Escaping The Crowds

The Beach At The Point, Emerald Isle, NC

The Beach At The Point, Emerald Isle, NC

We have all headed off to our favorite vacation destination and gotten caught in traffic on the way or found more people than we expected when we arrived at our spot.  Most of us vacation to get away from crowds and finding a crowd in paradise is not a good way to start.  Yet it easy to end up right in the middle of a mass of humanity especially on a popular beach.

I started seriously escaping the crowds well before I graduated from college and headed off to live along the Nova Scotia shore of the Bay of Fundy.  Life in Cambridge, Massachusetts was enough to send me searching for a different world, but that is another story.

However those sixteen years we lived in Canada’s Maritimes might be responsible for my love of open space and spectacular scenery.  The beauty and relative solitude you can find on the coast certainly kept us coming to North Carolina’s Outer Banks after we moved back to the states and lived on the side of a mountain overlooking Roanoke, Virginia.

Over the twenty years that we lived in Roanoke, we had a number of great beach vacations.   One of the elements of a great beach vacation listed in the linked article is getting enough distance between you and civilization.   Both children and adults need to disconnect in order to renew themselves.  Sometimes it is hard to do.   We found a world away from lots of people and technology in several spots, but as is often the case, the world kept discovering our spots not very long after we began enjoying them.

Children eventually do not want to go to the beach with their parents anyway. They also grow up and move out.  So in 2006 long after the children were gone and after three years of looking for the right spot, I convinced my wife that we should try living at the beach for a few years.   We are still here on the North Carolina coast just a few miles away from the beautiful beaches of Emerald Isle.

Carteret County where we live is often called the Crystal Coast.  If you are not familiar with the area, this is a link to a map.  Our area actually wrote the book on escaping crowds.  With the 158,000 acres of the Croatan National Forest at our back, the 56 miles of Cape Lookout National Seashore on one flank, and Camp Lejeune protecting the other flank, there is little to worry about except wind and waves on our south facing beaches along the Atlantic Ocean.  We are just enough off the beaten path and the Interstates to keep from getting overcrowded even during the tourist season.

Still the whole concept of feeling crowded is an individual one.  What is crowded to me might seem a little desolate to some folks.  But with the many miles I hike along the beaches each year, I feel comfortable in offering some advice as to how to find a beach where you will feel uncrowded even during a holiday weekend.

Any beach even a popular one like Nags Head can be uncrowded if you hit it at the right time like we did when I snapped this picture from Jennette’s Pier in early June.  I will not be making the day trip to Nag’s Head on the Fourth of July to prove my point, but I suspect there will be a lot more people on the beach than there was in my picture.

Surprisingly it is very easy to find plenty of space on the beach.  All you have to do is use your legs and walk a little.  This picture was taken near the westernmost part of the Point at Emerald Isle.  It is looking east up the beach towards the town of Emerald Isle.

I consider the area crowded even when I see a few people like those in this picture.  Both pictures of the Point area were taken just after 4 PM on July 2, 2013 which would have to classed as pretty near the peak of our season.

So why is such a spectacular beach so uncrowded?  Actually there is a section that is fairly crowded for our beaches. Still the number of people is not even close to what you see on most beaches.  It has a few people on it just because it happens to be closer to the public access points and there are a handful of oceanfront homes just north of the beach.

The easiest way to enjoy these uncrowded beaches is to rent one of those handful of homes along the beach.  If your budget like mine cannot handle that, you can still get to the beaches if you put some effort into it.  I rarely have to give up on my regular hikes there and it is all in the timing.  There is only one public parking lot in the area.  It is at the intersection of Station Street and Coast Guard Road.

Unfortunately it only has 16 spaces so you either need to get there early in the day or come later in the afternoon when people are starting to leave.  I prefer to walk late in the day so I usually can find a spot if the tides are cooperating.  I prefer to walk on a falling tide.

Once you get a parking spot, you still have a hike to the beach as you can see from the map of my most recent hike.   The most direct hike to the least crowded part of the Point is straight out Inlet Drive through the vehicle access at the end of the street.  It is still a hike of eight tenths of mile just to the southern edge of that part of the beach.

The least crowded portion of the beach is great if you want to enjoy privacy and just relax in the sun.  It is not so great for playing in the waves.  The water in that section is fairly deep with strong currents close to shore so if enjoying the waves is important, you are better off heading for the section marked in light blue on my map.  A hike of about seven tenths of a mile will put you in that section of the beach.  I like to call the whole area where people are scarce The Point Beyond The Yellow House.

Actually there is not a lot of mystery to the name.  It just signifies that you are on the part of the Point without any houses directly at your back.  The last house is also a yellow house.  That is the simple explanation for why there are fewer people on the beach there. People tend to walk straight out from their houses to the beach.  If there are no houses, there are fewer people.  The only exception to the rule is from September 15 to April 30 when people are allowed to drived on the beach if they have a proper permit.

No matter where you play along the beaches, you need to remember the ocean is not a swimming pool. That is especially true at a place like the Point where the ocean currents meet the currents from Bogue Sound.  You always need to be especially  careful when playing in the ocean.  I don’t recommend swimming in the ocean because of rip currents, but it is even important to play close attention when jumping waves. Rip currents are very dangerous.

One other bit of caution is worth mentioning.  You will notice my hike which is marked in dark blue looks like I am walking on water.  That is actually not the case.  Google just has a hard time keeping up with Mother Nature’s movement of the sand.  You can read about mapping places like the Point at my RWW web article, How To Walk On Water With Google Maps or if you want to read about sand movement on the Point, try this article,  Sand Keeps Moving.

It you want the full details of enjoying the beach, try our Kindle book, “A Week At The Beach – The 2013 Emerald Isle Travel Guide.”  It is only $4.99.  With printable maps, lots of pictures, recipes, and a list of good restaurants, it is a deal.

If you cannot visit the Point, enjoy this G+ slide show of the beach at the Point that I took on my hike on July 2, 2013.  You can also see the pictures positioned on a map at this link.

A Surprise Around Every Corner in our Natural Paradise

Boardwalk at Bluewater Cove

Boardwalk at Bluewater Cove

There are places in the world which can help heal your soul.  I happen to live in one of those places.  I came to it at a time when my life was full of challenges and I had come close to forgetting how important it is to appreciate the natural world around you.

Anyone that follows my writings  and pictures knows that the years since 2006 when we moved here have changed my life.  At one time when I was working for Apple, it seemed as if I hardly had time to check whether the sun was up or down.  I was too busy trying to survive and watching my back.

Today my connection with the natural world is a priority.  The only thing higher would be my family and friends. Fortunately my dedication to being close to the world of nature also helps me nurture many friendships and my family.

After a couple of cups of coffee, a typical winter day begins with at least an hour of hiking around the marshes in our subdivision.  Sometimes I completely lose track of time and I end up spending closer to two hours wandering the woods and wetlands.  Those days breakfast tastes very good when I finally get back home.

When I start out on the boardwalk close to home, I never know what I will find around the corner.  It can be a great blue heron, some great egrets, a kingfisher, or any of a variety of ducks.  Recently I have had great fun with a pair of river otters.

This is a special area. I often describe the area as a place hemmed in for its own good by the Croatan National Forest, Cape Lookout National Seashore, and the Atlantic Ocean with a little protection by Camp Lejeune and the Marines.

A big part of our world is the White Oak River which luckily drains mostly wilderness and farmland.  The White Oak is a big but short coastal river with a strong tide and plenty of oysters.  Often the water is so clear that you can easily see for yards.

The White Oak is just intimidating enough to outside boaters that we rarely see crowds on it in the summer.  In the winter except for a few crab pots, the river is close to deserted.  I am happy to have it to myself like I did on Christmas Day 2012 when I kayaked for most of the morning.

My morning walk often takes me along Raymond’s Gut which empties into the White Oak.  I sometimes feel like I am in a bird sanctuary.  The other morning I stood and snapped shots of bluebirds swarming around a tree.  I have watched baby pileated woodpeckers waiting patiently for their parents to deliver food.

Even during the colder months, I often take to the river in my kayak or skiff.  I try to be on the river at least a couple of times a week twelve months of the year.  Instead of a long walk, in the summer I’ll often take my skiff to the marshes on the other side of the Intracoastal Waterway near Swansboro.   I enjoy a little early morning fishing before the day heats up.

In both spring and summer I can be found walking the beaches especially the area that we call the Point.  Usually I finish my day with either another walk, a trip into the river by kayak or a sunset cruise in the skiff.  Watching the sun slide down behind the trees on the other side of the White is my idea of a great finish to a day.

The beaches, the marshes, the sound, the ocean, and the White Oak River are all part of this wonderful natural world that has helped me recover and learn to appreciate the great natural gifts we are so lucky to have access to in our world.  It is a great place to live.

Certainly the bottle-nosed dolphins, the river otters, and the hooded mergansers would all agree with me that this is a wonderful spot.

Summer Beach Traffic

Beach Traffic at Third St. Beach

Beach Traffic at Third St. Beach

When July rolls around, I usually do a post about beach traffic.  While most people think of beach traffic as the vehicles on the road trying to get to a beach, I am just as concerned about the number of people on the beach hoping to enjoy the water.

The first weeks of July are our peak time for summer visitors here on the Southern Outer Banks.  The annual influx of visitors usually brings out a few complaints from local residents about how bad the traffic is here.

I try to take the complaints about road traffic about as seriously as I do a few grains of sand in our car after a walk on the beach.  In 2011 when the bridge clogged up for a few hours during check-in hours on the 4th of July weekend, I wrote a post about it.

No traffic that I have ever seen here on the beach holds a candle to Washington, DC traffic so I am happy to report our number of annual traffic tie-ups still is still just a handful.

My 2011 tour of the island at around 2PM on Saturday, July 1 indicated that we had a very good crowd.  In 2012 on Saturday, June 30, the bridge so clogged, I decided to wait a little before doing my beach check.  I suspect that means we have a great crowd this year.

Around 5 PM I left for a quick trip to Swansboro where I was dropping off an award for the area’s best restaurant as listed in my new book, “A Week at the Beach, An Emerald Isle Travel Guide.”  By the time I drove by the bridge it had already cleared.

By the time I returned to the bridge it was 5:30 PM.  I decided to time my trip just to provide some concrete numbers.  It took me about two minutes to cross the bridge, and another six minutes to get to Sweet Spot, the ice cream shop in the block before the stoplight to the Bogue Inlet Pier.

The whole trip to what most of us consider the center of town was about eight minutes which is perhaps a minute or two longer than normal.  I can think is very bad by any standards.  Certainly things were much slower earlier in the day, but we will survive another traffic event on Sunday, July 1.  Possibly we will have seen the worst for another year.

There was a slight traffic backup between the CVS and Sweet Spot because of an accident, but it only added a few seconds to my trip.  After visiting with the folks at Sweet Spot, I headed on up the island to the Third Street Beach.

Vehicular traffic appeared to have mostly dissipated from the mess earlier in the day.  From what I could tell, most people seem to have headed for their vacation homes and disappeared inside to recover from their road trips.

When I arrived at the Third Street Beach parking lot, I was not surprised that there were only two other cars in the lot.  I was a little surprised when I walked out to the beach, and my quick survey indicated very few people on the beach.  The picture at the top of the post will confirm my beach visitor estimate.

By then it was almost 6 PM and the worst heat of the day was almost gone especially with the nice ocean breeze.  I suspect people were inside having dinner or planning their next moves on their vacation. However, I think folks were missing the best time of the day to enjoy the beach.

As I headed back to the mainland, I was a little shocked to see a parking place or two in front of Jordan’s Seafood which is usually packed on summer Saturday nights.  Perhaps people were worried about having to wait outside in the hot air.  When I drove by Food Lion at Emerald Plantation, I could tell that parking places were a scarce commodity.

My trip from the Third Street Beach to the stoplight at the intersection of Highway 24 and Highway 58 took eighteen minutes which might be a minute or two more than normal.  Certainly my quick visit showed that people traffic on the beach was minimal and vehicle traffic on the roads was nothing to get excited about considering this is our busiest week of the year.

Those of us that live here often get spoiled by having almost no traffic to deal with in our daily lives.  Ninety-nine percent of the area residents are happy to have our summer visitors.  We would have a bleak economy without the annual migration to the beach that is tradition on much of the east coast.

We are blessed here on the Crystal Coast to have such low density housing along our beaches.  Even at the peak of the season, it is not hard to find privacy on our beaches if you are willing to walk a little.  We have more beach than most people need.

I spend a lot of time walking the beaches of Emerald Isle.  My walks are sometimes serious ones at the Point.  It is not unusual for me to cover three to five miles in one of my beach hikes.  I rarely see more than a handful of people once I get into the serious sand that extends over 1,800 feet from the vehicle ramp at the Point.  I might skip any lunch hour visits to the Point this week, but it will be more because of the heat during the day than crowds that I might find.

Human traffic is minimal here when you get into the more remote areas of our beaches.  It seems most people walk to the beach and head straight for the water.  They spread out like the delta of a river but they rarely go very far from where they first find sand and water.

It is perhaps human nature to enjoy the closest water, but it gives those of us willing to walk a little a lot more beach to enjoy.  I know from experience there are lots of crowded beaches in the world,  I am happy to live in an area where it is easy to enjoy life without walls.

For tips about the best places for walking and evening some suggestions for avoiding traffic on the roads and grocery stores, check out my book at Amazon.  It is available currently in Kindle format, but with free Kindle reader software, you can read it on practically anything including a Mac, a PC, or an iPad.  I am working on a native version for the iPad.







Life without Walls

Campground at Hammocks Beach State Park

Campground at Hammocks Beach State Park

When you live in place like North Carolina’s Southern Outer Banks, it is easy to jump to the conclusion that everyone loves the out-of-doors.  It is even easier if a good part of your life has been spent outside in the elements.

Perhaps those of us in our sixties are one of the most fortunate generations.  We grew up before television and the Internet took over the lives of children.  I can still remember the first television in our neighborhood.  I must have been six or seven years old.

One of our neighbors got the television, and we all crowded around it to watch Howdy Doody.  When it was over we went back outside to play.  It wasn’t something better than our imaginations so it never captured us.   We had creeks to dam and forts to build.  We stayed outside all summer.  Often we didn’t come home from our adventures in the woods until dark.  Then we would eat and go back outside to chase fireflies or play capture the flag.  We always played something after school unless it was raining hard.

As I was walking by the mostly empty campsites at Hammocks Beach State Park early one afternoon in June 2012, it occurred to me that today’s young adults might not have the same love of the outside world that was so much a part of our lives in the fifties, sixties, and seventies.

Yet most of the people living on the Crystal Coast do love the out-of-doors.  You can see people walking in our neighborhood at all hours of the day.  We see everyone from young mothers trying to get some exercise in before their husband leaves for the day to older people walking their dogs.  We even see teenagers walking.

Walking on the beaches, I see some familiar faces. Some people walk the beach every day weather permitting.  When I am on the water I even recognize a number of boats and a few kayaks that I have seen several times.  With water everywhere, miles of beach, and thousands of acres of forest, I wonder how you could live here and not appreciate the wonder of our magical world outside the walls of our homes?

Still even in our neighborhood here on the Southern Outer Banks, there are people that we rarely see outside.  I sometimes wonder if they are part of the television generation which prefers to visit National Parks by way of the Discovery Channel.

I know our area attracts many people who love the out-of-doors.  We are not a Myrtle Beach by any stretch of the imagination.  Most of the people living here would be horrified if this area became just another beach with wall to wall condos and shopping malls.

But I wonder if enough people are coming along in the next generation to replace those of us who love the natural world.   The outside world shaped our lives and how we respond to the challenges of life.  Television and the Internet have shaped many those following us.

After we quit building forts and creating ponds, my friends and I became Boy Scouts.  We loved to camp and would head off for an overnight trip to a campsite with the slightest excuse.  I carried that love of camping with me through much of my early adult life.  One of the most memorable summers was one where I didn’t have a job and was able to alternate camping on Ocracoke Island with camping in the Smoky Mountains.  It was a magical summer.

A camping trip to Nova Scotia over Thanksgiving one year in college probably had a lot to do with my decision to live in Canada for sixteen years.  I fell in love with Canada’s wild country.  I still remember pitching my faithful blue mountain tent on the shores of the Bay of Fundy.  My first camping trip there was to celebrate scraping together $6,000 for my first farm and 140 acres.  I still remember the unique flavor a steak grilled over a driftwood fire.

Spending everyday outside for over twelve years while I took care of our herd of Angus cattle in Canada gave me a great appreciation for the world beyond the walls of my house.   I didn’t do any camping while I farmed but I was outside more hours than I want to remember.  Even while farming I still managed to catch a few fish between chores.

I camped some with my son when he was growing up, but the world had changed by then.  My trip to Hammocks Beach State Park brought back fond memories of waking up in the cool morning air along the beach.   I could almost taste the sand in the scrambled eggs from my days on Ocracoke.

The more that I walk the beach, the more convinced that I am that the culture of television and the Internet have thinned the ranks of those who want to see what is on the other side of that next sand dune.

We have amazing beaches here on Emerald Isle.  Yet once the beaches are closed for driving, you really don’t have to walk the miles that I do at the Point on Emerald Isle before the crowds disappear.  Thankfully there are always a few who are searching out that next interesting tidal pool or who want to know what is beyond that next curve in the beach.

That we learned much more than how to pitch a tent from Scouting and camping is unquestionable, but learning isn’t just confined to our youth.  When I came to the Crystal Coast, I was determined to learn the waters of our area like I once knew the fields and forest of my farm in Canada.

My wife and I weren’t boaters when we bought a Sundance skiff in June of 2007, but we managed to learn the waters well enough to have a great time safely. Most weeks I take my boat out four or more times.  I have a hard time imagining being cut off from the beautiful waters of Carteret County.

The land and waters of our area encourage people to get outside and enjoy a world they might not have experienced before moving here.  I have seen people come to the Crystal Coast and take up kayaking at age when some folks are comfortably settled in their easy chairs or assisted living homes.  Learning to love the out-of-doors can happen at any age.

There is a part of me that believes that children raised here on the Southern Banks will have an advantage in life because most parents here make sure their children spend more time outside than inside. There is so much to learn here, and it is such a wonderful place to learn.

As I was walking back from the beach to the ferry terminal at Hammocks Beach State Park, I was heartened to see a young couple obviously hauling their gear to the beach for an overnight camping trip.   Maybe there won’t be as many whose lives are shaped by the world outside four walls, but I will bet that those who do learn to appreciate the out-of-doors will have even more of an impact on the future of our world.

Just maybe some of those folks will come from the Crystal Coast.



Life on this side of the horizon

Life this side of the watery horizon

Life this side of the watery horizon

Living along North Carolina’s coast is a treat that has to be experienced to be appreciated.  For many years, I visited the coast and felt the pressure to enjoy the water no mater what the weather.

Now that I live here, I get to pick and choose the days when I get on the water.  Actually it is better than that.  From my second floor home office which looks out at the White Oak River, I can often sense when a short boat ride is a good thing even on a less than perfect day.

Since getting out on the water is so easy, I can also gamble a little and go out when the conditions might keep folks without a lift at home.  Taking a boat ride of twenty minutes to one half an hour is something that I often do.   It takes very little time to be on the water if your lift and boat are only 25 feet from your house.

If I had to launch a boat from a trailer, I wouldn’t be nearly so quick to take a short boat ride.  I am aware that I am in an enviable position, but I worked hard to get here, so I am going to enjoy it.  In a year like 2012 when “winter” disappeared quickly, getting out on the water has been on my mind for a while.

The picture at the top of the post was taken on March 19, 2012.  For the last couple of months my wife and I have been focused on selling our mountainside home in Roanoke, Virginia.  Being in Virginia has made it hard to be on the water here in Carteret County so I was pretty excited when we got back home to the Southern Outer Banks earlier in the weekend.

Only going to church kept me off the water on Sunday morning.  When Monday, March 19, rolled around, I was not going to be denied some time on the water.  With my second planned task of the day being planting my tomatoes, there were no worries about it being too cold to be on the water.

Still the extra warmth and almost 70F water temperature made getting out on the water an easy decision.  For some reason the winds also decided not to blow.  That is not necessarily a common thing in March.  On top of that there seemed to be a little more water behind our house than is sometimes the case in early spring.  Spring is usually when we get very low tides  All the elements cooperating made for a very pleasurable ride.

I also knew that with the time of year and the perceived challenges of navigating the White Oak, I would likely have the river to myself.  That turned out to be the case.   The river was mine while I was there.

I didn’t take a very long ride since I had a lot of other things on my plate.  I was probably gone from our dock only about thirty minutes, but it was wonderful to be out on the water in such great weather.  The water is never the same twice, but it is a true pleasure figuring it out, and early spring trips always have an extra taste of adventure.

As I got down towards Swansboro where I snapped the post picture, the water became very calm.  The blue from the sky would have merged with the blue of the water except for the thin line of the horizon that was the Highway 24 bridges and a few shops on the causeway.

It occurred to me that my life at the coast is lived totally on the water side of the horizon.  I rarely worry about what is on the other side of the horizon.  I have no desire to get on an airplane and fly to Europe and even less desire to head back to California.  Everything that I need is on this watery side of the horizon.

Living in this world of beautiful marshes and water to the horizon is not something that limits you.    I have actually made the argument the water and sky here at the coast stretch your imagination.

Sometimes even when you are as close to water as I am, not everything is as cooperative as it was during my recent boat ride.  Then I have to take refuge in my memories of being on the water.  Fortunately I have a lot of those even a great YouTube boat ride that I filmed on a warm summer morning on a glassy White Oak River. Memories like that can sustain you for a long time.

Still it is rare that we have to wait very long for a taste of the water. I am counting on getting out on the water for my third time this week in the next couple of days.  I might even take my kayak out.

When you have fish in your backyard, you know that eventually you will find the right conditions to get out and enjoy the water.  Patience comes easy to most of us fishermen.

The fact that water is not far from our house keeps me very calm, and for that I am very thankful.

It also seems that I spend a lot of time thinking about water whether I am out on it or just trying to get out on it.  Water is not a bad thing to have on your mind.

Having a life clearly positioned on this side of watery horizon eliminates a lot of every day frustrations, and the peace that comes with that is just one of the reasons that I live here on the banks of Raymond’s Gut by the White Oak River.