South from the Outer Edge

Sunrise at Ocracoke

(Note: I updated yesterday’s post with photos, if you want to go back and see those.)

I got up very early to do two things: 1) see the sunrise over Ocracoke, and 2) Leave no risk of missing the early ferry to Cedar Island. The ferry ride takes two hours and this time of year it only runs early in the morning and in the middle of the afternoon. It was a cold night, but not north Maine cold — maybe high 20s — and for once the wind stopped blowing about 9 o’clock. It was a pleasant, good sleep, that comes when it is cold and the sea is crashing away rhythmically and there is nothing else. Ocracoke is the gift that keeps giving.

An early morning ferry ride from Ocracoke Harbor

Once clear of the dock, it was power napping in the sun for the next two hours (there is nothing to see on the crossing except water). Among all the collective great things about the North Carolina Outer Banks, is that their ferries don’t hassle me over my gas tanks. It meant I could travel a long way south on the outer banks, and it meant I could come ashore at Cedar Island.

My talisman, Toomai, comes ashore at Cedar Island aboard the ferry

In addition to the beauty of the Cedar Island Wildlife Refuge — which is formidable — the island is a great introduction to the next section of the eastern edge. The edge here south of Ocracoke is what is known as the Core Sound, protected by the Core Banks. At Harker’s Island, the coast bends back west behind what is called the Back Sound, down to Beaufort. From there on the coastal islands are not so much barriers as playgrounds. Anyway, when you come ashore at Cedar Island, everything seems slower. There’s more room for the water to wander and more braided, twisting marsh creeks with squatting duck blinds in the bends and ramshackle docks here and there. As peaceful as Assateague and Ocracoke and the rest of the Outer Banks — from Currituck, Corolla, Duck, Nags Head, Kitty Hawk, etc., there is a tension there. And real power. The power is obvious — you are way out against the Atlantic. The first defense. The point man. The tension is realizing how little you have to work with. Once on the shore of the core sound, you are on the mainland and the core sound is closer to you. It’s calming. You can see it in the towns along the way. Folks sell crabs from the front porch. The mini-market at the crossroads seems to always be the place where things get done. Yards are clean, but not necessarily neat. These towns feel of the sea, and the pace feels of the tide — not the crashing waves and winds of the banks.

It may be they are just drawing their collective breaths, because the outer banks have earned the nickname “Graveyard of the Atlantic.” Depending on the source, you can find over 600 or over 1,000 ships lost in wrecks on the outer banks. Add in some Civil War battles (the Monitor lies on the bottom offshore here), frequent storms, the collision of two Atlantic currents — the Labrador and the Gulf Stream — and pirates, and you have the recipe for the Graveyard. Calico Jack, Anne Bonney, Mary Read and Edward Teach (Blackbeard) all called Ocracoke and the Outer Banks home for their piratic pillaging. And it was the calm shoreline behind the banks — like Cedar Island — with all its creeks and channels and hiding places that made raiding the big boats offloading at the Outer Banks easy prey. So, the edge inside the banks is quiet, even secretive, and it always has been.

From Cedar Island it is a winding, slow ride around to Morehead City, then out onto Atlantic Beach, Emerald Isle, North Topsail, and on and on to Wrightsville Beach. Then it’s a quick run inland to slip south of Wilmington and get across the Cape Fear River before continuing south to Oak Island and Ocean Isle. And then your in South Carolina. If you aren’t trying to ride right on the edge, most of this is repetitive. These are all vacation towns, unashamedly so, and they have increasingly begun to all look alike. Whenever possible, the old, hunkered down against the hurricane beach homes are being replaced with the vertical, multi-gabled, pottery barn homes that are easy to instagram and rent. They are attractive if unimaginative, and as far as I can see, they are well built. The next big storm up here will tell. But the net affect is to bore you if you see one after the other. By the time I get to the rent-me champion of Myrtle Beach, I can’t take anymore.

I bump one row inland on the roads and use SC 701 and 17 to ply the back bay areas and delve into the Francis Marion National Forest. It calms me. Interestingly, this area feels a lot like Cedar Island, even though it is back from the shoreline. I finally kick west of Charleston to avoid the traffic and settle in for the night.

Tomorrow I will finish this section of Edge Trek 2018 when I reach Savannah. It is the penultimate segment. In the Fall, I will finish my lap, going from Savannah down the Georgia and FLorida east coasts to Key West before turning north to follow the western coast of FLorida around to the panhandle, Alabama and MIssissippi coasts and, finally, to Louisiana, from whence all this foolishness came. As usual, I will have some cumulative thoughts about this run from Cleveland around to Savannah. And, as usual, I will spend most of the ride from Savannah to Atlanta piecing those together in my mind. Regardless, this segment was different from others as all others have been different. The edge changes as it surrounds and defines the limits of this American idea, and I have changed as I have explored it. I don’t know that I have found America, but I have found peace and understanding about America. And so, no matter the conclusions I draw, I will be forever grateful for these opportunities to back out of my driveway and take a drive on the edge.

One thought on “South from the Outer Edge

  1. Brenda Potter

    Ocean Isle was my happy place for over 40 years. Haven’t been in a couple of years but it is, and always will be, part of the fabric of my life.


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