We set out on Saturday, October 31st, about 8:30AM. Our little group included Ronald Hudson of Asheboro, North Carolina, driving two big mules, Tenbrooks and Alice, to his covered wagon, Billie Stevenson acted as his co-pilot. Also, Bernie Harberts, of Southern Pines, North Carolina in his world renown Lost Sea Expedition Wagon, with his trusty mule Polly and lastly, was yours truly, driving my little yellow, mule hotel, drawn by Mary and Jane.
As we headed away from the farm we made our way down through the little town of Wagram, North Carolina, where we made our first stop to get air in the tire on Ronald's wagon and grab a couple of hotdogs. As we rolled down the winding roads through the country, we came out at Maxton by the airport where I began to get sleepy and then actually fell asleep driving the mules. Next thing I remembered, a car horn startled me awake and I discovered that my mules had traveled completely over to the wrong side of the road. The horn was a deputy sheriff who had to drive into a ditch to get around me, but didn't even stop, just kept going! Come to find out, all my companions had been hollering at me to wake up, to no avail!
The plan was to stay in Maxton this night. Our good friend Buddy Locklear had offered us a place to stay, so on the way, we stopped at Food Lion, picked up some steaks and headed his way. Buddy and his wife, Margaret, were wonderful hosts. We cooked the steaks in the yard on one of the gas grills we carry with us, while Margaret was in her kitchen cooking up potato salad, boiled okra and Dixie Lee peas. She was also cooking hoe cakes and we got pretty excited because we found someone who could teach us how to make them! In our travels, we had been carrying frozen biscuits and they worked fine, but it is hard to find ice sometimes. We had been trying to make hoe cakes the last couple of trips, with no luck. For those of you not familiar with what a "hoe cake" is, it is derived from the slave days, where they would mix flour and milk or water and make a patty and cook them on a hoe over hot coals. As we drifted off to sleep, it had started to rain and I began to dread having to harness up in the rain in the morning.
By Sunday's first light, the rained had slowed to a light drizzle and we headed out towards Rowland. By the time we arrived, it was two in the afternoon, and fortunately, the rain had stopped. We hit the grocery store and then a convenience store that offers chicken or fish in a box, which consists of two pieces of fried chicken or fish with fried potato wedges and a roll. After the late lunch, we headed back down NC 130, across the bridge that runs over I95 to a back road heading towards a farm where we had stayed a night on a previous trip, but we arrived too early to stop and decided to push on another couple hours. A Little after four, the sun was getting low and we noticed the houses were getting farther apart, but I remembered that at the end of the road, there would be a cluster of houses, and it was at one of these, that we would ask permission to stay. Bernie drove Polly up into the carport of one of the homes and got out and knocked on the door. An older gentleman, by the name of Leo Hunt, answered the door. Mr. Hunt had been ill and was not able to come outside, but was gracious and offered us to stay in his front yard, and said that his brother would be in after awhile and he would send some things out to us. Leo must have called his brother Bobby, because he arrived with two bags of spots, (a type of saltwater fish), two collard plants and peanuts that were still on the vine. After visiting awhile, his kinfolk found out we were there and they came over and after meeting Bernie, bought every one of his books he had brought. We slept well that night.
Monday morning we threaded out way alongside the Lumber River swamp arriving in the town of Fair Bluff. We set up camp beside the river where the Chevrolet dealer had been. In a while we had a local newspaper man came by and inquire as to what we were doing. Then we had a couple more visitors who gave us a gallon of moonshine. As we started cooking supper, the 12 volt light on the side of my wagon quit working, so we broke out our gas lanterns.
Tuesday morning we treated ourselves to breakfast at restaurant that was a short walk down the road, then harnessed up and headed out. Outside of town, a man came up to our wagons and told us he had a family-owned house nearby, and that on our next trip, we were welcome to stay there. The home is unoccupied, but they keep power on it for guests to stay and even told us where the key was hidden. This day's destination was a place we were offered to stay on last year's trip. We arrived at Steve Betran's house and again made camp and set up our Coleman portable shower. I mounted the pump on the bottom of my wagon and the jerry can holding water on the side, then a portable water heater is hung on a pole and so all I have to do is quick-connect the hoses and we are in business! A jerry can is, for those of you not familiar, is what the US Army uses for water or gas, and is usually mounted on the back of a Humvee or jeep. This night's menu consisted of blackened spot fish, collard greens and hoe cakes that we had now become proficient at cooking, thanks to Miss Margaret.
On Wednesday we passed through the crossroads at Nakina ( pronounced nah-KINA) and stopped at a store there. We had a dilemma because we were running short on gas for our lanterns and wanted to find a replacement 12 volt light bulb for my aforementioned dead lamp. Unfortunately, these are hard to find and we hadn't brought a spare, so Bernie suggested we use a common car tail light bulb, and there we bought 4 @ $1.29/two. This was a good deal considering that the 12 volt light bulb runs about $12.00. But now we had another problem to solve; we needed a socket to put these bulbs into. As with Bernie's cross-country adventure, the road provided. A little further down the road we came across the remains of a car wreck, and low and behold, there laid a complete tail light assembly! We scavenged the sockets we needed and would be in business, except that now we needed more wire. We stopped at a shop and the man there gave us a roll of speaker wire, so now we would have light! Along the way, yet another gentleman gave us a bag of dried corn for our mules. This night we were headed to Longwood, where we would stay at a farm, where they sell corn "self-service" where the customers pay on an honor system.
The next morning we were only 12 miles from the beach, so we decided to get breakfast at a McDonald's that was along the way. Back on the road, a woman came by and invited us to an open house at a bank where she was the president. Unfortunately, I parked my mule wagon right next to the drive up window and when the vacuum tube operated, the sound it made spooked my mules so bad they took off running to the left, snatching the wagon around sideways, breaking the tie-rod end. So now what to do! We made some inquiries and found a lady who had a tractor store and told us about a welder who was about 15 miles out of town and offered to carry us there. On the way there we passed a golf cart shop and I had her stop. I asked if they had a tie rod the size I needed and they did, so back to the bank we went. We repaired my wagon and set out towards the beach, now only four miles away. As we arrived at the drawbridge, it was perfectly flat, great for crossing, so we hit it wide open. At the beach we drove out onto the sand for a couple miles and stopped to take some photos. At this time, we were greeted by a police officer who asked us what we were doing there. We explained that we had driven 138 miles and this was our destination, at which time he told us we were not even supposed to be inside city limits because of a town ordinance, "no livestock inside of town limits". Next he asked where we had planned to stay and we answered that we did not know. He kindly offered to find us a place, and within 5 minutes time, he had done just that. We would stay at Carolina Custom Upholstery and they were expecting us. Upon arriving, the owner, Barry Allen, had us tie our mules in the back and come inside. Barry's wife Pam and a friend of hers, had a great spread of food laid out for us. The Allen's are originally from Massachusetts and migrated to Sunset Beach, North Carolina, about 20 years ago. They not only provided us with a generous fare of food and drink, but gave us the run of their shop that included indoor plumbing and a shower. We wholeheartedly appreciated their generosity along with all the others who had also been kind and giving during our journey. The following morning our trailers arrived to carry us home and a six day trip turned into a two hour ride home!
**Bernie Harberts can be found at www.riverearth.com where you can purchase books he has written about his cross-country travel by mule, including a childrens' book and a dvd on his journey around the world in his sailboat named "Seabird".