So, last week I celebrated my 50th birthday by heading to Hatteras, NC. If you’re not familiar with Hatteras, it’s at the VERY bottom of the Outer Banks of North Carolina. It’s remote, and small, and rarely crowded – my kind of place!
We stayed in a lovely little house across the highway from the ocean. Now, let me clarify that statement a little bit. “Highway” is kind of a grandiose word for a two lane road that divides the ocean side from the sound side. And, in case you think of acres of land when you hear that, let me clarify even further. The island is less than a football field wide where we stayed. From the back deck, you could see the ocean AND the sound at the same time. It widens up a teensy tiny bit below us, but then the road ends and there’s just ocean beyond. It was amazing!
Amazing and awesome and kind of intimidating, to be perfectly honest. Hurricane Melissa was living just off shore for most of the week we were there. The first couple of days were spectacular – high 70s/low 80s, nice breeze, just perfect weather. Except the ocean was rough. Way too rough to swim. I was nervous if anyone got in the water past their calves. The waves were crashing HARD up on the shore and the rip current was stronger than I’ve ever seen. There were visible troughs. Scary stuff!
The middle part of the week was dreary. My husband and son went home and my daughter and I stayed in and crocheted and watched many episodes of Veronica Mars. Not a bad way to spend a vacation, IMHO.
But, then my friend Christine arrived, and just a couple hours later, the storm effects took hold for realz. We had literally no idea what was coming, but apparently this is every day life for the locals, so they were unperturbed. Mostly.
The weather stayed lovely, but the surf kicked up a few notches. Now remember up above where I mentioned how narrow the island is? It’s even narrower in some parts. Just North of Rodanthe, there’s a tiny strip of road that is protected from the ocean by only some 10 foot tall dunes. and the other side is a narrow strip of marsh that leads to the sound. I’m talking like 100 feet wide at the most. It’s narrow. They are building a bridge that will go over this stretch of sand bar and connect the northern banks to the southern banks.
But, in the meantime, they are treated to this excitement periodically. https://islandfreepress.org/outer-banks-news/subtropical-storm-melissa-in-pictures-with-slide-show/
With very little notice, the ocean just crept up, knocked down the dunes and covered the road with sand and water.
And just like that, we were stranded.
In all my life, I have never considered the ocean more than just a beautiful and awe inspiring place to lose myself and enjoy. But, this trip, that changed. I saw the ocean soooo much bigger. So much more awe inspiring. And, a little bit like an enemy.
All day for three days, NCDOT would hustle between high and low tide to shovel back the sand and rebuild the dunes. And then high tide would come along and knock the dunes down again. Nighttime was just lost. It’s so dangerous, so powerful, if they can’t see well enough, it’s just not a good idea to drive a bulldozer in crashing waves and hope for the best. So, two high tides worth of sand would accumulate and two high tides worth of waves would crash down the dunes overnight. And they would start all over again.
Meanwhile, on shore, the weather was beautiful! Still couldn’t swim because the surf was so rough, but you would never know that we were dealing with hurricane aftermath just by stepping outside.
Unless you lived in Avon. Which was under about 5 inches of water in some places, and more than a foot in others. It was intense.
But, we made it home after a few days. It was kind of touch and go whether we’d be able to leave on Sunday as planned, but NCDOT worked hard and we were able to leave. There was still lots of water on the road, which was partly due to ocean overwash and partly due to seepage from being on just a low sand bar.
I love Hatteras, but that may be my last visit. Now that I’m home again, I’m so happy to have all the land around me keeping the ocean far far away. And, I think I want it to stay that way.