The first day of our return trip was uneventful. We had replanned our route to avoid Washington DC traffic, based on advice from the man we met in Frisco. We knew, in advance, that we would have to pull off and turn off the propane (for the refrigerator) before entering the tunnel at Chesapeake Bay. We were bringing some tuna and shrimp with us, and wanted to keep it frozen, as well as not waste some other groceries. We chose the perfect place to pull off to turn it back on, allowing us to bypass a major accident on I-64.
When we arrived at the Fredericksburg KOA, we were told that we had the best campsite in the campground. It was a full hook-up and large enough that we did not have to unhitch. We have friends in the area, but we planned the stop at the last minute, for a quick one-night rest. We had just enough time to decompress a little, eat dinner and go to bed early, for an early start the next day. It was about 95 degrees and very humid in the campground, so we were thankful to have electricity. It was a nice campground and it would be fun to return, sometime, to explore the area and meet up with our friends (sorry we didn’t see you this time, Annalee!).
During our travels, we have met many campers who like to “wing it” and stay at truck stops or Walmart parking lots, which are free. We met a couple at a Michigan State park who owned a beautiful, new class A motorcoach. They once took a one-week trip to the Badlands and only stayed at Walmarts. We recognize that everyone has different priorities when they travel. Even for these quick stops, we prefer to be able to have electricity and relax in a peaceful setting.
Fredericksburg to New Stanton
The next day we headed to Fox Den Acres Campground in New Stanton, Pensylvania, which was just off of I-76, on our route home. We were assigned a large pull-thru site with water, electricity and even cable TV. We did not have to unhitch, again. It was Thursday night before Memorial Day weekend and the campground was starting to fill up, with large groups of campers gathering. The weather was beautiful, though storms were forcast for the entire weekend. They had a very large tent set up, probably because the rain was coming. There certainly was no sign that anyone was concerned about the pandemic. It was a very well-maintained and updated campground, with friendly owners.
We really enjoyed the scenery over the 2-day drive home. We started discussing Virginia and Pennsylvania as possible destinations for a future shorter, closer adventure. For the first time on the entire trip, we had to drive through torrential rain and heavy winds on the very last day, between Pennsylvania and our home in Macomb County, MI.
On May 28, after 4 months – 120 nights in the RV, 14 campgrounds, camping in 7 different states, driving 6,400 miles (including towing and exploring), we finally arrived home.
Though our RV is quite nice, with plenty of space, a queen size bed and the tank capacity for adequate showers, our house seemed to be absolutely enormous. My first long, hot shower (with aromatherapy oils misting) seemed like a spa experience. Over the first few days, we would take multiple showers, just because we could! We slept like babies in our huge, king size bed. I was so happy to use the dishwasher!
I had a minor surgery to repair my foot. I’m recovering and planning to fix the other foot soon, to avoid trouble during a future adventure.
Reflections on our journey
Looking back on the winter, we are both so glad we made the journey. It was a great alternative to being trapped in our house and routine during the pandemic. We were able to ride our bikes, walk, hike and spend most of our time outdoors. We enjoyed some new, very beautiful places (e.g. Fort Pickens, St George Isand, Flagler Beach) and we learned that some places were not what we expected (e.g. Destin, St. Augustine). We can now confirm that as beautiful as these places were, they are not more beautiful than Lake Michigan. Maui and Colorado are still our favorite destinations. We also learned a lot about what the winter weather and wind can be like in the panhandle and on the Atlantic coast.
We learned how to cook seafood and that yellowfin tuna is as good as Ahi tuna from Hawaii (maybe better). We are certain that there is no shrimp in the world that is better than fresh Florida shrimp. After many experiences with bland vegetarian or seafood burritos or tacos, we now know how to make them ourselves. (The fact that I don’t eat meat doesn’t mean that I don’t care about flavor!)
We learned that we can still have fun together, even in tight quarters and under less than ideal conditions. We never planned to live in the RV full time, and are even more certain about that now. Four months is tolerable, but 3 months would be better and two months would be ideal. Next year we have plans for a trip to Maui, a little time for skiing, then a 2-month trip on the Atlantic, including Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas.
As the days passed in the Outer Banks, the weather continued to be sunny, very windy and cool on most days. Most days, the easterly wind off the ocean, made a 75-degree day feel more like 55, if we were near the ocean. There seemed to be a continual rolling forcast, with 80-degree temperatures just a few days away.
Cape Hatteras and Pea Island
We continued to find as many new places to walk or hike as my foot could tolerate. We walked at the Pea Island National Wildlife refuge a couple of times. We also went to Cape Hatteras Lighthouse a couple of times, hiked on a trail there and enjoyed the beach. The lighthouse was not open for climbing, due to an interior paint removal project, but it was great to see it again. Seeing it, in person, really adds perspective to the history of the moving of the light house 2900 feet, from it’s original location, back in 1999.
Since we were in the south end of Nags Head, we only about 6 1/2 miles from the Nags Head Fishing Pier, home of Fish Heads Bar & Grill, one of our favorite ocean front tiki bars in the continental US. It’s a casual, laid-back atmosphere with a very friendly staff, an enormous draft beer selection and great food, including their happy hour shrimp. We first met two of the owners when discovered it, back in July of 2015, Since then, the pier has had some close calls with hurricanes, but has survived. We were happy to see the owners again and the restaurant and bar still thriving after the pandemic. We enjoyed a few visits there, when we were able to find an outdoor table and it wasn’t raining.
Life in the Campground
Half the fun of campground life is checking out all the campsites and rigs, seeing all of the cute dogs and cats and meeting people who enjoy camping. During our 3 1/2 weeks at one campground we had the opportunity to meet many campers and see the entire spectrum of rigs and camping styles including tents, vans, classic airstreams, pop-ups, mini trailers, large trailers, class A motorcoaches, a full-size 5th wheel pulled by a semi, and everything in between.
The rig that we will not forget is a not-so-great looking converted school bus occupied by what appeared to be a home-schooling family of 8. Like many other campers who did not reserve in advance, they changed campsites every 1 – 3 days over a period of 3 weeks, packing up multiple bicycles, kids and camping gear only to move a few sites away. We were fortunate to not have them as neighbors, as there was often a baby crying or other kid-related commotion at their campsite. I will add that the young 20- or 30-something parents always looked extremely happy.
Our favorite neighbors were a couple from Virginia. He was a retired Capitol Police officer. Their German shephard, Justice, was a recently retired police dog. He was only 3 years old but had to retire early because his specialty was marajuana detection, and that became legal in Virginia. He was extremely intelligent and never let his owner out of his sight. We also met two guys who were visiting for a fishing charter, which was canceled due to high winds and rough seas. They had an extremely quiet generator, which they are very happy with. We may be buying one soon. This was one of many occasions on which we learned something useful from our fellow campers. Overall, most of the people were friendly and considerate of other campers.
One day, we went exploring in Wanchese, a fishing village and residential area. We drove along a road near the town’s large harbor, and stopped at a commerial fishing business called Fresh Catch. The place was located right in the harbor, with large conveyors for hauling in seafood from the fishing boats. We found a walk-up window with a small sign above it that said “retail”. We ordered some shrimp and tuna, than watched the guy cutting our tuna from the morning catch. That’s as fresh is it gets! Needless to say, it was the best.
During our last week there, we finally had a wind-free, 80-degree day. We drove to Hatteras Island, past Cape Hatteras, to Frisco. We had packed a lunch and planned to stay for a couple of hours, then return to the campground It was so beautiful and peaceful and the weather was so perfect, that we decided to sty all day. When Dave went out to buy some cold beer, I met a sweet poodle who was walking with his owner, a retired aviation engineer. We chatted about the benefits of early retirement, how wonderful Colorado is and how Sudoko is a great way to relax. By the time Dave returned, we were discussing our route home. We learned from him, that our plan to avoid heavy Washington DC area traffic was not a good one, so we changed our planned route. We enjoyed the rest of the day on the beach and went to a Wings store for some OBX t-shirts. We really like the area, as it is mostly residential, with very light traffic. We will definitely spend more time there on our next trip.
On May 26, after 118 nights on the road, countless new experiences and our 2nd dose of the Moderna COVID vaccine completed, it was finally time to start heading toward home. We enjoyed our time in the Outer Banks, but were looking forward to being home.
Cape Hatteras Light Station, Cape Hatteras National Seashore, Buxton North Carolina
We spent 3 1/2 weeks at this campground and exploring the area. We saw and did so much in the Outer Banks, so I will write 2 blog posts to cover this. This is Part 1. I added some headings to make it easier to skip over sections that may not be of interest to everyone.
Why 3 1/2 weeks in Outer Banks?
While we planned our winter itinerary around our stay at Gamble Rogers Memorial State Recreation Area, the Outer Banks, NC was to be the crowning finish of the tour. Dave camped there numerous times as a kid, with his family and he has always loved it. They had great times catching crabs, cooking over campfires, visiting the lighthouses and playing in the waves all day. Later, Dave and I spent a couple of summer vacations there, when my job required me to take a week of vacation over the July 4th holiday. Simililar to our vacations in South Carolina, we rented a condo on the beach for a week. The high temperatures were in the 95 – 100 range in July. In the mornings, after drinking coffee and watching the sun rise, I would go for a nice long run, while Dave surfed. We would then spend late morning under an umbrella on the beach, head in for lunch and an air-conditioned nap, then head off to our favorite tiki bar for happy hour beers and shrimp. It was the perfect vacation from a demanding job. We planned to have a similar routine during this trip, only for 3 1/2 weeks in cooler weather, based in our campground and less frequent tiki bar visits.
Campground and campsite
Oregon Inlet Campground is located within the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, in Nags Head, NC. It is part of the US National Park system. It’s located south of the more quiet residential area of Nags Head. Driving is allowed on the beach, with on ORV permit, in the National Seashore area. There are numerous vehicle access points or “ramps”. On the weekends many of the beaches were pretty busy with people fishing. We chose not to drive on the beach, since deflating the tires is required. We did not want to risk any tire issues before the trip home.
We were happy to see that we had selected one of the best campsites. There was a nice amount of space between our site and our neighbors on either side. We also had a view of the dunes behind us. There is a hiking trail, about 1/4 mile long starting next to our site and ending at the beach. It was too long of a hike, over sand dunes to carry 11-foot boards, so we would have to find alternative access to water for paddling or surfing. The showers were pretty rudimentary, activated by pulling a chain. There was no hot water. We would spend the last 3 1/2 weeks having our usual “quickie showers” in the RV. We had purchased a portable wastewater holding tank, aka “poop trolley” so we would be able to periodically empty our tanks without moving the RV.
Surprise meet-up with friends
A highlight of our winter tour, occurred in the first few days at Oregon Inlet. Our friends, Lindy and Todd happened to be camping in the same campground. We met Lindy years ago, when she was a rep for a surf board and paddleboard company. We attended many stand-up paddleboard races together. Lindy and Todd recently made the leap to full-time RV’ing, splitting their time between a class A motorcoach and an Airstream trailor. It was so fun to spend time with like-minded friends and catch up, after over a year of being isolated from people we know, with few exceptions. Todd prepared a fabulous dinner of venison bratwurst and grilled Alaskan Salmon (caught by his friend in Alaska). It was a fun time, with two very cool, adventurous people.
When you want to go home, but can’t
On May 7, we learned about the Colonial pipeline being shut down. We topped off the gas tank and planned to minimize any driving for awhile. Within a couple of days, there was no gas in the Nags Head area. Meanwhile, the weather was cold, windy and rainy for many days in a row. We had tolerated similar weather off and on all winter, but we were getting a bit tired of it.
My foot issues (bone spurs and stiff great toe causing severe, sharp pain) seemed to be getting worse. Every day that was not rainy, I woke up with a knot in my stomach wondering if a hike would have to be cut short due to the pain. I wanted to get to the foot doctor ASAP. I was having upper back, neck and shoulder pain, likely partially due to my worry about my foot being destroyed for life. A long, hot shower would have been great. There was also a very difficult and sad family situation, which I will leave out of this post, due to the seriousness of it. I only mention it because it contributed greatly to my feeling bad and also to make the point that life goes on, even when you are away from it. One chilly, rainy day, we were doing laundry at the worst laudromat we had ever been to (broken machines, no baskets, people begging for money, children running around maskless and coughing) and, for the first time on our journey, we both really wanted to go home. The gas stations were empty, so we had to stay.
The pipeline eventually started running and within a few days we could get gas. At that point, we were getting ready for our scheduled second dose of the Moderna COVID vaccine at the local Walmart. We really wanted to have that as soon as possible. Also, the forcast was looking promising, with sunny, 80-degree weather coming in a few days. We decided to stay.
Bodie Lighthouse and Coquina Beach
The Bodie lighthouse is about 2.5 miles north of the campground. We really enjoyed being able to see the lighthouse multiple times a day, from locations around the campground, and being able to visit it more than once, since we had so much time. There is a boardwalk behind the lighthouse, with beautiful views of the surrounding area.
Coquina beach is located across from the entrance to the lighthouse. It became our favorite local beach, as it was a short drive from the campground, a short walk from the parking lot, there were no vehicles allowed on that beach and very few people used it. It would have provided perfect access to the ocean for surfing or paddling, if the conditions had been decent.
Wright Brothers Museaum
The Wright Brothers Museum is my favorite National Park Service museum. Its a great experience to learn about the Wright brothers, their planes and first flights. There you can see the first succssful launching and landing points and replicas of the planes. Everyone visiting the Outer Banks, should go to this museum.
We had attempted to visit Duck, during a previous July 4th vacation, but never made it there due to an intolerable traffic jam. On a cool, windy weekday in May, the traffic was no problem. Duck is a fairly small community, with a boardwalk connecting the many shopping areas, restaurants, and town park. There were few visitors the day we were there, so we felt comfortable checking out a few galleries and shops, including Kitty Hawk Kites. We walked the entire boardwalk and stopped at a nice place for a microbrew on an outdoor deck, with views of Currituck Sound.
Manteo, NC and Elizabethan Gardens
Much to my surprise one morning, Dave suggested going to visit the Elizabethan Gardens in Manteo, There are hiking trails in the area, but my foot was not able to hike that day. The gardens were an easy alternative for a slow walk and some new scenery. The gardens were created as a living memorial to the time when Sir Walter Raleigh’s lost colonists, about 155 of them, lived there over 400 years ago, in 1587. It was the first English settlement on the continent. The governor of the colony went to England for supplies, and when he returned 3 years later, the people were gone. No one knows what became of them. The gardens are adjacent to the Fort Raleigh National Historic Site. The fort is not much more than a mound of dirt, so I don’t have photos. It was nice that we nearly had the place to ourselves, as it was off season. The down side of visiting in May, is that few flowers were blooming, yet, and the butterfly house had no butterflies.
Manteo is located on Roanoke Island. It’s a very cute town, with a harbor area, and was a little more crowded than the gardens. We plan to spend more time there next year, when there is no pandemic.