My senior year of college, I read Herman Melville’s Moby Dick during spring break, which I spent quietly with my grandparents in Florida. This may have been a regrettable decision, because now the book and its contents are so knotted up with my experience sitting in the sand peering out onto the infinite sprawl of the ocean. Ishmael gets antsy and fed up with the people around him; he has to go to the sea. “With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship.” I didn’t take to the ship, but I did take to the shore — the Northern Beaches of North Carolina’s Outer Banks. Standing in the surf with my back to the mainland, the wind whipping away any human sound, I was able to regain a small measure of the calm that city life whittles away.
The Outer Banks seem to become the favorite place of basically everyone who visits there. The 200-mile long strip of islands cover about half of the North Carolina coastline, and can be easily reached from most of the mid-Atlantic by Interstates 64 and 95. The series of islands, from north to south, include Bodie, Roanoke, Hatteras and Ocracoke Islands. Bodie Island, the northern-most peninsula of the OBX reaches as far up as Virginia Beach and boasts several communities, among them Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills and Nags Head. If you’re going to the OBX, you’re most likely going to relax on or near the beach — something you can achieve in pretty much any community on the islands. For us, Nags Head was the place, just a couple miles down from the Kitty Hawk memorial to the Wright Brothers and their first flight.
When we set out on the road, the 278 miles between us and the beach stretching before us, we had just one stop to make before the beach. It was just a question of whether we could make it until we got there. That’s right, I’m talking about Sonic Drive-In. As a young child growing up in frigid central New York, land devoid of 7-11, Dairy Queen and, yes, Sonic, I would see the commercials for these places, (because, cruelly, despite the fact there were no nearby locations, they bought airtime in the Syracuse market) advertising their Slurpees and Blasts and I would despair. Alright, maybe despair is a bit of an exageration, but I was eagerly anticipating my first Cherry Limeaid and Sonic tots. And I was not disappointed. Our stop south of Richmond was just the beginning of a weekend of supporting the Sonic franchise all down the mid-Atlantic coast.
Aside from the Sonic stops, however, pretty much all of our eating was done in the kitchen of our rented beach house; One stop at the Harris Teeter at mile post 10 and we grabbed enough groceries for sandwiches, dinner, and — very importantly — margaritas. Down the road, however, there were as many restaurants to choose from as beach shops, should you want to go out. My one venture involved the garishly painted watering hole MexiCali Brews, which attracted us by its fluorescence and by the Grateful Dead reference. Somewhat pricey frozen margaritas there turned out to be 16-oz alcohol-infused slushies, and extremely refreshing. An adjacent yard allowed us to sip in the sun and play bean bag toss, which is apparently a big beach game there along with bocce ball.
We were in need of the MexiCali Brews refreshment after having biked up and down the VA Dare Trail one afternoon on rented cruiser bikes. The bikes go for $10 a day (24 hours) or you can have one for the whole week for $40. For much of the road between Kitty Hawk and Nags Head there is an ample bike lane and yellow Share the Road signs. Still, cruiser bikes to me are fun for a ride, but are not exactly comfy commuter transportation in any way. Canoe and boogie and surf board rentals were also abundant, if that’s your thing.
Most of what attracted and entertained in Nags Head, for us at least, was to be found in the 100 yards between the ocean shore and the first dunes. The water was damn cold and I definitely drank a couple mouthfuls of salt water, thanks to the shoulder-high waves. At night we took a walk when the clouds cleared out and the moon provided as much light as any streetlamp. Crabs scuttled up from the surf and we cornered them by the light of our cell phones. The little guys clawed at us unhappily until we let them go, and they raced off in one direction and we went on too, beach to ourselves.