I got a little bit of a late start today since I was still trying to figure out exactly where I was going as of this morning. Today marked the first day that I got on the Trans-American Trail (TAT). The word ‘trail’ is used liberally, so it’s probably best I define what it is. There are no signs along the trail, and it isn’t sanctioned by any state or federal government bodies. You could argue it’s all in your head. You might have even been on it before and not even known it. The TAT is just a collection of roads that are all connected together to take your across the US. The TAT tries to go on dirt/gravel roads as much as possible, and when not stick to smaller paved roads. Another wrinkle is that there are two providers of the trail, one paid and one free. The paid one actually starts in Tennessee, but the free one (the one I’m doing…surprise!) starts in North Carolina. They more or less mirror each other from what I’ve read, but there are a few differences along the way. The free TAT actually starts out on the Outer Banks, and upon further investigation would require me to ride way north of Jacksonville, NC to get on the Outer Banks, then ride a ferry back to the mainland. This seemed like an unnecessarily long detour, so I modified the route to take me to the Atlanta Ocean without hitting the Outer Banks.
I rode to the east end of Emerald Isle where I found Fort Macon State Park, it would have been cool to take a look at the fort, but I wanted to get going, so I took a picture near the beach and hit the road. I wasn’t sure how well I’d do in the sand with the heavy bike, plus people were on the beach fishing, so I didn’t want to go too far out.
Soon after heading back inland, I linked up with the TAT just outside of Newport, NC. I was driving down a two lane road that all of a sudden turned into gravel, which was my first taste of anything besides pavement of the whole trip (excluding access roads to campsites in national forests). It was short lived and I was back on pavement. However, a while late, I encountered some off road terrain again. This time, the road transitioned to dirt/gravel and there were a bunch of no trespassing signs. It seemed like it belonged to a logging company. I pressed on, figured it was easier to ask for forgiveness than permission. About 10 miles in through this forest, I run into a locked gate. I decide to try to go around it, since backtracking would take forever. The little gap on the side of the gate is an angle up a hill, with a steep drop into a ravine in front of it. I try to weasel my bike through but I can’t get my rear tire up high enough on the hill to clear my side bag on the gate, then my front wheel starts falling into the ravine. I get off and try to straighten things up, but I’m only making it worse, with my front wheel falling further down the hill and my handlebars getting tangled in a bush. I’m sweating profusely, miles from any humans, and thinking about what to do. Obviously, this gate says no trespassing too mind you, although I think it was for a hunting club or something. I decide to take all the bags off my bike to both make it lighter and narrower. With that done, I am able to pull the front wheel up and slide the bike past the gate. It was a trying ordeal, but I made it. Putting all the bags back on my bike takes at least 10 minutes. I finally get loaded up though and soon after I’m out of the forest. I stop for a late lunch at some Mexican restaurant which actually had a pretty solid burrito. I keep going, but its starting to get late, so I realize I’m not going to get as far as I wanted plus I’m getting tired. When I get to Newton Grove, I decide I’m going to find a place to camp. I drive around town to have a look, then park my bike in front of a store with a bench to check my phone. As soon as I get off my bike, I’m stricken by the worst villain on my trip yet: gnats. These stupid things are flying around my head and will not stop. It’s the most annoying thing I’ve ever encountered. I can’t even look at my phone, so I get back on my bike to find another spot. I randomly find a police officer in his car, so I stop and ask him if he knows any campgrounds. After he makes a few phone calls, he sends me a few miles down the road to Taste of Heaven RV Park (http://www.tasteofheavencampground.com/). It looks a little suspect from the main road, but after you drive down their private road half a mile you realize they have a bunch of trees and a private lake. I park then walk around looking for an office, but the two buildings that look like offices are closed. I spot a random guy on the porch of his RV (and when I say porch, I mean he’s constructed a permanent wooden deck onto his travel trailer, so he obviously was staying for a while), and he calls the owners for me and tells me to camp by the lake. The owner eventually drives down after I’ve set up camp to collect my $17 (on the higher end for camping, but whatever, it had a shower). The owner is a 75 year old farmer named Albert and he has the thickest North Carolina country accent I’ve ever heard. He was honestly hard to understand. He was certain I was 20 years old, I remember that. The gnats were driving me crazy there too, but Albert invited me to come up to this party room thing he’d built and sit on the porch where he’d turn a fan on to keep the bugs away. It was pretty nice sitting there on a rocking chair. Eventually I went back to my tent and hit the hay.