Just to put North Carolina in perspective with the other three states
(and you thought I was going to forget about demographics and history, didn't
you?) its population of about 7.5 million puts it just less than double its
neighbor to the south, South Carolina, and about the same as Georgia. And its
size of 52,586 square miles ranks it 28th in the US and a little smaller than
Florida and Georgia. Part of the Blue Ridge Parkway (which will show up in a
future article when EG climbs to the top) runs through North Carolina where
Mount Mitchell at 6,684 feet is the tallest east of the Mississippi.
(Crocodile Dundee voice again -- "That's not a mountain!." -- from someone
who looks out from his front porch at Mount Rainier at 14,000 feet plus.) But
more on that later.
North Carolina has had Europeans trying to settle in it for a long time.
Sir Walter Raleigh (the "now he's the Queen's favorite, now he's not" guy)
started a colony on Roanoke Island in 1585. (He stayed home in England while
the others sailed off.) The survivors skipped out the next year and headed
back to England. A second one was tried in the same spot in 1587 (Raleigh was
no dummy -- he stayed home, again), and shortly after the birth of the first
white child in the "New World" the Governor sailed away saying he'd be right
back with supplies. (I'm sure there's no connection.) When he finally managed
to get back (a couple of years later in 1590), no one was home and they
didn't leave a note where they'd gone. It is called the "Lost Colony." It
finally took some colonists from Virginia to set up the first permanent
European settlement, around Albemarle Sound in the mid 1600s.
North Carolina has never been the radical her southern neighbor has been.
She was sort of dragged into the Civil War and had less trouble with
integration issues in the 60s and 70s. She's certainly proud of one
accomplishment, even to the extent of showing it on the license plate. "First
in Flight" and the old biplane remind you that the Wright Brothers made the
first true, heavier-than-air, powered flight. It was at Kill Devil Hills (not
Kitty Hawk) that they made four flights one day in 1903, each longer than the
last. The 5th totaled the plane so they hung it up for the day. The first
flight went for a total of 120 feet, and the last 852 feet.
(Back to Ocracoke!) On the morning of the 17th I woke up EG, made sure
she'd survived the thunderstorm and headed out for the drive up the islands.
The recorded mileage at that point was 3,040 so we'd covered 1,158 miles
since leaving Miami - not counting the 2.25-hour ferry ride!
Ocracoke is not all that long, and, like several other places on the
trip, even though it is very narrow, there are few glimpses of the sea. Park
the car and walk either direction from the road and in less than a minute all
is revealed, however. At the end of the island there is a small ferry (this
one's free) that makes the ½ hour run to Hatteras Island. My timing was
better than for the ferry to Ocracoke. I drove straight on as the last car to
board. Hatteras is much more built up to my disappointment (and to the
natives, I imagine). I'm still puzzling over the building craze here and
other places for houses that are going to be knocked down or flooded or both.
It's not a matter of if, but when. Strange.
Ocracoke to Hatteras Ferry. Even smaller than the last
Back row this time on the odd shaped ferry.
It is on Hatteras that the big lighthouse was moved in 1999. You may have
read about it. What do you do when you have supposedly the tallest,
freestanding brick building in the form of one lighthouse and if you don't do
something, the sea shore erosion is going to make it into one wet pile of
rubble at the bottom of a cliff? Of course. You get funding from Congress,
find a lot of people with time on their hands and pick the 1870-built
building up and move it 2,900 feet from where it started. There's a bit more
to it than that. It's actually quite interesting. Look it up! I drove by to
have a look. It's still standing, so I guess they knew what they were doing.
EG and I enjoyed the drive up the islands and detoured off to Roanoke
Island to visit the Fort Raleigh National Historic Site and learn a bit more
about the now-you-see-'em-now-you-don't settlers. A Ford van followed me for
quite a ways onto the island and into the parking lot. When I got out of the
car they explained that they weren't going to visit the site but just wanted
to know all about the car. I should have been charging admission. If you take
the time for a visit, plan on spending a while. There is lots to do and see.
The next stop up the way was at the Wright Brothers' site at Kill Devil
Hills. There is a nice display in the field showing the takeoff rail and the
first four flights, marked with nice stones. It puts the length of the
flights in perspective. The museum is nice, too, if a bit crowded, with
recreations of the first plane and a predecessor glider. (The brothers didn't
just build a plane and take off. Besides the engineering -- including
building their own scale wind tunnel -- they made thousands of glider flights
off of the top of Kill Devil Hill to teach themselves to fly, and to survive
I'm standing just to the side of
where the flights took off. The stones mark the
landing points of the four
flights on December 17, 1903. The people weren't there then.
There is some Civil War history connected with the Outer Banks, if you
care to do some reading. It doesn't rank up there with major campaigns,
however, and tends to get overlooked. Most of it was over early in the war
with the Union in charge of the area's forts. With the help of a good Civil
War book you can find some places to visit if you look. I guess the thing
that stands out most for me is that General Burnside took part in these early
battles. He's aptly named and easy to pick out in any photograph. Just look
for the huge sideburns.
At Kitty Hawk I left the islands and followed 158 then 168 towards
Virginia Beach, Virginia to meet up with Howard Collins. The quality of the
drive varied, but it held my interest. And the rock I almost hit turned out
to be a turtle. That's one lucky shell carrier thanks to EG's nimble move.
Just before Virginia, I stumbled on the workshop of a representative of
an American icon.
Grave Digger, a Monster Truck, with
EG nervously looking over her shoulder.
It took a Tourist Move but the
obligatory photo was taken.
I arrived in Virginia Beach a little earlier than anticipated so I
checked into a motel, tried to recover from another day in the heat and
called Howard Collins. Howard came by for a look at EG and the required
photograph and then drove me back to see his car.
Howard Collins holding back EG from
rubbing against his leg.
All jacked up and nowhere to go. Howard's
Just in case you had any doubt.
Howard has a much-modified Mk II 850. Even its mother wouldn't recognize
it. The 848 is gone, replaced with a nice 1275. It is an interesting car.
Originally it had a speedometer reading in kilometers, was LHD and has small
indicator lights on the front wings. We've speculated on its origins but
don't really know. Belgium? France? Let Howard know if you have some insight
into how he can figure out his car's paternity.
So, we discussed Howard's car and Minis in general before being
interrupted by a phone call. Some nut from Canada, I mean Big Al wanted to
know more about Howard's other car, the Mk I S for sale. Big was ready to buy
and was working out a time when he could put the Mini Hauler on the road to
pick up the car. Big and I exchanged a few pleasantries using Howard as an
interpreter (I don't speak Canadian very well) and, after hanging up, Howard
showed me the S. It was a genuine Mk I but, as advertised, was going to need
a lot of work to put right.
While Howard and I were talking Minis, a neighbor arrived to see his
wife. The neighbor left a while later (we were still talking Minis) and
mentioned that Howard's wife was a bit nervous that Howard was buying a third
Mini. While Howard and I were looking at the S in the back yard, his wife was
on the back deck on the telephone. As Howard and I headed out the gate to
find a place to have dinner, I waved at her and told her not to worry. I'd
only talked him into buying three more cars. I swear she blanched!
Over dinner, the stories kept flowing, but here's one you may not have
heard. You may think I'm a bit daft for this trip I'm taking (Go on. Admit
it. You do.), but what Howard did recently makes me look positively sane. He
made the same trip I had just finished at this point, but in reverse. He went
from Virginia Beach to Florida only he did it on a jet ski! Corner him and
have him fill you in on the details.
The night of the 17th finished with me in my motel room planning the next
day. You can't turn around in Virginia without tripping over US history.
Jamestown and Williamsburg are near by, for instance. The plan was to do a
little sightseeing and then stay in the general area the next night with
another Mini nut, Ron Graham. Not everything worked out quite like I planned.