North Carolina’s Outer Banks

When I get the travel itch, I guess I scratch it hard.  Where I am right now?  I am in Nags Head, NC.   The Wright Brothers National Memorial is just two and a half miles from the hotel.  The Atlantic Ocean stretches out from the patio on our room.  I am traveling, again, with my sister.

Back in April, when I was in North Carolina, for a conference/symposium in Chapel Hill, I did the sane thing of visiting my sister and her husband – they live 3.1/2 hours from Chapel Hill – one way.  During the time I spent with the two of them, my sister and I came up with the idea that at the end of the summer, the two of us should take a long weekend, and head to the Outer Banks of North Carolina.  The end of the summer would be the 2/3rd-point of her husband’s Navy deployment — it would be good to see family.  As we rolled in the summer, plans firmed up, dates were set, and tickets were purchased.

Monday of the week arrived, and it hit me – I was going to be traveling, again. Didn’t I already visit the Pacific Ocean and seven other states – with 6,000 miles of driving – just in the last two months?  It’s cool, I would be flying to the North Carolina.  And then driving 3.1/2 hours to Nags Head.  For a second there, I thought I might not get to drive.

The flight from Minneapolis to Charlotte, NC, was uneventful.  I happen to get a seat in an otherwise empty row.  Window seat, over the right wing.  Coffee, a cookie, a quick snooze.  The internet on the flight was not working, and I was unable to check the weather.  Douglas-Charlotte (CLT), as the airport is known, is getting be known by myself.  Like Haneda in Tokyo or LAX in California, I have passed through CLT enough times to begin to get the layout figured out in my head.  Land at the D concourse, head to the E concourse – or the other way around.
Earlier in the week, my boss had joked that I was feeling spunky when I made an off the cuff comment about the catering of an event on campus being garbage in a box.  Maybe I was spunky.  In Charlotte, at my departure gate, an announcement came over the intercom: We need three to five individuals willing to give up their seat New Bern; we’ll fly you into Jacksonville, NC; we’ll also give you a $300 voucher. Done. I have always wanted to switch flights mid-trip. It’s nothing wild, it’s a change in plan, and I’d get$300 – nearly enough to cover the cost of the tickets for this trip.   Or, it’s essentially free tickets to venture back to North Carolina, once my sister’s son is born.

A quick call to my sister; sure, I can pick you up in the Jake.  Great, that’s what I was hoping to hear.  Voucher and new boarding pass obtained, I wandered to the gate the flight to Jacksonville, NC, would be leaving from.  I wonder if my luggage will get forwarded to Jacksonville?  Whatever.  That’s what a credit card is for – I’d just buy a few new cloths and toiletries if it came to that.

As the pilot of the flight joked, we spent more time on the ground in Charlotte than we did in the air to Jacksonville.  On the ground in Jacksonville, I quickly checked the airline’s Track Your Bag feature in their app; my luggage was in New Bern.  I filed a report with Missing Baggage, and Meg and I would head back to her house; I was told at Missing Baggage that the luggage would need to be sent from New Bern back to Charlotte and from there, to Jacksonville.  It might be on the 5:05pm flight; we’d swing by the airport once more before heading to the Outer Banks.

Before heading back to the airport, I picked up some cloths at a couple stores.  At the airport, I was told that the luggage was on its way to Charlotte, and would eventually make its way to Jacksonville.  We left instructions to have the luggage delivered to my sister’s house; we left for the Outer Banks.

We rolled into our hotel in Nags Head, after dark.  We had picked up some groceries at a Harris Teeter we passed on the way to the hotel.  A bit of cheese, some apples, and sourdough bread.  There were two party buses parked in front of the hotel.  A large number of people from, what I gathered was a wedding rehearsal dinner, poured out of the hotel and into the buses.  Meg remarked that she never could figure out the appeal of party buses.  Me neither.

I was tired.  I had been up since about 3:00am Minnesota time; it was close to 11:00pm North Carolina time.  The hotel was somewhat  stuffy and the antihistamine I took shortly after arriving in our room was clearing my nose — and it was giving my brain and body the compelling argument that sleep was what was needed.  I nodded off.

I awoke in the morning to the room flooded with bright light.  The sun was up.  Eight hours of sleep later, it was time to get up.  Once up, we headed to Sam & Omie’s for breakfast.

We had looked up breakfast places before heading out – there was a tried and true institution of the South – Waffle House, in Kill Devil Hills, as well as Stack’em High Pancakes and So Forth; there, of course, are others and places like Duck Donuts.

Sam & Omie’s was busy to say the least.  When we arrived, the place felt over capacity.  There was a line just to get our name on the list to get a table.  Waitresses kept asking us if we could move aside so they could get back to the kitchen. With our name on the list, we stepped out to the porch to wait.

The porch contained a slow, revolving cadre of other tourists.  Very sunburnt tourists.  There was a group of five from New Jersey, a family of four from somewhere south of the Mason Dixon – given their accent.  The folks from New Jersey were called into the restaurant; their seats were quickly filled with more, sunburnt individuals.

“Jay?  Is Jay out here,” the restaurant matriarch yelled.  No Jay, she moved down the list.  A couple more names, and she yelled out Meg’s name.  We were in.  She yelled out the general location of our table and waved her hand in the general direction of where it was located.  To the right of the cash register, along the wall.

Meg ordered something with scrambled eggs and “lots of vegetables”; I ordered a flapjacks and coffee.  I debated for a moment whether to go Carolina low-lands and order “breakfast shrimp” (shrimp and grits), but opted for a trusted favorite.

Breakfast was good – nothing spectacular, but it was tasty.  Meg and I chitchatted as we ate – figuring out where to head next.  Wright Brothers Memorial or Hatteras Lighthouse.  We picked the lighthouse; it was a bit over an hour’s drive south along the outer banks.  I drove.

We passed over bridges and drove passed sand dunes.  Many, many cars and trucks seemed to be parked just off the road.  Best as we could tell, these folks just park and walk over the dunes to the ocean side or the sound side.  Many vehicles had fishing pole holders off the hitch receives; “Salt Life” bumper stickers on the tailgates.  They were probably fishing.

We parked in the lighthouse parking lot, and stepped out of the vehicle.  My glasses immediately fogged up when the air-conditioned-chilled lens met the hot, humid air outside.

We wandered into the gift shop.  I have the long standing (9 years!) tradition of getting patches from the places that I visit.  We were in business — the gift shop had a Cape Hatteras National Seashore patch.

To the Lighthouse!

Tickets purchased and the requisite notice of the temperature, humidity and heat index from a park ranger, and we started the walk to the lighthouse.  There was a group of kids in front of us, when told about the weather conditions, replied, “It’s cool, the lighthouse has air conditioning, right?” No it does not.

The lighthouse is pretty much just a very tall structure that could be seen by shipping passing by.  It’s the tallest brick lighthouse in the United States.  It has no furnishings, but has a staircase that spirals up to the top.

Built in 1803, it marked one side of shoals that was to be avoided by seafarers.  Just off of the shore, the warmer Gulf Stream from the south mixes and meets the colder Labrador Current churning the sand creating the shoals.

The structure now sits on a different spot from where it was originally built — it was moved in 1999, nearly half a mile.

It was hot and humid, was to be expected in the Carolinas, in August, on the coast.  Mid-way up the lighthouse, there was a park ranger with defibrillator kit, just in case.  The entire structure is 210 feet tall, but you’re not able to go to the very tippy top.  A park ranger said it was roughly the equivalent of going up twelve flights of stairs.  But, you know, there really is not a set definition of the length of a flight.

Getting up to the top was a workout – particularly in the heat and humidity.  But, there was a breeze at the top, and the view was spectacular.  A slight haze could be seen out at the end of the horizon.  Looking out the east, you can see the second light station that was built in 1868 – now under private ownership – just at the edge of the horizon.

Going down the lighthouse steps was much easier than going up.  We headed back to the vehicle, got in, cranked the A/C and headed north – back to Nags Head.