Raleigh to Outer Banks - Take Two
Last year I biked to the Outer Banks and Hammock-camped along the way. There were some detours, tough hangs, and exhausting days. This year I tried a more direct route in hopes that shorter days would keep the trip more pleasant. It did. The only detour came from getting off track to the tune of a couple of miles. The days were manageable. The hangs were still interesting, though.
First day was under 60 miles of fairly mild riding to Wilson, NC. I really had to drag my feet in order to be close to racing daylight on that day, but I managed it by starting extra late and having a storm on the horizon to get things darker a little earlier in the day. I stayed at Kampers Lodge. Hammock-friendly? I'd say yes. They set me up in a spot that had only one tree and a pavilion. When I asked if there were more wooded options for the purpose of using my hammock, they said, "no," but suggested that I hang from the pavilion, which, given weather on the horizon, seemed like a good deal. It worked pretty well.
But, there were trees not too far from my site at a spot that, according to the campground map they gave me, were their no-hookups tent camping area. Why they didn't offer me one of those sites, I don't know. But they had no issue with my hammock and even came over to tell me and the only other tent camper that the weather might get rough, and that they were going leave one of the buildings unlocked for the night in case we wanted to move in there at some point. That never became necessary, but it was nice to have the offer. The campground itself is more focused on RV and camper camping, as you can see here:
But it was quiet enough and pleasant enough in the middle of the week, and the bathrooms/showers were cleanest of any campground I've ever seen. Maybe not a bonus for the backpacking crowd, but a nice shower is a good way to end a day on the bike.
Day 2 was an easy 60 miles to Williamston, NC. There I stayed at the River Landing Platform, one of the few camping platforms for the Roanoke Paddle Trail that appears to be easily accessible by bike. Also most platforms appear to be just that: platforms, so not very useful to a hammock camper. I hoped that there would be some adjacent trees that I could set up in unnoticed. There were some potential trees, but the unnoticed part was a little trickier. The area is part of the Williamston access to the Roanoke, complete with a boat ramp and a great fishing boardwalk. It was never crowded, but it was also never empty, at least not during waking hours. After sunset I could still hear people on the boardwalk, and in the morning people were loading their boats in as soon as there was light. No stealth camping there unless I was going to trudge off the path a bit. Fortunately River Landing is not so much of a platform as it is a cabin on stilts.
Very spacious, and with rafters. I wouldn't call this site hammock-friendly, because it seems likely that my set-up would be frowned upon, but there was no one around to frown. In spite of its proximate to the boat ramp and board walk, it was very difficult to see from the outside what was going on inside.
It was also hot as hell in an elevated cabin in mid August sleeping near the rafters, but I was hanging, and that's good enough. I did have to push my Super Shelter off the side, though.
Day 3 was 70 miles of busy roads and waiting for the storms to catch up with me. They didn't catch me until I made it to camp, but they threatened me all day. I had called The County Line earlier in the week, because whenever I look them up, it seems like they might be closing in the near future. They said they were open, but the ground might be kind of soggy due to all the rain. "Well, I wasn't going to sleep on the ground. As long as I can find two trees, I should be fine." The owner had no issues with my hammock, but was concerned that suitable hanging trees might be a problem. All the photos showed a lovely little lake ringed by trees, with more trees outside the camping area, so I wasn't worried.
It really is pretty, although a little run down. I was the only camper, probably owing to the fact that you are not likely to stumble on to this site by accident. Also there are really no amenities other than a port-a-potty. All I wanted, though, was a quiet place to sleep, and it would have been that if the weather had cooperated. I will say that if you're looking for a low key place to relax and do some fishing maybe, this place should hit the spot. Just bring a hammock stand. The trees around the lake sit close to each other and are not terribly robust. The trees that ring the outside of the camping area are also very close together, and basically a one-tree deep circle, the other side of which is kind of swampy with slender trees too weak and too close together for a good hang. I had to get creative with one tree and a picnic table with a saw horse on top, easily my most precarious set-up.
It seemed to be holding up just fine, and I would have worried less if not for the winds that blew all night. It was gusting enough that I spent a good part of the night waiting for something to blow over and put me on the ground, or for the rain to come because the strong wind kept blowing my tarp off center and exposing me to the sky. I also had to put the super shelter back in place to keep mosquitoes from biting through the bottom. That was effective, but every part of my body that rested against the bug netting also got bit. I didn't notice it as much at the time somehow, but the next day I had some interesting bite patterns. Also, apart from wind and mosquitoes, I had an ear out for the bear that the owner said sometimes drops by to check out the lake. "If you hear him, just make a noise so he knows you are there, and he'll let you be." I've never seen a bear in the wild, and seldom camp in bear country, so that made me a little nervous, but I've read enough to know that bad bear encounters are rare, and I seemed to remember that majority of our black bear population are relatively smaller than what I imagine, close to my own 200 pounds, and, as such, I should be able to shoo one off (not that I could tackle a 200 pound bear, but I figure I could intimidate one). Still, in spite of waking up before dawn, I waited for for some light before leaving the hammock. No point in bumping into a bear in the dark.
As soon as I had a enough light to see by, I found that my bug netting was speckled with mosquitoes lying in wait. I hopped out of the hammock, grabbed my Deet, and jumped on to the bench of the picnic table where I would be out of the grass and able to spray my feet along with every other part of me. That done, I started to break camp, only to notice that I had attracted the attention of a large, black bear a little ways away. Not so close that I immediately started to panic, but not so far that I was able to calmly say, "Hey, look at that bear off in the distance." Also he was not the small bear that I had talked myself into imagining in the night. If I had to guess, I'd say at least 300 pounds, and possibly a bit more. I jumped from the picnic table bench to the top of the table. I figured my actual size would not be that intimidating to this bear, so I needed a little height boost. Then I started fumbling in my gear for my camera while trying to keep one eye on the bear, thinking that the bear would very likely take off before I got the camera out, and I didn't want him disappearing without me knowing where he went. When I did get the camera out and was able to snap a couple of shaky, blurry photos, the bear had still failed to turn and run. Here's the best of my bad bear photos.
He's the darker of the shadowy blobs along the tree line, almost directly under the ragged corner of the flag. After a second of being happy that the bear had stuck around long enough to be photographed, I decided that what I really wanted was for him to not stick around any longer. I said in my best, I'm-totally-in-control-and-not-about-to-wet-myself voice, as calmly as I could, "Okay, that's enough. Time to move along." The bear's grasp of English seemed lacking. His reaction seemed to be, "Oh, it makes noise as well as stands around on picnic tables. This might need further investigating." He took a few steps in my direction. I turned the flash on on the camera and took another photo, hoping that would surprise and deter him. Instead he seemed aware that flash was no good for outdoor pictures at that distance, so he was happy to oblige by moving in a little closer. I gave my hands a good, solid clap and said, "Go!" At this point, the bear did not turn in terror and run from my fearsome hand-clapping as I hoped he would. He did, however, stop moving forward. His attitude seemed to be, "Well, fine, I'll leave, but because I want to, not because I'm intimidated." He turned away and sauntered off into the trees.
On the one hand, I have seldom been more motivated to break camp, so it was probably one my faster attempts. On the other hand, every step was punctuated with my returning to the picnic table so I could see if the bear had returned. I had told the campground owner that I would stop in for coffee on my way out, but at 6:30 I was packed up and ready for some distance between me and my furry friend, so I hit the road. I called the campground a few hours later to say that I had already headed out, and they shouldn't expect me for coffee. The rest of the day was mostly easy riding, although I was tired, and some bad weather hit when I got to the Outer Banks, but I had a house and a shower waiting for me, with no worries about where to hang, and no bears, so that was okay.
All-in-all a successful trip in that I was able to hang every night, even if only barely, and I was not eaten by a bear, which I feel would have ruined an otherwise pleasant trip. And it was better than last year in that I made it all the way to my destination without an emergency pick up. But next year I may want to pack some bear spray.