain states. I also got my little coolant leak taken care of, so we’re back to general mechanical happiness at this point with those minor tweaks.

My Thanksgiving. I subbed chicken and skipped the stuffing, but it was good The Cape Hattaras Light A piece of grass doing patterns in the sand from the wind. I thought it was neat.
Hattaras beach, thankfully not raining Remnants of an old jetty Some tenacious fishermen; it was pretty cold and windy
Surf's up Scott was here Fun at the tide line

I spent the evening doing a little trip planning, and I figured I’d go from where I was over to New Bern and then down to Wilmington before I started in on the whole Charleston/Savannah antebellum adventure. I drove down 12 to the end of the island the next morning where I got a small ferry over to Okracoke, then drove through Okracoke down to a bigger ferry that would take me over to Cedar Island. The Hattaras-Okracoke ferry was about an hour, mostly because there was a lot of zig-zagging around sandbars and shallows, and the ferry over to Cedar Island was a little over two hours. I had thought the Cape May-Lewes ferry from NJ to Delaware was going to be my last ride on a boat, but these two ferries ought to wrap up my oceanic adventures for the trip.

Leaving Hattaras The Datsun, in danger of being crushed by regular-sized cars The Hattaras-Okracoke ferry
Leaving Okracoke Sunset from the ferry Arriving at Cedar Island. Note the giant Euro camper on the left.

From Cedar Island, I hugged the coast down through Beaufort and Morehead City and several other little seaside towns, then cut inland to New Bern, where I’d gotten a hotel for a change. New Bern is somewhat historic and it’s got a nicely preserved downtown area, so I explored the birthplace of Pepsi Cola and a bunch of the other 18th and 19th century history in the area. Christmas decorating had also gotten into full swing in the couple of days since Thanksgiving, and the place was decked out with garlands and wreaths and all of the usual Christmas stuff. I had a nice, restful, and wind-free evening, then headed toward Wilmington the next day, which was my last stop before the South Carolina border.

Birthplace of Pepsi Downtown New Bern A little more New Bern history
Down in the land of cotton Random abandoned It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas

En route to New Bern, I had hit one of the fun milestones for the trip when “driving the equivalent of the circumference of the earth” distance came up at 24,910 miles. On the way to Wilmington, an even 25,000 miles for the trip 90 miles later, so those were both interesting points. It doesn’t feel like 25,000 miles, but when I look at the map, I’ve definitely been all over the place so far.

I drove around Wilmington’s historic district a bit, checking out all of the really nice houses and mansions and taking note of the large number of memorials to the Confederate soldiers. Like a lot of the coastal downs near major navigable rivers, Wilmington played a pretty big part in the Civil War, and like a lot of those same towns, it was pretty much leveled by the Union armies, so almost all of the architecture and buildings are from  the latter part of the 19th century and newer.

One of the more interesting attractions in Wilmington is the USS North Carolina, a WWII battleship that’s moored just across the river and is open for the public to tour. This was one of the more accessible pieces of military history that I’d seen on the trip so far, and they had a lot of the bits and pieces working and available for the public to try out.

The USS North Carolina 20mm anti-aircraft gun The big 16" aft guns
Inside the turret, with the Bausch & Lomb viewfinder for aiming the guns Looking through the still-functional eyepiece The fire control computer inside the turret
Main engine controls Rudder controls Everybody needs a good cheat sheet at work


You could pitch and swing a couple of the big anti-aircraft guns, crawl into the turret of the aft 16” main gun and look through the aiming viewfinder as well as play with the mechanical fire control computer, and get up close and personal with all of the engine room and rudder controls. I gave a group of confused school kids a quick run-through on how the engine room worked and how you turned steam into propulsion, and I really got to geek out a little on the fire control computer room.

The on-board machine shop Part of one of the computer rooms Up close with one of the firing solution computers
Some of the 16" shells in storage in a forward turret 16" thick armor at the conn Part of the inside of a turret
It's good to have reference points when you work in a rotating room Up on the bridge Obviously getting a bit more into the south

As this was the age before digital computers, all of the firing solutions for the guns was done with mechanical computers that used gears and levers and dials to input and output aiming data, which is pretty mind-boggling when you think about it. For an idea of how these things worked and what kind of math they were doing mechanically, check out this old US Navy video:

I wandered all around the decks, inside the turrets, down to the engine room and back, all across the bridge, through the combat information center, up to the conn (with its 16” thick armor plating), and then back down to my car. I had only planned to spend about an hour there, but it was three hours before I got done.

After the boat, I made a quick side trip to Oak Island, which is another little seaside town. It’s a pretty popular resort in the summertime, but it was almost deserted when I got down there. I wandered around a bit and walked out to the end of the fishing pier where I was rewarded with a look at a small pod of dolphins that was playing around in the water nearby. It was getting to be late afternoon by this point and I had to make it to my next destination for the evening in Charleston, SC, so I put the top down, jumped in the car, and headed south.

Out on the pier at Oak Island Bad picture of a dolphin Probably put this up after that record Tiger shark...

Next stop: Charleston, SC and Savannah, GA


+1 #1 FairladySPL 2013-12-09 11:06
Scott, I got the sense of how small the Roadster is when you were parked among the BIG PICKUP TRUCKS in oil country a while back. But now you really convinced me, seeing that itty bitty lil' red car on the water's edge of the ferryboat headed from Hatteras to Ocracoke. It's a wonder they noticed you waiting to get on...
+1 #2 laceytrynn 2013-12-09 11:23
the food pics were killing me… looks so good!
#3 lectacave 2013-12-09 11:50
So, when does the wealth of knowledge stop? Amazing post, Scott! The tide, the sand, the Biltmore, the fixer-uppers, the USS NC, the filmstrip... all fascinating and beautifully captured! Can't wait for the book. :)
#4 Mom 2013-12-09 14:25
I agree with both comments, but must tell you.. I was drooling !!!! Great post ! I think you should consider joining the "Game On" team in January. It is awesome, and you lose weight right..
#5 chickline1 2013-12-09 14:51
Ok Scott, I am also waiting on the book.
Second, I have to lay claim to N.C. being awesome. I was telling my father in law (Ed Cerne) at thanksgiving about your trip, and they wanted you to stop in and see them. Add them to the list of people who are connected to Scott Fisher, and would have given you a place to lay your head, good meal and great stories. Cheerio!!!!!
#6 Ryno23 2013-12-10 19:47
Thanks for signing me up for the site. I really have enjoyed (and envied) your trip. Not only the trip, with the classic car, but the stops at Airbnb locations, which I had never heard of before. It has added a new dimension to future trips for me. Keep up the good work and the posts!

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