With the arrival of autumn rapidly settling in across the northeast, Ryan and I hightailed it down the coast to North Carolina where we hoped to stave off the cooler weather for a few weeks more. Visiting the Outer Banks (OBX) hot on the heels of Hurricane Matthew meant we wouldn’t be seeing it at its best, yet even in the wake of the storm, this region retained much of its charm.
Approaching from the North, we passed through Kitty Hawk, stopping at the regional visitors’ center to gather up any and all information we could about the Banks. I tend to geek out on regional maps and went about expanding my collection of tourism board pamphlets full steam (well, I might make a scrap book or something one day, right?). Loaded up on information, we headed south to the Oregon Inlet Campground just past Nags Head, NC. This is a national park campground with direct access to the beach. There aren’t any hook-ups available at any of the national park campgrounds throughout the OBX, though this spot was walking distance to a local marina/ bait shop/ convenience store meaning we were able to keep our cooler stocked with ice and other necessities.
I’ll admit that, during the first few days of our stay in Oregon Inlet I wasn’t in the finest of moods. It was incredibly humid and quite hot and without an electrical hook-up, the only thing to keep us the least bit cool was a tiny 12v fan. The road & bridge construction taking place directly adjacent to the campground did little to brighten my mood. But it’s hard to stay grumpy when you’re in such a beautiful place. So, putting on my big-girl pants, I followed Ryan’s lead and got over the minor inconveniences and started paying attention to everything else. Like just how damn beautiful every sunrise and sunset over the ocean can be. And the charmingly peculiar personality of Carolina Ghost Crabs when you try to approach one on the beach. Or the way the waves sound at night when the sun finally goes down and the beach becomes dark. You know, all the magical stuff that would make a person drive thousands of miles (literally) just to take it all in.
After four days in Oregon Inlet, we were able to venture further south along the coast when the roads reopened and visitors were again allowed to visit Cape Hatteras and beyond. The drive across narrow Pea Island, where bulldozer-riding restoration crews rebuilding the dunes made it hard to ignore that these islands are fragile sand dunes standing as barriers against a relentless ocean. Further south on Hatteras Island we began so see evidence of more extensive storm damage with flood lines showing on buildings and debris piles awaiting removal at major intersections. Despite these signs, the marina shops and ferry port at Hatteras seemed to have recovered from the interruption to daily life brought by Hurricane Matthew.
Well folks, I’m proud to announce that our bus has now officially crossed land AND sea. That’s right, we know she’s seaworthy. Alright, so it was the municipal ferry from Hatteras to Ocracoke Island that was really seaworthy, but it still felt cool to write that sentence. Crossing on the ferry was a neat experience and at first we weren’t sure if we’d be able to fit (the ferry-deck wasn’t all that large), but the crew barely batted their eyes at us and went ahead parking us dead-center on the deck. It seemed the crewmen were determined to board as many vehicles as possible and ended up packing cars in around us so tightly that we couldn’t open the front door. Though prevented from getting out and watching the waves from the railing, we were still had a nice view from the elevated vantage point of the bus’ drivers seat & couch. (Our pets,by the way, seemed thoroughly nonplussed by this momentous crossing and didn’t even bother to stop napping.)
Simply put, this little island was one of my favorite stops along our entire route. The entirety of Ocracoke island is just under 10 square miles in area, and the village itself weighs in at 1 square mile. Needless to say, it’s small but, fortunately, mighty.
Our campsite at the national park service campground wasn’t much different than at Oregon Inlet in terms of amenities, and yes, there were more signs of flood damage in this part of the OBX (not too mention mosquitoes) but we didn’t care. By now all inconveniences had definitively paled in the face of the OBX’s beaches. And Ocracoke’s beach was one of the best we’d seen. The waves were still rough following the recent hurricane, but not so much so that swimming was impossible. Mostly, the remoteness of Ocracoke coupled with the storm clean-up meant that we could spend time on the shore and have it (mostly) to ourselves. Those folks that we did meet during our stay turned out to be pretty awesome – like the couple from 9mph.net who had spent the past year biking clear across the country (Cali to Maine, with a dog in tow) and were headed south to the Florida Keys. We spent a few days chatting with them, sharing sunrises, morning coffee, and an evening dinner, before ultimately wishing them well in their travels.
Mindful of the fact that its residents were still recovering from a major storm, we tried not to be obnoxious during our explorations of Ocracoke Village. We spent a few dollars at local artists’ shops, bought fresh seafood at the market, ate a lot of amazing fish tacos, and tried to stay off of the back streets where residents were still cleaning out yards and properties. The village itself was a 4 mile bike ride from the campground, meaning we were also able to squeeze in enough exercise to justify eating key lime pie after dinner.
Ocracoke felt particularly special to us as it was where we spent our 6th year anniversary and my 30th birthday. If you’d asked me five years ago what I thought I’d be doing at 30, my answer would not have been living on a bus and catching the sunrise at the beach with my favorite human. Good life choices, I think.
As we departed the outer banks and made our way back across to the mainland, we decided to track down a very special birthday present for Ryan’s dad, who is in the process of building a wooden strip canoe. We initially struck out in our attempts to find him some Northern White Cedar while in Virginia (we found out too late that its native growing regions are Michigan, New Hampshire, and Maine), so Ryan was determined to find something of equal quality. Being the logistics person in this relationship, I spent some time calling all of the local lumber yards I could find in the coastal region of NC, before stumbling across a tip on a local boat-builders forum that Beety Lumber in Mans Harbor was a source for clear Atlantic White Cedar. (I also learned so much more about cedar than I ever intended.) It turned out that Beety’s was only a short drive inland from the coast and not far off of our route, so we made a pit-stop and selected a number of boards to bring back with us to Texas. They rode on our living room floor for a few weeks while we traveled. It’s something we’re glad to have done as it turns out the lumber yielded some fine strips for the canoe.