Camp Lejeune, Rachel Carson and Ocracoke Island

Trip Start Sep 19, 2012
Trip End Oct 08, 2012

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Flag of United States  , North Carolina
Sunday, September 23, 2012

Our morning begins with continental breakfast at the Econo Lodge in Conway, South Carolina. Were going to be fast at the breakfast table, so we can get an early start today; we have reservations on the 4 pm ferry to Ocracoke Island. If we miss the ferry, we could find ourselves stuck on the mainland. That would totally mess up our ride plan. We want to allow plenty of extra time. What could possibly go wrong?

So we depart Conway at precisely 8 am, and head for the beach.

As we leave Conway, we think about the most famous person from Conway: Vanna White (born Vanna Marie Rosich), best known for her Wheel of Fortune letter-turning persona since 1982. Click here if you're a Wheel of Fortune fan. I earnestly hope none of you clicked on that hyperlink. My blog's demographics and Vanna's seem so hopelessly incompatible.

As lame as Wheel of Fortune is, it won the 38th annual Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Game/Audience Participation Show. That was in 2011, when Pat Sajak was awarded the Daytime Entertainment Emmy Awards Lifetime Achievement Award. "General Hospital" was the big winner in this year's Daytime Emmys, broadcast in June. Tonight, you can watch the 64th Primetime Emmy Awards (shameless plug, for no apparent reason). It's on ABC, starting at 8 pm Eastern (5 pm Pacific time). The "Hatfields and McCoys," the story of a legendary family feud not far from here in the late 1800s, is nominated for 16 awards. Sixty-two million viewers watched it on the History Channel over Memorial Day weekend. It wouldn't be the first time a Family Feud is honored with an Emmy (Richard Dawson, 1978, Outstanding Host in a Game or Audience Participation Show). And that's your TV enlightenment for the day. You're welcome.


We pass by Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, on our way up the Atlantic coast. It's situated on the center of a large and continuous stretch of beach in northeastern South Carolina known as the Grand Strand. Myrtle Beach is considered to be a major tourist destination in the Southeast, attracting an estimated 14 million visitors each summer. With more than 100 golf courses, Myrtle Beach is an obvious destination for golfers; more than 3.4 million rounds are played here each year.

From Myrtle Beach, we enter North Carolina again, where we'll be riding for the rest of the day.

Heading north and east on NC-133 toward Wilmington, we pass alongside the Military Ocean Terminal (MOT) at Sunny Point, North Carolina -- a 16,000-acre site owned by the US Army. The facility, run by the US Department of Defense, is the largest ammunition port in the country, the only DoD terminal equipped to handle containerized ammunition. The only other MOT acronym I'm familiar with is one I've always used to describe my people: Members Of the Tribe (MOT).

We continue on through Wilmington, North Carolina, a port city on the Cape Fear River. Many major films have been shot in Wilmington, including "Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood," "Cape Fear," "The Hudsucker Proxy" and "Sleeping with the Enemy."

Notable Wilmington names include:
  • Broadcaster David Brinkley, winner of 10 Emmy awards and the Presidential Medal of Freedom
  • Tennis legend Althea Gibson, the first African-American woman to be a competitor on the world tennis tour and the first to win a Grand Slam title
  • Boxer Sugar Ray Leonard (named Ray Charles Leonard after his mother's favorite singer), the first fighter to earn more than $100 million in winnings
  • Political douchebag John Edwards -- the disgraced philanderer, former US Senator and wanna-be presidential candidate in 2008, known for his $500 haircuts from a Beverly Hills stylist. Today, Edwards reportedly pays $12.95 at Supercuts in Raleigh, North Carolina.

We cruise through Wilmington with barely a thought of its Hollywood connections, and approach Camp Lejeune, a huge US Marine Corps base ("Home of Expeditionary Forces in Readiness"). We are on NC-172, which takes us directly to Camp Lejeune's main gate. The guard asks me for my military ID, which I don't have since I craftily avoided military service in the Vietnam era by being a student with a high lottery number.

So the guard denies Ray and me entry, telling us to make a U-turn and head away from Camp Lejeune and toward a highway that allows civilians. When planning today's route, I had no idea that an otherwise apparently available scenic highway was completely unavailable. The detour cost us about 45 minutes, as we has to drive around the extraordinarily large facility. Now we're beginning to sweat our arrival for the 4 pm ferry. Thanks s lot, Marine Corps.

The 246-square-mile base has 14 miles of beaches, making it a major area for amphibious assault training. Military forces from around the world come to Camp Lejeune on a regular basis for bilateral and NATO-sponsored exercises. Click here to learn more about Camp Lejeune, which is home to more than 43,000 Marines.

It's only a few miles from Jarhead-land to Swansboro, North Carolina, where we stop for a quick, greasy bite at Wendy's. The 20-minute lunch will put us back on schedule to meet the ferry system's requirement to arrive at least 30 minutes before departure.

After lunch, we're on NC-24, riding along the southern edge of Croatan National Forest. Not Croatian. Croatan. The forest covers nearly 160,000 acres of coastal land and is bordered on three sides by the Neuse River, Bogue Sound and the White Oak River.

We continue east along Bogue Sound through Morehead City, toward Beaufort -- named "Best Small Southern Town" by Southern Living magazine, and a "Top 25 Small City Arts Destination" by American Style magazine. Beaufort has been the setting for several novels by native son Pat Conroy, and a popular filming location for major motion pictures, including "The Big Chill," "The Prince of Tides," "Forrest Gump," and "G.I. Jane."

Just south of Beaufort is the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge. Created in 1966, this sanctuary protects 1,167 acres of estuary salt marsh and uplands that drain into the Webhannet River. The refuge is named for Rachel Carson, whose 1962 book, "Silent Spring," raised public awareness of the effects of DDT on migratory songbirds. DDT is dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, a controversial insecticide banned in the US since 1972, in large part because of Carson's thesis that DDT was a threat to wildlife. Migratory birds that nest in Rachel's refuge include sharp-tailed sparrows, great northern loons, Canadian geese, mallards, buffleheads, red-breasted merganser, sandpipers, gulls and terns.

We ride through the Cedar Island National Wildlife Refuge -- 11,000 acres of marsh and woodland habitat in the North Carolina's Lowcountry. It's not far from here to the Cedar Island Ferry landing. The ferry is part of the North Carolina Department of Transportation. It will take us to Ocracoke Island, North Carolina.

We arrive at the Cedar Island Ferry landing at 3 pm, right on schedule. We check in, and the lady in the booth says, "Are you Gary and Ray?" How cool is that! Personalized service by the North Carolina Transportation Department.

She (her name is Cindy) knew who we were because we have reservations, and are the only motorcyclists scheduled on the 4 pm sailing. All is good.

Um, all is good until Cindy tells us the 4 pm boat is cancelled due to a mechanical breakdown, and we are welcome to take the 5:30 ferry. The 1,610-horsepower engine is fine; the steering is screwed up. OK fine. Worse things could happen. So we wait an extra 90 minutes, knowing our burger at Wendy's was not necessary.

When we finally get in the ferry "Cedar Island," we're heading for North Carolina's Outer Banks, a 200-mile long string of narrow islands separating the Currituck Sound, Albemarie Sound and Pamlico Sound from the Atlantic Ocean. Ocracoke is one of the most remote islands in the Outer Banks, and can only be reached by public ferry, private boat, or private plane. Of those three choices, the ferry seems the most logical and affordable.

The average elevation of Ocracoke Island is less than five feet above sea level. Many buildings on the island are built on pilings to lift them off the ground. Flooding is a risk during both hurricanes and large storms. We hope to encounter neither.

As we chug across the Atlantic Ocean and approach the island, we spot the Ocrakoke Island Lighthouse, built in 1823. The 75-foot-tall lighthouse, which cost $11,359 to build, is the oldest North Carolina lighthouse still in continuous service. Its current light apparatus has 8,000 candlepower, and can be seen from 14 miles out to sea. The Ocracoke Island Lighthouse does not have a flash pattern; rather it illuminates a steady white light from dusk until dawn. We arrive about 6:30 pm; sunset is at 6:57. Click here to learn more about the lighthouse.

If you have nothing better to do tomorrow and want to catch the ferry to Ocracoke Island, click here. Suggest you call first to confirm the ferry is on time.

Tonight, in an unusual move, we stay at a non-national brand motel -- the Sand Dollar Inn ($69 tax). There's little about this island that's franchised. It's a welcome change.


Day Three Summary: Cape Fear, Camp Lejeune, Rachel Carson and a ferry ride across the Atlantic Ocean (not all of it). Today's distance ridden: about 260 miles.

To see today's entire route, from Conway, South Carolina, to Ocracoke Island, North Carolina, click here.

What will tomorrow bring?
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Sarah on

Those beautiful red flowers look like cockscomb. Granny Murr used to have lots of these in her yard in Greenback.

Tina on

Late again....sort of wondering why?? Took IPhone to bed with me, finally saw an email from you around 10p...knew you were safe somewhere. Couldn't read it, didn't have turned over and went to sleep. Had called Ray's phone, but he didn't answer (earlier). Be Safe - have fun!!

Chris Gage on

Gary....if you'd been drafted during the Viet Nam era or any other era, you still wouldn't have a military ID today. Only active service military and contractors have military ID's not the occaisional biker dudes, tourists, terrorists etc.

Love the blog! Two thirds of the US population live within 500 miles of Columbus OH. Why aren't you coming here among your 13 states? Is it becasue I have tennis elbow and can't take you golfing?


Maureen on

Hey Gary,
This is great watching you on your trip. My father was one of those Marines at Camp Lejeune, he married my mother there and my oldest sister was born there in 1948. You should have mentioned his name I'm sure they would have let you pass through.

Paula on

Hey, Gary, since riding a motorcycle doesn't use up much in the way of calories, you may return to La Quinta with the ribs you ate padding the ribs you've got! I don't recall any close encounters with green vegetables in that neck of the woods, but when on a grand adventure, who cares! That barbeque is mighty good!

Jil on

Hi Gary, As always I am enjoying your blog! Be safe!

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