‘You sure the ferry runs today?’, I enquired at the gas station. Gale force winds were blowing my SUV around the road as we headed south to Ocracoke Island. “They run all the time in much worse weather than this,’ the clerk replied.
Stretching for 200 miles, the Outer Banks are actually barrier islands that run along the coast of North Carolina, in places so narrow that you could throw a rock from the ocean to the sound (well, Nolan Ryan could). Looking on a map, they seem so fragile and vulnerable.
The candy-striped two-hundred foot tall Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is also a popular stop – unfortunately, it was closed during our visit – you can climb to the top for a fee. The waters around the Outer Banks are treacherous, hence its name as the ‘Graveyard of the Atlantic’.
Heading south, Cape Hatteras National Seashore runs for 70 miles, passing through isolated communities that at one time, were only accessible by boat. As we passed through the community of Avon, piles of debris lined the road from Hurricane Irene. Nowadays, bridges link the islands, except when you get to the tip of Hatteras Island.
We loaded our car, along with thirty others, and started the forty-minute ride through the wind-swept channel to Ocracoke Island. The wind howled and the ferry swayed from side-to-side – I had to stuff balls of cotton in ears to cut the wind tunnel action occurring next to my brain.
For years, this island was isolated from the rest of the Outer Banks, until the free ferry started transporting cars and passengers. The town itself is a great day trip from Nag’s Head or Kitty Hawk – stop for lunch, buy a few nautical soveniers, and visit the harbor area.
‘Where are the wild horses?’, I asked the woman at the visitor center in Ocracoke. She said ‘They are not allowed to run free anymore, too many were getting hit by cars,’ so now you can see them in corrals by the side of the road. For years, these wild horses ran free on the beaches, probably left here by Spanish explorers centuries ago.
On the beaches, bulldozers worked seven days a week restoring sand eroded by the recent hurricane. Offshore tankers dredged sand and pumped it onshore, where it was spread by the big Cats. The idea is to expand the beach area from thirty yards back to one-hundred yards. I’m quite sure this is a permanent job – as soon as they finish one beach, there will always be another to fill in.
And who knows when the next hurricane will hit this area – Cape Hatteras will certainly bear the brunt of the onslaught when it does.