Sunday Morning~ Hatteras Island
October 15, 2017
I am on the porch of a little pine cabin in a campground on Pamlico Sound. There’s no water view from here but I can hear the waves. I’m desperate for a cup of coffee but the camp store isn’t open yet and I don’t have anything with me to make hot water. I don’t have a pillow either, which, has made sleeping the last four nights a little uncomfortable. I spent two nights in my tent at the National Park campground in Ocracoke but the past two days were cloudy, windy, and drizzly, so sprang for a cute little cabin. I’m leaving in a couple of hours to head north and I hate packing up a wet tent. It was definitely worth it.
I left Tybee Island last Monday planning to make it to Beaufort, North Carolina that night, but the going was slower than I expected and once it was dark and I was still twenty miles from Beaufort I decided I didn’t want to continue on the small roads (or big ones for that matter) and got a motel room. I was in Beaufort early on Tuesday and walked around Fort Macon then boarded a boat to Shackleford Banks to see the wild horses. It was really hot. There were only a few of us on board; apparently tourism is way down in October. I’m not sure if it’s because of hurricane season or school starting, but I’ve had the place to myself practically. As soon as we landed, I jumped onto the beach and hightailed it across the point to the ocean side and walked as fast as I could. I needed some exercise and I thought getting away from the boat landing would increase my chances of seeing the horses. I decided to walk for half an hour then turn around. I figured I couldn’t get lost; it’s just a straight shot down the nine miles of beach, all deserted. I’d thought of camping out there (it’s free) but I can only take the isolation thing so far. I’m sure I could survive, but camping on an island inhabited only by wild horses without amenities seemed like it’d be more fun with a willing companion. There’s no way off until the boat comes back the next day. I saw neither footprints nor wild horses. I started wondering what I’d do if I did see them? Are wild horses dangerous? No warnings were given out on the boat. I didn’t hear reports of campers being trampled. I worried about missing the boat back. I had nothing with me to spend the night and the boat captain seemed quite cavalier about leaving people there. If you miss it, you are shit out of luck until the next day. After walking a couple of miles I saw a trail that cut across to the bay side so thought I’d take that and walk in the direction the boat was coming. The island had gotten much wider; I hadn’t figured that into this plan. The path across was a lot longer than I expected. I couldn’t even see the water! But I knew it had to be there somewhere if I kept walking. It was sandy dunes and slow going, but then I saw in a valley, a herd of the horses. They were nibbling away at the grass and minding their own business. Yup. There they were. Horses. They seemed quite oblivious and didn’t care that I was walking through their dunes. Just kept munching away. I kept walking as I watched them eat, which they did just like tamed horses. I guess the only way I would be able to tell they were wild would be if someone tried to catch one. They even looked fairly well groomed. It was somehow romantic. I’m glad I went.
On Wednesday I took a ferry from Cedar Island to Ocracoke. I hadn’t realized how the North Carolina coast is made up of so many islands. It was only fifteen bucks for the ferry! I thought that was a huge deal! I was expecting it to be like $100 or something. I decided to buy myself a pair of earrings from a local artist with what I saved. While standing outside my car waiting to board, a guy came over to chat. He used the Maine plates as a jumping off point to get the conversation going. “Wow! You’re a long way from home!” He was handsome, about my age, seemed to be alone, and extremely sure of himself. As the cars started their engines he turned to go back to his car (which was towing a boat) and said, “I’ll see you on board.” quite assuredly. It was a two and a half hour ferry ride and I get seasick so usually sit outside at the front of the boat. Mr. Full of Confidence swaggered over to chat again. He asked my name and said his was Chip, or Biff, or Skip (some one-syllable name that isn’t a real name). He told me he was heading to Hatteras to go fishing on his boat (emphasis on boat). This cracked me up. Only lighting up a cigarette could be more of a turnoff for me. I feigned admiration, “Oh wow, how nice!” but failed to add, “I hate boats” as I would have twenty years ago. I’m mellowing with age. He told me he’s never been to Maine, but “always wanted to go.” I asked, “Then why didn’t you?” You’d think someone who can own a boat can go to whatever state he “always wanted to go to.” He said, “I just never got there.” There was no shade and it was baking hot so I didn’t last long outside and went into the air conditioned cabin. I’ve always said I hated air-conditioning, but I am humbled; the heat and humidity together with the wind is really breaking me down. Anyway, I was minding my own business, reading Hillary’s book What Happened, when Chip or Biff or Skip came up behind me and asked, “Who is she blaming on that page?” So that, of course, pissed me off, but I decided to mess with him a little. I smiled, “Oh, you’ve read it?” “Uh, no”, he said, “but I’m sure she’s blaming someone.” I said, “It’s funny, every person who has said something negative to me about this book hasn’t read it! I find that interesting.” He just looked at me. I asked what he did for a living? He said he was an investment banker. I said, “Oh really? So what do you think of what’s happening in the stock market? I just heard a report that it can’t sustain this level.” Oh, he assured me it could, as long as the new tax plan gets passed. Then he said, “By the way, I met the Clintons once when I was on business in Arkansas.” I said, “Really? When?” He said in the early ’90’s he was in a local diner in Little Rock when in came a woman wearing a cowboy hat and boots with three young guys on her arms. She was messing with them and kissing them and really acting inappropriate. He said, “She was beautiful! So I asked someone who she was and they told me ‘Hillary Clinton’.” Then he asked me, “Can you believe that? The governor’s wife behaving that way?” I said, “No, actually. I can’t.” The sarcasm went right over his head, which I thought at first was funny, but then sort of scary. “Then”, he tells me, “A few minutes later, Bill Clinton came into the diner with three young women all over him. He was kissing them and groping them. I couldn’t believe it!” I said (as if I were confused), “Now wait, was this the early 90’s when he was running for president? Or was it after he was already president?” Then Skip looked confused. I said, “Because he was elected president in 1992, right? So was this while he was on the campaign trail they were behaving this way, or when they were in the White House and just visiting a diner in Little Rock? Were secret service with them?” He looked confused and thought for a second and said, “Well, maybe it was a little earlier than that. But, I’ll tell you, she was beautiful.” I laughed and said, “Now, that part I believe.” Again, over his head. THEN (this is good) he said seriously, “I tell you, we have to do something about getting rid of Obamacare because I want to retire but can’t because I’d have to pay $6,000 a month for health insurance!” I said, “Wait. Retire? Are you 65? Really? You don’t look that old!” He said, “No, I’m 57 but I’d like to retire.” I said, “You mean you don’t want to work? But want benefits? Hah! Get in line buddy.” He looked confused. I think he was trying to figure out what I was saying. Then I continued, “Why do you want to leave your job as an investment banker if the stock market is so great right now? Are you saying we should lower the retirement age for everyone to age 57? That would be interesting. What bank do you worked for?” It wasn’t quite disgust he regarded me with, it was more of a hybrid of disgust and embarrassment. He did have beautiful blue eyes, like Paul Newman eyes, but clearly wanted to get away from me. He got up and said, “We’re not as far apart as you’d think.” and he walked away. I’m telling you, if that’s who is in charge of our investments, I’m even more scared than I was about our economy. He didn’t even wave as he and his boat drove off the ferry in front of me.
Ocracoke Island is beautiful. It’s much less developed than I thought and many of the businesses were closed. I’d expected crowds. Off season is earlier here than it is at home! The campground, which is right on the beach, was nearly empty. I had my choice of about a hundred sites, found one I liked, set up my tent and realized I was downwind from the dumpster. I was too lazy to move it all though and just hoped the wind would shift. I walked along the beach every morning watching the sunrise. Miles of empty beaches. The ocean was rough with a strong undertow and I had no desire to go in further than my ankles. I walked around the little village, walked to the lighthouse, and then had had enough as the weather started getting worse on Friday.
I drove north and caught the free ferry to Hatteras Island. I guess it’s cheaper to run that ferry every half hour than to build a bridge. This island is one long sandbar and on the stretches of road not protected by National Park are huge three story houses, one after the other on both sides of the road. I wonder how long the road will last, never mind those houses, which look fairly new. I can’t imagine how they got building permits! I’d recently heard a story on NPR about the outer banks and how in ten years they may not exist. So I thought, maybe, since I was in the neighborhood, I should see it before it’s gone.
The Cape Hatteras lighthouse is impressive, the tallest lighthouse in America and second tallest in the world. They moved it in 1999 as it was about to be taken over by the sea. Also impressive. That must have been a sight to see. At every historical site I visit three quarters of the information is about some war: the revolutionary war, the civil war, WWII; it is depressing. Hundreds of shipwrecks, cemeteries filled with unidentified soldiers washed up on shore, forts, and artillery. It seems we just never learn.
I’ll go to mass today at a sweet little church I passed on the water, then up to Roanoke to see the lost colony and end up in Duck with George’s nephews and sister in law. I enjoy traveling alone, but realized I don’t do it in this country much. I also realized, as much as I love to camp, I’ve never slept alone in a tent before. That was a new experience. I felt safe enough, but did wake up at every sound. I’d have to do for awhile to get used to it. I also came to the sad realization that I feel less safe traveling in this country than I do elsewhere. Now, how odd is that? I often wonder why anyone would visit this country when you listen to our news. It sounds like the scariest place on earth.
Well, on that sour note, I’ll go get coffee, pack up, and hit the road.
Love to all,