Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Winter Trip to Ocracoke Island

A couple of weeks ago I took a trip down to the Outer Banks of North Carolina; specifically, Ocracoke Island.  While I had paid a visit to the island this year in June, I frankly did not care for the throngs of crowds and the tourist vibe.  Visiting Ocracoke in the winter is a very different trip than one would take in the summer.  This time, I wanted a trip of solitude on my own terms and expectations, creating a more unique, personal experience. 

The trip from Morgantown began with an all-day drive to Rocky Mount, North Carolina, punctuated by a rapid-fire visit along the way to see my good friend Missy Cummings in Richmond, Virginia.  If you are a history buff, with particular interest in the Civil War, then a visit to Richmond is a must.  You can hardly walk a block downtown without seeing a museum, a historic landmark, or beautiful architecture.  The Tredegar Iron Works is a must-see so allow several hours for that.  I really do need to get back there in the future for a couple days of loitering.

Superstorm Sandy had knocked out the traditional way into Ocracoke via Highway 12 coming from the north through Cape Hatteras.  Hence, the next morning, I drove a couple hours east over to Swanquarter, North Carolina and got on the ferry run by the state.  The cost for me and my car was 15 bucks one-way for what turned out to be a relaxing and beautiful 2.5 hour cruise across Pamlico Sound.  I took the time to do some reading and writing as the oceanic environment stirred the muse within!          

Getting ready for departure at Swanquarter, NC.
Once on the island, there were very few people around.  If you do go in the winter, the downside is that you will not have many options for food and lodging.  On the other hand, if you are willing to do some negotiating with the entrepreneurs, then you can score a room at a reduced rate.  Being the only person at the hotel I stayed at, I was able to get a room on the top floor with an ocean view for 1/3 the summer rate!  Unfortunately, I could not locate a restaurant serving my primary food source (pancakes), so I "got by" on some judicious menu selections at Gaffer's Sports Pub for lunch and dinner.  All kidding aside, their homemade nacho chip appetizers are killer good if you are experiencing a moment of culinary indiscretion.                  

I managed to connect with my friend Emily Smith-Zimmerman who actually lives on the island.  We ended up going down to the beach and spent some time looking for dolphins and whales apparently foraging in the area.  It was a gorgeous day, just warm enough, with a touch of wind.  Hardly anyone was on the beach.  Mint!!!  Afterward, I took a walk out in a park at the edge of the village called Springer's Point to catch the end of the day. 

Ocean sunset stirs the heart.  It always does ...
The next couple of days were so peaceful.  No hustle-and-bustle, and no schedules; just a cool breeze and some open road with nary a car in sight.  Early in the morning, I'd set off for a bike ride out of the village down the one main road to the other end of the island, some 13 miles distant, dodging an occasional seashell.  Both times I had a stiff tailwind and felt pretty proud of myself for clipping along in my Specialized Tricross at 20 + mph.  However, you know what they say about paybacks ... once I turned around to cycle back I felt like I was on a stationary bike.  I just heeded the advice of my buddy Mike Saad to keep my head down and just patiently spin and not fight the wind.  The wind always wins.  It's not like I had a brisk social agenda on my iCal anyway :)  One day, the wind was so brisk it was whipping up salt spray and sand from the dunes and flinging it across the road.  I just smiled and kept on spinning!    

If you do decide to haul your bike down here for a winter trip, then take care to bring along an array of of clothing layers in order to be prepared for a variety of weather conditions.  Also bring along some oily rags to wipe down your bike after your ride as any exposed metal will rust from the ocean air.    

Ready, set, go!
The afternoons were spent playing my guitar, reading a couple of non-work related books I had brought along, catching up on some fun research projects I've been working on, and evening walks out on Springer's Point.  And that is it, folks.  No other drama nor excitement to report here.  One evening, I had the pleasure of having dinner with Emily and her friend/boss Erin, the resident doctor on the island, at the later's gorgeous oceanfront house.  I am grateful for this moment.        

View from my room one morning.  What did I do right?!
The last night I was on the island, I could not sleep.  Over the years, I don't fight it anymore; when I'm up, I am up.  It was about 3 AM and I laced on my shoes and headed out towards the beach sans flashlight.  Out under the light of the moon, nothing stirred.  I started thinking.  Recently, I had been reading a book by the existential psychologist Clark Moustakas given to me by a colleague.  Paraphrasing one passage in particular, he writes that loneliness is being unhappy when you're alone, whereas solitude is being happy when you're alone.  Keeping an eye on the time, I realized I had to start heading back to the hotel to catch the early morning ferry back to the mainland.  My friends up in Harrisonburg, Virginia were expecting me for dinner this new day and I couldn't miss that.  Heading back, in the silence of my night walk, I was at peace and embraced my solitude.


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