Sunday, March 01, 2009

Item From the Past, With Links: March 3, 1981

Spent most of today in Neal's 13-year-old station wagon. Neal drives, I navigate, Stuart catnaps in the back with our provisions. This morning we left Durham, headed east on US 64, stopping in Nashville, NC, to eat at Hardee's (egg & bacon biscuit). Then on to the coast. First we went north, through Nags Head -- saw the Atlantic Ocean proper for the first time just below Joe Justus' fishing pier, which was closed for the season -- and up to the Wright Bros. National Memorial to see their memorial and the very spot where they flew. They didn't fly far that day.

We also climbed to the top of Kill Devil Hill, where the brothers tested gliders for some years. From the top of nearby Jockey's Ridge, an enormous sand dune that we also climbed, we watched modern-day hang gliders taking advantage of the gusts blowing across the island, so strong at times that it was hard to hear each other. We were befriended by a big black dog who played with us but also chased hang gliders. We never knew whose dog it was, and it followed us part of the way as we ran down the landward side of the dune back to the station wagon.

We traveled on and by about 3:30 passed the Bodie Island lighthouse to our right (west) and continued southward along a road that sometimes seemed to be passing over nothing but water. At Hatteras Island, we found a posted ferry schedule and discovered that we could go to Ocracoke Island today, but not on to Cedar Island. Ocracoke is a narrow, 20-mile stick of an island between Hatteras and Portsmouth islands, with a small town, Ocracoke, on the SW end. The rest of the island is beach on either side of a single two-lane road.

With temps cold but not below freezing, we decided to camp a few miles from the town, arriving at the campground at about sunset. A sign at the campground said CLOSED. We drove around the chain across the parking lot entrance and soon found a site over a small hill from the parking lot, facing the Atlantic, but surrounded by small dunes to keep the wind away.

We pitched camp. That is, we threw down our sleeping bags. The lamp wouldn't light, but the camp stove did, so we prepared to cook country ham. The wind blew it out, and it wouldn't light again despite many tries. By this time it was very dark and very cold, so we ate an entire box of cookies and a bag of Doritos. We each got into our bags and had little else to do but talk and look at the stars.

Ah, the stars! The best I've ever seen. No Moon. No city lights. No tall trees. Nothing but a vault of diamonds on black, and the wispy band of the Milky Way. I'd never seen all of the Little Dipper before, ever. There they were, all of them. Picked out a number of other constellations, but only those few I could do by memory. Jupiter and Mars rose later.

Other than that, it was a long night. The ground was hard, like trying to sleep on a cold, bumpy cement mattress. It was impossible to warm up my feet. I'm pretty sure I slept, but it was broken up many times by semi-consciousness and weird dreams. I was glad, we were all glad, to see Dawn spreading her rosy fingers across the eastern sky.

Postscript, 2009. A miserable night on the beach at the time, but I remember it fondly now.

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