My friend Gwen and I took to the Outer Banks a few weeks ago. After 18 years of living in North Carolina, this was my first trip to the famed island strip. As a cyclist, what better way to see it than by bike? Arriving Thursday on Hatteras Island, we fairly floated 60 miles south with the wind blessing our backs. Sand whipped at us, particularly as SUVs and trucks--dozens of them--passed us. The places where the island was narrow, I could sense the fragility of the environment, the harshness of it. I reveled in pedaling while grumbling about all those damn big vehicles adding to the demise of the islands on whose beaches their tires turned.
Crossing the ferry to Ocracoke Island, some locals described the changes wrought by Isabel. Big changes. As we arrived on the island, the rains began ... our celebrated wind was whipping up into a nor'easter. Over dinner, Gwen and I made plans for getting off the island the following day. But that night as I lay in our tent with the wind nearly flattening it, I knew the island was going to hold us captive.
Waking up (rather, staying awake through) hurricane-strength winds and vertical rain, we sloshed our bikes through roads covered in inches of rain and headed over to Blackbeard's Lounge. There, a group of people congregated, each of us stranded. The lights flickered, the electricity gave out. Professor Plum in the lounge with the candlestick. We were nor'eastered-in.
Of course we could not get off the island by ourselves. Phil, Joe and Howard saved us. They had come over just to eat lunch but, like the rest of us, got stuck for the night. Our means of escape early the next morning? Ford's largest 4x4 truck. The same truck I had lamented and cursed took us to the ferry and back to our car. On the way, Phil, Joe and Howard told us stories about the erected sand dunes and the cost of road repairs on the islands. Yet never had I been so glad to sit so high up, never had I actually liked the sound of a diesel engine. When one is trapped, when the roads are awash, when the plows remove inches of sand from the road, the bicycle is not a possibility. The bicycle is in the back of a truck.
I left the Outer Banks without seeing much more than rain. I vow to return. But the truth may be that we should not be there. Nature told me that as I lay in my tent that night. Not cars, not trucks, not SUVs, not even bicycles should leave marks on the islands. But don't tell Phil, Joe and Howard I said that. We might not be invited on their next fishing trip.