North Carolina: Nags Head Revisited
Up until a few months ago I didn't have any fond memories of Eastern North Carolina. The unfavorable impressions that I retain spring from long-ago drives to Nags Head on the Outer Banks - dull, dispiriting trips taken in old, mephitic cars packed with battered musical equipment and spent musicians that rumbled through a string of tired towns on one straight road after another. All of that just to play a set or two for a few drunken compliments, maybe enough gas money, and one more night of discomfort on some kind stranger's floor.
The fog of those crazy days has lifted and the late fall forecast shows that I have only a few days of clear skies and pleasant temperatures left to squeeze in this last tour of the year. Although the weather on North Carolina's coastal plain is decidedly milder than it is at this time in the rest of the state, November rains usually guarantee a bone-chilling affair. Nearing Plymouth, the starting point of this scooter sojourn, I'm struck by the thought of how entertaining the drive has been. Granted, upgrades in the highways east of Raleigh have lopped hours off the trip; but still, the scenery isn't nearly as inconsequential as I remember. From a rider's perspective, the area's flat topography doesn't exactly put it on the twisty A-list, but the numerous small roads winding their way into the pine thickets off of Route 64 have a relaxing appeal. Once at the Holiday Inn Express, I back the truck up to a small embankment and quickly offload the Honda Reflex. Even by myself, working the 250cc scoot from its piggyback position proves to be a simple roll-off affair as opposed to the wrestling match I'm used to with heavier bikes.
Rollin' On, Rollin' Out
Though there's a nip in the morning air, the bright sun climbing in the eastern sky assures me that Indian summer warmth will soon be taking over. Motoring west on Route 64, I soon come across Route 149 and notice, swinging a left, that the fuel gauge and the corner gas station are on the same page. A mere five dollars worth of high test has the Reflex topped off and ready for action. I'm pleasantly surprised to find that Route 149 has a number of easy twists and turns. The hardwoods back home have already unleashed their gaudy barrage of fall foliage, but the poplars and maples in these parts still have some ammo to spare. Flashes of red and gold bounce off the windscreen and rise from the road in the Reflex's wake. The unblemished pavement casually winds past small farms and on through quiet towns distinguishable in name only by the signs affixed to the volunteer fire departments.
A quick left and right, on and off of Route 32, has me riding eastward again toward Terra Ceia. Here the flat land opens up to farmland on a more massive scale. Barren fields as far as the eye can see lay stripped of the fall harvest. Compacted blocks, all white and each the size of a semi-trailer, sit aligned along the roadway, awaiting pick up and bringing some strains of an old tune to mind: "When I was a little bitty baby/ my mama used to rock me in the cradle/ in those old cotton fields back home..."
A brief northward trek on Route 99 abruptly turns south with a right on Route 45. On the other side of the Intracoastal Waterway, the agrarian surroundings begin mixing with maritime preserves. Marshes that stretch into the distance indicate a large body of water lies somewhere beyond eyeshot, and riding into the tiny hamlet of Swan Quarter, I see that the architecture and signage bear a decidedly seafaring vibe. After a bit of poking around I come upon the working side of town, where the land meets the Pamlico Sound. Rugged docks, fishing boats, and the folks that work them begin to appear. All around me, the lively routines of those returning from the sea and those down on the docks to process the fresh bounty are joined. Judging by the weathered appearance of everything - the fishermen, boats, and buildings - not much about this local mainstay has changed since the village's founding in 1812.