Somewhere back on the third or fourth oldest hard drive in my computer graveyard, I have a bucket list of destinations that I wanted to visit sometime during my life. The Outer Banks of North Carolina is on there, along with many other stops, that you would recognise. With the great and powerful winter we just experienced, I guess I found myself looking for more 70° days than mother nature was willing to fork over in Wisconsin. So that led me to put myself ‘out on assignment’ to the Outer Banks of the Atlantic Coast of North Carolina (OBX). With a Delorme North Carolina Gazetteer and a really helpful guidebook – “The Explorer’s Guides – North Carolina’s Outer Banks & Crystal Coast – A Great Destination” by Renee Wright : I took to the road and after what seemed to me, a very long journey, my fat bike, Otis, and I, rolled across the final bridge/causeway and found our way thru Kittyhawk and past Kill Devil Hill to Nags Head, NC. We had arrived at the first stop on a week-long tour of the Outer Banks! My plan was pretty flexible and linked closely with the weather. I planed to camp if the weather was good, but of course as soon as I left home it started to blow chunks. For two days, I drove in the rain. The weather is always changing in the spring, so I decided to chill out for a few days in Nags Head and wait for the storm to clear on out.
The northernmost portion of the Outer Banks is populated and commercialized to at 2.5 on the Gatlinburg Scale. It’s like the Wisconsin Dells or Moab (if you’ve been there recently). The OBX has everything a good American could ask for, fudge, T-shirts and crab shacks. For my time north of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, I got very lucky. I scored a cheap outdated beachfront cabin on the south end of Nag’s Head at Cahoon’s Market. Located at the gateway to the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. That bit of good luck led me to enjoying my first dozen raw oysters at Awful Arthur’s. Cohoons is a small grocery market that rents a cluster of cottages just a spit from the ocean. Awful Arthur’s is a legendary Oyster House right out of a black and white movie from the 1960’s. Both were exactly what I look for when I hit a tourist rich environment. I totally enjoy a good local dive and don’t mind cheap, clean, old school, lodging…….your mileage may vary.
I got settled and went for a ride even though it was a bit misty/raining. It’s not like I was going to melt. Rain wasn’t the biggest factor for this and the next few rides, but the wind however, was constantly howling (rain or shine). There was nothing to do, but put my head down and grind out some miles, and then eventually turn around and sail back with a big grin on my face. I had time to fly the little nylon kite that I had brought along. With the sun setting, I sat on the cool sand, flying my kite, while watching a dozen or so surfers riding 6-8 footers with pink floyd playing on the ear-buds, but before long… darkness and lightning chased me off of the beach and back to the cottage followed by some serious overnight thunderstorms.
Before I had left home, I contacted Ranger Michael Tavela at the Cape Hatteras National Seashore Headquarters and confirmed that it would be a-okay and legal for me to ride my fatty below the normal high watermark along the beach. The Ranger assured me that I would not be able to peddle my bike on the sands of the Outer Banks because the sand would be too soft, but that it was completely legal for me to try. We also talked about where I could camp and I got some great tips that turned out to be priceless, on the Cape Lookout National Seashore from Ranger Tavela.
South of Nags Head and into the actual Cape Hatteras National Seashore the elaborate wooden beach houses and T-shirt shops, stop (for a while) and things get real. “Real”, as in real interesting, for fat bikers. The augmented beaches of the touristy areas are replaced by a more natural state of beach sand and dead mollusk playgrounds.
Once inside the National Seashore, the beach was flatter, harder and open to OHV traffic. Up in Nags Head the shore is supplemented with more sand every year. The sand is ridable down by the water, but there’s a berm of fresh soft sand that’s about 15 to 20 feet tall. And that sand is not rideable. If you’re looking for a spot to bring whole family, for a fun beach resort destination, where you could also get in some groovy fat-bike beach rides, I think Nags Head or Kill Devil Hill would work out splendidly. If you’re looking for more of a remote riding trip, I would bypass most of the beaches between Kitty Hawk and Nags Head and focus riding in the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. Once inside the park there are sections of beach that are closed off completely. The National Park system publishes a map that highlights current conditions and restrictions on the beaches to allow sea turtles and endangered birds to have a refuge for nesting. You can view the map by clicking here. But that still leaves tons of beach, where you can roll your fatty on the seventy plus miles of beach in the park.
My next two days of riding both started into the tooth of a 15 mile-per-hour headwind. The slow grind allowed me to soak in the scenery and look for shells. The Atlantic was, straight up, raging from the weather front that had stalled my trip. I saw pelicans and a handful of new gull or tern species and tons of wading birds. I saw a few trucks with surf fishing gear attached to the front bumpers, but other than that…I was delightfully unencumbered by human company. This particular section of beach had very few places to lean the bike and get a good picture. The sand conditions were very good. The three days of rain and wind had helped to pack the sand down. The only obstacles were the vehicle tracks left from fishermen in their SUV’s and Pickup Trucks. I had set Otis up with a Big Fat Larry, up front and an old balding Endomorph in the rear – running ~ 7 psi. This is sort of my -go to – tire combination for the beach. Those sneakers handled the deepest softest rutted, beach access ramp, sand with sure footed balance, in spite of my limited bike handling skills. Once I had my fill of fighting the wind, I stopped and watched squadrons of pelicans work their way, undulating in a swooping pace line, along the surface of the crashing surf. They were flowing along the waves into the wind. It made me green with envy. I ate some trail mix and hung out for a bit before heading back. There really is something of a hypnotic calming affect of big waves crashing on the beach…..or maybe it was the knowledge that my return trip down the beach would be supported by an ample tailwind….but the fact remains, at that moment in time, I was full of happiness and positive vibrations – ala choy!
I really enjoyed my time, day riding, the Cape Hatteras beaches, even though the weather wasn’t the greatest. I’m the kind of crazy that loves foul weather beach rides! There are about seventy miles of beach from Nags Head down to the end of the cape. The Cape Hatteras National Seashore has sporadic little towns, along its entire length. More crab shacks and surf shops just like in Kitty Hawk, just smaller. The weather forecast was calling for the rain to move, off shore and I was looking forward to sleeping under the stars and camping! For the next segment of my trip, I wanted to put the tourist attractions behind me and find my way south to parts unknown (to me). It was time to move along to my next adventure on Ocracoke Island. I would need to take a car ferry to get to Ocracoke and that’s where we’ll pick up the story in the next few days.
Check back on Monday for the Next Episode of Beach Slacker Rodeo – Part Two – Ocracoke Island!