Saturday, 5 April, I finished my work at the factory early and, always being one to maximize an opportunity, decided to drive to the fabulous barrier islands of coastal Carolina known as the Outer Banks. The reason was simple, no need for fancy qualifications here, I wanted to take in a sunrise on the beach. So, hotel livin’ for the week, I borrowed the pullout bed covers and a pillow and took off for the coast!
I’ve heard that Wilson and the surrounding environs were at one point called the “Tobacco Capitol of the World,” and driving through the countryside, it was immediately apparent as to why. The land is vivid with color and the soil rich and dark. Things just grow here. I’ve included a picture below.
Growing up in Indiana, surrounded by fields of corn and soybean for as far as the eye could see, I felt strangely at home while driving through this area. At once being reminded, based on local utilization of tree lines for wind breaks, of many a road trip north or south on I-65. Except for the hills (which reminded me of Wisconsin) and soil differences, I almost thought I was back home. It was interesting to say the least.
My intermediary destination was US-64 east which from Wilson gave me two options: Take the boring I-95 north and then east OR the more interesting, predominantly North Carolina backroad way to US-64. Choosing the latter, I profited immensely, as I’ve described above. No need to quote Frost but, when given a choice, take the more interesting if you have the time. Slow down. Be here now. Take it all in. Be part of something instead of just causally viewing the blur.
After the back road experience, US-64 was almost a little bit too much civilization for me. It wasn’t the speed limit of 70, it wasn’t the nice roads, it was just the immediacy with which one could recognize the commercialism of the area. After driving for an hour and a half or so, I came upon an area of large, well-organized 60ft x 30ft buildings. I later found out that the buildings are for raising and then processing pigs. I also found out that the eastern region of North Carolina produces more pig products than anywhere else in the region. I used to be vegan. Well, I tried it for about six months. So, seeing the grand scale of this commercial processing operation was kind of disgusting. They just live their lives in these buildings and then eventually, they’re slaughtered. I doubt they ever really get to experience walking around in the pasture. It really makes you stop and think.
Not long after this US-64 went down to two lanes, letting me know that the ocean was less than an hour away. It was quite a scene really! As the sun was going down, everything gained a lovely shade of orange and red; the fiery orange glow of the western sky, coupled with great music, and the smell of Spring all around me, forever imprinted a memory into my brain. Not only that, the full moon coming up over the horizon, as large as I’ve ever seen it, let me know that I made a wise decision to drive out to the coast.
As the sun finally set, and twilight faded into darkness, I began to smell salinity in the air. A giddy air came over me. Ten years prior, several friends and I piled into my mother’s minivan and drove from Cookeville, TN, all the way to Nags Head, NC, for 1 week of fun on the beach. Ten years!. An entire decade had passed since I’d last seen the coast of North Carolina. That’s crazy! How much had I changed since then? A whole lot actually.
At 20 years old, life is pretty damn simple. Go to school, get good grades, and learn as much as possible so you can eventually get a coveted thing called a job to support yourself. Daily thoughts being occupied only really with school and what I wanted to do on the weekend. This, as most things in life I took for granted. Me being too absorbed in the day-to-day to really step back and give myself some perspective. That’s the beauty of aging, I had perspective now. Several things being obvious. At 20, besides being more physically fit and capable (read: less bio mechanical issues), able to eat anything I wanted without worry, I was still as headstrong as I am now, just more ignorant. Knowledge is power, and it’s most powerful when you know least. Certainly was easier too. I laughed a little bit at realizing that I still, at 29 years old don’t really have a clue what I want out of life…although I have several good ideas.
Perhaps this is why people go visit childhood places. Being able to touch the past helps us realize potential directions for the future. These tangible experiences ground us and allow ourselves to center. As if by going to these places we can correct any wrongs that may exist, or may have happened there. Although we know that’s not the case.
I thought of this and many other things as I searched within for some direction as the trees faded away and, while crossing a very long bridge to Roanoke Island, was left staring at a lovely moonlit setting. The light of the moonlight reflecting off the intertidal waters, glistened with every passing wave. I thought at once to DeBussey’s Claire de lune and how nice, although cliché, it would be to have that playing while driving over the causeway, looking out over this setting. Vast emptiness reminding me of several painted scenes from the Hudson River school.
Roanoke Island passed by relatively quickly since my thoughts at this point, given the relatively late hour of 9 PM, during a low season, we’re focused on where I could find dinner. Being near the coast, I naturally wanted seafood. The fresher the better. Crossing another smaller causeway I found myself in Nags Head where, driving north on NC-12, I located an open restaurant that, according to Urban Spoon, had decent fare.
Dinner was light, a dozen raw oysters, Carolina style clam chowder, a small seafood salad, washed down with some water. Not bad, but not really that good either. Moyenne. I built it up in my head too much so naturally, I was somewhat disappointed. Rookie move. After dinner, while sipping water, I gently prodded locals as to the best area for me to sleep in my car, with the least possible chance of getting robbed, or worse. They recommended some hotel parking lot, can’t remember which, and noting that, I left in search of beach access. Hunger satiated, I had to see the ocean before sleeping.
So I headed south on NC-12. Destination, unknown! Figured I’d find it when I found it, you know? Eventually off to my right I noticed the light of the Bodie Island Lighthouse. At which point I knew I had entered the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. This was where I’d take in the ocean. And, what I scene it was!
Not too shabby, huh? Definitely a good end to the day.
Leaving the beach, I thought about sleeping in this access point. But it was a bit too dark, and frequented by too many potential problems for me to stay here. So, given the proximity, I went over to check out Bodie.
Man, the place was dead! Huge parking lot, and not a soul around! This is where I would sleep! Getting out to adjust the car for sleeping, I was met again by the brisk night air. I’d reason that it was 2°C. I was glad I decided to wear pants instead of shorts and had a hoodie, in addition to the bedspread. I knew immediately that I was in for a long night. This was reinforced by the height difference between the fold-down seats and the trunk floor of my Hyundai Sonata. Comfort was not going to be found tonight as I tried to get a bit of REM.
I was awake, but asleep, and much of the in-between, for almost the entire night. Readjusting as necessary to find some semblance of sleep-ability. Knowing then that the next time I rented a car from National, I’d fold down the seats first and check sleep-ability, to allow for the potential of more brilliant ideas like this one.
Just before dawn, and shivering, I glanced over at my phone. It confirmed my suspicions. It was 5 AM and dawn was not going to be here for an hour and a half. Being a practical person, I no longer tried my hand at this game called sleep and perused the Internet to pass the time. All the while being comforted by the gentle flash of light from Bodie.
Predawn came, and with it a very nice scene. The multi hued sky silhouetting the lighthouse and a few trees against it. I took in the scene for a few minutes before taking a photo. I used to love taking pictures, and I still do, but I hesitate nowadays because I don’t want the pursuit of a good photo distracting me from imprinting the setting. And I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised an iPhone could get this.
I crossed over NC-12 to the beach access point and did my best to stay warm for the 30 minutes or so before dawn. This, is why I was here! I definitely was not going to miss it. I snapped several pictures and played around with some of the iPhone filters, the results are below
And when dawn finally came I was ready! Although my iPhone did not do this scene justice.
After this a race began. I had one hour to drive nearly the length of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore to catch the 8 AM ferry to Ocracoke. If I missed it, I’d have to kill an hour before catching the next one. This wouldn’t have been too big of an issue but I had another ferry to catch from Ocracoke to Swan Quarter later that day. This, was the all important ferry that would save me 2 hours of driving and ferry commuting back up the seashore and over to the mainland. I couldn’t be late!
Given the remoteness of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore it’s incredibly easy to speed. Going along and all of a sudden your at 80! Yeah, that easy. The time crunch didn’t help. Here’s a picture to show the remoteness.
And here’s another showing a crazy flock of birds going over a bridge. There must’ve been over 5,000!
I made the ferry with 10 minutes to spare and the 1 hour voyage went by pretty quickly. I took a much needed nap and woke up refreshed and delighted to explore Ocracoke. The island is 12 miles long and quite narrow in spots, with a small village at the south end. The village is usually swarming with tourists during the Summer high season but this being Easter Sunday, the town was quite dead. That, coupled with my 9:40 AM arrival served to my detriment. I had shivered all night and hadn’t any food since my small dinner the previous night and was starving. I didn’t find any place open but I did find a coffee shop. And hey, a decent espresso can take the edge off of a lot of things. Eventually I found a restaurant and had breakfast, and afterword took a walkabout the town.
I’m a fan of lighthouses so naturally I had to see the Ocracoke lighthouse (it’s the smallest of all those on the Outer Banks). See the picture below.
I really picked a bad time to visit the island since 80% of the stores/artisan places were closed. But on the bright side, it was really nice to take an hour walk in the Spring sunshine. After the walk I made my way to the ferry terminal only to find out that the ticket I purchased that morning over the Internet was actually for the next day’s ferry. So I had to put on the charm to get the officer to get me onto the last ferry to Swan Quarter. Actually, I got the last spot. Lucky day indeed!
I passed the 2 hour 40 minute ferry voyage by reading and figuring out where I wanted to eat dinner in Greenville, NC. I found a Bonefish Grill with decent reviews. I knew then that I had found the dinner spot. The drive from the ferry terminal to Greenville was uneventful. As before, speeding is incredibly easy on these remote backroads. And luckily I was with a fast group of cars!
Dinner was spot on and I endeared myself to the bartenders. I encouraged one to seriously consider home infusions of alcohol and the other, pretty cute actually, seemed to very much enjoy talking with me. I’ll definitely go back to Greenville for dinner!
Life is really what we make of it. You can choose to get out and live life, putting yourself into less-than-ideal situations for absolutely worth it moments OR you can do the opposite, staying in your comfortable bubble, forever maintaining the status quo.
Throw away your television, fears, and worries, and get out and live! Your life depends on it!