OBX on the Bike

Published Monday, May 27, 2013 by Bryan

Two years ago, Amanda and I took our first multi-day motorcycle trip.

Last week, we took our fourth. About 200 miles short of our longest trip, this one provided new challenges and new sights.

V-Strom: ready!

We began our trip late Thursday afternoon, in the same way we began our new-bike-testing ride last fall. Reaching Binghamton, NY was more of a challenge this time, though, as rain storms prowled the skies. The first, and heaviest, caught us early on, just outside of Worcester, MA.

We had chosen to pack the rain gear instead of wear it, because it was so hot and muggy when we set out. We pushed on to the nearest rest stop, which was just far enough to nearly soak us through. We spent some time drying out and waiting for the clouds to break while eating an early dinner. We unpacked the rain gear, and wore it happily the rest of the evening, enjoying it ever more as the sun set and the air cooled.

Friday morning we awoke to find that our electronics had enjoyed the storm even less. My phone had failed to charge overnight, and was no longer recognizing its power adapter. The pocket in which I had been carrying it had not been as water proof as I thought. I was very happy to have brought many paper maps, since we would no longer have the crutch of GPS to rely on for finding out destinations.

We set out southward to a partly cloudy, but otherwise fair day anyway. I mostly aimed for fun looking things on the map, and except for the abundance of large trucks struggling up hills, had a great time finding them. One in particular, between Shamokin and Joliett, was full of steep ascents, descents, and hairpins. We knew at the entrance it would be fun, as we saw the smiles of the couple on the Goldwing coming out.

After lunch, it began to cloud up again, and we spent our time getting through Harrisburg idling in traffic and dodging downpours. Interstate 81 had been closed earlier in the week for a major accident, and the detour persisted. To make traffic worse, another major accident, which caused an emergency helicopter to land on the roadway, also backed up the detour. We were quite happy to finish the long afternoon with a direct ride to our hotel in West Virginia. We even ordered food for delivery to our room to avoid high winds and heavy rain that developed as we checked in.

Saturday morning, we rode directly to the reason we had come so far in from the coast (other than avoiding megalopolis traffic). The Shenandoah National Park extends from Front Royal to Waynesboro, VA. It is home to Skyline Drive, 105 miles of memory of “when driving was fun and relaxing.” Smooth pavement, fun curves, and amazing scenery. It was grey and misty that morning, which served only to keep the general population at bay, leaving the road open for us to roll along at our own pace. Sadly, we would have to forgo the temptation at the end to jump right on the Blue Ridge Parkway for more legendary riding, but we'll be happy with the reason to return.

Saturday afternoon we turned back toward the coast, and made it to Suffolk, VA for the night. Dinner was delicious barbecue and the strangest hole-in-the-wall restaurant, with a DJ attempting to lure people into karaoke. We knew they were desperate when they started dropping off well-spiked margarita samplers.

Sunday was an easy ride to our final destination in Kill Devil Hills, NC. Amanda's aunt, Mary, had been unable to use her week of timeshare, so we were using it for her (thank you!). We checked in, unpacked, and relaxed to the ocean view outside our door.

A wood walkway climbs over grassy sand dunes to an ocean beach.
Welcome to the Outer Banks.

For the rest of the week, we mostly left the bike parked and walked all over KDH and Nags Head. The area is full of delicious restaurants. We had fresh frozen custard, locally-caught softshell crabs, raw oysters, crispy breaded catfish, great local beer, fresh roasted coffee, quality cheese, and more polenta and grits than you can shake a stick at (trust me, you'd just fling it all over). If you're ever in the area, be sure to visit the Kill Devil Grill, around milepost 9.75, and the Outer Banks Brewing Station, near milepost 9. Even Daredevil Pizza, also near milepost 9, was tasty.

Our first of two major excursions was to Ocracoke Island. They say this is where the pirate Blackbeard hid his treasure and met his end. For us, it was a fun excuse to see the rest of the islands, and to ride a ferry!

Bryan and Amanda standing behind their motorcycle.
Enjoying our first ferry ride.
The back end of a motorcycle stands in front of a cargo net. Beyond the net is foamy water. Houses line the horizon.
The wake churning behind us.

Motorcycles get a sort of preferential treatment on the Hatteras-to-Ocracoke ferry. Instead of queueing with the rest of the cars, they park off to the side. The guards load as many cars as will fit, and then put motorcycles in the spaces left over. There is always space for several bikes. The only time we had to wait for a second ferry was when they loaded a fuel truck, which puts additional limits on the number of persons they can load. We still faired much better than the half dozen cars that were bumped back in line by the last-minute appearance of a priority semi trailer. We fit nicely alongside in the half lane that it left.

Ocracoke otherwise was mostly tourist town. We ate some tasty crabcakes, drank some cold coffee, saw the old lighthouse, wandered gift shops, and read books in the sunshine. We also braved wicked sand-filled crosswind to introduce the bike to the beach.

Bryan stands behind the V-Strom, which is parked at the edge of the road, with tan sand behind, leading to the ocean.
V-Strom, meet Beach. Beach, meet V-Strom.

Our other outing was to the Wright Brothers National Memorial. The site of their first flight is in Kill Devil Hills, just a mile from where we were staying (the telegram station where they announced to the world was in Kitty Hawk). It made for an interesting follow-up to an accidental Florida vacation the previous fall, where we had reviewed our modern achievements at Kennedy Space Center. Now we were back to where it, in some sense, began.

Amanda at the monument at Kill Devil Hills.

After five days of relaxation, with basically perfectly sunny, clear weather, it was time to head back home, and thus time for the rain to return. Once again, we donned the rain gear and rode off. We had some fun in spite of the rain, though: we rode US-13 accross the Chesapeak bay, a route that involves ten miles of continuous bridge and tunnels. We even managed to find one more meal of fresh seafood at the Machipongo Clam Shack.

Crossing from Delaware into Pennsylvania is a bit of culture shock. Delaware looks a little shabby: Applebee's and Kohl's in dusty strip malls between abandoned buildings line the roadway. Hop across the border, though, and you're suddenly in the land of Whole Foods and Ann Tayler, racket clubs and sushi bars. A bit eerie, really.

We landed in Exton, PA that evening, across the road from an amusement park. We shared our hotel with several childrens sports teams in town for a tournament. This actually wasn't the noise problem we expected it would be, but instead meant that getting a table for dinner nearby was a bit of a challenge. We persisted, and happily munched on nachos and crab pizza before retiring for the night.

Our last adventure of the vacation was Sunday morning. We avoided New Jersey by heading north through Pennsylvania, eventually arriving at the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area. As mentioned, we stayed on the PA side, so we missed out on the twisty Old Mine Road of NJ, but there was still plenty of smooth pavement and easy sweeping curves to enjoy.

The final rush through Connecticut and Massachusetts was cold and wet, but between stopping for coffee, wrapping my feet in plastic bags (my boots have lost their water protection), and focusing on the promised warmth of home, we made it through. Final thanks go to Amanda's cousin's family, who were house sitting for us while they attended her graduation. They greeted us with hot gyros from our favorite Greek restaurant in Cambridge.

A map, with a line tracing the riding route west from Massachussetts into New Yorks, southwest to northern Virginia, southeast to the coast, and finally back toward Boston.
The route.

The odometer had advanced 2046 miles when we shut the bike off in the driveway. I changed the oil, cleaned the air filter and chain, and gave it a general wash the next day. It will need new tires in another 500 miles or so, but that can wait for July. The V-Strom is an amazing improvement over the Bonneville. It handles better, holds luggage better, and is more comfortable. I'm already planning a weekend solo trip for August, but I'm sure you'll be reading another two-up story before too long.

Categories: Motorcycle Travel