State Maintenance Ends

April 15, 2014

There’s a road in the minuscule town of Eure, North Carolina that ends with a sign that reads: State Maintenance Ends. It is actually the end of the road. It is also the beginning of one of my favorite places I’ve found in my travels so far.

Mags, Josh, Sadie and I stopped at a barbecue place outside of Eure (TarHeel Bar-B-Q – AMAZING food), the only restaurant within many miles, and asked our waitress if she knew of any places where we might be able to set up our tent and park the car for the night. She thought for a few minutes and told us that nothing was coming to mind. We were evaluating our options, which were really none, when she came back to the table and told us of a place that she had remembered that might allow camping and thought was around the area, but she wasn’t quite sure of how to get in touch with the property owner.

She asked around to the rest of the staff at the restaurant and came back. Somebody tracked down a phone number. They called the lady for us at whatever this place was, we still had no clue, and I got on the phone with her. She immediately said we could come on over and camp for as long as we wanted. “Want me to come out and pick y’all up?” she asked sweetly. I told her that we would find our way.

We got some pretty vague directions and headed that way after stuffing our faces with barbecue. Long back roads past churches and old cemeteries, endless farm plots and crumbling 200 year old houses brought us there. Somehow we found the place, and I am so glad that we did.

Part campground/commune/organic farm/animal sanctuary, the sprawling North Carolina property wowed us instantly. Lulu, the owner, zoomed over to us on a golf cart and told us to set up anywhere we’d like and stay for as long as we’d like. There was no talk of rates or rules or anything like that. There were four or five RVs scattered around the property in between gardens for vegetables and cotton, the fish pond and the horse pens.

Lulu told us that she started the place to give people who were traveling with horses a place to camp some years back, and people have been coming by since to stay. Some people have showed up for a weekend and been around for YEARS. Others, like us, just come through for a shorter stay.

As far as I could tell from asking around, everyone heard about the place through word-of-mouth. I’ve never been to a campground or farm or whatever this place is (still haven’t figured it out exactly after three nights here) that has no signage or even a listing online and exists entirely because people just love it and tell others about it. In our case, our waitress at the local restaurant knew that some place with camping existed “somewhere in Gates county.” She’d never been there or even knew who ran it, but she knew it was there somewhere.

Lulu and her small team run the place and just leave things very open. “We’re all pretty laid back out here,” was the thing she kept repeating to us as we met. Everything about Lulu’s little place out in the woods is charming. Last night, she opened it up to over twenty at-risk youth for a camping trip. They camped right next to us and stayed up until three in the morning playing football, slept for a few hours, then were up at seven starting up another game. The kids made us and Djangers (the dog) a bunch of hotdogs and shared everything they could. Though I was up nearly all night because of the football game screaming, I found myself with a smile on my face the whole time. This place is just magic like that. The other night an old man who stays out here was riding around on a four-wheeler and towing a small trailer behind in, inside which there was a lawn chair set up, where his wife was sitting and taking in the sights. “His wife has dementia and he takes her out for a ride every day,” LuLu said as they disappeared down the road. Charming.

Mags and I took a full day off from walking here to tend to our blisters and rest our weary muscles. It might has well have been a five-star resort. Showers, water pumps, camp fire rings, anything you’d need. We swung in our hammocks and read books and just simply rested.

I’m sad to leave in the morning. Our walking has taken us far enough that we need to move on. There are certainly a lot of gorgeous campsites ahead, but I’ll miss this one a a lot — the singing crickets at night, the barks of LuLu’s seven dogs, the distant neighs from the horses, saying hello to the little rabbit that comes by our camp at sundown each night to see what’s going on. I’ve really loved hearing all about how and why Lulu started this place and marveling at her hospitality, and being able to relax and not worry about a thing.

Mags and I took in one last sunset after a short drive up to the only convenience store around, Dave’s Place, to pick up a couple snacks to enjoy around the campfire. The deep orange sun sat just above the distant treelike horizon, lighting up a lush green field in front of us for probably half a mile. “Stop here for a second,” Maggie said, so I slowed the car down to a stop in the middle of the road — you can do this on the roads out here, especially ones that dead-end at a sign that reads State Maintenance Ends and run into a place that you only know about if you hear about it from someone who has been there.

As is typical, Mags summed it up simple and sweet. “Wow,” she said, “It’s just so beautiful out here.”

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