By Gabriel Sams
33 years 7 months 18 days: the time I waited before getting my first motorcycle.
15 years: the time that passed since my dad sold his last Harley.
48 hours: the time we had a rental bike to make up for lost time by taking a motorcycle trip to the Outer Banks of North Carolina!
In November 2015, Sarah and I made a life change and traded our sort-of-reliable 2011 Jeep Wrangler for a motorcycle. But not just any motorcycle – true to ourselves, we found the most unique option available to us, a 2015 Ural Gear Up. We haven’t looked back since.
I have thoroughly enjoyed having a motorcycle with a sidecar. Sarah (my partner in crime) is usually found sitting “shotgun” beside me in the sidecar. Not long after the bike’s arrival, it received the name Boris, an official welcome into the family. Since then, Boris has taken us on camping trips, rides into the mountains, hauled groceries home from the store, roamed around in the snow and carried us across the foothills of North Carolina.
With a new journey approaching, Boris would soon have a new role! Instead of carting Sarah in the sidecar, he would be carrying a cooler full of drinks, snacks, and lots of sunscreen, and a few other essentials for our father/son beach trip!
A little background on Charlie before we dive in... this wasn’t his first bike trip (or his second, or his third). No stranger to motorcycles, Charlie began riding at an early age. As a newlywed with no garage to tinker in, he built his first chopper in the living room (no, really). He eventually graduated to more comfortable machines (and better tinkering locales). In the late 90’s he had a jet black Harley Davidson Fat Boy for a number of years. It was sold to help pay for our college and other things, and was later replaced by a beautiful limited edition Harley Davidson Heritage Special. Sadly, after only a few years it too was sold to help pay for bills and keep the family on track. It takes a big man to sell a toy that he has worked hard for!
of course you can build a bike in your living room... I mean, why not?!
Dad's 96' HD Heritage special in emerald green and silver, and my 93' wrangler. our favorite toys at the time!
I wanted to do something different for Father's Day this year, so Sarah and I cooked up a plan to get Charlie back in the saddle. We poured over a number of maps and itineraries and finally decided that a coastal ride would be best. I emailed Outer Banks Harley Davidson in Harbinger, NC and reserved a rental bike for dad.
Since Charlie hadn’t been on a bike in 15 years (and didn’t really need to test out the durability of both of last year's knee replacements), I opted to rent him a Harley Davidson Freewheeler. One of the newest members in the Harley stable, the Freewheeler is the “hot rod” of the trike series. It features a comfortable rider seat, passenger seat with available sissy bar, and a large trunk with available luggage rack. The model we rented also featured a windshield. There’s no shame in having three wheels (as long as they are in the back, because those jet-skiis on wheels don’t count)!
We loaded Boris onto a trailer Tuesday evening and departed early Wednesday morning for our 4.5 hour drive East. An easy and uneventful drive, we arrived around 11:00 am. And after filling out a little paperwork, we left the truck and trailer at the Harley dealership, mounted our bikes and rode out.
By 12:15 pm, we were flying over the pavement – two bikes and two big smiles as we headed over the Wright Memorial bridge, and onto North Carolina’s famous Outer Banks.
With no set itinerary, no timeline and no schedule, our only plan was to see a few of the NC lighthouses (or as I soon discovered, Light Stations. The house that the light station attendant lived in is the lighthouse, although many people refer to the tall structure as the lighthouse). We drove off of Highway 158 and onto NC 12, a 148-mile two-laned road that stretches from the top of NC and runs down the majority of the Outer Banks. We joined this route, which is part of the Outer Banks Scenic Byway, and headed towards the quaint town of Duck, NC.
5 Things to do in Duck, NC
- In the morning, grab a cuppa’ joe and a hot donut from Duck Donuts’ original location.
- Rent a paddleboard, canoe, or kayak from a variety of local vendors and go for a ride in the Currituck Sound. Or, if that’s too slow for you, Nor’Banks offers a variety of sailing and water sports including parasailing, jet skiing, tubing and more.
- Take a quick 25 minute drive north on NC 12 to the Currituck Lighthouse and climb the 220 steps to the top for a great view of the Currituck Sound, the Atlantic Ocean, and the Currituck Outer Banks. Admission is USD 10 for adults and free for children 7 and under (with the purchase of an adult ticket).
- Grab dinner at The Blue Point after shopping at the waterfront shops.
- After dinner, take a sunset stroll down the Duck Boardwalk overlooking the Currituck Sound, and be sure to have your camera ready for some great photos.
We made a pit stop in Duck to take a few pictures, walk around a bit, and enjoy a little snack. Before I knew it, dad’s sweet tooth got the better of him and he disappeared. A few minutes later he returned with a box of Salt Water Taffy. And shortly after that, I discovered that half-helmets are great for eating while riding! Before leaving the Duck area, we drove North to take a few pictures at the Currituck Lighthouse (Light Station).
Dad wanted to continue north past the lighthouse, although on a map it looked as though the road ended not far ahead. We continued around a few turns when the road suddenly stopped and turned from asphalt into beach! Although Boris is capable of turning into a serious 2WD off-road vehicle with the simple flip of a lever, sand can be a vicious to axles, universal joints, gears, and more. We elected to just take a few “beach photos” before heading back south.
After passing through Duck, Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills, and Nags Head, you can find the second of the famous NC Lighthouses at Bodie Island.
Boris taking a breather at Bodie Island
<- Charlie deep in thoughts
As the sun was setting on our first day of riding together, we both felt a great sense of joy. We backtracked north and checked into a roof, two beds, a shower, and a/c. We unpacked our gear and headed out to grab a bite to eat.
As a self proclaimed “beer snob,” I will happily travel to any local brewery and give their taps a shot. It just so happened that Outer Banks Brewing Station was down the road from where we stayed. They are the first Wind Powered Brewery in the U.S. with a pretty awesome story. They also happen to have great food! Be sure to have a pint of their award winning Lemongrass Wheat Ale if you’re in the area.
Things to do in Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills, Nags head area
- Visit the Wright Brothers Memorial, home of the worlds first powered flight in 1903.
- Buy a kite at Kitty Hawk Kites and take it to the top of Jockey's Ridge, the east coast’s largest sand dune.
- Enjoy local, fresh seafood from a number of restaurants.
- Visit the Outer Banks Visitor Bureau for a full list of things to do!
While there are many restaurants to choose from in the area, to save on time we got up early and ate a bite of the hotel's standard continental breakfast and continued heading south. We crossed the long bridge onto Pea Island and into the heart of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. This long, thin stretch of NC 12 has a large dune on the Eastern side of the road, protecting it from the Atlantic, and a narrow strip of land on the Western side that barely rises above the Pamlico Sound.
Boris struggled to keep pace with the 55 mph speed limit signs, and we casually waved a few impatient travelers to pass us. We drove through the small town of Rodanthe (yes, the same town from that chick flick that neither my dad or I have seen).
Near the bottom of Hatteras Island (which is connected to the long skinny Pea Island), you can find the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. In 1999, the black and white spiraled lighthouse was moved 2,900 feet from its original foundation (where it was built in the 1870’s), due to shoreline erosion.
Back on the road and still heading south, we stopped in Frisco, NC and had a bite to eat at the Frisco Sandwich Shop. I had the Aloha wrap: Pit-style ham with provolone cheese, pineapple and spring greens with Hawaiian style BBQ sauce. Yeah, it was good.
Around 3:00 pm we arrived at a ferry terminal to catch the free, 40-minute ferry from Hatteras to Ocracoke Island. After being shuffled into the staging line by a ferry attendant, we waited for about half an hour in a sea of cars. A ferry arrived and we hopped back on the bikes. We began to see the crew disembark the boat and noticed a service truck drive onto the ferry. Shortly after, a forklift carried an outboard motor onto the ferry. It was obvious that this wasn’t the ferry we would be getting on.
We emptied the melted ice water from the cooler and bought a fresh bag of ice to fill it back up. I found out that Boris creates a nice little shadow for me to sit under. But since dad was baking in the heat, we searched out some shade. It was only after we sat for almost an hour that a guy (who looked to be in charge) came up to us and said “next time you are here on motorcycles, pull up to the front of the line,” and pointed to a sign that read: Motorcycles and bicycles wait here. We would pull this “motorcycle card” on our return trip!
The ferry ride was calm and steady and soon we were rolling onto Ocracoke Island, 90 miles from where we began that morning. There is nothing but road, wind, and sand on the 12-mile drive into Ocracoke Village from the ferry terminal.
Give yourself plenty of time to explore Ocracoke, whether on a bicycle, horse, golf cart, or by foot. Discover its rich history – if pirates are your thing, you’ll be happy to find plenty of Blackbeard memorabilia. Ocracoke was one of Blackbeard’s (Edward Teach) favorite hideouts, and where he was eventually killed by British naval forces.
We wandered around the small streets, giving waves and nods and smiles as we went along. We took a few photos of the short Ocracoke Lighthouse, and grabbed some good fried flounder at Gaffers Sports Pub before heading back towards the ferry.
Remembering the advice from the attendant on the other side, we passed the line of 40-something-cars and were signaled by an attendant to come up to the front. When we got to the front of the line, he said “oh, I didn’t see you had a sidecar. You might have to go to the back of the line.” I responded and said “It’s still a motorcycle, and the sign says 'Motorcycles and bicycles wait here.'” He looked frustrated and replied “We’ll see what we can do,” before walking off.
The workers started boarding one ferry when another attendant came up and quickly started talking about the Ural. We were experiencing full UDF (Ural Delay Factor), when my dad was playing dumb and said to the guy, “Is this where we line up to get on first?” The attendant smiled and said “yeah, yeah, lets get you on.” We were ushered to the front of the line on the waiting ferry.
As the sun set on a full day of riding in beautiful 78º F weather, dad and I sat back and reflected on the day. We talked to a few folks on the boat and relaxed and watched the sun dip into the sea. Dusk gave way to night as we rolled off the ferry and back onto Hatteras Island. We contemplated staying in Hatteras, but didn't want to be rushed in the morning and knew the rental bike was due back at the dealership at noon.
We topped off our tanks and around 9:00 pm and started on our 70-mile return up the darkest, narrowest, windiest, most barren stretch of the Outer Banks. Half-way up the road, one of our bluetooth headset's battery died and we were left using hand signals. With Charlie behind me, and myself behind Boris’s crazy array of LED lights, we trudged our way up the island. I’d give dad a thumbs up to check if he was OK from time to time. In response, he’d flash his headlights to tell me he was good. Even on a comfortable bike, riding is tiring at 66 years of age. We rolled into Kill Devil Hills close to midnight. I used my iPhone to quickly book us a hotel using Kayak’s friendly mobile app.
The next morning we took the bridge over to Roanoke Island, home of the famous Lost Colony. We drove around the town of Manteo and took a few pictures by the waterfront. If you happen to be in the area and want a cold one, check out the Lost Colony Brewery – a tiny 700 square foot nano-brewery in Manteo. They have great beer and are a true “homegrown” operation. See more things to do in Manteo and Roanoke.
By 11:00 am, we were cruising north on NC 12, heading back towards the Harley dealership. Crossing the bridge meant the trip was coming to a close, and when we could see the famous orange of the Harley sign up ahead, and I said to my dad, “just gas it, I’ll cancel the credit card!” and we both had a laugh.
We topped up the fuel in the Freewheeler and pulled into parking lot at exactly 11:40. Because I only got to drive the rental bike for about 20 minutes the first night, I looked at my dad and said, “give me the keys, I’ll be right back.” In true dad fashion, he said “don’t be late!” as I gunned it out of the parking lot. It sure wasn’t Boris! Bigger and definitely louder, it was also much faster. I rode over the bridge and did a quick U-turn before roaring back to the dealership to pull in at 11:58 am. At 11:59:50, I was standing at the renal counter with keys in hand.
While renting a bike isn’t the most economical way to travel, being on a motorcycle and riding beside my greatest friend, my mentor, and my lifelong support, was worth every penny!
This may have been our first ride together, but it certainly won’t be our last.
Happy Father's Day to the best dad in the world. Thanks for all of your encouragement, advice, support, patience, love, and all of the wisdom you've passed along over the years.
Until next time, this is Gabriel, guest writer for the WBP, signing off!