Today started out innocently enough. I made myself a huge waffle at our hotel’s continental breakfast bar, Kurt ate cereal without milk. Just another normal day. We followed breakfast with a walk on the beach, where we collected a great assortment of colorful seashell pieces. We walked in the water, which was the perfect temperature. We took pictures by the Atlantic, knowing that in a couple of weeks they’ll be joined by pictures of us by the Pacific. Our shorts got wet when waves caught us off guard while posing. A nice lady took our picture together. A perfect morning.
After cleaning the sand off our feet, we checked out of the hotel and went straight to the Wright Brothers Memorial in Kitty Hawk. It’s a national park — the first one of the trip — so we bought the $80 interagency pass that will admit us to any national park (and permit us to use campgrounds at some of the parks) for the next year. With the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Yellowstone, and the Badlands in our near future, we’ll get our money’s worth out of the pass by the end of the trip. The Wright Brothers Memorial was far more impressive than either of us expected it to be. There’s a welcome center with a small museum and a gift shop (where I picked up the first of many magnets that will serve as souvenirs of the trip). There are replicas of the buildings in which Wilbur and Orville lived and worked while in Kitty Hawk. There are stone markers showing where the 4 flights they succeeded in making on December 17, 1903 began and ended. There’s a separate set of buildings with exhibits that we didn’t get a chance to see. There’s a huge monument at the top of the hill that was the sand dune marking the spot they chose for their experiments. And there’s a fun sculpture of the first flight and its onlookers. It’s an interesting and lovely place to spend a few hours marveling at the ingenuity of those two guys. When we arrived, there were school-aged kids filling the field leading up to the monument, all flying black kites. Luckily, we snapped a picture right away — they were gone by the time we left the museum and gift shop. Some of our pictures, including that one, will be posted in the Gallery.
We wrapped things up at the park around 12:30, and I offered to drive the first leg of today’s traveling. The fact that we had to cross a long scary bridge to get to the Outer Banks should have clued me in to the possibility that we’d have to cross another long scary bridge to get out of the Outer Banks, but I wasn’t thinking about that at the time. So when we ended up crossing not one but TWO long scary bridges, and when there was construction on the second one causing traffic to come to a standstill for a while IN THE MIDDLE OF THE BRIDGE, I had no one to blame but myself. In between the bridges was Roanoke Island, home of the famous Lost Colony. I mean “famous” in the sense that Kurt thought it sounded familiar, and then he Googled it and educated me about the details, which are these: in the early 1580s, a group of settlers came there from England, stayed about a year, and then went back to England. A few years later, in 1587, another group of over 100 settlers came to stay. They lost communication with people in England for a few years due to wars, etc., and when the next wave of settlers came over 3 years later the original group was nowhere to be found. The island is also the spot where the first English child was born in this country in 1587 (before the colony was lost, apparently).
After getting on more solid ground, we spent quite a bit of time driving through swamplands in eastern North Carolina. The scenery was interesting, and so were the roadside signs — one warned us not to feed bears, another asked us to be on the lookout for red wolves, and a third informed us that we were in the Alligator River area. All of the signs made me hope that we’d at least see a bear off in the distance somewhere, but no such luck. We eventually got back into farmlands and another “No OLF” zone, and then slowly into more hilly land. We thought we’d never get out of North Carolina — it seems to go on forever.
We had no luck finding a lunch spot, despite scenic detours on business route 64 through several small towns whose occupants apparently never eat out. Eventually we came across a large produce stand next to a gas station, and it was there that I befriended Don Lewis. He gave us a tour of his wares (we were his only customers at the time). We discussed his pleasant-smelling candles, and, most importantly, he gave us free samples of boiled peanuts. Unbeknownst to either of us, boiled peanuts are a southern staple, and for good reason. They’re surprisingly delicious, considering the fact that they’re warm, soft, wet peanuts. We bought some, along with a couple bananas and some local blueberries. Great car snacks. You know, except for the wet, messy peanuts, which were a real problem in light of our failure to bring along any sort of napkin or napkin-substitute. Hindsight’s 20/20, right? But seriously, if anyone knows where I can get good boiled peanuts near Philly, please let me know.
I kept driving after that stop, and we decided to try to make it to Chapel Hill for an early dinner to make up for our snack-style lunch. We arrived at the UNC campus a little after 5 pm. We ended up eating at a great restaurant called Elaine’s on Franklin, where Kurt sampled Bison and I had the best creamed corn of my life. Just before our meals came, I got a call from my best friend Ashleigh’s husband telling me that Ashleigh had gone into labor the night before and their second son, Liam Brady, was born early this morning. So in the event that Ashleigh and/or Billy are reading this, congratulations again, guys!
After dinner, Kurt had the crazy-slash-brilliant idea that we should keep driving until we got too tired to go on. We knew we were headed to Memphis, and we thought that if we got there early enough on Friday, we could visit the MINI dealership there to have the car looked at — there’s a sporadic idling problem that has been bothering Kurt. So on we went. Kurt filled up on caffeine and took the wheel. After catching up on some blog posts, I tried to sleep. Kurt woke me near the Tennessee border so that I could snap a picture of the Welcome sign. It was just us and the trucks on the road, and the Smoky Mountains at midnight were pitch black. We crossed the border a few minutes after midnight, and then I resumed sleeping and Kurt cracked open an Energy flavored Vitamin Water.
To Be Continued…