A Harrowing Drive Leads to a Lovely Stay in North Carolina

So, we’re coming off a bit of a defeat in not having been able to extend our stay in Henlopen State Park for an extra night to take in the beach and rest our legs a bit. We admittedly got into a bit of a tiff about it as we were driving back to the park with now another long travel day looming for us in the morning. Adding to our stress was the Chesapeake Bay Bridge smack dab in the middle of our trip; a 13-mile stretch of bridges and tunnels. Oh, did I mention that the tunnels have a 13’6″ clearance and we still aren’t confident as to our hitched up height? We are fairly certain we’ll fit as checked and double checked measurements have us at right about 13 feet, but still, we sure don’t want to find out we’re wrong in a tunnel…in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay.

Travel on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge.
Getting onto the 13 mile modern marvel that is the Chesapeake Bay Bridge!

We go through our newly written up break-down check list, hitch up, and hit the road. The path towards the bridge is largely familiar, as we’d just driven a good chunk of it on our way to Assateague (read more HERE), a nice, flat highway with fairly low speed limits of 55 for much of it. And then, there it is, the cause of my stomach knots since plotting the route…the bridge. Because of the size of our rig we will be paying a $20 toll, ouch, but we figure we’ll save that much and more in fuel costs and won’t have to deal with D.C. area traffic…just the bridge. We pull up to the toll gate and the attendant asks “Do you have propane tanks?” I reply, “Yes” and she responds, “Are they closed?” I again answer affirmatively and she says “You’re good to go.” I think to myself, “Boy, I sure hope so.” I ask Ashley to pop in our Foo Fighters CD to get myself amped; it helps. Truth be told, the bridge isn’t bad at all, I actually find it kind of fun and scenic. Surprisingly wide lanes and little fellow travelers to share the road with. It’s not until the not one, but two tunnels that plunge suddenly beneath the choppy water. The north and southbound bridges converge and meet with merely a single yellow line dividing them and what seems like mere inches to the wall. I tense up as we clear the entrance, and we’re in! Phew. Then I see the oncoming 18-wheeler with his lights off and I tense again as we pass by each other with quite a small margin of error.

Traveling through the tunnels of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge on our way to BBQ and beer.
Might not look too scary here, but you can’t see the rig we’re pulling or the truck that approached from the opposite way!

Once I’m out of the second tunnel and see the shore approaching I breathe a sigh of relief, though honestly the drivers in the VA Beach area are MUCH more scary than the bridge ever was; people cutting across multiple lanes of traffic with no blinkers and barely any space, others coming to a complete stop in the lane just because they want to get off an exit that they wait until the last second to get over. Ack!

As we approach our campground in North Carolina, the roads get smaller and the surroundings turn predominantly to farmland. There’s an industrial beauty to the working buildings with their wide open fields surrounding them, like rural castles and keeps. Aside from having to back up a bit for a turn I wasn’t going to quite make and the 1/2 land too narrow road (I’d later learn from the camp’s owner he’s been trying to get the local authorities to widen it as even small cars need to ride over the double yellow, let alone the rigs coming to his property), the rest of the trip is easy.

RV park for the other half.
The spots at North River Campground are outstanding and scenic.

We pull into North River Campground and get led to our site by the proprietor, Pat, in his Club Car. This is unlike any of the three previous camps by a country mile: more akin to a luxury housing development than a campground, each site abuts a small pond and sits on level, manicured gravel spots. It seems many of the other guests are either full or long term residents of the grounds, and it’s little wonder why- the property is extremely well cared for, gorgeous, and chock full of amenities. We have cable television, we have extremely strong WiFi, a very clean bathhouse, full-hook ups at our assignment, there’s a laundry facility, there’s a pool, there’s even an arcade and a pizza parlor on property. For the $50 a night, which is much higher than we’d planned on spending at sites, it’s an incredible step up from the $48 we paid at the DE state park we’d just left.

From our home base here in Shawboro, NC, we are about an hour Northwest of the Outer Banks and an hour south of Norfolk, Virginia, so we are perfectly set up for some day tripping over our 4 night stay. Our first stop is the OBX, where we travel to the Jockey Ridge sand dunes: wide open land with massive mounds of silky, soft sand. I feel like I’ve been transported to the Sahara minus unbearable heat or camels. The park is free to visitors and dog friendly, and for the 45 minutes or so we spent here we would highly recommend it to anyone traveling around the Kitty Hawk or Nag’s Head area.

Beautiful state park in North Carolina's outer banks.
Jockey’s Ridge State Park on the OBX,

We attempted to visit the Wright Brothers Memorial but sadly they seemed largely non-dog friendly and also wanted $20 a person (!) to enter, so we decided to instead make straight for Cape Hatteras.

We realize quickly that this is a longer trip than we expected as it’s still about an hour drive to get down to the lighthouse and are thankful we decided to make camp where we had instead of out on the OBX as making this whole journey from Delaware with the rig no less would have been absolutely exhausting.

The iconic light house of the Outer Banks, North Carolina.
Ashley and some hobo who stole my hat and sunglasses…oh wait…

The drive is nice, but when get to Hatteras it’s not quite what we expected. The lighthouse is picturesque and there is a sandy beach nearby, but candidly we’re not sure if we did it all over again we’d make the 2-hour round trip drive this far down the small chain of islands to see it.

A boardwalk through the reeds in Manteo.
A Shad boat on display to promote Roanoke’s history.

We make a stop on Roanoke Island, home of the infamous Lost Colony, for us to stop by a brewery named, what else, The Lost Colony Brewery and Cafe (read more HERE). We walked around the picturesque town of Manteo where the brewery is located and wished we’d spent more time here, but alas it was time to start heading home to stop for groceries, refill our diesel with what seemed like absurdly low fuel thanks to Gasbuddy and get dinner going.

Ash striking a pose in Manteo. CROATOAN!

Our next day was a wash out with heavy rains, but we took the opportunity to do something we both agreed we were sorely lacking: long-term planning. We plotted out and booked our next three weeks as we’d travel through South Carolina, down to the tip of Florida, and back up towards Atlanta, Georgia.

If you’re ever in Currituck County, NC, make this a stop!

Getting this done allowed us to actually breathe a bit as we’d felt very worn down from packing up so frequently and by constantly having to make hurry-up, last minute reservations because of not having more setup for our next stops. As usual, AllStays Pro really proved a vital part of our planning. We also decided to treat ourselves to some real North Carolina BBQ and oh man, these were without any doubt the absolute best ribs (yet?) of my entire life!!! Smokey, slightly vinegary, and completely tender to the point where chewing seemed more of a choice than a necessity. I wish I could eat like this for the rest of my life! Ashley also loved her burnt ends!

The kind of food I dreamed of from this trip!
Oh doctor…

Our final full day in the area we drove up to Norfolk and visited Smart Mouth Brewery (read more about it HERE). We also found an incredible dog park abutting what appeared to be PETA headquarters of some kind right on the water, that allowed Jackson to get out some of the energy he’d built up without more regular puppy play sessions. We stopped at a very small hiking trail before it was back on the road to home, with our longest travel day yet awaiting us in the morning. But first, I emptied our gray water tank (shower, sink, basically anything not toilet related) for the first time! Considerably easier than I expected. We even were able to give some advice to our even more green neighbors who pulled in earlier today, and jump another neighbor’s truck! I guess we’re becoming RVers…

Jackson watches enviously from the shore.
Our dog loves trips to puppy playgrounds.
Jackson taking a breather from play at the Bea Arthur Dog Park on the Norfolk Waterfront.

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