This is part two of a three part series about beach riding in the outer banks of North Carolina. You can check out part one here – Part One – Beach Slacker Rodeo
…We pick up the story on the ferry that goes to Ocracoke Island…
The weather forecast cleared and I jumped at the chance to get away from the most civilized part of the OBX and explore more remote beaches, while camping! Ocracoke Island is 70 miles south of nags head and you need to take a ferry to get there. Ocracoke (pronounced like the vegetable and the soft drink) is a 16 mile-long sliver of beach paradise. But, to quote the Eagles, you call someplace paradise – kiss it goodbye. I set up my camp in the National Park system campground because beach camping is verboten anywhere in the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. My good fortune continued and I was able to pick out a beautiful beachfront site. The weather was still taunting me with lingering rain showers, but I have a tarp… And that’s all anyone needs to create their own camping version of a five-star hotel. I was into my second can of Coors Banquet in a steady pissing rain and thinking that Mother Nature was giving me a lesson about weather forecasts, when I decided to climb the dune that was the only thing that separated my campsite from the Atlantic. When I crested the Dune and looked out towards the ocean, there were no less than 20 pickup trucks and jeeps all surf fishing, out on the beach. North Carolinians have a long tradition of driving on the beach. I don’t know if it’s somehow linked to NASCAR. I’m basing that on the fact that, Charlotte, NC is the world HQ for NASCAR and the grand daddy of all NASCAR Races, the Daytona 500 started out on the beach. All I know is that, if you ride your fatty on the beach in the outer banks, you’ll be sharing that beach with surf fishing rigs. The typical OBX surf fishing rig it pretty bad ass. The Chevy Suburban seems to be the most popular platform, but every type of pick-up, jeep or SUV does the trick. One of the unique features of these beach rigs is that they carry all of their rods and coolers on a beefy front bumper rack that seems to be custom-made specifically for this purpose. The vehicle traffic seems to sort of tear the hell out of the beach and yet the parts of the beach open to traffic, were totally rideable with my big rims and (BFL/Endo) tires.
The no beach camping regulation, pretty much, makes Ocracoke Island a day ride, beach proposition. There’s 16 miles of beach to ride, but you can only camp in the National Park campground. It’s very laid back on the island. No hustle and no bustle. The Park service closes sections of the beach to even foot traffic so ground nesting seabirds like the oyster catcher and sea turtles can shake their groove thing without getting run over by a Ford F150 with the OBX rally package and that’s cool with me. It’s a stark contrast between the vehicle access sections of the beach and the closed sections, but that’s the way things are managed here. This was my first exposure to the longtime tradition of driving on the beach. But it would not be my last. I still managed to get a great beach ride in every day that I was on Ocracoke. Albeit in increments and not one long contiguous stretch of beach. If it sounds to you like I was having a hard time wrapping my head around the whole driving on the beach thing….you would be correct.
This trip is the first extended beach touring that I’ve done on my Fatback aluminum 190, Otis. The Fatback handled the deep ruts from the 4 x 4 traffic pretty damn amazingly well…and the sand conditions were 95% rideable. I visited OBX the last few days of April and the first bit of May. That’s the very end of off-season. My bet is that this place is swamped all summer long. Crowds of sunbathers and fat bikes are probably a potential conflict, so if you plan to visit I would shoot for an off-season target. At the onset of this trip, the goal was to explore a new area of the country’s beach riding and camp out in some warmer weather. It took a few days, but on Ocracoke, I could say, “Mission Accomplished”! I started to relax and just get into a groove of riding, writing and relaxing! Island life was just what the doctor ordered.
When I was in the OBX I didn’t see another fat bike or fat bike tracks. All of the bike rental companies rent beach cruisers there. I expected fat bikes to be rare, but when I stopped at one of the shops in Nags Head, the guy behind the counter, told me that he didn’t think or believe that I could ride my bike on the sand. So it’s no wonder why they haven’t caught on, like they have up north. Somebody needs to send a demo fleet down there. Or maybe create a surf fishing fatty with an OBX rally package.
Once I started to get the lay of the land on Ocracoke, I rode my fat bike down the beach, to the bike path – back to the beach around an oyster catcher nesting closure – and in a couple of miles came out onto the beach amphitheater that forms at the end of Ocracoke Island. A few surf fisher peoples had also sought the end of lands. From this last sandy shoal, you can see Blackbeard’s old hideout over on the North Core Banks near a ghost town called Portsmouth. Most of the couple of square miles of beach at the end of Ocracoke is literally roped off for our avian friends, the black skimmer and my favorite, the piping plover. Way out, very near the tip, I started to see larger fist sized shells that appeared to be all in one piece, so I swung about and circled back to see if I could find some treasure. One of the things that I really like about beach riding, at home in the Great Lakes, is the rock collecting that goes naturally with the riding. In the OBX, I just traded rocks for seashells. Most of the shells are broken or plain clam, limpid or oyster shells. I was on the hunt for a welk or scottish bonnet….. and lo and behold, when I circled back I saw the spiral shape that I was shopping for…..but it was broken. However, very nearby, was a near perfect specimen. Well done: with my mission complete, I retreated back to camp via the beach and the road and then the path and then finally the beach and an ice cold can of Coors banquet!
The weather worked it’s way out and even the winds died down during my 3 days on Ocracoke Island. Ocracoke is part of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, but it’s only accessible by boat. I thought that it would make it devoid of human development, but down at the Ferry Dock in the town of Ocracoke, all forms of tourist amenities are available. I recommend Howard’s Pub and Raw Bar for oysters and shrimp ala apres ride, beer swilling.
I can’t write a beach piece without showing some of the flotsam and jetsam that I spied during my rides. All I could think of, when I came upon this stingray was poor Steve Irwin. ( He was killed by a stingray) The frown on this little shark, tells the tale, pretty accurately. A crab had dragged this baby shark near to it’s burrow in the sand for late night snacking.
One afternoon, I rode Otis all over the little village of Ocracoke. The narrow back streets are paved with oyster shells and there are quaint ocean cottages all under a canopy of live oaks and fig trees. It’s no wonder this was a favorite hangout for pirates.
I think with the right amount of recon and with a bit of good fortune, one could credit card tour from Nags Head to Ocracoke. You could travel lightly – stay in hotels and eat at crab shacks. It would most certainly require some road riding and would also include some incredible beach riding. You could even mix in a few nights camping, but it would have to be in designated National Seashore campgrounds or private RV parks. The wildest part of the Outer Banks (Nags Head south to Ocracoke) is punctuated with tiny burgs with amenities that cater to all kinds of tourists. Just remember to shoot for off-season, if you want the best beach riding solitude.
By the last day on Ocracoke, I wondered if I was ever going to get to experience a truly wild version of these incredible beaches. At this point, I had been on the road for a week. I had to decide if I wanted to extend my trip for another few days, to explore the Core Banks or be responsible and head home, as I had planned. The ranger that I had spoken to at the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, Michael Tavela, had told me that I would feel like one of the pilgrims stepping off of the Mayflower, down in the Cape Lookout National Seashore – aka the Core Banks. So I made the decision to take the ferry from Ocracoke to Cedar Island and head down to Davis NC to get a private ferry to South Core Bank……and man….looking back….that was the right decision!
The next part of the story will start from the ferry ride to South Core Bank in the next couple of days!
Check out Episode 3 of this Series on Thursday! – The Core Banks!