Our travels through North Carolina (the fifth state of our trip) continued with a stop at a KOA in New Bern, dog walking in Croatan National Forest, and then a few days in Wilmington. New Bern and Croatan National Forest had been hit hard by Hurricane Florence last year, but the KOA was in great condition. The showers and bathrooms were mobile units, so I assume that they had been brought in until the regular showers could be repaired from flood damage, but they were perfectly suitable, and the rest of the campground was very nice. I especially enjoyed lounging on a swing by the Neuse River in the morning before we left.
The part of the Croatan National Forest on the river that we visited hadn’t fared as well with the hurricane; there were many trees down, and most of the trails we tried to take were closed.
On the way to Wilmington, we took a route that seemed to skirt around the northern edge of the national forest. I always check the route that Google Maps recommends before we take it, and it seemed to be fine, but it actually cut through a sliver of the forest on a 4-mile-long, heavily pot-holed dirt road. Normally this wouldn’t be a problem, but the hitch rack carrying our bicycles and other supplies bounces a lot, and the rough ride was not good for the bikes. After 4 miles of potholes, the bikes had come free from the wooden mounts they had been secured to, and everything had jostled out of place. The hitch rack has proven to be way more of a hassle than we had anticipated it would be.
On another note, in this part of the national forest, we observed a lot of sections of long-leaf pine trees that had been harvested, either recently cut and looking like no-man’s land, or replanted and growing in distinct rows. As we traveled further south, we saw more and more trucks delivering logs to paper mills. It was eye opening to see the source of materials that we use every day in so many different stages. It definitely makes me think about my consumption of resources and where they come from.
When we got to Wilmington, we met up with my aunt, uncle, and cousin for lunch. It was great seeing them and catching up since the last time we visited.
Since we’ve visited several times before, we had already explored a lot of the usual sights around Wilmington. There weren’t many new places we intended to check out, but we did visit some familiar sights.
We traveled a little south of Wilmington to stay in the campground in Carolina Beach State Park. I have a special fondness for that state park, because I ran my first trail race there in 2008 with my cousins. Back then I had just finished grad school and had a lot of time to devote to training, and that was when running really began to be a big part of my life. It was at that race that I placed in my age group for the first time. I ran the same race again in 2013 and usually go for a hike in that park every time we come to Wilmington. I haven’t been able to run for years due to knee issues, but I still love hiking the sandy trails under long-leaf pines and admiring the views along the Cape Fear River.
Long leaf pine trees are pretty much ubiquitous in the south, but they never seem to get old for me. Their long needles look fluffy in bunches on the branches, and their large pine cones look enormous compared to all of the pine cones I’ve ever seen in the North East. I love pine cones, and these are some of my favorites.
Our campsite in the state park was in the middle of a long-leaf pine forest, and I loved getting up in the morning surrounded by these trees and being steps away from beautiful trails.
When we visited this area last year, we took a long walk in the park with my cousin, and at that time we noticed that a lot of the forest had been the site of a controlled burn. (For details on what a controlled burn is, check out this article: https://www.ourstate.com/prescribed-burns-bring-new-life-to-north-carolina-state-parks/ ) On my hikes during this visit, I noticed that the understory was alive with the reddish leaves of young oak trees that had sprouted up since last year.
On the last night before we left, George took the dogs for their pre-bed outing and popped into the camper at the end of the dog walk to ask me if I wanted to see some raccoons. Two had made their way into the rectangular wooden campground trash receptacle, and the dogs had been attracted to them rummaging around. We lifted the lid, and this little guy and a buddy looked up at us! Raccoons getting into campground trash isn’t exactly anything new, but I thought it was pretty adorable. After snapping this photo, we closed the lid and left them to their rummaging.
When it was time to head south, we took the Southport/Fort Fisher Ferry.
Camper’s first ferry ride of the trip!