Wheels for the Journey

Wheels for the Journey

Spent the last 2 days driving to and from Wilmington, North Carolina with my Dad to pick up my “wheels” for the cross-country trip…a used RoadTrek 190 camper van. It’s perfect – compact, self-contained with all the basic amenities I’ll need: bed, kitchen, bathroom. RoadTreks are hugely popular, and solid used ones are hard to come by. I’d been watching online RoadTrek enthusiasts’ websites for months and made contacts with people all over the country who were selling theirs. This one’s a beaut – it’s been very well-maintained (I daresay even “pampered”!), both by its first owner, an engineer who built all kinds of “extras” for it, and by the second owners, two very cool women (one is a filmmaker and acting coach, and the other has a business that supplies music to music libraries all over the world). Meeting and talking with them was a great bonus to this adventure.

And Wilmington is a great place – wish we’d had more time to explore! It’s a historic port city that dates to the early 1700’s. After more than two centuries as a thriving international port, the city fell into ruin after World War II. Throughout the 1950’s and 60’s, the only things “thriving” in downtown Wilmington were prostitution and drugs. Then in the late 1960’s and early 70’s, a dedicated group of local preservationists fought to preserve the city’s Colonial, Queen Anne and Victorian homes and commercial buildings and revitalize the downtown. Their efforts have clearly paid off, as over 300 blocks of Wilmington’s downtown area are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Wilmington may not get as much attention as its Southern sister-cities, Charleston and Savannah, but it looks to be every bit as charming.

Stories of pirates and shipwrecks abound along the Cape Fear coast, named for the dangerous shoals where the Cape Fear River meets the Atlantic Ocean. One of the earliest records of the name Cape Fear dates to 1585, where a logbook kept by Sir Walter Raleigh’s colonists noted, “We were in great danger of a Wreake on a Breache called Cape of Feare.” Over 130 years later, the infamous pirate Stede Bonnet (known as “The Gentleman Pirate”) was captured at the mouth of the Cape Fear River

Endangered loggerhead turtles nest each summer on the beaches along Cape Fear and volunteers with the Wrightsville Beach Sea Turtle Project and the Pleasure Island Sea Turtle Project are kept busy for months, rescuing hatchlings that get stranded by the tides. Turtles aren’t the only creatures that love this area. Wrightsville Beach is has been named one of the most popular beaches in the US and it’s also a surfing hot-spot (though not in late December!)

Two lighthouses stand guard where the Cape Fear River meets the Atlantic. Old Baldy, at the southernmost tip of Bald Head Island and accessible only by ferry, is the oldest standing lighthouse on the North Carolina coast. It’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The original lighthouse was built in 1795, but had to be replaced in 1817 when erosion threatened to topple the original. The iron, copper and glass lantern, originally lit by whale oil, was darkened during the Civil War, then replaced with a Fresnel lens that directed sailors through the mouth of the Cape Fear River until it was decommissioned in 1935. The relatively new Oak Island Lighthouse was completed in 1958, to replace the Cape Fear Light Station (built in 1903), where lightkeeper Charles Swan had served for three decades.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get to actually SEE either of these lighthouses, since Dad and I had a focused mission and a tight timetable for this trip. My husband will tell you that I love lighthouses (actually, I think he uses the term “obsessed”). I’ve dragged him and our kids to lots of remote places to visit lighthouses and they’ve told, re-told and embellished the stories of some of those treks into epic tales! (here’s one, from Bruce’s photography website) So, Bruce is probably glad he wasn’t along on this jaunt to Wilmington, or I just might have tried to talk him into making a little, er, “side trip.” Maybe next time…

Dad probably doesn’t realize how close he came to getting to experience one of those “epic lighthouse journeys.” We did have some great father-daughter bonding time on this trip. Amazing how wide-ranging conversation can be when you’re in the car together for 9 hours! And we enjoyed a fantastic dinner at Indochine, a Thai-Vietnamese cafe in Wilmington ()

What a blessing to have Dad’s help to look the vehicle over, make the decision and then drive my car back while I drove the RoadTrek. On the map, Wilmington doesn’t look that far away from Lancaster….but it’s a long trek from Pennsylvania to North Carolina, mainly because Baltimore and DC are between here and there. We hit DC at rush hour last evening and I think it’s fair to say both Dad and I were white-knuckled for THAT part of the trip. We reached home, exhausted, at 9PM – just before the snow began.

This morning, my “Southern baby” RoadTrek is sitting out front, covered in snow, probably thinking “What the heck is THIS stuff?”


45 days until departure for the cross-country trip!


Have you ever taken an “epic journey”? Where to? What made it “epic”?

Posted by Melanie Tagged as: grace goes to prison book tour

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