The Outer Banks – A Land With a Rich History

January 1 2010

It began as a fleeting thought during the sleepless hours of an adventurer’s winter night, those thoughts often filled with the dreams of past and future rides. These are the reflections and considerations that occupied my mind in the throes of the cold Canadian winter of 2008. I have ridden many of the legendary places like the Dragon, the Snake, the Devil’s Triangle and the Cherohala Skyway, but this journey would take me to the hideaway of Edward Teach (aka Blackbeard) and the ghosts of Ocracoke, an island off the coast of North Carolina.

After a great deal of networking with locals in the Ocracoke and surrounding area, I have shaped a complete itinerary and everything is planned in advance, even to the point of setting up a blog. This goes against the grain, because experience has proven that a hard-line itinerary means eventually getting wet. I usually favour a loosely knit agenda, and I watch the weather forecast each evening. A bad weather forecast precludes riding away from the area. However, sometimes trips require plans.

My hard-line approach proves predictable, and in a fine rain we leave the mountains and twisty roads of Appalachia, ride the superslab across the Piedmont region and finally into the Low Country, to a little fishing village called Calabash in North Carolina. Located close to the state line, just north of Myrtle Beach, this little town was made famous by “the Schnozzola,” Jimmy Durante, an actor and radio personality of a bygone era. Apparently, in 1940, Durante ate at a restaurant in Calabash owned by one Lucille Coleman. Durante was quite taken by this girl and asked her to come over to his table to visit with him. Coleman had no idea who this man was, but as he was leaving he turned to her at the door and said “Mrs. Calabash, I’ll make you famous.” From that day on, Durante signed off all his shows with the same phrase: “Goodnight Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are.”

The Low Country, and in particular Calabash, is famous for a unique way of preparing seafood. As for riding, this area has no demanding roads or beautiful mountains, but if you love to have your olfactory bulb pleasured by the brackishness of the sea air in your nostrils and the local lore of pirates and shipwrecks, then this is a place to be discovered–and what better way than from the 360-degree view of a motorcycle.

We catch a cab from our oceanside accommodations and head for The Vineyard, a restaurant owned by a friend of our driver; we are promised a ten percent discount because of that relationship. Over a bottle of wine, we enjoy all the fresh things the ocean has to offer. Our very friendly waitress tells us that in all her fourteen years living here she has never seen snow. As a motorcyclist from a land that enjoys five months of reasonable riding weather and seven months of looking forward to it, I can appreciate what she has to say.

The next morning dawns, or I think it does since I can’t see the sun for the cloud and rain; however, we are tough Canadians, so we get into our rain gear again and head north to Cedar Island. This is where we will catch the ferry for a two-hour and fifteen-minute ride to Ocracoke Island, the southernmost point of the Outer Banks. We arrive to find that even though it is the off season, the ferry is completely booked, and we can only hope for a cancellation. Luck shines on us, even though the sun hasn’t, and we are able to squeeze our bikes on the very back end of the ferry.

With Pamlico Sound on one side and the Atlantic on the other, our destinations of Ocracoke Island and the Outer Banks are situated on a unique and historical spit of land. As we approach the Ditch, the entry to Silver Lake at Ocracoke where our ferry will allow us to disembark, I can see Teache’s Hole just inside Ocracoke Inlet. This is where the infamous pirate, Edward Teach (Blackbeard), was murdered and beheaded by Lieutenant Maynard on November 22, 1718, as directed by Governor Spotswood of Virginia. The implications were rather interesting, since Spotswood had no authority within the jurisdiction of North Carolina. And as additional affront, all this took place after Blackbeard had been given official amnesty by the King of England.

The next day dawns lovely and sunny over Teach’s Hole, as we clean the road dirt off our bikes. Across the small island of Ocracoke, another ferry waits to take us to Cape Hatteras. We meander through Ocracoke Village and then on past saltwater marshes with their now brown vegetation wafting in the ocean breeze, yet another sign of a summer past its prime. As we ponder each unique panorama, we cannot help but notice the redolent scent of native pines that line either side of the road. Eking out an existence with their tentacular roots in the shifting sand, they stand like soldiers as they have for eons gone by. As I roll along, I wonder how many maritime storms and hurricanes these trees have withstood. We approach the ferry and ride through about twenty centimetres of standing rainwater on the roadway. It seems odd, so close to the ocean, that there is no efficient means of drainage, as evidenced by the erosion here and there of the roadways.

As our ferry meanders back and forth following the marked channel through the shifting sandbars of Pamlico Sound, dolphins play and surface around our ferry, appearing here and there, as if teasing the tourists with their cameras who run about deck trying to get a snapshot of the marine performers.

At Cape Hatteras, with the Atlantic on one side and Pamlico Sound on the other, there are few directional options. This narrow spit of land, known as the Outer Banks, has a rich and peculiar history, including the Wright brothers’ first flight, the oldest American weather station, the area’s pirate history, and the dangerous shoreline strewn with skeletons of hundreds of sunken vessels that have succumbed to its ever-shifting sandbars.

As we ride north along the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, we make a stop at the Cape Hatteras lighthouse. This is the tallest lighthouse in the eastern United States and the tallest brick lighthouse in the world. Not only that, but this lighthouse was actually moved to its present location. It must have been a monumental task to move this colossal structure. The general public is invited to climb all of its 208 feet to view the giant mirrors that for decades have warned approaching ships of danger. Each lighthouse along the Atlantic has a different painted design, and the Hatteras lighthouse has a swirl of black and white striping, much like a candy cane from top to bottom.


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