Our Trip to the Outer Banks of North Carolina

Kathys Designs Case Liners

Between Christmas and New Year's, the East Coast enjoyed several unseasonably warm days, and Katie and I decided to take the motorcycles on a short trip south. We did not have enough carrying capacity, so Katie and I headed to Bob's BMW for some additional saddle bags. Both Katie's F650GS and my R1200GS had the extra bags installed and keyed in a couple hours.

We packed our case liners and headed south. We decided to head toward Newport News, Virginia. We could have followed Interstate 95 south around the Washington beltway and then taken 295 around Richmond to 64 east. Instead, we followed Route 3/301 across the Potomac River on the Harry W. Nice Memorial Bridge. The $3 toll for the bridge is only collected in the southbound direction and the EZ Pass in my pocket worked quite well. Katie does not have pocket high on her jacket, so she had to dig her EZ Pass out of a pocket for it to work.

Garmin GPS Map of First Day

Once in Virginia, we took a quick warm up break in the Virginia Welcome Center. There was a lot of traveler information and plenty of parking. There are several gas stations on both sides of the road that were cheaper than the ones in Maryland. With a full tank of gas, we headed south on route 301 and turned east on Route 17. There was minimal traffic on Route 17 and there were many long sweeping turns with good visibility. The first town we crossed through was Tappahannock. The speed limit dropped to 25 mph and we hit a couple traffic lights. Between Tappahannock and Gloucester, there are regular traffic lights, but the traffic remained light.

The temperature hovered in the low 50's, and with the heated grips on the R1200GS and F650GS our hands stayed warm. We started feeling a bit cold after we crossed the York River on the toll bridge that had no toll in the southbound direction. We turned right on Route 105 toward Fort Eustis. If you go beyond this light, there is a railroad crossing.

Warming up after our first day

After a couple miles, we reached Jefferson Avenue (Route 143), but it was getting pretty close to evening. We took the exit for Interstate 64 Eastbound toward Newport News and the speed limit dropped from 65 mph to 55 mph after the first mile. After about 6 miles we took exit 255A onto Jefferson Avenue (Route 143). At the first traffic light, we turned right on Claire Lane and headed to the Hampton Inn for a good night sleep.

Once inside the hotel room, we both noticed how cold we were. The extra heat from the heated grips may have reduced the amount of decreased circulation to extremities. It took us quite a while to warm back up. After we warmed up, we ordered takeout from the local Outback that was delivered to the hotel.

Warming up after our first day

The following morning Katie and I decided to head south to the Outer Banks of North Carolina. I programmed the GPS to this location, but it was too difficult to see the screen through the cover of my tank bag. The Garmin GPS functioned properly and allowed me to get a map of our trip. Even when it was working properly, the screen was a bit too small for easy viewing. This led to my decision to get the Garmin Zumo GPS that is designed for motorcycling.

Garmin GPS Map of Second Day

As you can see from the Garmin GPS map, we made a couple of wrong turns on the way to the Outer Banks in North Carolina. Our day started headed east on Route 64, and we crossed the James River on the Route 664 bridge/tunnel. The trip through the tunnel was quite different on a motorcycle. The wind noise in the tunnel almost completely disappeared. This not only made for a quiet trip, but it made the air feel warmer. I suspect that this effect is mostly the result of other traffic pushing the air through the tunnel.

We worked our way toward Route 17 (with a couple of detours), and we found some pavement with clearly visible rain groves. I was expecting to feel greater discomfort from these rain grooves, but they were almost completely a non-issue. I hope that other rain grooves I find in the future (or possibly in the rain) are equally easy to traverse. When we reached the Southern Branch of the Elizabeth River, we crossed a metal drawbridge. The metal mesh of the drawbridge made the motorcycle weave slightly as we crossed. This did not make the motorcycle feel unstable, but it was noticeable.

We got to Route 17 and headed south toward the Dismal Swamp, and we found that Route 17 was closed to traffic even though the GPS was suggesting this route. This was quite a surprise, and after a short break where I checked the GPS, we went back to Route 17 following a bypass around the park area. Route 17 led us to Elizabeth City in North Carolina. We headed east on Route 158, and continued to enjoy seeing almost no other traffic.

Outer Banks Visitors Center

When we reached route 168, we found additional traffic. This is the shortest route to the Outer Banks from points north. Once on the Outer Banks, we stopped at the Visitor's Center and checked out the local attractions while we stretched our legs. After our break, we decided that we were not ready for lunch, so we went to the beach. The parking for the area was off the pavement, and I found out that the side stand would quickly sink in the sandy soil. We decided to park on the side of the roadway since there was minimal traffic in this area.

Outer Banks

We wanted to return to Newport News before evening and rush hour, so we did not stay long in the Outer Banks. We followed the same route back as we did on the way out. At a total of 238 miles, this roundtrip was a bit longer than our first day. The warmer weather and the open roads made this trip really great. As we approached Newport News, we crossed the bridge/tunnel and the traffic density went up quite a bit. We were both getting tired, and we remained extra cautious of our surroundings. We saw our exit on the right hand side of the lane and we zipped around the elongated cloverleaf and down to our hotel.

After our breakfast in the hotel, we loaded our motorcycles and performed our pre-ride inspections. Katie's oil filler cap was a bit loose and a little oil was on the fairing. We wiped up what we could and would wash her bike when we got home. Otherwise, everything checked out ok. We headed down the road and crossed the James River on the Route 17 toll bridge. The rate for motorcycles with an EZ Pass was $0.85. This was the coldest day of our trip, and we spent most of the morning in the upper 40's. We stopped a couple times along the way to warm up, and we took an extra long break at the Virginia Welcome Center just south of the Harry W. Nice Memorial Bridge across the Potomac River.

Once we crossed into Maryland and passed through La Plata, we hit heavy traffic. This reduced our speed for quite some time. While this was good for staying warm, the stop and go traffic was not the best riding. In retrospect, there were a number of alternate ways around this area. I expect that following the smaller roads to the east of route 3 would have been faster, safer, and more enjoyable. The remainder of our trip went smoothly and we were home in the early afternoon.

This was a really fun trip. Katie and I crossed large bridges, tunnels, rain grooves, and draw bridges with no troubles. I noticed my technique for turning was getting much better. A more relaxed grip with the hands and less tight muscles in the arms made my turns smoother. During the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) training class, I could turn equally well in both directions. Initially on my own motorcycle, I was able to turn better to the right. During a turn, I had started to hold the right hand grip tighter as I was rolling on the throttle. This tighter grip was preventing steering input as I was effectively pushing on both grips with my hands. Additional experience has also made my desired corner entry speed more closely coincide with my arrival at the corner entry.

Be Safe!