Friday, August 4, 2017

Getting Out of the City

And so it ends, as all truly great beach trips must, in an epic manner.

Unless, that is, you don't consider a two-mile trudge through driving rain on a mostly deserted beach epic.

The ocean was warmer than the rain. On the way up the beach - pre-deluge - I chatted with a guy reeling in a string of croakers and on the slog back - soaked through my shirt and bathing suit to the skin -  a guy gave me a high-five from the dry security of his deck. By halfway home from the pier, the rain had so saturated my new orange hat that drips from my hair ran down my face despite the straw brim.

It was glorious. It was elemental. It was so much better than not risking a walk at all because of the intimidating look of the clouds. Any seasoned beach-goer would have done the same.

I'd driven down, windows open, Tuesday morning, much of the way behind a rattletrap delivery truck that smelled like sour milk when I was downwind of it.

My soundtrack was all beach mixtapes made for me by fellow beach-goers, so reflecting their states of mind. From 2003 came a giddy paean to love, heavy on female voices, and the other from 2008, all about heartbreak and mostly sung by men. Both have beach associations for me beyond the givers' intents.

My stellar beach read was a birthday gift, Sherman Alexie's memoir/poetry pastiche, "You Don't Have to Say You Love Me" and while I finished it, it's a little worse for the wear after this week.

Sand clings to a circle where a sticker once read "Autographed copy" and the book jacket is inexplicably stained brown in places. It's also mildly waterlogged along the edges, as if a particularly bold wave lapped it at high tide.

I can't be watching my book every minute, you know?

In what is surely a first for at least the last decade, the cottage where we stayed had no wifi. Not even any available wifi to steal from a neighboring house. And while my online needs are minimal when I'm at the beach, technically, I'd be a fool not to check given that I work for myself.

My solution was to drive to the closest wifi hot spot, check my email quickly, respond only when absolutely necessary and return to the cocoon of non-digital access.

It only made this beach trip sweeter.

The big news was all the progress made on the beach replenishment since I was in Kitty Hawk in late June. Then we'd seen the dredging boats far out in the ocean, even at night, but no activity onshore.

Now it's full-steam ahead, pipes have been laid and sand is already widening the beach in places I've been walking for decades. An enormous - four story? - contraption glides in and out of the water, looking like a gargantuan metal spider, while measuring the ratio of water and sand with its sensitive feet.

On Wednesday, I tried walking past the construction site on the beach and a guard sent me back the way I came, but by Thursday, he was gone and I could get closer to the Kitty Hawk Pier to watch heavy equipment operators moving sand around at Southern Shores.

The collateral damage of all this reshuffling of sand seems to be the horseshoe crabs whose carcasses littered the beach every morning this week like used firework casings on July fifth.

At night, the dredging boats are strung with white, red and green lights until they resemble a colorful riverboat (or, if you squint, like a Chinese dragon) as they move up and down the coastline, out to sea and back to shore.

Not everyone is a fan of all the hustle and bustle activity when they're on vacation, but I'm guessing it'll just be one of the beach details I'll probably always associate with 2017, like the noticeable after-affects of Hurricane Isabel in Summer 2004.

Eating crabs at I Got Your Crabs one evening, I turned to my companion, as fine a crab picker as I am, and asked if we couldn't be 100% certain we were the most adept pickers in the entire place. Without so much as looking at me or the people who surrounded us, I got an impatient, "Duh."

Not that we went to dinner to feel superior, but we also know our strong suits and aren't ashamed to admit them.

But that was our only foray into the commercial beach world and all the other meals (which for me alone seems to mean breakfast, lunch and dinner) were taken on the porch with a view of the ocean while I slept my usual nine hours to the best of all possible soundtracks: crashing waves.

Don't get the wrong idea. I know how incredibly lucky I am to have landed back at the beach again for the fourth time since Easter. Or, as a favorite beach-lover put it:

Wow, another trip to the beach! Some summer, eh?

Some summer indeed. It's turning out to be epic in a whole lot of ways besides browner legs.

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