Keeping with the east coast and the Island-theme from last week, I want to take you to one of my favorite Island retreats on the Eastern Seaboard, Ocracoke.
Nestled at the elbow that divides the Outer Banks from the Southern Outer Banks on the North Carolina coast, is a place that is as storied with history as it is drenched with sunshine and salt air. A favorite haunt of the likes of Black beard himself, and the final resting place to many a lost soul who met his fate in the Graveyard of the North Atlantic in times of war and in of peace. It is 16 miles of pristine ocean beaches framed by a forest of wind swept pines that no more belong on that island than the throngs of tourists who venture there each summer.
It’s a place I visited many times as a young man and is, thankfully, where my wife and I fell in love on Springers Point. We had only been seeing each other for a few short weeks when we agreed to pack the bikes and hop on the ferry across The Best Little Patch of Sand and Water I Ever Saw to Ocracoke.
The day was warm and the humidity of early summer of East Carolina stifling. Jennifer wore a airy little dress, while I wore my customary worn out short sleeve button down and a swimsuit. We both brought bathing suits and planned on biking out to the beach and taking a swim.
When we arrived after the two-hour ferry ride, we rolled down the ramp and headed straight for the beach. We swam for a bit and took naps in the cool sea breeze before hopping back on the bikes and heading to Howard’s Pub.
Howard’s pub was named for Blackbeard’s first mate and boasts all the trappings of the usual tourist beach bar. We were lucky enough to find a couple empty seats at the bar and enjoyed the respite offered by the air conditioning and restrooms. We ordered buffalo shrimp and a couple of icy cold beers, and Jennifer went to rid her bathing suit of sand in the restroom.
When she got back, she eased onto her barstool and the bar tender delivered our food with a smile. He placed the food in front of us, saying, “Did you here about the new zoo they are building out in Raleigh?”
Jennifer, not sure what to think of the statement, said, “No, I hadn’t heard.”
The bartender continued saying, “Yeah, it's only going to have one dog. It’s a shit-zu.”
We laughed as we dug into our shrimp and polished off a second beer. The joke seemed to lubricate the crowd of tourists, and as I returned to the bar from my turn cleaning the sand out of my shorts, I saw Jennifer in deep conversation with a pale skinned man followed by two red haired and sunburned children.
As I approached, I could hear the man say with a distinct British accent, “How do you ask an ant to cinema?” He got down on the floor and placed his cheek on the stained wood floor, saying, “Hey Ant, would you like to go to the cinema?”
The bar erupted with laughter and Jennifer’s eyes met mine. I could tell she wanted to go, so I paid the bill, and we said our goodbyes.
We remounted our bicycles, this time with a gentleness that might avoid further injuring our chafed inner thighs, worn from an afternoon of bike riding, barstools and bathing suits, and headed toward town.
The streets were a cluttered mix of bikes, cars and pedestrians, and so we decided to head to the residential sections of the Island away from the traffic of main street. The buildings quickly changed from motels and seashell shops to white clapboard homes adorned with hanging geraniums and oversized Rosemary hedges.
We pedaled slowly, talking and taking in the afternoon, two abreast on the quiet streets. A passing car forced us to break formation once or twice and as I pedaled to catch up, after one truck towing a boat passed us, the pedal on my old second hand bike fell off. Jennifer began laughing at the site of me trying to do the one leg pedal in an effort to stop my bike. She quickly stifled her laugh however, afraid that I might lose my temper, but quickly saw that I was laughing too, despite looking like an idiot on my one pedal bicycle.
I whipped out my Leatherman and quickly reattached the pedal with as much dexterity as I could muster in an attempt to catch up. In my haste, however, I put the pedal on backwards and Jennifer burst into full throated hysterics at the site of my complete awkwardness. Just as she reached the entrance to Springer’s Point, I managed to right the backwards pedal and I rushed to catch up as she dismounted her bike, We chained them two bikes to a tree and wandered down the sand path through the loblolly pines to a quiet cove on the back side of the Island overlooking Pamlico Sound.
She confessed that it hurt to walk with the salt and sand damage, and I admitted that my sunburn was beginning to sting. Exhaustion was setting in, and our bodies ached.
We took a seat on the point and Jennifer pulled a bottle of wine from her bag along with a few snacks. We drank and ate and toasted the setting sun. I realized then that despite her pain and my foolishness from the day of bike riding, and the fact that we were both exhausted and sunburned, she never once complained
and never once lost her glowing smile. Her eyes glistened above her sun-drenched cheeks, and it was then that I realized that she was a keeper.
As we finished the last mouthfuls of wine, I checked the time and saw that we had a little less than a half hour to catch the last ferry off the island for the night. Missing that ferry would mean we would suffer with chaffed thighs and chattering teeth until the next morning. We sped our way to the ferry and board just as the sun set across the water.
The night sky settled in as the ferry steamed toward the mainland. Jennifer and I were exhausted, and our bodies ached from the day on the beach. We huddled together under beach towels and drifted in and out of sleep. When the ferry docked, it was close to 10PM, and we had another hour to drive to make it back home in Beaufort.
When we got home, it was clear that one day soon, Jennifer would be my wife.