As fall leaves swirl, the prospect of closing out the riding season becomes all too real. Shorter days and colder temperatures effectively squelch the freedom to just ride away on a whim. But occasionally, autumn will tease out one last enticing forecast that offers just enough room to roam.
Bidding farewell to the riding season is one of the hardest things a rider can do. Sure, heated gear and determination can prolong the inevitable, yet eventually, all but the most hardcore adventurers have to throw in the towel. And though the Carolinas' mild winters don't exactly have Battery Tenders flying off the shelf, they do get chilly enough to curtail most serious attempts at multi-day tours. But when there's a Honda Silver Wing in the garage and a stretch of late October days in the upper 50s ahead, what else is a fellow to do but wander?
With the last-minute tour trigger officially pulled, the fluids and tires are checked and adjusted, and travel necessities stowed. And just like that, the coffee mug's in the dish drainer and I'm motoring "down east" toward the trip's start/finish line in Lumberton, North Carolina, the town where people really know how much wood a woodchuck chucks.
Though I'm sporting my Gerbing's jacket and gloves as a precaution, the warming afternoon rays keep the controller in the OFF position as I roll east out of Lumberton. The flat, straight road stretches across muddy, barren fields. Acres meant for cotton, peanuts, or maybe soybeans, are only clumps of turned soil waiting for the spring reseeding. Where hardwoods stand, yellow leaves drift across the road.
With a northward swing on Route 242 in Elizabethtown, I begin to feel the hypnotic effect of the afternoon sunlight flickering through the bare branches. The luminous strobes playing on the windshield induce a sense of calm and relaxation that starts to become almost too comfortable.
Motorcycle & Gear
After a quick Coca-Cola stop in Roseboro, I head south on Route 411, giving my right side a taste of the retreating sun. The light is fading fast, and the breeze sneaking around the Wing's windscreen is nippy; but with the Gerbing's little light lit, total comfort is soon restored. Still, experience teaches that won't last long under a waning sun on unfamiliar roads. In Harrells, I bear south on Route 421 and make a beeline for Burgaw and the town's namesake motel.
To the Beach
The owner of the Burgaw Motel is a very nice gentleman who runs a clean and restful establishment with high-speed wireless Internet access free in the bargain. After making the chilly, morning jog across the street for a biscuit and coffee, I decide to sit right there and let the morning temperature climb a little further north of freezing. By 9:30, all systems are go with a course plotted for Wilmington.
In less than an hour, the traffic lights of the city's retail "strip" dominate the Route 17 corridor. Despite the excess of all too familiar box-store logos, car dealerships and fast-food joints, I concentrate on the great things I've heard about Wilmington's historic downtown. Before long, the unremarkable signage gives way to a completely different dynamic. In order to avoid some manner of upcoming roadwork, I quickly choose to divert through a maze of quiet streets overhung with aged oak trees. There's a distinctly artsy vibe here, partly due to the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. It also has something to do with the film industry. This small corner of eastern North Carolina is one of the leading movie and television production areas outside of Hollywood. And over 300 feature films and major productions have been based in Wilmington, including one of my all-time favorite film noir classics, David Lynch's Blue Velvet.
It's well worth blocking off a little extra time to stroll the lively walkways of this old port city. Restaurants, coffee shops, antique emporiums, and boutiques of all varieties grace the streets. The revitalized downtown features an architectural timeline of buildings dating from the late eighteenth century. An entire day could be consumed exploring Front and Water Streets, along with the relaxing Riverwalk, an excellent place for grabbing a carryout sandwich to munch on the shores of the Cape Fear River. Also, naval history buffs are well aware the World War II battleship USS North Carolina is moored just across the river and open daily for tours.