Saturday, October 13, 2012

New Bern & the Outer Banks, pt. 2

By the time I got to Manteo, the sky was completely overcast and threatening. That was fine by me; forecasts had been that it would rain that night, maybe a little the next morning, but clear out for the rest of the week.

Alas, the clouds didn't break until I was halfway home. Instead for the next few days when it wasn't raining it was drizzling and if it wasn't doing any of that, it looked like it might do it at any moment.

I found my hotel with a bit of trouble, since I was thinking that Kitty Hawk was south of Kill Devil Hills and so panicked when I got to KDH and hadn't seen the right cross-street. Bogue Island consists of two north-south roads, one of which is the highway, and zillions of cross streets. Street #1 will go past House #1. The next street will run past the front of the house that is crammed up against the back of House #1.

I'm not going to tell you the name of my hotel. It was clean, the bed was comfy, the free breakfast good enough for hotel breakfasts (scrambled eggs and bacon were served in addition to the normal cereals, waffles & fruits). Signs indicated that people could NOT take their own luggage to their rooms; staff had to do it. However, no tipping was allowed. This all was because the elevator was located on the second floor. It took two VERY steep ramps to get to it, ramps that even the experienced staff managed with difficulty. Stairs accompanied the ramps, but these were definitely out of code since the tread was so lengthy.

Stairs on the outside down to the beach were also completely out of code, but this time it was the riser that was off. Those things must have been at least 11 inches high. It was like climbing a mountain. I saw disabled customers who would never have been able to make it down to the beach.

The reason I'm not saying the name of the hotel is because there was no security from the beach into the hotel or the swimming pool. Card readers were placed at the outer doors, but they had been disabled. Perhaps the hotel thought that no burglar/rapist in their right mind would navigate those awful stairs!

I'd specified ocean view and got a balcony with a terrific view of the ocean, looking dead east. I'd hoped to be able to do some plein air paintings of sunrise over the Atlantic. Unfortunately it was only the final day, when I was in a rush to get on the road, that the clouds parted a bit—though I never saw the sun itself.

When I went down to check out the beach my first step managed to get about a gallon of sand into my tennis shoes. Guess I'd really arrived! I walked and walked and took a bunch of photos. Some people were flying kites down the beach, but they'd packed it in by the time I got there. On my last full day, two men set up and then kitesurfed just before dusk.

The wind was howling or close to it the entire time, and when I traveled down to Hatteras there were lots of kites peeking over the dunes. Occasionally the dunes would disappear and I'd see guys being lifted a good 20 feet into the air over the water by their kites. I also saw slews of windsurfers.

Oddly enough, I didn't see much difference in tides. I'd go out during high tide; go out during low; no difference I could see. Were we having gravitational anomalies?

I got supper in a nearby recommended restaurant: Miller's Seafood & Steakhouse. My seafood plate with shrimp, scallops and crab cake, was delicious, but the most surprising thing about the meal was the hushpuppy. It wasn't greasy! It was one of those large round kind, not the little dollops, and was crisp on the outside and cakey on the inside. Perfect. It also came with a piece of cornbread that was mostly the same as the inside of the hushpuppy and didn't really scream "cornbread" at me.

We're still talking food? First of all, I NEVER got crabs at Dirty Dick's Crab Shack, no matter how many billboards he put along Highway 64. Instead I went to Awful Arthur's Oyster Bar and had a lovely fresh tuna salad with a side of (drool) the freakingly BEST clam chowder I have EVER eaten! Imagine the best you've ever had and then triple the yummy. Woof! The waitress said she was sure the website had the recipe, but I haven't been able to find it.

The Jolly Roger had been recommended by the desk clerk. It was decorated in a combination junk yard/ocean motif/Christmas style, with one room's ceiling covered with metallic Xmas paper and hundreds of Christmas ornaments. "What do they do around Christmas?" I wondered. Immediately upon entering and getting a table assigned, the manager asked the hostess, "Why'd you give her THAT table?" in an accusing voice, though she winked at me. The hostess was startled and upset. It was her first day and the manager was giving her a hard time/learning experience in front of me, the customer. I didn't appreciate it.

I also didn't appreciate the waiter sliding into my booth as he took my order. He actually advised me not to order the strawberry shortcake for dessert (after I asked him if the berries were fresh or not), even though it was prominently displayed on the menu. I ordered another prominently-displayed dinner, the seafood lasagna, which came with (??) a side of spaghetti with marinara sauce. The sauce tasted straight out of a jar, and the lasagna held no trace of seafood taste. It was just doughy noodles and LOTS of cheese. I tried, but could not eat it. Looking around, I fully expected Gordon Ramsay to appear, flinging the f-word and spitting out food. The manager was mystified; no one had ever complained before! (Yeah, right.) She offered a gift certificate for lunch the next day and I declined. Bleah!

Down at Hatteras/Buxton I ate at the Captain's Table, an informal cafe that served a nice clam chowder and salad. For my last dinner I decided not to fool around and returned to Miller's (if it hadn't been raining I'd have gone to Awful Arthur's) for some lovely surf & turf. The final morning I had breakfast there and was kind of disappointed. The western omelet was more a large, flat crepe, with the filling chopped much too fine. I prefer the Waffle House version: light, fluffy, with big chunks o' stuff.
Can you see this well? This is Kitty Hawk, the Wright Brothers' park. On the left is where they took off. Then there's the lawnmower, then there are three markers marking how far the first three flights went on Dec. 17, 1903. Waaaay off there to the right is a marker for something, and the final marker with the fourth powered flight's final position should be, oh dear, I think the "something" marker is covered up. Let's just say the final marker is from this angle about as far from the 3rd marker as that marker is from the starting point. And that's with perspective. (I screwed up and didn't get it on this comp.) That's 120 feet, 175 feet, 200 feet, and 852 feet. Altitude was about 10 feet. The brothers alternated being pilot.

Here's the monument, sitting on the large dune they used to fly gliders off of. The two years previous to the powered flight were spent with figuring out how gliders worked and how one could control them. You can't tell much from this, but that is one looooong walk up there. Plus, at the time the dune was sand, not grassed. There's a picture at the base of the dune as it was back then, and even though dunes change their shape often, this is the same exact shape. I suspect that the building of this monument messed up the dune completely and someone sat there with the photo in hand and directed them on how to reshape it to look like the original. Then they slapped some grass seed on it and shot anyone who walked there until the grass took hold.

The visitors' center has a full-scale mockup of one of the gliders as well as the first airplane. It also has a piece of the actual first plane and some of the cloth from the wing that Neil Armstrong took to the moon and brought back. There's a wonderful, interactive talk the ranger gives to explain everything and encourage people to reach for their own goals in life. The site also has some larger buildings that show a movie (I didn't go), plus the two original shacks that were used as hangar and living quarters in 1903. All this for $4. They should install a funicular to take people to the top of the monument (I don't see it as accessible to folks in wheelchairs; that final climb is a killer!), and a bobsled to go down, and charge $20 for the rides. I'd pay.

The ranger said that the Wright Brothers and their crew lugged their 200+-pound glider up that dune 1000 times during 1902. Yikes!

The ranger's talk starts off with two safety admonitions: to stay on the walkways, as prickly pear and sandspurs abound, with the pear able to penetrate the soles of shoes. The second: how to handle rip currents. Huh? Oh well, apparently as long as they have the tourists, they tell them about this. Good enough.

It rained full-out that afternoon, so I finally finished Maeve Binchy's Evening Class, a very thick and slow (but beautiful) novel that gives a real emotional payoff many times in the story, but especially at the end. (sniff) It's a series of vignettes about the disparate people who take a beginning conversational Italian night course at a high school located in one of Dublin's more down-and-out neighborhoods. Recommended for those who can stay for the long run!

The next day I made sure the gas tank was full and set off for Cape Hatteras and its lighthouse. The desk clerk said it would take 45 minutes. Someone passing by said more like an hour. The actual time? Forever!

I did stop at the Bodie Lighthouse practically first thing along the road. It's undergoing full renovation, and the gray drapery matched the gray skies so well I didn't even see it as I drove by. From there the road is pretty darned empty. It alternates dunes and low scrub on either side of the road. At some points crews were out digging up the dunes on the eastern side that were trying to drape over the road, and replacing the sand a little farther out. I passed lots of dead raccoons, surprised that any animals could survive on what was pretty much sand. A display down in Hatteras said there were even deer in some places, but the animals were hard-put to find fresh water.

A ways down there was another BRIDGE OF LONG LENGTH! I caught a glimpse of the sign: Bonner Bridge, the Horror that the desk clerk had spoken of! Yet it wasn't that bad—not nearly as bad as ol' Virginia Dare—even though I was clutching the wheel pretty hard. I just checked on Wiki and it says that the bridge was built in the early 60s, without environmental impact studies; thus the state spends oodles trying to keep it and its surroundings stable. Thus the work crews dredging.

Nope, the real horror bridge occurred in another part of the drive. All of a sudden warning signs appeared telling us to slow down to 25mph. What is this? I wondered. What it was was a small bridge that looked like the Corps of Engineers had gone door to door, asking for old refrigerators and washing machines, and then stripped their backs off to make the bridge. Uneven metal plates had been riveted side by side, row upon row, to form this so-called bridge. I suppose some storm had washed part of the island out (seems to me I remember a news report after some hurricane or another) and the bridge had been hurriedly patched in. Yeesh.

Occasional towns/tourist spots began to dot the road (I saw a street named "Green Lantern Road"), and finally a bunch of store signs mentioned "Hatteras." There was a large sign by the road that had an arrow and said "Hatteras Light Facility and campgrounds," but I passed it by. Everyone knew the thing was called the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. But then I caught a glimpse of the lighthouse out the side window. I turned around.

That's one thing I noticed about the tourist sites on the Outer Banks. When you get to the actual turn-off, there's a big sign hanging over or to the side of the road. There are no warning signs: "Wright Brothers Monument, next left," nothing like that. It's just BANG, and you'd better be in the correct lane right now.

But there was the lighthouse. Yup. Cape Hatteras. There were no programs, and the walk-up had been discontinued as of the day before (I'd heard the radio announcement). No exciting references to the Graveyard of the Atlantic, no shipwreck remains. So I went to the souvenir shop, got some stuff, and decided to get lunch before I started the long trek back.


Somewhere outside of town was a fishing spot (there are lots of 'em along the way), but instead of a parking area off the road, many cars were parked in the sand along the road. I wouldn't take that chance. But they all seemed to be fine.

Except one.

A pickup truck was stuck up beyond its rear axle in sand. By the time I came by, a tow truck had appeared, to the great amusement of the assembled crowd of fisherpeople.

My hotel room's outer door allowed both breeze and the howling of the wind through, but I slept well enough. The next day was for traveling home, but I stopped by Jockey's Ridge on the way off of Bodie Island. I thought maybe I could get some great shots in of hang gliders.

One of the lower dunes at Jockey's Ridge.
They have lessons at 9 and 2, I think, with actual practice after an hour's instruction. No one had shown up today, so I wandered the grounds. They have a wind generator to power the entire site, and a nature walk that shows you all the animals and flora in the area. After that it's slog, slog, slog through the deep sand, up hills and down. This is what Wilbur and Orville had to lug that heavy glider through. There were a couple tiny fresh-water ponds that had to have resulted from the week's rain, though they had plants living in them.

Well, at least I was getting exercise to counter the long drive ahead. I wanted to see the ocean from the dunes and so climbed one. I saw larger dunes all around. Across the way, on top of one gigantic dune, was a frolicking family. When they came down I asked them if they could see the ocean from the top.

"No," Mom sniffed at me. "I saw the sound, not the ocean. There's a difference, you know." Bitch. Even so, I began to walk up. And up. And then the angle became even steeper.

You know, I'd already seen the ocean. AND the sound. I had lots of pictures. Didn't really need to see it again right now. I turned around to return to the boardwalk. When I turned around from there for a final look at the dunes, I saw a fox scampering across the sand. Cool!

Filled up the car with gas (it was 30¢ more expensive on the Banks than back at home) and took off, this time going 64 all the way to Raleigh, past cotton field after cotton field. The skies suddenly turned blue and cloudless about halfway there. Virginia Dare had been a little less daunting—though not that much—this time over. Speaking of Ms. Dare, I was too tired to check out Manteo and all the Lost Colony stuff there. Maybe next time. Of course, next time I'll come down from farther up north, where scary bridges aren't needed. I hope.
I did manage one plein air painting. This is 8x10".

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