For the weeks leading up to the trip, I would tell people I was going to Hatteras. When I got there, I wasn’t even near it.
The islands don’t look like much on a map, and in many places, they’re not — barely wider than the two-lane road known as Route 12. But it’s a long piece of pavement from one end to the other.
I crossed onto the Outer Banks at Manteo. Milepost 18, I think. Maybe 16. Milepost 1, at the northern end, is near Kill Devil Hill, where the Wright Brothers made their first controlled flight of a powered aircraft. Somewhere around Milepost 36, I found the cottage where I would stay a few days with friends.
One afternoon found us waiting for the free ferry, at Milepost 71, a short distance past Hatteras Lighthouse. It’s the only way to get to Ocracoke Island, the next island to the south.
Hatteras Light get’s all the publicity. Publicity for the area calls it America’s Lighthouse, and at 208 feet it is the tallest of the five lights — Currituck Beach, Roanoke Marshes, Bodie (pronounced “body”) Island, Cape Hatteras and Ocracoke — warning mariners off the shallow shifting sands of the Outer Banks.
Buddy, an older version of Grady, is in the back seat, panting. Buddy and Grady are Golden Retrievers, both rescued dogs and terrific traveling pals. Unfortunately, part of my trip could not include Grady, so he’s back home, but Buddy does his best to hold down the back seat of the Jeep Grand Cherokee. Sabrena, Buddy’s human half, poured a half bottle of cold water into the bowl behind the seat. I think Buddy said Thank You.
Holly Hunter sat in the red Grand Cherokee next to us. Her mouth and eyes, anyway. The body around them was a mite younger than the HH in “Saving Grace.” I took a picture of her later, leaning against the ferry rail, holding her toddler.
I like photographing people as I travel. Sometimes we talk, about where they’ve been and where they’re going, and sometimes, as with “Holly” or an old couple sharing morning coffee at a sidewalk café in Paris, I take my photographic travelogue punctuation and move on.
I got slobbered on by a yellow lab in a pickup I passed as I walked between the rows of cars and FedEx delivery vans and trash collection rigs making their daily rounds. And I got waved to by a toddler in a Chevy Carryall, or something of that ilk. To dogs and little kids, I’m a magnet.
Ocracoke isn’t much — about 12 miles of pavement from the ferry to the village bisect the dunes separating the Atlantic Ocean from itself. We ate shrimp — .25 each, 3-5 p.m., minimum order 25 — in a small bar and restaurant reminiscent of the some tiki bars in the Caribbean Islands. I had a bottle (no draught beer available) of Mother Earth Dark Cloud beer, a slightly sweet lager from a North Carolina microbrewery.
On the way back, we stopped to take pictures of a herd of turtles obviously wanting – against the ministration of a nearby sign – to be fed. At first, I thought our presence would scare them from crossing the road, but I eventually noticed they moved away when I did. And gathered – 35, and not nearly all, in one picture – when I moved to the edge of the water.
I got some nice shots of Hatteras Lighthouse at sunset, and a picture of a red-light cloud formation that looked — I kid you not — as though it was a shadow of a spaceship from the movie “Independence Day.”
We walked on the beach at Salvo in the very early morning and tried numerous times to get a picture of a ghost crab. They’re small, white, and F-A-S-T! We finally got one.
We stopped at the entrance, a couple miles south of Salvo on Highway 12, where the sign says four-wheel drive recommended, lower tire pressure to 20 pounds or less. Pull the shift into 4W-Lo and head out for the Jeep’s first time on a beach.
We assemble the fishing rods and tackle, and wind line onto the new reel. But the tide is wrong and the current way too strong and I didn’t buy enough bobbers for two rigs so I let him practice casting for a bit and trade my fishing for swimming.
“I’m scared,” said the little girl holding my hand, no whining, just a statement of fact.
“You won’t let me drown?” One of those declarative queries that makes you actually think of the possibility something will happen and you’ll not keep your promise, and you squeeze the tiny hand just a little firmer.
A big wave breaks, and the rushing foam lifts her, then sets her back on the sandy bottom.
“It picked me up,” she said.
“That was fun,” she said, turning to face the incoming waves, looking for the next big one.
“I want to do it again.”