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Find Where the Road Ends
A four-day weekend loomed. Too short for a real vacation, too long to hang around the house. It was the perfect time to fulfill a fantasy: to find the end of Highway 70 in North Carolina.
I knew it stretched across the state. The mountains would be the western end and I figured this trip would be more interesting in October when leaves are changing. The eastern end would be somewhere at the northeastern coast. New Bern, probably, since that had been a port and the state capital for a while. Some of you would have the sense to google it. I chose to drive.
Highway 70 is known among state residents as a local road, going through every town and stoplight in its path. I was five miles east of Clayton before realizing I hadn't seen the 70 / 42 intersection, missing the barbecue lunch I'd planned.
(Roads evolve. Current plans call for eastern stretches of Hwy 70 to bypass most of the cities. Clayton's bypass had been finished when I wasn't looking -- about four years ago -- and other bypasses are in the works. When I researched it from my hotel room, I found that the mayor of Princeton NC is thrilled. His community is too small to bypass. Hungry travelers will presumably stop, and a couple new fast food joints have already opened.)
Highway 70 is also old and often shares tarmac with newer roads. It isn't unusual to see one or two other route numbers. If you aren't careful, you can end up on 70-A (Alternate), 70-Bus (Business), 70 Bypass, or Old 70. I'm not sure which of these I followed through Goldsboro, I doubt I remained on the main path. The awkward two-lane road wound through a warehouse area,but still paralleled train tracks, called itself 70 and joined back to the 4-lane outside of town. I was confused.
East of Kinston, I despaired of the litter on the side of the road. As trashy mile followed trashy mile, I finally realized that this wasn't a Kleenex explosion. It was the remains of a cotton crop, blown from fields or trucks and accumulating on the shoulder. This is about the time I spotted a combine working a field. It was the first of several. Eastern North Carolina is still very agricultural.
You might not realize there's a Marine Corps air station in Havelock ... if you are deaf and blind. Jets in the sky are matched by two on the ground -- one in front of a hotel (??), the other at the government complex. Perhaps a young pilot flew himself to the courthouse once, then had to abandon the plane when he was found guilty. Sounds good, anyway.
Hitting New Bern late in the afternoon, I parked for a few hours of exploring. Historic districts fascinate me. The end of the road would wait another day.
Highway 70 continues through Morehead City. Here, the road doesn't just parallel the train tracks, it straddles them. Took me until the eastern edge of the city to understand why. Lots of boats and a couple marine cranes reminded me that freight still travels by ship.
But 70 still hadn't ended. It swung northward, on a narrowing road, following the coast. I was tempted by a sign to Harker's Island, drove past, stopped and turned back. The Cape Hatteras lighthouse wanted exploring. There was also this little museum ... The road waited a few more hours.
Another day gone. Back on 70, now often with water on both sides of the road. I was keeping a close eye on the traffic and road surface. My pickup truck felt awfully large on the narrow road, but locals in similar-sized trucks sped around me. I behave the same way on small roads in my own town, but hey! Be nice to the tourist, you can't have all that many of us! Small communities dotted the landscape, most not mentioned on maps, until I reached Atlantic NC. The end of Highway 70. I parked at the firehouse and walked to the edge of the asphalt. The actual street ends some 2500 feet further.
When I chose to go east, I hadn't even realized that the road wasn't "NC Highway 70" but "US Route 70." The difference? A couple thousand miles. The western end is somewhere in New Mexico. Research tells me that it used to end in California until replaced by newer signage.
Not knowing where I was going, what I might see and having no schedule to keep ... carry enough water, some sandwiches and spare cash. Pick a highway and try it sometime.