Spontaneity FTW

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Jul 5, 2010 in Randomness | Subscribe

One of the things I’ve always hated about most vacations is how the last day usually gets wasted. Packing, traveling home, unpacking, etc etc etc — it’s a pretty blah way to end an otherwise-fun excursion.

So 雅雅 and I decided to fix that with a random side trip down North Carolina’s Outer Banks :D

Even though I frequently take the back roads home to visit Nan & Pops, and I’ve been to Elizabeth City State University several times back when I was President of the UNC Association of Student Governments, I never actually made it the extra few miles to North Carolina’s oceanfront. It was a totally different experience compared to what I was accustomed to growing up in the most populous city in Virginia.

I don’t know what exactly I was expecting, but what I found definitely wasn’t it. And I mean that in a good way :)

But I’m getting ahead of myself. First we crossed over the state border and stopped in Moyock, the global headquarters of Xe Services LLC (formerly known as Blackwater). The folks at the visitor’s center in Moyock loaded us up with various maps of the Outer Banks area, and we continued on our way south down US Highway 158 S.

One of the spots on the map was a shop called Lammers Stained Glass & Gifts. Originally we were planning on skipping it — folks selling stained glass didn’t exactly strike us as something worthy of “tourist attraction” status — and I actually did drive past the building as we headed south. But after seeing the shop on the drive-by, deciding it looked interesting, and concluding we had plenty of time for sight-seeing, we turned around and went in.

I’m glad we did :D

First, the place is almost comically huge. From the road it looks tiny, and even the room where you enter through the front is only about the size of my living room (roughly 187ish square feet). But then you walk in… and notice there’s another room. You walk into that room… and see another room.  You go in there… and see another room.  Then there’s a long hallway.  To another room.  Attached to another room.  Attached to a whole separate building. :crack:

Just in case there's any doubt about my career aspirations ;)

We’re talking almost 9,000 square feet total, with nearly every single inch packed with various types of stained glass, crystalware, ornaments, frames, jewelry, and various other odds and ends. The building in the back is a practical warehouse of antiques with all sorts of cool stuff you’d typically see on a show like Pawn Stars or something.1

Given my future vocation, I decided to grab something for my living room window before we left :)

After spending about an hour at Lammers Glass, we then resumed our journey south and east to the Outer Banks, then pivoted north toward the Currituck Beach Lighthouse.

As we’re driving through Duck up toward Corolla (where the lighthouse is located) one of the things that is hard not to notice is how isolated everything feels.  NC Highway 12 is basically just a two-lane road in most places. It seems like a phenomenal place to vacation2 but the first thought that ran through my mind while I was driving was “wow it must be a real pain in the @$$ to evacuate during a hurricane.” :beatup:

The whole area is incredibly beautiful. We got to the Currituck Beach Lighthouse about 45 minutes after leaving Lammers, and walked around the lighthouse grounds to check out the guardhouse and such. 雅雅 didn’t like the idea of paying the entrance fee to climb the lighthouse3… but really didn’t like the idea of waiting around while I climbed it, so we both started up the spiral staircase of the ~15 story structure.

View from the bottom (L); View from the top (R)

The view at the top was pretty amazing :) I took a bunch of photos to stitch a 360º panoramic view together, but until I get around to finding some software for that purpose you’ll have to settle with this single shot of the Atlantic Ocean :P

After hanging out at the top for a few minutes to snap photos and soak in the view, we headed back down and then ventured over to the gift shop.4 Some of the items in the shop reminded us that we needed to check out Corolla Beach, so afterwards we decided to see how far north we could get on NC-12. Feral horses roam all through the northern reaches of the Outer Banks, but the whole area is only accessible by 4-wheel drive vehicles because it’s not paved — you basically have to drive along the shoreline until you get to Carova Beach, adjacent to the Virginia border.5

But with my non-4WD Ford Focus, we decided discretion was the better part of valor and turned around about a quarter-mile in once I noticed the sand starting to pile high :beatup:

From there we headed south back toward Duck (population: ~500), where we stopped for lunch at the Sunset Grille & Raw Bar. Their outdoor seating area is set on the Currituck Sound so we got to enjoy the view while enjoying a superbly-cooked cheeseburger, french fries, and sweet tea :) After that I pulled out my BlackBerry, consulted Google Maps, and we decided to head south toward the Wright Brothers National Memorial down in Kill Devil Hills.

We checked out the building, which includes exhibits on the history of the Wright Brothers, pieces of the planes they built (as well as a replica), and other historical items about flight such as the first military aviation folks, the first female pilot, and so on. After that we ventured out toward the granite markers that designate where the Wright Brothers’ plane landed on each of their 4 test flights… and came to a realization.

Before reading further: don’t judge me please :oops: ;)

For whatever reason, when I learned about the Wright Brothers in my K-12 education I had the impression they took off from the nearby hill where the monument stands. I never really got the big deal, since if they took off from the hill and landed on the ground below they weren’t really “flying” so much as gliding to the ground. But standing there, seeing the piece of railroad track they used to take off, realizing (20+ years later) they took off and landed from the same height — I could only imagine the exhilaration they must have felt by that achievement!

Thinking I must have just been remembering my childhood years wrong, I told 雅雅… who admitted thinking she got taught the same thing. Maybe that’s a weakness in the current K-12 curriculum since we came from 2 entirely different states but both recalled getting taught something inaccurate? :beatup:

Anyhow, at this point 雅雅 and I were both pretty exhausted from all the walking around but I couldn’t resist heading over to the aforementioned hill so I could check out the monument. Similar to being at the top of the lighthouse, it’s a long climb but the view from the top is worth it :) I recorded some video on my camera phone to give you an idea of what it’s like.  I start off facing the Atlantic and circling around clockwise. The field you see at the start and end of the video is the area where the Wright Brothers made their first successful flights; the sound you hear is the wind whipping around like crazy :beatup:

After heading back down the hill and checking out the recent additions in the pavilion — which includes a replica of what Kitty Hawk and Kill Devil Hills were like back in 1903 as well as information chronicling the history of flight since then — we once again consulted Google for the nearest tourist-worthy attraction and decided to head over to Roanoke Island.

On our way there we happened to pass by the Lone Cedar Cafe, owned and operated by state Senator Marc Basnight (D – Manteo). President Pro Tempore of the North Carolina Senate, Basnight is widely considered the most powerful politician in North Carolina. He never went to college but is a tremendously huge supporter of the 17-campus University of North Carolina and ensuring NC students have the ability to pursue a quality higher education in this state :surprised:  Even though I’m a fairly conservative Republican, and I disagree with the Senator on a fairly wide range of issues, I consider myself a Marc Basnight fan just based on his support for higher education.6

This live oak is 400+ years old!

Roanoke Island is home to the Lost Colony and is part of modern-day Dare County, named after the first child born in the Americas to English parents. Once we got on the island we headed north just before realizing it was getting near closing time for government agencies. We skipped past the NC Aquarium and instead headed toward the Elizabethan Gardens, an English pleasure garden built half a century ago in tribute to the colonists. The whole trail through the gardens is about 1.5 miles. I’ve never been a garden type, but I see why people enjoy stuff like this ;)

Particularly cool was a super-massive-huge live oak tree that is 400+ years old — basically meaning it was there in that same spot when those colonists first set up shop on the island! :eek:  It’s pretty neat being able to stand underneath a tree and imagine that someone four centuries ago once stood in that exact same spot of that exact same tree :)

By the time 雅雅 and I finished checking out the gardens, it was a hair past 7:00pm and time for us to start making the 3.5-hour drive back home to Durham (we had left Virginia Beach around 9am :surprised: ). We took US Highway 64 W, following along the Alligator River before seeing endless fields upon fields of North Carolina’s famed agriculture.

After driving for about 2 hours we decided to stop for dinner in Robersonville, a teeny-tiny town of roughly 2,000ish people7… and home to the most technologically-advanced Bojangles’ restaurant I’ve ever seen :crack:

The building was brand new, and included all of the “green” tech stuff you’d expect from a new building. The registers had the gizmos in the front where customers can swipe their own credit/debit card (an anomaly for Boj’s restaurants in the Triangle). There was free wi-fi. Even the bathrooms had Dyson Airblades — the first time I had ever seen them, and which worked surprisingly well.

Needless to say it was a fitting end, having dinner at a tourist-worthy Bojangles’ after all of the other bona fide tourist attractions we spent the entire day checking out :D

Folks who have worked with me know I’m an obsessive planner, and I’ve never been one to randomly take the day off and go somewhere out of the ordinary. But once I’ve cleared some days in my calendar as “time to go adventure” days, I absolutely love not having the slightest clue where I’m going and instead just figuring it out as I go along. I’ve spent a ridiculous amount of money over this past week, but it has undoubtedly been the single best vacation I’ve ever had for that reason alone: no work, no Student Government, no class, no excuses for staying tethered to life back home — just taking a few days off to unwind and explore without a set schedule or agenda.

It’s good to be back in the Bull City of course, but that was definitely a blast :) And it reminds my why I’ve made North Carolina my home for the past 12 years ;)

  1. Including restored gas pumps from back in the early-1900s :surprised: []
  2. Definitely more laidback than Virginia Beach. Example: it’s possible to find parking :beatup: []
  3. She’s afraid of heights []
  4. Where I picked up a lighthouse ornament for the Christmas tree :spin: []
  5. It’s pretty cool if you pull it up on Google Earth, seeing the development in Carova Beach totally separate and apart from… everything. I’m determined to buy a Hummer or something so I can go check it out some time in the future :D []
  6. Which is actually a bit weird, because many of my predecessors in the UNC Association of Student Governments dislike him for various reasons even though they’re much closer ideologically to the Senator than I am :crack: []
  7. N.C. State has over 33,000 students, by contrast. []

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