Take a Backroad

Yesterday was a beautiful fall day in Central North Carolina. The first real cold front passed through with a chilly and rainy day on Saturday. Sunday followed with crisp, clean and dry air. The sun was bright and Saturday’s viscious wind had subsided. There was frost on the window of my 1976 BMW 2002 when I went outside to see if I could get her started. The aftermarket weber carburator with manual choke lets her run great when the engine is at normal operating temperature, but makes it difficult to get her started when it is cold. It took some effort and the boost from a battery charger, but after a little while she was purring like a kitten.

1976 BMW 2002


There was a little tension in the house, and I decided just to get in the little car and go for a ride. I have been restoring her for a few years and try to drive her as much as possible to keep things moving. It was such I beautiful day that I decided that a drive of more than around the corner to the grocery store was in order. Although I have replaced or repaired most every mechanical system in the car, there are a few things that did not make the cut. The gas gauge is one of those items and the needle is permanently stuck on “E”. My first stop was at the gas station to top off the tank. I couldn’t remember the last time I filled her up, and it was a fortunate thing that I did not take off on my little adventure without a full tank as I put 11 gallons in a 12 gallon tank.
I live on the Southwest side of Durham near Southpoint Mall and the gas station is on the NC751 side of the mall property. I pulled out of the parking lot and took an immediate left onto 751 south. As I ran through the gears the little 2 litre engine hummed as the tachometer came to rest at 3500 rpm in 4th gear at 65 miles per hour. The sun was bright, the fall foilage framed against a beautifully blue sky. It did not take long to be in a very rural area as I headed south towards lake Jordan. Still very familiar with where I was, I turned right on Martha’s Chapel road and cut by the lake to Old Fearington Road. Heading back towards Chapel Hill, I decided on the strategy for my Sunday afternoon drive. I would turn west on to every road that I didn’t know until I came to a place I did recognize. Afterall, it was a beautiful fall afternoon and I had a full tank of gas.
The BMW 2002 was the predessor to what is known as the 3 series today. It was the first true “sports sedan”, simplistic and boxy as a 2 door, the little engine was designed to run at high revolutions and the suspension tight enough to make handling precise. It is just a fun little car to drive. The one I have was born in 1976 and was the very last year it was produced before BMW introduced the 320i. There are alot of these cars still out there, a favorite of BMW enthusiasts to restore. There are 3 kinds that exist now; fully restored, work in progress (thats mine) or vehicles being cannibalized for parts. I have almost completed the mechanical restoration and have just begun the exterior body work. When that is complete, the final stage will be the interior. Projects like this are a lot like boats. There is always something that needs attention and if you are not careful they can be bottomless money pits.
It was not long until I was deep into rural Chatham county. The landscape was fantastic, and there seems to be more elevated topography than nearby Durham County. For a Sunday drive in a little sports sedan, that means curvy roads. I sped through the countryside, putting the little car through her paces and enjoying every minute of it. There was something very exhilerating about turning down unknown roads, driving without a destination. I am not sure if it is an inherited trait, or developed by many years of going to sea, but I have a built in sense of direction that is tied directly to sunlight. I just know which direction I am going without any thought at all. I crossed 15-501 somewhere near Pittsboro NC and continued west down unknown roads, passing ponds and creeks, stands of forest and open pastures filled with livestock. This was country cruising at it’s best. As almost as if it totally came out of no where, I drove by a couple of upscale neighborhoods and then suddenly was confronted by a traffic signal and a shopping center with a Harris Teeter. I was back to civilization and it was Carrboro, the town right next to Chapel Hill. After 2 hours and countless miles, I was in a town just 15 miles from my house.

'Makes you want to take a backroad"

I was not ready for my adventure to be over, so I drove through Carrboro , Chapel Hill and all of Durham to get to the north side of town. Finally, on the Northeast side of Durham I found rural roads again as I headed up Cheek Road towards Oxford. Once again I started taking random turns to the west and heading towards Roxboro and points Northwest of Durham. The topography was less dramatic, the roads straighter and with much more open areas for livestock and agriculture. The sky remained crystal clear and the bright yellows, reds and oranges of the hardwood trees set beautifully against the “Carolina blue”. By pure happenstance I came upon the Federal Prison Complex at Butner. It is the facility where the notorious Bernard Madoff is serving his time. I pulled over and gazed at the facility and was overwhelmed with a sense of gratitude that I was on the outside looking in. I really appreciated that I had the freedom to get in my little car and just drive, and wondered what it must feel like to not have that freedom.

Federal Prison Complex Butner, NC

I continued on with my adventure as I passed the small community of Bahama, crossed over 501 and an hour or so later of driving down unfamiliar roads I crossed I-85 and came into the area where NC751 goes through Duke Forest. I was back in my old neck of the woods. At that point, I had enough joy riding and started a concerted effort to get back to the house. My adventure had lasted a little over 4 hours, and countless miles. Literally countless, the broken odometer is another one of those little things that do not work on the little BMW. I stopped at the Quickie Mart to top off the tank, pleased with the fact that I had only burned 5 gallons of gas for a total of $18.78. That is a cheap afternoon of marvelous entertainment just “cruising”.
I finished my adventure with a renewed attitude, one of gratitude for my beautiful state of North Carolina, my own health and well being, but most of all the appreciation for my freedom to spend the afternoon that way. I am certainly blessed.

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