Outer Banks Feed The Inner Soul
Just our luck. In the weeks leading into our beach vacation in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, there was a shark attack, then another, another, again and again all along the eastern seaboard near where we were headed. Holy crap!
So on the marathon drive there, we pulled over for the night at a place with a pool.
“Kids, you better swim now!”
Our pit stop was just outside Colonial Williamsburg, a place we’d been before but during the bustling daytime activities. It’s one of those places that leaves such an impression that you yearn to return but upon doing so, it just isn’t the same. The daytime energy and theatrics were gone, leaving a ghost town in more ways than one.
On our ghost tour, we enjoyed the drama of the actors and dinner in an historic tavern authentic of the colonial times like everything else so well done here. Afterward, we stopped in the lobby for our teens to have the fortune teller glimpse into their future. Our daughter went first and when the routine was over, our son went next.
The fortune teller made an obvious break in character and turned to us and said, “They pulled the same two cards in the same order from the fanned out deck.”
He seemed weirded out by it. To us, it was a sign of our typical family vacation.
The next morning we got on the highway, drove a bit and exited for a pancake house. We were led in a big loop and after a while, my wife pointed out the motel we had left earlier.
“Doo-doo-doo-doo. Doo-doo-doo-doo…” – That’s the theme music from The Twighlight Zone playing in our heads.
With five hours still to drive, we settled in and made up a game in which we’d ad-lib a story sparked by billboards in relay fashion building on what the last person said in regard to the last sign. Then, a huge bright billboard advertised, “I got my crabs from Dirty Dick’s.”
We arrived at our beach house rental in Kill Devil Hills a little early. The lock box was on a timer so it wasn’t ready to take our code. We hit the beach and took note of the nearby, wavy wooden fishing pier.
Shark bait was all I could think.
We went shopping at a grocery store called Food Lion.
By now, we were in a slap-happy mood. At every stop in the store, I made a ritual of saying, “Food Lion. RAWR!” while making a hand gesture in the air clawing downward toward my family.
The laughter made me continue well past its expiration. And the awkward glances by other shoppers meant I wasn’t going to stop anytime soon. We were having a ball with our silliness and that’s all that mattered. Vacation had officially begun.
I made it my (our) mission to see a spectacular sunrise. So we were up at 5:30 a.m. ready for the ball of fire to rise out of the ocean at 5:55 a.m. But there were too many clouds to see it. The kids groaned and went back to bed.
All day was spent splashing in the sun …notice I didn’t say water. In fact, it was like the beach scene in the movie Jaws after the shark attacks. Nobody was swimming. At best, we’d wade out knee-high. But the beach was festive. We invented a game from some colorful plastic rings and balls we brought with us. It caught the attention of those strolling by. They thought they were witnessing the newest thing to hit the market.
That night we took a family walk along the beach. The sand ahead of us seemed to move with every step we took. Then we concentrated our flashlights together for closer examination. Our daughter shrieked. Ghost crabs scurried every which way clearing a path for us. We gave chase and had fun with this novelty for some time.
Another day another failed sunrise. But there would be no going back to bed on this morning because we had wild horses to see. The kids’ eyes opened when our four-wheeling machine headed into Corolla. Oh the pressure these guides have to return happy customers pleased to see what they deem their share of wild horse encounters. It struck me funny that we were zigzagging between multimillion dollar vacation homes looking for wild horses. A radio call later and our guide was zipping this way and that through sandy paths to another set of houses. There was a wild horse grazing just off someone’s back patio while the homeowner sipped their morning coffee like this was the normal routine.
Anyway, the experience seemed anything but wild.
Finally, away from man’s encroachment, wild horses actually looked like they were as advertised. Back out on the beach, several horses stretched their morning legs. This is what I wanted to see. It was beautiful. My imagination wondered what it must have been like before money bought up paradise here.
A storm allowed us to nap away the afternoon before a second morning so-to-speak opened our eyes and the flood gates back to the beach.
That night, we sat around the dinner table and played the board game Clue. In the middle of the whodunit mystery, another mystery began to unfold with a knock at our door. Mind you it’s dark and we left our curtains open with lights on, advertising here’s a vulnerable family of four.
I looked through the front door window at what could only be described as charming young Charlie Manson. He smiled and asked me to step outside to talk with him. I answered that we’re already talking, what do you need? He insisted I step outside.
I looked left and right to see if anyone else lurked in the shadows. Then I asked again what he needed.
He said he was from next door and wanted to let me know he’s throwing a party and would like to give me his cell phone number in case I needed to complain about the noise to him.
“No worries. Have fun,” I replied and that was the end of that.
But then as we went back to trying to solve a murder, I grew suspicious. There was a family like ours on one side of us and a vacant house on the other. I looked at the vacant house and it was dark, silent and empty. I wondered if ole Charlie was casing random vacationers to scam in some way so I decided to call the police to see if any others had called about such a situation.
“No but we’re sending a patrol car over,” the dispatcher said.
“No-no, that’s unnecessary,” I said.
A police officer showed up anyway. I explained Charlie’s claim and then pointed at the dead house next door. The police officer investigated under our house. Beach houses were set up on stilt-like structures so storm surges could flow under them.
The cop left and not long after, my son saw Charlie coming back.
“Did you call cops on me?” He demanded.
“Nope, not me,” I lied through my teeth to settle him down. “But a policeman did stop to ask questions.”
“So you did call?”
He scratched his head and left.
Now we’re turning off lights and peeking out windows. Next door, lights came on, music cranked up, cars and people arrived and a party kicked off nearing Midnight and lasted until 4am. Then the place turned silent and dark again and some stragglers hauled away a bunch of trash bags leaving no clue behind.
The place stayed empty the rest of the week. Go figure.
Out on the beach the next day we befriended a group of families that were on the other side of the abandoned party house. They weren’t happy vacationers after Charlie’s party kept them awake until close to daybreak.
We had another lazy day on the beach flying kites and Styrofoam airplanes, swimming up to our waists now. Night drifted in and me and the Missus popped a cork and sipped wine with our toes in the sand. Not a bug whatsoever, just a gentle breeze and rhythmic waves lapping the shore.
On day six we figured we better stop at Kitty Hawk to pay homage to our home state heroes, the Wright Brothers. I wondered why history referred to Kitty Hawk as the location of the first manned flight when it was actually in Kill Devil Hills. It turns out that what used to be Kitty Hawk was later broken up and although the land north remained Kitty Hawk, the Wright Brothers place in history was now called Kill Devil Hills.
Other than eating out, we spent time going to a couple of pawn shops. Our son had found a perfectly round, hard white object on the beach leaving us to fantasize that it could be a pearl. It wasn’t. It was perhaps a paintball pellet.
Another failed sunrise and we were headed south for a dolphin cruise. Boy did we get lucky! Or so the captain and crew kept telling us. We saw so many dolphins that after a couple of hours it was like ho-hum another one. The captain wished he had the power to more evenly distribute the sightings because he has had groups where one or none resulted.
We had seen the Bodie Lighthouse from a distance and decided to check it out. It proved to be a picturesque photo opp and then we headed back north. A big sand dune could be seen just up ahead but we underestimated it and nearly passed it up without much thought. It was a good thing we didn’t.
Jockey’s Ridge State Park in Nags Head ended up being the most memorable site we visited. It happened to be the tallest active sand dune system in the eastern United States. The vastness of nothing but blue sky and sand everywhere you looked was mesmerizing. We walked and walked to the point we envisioned a mirage of a scene with C3PO and R2D2 in the original Star Wars. The endlessness of it swallowed the people there, visually. We were but a few ants spread across a hill of epic proportions. It’s so big that the brochure has to address what to do if you get lost. All in all, this was an incredibly unique experience now burned into our brains. The sand can get as hot as 125 degrees.
After dinner and ice cream we returned to a beach where huge waves crashed ashore. We had fun playing in the waves even though one eye was peeled on the lookout for “Sharknado” cascading down on us.
On our last day, all of our problems were finally washed away. We had those deep bonding family moments and conversation, laughter, sun splashed memories in the making and even built a sandcastle.
Then, on our last morning, it happened. A burning ball of fire rose from the ocean as we said goodbye.
Enjoy more photos and brief video clips from
The Cutting Room Floor