The Carolinas: The Wright Bros, Boba Fett and a Taco Tower


From Maryland, we headed south to the Outer Banks. In truth, we had wanted to go there for years, but they are a long way from anywhere. I had seen the sign plenty of times on US 64 when you head into North Carolina from Tennessee that says “Manteo 538,” meaning 538 miles from there to the town of Manteo in the Outer Banks. Sure enough, on US 64 near Manteo, there is a sign that says “Murphy, NC 543.”

To try and catch up the blog, I’m just going to go rapid-fire to make this quicker. Here goes:

North Carolina


Braden is still referring to himself as Robin or Dick Grayson and corrects us when we call him Braden. He and Jess visited the North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island.

Our Sands of Time Campground was not on the beach, but close. They are skinny islands. On the beaches, we enjoyed playing in the tide pools, digging in the sand and looking for shells. On a non-National Seashore part of the island, we found a big whelk shell that was all intact. We also found several skate egg cases which are also called mermaid’s purses.

The Outer Banks, or OBX as the local bumper stickers call it, is famous for lighthouses and they did not disappoint. We visited the Cape Hatteras lighthouse which was also a visitor center for the National Seashore. The best spot was looking out the windows from our camping spot at Oregon Inlet Campground and seeing a light house with it’s rotating light and super dark skies with the Milky Way and shooting stars. We could hear the waves crashing. Best view from the camper of the whole trip so far.

We checked out Hotel Trannsylvannia II from the Red Box machine at a grocery store. I may have convinced Braden that there was a little man working inside the machine who gave us our movies. He whispered “thank you” to the front of the machine when we were ready to leave.

Kittyhawk and Kill Devil Hills, made famous by the Wright Brothers, are in the Outer Banks and the National Parks Service operates a historical site visitor center right on the spot where the first flights took place. The Wright Brothers National Memorial does a good job of explaining the Wright Bros. story (which I had just listened to in an audio book) and the ranger’s story led most of the people in our group to tears. Ranger Dan took us to a giant rock that serves as a marker as to where the brothers plane took off. He said that rock didn’t just mark the birth of flight, it was the tombstone marking the death of impossibility. For thousands of years, man had tried to fly and many thought it was impossible. The Wrights proved, he said, that nothing is impossible we just haven’t figured everything out yet. He also talked about all of the aviation icons who had visited the rock, including Charles Lindbergh, Amelia Earhart, Chuck Yeager, John Glenn and Neil Armstrong.

My favorite Wright Brothers story was about the engine in their plane. These two bicycle mechanic brothers knew they needed an engine that would generate 10 horsepower and weighed less than 200 pounds. They went to all of the engine manufacturers of the time and asked for an engine to meet their specs. Everyone told them it couldn’t be done. So the brothers returned home to Dayton, Ohio and built their own engine — the world’s first aluminum block engine that weighed 175 pounds and produced 12 horsepower. Incredible.

img_8648Two days after seeing the Wright Brothers, Braden woke up saying he had a dream about flying one of those “hip airplanes.” Wilbur and Orville laid down to fly the flyer and steered with a hip cradle, moving their hips one way or the other steered the plane. Braden said he dreamed that he flew it all the way from Tennessee to California and it was dark when he landed. Some of this history actually appears to be sinking in with him!

We stopped at Jockey’s Ridge State Park when we saw some cool dunes. We also walked onto a Star Wars group who was staging Tatooine pictures at sunset on the dune. The costumes were pretty cool, but apparently they had three Boba Fetts show up because one of them was going back to the car to change into his other costume.

On our way out, we stopped at Fort Raleigh National Historic Site where we learned about the Lost Colony of Roanoke that disappeared mysteriously back in colonial days. You may remember from school that the only clue was “CROATA” carved into a tree. It was a cool story and a spooky bit of history.

Finally, OBX pickup truck drivers love the grill mounted fishing pole holders. I’d never seen this before, but they were everywhere out there. It probably is big there because there are many spots where you can drive right out to the ocean so your fishing stuff is all right there.



South of the Border

From the Outer Banks we had to head down to Columbia, SC for a work conference for me. We intentionally dove into a tourist trap by camping for a night at South of the Border on I-95. The campground was cheap, clean and safe — and we’ve never stayed anywhere with a neon, 12-story Taco Tower. As the story goes, that area of North Carolina had historically been a bunch of dry counties, so anyone wanting alcohol had to go “South of the Border” into South Carolina. Tacky, unique, disparaging to Mexicans and designed to syphon the money right out of your wallet. We were proud to have gone through it all, only spending $2 on an arcade game for Braden (we would have paid to go up into the Taco Tower but the elevator was broken). Then we needed to buy a gallon of milk. A $6 half-gallon of milk. Yikes.




The conference in Columbia was nice, but Columbia just isn’t our favorite city. Or even in our top 30 favorite cities. Or even in our top 10 favorite cities in South Carolina. Braden and Jess did enjoy a nice trip to the zoo. It’s really a pretty nice zoo. 


From Columbia we jumped over to see Jess’s family in Wrens, Ga. It’s always nice to see everyone and even better that Jess’s cousin Addie was in town with one of her daughters and we got to go to the Columbia County Fair. It had everything including a motorcycle show, pig races, cotton candy, rides and deep fried Reese’s cups. Braden had never ridden any fair rides before and he loved it.

While in Wrens, Braden saw a dog that look a little bit like our black dog Wrigley. The dog had apparently just had puppies because her milk was in. “Look! A Wrigley Cow!” he said.

Back to SC

From Wrens we ducked back into South Carolina for another “free” stay at Thousand Trails Campground in Yemassee, SC. Braden enjoyed seeing the “wizards beards” hanging from the trees (Spanish moss) and he and Jess got to tour America’s only plastic kazoo factory, where they made special custom kazoos for a couple of lucky folks. Jess and Braden also checked out the alligators are the pond in the campground.

From there we skipped north to Charleston, which is my favorite city to visit. We booked early and were lucky to get a spot at James Island campground which I’ve heard some RVers call the toughest public campground in America to get a reservation in at Christmas time. They do a huge drive thru light show that campers have access to every night. Beyond that, they had great accommodations, a remote control sailboat race, trails, a sand sculpture, playgrounds and good wifi. It was $43/night, but well worth it.

While there I met with a client and we took a historic carriage tour with a horse named Dave. We also ate a Hyman’s Seafood where they have brass labels on the tables where famous people have sat. Our table had hosted The Beach Boys, AC/DC and Adam West. Best of all, while in town we got to hang out with our friends Lydia and Johnny. I don’t think my hair looked as weird in real life as it does in the photo. Someone would have told me, right?


We also really liked a church sign we passed in Hampton County SC. “Sorrow looks back. Worry looks around. Faith looks up.” Pretty good.

Finally, one last memory from Charleston was the marshmallows. We wanted to make s’mores and the closest grocery story was an Earth Fare. I grabbed some vegan safe, gluten-free, kosher vanilla flavored marshmallows and they were the best we’ve ever eaten! I’m not sure we can pay $4 a bag all of the time, but for fancy s’mores they can’t be beat.

From Charleston, it was time for us to go home to Georgia for Thanksgiving. We accidentally timed the trip back to be back in Wrens for the Ladies Club Bake Sale. Three words: Key Lime Cake! We need to be in town for that again next year.

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