The White Oak River

The White Oak River, near Red Sixteen Buoy

When July rolls around, you expect some heat if you are living on the coast of North Carolina.  We are rarely disappointed, and this year is no exception.

While much of the eastern part of the country has baked, we have been relatively lucky here on the Southern Outer Banks.  However, we have had our moments when there was little escape from the heat.

With summer and even our less than brutal heat comes the challenge of staying cool. One of my favorite retreats from the heat is the river near our house.  Before the sun gets high in the sky, it is like an oasis of cool during the summer.  With heat just being part of life here, a little NC background is in order.

Being a native North Carolinian and having spent most of my youth in the Piedmont town of Lewisville just outside of Winston-Salem, I have some history of dealing with the heat.

My mother raised me as a single mom, and we didn’t get our first air conditioning unit until the late fifties.  We didn’t have an air conditioned car until 1962.  In the summer time you wore as little as possible and tried to find a shade tree when you could.  The idea of staying in a house on a summer day was foreign.  Houses were good places to get cooked.

You stayed outside and found some water to be near if possible.  Nearly sixty years later a lot has changed, but I still don’t feel the need to be inside to stay cool.  When I talked to my son, who is in his thirties, on July 22 when the temperature hit 105 degrees Fahrenheit at Dulles Airport not far from where he lives, he told me his plan was to not leave the basemen of their home. That wouldn’t work for me.

Their basement is cold enough that my wife wears a sweater when we visit in the summertime.  Maybe it is age, or having spent a lot of my life working outside, but I have to go outside, or I end up feeling like a prisoner in my own house.  Mostly meeting the heat head-on and facing it down seems to work well for me.  Still even I need time outside when I don’t worry about the heat.  That involves picking the right places and times.

Outside of taking a trip to the mountains and getting up over 3,000 feet or down in a cavern, there are really only a couple of outside places in North Carolina where you can spend time and not get fully cooked if you play your cards right.

Of course the easy choice for many is to head over to beach.  That was one of our solutions when I was a youngster.  Mother would pile me and whatever nieces happened to be around and off we would head for a summer vacation on the NC Coast.  We never stayed in an oceanfront cottage, and I don’t remember any being air conditioned, but we loved it.

Unfortunately today, even as close as I am to the beach,  getting over to the sandy shore involves getting in a car and riding for at least ten minutes.  There are days during the hot season when heading to the beach can be frustrating.  On weekends traffic can get backed up for a while and parking can be challenging.  When I went over to the Island on Thursday,  July 21, at around 11:00 AM I managed to get one of the last three parking spaces just off Coast Guard Road.  My beach walk was a real treat, and standing in the water at the Point was a great way to stay cool.  Still the hike to and back from the easternmost part of Point where there were no people was close to two miles, and part of it was along a hot paved road.

However, there is an easier and less frustrating solution for me.  It is the skiff just behind our home.  My skiff, which sits on a lift, is ready to be dropped in the water at a moment’s notice. It is just over twenty-five feet from our garage.  I have driven a lot of motorized things over the course of my life including a small air plane.  For sheer pleasure, it is hard to beat a twenty foot outboard skimming across the waters.

When you add a deserted coastal river, the slight cool of an early morning, you have an equation that can end being a recipe for happiness.  Taking the boat out on the river before everything heats up is without a doubt one of my favorite ways for limiting the impact of heat.

On July 22, I dropped my boat in the water around 7:30 AM.  I idled out the Bluewater Cove inlet until I got into the main channel by the red sixteen buoy.  In seconds I brought the boat up on plane, and in just a few minutes, I was idling around Swansboro Harbor.  It didn’t take me long to turn around and head back up the river at a little over 30 miles per hour.  I docked and was back in the kitchen getting ready to cook my breakfast at just before 8:00 AM. The ride both ways was thrilling and a great way to cool off before the day even started.

The boat ride was truly fun, and the best thing is that it took only thirty minutes. I was back before my wife even had finished her coffee.   As you can see from this YouTube Movie skimming across the water at a speedy clip can start your day right.  The good mood from my boat ride lasted all through the morning.  Getting the same psychological lift from a beach walk would easily take three times as long.

Our river, the White Oak, also has the advantage of being uncrowded.  My July 22 boat ride was on a deserted river so I saw no people.  I had the river to myself.  This time of year, getting the beach to yourself requires some serious walking.

So the next time, you’re headed to work and crossing the White Oak River on the Highway 24 bridges before 8:00 AM on a weekday morning, watch for a Sundance skiff sliding into the harbor.  If it makes a quick tour of the harbor and then heads quickly back up river, that is likely me, making the most of the best cool spot that I can find.