Only until a year ago did I even hear of the Outer Banks of North Carolina. And it’s still under debate whether it’s a series of islands or a peninsula and an island; nevertheless, it is basically a very skinny strip of land where, at some points, you can stand at the middle of a residential hill and view the ocean on one side, the sound on the other.
The Outer Banks are flanked by beaches on both sides and crashing waves, with enormous houses wrapped in wood shingles and wearing outdoor decks like inner tubes, where the upstairs is downstairs and the downstairs is upstairs and about five or more families can all stay together under one roof. We were fortunate to get my friend Sara’s family’s vacation property in the northern town of Duck, and they have a pool and hot tub, and two decks, and ocean views, and a hammock, and a giant picture window on the main floor with a shipswatch corner, and all the wonderful things that should be found within a dreamy vacation house. We added our bikes and Mother Nature added some excellent autumn sunshine to round it all out. If you plan on a similar trip, you should do the same.
Eat. We went looking for coffee at Cravings (1209 Duck Road) in Duck and found some delicious fried fish and southern BBQ sandwiches instead. I had the crabcake sandwich. We also dined out at The Blue Point Bar & Grill (1240 Duck Road), which was like a 50’s diner with views and upscale food. I tried the trout on a bed of sweet potatoes. It was delicious. The day before our half-marathon, my friend Jen found herself drinking beers and eating buckets of peel-and-eat shrimp at the Sugar Shack (7640 S Virginia Dare Trail) in Nags Head.
Sites. I admit, I never really quite understood what a “dune” was and finally discovered it for the first time. A dune is like a mountain of sand that stretches like a desert, but isn’t as dry, but is just as impressive. Jockey’s Ridge State Park gives you a really great idea of what being stranded in a desert would be like, except it’s more like a giant beach with the ocean far away. People brought kites and snowboards – yes, snowboards, and boogie boards – to go riding down the hills of sand (people with bloody sand burns were spotted, too). Sunset is an impressive time of day to see the dunes. The Wright Brothers National Memorial pays tribute to the nation’s “first in flight” – also North Carolina’s state motto, which has brought controversy with Ohio, where the Wright Brothers’ bike shop was located and where the airplane was built, making Ohio the “Birthplace of aviation”. If history interests you, you can also check out some stuff in Roanoke and learn about Virginia Dare, the first English person to be born in America, as well as the Lost Colony, which apparently (I never knew this before) was a settlement where all the people left and nobody knew where they went. To this day, they still haunt the island. Actually I don’t know if that last part is true, but there is an outdoor theater musical going on in the Outer Banks re-enacting the Lost Colony.
Play. Biking along route 12’s bike path is another great way to check out the sites and get some leisurely exercise. The road is fairly flat and easy, unless the winds off the ocean work against you. If you’re a runner, as a very large number of us were this particular weekend for the marathon and half-marathon race, it’s a lovely course for that as well. Of course, playing on the beach is one of the main reasons people come here in summer, and even in autumn it’s still wonderful. Jon attempted an ocean swim which lasted all of one minute, and we gathered numerous seashells with my niece and tried to identify them against a guide to local seashells we found in Sara’s house.
Shop. Outer Banks has your fair share of kitschy vacation souvenir and swimsuit shops, but there are a few gems around. Island Bookstore is a favorite of Sara’s, but I didn’t get to stop in. Knitting Addiction in Kitty Hawk was recommended to me by a fellow writer/ knitter who understands the horrific habit of dropping many bills on irresistable colors, textures and varieties of yarn so fortunately for me, I had arrived by bike and with no wallet. There’s also some outlet shopping further south.
Of course, there’s always just sitting on the deck with a cold cocktail or beer in hand and watching the ocean waves roll for hours on end. What’s the rush? It’s the south, after all. And it’s the Outer Banks. Aaaah.