MST - Day 58 – 4-21-11 – Ocracoke Island – 15.4 Miles
Cape Hatteras National Seashore, a unit of the National Park Service, encompasses a string of narrow barrier islands including Ocracoke Island, Hatteras Island, Pea Island and the lower part of Bodie Island. Some sections of CHNS allow vehicles on the beaches with restrictions. Highway 12 is a two-lane paved road that runs all the way up the Outer Banks, connecting the small towns along the way. For 80 miles Danny and I walked on the beach, on the road and through the towns. In seven days we put on our rain jackets for about 10 minutes – we were truly blessed with great weather.
Ocracoke’s claim to fame is as one of the pirate Blackbeard’s favorite hangouts and the location of his demise in 1718.
We walked past the town limits in quick time and found mosquitoes on duty in the grass beside the road. We quickly applied bug dope but not before they inflicted an impressive number of bites.
Can’t escape dogs here either
Access to the beach is via ORV’s (off-road vehicle access roads) where vehicles are allowed to drive on the beach. Ocracoke Island is very skinny (as are all of the barrier islands) and only one row of sand dunes separates the beach from Highway 12. Surf fishing is a big sport here. (Notice the vehicle's flattened tires so that it can be driven on the sand).
We had been advised in advance that sections of the beach are closed for various nesting birds. There are a couple of choices to get around these restricted areas: sidetrack over the dunes and walk on the road until we were past the nesting area or walk in the water. The tide is the determining factor for the second option – high tide, the water is too deep; low tide is a nice chance to get your feet wet. On our first encounter at a restricted area we plunged through the water. Note to self: the water is still pretty cold in April.
We covered about three miles on the beach, a pleasant walk, a little dazed to finally actually be walking on sand. But then we were off the beach, cutting through a National Park Service campground and back onto the road to cross a series of creeks flowing from the sound side of the island to the ocean side. We decided that road walking is flat but not unpleasant.
The romantic notion of wild ponies on Ocracoke Island is a bit of a misnomer. Once numbering in the hundreds and roaming free, now there are fewer than two dozen penned in large pastures built in 1959 to protect them from traffic on Highway 12. Danny and I checked out the pasture and saw one white pony hanging out in the distance.
We made our way back onto the beach and the wind had picked up drastically, blowing sand in swirls and stinging our arms and legs. I was so glad I had thought to bring sunglasses, something I don’t normally wear hiking. After a few miles of sand in our teeth and the wind only increasing in strength, we decided to hop over the dunes and onto the road – a huge relief.
Read Danny’s blog entry about our day here.