Outer Banks

It rained a lot this week on the Outer Banks during what is, by my recollection, the ninth trip I have made here in the last 21 years.  It was the worst kind of rain, too — that gray, windy, daylong stuff that blocks any outdoor activities and floods the few roads on this precarious sandbar.

Still, it hardly mattered. There is a renewing vibe to an Outer Banks trip that cuts through weather’s attempt to knock it down, and even days spent looking out the windows, reading books and plinking on a mandolin are special. And as I sit here on a near-perfect final afternoon — temperature around 80, light breeze, ocean a little choppy but that’s what you get here, dolphins and pelicans occasionally cruising by — I think about how much joy this place has brought me.

My first trip here was a sort of accident. I had headed to the Smokies in my old Isuzu Amigo for a camping vacation, but after a couple of days of soaking rain, I gave up and decided to just start cruising around for a few days. I crossed the mountains and drove across North Carolina until I ran out of road. There was a ferry there, though, and I hopped on it and found myself in Ocracoke a couple of hours later.

Ocracoke is its own Outer Banks thing, accessible only by ferry from the north and south, and feeling more than a little like a New England fishing town. I spent a few hours there and hopped another ferry for the short ride across to Hatteras Island. It was early May and the ferry held only a dozen or so cars, and dolphins surfed the wake in front of the bow. It was the first time I’d ever seen them in person.

I spent the night at a roadside/beachside motel on Hatteras, sleeping in a room over the office because the owner hadn’t opened most of the rooms up for the season yet, and wandered along the undeveloped miles of National Park shore the next morning for a few hours. Then I headed north and eventually back home, determined to return when I had more time.

That happened a few years later, when I hauled my girlfriend here and proposed to her. “What are we going to do?” she said, again and again, when I popped the question. “Say yes, dammit!” I responded, and she did. We honeymooned at the Inn at Corolla Light a year later.

We’ve stayed all over the Outer Banks since then, from Corolla to Salvo, but I think we’ve generally settled into being Nags Head people. We almost always come in mid-September after the rental rates drop and the kids go back to school, but the weather usually remains warm and few places have shuttered for the season. It’s a slower time, before the fall festival season brings in a fresh crop of weekend tourists, but it’s usually a beautiful time to visit (it’s also the height of hurricane season, which caused us to get evacuated one year, but that’s the chance you take).

This trip took us to Duck, thanks to a week that we won in a charity auction, and it’s a little more upscale here than we like for our ideal beach experience. But that is what you definitely would call a high-class problem, and our love of the island remains unabated. We’ll probably return next year.



  1. its funny – I have the same reaction to the place despite my experiences there being quite different than yours. This August was our 23rd year going with the same group of folks. This year we had 12 adults and 14 kids (ages 7-14) all in one house. It is loud, crazy, and yet still one of the best, most relaxing weeks I have all year. It is truly a magical place!

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