“Here’s a bag for you to pack your gear in.”
I’ve been married long enough to the man to know I needed to study his face and discern if this was a joke, before laughing out loud. I picked up the small dry sac (no larger than a grocery bag) and looked at Gabriel again — his expression was unwaveringly serious, so I had to ask.
“Is this for real?”
“Is what for real?”
“The size of this bag?”
“Yes, it’s a real bag.”
“I know… I mean… is this all the space I get?”
“Once you have your own bike, you can tie it down with as much luggage as you see fit.”
Reason #57 for getting a bike.
Gabriel’s point was valid — we were about to take Boris (our Ural Gear Up) on his inaugural trip outside of the city and into the mountains. We didn’t want to risk overloading it and causing a break-down on the side of the road. Knowing the Ural’s max speed without the additional luggage, we also didn’t want to slow the bike down so much that we were setting up camp in the dark.
On the bike’s rack, we packed:
Two sleeping bags
One, two-person tent
Two sleeping mats (after all, we’re usually accustomed to being swaddled by our hammocks and nestled in trees, not laying on the hard ground while camping)
In the sidecar’s trunk, we packed:
The bike’s cover
An extra jacket for evening temperatures
One daypack (filled with headlamps, toothbrushes, and two books for evening entertainment)
Also on the bike:
One navigator in the monkey seat
No change of clothes. No make-up bag. No french press.
Although I would like to paint the picture that we were truly roughing it, we were far from that. Our plan was to go to nearby Hanging Rock for some “glamping” — glamorous camping. The kind of place that offers bathhouses with running water and a park ranger that sells firewood, already chopped and bundled.
From our downtown apartment, the trip takes around 1 hour and 15 minutes, using backroads. Slow and steady is our riding mantra.
Hanging Rock State Park
I remember a time when you might be one of only a handful of hikers on the trails at Hanging Rock. But with the state park’s manicured campgrounds, education programs, hiking trails and activities like boating, fishing, climbing, and mountain biking, it has become a well-known destination — easily accessible to lowlanders and city folk.
While Hanging Rock’s offerings are great for family getaways or weekend trips with friends, neither Gabriel, Boris, or I had the luxury of enjoying them, as planned. The sun was already starting its descent when we discovered the campground had no vacancy. Undeterred by the November mountain chill, enthusiastic glampers had actually reserved Hanging Rock’s campgrounds several weeks out.
Despite my advocacy of people getting outside and enjoying nature, I still find it strange that you need reservations to sleep outside on the ground, as though you are checking into a hotel.
Gabriel went into the lavish visitor center and gathered some information on alternative campsites in the area. We looked at our options, made a few calls to check on availability, then set out for another North Carolina Piedmont favorite — Pilot Mountain.
A great alternative to Hanging Rock, Pilot Mountain is only a 30 – 45 minute drive away. Or, an hour to hour and a half drive if you happen to take backroads on a Russian motorcycle.
In addition to hiking “the knob,” Pilot Mountain sports trails for travelers on foot, horseback, or canoe. The park’s campgrounds are as equally manicured as those at Hanging Rock, and include family camping and canoe camping along the Yadkin River Canoe Trail.
Most importantly, Pilot Mountain’s lesser-known campsites offer vacancy.
It only took a few minutes to set up camp. We didn’t even have to walk to the Park Ranger’s station to get firewood — he brought us a few bundles in the bed of his truck. In no time we had a fire going in both the fire pit, and our bellies. We dined on less-than-nutritious camp food and washed the meal down with the last of our H2O. We weren’t too concerned — there was filtered water by the Ranger’s station.
The Family Campground (as its name implies) is a place where kids are welcomed to run around and explore. Large boulders are scattered throughout the site, enticing kids to be kids and to climb and jump around. Our own three-wheeled, 730 pound child was too tired from his run up the mountain to join them. So Gabriel and I sat back to back on the ground by the fire and read.
When the light grew so faint that it became necessary to squint our eyes to read, we turned on our headlamps and scooted closer to the crackling fire. And when the fire died down and it became necessary to move “indoors” to keep warm, we migrated to the comfort of our tent and sleeping bags.
By 9:00 pm, while parents were struggling to calm their sugar-high children down after feeding them roasted marshmallows and s'mores, we were in bed. It was glorious.
We woke up the next morning, rested but rather hungry. In our disheveled state with no makeup or hairbrush and smokey, slept-in clothes, we were limited in our dining options. We fed Boris first before heading down the mountain.
Had we been more presentable, we would have tried a few places out. Instead, we made it home by early afternoon with this list of recommendations to try on our next camping trip:
The Living Room Coffeehouse and Winebar
Boasting organic fair trade and locally roasted coffee, this charming cafe is perfect for the caffeine-addict traveling with a non-coffee drinker. In addition to its coffee and espresso menu, The Living Room Coffeehouse features regional craft beer, Yadkin Valley Wine, and small plate snacks such as house made humus, grilled flatbreads, and sandwich wraps.
Good Times BBQ
Pulled BBQ, beef brisket, chicken, ribs… what more could you ask for to have a good time? This smokehouse uses North Carolina Wild Cherry to give its meat a distinct, but subtly sweet flavor. On tap you’ll find North Carolina craft beers from the Mountains, Coastal Plain, and all in between. Some personal favorites featured include Foothills (Winston Salem), Natty Greene’s (Greensboro), Big Boss Brewing (Raleigh), and Mother Earth Brewing Company (Kinston).
JOLO Winery & Vineyards
Fairly new to the wine industry, JOLO has proven itself to be not only a successful, but sought-after winery and vineyard. The estate features a restaurant and offers captivating views of Pilot Mountain. From its beginning, the vineyard has supported eco-friendly initiatives and is a recognized member of the NC Green Travel Initiative Program.
But what about the wine? JOLO has produced multiple Gold and Silver winning wines in its short history, including the 2014 Pilot Fog, the 2014 JOLOTAGE, and the 2014 Golden Hallows Reserve.
Dan River Restaurant (1214 Hwy 8 & 89 South)
If you’re looking for a southern diner, we heard Dan River Restaurant is the place to go. The sign is falling down and the building has seen better days, but it’s what goes on inside the kitchen that counts, right? Besides, everyone knows that the best southern diners are the ones that city folk pass on by without giving a second glance.
Do you have other recommendations on where to eat around Hanging Rock and Pilot Mountain? Leave us a comment and we’ll be sure to try them out on our next ride through the area.