We will be spending two days on the Outer Banks, so I have decided to combine their blog into one. Let me start by saying that the Cape Hatteras region has some pleasant (and not so pleasant) memories for us, as we vacationed here as a family a couple of times in many years past. Back then, the area was pretty sparse and we stayed at the Sea Gull motel. I ALMOST learned to swim in their pool, but chickened out in the end. My brother Rick and my husband Mike both endured the sand with 3rd degree sunburns. Whenever I look at the Lighthouse, I am brought back to the time when I saw my little brother with his bucket and his swimsuit walking toward me after a long day in the sun and surf. The poor thing was sunburned beyond belief and spent the next several nights and days shivering and blistering. We all felt his pain and we all felt guilty as we soaked him in wet towels and sprayed and slathered him with coolants and anesthetics. Both brothers devoured pancakes rolled up with peanut butter and jelly. We watched the Bicentennial fireworks on the small TV and picked tiny, elusive clams out of the sand so Mom could make a chowder. I got stuck in a hole, while clamming, and as the tide came in (almost to my chest), I panicked and had to be rescued by someone who walked out without getting their shorts wet to give me a hand up and out. Mom and Dad’s deep-sea fishing netted a small shark, a blue-fin dolphin (not Flipper-like) and a toothy mackeral which were mounted and displayed on our walls for decades. Sand castles, sand forts and sand in our shorts…We climbed the Lighthouse’s winding stairs and looked out of the top for pirate ships – not sure we will be able to physically do that now…
In Norfolk, VA we descended into a tunnel beneath the ocean depths to make our way into North Carolina – it made me marvel at the degree of engineering that it would take to build and maintain the integrity of such an undertaking with all the stress of the water pressing against the shell – it was kind of scary. Next, we crossed over the huge expanses of causeway, sometimes almost skimming the choppy ocean which made us feel like we were moving across the top of the water with no support beneath us – just free. We felt the immensity of the vast Atlantic. Seabirds swooped on the winds and vessels sailed in the distance. Our return to land destination was visible in the distance – the Outer Banks, NC.
We find now that the area has grown up with more commercial businesses, condos, cell towers and vacation homes. The sleepy sea-town ambiance is somewhat gone, but it is still a picturesque area and has some smaller towns which still haven’t been urbanized as much. Hurricane Irene was the last storm to take its toll on the OBX – but certainly not the only storm, by any means. It is kind of a way of life around here, but they rebuild and restart, over and over. Even today, the winds are gale force and there is no real “storm” on the horizon. It shows the vulnerability of this strip of peninsula stuck out into the elements of the sea – beauty and the beast.
We started our visit at Kill Devil Hills – the site of the Wright Brothers famous 59 second flight of 852 feet that set the course for modern aviation. Dad was intrigued by the science and years of dedication of experimentation and fortitude to overcome failures to reach their goal. Quirky person that I am, I noticed a small flock of Canadian Geese who had stopped by to rest and nourish themselves. I tried to think from their perspective: “What is the big deal about? This flying stuff is SOOO easy, just spread your wings and lift-off!” They can do effortlessly and naturally, what it took man years and years to accomplish…however, they do not serve complimentary beverages and roasted peanuts on THEIR flights. Our words of the day come from Orville Wright, “Isn’t it astonishing that all these secrets have been preserved for so many years just so we could discover them!” May we never lose our sense of wonder!
Next, on to Jockey’s Ridge – the tallest sand dunes on the Eastern Coast, followed by Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge. This little strip of land is home to many migrating birds and waterfowl and we also saw deer grazing by the roadside. I found it a rather harsh environment sitting between the sound and the surf with the wind lashing salty air and sand pelting the RV. But there was some cushion of protection in the marsh grasses and reeds that sprouted up like fences that likely are the resting havens for the weary winged travelers and their four-footed companions.
Since it was getting late afternoon, we headed for camp to hook up before dark. Did laundry, re-organized the RV and ate Tuna Noodle casserole. I am sitting in the RV writing this as Dad “snorks” in bed after another long day. The wind is still strong and is buffeting the RV which is swaying and shaking – but still a sturdy vessel. I will sleep tonight near the ocean with the surf and wind lulling me to relaxation – my favorite place to be, as my family will tell you. The only thing that could make this any better is if they ALL could be here with us. Tomorrow we will travel to the Lighthouse and other sites further down the Cape. I promise to not get stuck in any holes this time…See you tomorrow night to finish the adventure!
We started the 21st with a sweet potato pancake breakfast (remember that recipe? Well, mash up the leftovers, sans skins, and mix into pancake batter for a fall treat – yum). I took a walk along the beach and could not resist some of the beautiful shells. Finding myself ill-prepared without a yellow sand bucket, like when we were kids, I stuffed them into my pockets and then off-loaded them to a plastic bag when I got back. I also copped a large and small piece of driftwood to display on our back-yard porch at home. Just as I was heading for the beach egress, I found another heart shaped stone – white this time – thanks, Mom!
Then it was time to take off for the day’s excursion – a trip farther down the Cape. The hurricane devastation was far worse in the southern portion of the peninsula. The KOA campground about a half-mile down the road was all splinters and rubble, as were many homes and businesses. One section had been completely razed, while the one next to it stood virtually unharmed. Trash and debris lined the road-side, including small boats, RVs with whole sections bashed in and furniture and personal belongings that were water-logged and useless. Water still swamped and flooded properties and sections of the roads. Work crews were busy on repairs and recovery was in the making, but it was sad nonetheless. Still, there was a sign of hope that we found as our words of the day on a portable electric sign in front of a pizza shop – “Living the Dream”.
We passed an architectural oddity – a flying-saucer home that seemed to have survived the storm. We also found the Sea Gull motel in tact, though physically different (updated, but not too modern or huge) and without their swimming pool.
The Cape Hatteras Lighthouse was still a statuesque building – but it was not in the same place that we last left it! It seems that the beach that was its home was eroding at an alarming rate, so the decision was to move it to an alternate location – another immense engineering feat – think of the weight and the height of the structure and then off loading it onto a platform and moving it a significant distance to its new home…amazing. It was closed for the season, so you couldn’t climb it (and I was SO looking forward to that). We visited the site of its original home and I found some brickwork pieces that I believe were part of the original foundation – a keepsake of a memory – the same, but different.
Back at camp, we started our homemade seaside dinner for two – New England Clam Chowder, Crab-cakes, Grouper and fresh tomato salad. Before dinner, we took another walk along the beach, more shells and rocks, and talked to some shore fishermen who had some modicum of success. I saw a scary Halloween sight – some kind of skull, a hoofed animal, I think – devoid of flesh and its eye-sockets peering up at me. I DID NOT take that as a keepsake. The sun dipped behind me, setting in the west as I faced the ocean breezes coming from the east. The clouds hung low on the horizon and the gulls drafted on the wind. I will miss this place…