North Carolina: A Triple Dose of the Coast

Text: David Burbach • Photography: David Burbach

When most motorcyclists think about North Carolina, their minds instantly turn to the misty peaks of the Great Smoky Mountains, the undulating twists of the Tail of the Dragon, or the sweeping beauty of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Understandably so. But while the roads in the western part of the state are admittedly more curvy, the eastern half still has plenty to offer.

The Road to the Coast

During summer in North Carolina, each weekend sees a mass exodus from the inland cities toward the beaches. In a coffee shop on the east side of Greensboro, I’m about to join them. Outside the window, a bright orange 2015 Can-Am Spyder F3-S sits waiting. A quick run up US 29, a few turns, and I’m on US 158 heading toward the coast. It’s not long before I reach lush farmland. Fields of tobacco almost ready to be harvested appear at intervals on either side of the road. The Spyder and I are getting familiar with each other; I’m not used to shifting with paddles and only braking with my foot, but the learning curve isn’t as steep as I’d first feared. 

It’s a perfect day for a ride. The Carolina sky is a clear blue with thin wisps of cloud drifting slowly high overhead. The air is hot, but the lack of a windscreen on the F3-S keeps me in a healthy breeze. A pleasant two-lane highway, 158 meanders across the state parallel to the Virginia border. This road will take me almost all the way to my first night’s refuge in Plymouth. The route runs through a long series of small towns with names like Yanceyville, Roxboro, Oxford, and Roanoke Rapids. I stop in Jackson to admire the Northampton County Courthouse, a lovely Greek Revival-style building in a town of just 500. 

As I travel through the region North Carolinians refer to as “Down East” cotton gradually replaces tobacco as the local cash crop. In high summer, the fields are a brilliant green and the distinctive fluffy white fibers have yet to appear. My relaxing cruise continues as the Spyder’s raucous triple provides the soundtrack to my thoughts. In the tiny town of Winton, I finally bid adieu to 158 in favor 
of NC 45. Though the road is different the scenery remains pleasantly rural. The last few miles to Plymouth pass quickly and soon I’m pulling into the local Holiday Inn Express. I’m greeted by a whole row of high voltage battery charging stations for Tesla electric cars. In a town this size? How odd.

Learning to Fly … and Swim

Dawn comes and I’m already gone. I make a beeline for the coast on US 64. The first water I spot is the Alligator River followed quickly by the wildlife refuge named after it. A few miles later I cross the bridge onto Roanoke Island. I’m now on the chain of barrier islands known as North Carolina’s Outer Banks. This area has a vivid history filled with mystery, intrigue, and plenty of pirates. In 1587, Virginia Dare was born in a British colony on Roanoke Island, the first child of English descent born in the New World. What became of Virginia, her parents, or any of the other colonists, however, remains unknown. The mysterious disappearance of the Lost Colony has been the subject of debate and conjecture ever since. 

The ride slows down as I roll into Manteo on the island’s north end. The town’s charming waterfront is calm and quiet on this Thursday morning. A man tries his luck fishing off a pier while an assortment of paddleboarders slowly maneuver around Shallowbag Bay. I park the Spyder and take a short stroll to admire the interesting architecture and a smattering of boats bobbing lazily in their berths. 

Heading further from the mainland I navigate north through typical summer beach traffic toward a place with more recent historical significance—the sand dunes of Kill Devil Hills. Just over a century ago, 
brothers Wilbur and Orville Wright changed the world forever as their flying machine took to the air for the first time. The location of that momentous event is preserved at the Wright Brothers National Memorial just south of Kitty Hawk. 

Seven dollars gets me in, and I pilot the Spyder around the loop road that encircles the 60-foot granite monument atop Kill Devil Hill. Carved into the stone face is the inscription, “In commemoration of the conquest of the air by the brothers Wilbur and Orville Wright. Conceived by genius. Achieved by dauntless resolution and unconquerable faith.” From the top of the hill, I look down on the wide field where the brothers conducted their aviation trials. Off to the side, some old wooden buildings replicate their hangar and workshops, giving visitors a feel for the Wrights’ incredible accomplishment. As an aviation buff it’s a treat to walk the ground where it all began. 

Guests continue to stream into the park, and I beat a hasty retreat toward what I hope will be less crowded roads. I slip away to the Cape Hatteras National Seashore just a few miles south. As the beach traffic starts to thin out I turn off Cape Hatteras National Park Road for a quick visit to the Bodie (pronounced body) Island Lighthouse. This area is known as the Graveyard of the Atlantic. Since 1526, more than 5,000 ships and countless lives have been lost in these treacherous waters. Completed in 1872, the black and white striped cast iron light towers 165 feet over the sandy isle and has been warning ships of potential danger for well over a century. 

Leaving the lighthouse, I ride on a narrow strip of sand that separates the Atlantic Ocean from Pamlico Sound. On my left, sand dunes obscure my view of the ocean, while low-lying coastal marshes populate the right-hand side of the road. If I were to continue following NC 12 south I’d eventually hit the end of Hatteras Island, a ferry being my only option forward. Instead I return the way I’ve come and follow 64 back to the mainland.

The moment I turn south on US 264, civilization all but disappears. For mile after mile I see nothing but deserted highway and thick swamp on either side of the road. Dark clouds have gathered overhead and a soft drizzle starts to fall. By the time I reach the small town of Washington I’ve donned my rain gear in an attempt to ward off what’s turned into a heavy downpour. Several miles later in New Bern cell service has returned, and a quick check of the radar—and the brilliant bolts of lightning and rolling thunder—tell me that it’s time to abandon the rest of my route. I’d planned on returning to the coast and visiting the charming towns of Beaufort, Morehead City, and Swansboro, but virtually all of eastern North Carolina is now underneath an ugly green, yellow, and red blotch. Thankfully, US 17 goes straight to Sneads Ferry where shelter awaits. 

A Southerly Route

My brief stay by the sea ends early as the Spyder disturbs the pre-dawn quiet. The memory of yesterday’s deluge still lingers in the broody and overcast sky. Highway 421, which carves a diagonal line across the entire state, will take me most of the way back to Greensboro. The rising sun soon begins to transform the cloud cover from an oppressive gray ceiling into fluffy white mountains floating against a pale blue sky. Once again I’m rolling through cotton fields and tiny towns. In Lillington I stop to admire the beautifully restored town hall before disappearing once again into the farmland of the gently rising coastal plain. The ride along 421 continues to pleasantly mirror my experience with 158 two days ago, as the cotton gives way to tobacco the further west I get.

The ride passes swiftly and it’s about lunchtime when I arrive in Asheboro, only a few miles shy of my starting point. Over a delicious meal and espresso at The Table Farmhouse Bakery I contemplate my brief excursion. By now I’ve grown fond of the Spyder, though the experience has been completely different from what I’m used to. While it was my first time with the Can-Am, the North Carolina coast and I are old friends. In spite of an abridged route on the second day, there’s no substitute for salt in the air, fresh seafood, and a view of the water. I consider it a rain check. 

Riding Impression: 2015 Can-Am Spyder F3-S

Let’s get this out of the way: No, it’s not a motorcycle. But it’s definitely not a car either. What the F3-S is, then, is its own machine. It’s a completely unique riding experience. For the first 20 minutes or so I felt very uneasy on the big three-wheeler. After that, I really began to enjoy myself. The six gears (with reverse) of the semi-automatic transmission are an absolute joy to rip through. What did take some getting used to was the way the transmission automatically downshifts as you come to a stop. The ever-changing engine braking makes smooth stops difficult. When the time comes to accelerate away, the 1330cc Rotax triple emits an extremely pleasing note as you blip through the gears. With 115 hp, there’s a good bit of thrust, too, though the Spyder won’t win many races against traditional motorcycles. 

Comfort is hard to fault, especially with Can-Am’s innovative UFit system that allows the rider to tailor the F3-S to meet his or her needs. Of course, handling is where the Spyder really feels different. Instead of leaning into curves, the reverse trike leans to the outside, which, at least at first, makes it seem like it’s trying to throw you off. Once you get used to it, the thing is a lot of fun to wrestle through turns. It’s also exciting on gravel and dirt roads, but we won’t get into that. 

The electronic safety measures, including ABS, stability control, traction control, and power steering all work seamlessly. Even in the pouring rain I felt confident in the Spyder’s ability to grip the road. For those seeking the stability of three wheels or looking for a different riding experience, you can’t go wrong with the F3-S.

RoadFOOD: The Table Farm Bakery & Eatery

A variety of made from scratch breads and pastries, with locally sourced produce and flour, are just some of the culinary delights to be found at The Table. The bakery serves a variety of delicious sandwiches, salads, quiche, and other tasty eats for lunch. There’s Counter Culture coffee, too. Find it at: 139 S Church St, Asheboro, NC (336) 736-8628, www.thetablefarmbakery.com