Not Ready to Leave (North Carolina Day 7)

Today didn’t start as well as it could have, but it all turned out well.

We had reserved a 10:00 Alligator River Kayak Tour, in Alligator River Wildlife Refuge, about 50 minutes away from the condo. We got up earlier than we would have liked so we could make it there in time, but when we arrived at 9:45, the kayak van was nowhere to be found. We gave it until almost 10:00 in case they were running late, but then I called. The young woman on the phone was really helpful, tracking down the driver, who had somehow got the tour info wrong – he was back up near where we started! They offered to reschedule, but said he could make it down there quickly if we wanted to wait. After a bit of discussion, we decided to hang tight.

We picked up a map of the refuge and looked it over while we waited. To our surprise, the area right outside the refuge is the Dare County Bombing Range. I’m sure whenever they use it, the animals feel super safe and have no stress.

Our guide, Tyler, arrived around 11:00 and hastily unloaded the kayaks. In some ways, the delay improved the tour, since some of the wind had died down, or it had at least pushed away a good part of the cloud cover. We paddled into a wide river and battled the wind to cross it, the followed the edge into a more narrow area that led through the swamp. Just as we entered the narrow area we saw a little alligator (maybe 3-4 feet) resting in the reeds. I tried to take a picture, but with my camera secured in a plastic baggie it didn’t come out too clearly. That’s the reason for the blurry image on this entry, too.

We saw turtles and an osprey on the tour, and learned that the area used to be a logging town. As the logging industry died in the town, the residents took up making moonshine. The entry to the swamp is narrow and not super noticeable, and the only way in, so they were easily able to keep it hidden. They used to sink barrels of it in a small lake, and Tyler said there is a rumor of some still hidden.

When we got to the lake, we let ourselves drift for a while, enjoying the sunlight. Then we began the trip back to the launch, making a loop from where we started. The water was really high, and the walking path that follows along part of where we paddled was submerged after a short ways. Tyler said that the waters in the area are mostly controlled by winds, rather than lunar tides.

After our tour, we went back to the condo for a huge lunch of leftovers. Next, we set out for a few shops. One was closed and the others held little of interest, so we turned back. Cristin drove us on the road beside the beach, and I attempted not to fall asleep so I could navigate. Naturally, that meant that we had to have nap/reading time when we got home.

Now we’re making our last dinner and packing up and refusing to believe that we have to return to reality. Tomorrow holds a 10-hour drive. Oh, joy.

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We Found Where The Rum’s Gone! (North Carolina Day 6)

Another slow start to the day meant pancakes, eggs, and bacon for breakfast! It stormed overnight and through the morning, so we had a lazy breakfast listening to the rain.

Things had already started to clear up as we set out for the North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island, but the day turned WINDY. While we were at the aquarium, we walked out to their pier; I almost couldn’t see because the wind kept my hair permanently across my eyes.

The aquarium isn’t huge, but it is a decent size and we enjoyed our visit. We arrived just before otter feeding time, so we got to see really adorable aquatic weasels swimming and jumping and lunging for peppers and strawberries and unsalted peanuts. I really wanted to take one home, but apparently you’re not allowed to keep them as pets.

As we ventured further into the aquarium, the busloads of kids arrived. Seriously? Are we doomed to encounter school field trips everywhere? They rushed from tank to tank, shouting at the top of their lungs in case their friends 6 inches away couldn’t hear them. They completely surrounded the touch pools, so we pressed on. I had to stop at the turtle diagnostic place, however, so I could diagnose, treat, and release a plastic turtle. I think I was the oldest person doing this by a good 30 years.

By the time we finished admiring the sharks, the touch pools had cleared out, so we got to run our fingers and hands over baby horseshoe crabs and stingrays. After we finished playing and exploring, we had to go back to admire the otters again. Two of them were curled up together in their nest. I really want one for my birthday – just saying, if anyone’s looking for a present.

From the aquarium, we headed to Outer Banks Distilling, which makes Kill Devil Rum. The business is owned and run by four friends, and they do everything themselves except make the molasses. The tour was great, the tasting was better, and the shopping afterwards was… expensive. I highly recommend taking a tour if you’re visiting this area. Unfortunately, you can only buy one bottle per year at the distillery, but don’t worry! The ABC Liquor store is just down the road!

We stopped near the Roanoke Island Festival Park for a super windy lunch. We had to hold on to all items and weigh down the cooler so that things didn’t blow into the water. Later, someone told us that the sustained winds today are about 35 MPH with gusts of up to 50 MPH. It made for a challenging lunch.

From our picnic, we turned back to the northern end of the island to check out the Elizabethan Gardens, at Fort Raleigh. Due to the winds, they were closed, so we decided to hike a nearby trail to the sound instead. The trail took us right to the edge of the water, where we got sea spray blown in our faces. We ventured onto a little spit of sand, then had to walk through reeds as the water threatened to cut us off on our return – the tide was coming in. The path continued around the edge of the water, where first Cristin, then I nearly stepped on snakes we’re fairly certain were water moccasins. Fortunately, they were more interested in avoiding our feet than biting us, so we didn’t end the day in a hospital.

Since we were there, we checked out the Fort Raleigh National Historic Site. There’s a little exhibit, reconstructed earthworks from the first fort, and the stage for an outdoor drama called The Lost Colony. The exhibit had an interactive touch screen activity geared towards kids, so I had to play along and pretend to be a cartographer. I made sure to let Andy know.

By the time we finished exploring, it was after 5:00, so we decided to go back to the condo. We stopped to check out the beach on the way, but high tide had passed so we didn’t get to see any houses threatened with being washed away. Now the wind is howling outside and we’re making dinner. We’ll have to call it an early night, since we have a kayak tour tomorrow.

In Which We Attempt to Avoid Children (North Carolina Day 5)

Today, we opted for relaxation. Mostly.

After a huge French toast and bacon breakfast, we started out for Roanoke Island. We stopped to do a little shopping at an artist co-op first, which Cristin spotted due to the big purple zebra pegasus in the front of the parking lot. I really enjoyed looking around, because I’m much more of my mother’s daughter than I’d like to admit.

After crossing the bridge to Roanoke Island, we headed for the Roanoke Island Festival Park. It’s part museum, part living history, part outdoor attraction, and ALL school trip destination. There were FIVE busloads of kids there, most of them middle school aged. Why is it I end up surrounded by middle schoolers on every trip?

They were all eating lunch when we arrived, so we explored the “American Indian Town” peacefully. However, they descended upon us as we turned toward the 16th century ship, “Elizabeth II.” So we turned back to the museum, which has a lot of interactive exhibits. Cristin was quite patient with me as I pretended to hunt duck, sounded the fog horn, checked if the fish were legal size for catching, tried on a Union soldier jacket, moved my ship along the course from England to Roanoke, and generally played like a six year old. She shared in some of the button pushing.

The kids entered the museum just as we were leaving, so we tried the ship again – no luck. A new group had settled in. Back to the parking lot we went, to eat a picnic lunch not far from the water… and the buses. We waited for a while, and two buses left, so we thought we’d try again. The kids had flooded the gift shop, but we ventured in there anyway for a bit, then decided to try for the ship a third time. We arrived moments after yet another group of kids, and gave up for the day. Our admission is good through tomorrow, so maybe we’ll get to go back.

Back at the condo, we rested and read for a bit, then walked down to the beach. High tide was an hour previous, so the water still reached pretty far up the beach – all the way to house supports in some cases. We waited for a big wave, then dashed across the soft and shifting sand (I’m sure that was amusing to watch) before the next could wet our sneakers. We both found some shells and sat watching the waves for a while before coming back to make dinner.

Tomorrow promises to be stormy in the morning, but the afternoon holds rum, so all will be well.

Undomesticated Equines (North Carolina Day 4)

We couldn’t afford to laze about this morning, since we had a 10:00 Wild Horse Adventure Tour. Horses! Yay!

We arrived pretty early, so we had time to sign the waivers, find the bathroom, and worry that we were going to get stuck on the tour with the huge family full of kids before ours actually left (we didn’t). We had Wiley as our tour guide. He let us know all about his misspent youth tearing up and down the beaches, his thoughts on people wanting to develop the land, his feelings about the federal land that is part of where the horses roam, and much more. At one point, he was telling us about another tour guide he knows, and said, “He’s a character.” So was Wiley.

Driving on the beach is FUN, but I’m glad we didn’t try to take little Sputnik (my car) out there. Wiley drove fast, so we bounced over dunes and ridges in the sand. It took a while before we found a horse, but spot one we did! He was munching away on the side of a canal in Carova. Shortly after that, we found another inside a no trespassing sign on someone’s front lawn, then several more on that same “road.” (All the roads are actually sand, so you see street signs parked in a dune. It’s weird.)

After our tour, we stopped at a boardwalk that leads out into the sound to have a picnic lunch. It was breezy and beautiful and we had it all to ourselves for most of lunch. The day was beginning to warm up, so the wind felt nice.

Our drive back to Kitty Hawk took us straight past the Currituck Island Lighthouse, so we stopped, handed over the $10 apiece, and began to climb. Somewhere in all this, we forgot that we are both terribly afraid of heights, so once we reached the top – knees knocking and hearts pounding – we then inched around the narrow platform with our backs pressed against the building. Still, at least this way we can say we climbed a lighthouse on our trip.

After a stop back at the condo to change and grab our things, we headed for the same deserted beach we stopped at yesterday after the Bodie Island Lighthouse. It was less deserted today, but we were still able to claim a stretch of it for ourselves. We walked down to the waterline to hunt for shells and feel the ocean. Do NOT attempt to go swimming at this time of year! We were just wading in to our ankles or mid-calves, and it was ICY cold. So cold my feet started screaming and made me want to cry, at least for a minute or two before I lost sensation. Cristin had a higher tolerance for the pain than I did, and actually stayed standing in it long enough to build a pile of sand called Mount Owens.

We retreated to the towels and blankets to enjoy the sun and warm our toes. Cristin read, I dozed, then we started the process all over again. On our second rest, we saw little sand crabs building homes and hiding from birds. After we rinsed our feet a final time, we found bird tracks directly over Crabby’s home. We ask that you join us in hoping he stayed safely hidden.

After such a late night yesterday, it’s nice to have an evening to relax and play games or watch movies. Tomorrow should be a much more laid back day.

Let There Be Light(houses)! (North Carolina Day 3)

We had another leisurely beginning to the day, starting out sometime around 10. Our plan for the day: a drive down to Hatteras, then over the ferry to Okracoke, stopping at lighthouses along the way.

Our first stop was the Bodie Island Lighthouse, which was not open for climbing yet this season. We still had a nice walk around the grounds, caught some Pokémon, and enjoyed trying to figure out what one of the birds we saw was. (We later browsed a bird book and decided it was a willet.) A bunch of children nearby were calling it a kiwi. I didn’t bother to tell them that kiwis aren’t exactly native here.

After the lighthouse, we drove across the street to admire the ocean. We were the only people in sight – the best way to enjoy a beach. We found a really cool rock, about cantaloupe-sized, with shells stuck in it. We put it at the edge of the water to rinse it off, but apparently we either underestimated the strength of the waves, or overestimated the weight of the rock, and the ocean swallowed it up. We hope Neptune enjoyed our offering.

Next, we drove to Cape Hatteras to see the lighthouse there. Like Bodie, it wasn’t open for climbing, but it was still impressive and we had fun wandering the little museum. From there, we headed to the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum. They have a variety of exhibits, from early diving equipment to shipwreck items and more. But I think we were most entertained by trying to put together a 16-piece puzzle in the education room. We utterly failed until we realized that there was a picture of it completed nearby.

We had a good bit of time to kill waiting for the Okracoke ferry, so we wandered down to the beach again, this time with our trying “Wright Flyer” kite. It was incredibly windy, and the kite would have flown as high as our string allowed had we let it.

The 4:00 ferry to Okracoke was by no means full. Most of the people stayed in their cars or went to the indoor passenger lounge, but Cristin and I stayed outside for the entire ride. We got windblown and VERY salty. The ride is about an hour, so we hustled down to the Okracoke Lighthouse as soon as we disembarked. After a few pictures there, and a quick stop at some pony pastures, we sped straight back up to the ferry for the 6:30 one back to Hatteras. There’s only one ferry an hour, and we still had a good hour and a half drive back to the condo from Hatteras until we could have dinner.

The ferry line was LONG, but we made it (barely – only three more cars got on after us). We opted to be inside for part of this ride, which was still windy. We could see the Cape Hatteras light shining as we approached, so after driving off the ferry we decided to see it at night. It was beautiful and peaceful (until a family showed up) and kind of soothing to watch.

The drive back to Kitty Hawk was long and dark. Most of the road is only one lane each direction, and there are no lights unless you’re in a town. The sand was blowing over the road on some parts and it got pretty misty, so visibility was challenging at times, but except for us feeling hungry, it was a nice drive. We got back to the condo after 9, so we’ve had a late dinner. Tomorrow we need to get an earlier start, so it’s bed time for us!

Let’s Go Fly a Kite (North Carolina Day 2)

Is the song stuck in your head? Because it’s been stuck in mine ALL day.

We tried to sleep in this morning, but I think we were both ready to go by a bit after 9. We stopped at the visitors’ center to pick up a ton of brochures and maps, then sat at the condo thinking about how to spend the day. Since they were close, we decided to start with the Wright Brothers Memorial and Jockey’s Ridge State Park. After packing a picnic lunch, we set off. There was one rule for the day – no mirth. Mirth leads to coughing.

We didn’t manage to follow the rule.

The Wright Brothers Memorial costs $7, and the visitor’s center is under construction so they have a double wide as a temporary museum/gift shop. We arrived just a few minutes after a ranger talk had started, so we hustled over to join them. It was WINDY. Maybe that’s why Orville and Wilbur went there? Cristin had left her jacket in the car, so it was a chilly talk for her. Don’t worry, Dayton folks – the ranger made it clear that the intellectual work happened back in Ohio.

We pretended to kiss the marker stone for their first flight, and I attempted to achieve take off by running a few times. I only succeeded in setting off a coughing fit. After walking out to the marker for the 4th flight, we turned and hiked up to the monument. I have decided, after much thought, that Orville and I would have been buds.

Next we drove to Jockey’s Ridge State Park, the tallest sand dunes in the east. We ate our lunch, explored the museum, then walked out to the dunes. I loved it, and claimed the land in the name of Woodruff. I’m not sure how North Carolina feels about this, but who cares?

You can wander ALL over the dunes. Cristin and I went up and down ridges, played in the sand, and eventually meandered down to the water of the sound. There we rested for a bit so I could control my coughing. First Cristin, then I waded out into the shallow water of the sound. It was cold, but felt good and we stayed there for a while. After leaving the water, we stayed barefoot and we walked along the sound for a while before turning back to the park.

To get back to the car, we had to first navigate past the “mosh pit of children” (Cristin’s words) jumping down the dunes. We saw people attempting to hang glide, and lots of kites flying. Cristin remarked that it was too bad we didn’t have a kite.

Back at the car, we agreed that our exertions deserved a reward – ice cream! We found Scoops and enjoyed delicious ice cream and obnoxious music. The ice cream parlor was right by Kitty Hawk Kites, so we stopped in there and booked a kayak tour for Friday. And, of course, we bought a kite! The store is directly across the street from the park, so we walked back over and spent some time flying our wonderful (and cheap) “Wright Flyer” kite.

After a short stop at Owens’ Restaurant for Cristin to get a t-shirt, a run into Kmart for me, and a swing down by the water to check out beach access, we’re back at the condo for dinner (tacos – Cristin cooked!) and resting our sunburnt heads.

Tomorrow: Cape Hatteras.

On How to Start a Trip (North Carolina Day 1)

Cristin and I left this morning for North Carolina to spend a week enjoying early April in and around Kitty Hawk. We left at an ungodly early hour… at least as far as vacation is concerned.

Our trip was over 13 hours due to stops, traffic, and, uh, detours. Here are a few lessons about how to (and how NOT to) take a long drive.

  1. Podcasts are an awesome way to entertain yourselves for hours.
  2. Don’t let the podcast get so engaging that you miss your exit, don’t notice, and then have to drive an additional 30 minutes to get back to your original route. Just sayin’.
  3. Most rest areas have PokeStops. This is a good excuse to stop and stretch your legs.
  4. Don’t get bronchitis before you leave. It will just make the inevitable laughter that happens when traveling with a friend turn into a painful coughing fit.
  5. If the key won’t turn in the ignition, hit the gear stick a few times and try again.

We arrived at our condo a bit after 9:30 tonight. It’s on the second floor, of course, so we both felt horribly out of shape after we lugged the last of our belongings up the stairs and then gasped for air.

I’m not sure what tomorrow holds, but we’ll figure it out after a good night’s rest.

Enjoy the ugly couch picture!