Beach or Mountains?

Roanoke, Va., AirportIf you are a native North Carolinian, you likely have faced the question of mountains or beach more than once in your life.

I remember hearing the discussion of the relative merits of the coast and high peaks from my earliest years.

Now many of us wrestle with which is the best place to live? Should we reside at the coast or in the mountains?  I am lucky enough to still be able to taste both.

My mother loved her two weeks of vacation, and every year she wrestled with the choice of beach or mountains.  Since we lived not far from the Blue Ridge Mountains, the beach, which was the more exotic destination, won more times at least in my memory.

She would pack as many kids as she could into her 1953 Ford, and we would head off to one of North Carolina’s many beaches. Along the way we got to enjoy one of her famous picnic lunches which were based around country ham biscuits and fried chicken so perfect that we’ll never taste its like again.

I can only remember two trips outside of North Carolina in those early years.  One was to Virginia Beach and the other was to Folly Beach near Charleston.  Neither met her standards so we never returned to either.

Her favorite beaches were Nags Head, Atlantic Beach, and the beaches around Wrightsville including Kure Beach.  We never got to stay right on the beach, but we always had lots of fun.  We stayed out on the beach most of the day so our accommodations mattered little.

I don’t even remember ever having air conditioning, but it didn’t matter because we were so tired at night that we fell asleep no matter what the temperature.  Of course we didn’t have air conditioning at home so not having air conditioning was seen as normal.

I was always in tow behind some of my teenage cousins who were experts at enjoying the beach during the day and its amusements at night.  It was a wonderful, magical time each year that made us look forward to our next trip.

When we didn’t go to the beaches we would head off to Cherokee, Tweetsie, Blowing Rock, and even Gatlingburg, Tennessee which seemed to be okay even though it wasn’t in North Carolina.

While those days ended with my going away to college, I had one summer when I alternated between camping on Ocracoke Island and pitching my tent deep in the Black Mountains of North Carolina.  After college, I moved away to a sixteen year adventure in Atlantic Canada.

Then in 1989, our family moved down to the Virginia mountains after a short two-year stay in Columbia, Maryland.   Columbia proved too much of a cultural shock to us after living in the laid back world of Canada.  Roanoke, Virginia seemed like a much easier place to re-enter American life.

From our home in Roanoke, Va we still see mountains when we roll out of bed, mountains when we walk to the kitchen, and mountains when we sit down to have a cup of coffee in the morning.  Our existence in Roanoke is wrapped in the soft blues of the Blue Ridge Mountains and their neighbors to the west and north.  The only time we don’t see mountains is when the fog rolls in, or it is snowing so hard they are hidden behind a wall of white.  While Roanoke isn’t in North Carolina, it is close enough to feel more kinship to North Carolina than to Northern Virginia, which I have I called the epicenter of shopping.

In the fall of 2006, seventeen years after our move to Roanoke, we bought a second home on the coast of North Carolina near the beaches of Emerald Isle and the beautiful waters of Bogue Sound and the White Oak River.

After years on the mountain, I wanted a place where I could put my kayak in the water without having to get in a car.  I wanted to be able to fish from my backyard and to go for a bike ride without loading my bike on the back of a car.  My hiking trails on the mountain behind our Roanoke home had been crowded out by development.

I felt some protection with the Crystal Coast being surrounded by the 56 miles of the Cape Lookout National Seashore on the east, the 158,000 acres of the Croatan National Forest to the north, and Camp Lejeune to the west of the White Oak River.  Our home is on the waters of Raymond’s Gut which feeds into the White Oak.  To the south there is nothing but Emerald Isle and the Atlantic Ocean.

I was also tired of winter snows.  While snows are rare in Roanoke, there have been enough good storms to remind me of those many years in Canada when shoveling snow was as common as opening the garage door.

We still have both homes, but in 2012 I am hoping to be down to just one home.  I’m pulling for living on the coast because I love the warm December beach days that sometimes bless us.  Having shorts weather in December makes up for the occasional nasty winter that we have on the coast.

Yet I still understand the pull of the mountains.  I absolutely love waking up in the morning and seeing the beauty of the mountains spread out before me.  It is a treat than not many people get to enjoy.  In the summer taking a nap on our screened in porch is like having a magical rest in a tree house.

Actually I don’t even mind the snow.  Even at over sixty years of age, I still haven’t seen a storm that I couldn’t clear with my snow scoop.  Our family was all together at our Roanoke home for Christmas.  As our youngest daughter was leaving, mountain winds were blowing around the house.  She turned and said that she was going to miss spending the night.   She said that she loved to hear the wind gusts while safely tucked into her bed.

Our mountain home has a huge covered patio accessed from the walkout basement.  Since it is sheltered, it is like a different world both in the summer and the winter.  In the summer, it is cooler than any other spot, and in the winter, it is warmer and protected from almost all the cold winds.

Our coastal home on the Southern Outer Banks has the advantage of a water view from some rooms in the house including my upstairs office.  It too has some places which seem to defy the weather.  The back steps of our deck stay warm almost all winter, and the area around our garage door is a hot spot in winter and a place that draws cooling breezes in summer.  I also find that living near the beach has made memories of earlier times on coast come back to me.

While it takes me thirty minutes to get to a lake where I can kayak in Virginia, it takes me less than ten minutes to get my kayak in the water and out into the White Oak River.  We also now have a skiff on a lift behind our coastal home.  I can drop it into the water and be in Swansboro where the river meets the Intracoastal Waterway in about ten minutes.  The ocean is only another ten minutes away.  We can also be walking on any of the miles of beautiful beaches of Emerald Isle in ten to fifteen minutes depending on where we head.

The reality is that this debate could go on forever.  The mountains and the beach both have really good points.  You can enjoy a wonderful breeze near the beach, or you can find some breezes and cooling relief from summer heat and humidity in the mountains.

It all depends where you are in your life.   It makes a difference whether you have filled your lifetime snow quota or if you need lots more.  Of course there is also a beach walking quota, and I am working hard to catch up on mine.  I would like to be at 110% by the end of next year.