An all-day push to the western region of South Carolina brought me to an Airbnb suite in a nice neighborhood with a busy, young family. I was avoiding the coast as it’s high season, and there was Aiken – a name I recognized but a place I’ve never been.
After more than a year of indoor living, I wanted to be in the woods, away from crowds, and within a comfortable driving distance of the Eastern Shore. When I found a number of camping options in the Croatan National Forest of North Carolina, it seemed to offer what I was looking for at an affordable price.
The first stop, Oyster Point, is a primitive campground one-mile in via a sandy road that offers pit toilets, potable water, a lengthy walking trail, and views of the Neuse River. It’s also just 25 minutes to the ocean and Fort Macon State Park in case a day trip was in order. Many of the comments were folks whining about the road condition making it impossible to take advantage of this location. How perfect for my first 5 nights back on the road!
After surviving the aggressive NC drivers on my bumper during the final of 6 hours, I arrived to the sandy road under construction but passable. A lovely woman, Tonia, greeted me and my site was large, mostly tree-surrounded, and even offered a bit of a river view. There was a mix of tents, camper vans & pop-ups, but it was obvious that this was a sleeping spot and folks were heading out to play. On my first full day, I went onto the trail to discover that only 1.5 miles (of the listed 21) were accessible (the result of Hurricane Florence in 2018), so the next day, I ventured down the sandy road on my hybrid bike to find the area road cycling was a mere 6-mile loop.
On my return, I hit a heavy sand patch, was stuck in a pedal, and got a leg bruise the size of my head. That was the fun part of the day as I now had a new giant RV neighbor running his generator (till 9:40 pm that night). There’s no electricity but you can run a generator from 6 am to 10 pm in a primitive national forest campground. With just 2 nights left, I bitched and moaned aloud, drove to bike at the beach, tour Fort Macon, then watched the RV weekenders come in to use this beautiful spot as a parking lot. With road repair in progress, but no money for the walking trail I’m told, this should be RV world forever. Off the list!
Next stop, just one hour south, is Cedar Point; also a Croatan National Forest campground on the White Oak River, and a mere 5 miles west of the ocean. This felt more like a state park and is obviously contracted out, has newly built facilities with electric sites, and I was one of 2 tents in my 5 nights there. This felt nothing like being in a forest, but it was a very quiet place weekdays with cordial people, a pretty walking trail, and a nearby bikable coastal area. My most fun day was along the bike path near Emerald Isle where I road with an East Coast Greenway advocate, chatted over a shrimp burger, and felt like life was sort of normal again.
The prior campers had left me plenty of wood, so I felt ambitious that evening. As I was breaking a giant tree limb into kindling (while wearing sleepwear), I slipped and fell into the branch slicing the palm of my hand and puncturing a few holes in my leg. After tearing off the leggings, I was worried. I’m talking deep cuts, blood oozing, and instant bruising; but thankfully it was extremities which are healing nicely. My mother always said that “bad things come in threes” so thank the good Lord, I accidentally factory reset my phone and erased all my data the next morning. Turn me over, I’m done.
So, “stupid is as stupid does”? I’m quite distressed about the forest situation, and personally, I’m feeling pretty rusty after 5 months of sitting in place. The combination of getting back on the road after the pandemic year, avoiding all indoor activity, staying away from people without masks, and heading south where they think we’re still voting, has been an unexpected challenge.
Cyclist, writer, teacher, avid reader, bike/ped advocate, nomad, pie lover