May 20, 2014

Postcards from Ocracoke and The Outer Banks

I had only vaguely heard of the Outer Banks when Nekos's longtime best friend, Chad, pulled up a Google map last fall and ran his finger down a long and skinny line of barrier islands off the coast of North Carolina. "Here," said Chad, who is an insatiable adventurer, "is where I want to take you guys." His finger stopped at Ocracoke Island, which I had definitely never heard of: "And here is where we'll get a place and stay a few nights." Thanks to Chad, who lives in Raleigh, this trip has been on our books since last year, but we hadn't had much time to get excited about it because, you know, life. And bills. And diapers. We left last Thursday and flew into Raleigh to meet Chad and his wife Lauren, who is eight months pregnant with their baby girl, and they took us the rest of the way across the state to the northern end of the Outer Banks, so that we got to see Nag's Head and Kitty Hawk, Rodanthe, the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse (the tallest in the country--we climbed to the top of it!), and all the blink-or-you'll-miss-'em beach towns in between. Finally we took a ferry ride to Ocracoke, which proved to be worth the wait--and worth all of the rain, which had beat down on us and our spirits for three days prior. We never saw a drop of rain once we got on Ocracoke. 

My mom offered to keep Livvy (thank you, Mom!) because she knew that taking a baby along on a road/boat/plane trip would be the opposite of restful. Mom was right; I wouldn't have gotten to enjoy that carefree feeling that a good trip to the beach affords if I'd had a baby on my hip and had to worry about bottles and nap time and tantrums. Of course, I missed her and cried when I laid eyes on her beautiful, slightly bewildered face again, but I enjoyed my four-day break from baby duty, and Tessa proved to be one hell of a travel partner. She's been to the ocean before but doesn't remember it and has never gotten to play in it. Because it rained so much before we arrived on Ocracoke, the waves were great big and frothy, perfect to play in. Unfortunately, Tessa got hurt on the ferry boat over to the island; she was dancing around, flapping her wings like the gulls crossing overhead, and she clanked her head hard on a big iron thing jutting out of the side of the boat. For a minute, we thought she might need stitches, but it started to look and feel better pretty quickly, and she went about the rest of the weekend oblivious to the big boo-boo between her eyebrows. 

Outside of the Caribbean, Ocracoke is one of the most beautiful beaches I've ever been to. Heaping sand dunes line the road, there are gazillions of shells, soft sand, breezes, lots of wildlife (we saw dolphins!), and very few fellow humans. Within the little town of Ocracoke, there are just enough amenities--a few bars and restaurants, a heavenly coffee shop, some places to rent bicycles, a market, and a couple of gift shops--interspersed among outrageously charming old beach cottages and a lighthouse built in 1823, to have kept us happily occupied. We stayed in a white house built in 1888 with a swing in the yard and a screen door that slammed. 

Our trip also included: many mojitos, many history lessons (we visited the Wright Brothers National Memorial in Kitty Hawk, where in 1903 the first powered aircraft left the ground, and the pirate Blackbeard took his last breath in 1718 off the waters of Ocracoke, so there's plenty of pirate folklore). There's also the matter of the very painful and very dumb sunburn I got my first day on the beach, which led Chad to suggest that I call this post "Black and White and Red All Over." I think my family's beautiful brown skin sometimes fools me into thinking that I, too, can do without sunscreen. It's a fact that I can't do without sunscreen on the beach--not even for a half-hour. It had just been a minute since I'd spent time on a beach, and I had forgotten about that. I remember so well now. 

Thanks to Chad and Lauren for showing us this beautiful place. We can't wait to go back!