[an error occurred while processing this directive]

MUTHUH's JOURNAL - 11/10-11/2000

Great Dismal Swamp Ride

CLICK HERE for this trip's route map.
(Use your BACK button to return here)

Fire up some background music for your visit by CLICKING HERE.
A separate window will pop up for your song selection,
Go back to that window to select another song, or replay it again.
(Requires RealPlayer Streaming Audio - you probably have it though.)

(CLICK HERE for the animated larger version - 169KB)

Despite what forecasts to be a rather chilly low temperature for the next two evenings, it's been too long since my last ride and I've been looking forward to a slow lazy journey east to the Great Dismal Swamp, and the Merchant's Millpond State Park. Unlike many of my other rides which found me hauling ass to get to the 'start' of a trip, this one promises to be a lumbering trek on back roads and through little 'burgs in eastern North Carolina. Overall mileage isn't gonna be much, but then you know by now that my daily journals rarely reflect distances anyway - I don't judge how good a time I've had by how numb my butt got that day.

I packed the bike the last night, added a few more things in the way of camping niceties because I won't be anywhere near my bike on Saturday night, but rather a long canoe trip away in some primitive campsites on the far shore of Merchant's Millpond. No popping out for a beer and burger this time, gotta bring it all back with me. Fortunately I can fit a lot more in a canoe than I can when out backpacking so it won't be too bad. Saturday night is full moon and the blackwater swamp of the Millpond, with it's huge Cypress trees emerging from the dark water with Spanish Moss draped over its limbs touching the water makes for the perfect backdrop to this swamp ride.

Originally known as Norfleets Millpond, built in 1811 to provide local merchants with a source of water for the gristmill and sawmill, the area became known as Merchant's Millpond when general stores and farm supply enterprises took up business on it's banks. Abandoned shortly before WWII, the pond and surrounding land was donated to the state to prevent it from being developed. Today, there is a large number of visitors who canoe the pond and nearby Lassiter Swamp during the day, but only the campers at 6 primitive campsites on the far shore of the pond remain after dark.

I don't expect much in the way of after-dark photographs, as this digital camera sucks in low-light conditions, but the day shots you'll see will certainly give you a clear idea what this place is like when the sun goes down. Fortunately, there'll be a full moon to guide me out among the cypress trees standing sentinel in the middle of the blackwater swamp. Fr'Chrissakes, the pond isn't THAT big that I'd get too lost.

Anyway - Friday morning comes, and I send the wife and kidlets off to school... not quite cold enought to need the chaps or full gloves but a tad nippy. I head down to the Durham Harley Cafe, next to the local dealership. Open for breakfast from 6:30am, its a suitable stop for a good breakfast and coffee. It always makes ya feel good to pull up to the cafe fully loaded for camping, breath visible and leather jacket crackling in the cold air and then belly up to the counter for coffee. Especially, when the lot is full of trucks and cars, not another bike in sight....kinda reminds me of that Richard Pryor movie, where he strides into prison saying, "Yeah...We baaaaad!" 'Course they all may well have been thinking... friggin idiot! - It's COLD out there! ... but who the hell cares? This is my ride, I'm not asking them to come along anyway. Black coffee, thanks.

I've not hung around the Durham Harley Cafe much - seeing as how one of my real-world clients is Ray Price Harley-Davidson in Raleigh. Wouldn't look good to hang around with the Durham dealership's crowd. But it damned sure is a comfortable place to come for early morning coffee. Food's pretty damned good too. At least the other customers and the waitresses look like they know their way around a scooter. I usually prefer to sit at the booths with my back to the wall... but the only place open was the counter with my back to the door - damned if that don't make ya feel strange. I hate my back to the door. Comes from a past life when that was a dangerous thing to do I suppose - but I enjoy my breakfast anyway, making small talk with the waitress and guy in bib overalls next to me... ok, so not EVERYBODY looked like they had a Harley.

Next stop was in Raleigh at the Ray Price Harley-Davidson dealership. These next two days are his Customer Appreciation Days, ending up with Bike Show, Fashion Show, Swap Meet and various other events on Saturday afternoon. I had hoped to attend his Saturday events, but this trip was planned out long before, so I wanted to put in a little early face-time before I headed east towards the swamp.

Getting an early start like this gives me plenty of time to piddle around on the way. Usually, I drive 80+ on the Interstate to Raleigh, but this morning I find some backroads and fight the morning rush hour on two lanes instead of eight, but the morning air makes it all seem worthwhile. I swing into the Raleigh Dealership at 9am, say my hello's snap a few pics and I'm off again through city traffic heading east on Hwy 64. From this point until 8am tomorrow morning, I have no place I gotta be and in no rush to be there. I am hoping to be first in line at the State Park at 8am to be sure of getting a backcountry camping spot - this being a three-day weekend, thats nothing I can be assured of. In the meantime, I have maybe a hundred fifty or so miles to do in 22 hours... damn - can I do it?

The first thing I am sure of, is I won't be on any damned highways. You guys ever just want to find the two lane blacktops through small communities and come up on some mom 'n' pop general store or restaurant or stop in at some farmer's fruit stand? Hmmmm, naw - I'll betcha most of ya hop on the Interstate and get to point B, proud of the distance you put on your bike that day. Man - thats not biking to me. In fact I wonder if I am gonna get that whole 150 miles by 8am tomorrow. Ya know - there's late coffee, then lunch, then a couple stops for sodas, beer starts at hmmmm....well, hell, beer could start anytime now, but there's gonna be a hundred stops along the way.

01 - Knightdale Corner Grocery - Copyright 2000 - Muthuh's Rides02 - Muthuh and Mr. G - Copyright 2000 - Muthuh's Rides03 - Lizard Lick Trading Post - Copyright 2000 - Muthuh's Rides04 - Miss Judy in Lizard Lick - Copyright 2000 - Muthuh's Rides

Just outside of Raleigh I stop in at an old friends' place of business - hadn't seen him in 6 yrs or so... caught up with the "whats new in your life" stuff and headed out of town on some little back road heading east. A quick gas stop at the general store in Knightdale where I was told they didn't have a restroom, "Cause this place was built before you had to have 'em", I and made my way to a litle town called Lizard Lick.

Lizard Lick turned out to be a crossroads town, but it has gotten national attention, partly due to it's name I suppose, partly cause one of the founders of the town, Connie Gay, went on to help found the Grand Ol' Opry in Nashville. Theres a old legend about how the town got it's name...if you're interested CLICK HERE and read about it.

So, here I am nosing aroung the Lizard Lick City Hall...well, it's a combination city hall and used car lot... and the town "clerk", Judy, gets up and starts to give me the town tour - all from within the city hall, mind you, but it certainly was an interesting tour, ending up with an offer to take Mr. G - the town's 5 foot Iguana named after Godzilla, out of his cage for a picture - hell yeah - why not?

Every year around October, the town puts on a festival, so you ought to look 'em up at www.lizardlick.com and plan on coming ut some time.

05 - Lizard Lick City Hall - Copyright 2000 - Muthuh's Rides06 - Dem Ol' Cotton Fields Back Home - Copyright 2000 - Muthuh's Rides07 - Rural NC - Copyright 2000 - Muthuh's Rides08 - Rural NC - Copyright 2000 - Muthuh's Rides

Heading out from Lizard Lick, I realize I had all day to ramble over towards Merchants Millpond, so I took all the small backroads I could find. This is the kind of riding I enjoy - tooling along at maybe 50mph on the two-lanes through the farmlands and rolling hills of NC. I rarely go more than 10 miles when I am in this mode. I pass an awful lot of Cotton fields, bright white and ready for harvesting. With no deadline or reservations up ahead, there's more time to enjoy the ride. Bridges over little streams are good stops, or any general store with a bench out front, Dairy Queen's in towns of less than 500 are great stops. Then a light dinner someplace where the diner is named after a womans first name, preferably with the word Place after it...like Rita's Place or something like that. By then I should be in rural backwater NC and should find plenty of saloons to stop in at as I meander to Edenton to hang out for a while. Anyway - I'll shut up and ride for a while now - and let ya know whats happened.....

Having called the State Park around lunchtime and finding out there were still two canoe-in campsites available, I change my plans a bit and head straight to the park. I'm afraid I'm gonna plan this whole trip for nothing if the primitive campsites are all full up when I get there. Sticking to the backroads, still, I get in around 2pm and I'll be damned if the family in front of me wasn't forking over cash for the last site! DAMN! In talking to the ranger, all the canoe-in sites were paid for two nights except one... and THAT guy is a local who can typically come out anytime, depending on how good the fishing is. Their policies are no reservations, no waiting lists - when he comes out - the first one in line at the ranger station gets it. I suppose I Could get here at 8am in the morning and wait all day, but there was also a chance he'd come out and re-up for another night. SHIT!

09 - Edenton - Copyright 2000 - Muthuh's Rides10 - Edenton NC - Copyright 2000 - Muthuh's Rides11 - Edenton, NC - Copyright 2000 - Muthuh's Rides12 - Camping at the Millpond - Copyright 2000 - Muthuh's Rides

Instead, I pull out the map and find a little road south to the town of Edenton, Hwy 32/37, and hope for a place to sit and have a cold one. The ride down was pleasant enough - pretty much the same 'ol stuff for the past 50 miles. The trees were just past Fall Color peak this far east, and often it was like riding though a bowl of Fruit Loops, with the Reds and Golds and Yellows of the various species of hardwoods here. Pulling into Edenton mid-day I find that there are NO bars in this 'burg! A quaint little historic town to be sure, but I literally didn't find a single bar - I DID find some parts of town where I wouldn't want to ride through late at night, but not a single stool to sit on. If you're interested in any of the History of Edenton - CLICK HERE.

According to local legend, for many, many years, a stately cypress tree stood in the midst of Edenton's harbor (Similar to photo 10). No one is entirely sure just how long the tree was there, but legend suggests it was standing long before the first English colonists set foot in the Albemarle region. Somehow, a curious custom grew up around the tree. Whenever a ship of trade called at Edenton, it was almost obligatory for the master to place a bottle of the best Jamaican rum in a hollow place in the trunk. Whenever a ship left for foreign parts, the vessel would stop at the tree and all hands would drink to a safe voyage. Thus it was that the old cypress became known as the Dram Tree. Ships whose crews failed to drink of the Dram Tree or, even worse, failed to place a bottle there when entering port were doomed to disaster. Many are the tales of ill-fated vessels that met violent storms or were becalmed in the doldrums. The tree survived until the spring of 1918, when a tremendous ice floe vanquished the landmark to the sound's waters.

13 - Tent Camping at the Millpond - Copyright 2000 - Muthuh's Rides14 - Historic Marker - Copyright 2000 - Muthuh's Rides15 - Peggy's Cafe - Copyright 2000 - Muthuh's Rides16 - Kuralt Trail Marker - Copyright 2000 - Muthuh's Rides

So - I take Hwy 17 east out of Edenton towards another little town called Hertford and ride through it long enough to realize, there ARE NO BARS in this part of the country. (Later, a gas station attendant told me its because the area is SO redneck, a bar would only cause more trouble because of all the fighting!) I consider going on in to Elizabeth City - surely there'd be a saloon or two there, but it was getting late in the afternoon, and I still wanted to make a camping trip out of this, so I headed back up to Merchants Millpond and take one of the few remaining drive-in sites before they close and LOCK the gates at 6pm. I notice a shiny new Sporty in the site next to mine, but spend the next 30 minutes setting up camp, and fixing dinner before the sun goes down. At one point the sporty rider walked by for water and we talked for a bit.

Turns out this guy named Ron from Battleboro had stumbled across this website a month ago and saw I was heading this way for camping (was supposed to be tomorrow night) and seeing as how he had just bought his first Harley a month ago, and still needed some breaking in, he come out for a little solo camping himself. When he saw me and my license tag reading "MUTHUH" he said he was hoping to bump into me - thankfully, he lived close enough that he made a trip in his truck with a full load of firewood! When I heard that I told him I was coming over to HIS site after dinner!

The full moon was coming up as we sat around a blazing fire telling stories and sharing lies about the wives... I told him the story about the backwoods campsites being booked up but if he was interested I'd be riding out to the Great Dismal Swamp in the morning. We agreed to hook up again in the morning and I set off for the tent for the night... and with the gates locked, not a beer the whole night! Sheeeesh! You can see in some of the tent shots that I carry two rugs with me - man having a rug in the tent sure makes it a better place to hang out in. The larger rug is rolled up around my tent poles and stuck in the black duffle bag, along with my pillow, tent, and either sleeping bag or blankets, depending on how cold it should get. The smaller doorstep rug is wrapped around my portable butane burner that I use for cooking and to heat the tent on cold nights. With the air mattress taking up half of my 4-man tent and the rug on the other half, I really enjoy the times I am stuck in the tent.

17 - Ron - Copyright 2000 - Muthuh's Rides18 - Dismal Swamp Sign - Copyright 2000 - Muthuh's Rides19 - Canoe Launch Area -  Copyright 2000 - Muthuh's Rides20 - Canoe Launch Area - Copyright 2000 - Muthuh's Rides

Next morning after a low of 38 degrees I took a shower and had breakfast of sausages and pastries and Orange Juice. Ron and I fire up the scooters and ride around the area in search of this famous Great Dismal Swamp. We went up into Virginia for a bit - found the Kuralt Trail, named after the 4-wheeled version 'on the road', Charles Kuralt. Apparently he did a long story on this area a while back. After backtracking back into NC and around the far side of the swamp, we finally found a Visitors Center dedicated to the Dismal Swamp, but it was kinda touristy and antiseptic. At least I could say I was there, so we took off, had a late breakfast at Peggy Country Cafe - I told you I always stoip at any restaurant with a womans first name in it! They were out of biscuits and grits by this time, but the sausage, egg and cheese sandwiches were still good - at with the temperature barely breaking 50 outside, the coffee was especially good.

21 - Copyright 2000 - Muthuh's Rides22 - Copyright 2000 - Muthuh's Rides23 - Copyright 2000 - Muthuh's Rides24 - Copyright 2000 - Muthuh's Rides

Back at the Millpond, I get my Tennis Shoes and fix a small bag of snacks and head out to rent a canoe for a short canoe paddle into the millpond swamp. Finding a large group of Middle-schoolers on a field trip coming out of the pond was a relief - I was looking forward to some solitude in the swamp - but the empty racks where canoes should be told me I was gonna have company anyway. The 760 acre Millpond allows canoeing only from 8am til 5pm this time of year, and I was eager to get away from the shoreline rank with swampgas and matted weeds. Once out away from the launch area, though - the solitude surrounds you. With countless hundreds of thousand-year old bald cypress trees cluttered in the shallow black waters, spanish moss reaching down to the waters surface and turtles belly flopping off the stumps at my approach, I began to realize my plan to camp out on the far shore and paddle into this swamp at night may have been a bit rash! ... Hell, I got lost trying to find the campsite in the daylight! You couldn't help but get the heebie-jeebies thinking about this place under full moon...so.... I guess I'll just have to plan another trip out here soon - just not on a holiday weekend!

25 - Copyright 2000 - Muthuh's Rides26 - Copyright 2000 - Muthuh's Rides27 - Copyright 2000 - Muthuh's Rides28 - Copyright 2000 - Muthuh's Rides

Parked under a canopy of Cypress, Tupelo, Oak, Red Maple and Pines, I found Ron padling out to check out the campsites himself. I was heading back by this time - only having rented the canoe for an hour (The high gusty winds and my sitting alone in the back of the canoe with the bow out of the water acting as a sail was a real pain to manage). We talked briefly and parted ways again. Fired up my second Arturo Fuente cigar nestled in an island of Cypress in the middle of the swamp, and knew that even without camping on the pond, this turned out to be a nice trip. I headed back to camp to break it down - not going to stay Saturday night like I originally planned, instead to come back soon when I was better assured of a site on the far banks so I can still go full-moon canoeing. Ron stops by the campsite before I leave for a last chat and handshake - I sure do appreciate the campfire dude! As much as I say I prefer to ride solo - it's good to meet some new people and do some short rides with 'em from time to time. Thanks for the company...

29 - Copyright 2000 - Muthuh's Rides30 - Copyright 2000 - Muthuh's Rides31 - Copyright 2000 - Muthuh's Rides32 - Copyright 2000 - Muthuh's Rides

By the time I left the Millpond at 3pm, I had my eyes open for one stinking saloon or bar the WHOLE way home... I even elected to stay on Hwy 158 all the way to I-85 in hopes of finding someplace on the more-travelled road - about 2-1/2 hours riding (including a stop in Littleton at Grandpa's BBQ - excellent dinner!) and I didn't see a single Bar... this is so sad! I'm gonna have to do a little more research next time from local internet buds and find out where the watering holes are on my next trip...never thought finding a place to sit and sip a beer would be a problem in North Carolina!

By the time I hit I-85 it was 45 degrees out and I was bundled up pretty good. By this time I was more interested in hot coffee than beer... from here the sun was setting and I just hunkered down and made it home by 6:45pm... A shortened trip because of the lack of campsites, but I learned a lesson - no hooliday weekend trips to places like that again! I'm not sure when I'll go back for the camping part of it, but I'll surely let ya know.

One last trip this year planned - my annual near-Christmas camping trip up in the mountains... might even consider going back to Merchant's Millpond instead, but wherever it'll be - I'll bring ya along!..... til next time...



For Information, contact: