Starting up the East Coast from Charleston we stopped for a quick bite to eat in Surf City, NC. Surf City was less than exciting and we moved through the area quickly after a terrible lunch at a seaside restaurant. One would think the seafood would taste fresh when the deck nearly sits on the breaking surf of the Atlantic. However I am convinced the calamari was actually pig intestines resembling the calamari you get served at a Red Lobster in Kansas. In any event Surf City was less than memorable and our road trip continued.
Rachelle continued to research intriguing sights as we drove up the coast and determined the location of a "Sea Turtle Sanctuary" a few miles away. Google Maps directed us over a bridge as we sat mindlessly following the directions until I was forced to a stop by a Marine. Confused, my brain decided to start functioning again as the Marine asked for my ID. Still trying to assess the situation I cordially handed over my Utah drivers license and after a short pause the Marine informed us we were at the entrance to Camp Lejeune, one of the largest Marine bases in the country. “So this is not the way to the sea turtle sanctuary,” questioned Rachelle. Bringing a small smile to the man’s face we were respectfully given directions around the military base unfortunately never laying eyes on the sea turtle sanctuary, oh well!
As the sun set in the western sky we had the pleasure of playing one of our favorite games, “Where are we going to sleep tonight!?” Fascinated by the signs of a movie on the beach we joined the crowds for a sandy free screening of “Paddington Bear” in the heart of Atlantic Beach, NC as we welcomed the cool salty sea breeze after a sweaty week in Charleston. Now, like many of you, I remember Paddington Bear from my childhood, which brought back memories of my youthful freedom and adventure, drawing parallels to my current life nearly 25 years later. Here I sit in the sand, re-living a childhood book as I write a new chapter in my own book of experiences.
The Outer Banks (OBX)
On July 16th, 2015 The Rambler experienced the open ocean for the first time since inception on a ferry ride from Cedar Island to Ocracoke, OBX. The weather was perfect as we set sail on a short 90 minute cruise to the small island on the southern end of the Outer Banks. Most of the time spent on the ferry was from the interior of the Rambler as Rachelle edited my “Trekking East Across the USA” blog, which can be a labor intensive undertaking, as I prepared breakfast. Not to boast but pouring equal amounts of granola into two bowls while covering the dry cereal with a perfect amount of rice milk is also quite a challenging feat. Nevertheless both of us were exceptional in completing our morning chores, except I completely finished making breakfast while Rachelle “almost” got done editing my blog. Once on land in Ocracoke we took our whitewater kayaks out for a little paddle on the calm ocean waters and made a tourist stop at the famous light house.
Now this trip to the Outer Banks, and more specifically, the viewing of the Ocracoke and Hatteras Light Houses was a special opportunity for Rachelle to orientate and remember all the great stories her Grandfather Nilsen shared with her. Rachelle’s Norwegian grandfather (on her Mom’s side) was a tug boat captain whose command included The Great Lakes, down the Eastern shore and even into Louisiana. Rachelle grew up listening to stories of how these light houses saved her grandfather and many others as they navigated these dangerous waters. The Outer Banks dangerous shoals have claimed hundreds of ships mostly during the Revolutionary War, WWII, and Civil War, to name a few.
The morning of the 17th we woke up on Hatteras Island after taking a short interconnect ferry from Ocracoke the evening before. Our bodies were feeling a little “out of whack” so we decided to attend the local Hatteras Yoga studio for a morning of enlightenment and relaxation. The yoga was beautiful as both of us welcomed the day with open arms as we caught sight of a local outdoor art festival. Now this experience at the art show defines how an open time frame allows for unforeseen pleasures along the way. What do I mean by this? Our planned “short” walk through a small local art festival morphed into a 2.5 hour conversation with an older retired nurse turned local artist/kiteboarder and his wife who split their time between Hatteras and New England. This guy really got it and relished in our travel plans and experiences so far. Think of a 55 year old talking like a 20 year old surfer with bronzed leathery skin, scars, wavy hair, and a carefree attitude. “Dude and “bro” was standard lingo as we discussed life lessons, travel, retirement, kiteboarding, careers, and his fascinating art; which originally stopped us in the first place. This artist has something I had never seen before and it instantly captivated Rachelle and I as we listened to his story. He transforms old skateboard decks into works of art through the use of a router to remove certain layers of the skateboard deck. As his craft evolved he began purchasing skateboard veneers direct so he could determine which colors each layer of the board would be. Needless to say, we selected a Bonefish sculpture, hugged and said our goodbyes, skipping all the rest of the vendors. We only went to one vendor in the entire art festival but felt satisfied we had come away with more than expected.
Feeling especially inspired and shocked at how much time we spent at the festival it was time to do something extreme! My idea of extreme was to paddle into the breaking surf in hopes of catching a wave in our kayaks without getting decapitated by the violent shore break. I was full steam ahead after scoping out the beach to launch from while Rachelle, in her infinite wisdom, was not so sure about the events that would transpire. Intelligently she declined the offer to join me on this mission to be EXTREME! However once on the beach and sitting in my boat I realized how stupid this idea really was. The waves were chest high forming and breaking all within 10-12 feet of the shore and in 5-6 second intervals…not optimal conditions. Relying on Rachelle to pull me out into the water in order to avoid a sandy beatdown; she was not on board with my plans as she laughed at the idea. To quote Rachelle, “The first problem with your plan was relying on me and my 115 lb frame to pull you into the ocean.” Only further infuriating me, as my partner would not assist in my certain demise, we got into a little tiff. Not a fight just a disagreement and as she likes to put it “a lack of communication,” whatever that means. After swallowing my pride I decided to go stand in the surf and feel the power of this wave without the crutch of a 40 lbs plastic burrito strapped to my navel. The first wave took me out like a pro linebacker blind-siding a high school quarterback. This was enough for me to pack up the kayak, hang my tail between my legs, and head back to The Rambler; an extreme idea with a lackluster conclusion.
Washington, D.C. was not on the original itinerary but was audibled in after determining it was too close not to go. Not to mention one of my best friend has had an open invitation to visit since he was accepted into the Master’s program at George Washington University in D.C. The man, the myth, the legend, John Stafford, a close friend of mine who I grew up with in Park City is a pro at not letting me say no to anything he wants me to do. With D.C. only a few hours away and a childhood friend waiting with baited breath we continued north out of the Outer Banks towards The Capitol. John lived in Southeast D.C. in what seemed to be a decent neighborhood with a church right next door. We arrived around 1am after deciding it was best to just get to D.C. in order to avoid harsh morning traffic. We were late to the party as most of John’s friends from school were heading home for the evening after a late night jam session in which John lit up the harmonica (spoken from the man himself). Street parking was no problem but since there was a funeral the next morning all the optimal parking around the house was reserved beginning at 7am the next morning so we had to park half a block down on the opposite side. After further inquiring about the crime in the neighborhood he let me know his roommate's car was recently broken into and a Mercedes was put up on block to have its’ rims stolen; other than that no issues. We decided it was best to unload the dirt bike and proceed to push it through the front door of the house since he was not sure how to get to the backyard. Now John was a little drunk at this point and certainly the sight of us trying to push a motorcycle into a house at 1:30am in Southeast D.C. must have looked a bit suspicious as we could only manage to get the front wheel pass the high front stoop. Upset with our poor attempt to wheel a 200 lb motorcycle through John’s living room, kitchen, and then through the back door to the yard he realized there may be another way. As unconventional as it might sound, “perhaps there is an alley way,” I inquired. Yes that was plan B, push the motorcycle to the back of the house, the same way the cars get to the back of the house…genius!
The following day we had the great joy of meeting John’s girlfriend, Tianru as she accompanied us on our bike tour of D.C. With this being my first time to D.C. we hit all the touristy stops starting with the Library of Congress, The Capitol, Washington Memorial, WWII Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, Vietnam Memorial, and of course The White House. All day we utilized the Capitol Bike Share which allowed you 30 minutes in between bike stations without any additional charge. This proved to be a very enjoyable way to get around D.C. and see the sites.
Around 8:15pm we rode our bikes back to the original rental station on the Southeast side of D.C., about a 15 minute walk from John’s house. Throughout our walk home we kept seeing bike police circling the neighborhood and even a few squad cars as if a drug bust was about to go down. Rounding the corner and standing only 1/2 block from John’s house our live episode of “Cops” started without warning. “FREEZE, POLICE, FREEZE!” Two suspects emerged on the sidewalk near the Rambler as the foot chase in-sued. With sirens whaling one police cruiser parked sideways in the middle of the road. Then, almost instantly, two bike cops rounded the corner and one suspect hit the ground as the other led the police on a short pursuit. At this point, only a few doors away from the very stoop we tried lifting a dirt bike through, an older black woman passed us on the sidewalk exclaiming, “I’m getting out of here, I don’t want to get shot.” This caused me a bit of concern since we were in the path of likely gunfire with the police on one side, us on the other, and the suspects in the middle. After one man was tackled to the ground, the other man had a small window to make a get-away and he took it. No episode of Cops is complete without a little foot chase. The bike cop realized the other suspect had taken off as he jumped on his bike, accelerating at the speed of molasses, still in a hard gear, as the suspect rounded the corner escaping on foot. (Are they going to call in the helicopter with the body imaging technology? Those are always the best shows!) Well no chopper was called in as the suspect got caught only a block away; weak effort. Still wondering why the police had been after these guys I decided it would be a good idea to move the Rambler to the other side of the street directly in front of John’s house. Approaching the passengers side window is when we discovered what all the commotion was about. Gone was the clear glass barrier protecting the interior from the elements and drops of blood providing evidence of the most likely criminal path. The suspect broke the passenger window, swan dived into the cockpit, made hast past the kitchen, living room, mud room, and snatched my backcountry skiing backpack in our bedroom. Now given the D.C. climate and lack of vertical I doubt the beacon, probe, and shovel would have gone for much on the black market but it is our suspicion that with time the bag would have been filled with other valuables. Luckily a bike cop saw the suspect jump through the window and called in back up before approaching the Rambler only 30 seconds after the window was broken and nearly the same time we rounded the corner. Just as he entered, the man swan dived back out the high window as police approached leaving behind my backpack. All in all, I estimated 14 police showed up to assist with the break-in which shocked and impressed me since this was D.C. Surely another few cars were broken into around D.C. as police were focused on this crime.
Even though our window was gone, I felt overly fortunate the police officer was there to stop the break-in further which would have been disastrous. Nearly all our favored possessions are in the van and this would have set us back substantially. Now we had a whole new problem, it’s Saturday night and the van has no window…where are we going to safely park an 8 ft tall van? I called the only other people I knew in D.C., Terry and Cook, real estate clients of mine, in search of answers. After many phone calls, suggestions, and questioning “Why the hell are you in Southeast D.C.?” we had an option at Tianru’s apartment in Foggy Bottom District of D.C. Parking the van with the passenger window as close to the side of the building as possible we hoped no one would notice the lack of window. Deciding it was too late to venture into downtown D.C., Tianru made potstickers and sweet potatoes as we settled in the studio apartment to watch a somewhat appropriate midnight screening of “Nightcrawler.”
The following day, Sunday July 19th I awoke with one objective, find someone to fix the van window. Did I mention it was Sunday? Finally after many phone calls, with no answer, a small window place in Maryland had the window. Breakfast at a greek place in Georgetown was fantastic as the girls enjoyed crepes from the neighboring establishment. As I headed off to Maryland; John, Tianru, and Rachelle made their way to the National Art Museum and Sculpture Garden. Later in the evening, after meeting back up at Tianru’s apartment she put together some of the best Korean BBQ Ribs and Broccoli and Mushrooms. John and Tianru’s relationship breeds a culinary diversity as Asian and Middle-Eastern flavors collide. With our bellies happy we headed out to an old school 90’s hip hop bar in D.C. As usual, when I hang out with John, he has a way of convincing me to take another shot just as soon as the first shot hits the back of my throat, this continues throughout the night only ending on a Hennessy drink at the early hours of the morning. As the girls waited at a table, John and I go for our first drink as two guys at the bar start chatting us up. The guy I was talking with seemed cool as I catch a look of “WTF” from John and reassess the situation. “These guy are gay and are trying to pick us up,” John discretely explains in my ear. “Really?” I questioned, “Doesn’t seem like it.” No more than 5 seconds later I meet the guy John had been talking with as he swan dived in for a surprise attack kiss. John began bobbing and weaving like Tyson in his prime eluding the lips of the stranger without a counter strike. Disappointed with John’s evasive maneuvers he turns, without delay, puckered up, ready to try his luck on me. Side stepping to the right, to avoid these un-wanted lips, we b-lined it back to the sanctuary of our girlfriend’s protective aurora, silently stating “we are taken.
Once back with the girls we were introduced to Dominic; he had met the girls while we were eluding kisses from the same sex. Dominic was an interesting guy originally from Baltimore and now back in D.C. after 3 years living in Portugal. Growing up as an intercity African American kid in Baltimore, this naturally cultivated a strong racial boundary in which he held heavy on his shoulders until he spent time abroad. Dominic’s time in Portugal changed his outlook on the diversity of people and what different races and cultures have to offer. The rest of the night we spent time sharing travel stories, listening to Dominic's infinite wisdom, talking about the randomness of life and how one decision can change everything, drinking Hennessy, and the rest gets blurry…
Waking up on the morning of July 20th, I felt as if a train, transporting Hennessy, had railed through Tianru’s apartment, clipped my skull, and disappeared without any evidence of its’ presence. Rachelle, my amazing girlfriend, possesses gorgeous eyes capable of a vocabulary of 10,000 words and emotions, silently transcending a sense of concern and disappointment as I arise that morning. “Was I snoring?” I asked jokingly as I knew exactly what she was thinking. With a sluggish brain John, Rachelle, and I headed off to the Natural History Museum where we met up with Meagan Snyder, another long time friend from Park City. Meagan and her husband Rudy are both in The United States Coast Guard with Rudy stationed in D.C. and Meagan currently getting her Master’s in San Francisco. Seeing Meagan is always a joy as her big bright smile shown from the lower level of the museum. Never have I seen Meagan in a bad mood or absent of a huge grin even when things are not going favorably. We wrapped up the afternoon with a short stay at the American History Museum after receiving word the Rambler’s fate was in jeopardy with promise it would be towed if not moved from the maintenance man’s parking spot at Tianru's apartment.
Meagan graciously invited all of us over to her house for a BBQ to end a great weekend, this is where John went to work on his Middle Eastern cuisine. Traveling without a strict time constraint breeds this special environment of fate. The trip began with no intentions of visiting Washington, D.C. and now I sit here with two of my best friends I grew up with in Park City sharing experiences in an unknown place. While this trip is about adventure and the outdoors, my real satisfaction comes from believing in fate and the fact you are currently where you are suppose to be. The word “itinerary” goes hand in hand with travel but the moment you throw the itinerary out the window is when the true traveling begins. This evening was a special time to just enjoy each others' company and catch up with old friends. Live in the moment and be appreciative for the many blessings in life. We have clean water, food, freedom, personal choice, safety, and people who love you as long as you let them. Discovering a little happiness, even in terrible situations, incubates absolute happiness for everyday life.
Stay tuned for Paragliding in Virginia, Kayaking the Yough River, Chicago and a wedding in Long Island, NY!
Author: Jeremy Wilstein