After nine days of living in what seemed to me luxurious accommodations (two nights on an air mattress in Philadelphia, one night sharing a hotel bed with my dad at The Meadowlands, two nights in a bed of my own at my grandparents’ in New Jersey, three nights on my cot on the floor of my sister’s house, and a night drunkenly sleeping on top of the covers of a guest bed at the Cole residence), it was again time to hit the road and return to my life of driving and camping. This week, however, I was to have an old friend, JR Cole, whom I had known since elementary school. Our original plan was to drive from Pennsylvania down to Shenandoah National Park in Virginia and on to Great Smoky Mountains National Park from there. As many of my readers are keenly aware, a rash of hurricanes had been rumbling through the southeast at this time, and thunderstorms in the area of Shenandoah had washed out any chances we had of enjoying a few days of hiking and camping in that Park…
Luckily, I was well acquainted with another beautiful area of the southeastern United States not affected by this particular set of storms: The Outer Banks of North Carolina. Growing up, my dad would take me and my sisters to Duck, NC on the Outer Banks every summer for a weeklong vacation. Though JR and I did not have the means to rent a beach house for the week, we were fortunate to find an NPS campground located at Cape Hatteras National Seashore, just 45 minutes or so south of the Duck/Kitty Hawk area.
Cape Hatteras National Seashore
Cape Hatteras National Seashore comprises a large portion of the southern Outer Banks, and is a refuge for seabirds, turtles, crabs, ocean life, and a variety of vegetation which grows along the dunes. Oregon Inlet Campground, the only full-service NPS campground in the area, seemed a bit pricey to us vagabond folk at first ($28/night), but the realization that it came equipped with showers, and warm showers at that, made it worth every penny. Our campsite was a few minutes’ walk from the beach, but close enough that we could walk down at our leisure. I will also note that the Park Ranger who administered the campground was by far the most friendly and upbeat Ranger I have ever met (which is saying a lot, as most Rangers I’ve had the pleasure to encounter have been very positive people).
On our visits to the beach, we encountered ghost crabs, seagulls, pelicans, and a sectioned-off area for sea turtle hatching, which we gave a wide berth. On the Sound side of the island, a crab spawning sanctuary lay tucked behind the highway leading south to Cape Hatteras. The dunes which led from the campground to the beach swirled with black sand among the more prevalent tan, contrasting even more at sunset.
Wright Brothers National Memorial
Just 20 minutes or so up the road from Oregon Inlet Campground stands the Wright Bros National Memorial (when I type it as ‘Wright Bros’, it evokes an image of Orville & Wilbur Wright in Mario & Luigi outfits, so just humor me…). While the Memorial itself is not exactly situated where the famous First Flight took place, it towers atop a hill overlooking the dunes and beaches of the Outer Banks. Make the surprisingly steep trek up to the Memorial and you’ll be rewarded with stunning 360-degree views of the surrounding area, large busts of Orville & Wilbur themselves, and a tastefully constructed stone tower. On the east side of the hill stands a life-sized bronze statue of the Wright Bros airplane, along with accompanying statues of Orville, Wilbur, and the three or four other men in attendance who had assisted with preparations for the flight.
Besides standing near the site of the first ever manned airplane flight and pondering at the significance of such an achievement, the factoid I learned from the Memorial that struck me the most was that the brothers flipped a coin to see who would man the flight. Orville happened to win the coin toss, and we generally remember the duo as ‘Orville & Wilbur’. Imagine Wilbur, likely all-too-aware of their place in history should they accomplish this feat, realizing that fate ordained his brother to claim the glory while he assisted from solid ground. It’s remarkable that, given their circumstances, men like Wilbur Wright and Buzz Aldrin haven’t rebelled against fate’s casting of Orville Wright and Neil Armstrong and seized their own glory. What makes men like Wilbur and Buzz remarkable is, in fact, their willingness to take a back seat in support of the greater achievement, making them all the more worthy of remembering…