TAT Part 3: Columbia, MD to Nags Head, NC

TAT Part 3 : Columbia, MD to Nags Head, NC

May 5th – June 5th, 2021


          Arrival in Maryland signified two milestones for the trip. The first being that I had already driven almost three thousand miles. The second is that Lottie would be taken to a Land Rover specialty shop. I decided with Mid-Atlantic Rovers in Columbia. When I told the staff that I would be attempting the TAT in a few short weeks, their eyes lit up with excitement. In the United States, the Jeep has the overwhelming crown of the 4x4 world with Toyota not that far behind them. Not many people have attempted the TAT in a Land Rover, let alone a stock Discovery 3. The only notable attempts by a Rover attempted by Jay Leno and his expedition team with Sam Correrro himself as the lead. They performed this trip in the brand-new Discovery 4 in 2014.

          While Lottie was in the shop, and I awaited to hear what was wrong with her I caught up on many errands. Having the lull in time allowed me to catch up on schoolwork and revisit my ‘past life’ of Olympic weightlifting. After a year of hiatus due to Covid, it was an absolute thrill to get back on the platform. During these final stages, I was staying with my Weightlifting Coach and his wife, who also coached me. Both are as accomplished in Weightlifting as they are in academia. The ‘Beytlets’ a pseudonym of their combined last names, are an amazing couple and if any of the people who read this article ever get involved in the Weightlifting circle, look them up.

          This downtime was also great for seeing other old friends. With a rental Corolla, I navigated Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia visiting old friends. I was originally born on the East Coast and besides for military related wok trips, I had spent most of my life there. After about a week I heard from the shop, and I thought Lottie was ready for pick up.

          Unfortunately, Lottie did have more problems than I had initially thought. Some of the hoses were beginning to dry-rot and I had to replace every one of them as a cautionary measure. My transmission fluid was drastically overdue as well as several other general maintenance problems. Before I began the actual TAT, I was four thousand dollars into repairs. Although discouraging, I reasoned that it was much better to perform the repairs now, then to fail somewhere on the trail. 

Around this time, I was having a conversation with a high school friend that suggested I add another leg of the journey, but more of an offshoot. Lottie was finished and I picked her up from the shop. We decided on Maine, as the White Mountains would cross off the entire Appalachian range by the time I would get to Georgia.

          Gavin and I would occasionally take weekend trips throughout the time we had known each other. He is an accomplished jazz guitarist, and we typically used our trips to have a weekend filled with music, and that is what we intended to do in Maine. We invited our mutual friend, Graham, a professional music producer that went to the same school as Gavin and we hashed out a plan.

          I decided we would go to Portland, Maine as that was the city that I almost moved to for a job opportunity when I was younger. I was conversing with another friend of mine with further route planning, and we discussed the idea of me starting early from the two-lane routes of the White mountains to North Carolina and while I was in Alabama or Mississippi, detour to the Gulf of Mexico to touch every sizeable body of water the Lower 48 encountered. I inevitably decided against this, because I convinced myself that it wouldn’t have been a true accomplishment without crossing some of the great lakes, and I had missed the opportunity to go to the Upper Peninsula in Wisconsin/Michigan. 

          Gavin, Graham, and I departed Westchester, Pennsylvania during a torrential downpour which would set the tone for the trip. The ride was relatively uneventful until we tried to stop for gas at the Lombardi rest area. We took what we thought was the exit, and it was a service road the guided us down to a car show. This inevitably delayed us an hour from our commute to Maine. We then passed through New York City, and I told them stories of my experiences working in a COVID hospital in Lower Manhattan. Soon enough, we passed into New England on the scenic Connecticut highway, and as dusk settled, we arrived within the city limits of North Portland.

          The city immediately reminded me of the Pacific Northwest. The cool, rainy weather, the beach atmosphere without being too touristy, and I felt at home. We settled into our AirBnB and walked around town until we found the Spring Port Tavern. The bar was exactly what one would expect from a seaside drinking hole. It was mildly run down, and the walls were littered with décor. The tap predominately had local beers, and it was clear that we were the only tourists around. We enjoyed several drinks and conversation before heading back to the apartment and falling asleep.

          We collectively awoke mid-morning and spent it exploring the beach adjacent to the neighborhood we were staying. It was home to Fort Gorges, a naval defense installation that was active from the Civil War to shortly after World War II. The administrative buildings were turned into a community college and the defenses themselves were partially destroyed, and a joy to explore. The artillery wall opened up to what appeared to be an old sea barricade and walked out to a beautiful New England style lighthouse.

          After our morning exploration, we got coffee and breakfast and a friend of mine by the name of Ben contacted me. Ben and I met at a medical conference in Chattanooga, Tennessee in 2018. At the time he was living in Texas, but he had recently relocated to the Portland area. We agreed that an evening of drinking was ahead and that there was simply no other option. We rendezvoused at Lone Pine Brewing Company and the vibes of the PNW were even greater there. The brewery neighbored many others in the former industrial section of town. I introduced Ben to the group, and we immediately synced. He and I reminisced about our debauchery filled evening in Chattanooga several years ago and had planned on doing similar that evening.

          After several beers at Lone Pine, we headed into the downtown section and ate at the Duckfat Grille, where I dined on some incredible poutine and then we walked the down barhopping for several hours. Downtown Portland is incredibly preserved, filled with multiple cobblestone roads and narrow streets highlighting its bustling port days of the past. The city is also home to several traditional speakeasies. Ben vaguely remembered the location to one, Lincolns. We searched behind many doors for about an hour before we found the secret entrance. It opened to small, but comfortable bar with well-dressed patrons, candlelit tables. Every drink in the bar was five dollars, cash only. I had been to several speakeasies in the past, but this was the first in this capacity.

          We spent the rest of our evening here, and after several hours we decided to call a quits. Ben told us he would take us to an old tourist spot the next day and we agreed. Feeling quite drunk, I handed the keys to Gavin, and we drove into the countryside with windows and sunroof down reveling in the mass-visible formations of stars above. It was not long before we were once again in the apartment calling it a night.

          I dedicated the next morning to schoolwork as Graham and Gavin further explored town and we waited for Ben to complete all of his tasks for the day. In the early afternoon we rode backroads down to Old Orchard Beach. It has been a tourist town since the late 1800s and was home to an old pier and amusement park straight out of the 1930s. The town itself was incredibly worn down and one can easily tell its heyday was behind her. We had a drink on the pier and then went to a beachside bar down below. We then parted our ways and Gavin; Graham and I made our way to one of the state parks on the way back to Portland.

          I was on a time crunch to get back to Maryland as I was having a Raised Air intake installed by Mid-Atlantic Rovers before I departed for the Outer Banks. I stayed with Hannah for my remaining time in Maryland, dined with old friends and tightly packed the truck. Before I knew it, the day had arrived to make my way to the Outer Banks.

          As I stepped out of the car, I had a feeling of relief. I was finally close to the trailhead, and within the next 48 hours, I would be officially beginning the TAT. I spent the next morning walking the beach and enjoyed a small breakfast at a wonderful local coffee shop named Beads and Grinds decided my plans for the day. I set course for Ocracoke Island in the hopes of getting some early trail beach riding.

          I was surprised how empty the ferry was, especially for early June. I instantly got on board the flat-topped barge and sailed towards Ocracoke. The ride was roughly 45 minutes and emptied into a beautiful lull in between two sand dunes. I continued down the main road which led to a beautiful oceanside town. I had an early lunch and a few drinks at 1718 Brewing Company and then purchased an Off-road vehicle pass to drive on the beautiful Ocracoke beaches.

          I pulled down one of the many OHV lanes and I was astonished by the amount of green that grew over the outskirts of the sandy beaches. I twisted and turned down several roads that ultimately opened to the vast Atlantic Ocean. I lowered the tire pressure down to 20 PSI, switched into Lo-gear and turned on the sand terrain response. Then I continued along the deep sand that the beach had to offer.

          This was Lottie’s maiden voyage on sand, and she was performing well. She cut through the coarse, deep sand with barely any noticeable resistance to it. This was the last piece of terrain that I had to encounter with Lottie, and in a sense, she completed her christening. I found a beautiful, secluded spot on the beach and parked. I set up my blankets, cracked open my growler that I had purchased at 1718 and relaxed while watching the waves roll in. 

          After an unexpected nap, I woke up and headed back to my hotel as another storm was looming in. I took what I expected to be my last shower for quite some time and enjoyed my final hours in a traditional bed before I began the REAL adventure. The time was nearly there and I could not be more excited.