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Author Topic: Mountains to the Sea: October, 2014  (Read 174 times)
Lostranger
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« on: October 20, 2014, 07:19:31 AM »

Some of us remember where we were the first time we saw Star Wars. George Lucas’ epic story from that galaxy far away lit up the summer of 1977 in a way that few cultural phenomenon are capable, and in spite, or maybe because of, a few plot twists which would have made both Shakespeare and Freud proud — such as the main character discovering that his father is a monster who amputates his children’s limbs and that the object of his lust is his sister — the simultaneously glittering and grungy threads of that tale wove themselves immediately and pervasively into the tapestry of the American experience. I watched the film five times that summer. But I digress.

The first time I saw it was at King’s Giant Plaza, a modest strip mall off West Stone Drive in Kingsport, TN. I believe the shopping center is still there, though they must call it something else since King’s Department Store and Giant Grocery both succumbed to the economic chaos of the final quarter of the twentieth century and slipped into oblivion. I will always remember that little cluster of businesses for two reasons: my introduction to Star Wars and the glorious happenstance of later picking up a copy of Farmstead Magazine from the rack in the drug store at that mall. Farmstead was a delightful, though short-lived, publication devoted to gardening, small-scale farming, and homesteading. The issue I found included a piece written by Paul Birdsall of Maine about making loose hay with his Suffolk draft horses. My life was never the same after I read that article. But I digress. Again.

As much as I enjoyed my exposure to both sides of the force, it was a bittersweet moment for this hillbilly. The problem was a girl. Or rather the absence of one. Her name was Beverly. It still is. She should have been with me when Luke met Obi Wan, but she was not. Instead, she was at Myrtle beach with her father, brother and two sisters playing out an annual ritual which was supposed to represent “quality family time” with the man who had abandoned Beverly’s mother and their four children several years earlier. Bev did not want to go on the beach trip, but “Dad” had threatened not to make the “trek” (drips with irony, doesn’t it) unless she went along. Her siblings wanted the free trip, and the manipulative so-and-so took her away from me for a week.

Beverly was gone, and just like the guy whose feet were too big for his bed, nothing seemed to fit. No, wait! That’s someone else’s story. She and I had known each other for several months, but our “relationship” had begun only a few weeks before the “family beach vacation” when we had gone with friends to see Smokey and the Bandit at — wait for it — King’s Giant Plaza. Come to think about it, maybe I have three reasons for always remembering that little strip mall.

If anything, Smokey had an even larger impact on American culture that summer than did Star Wars. In those days, “everybody” had a citizen’s band radio in their pickup truck, and Burt and Sally’s mindless, high-speed romp across the south touched a collective nerve. Watching that movie was not a “date” for Beverly and me, but the next night was. So was pretty much every night after that. By the time for her family beach trip, our love was strong, our connection was powerful, and we were making plans that involved happily ever after. I did not want her to leave. She did not want to go. None of that made a difference. In a demonstration of  her character, Beverly put her brother and sisters’ interests ahead of her own. I loved her even more for doing that, but it made for arguably the longest week of my life. At least while she was gone I could watch Star Wars. So I did. Twice.

Soon after she returned, we were making wedding plans. We had not a single thought about waiting some culturally appropriate length of time. We had no interest in a fancy or expensive do that would make headlines on the society page of the Kingsport Times. We wanted our friends, family and the other members of our church family to join us in celebrating our mutual commitment. We planned the event for September 10. It was only a few weeks away. A compressed time frame for even a basic wedding, and we had much to do. One of the items that kept coming up was a honeymoon destination.

Since I was a North Carolina native, I had some awareness of a semi-mystical place known as “The Outer Banks.” I’d always wanted to go there, but the few family vacations I had experienced involved visiting relatives so that my paternal progenitor did not have to spring for motel accommodation. Unfortunately, I had no uncle on the Outer Banks. Beverly and I were free to visit any place that would fit within our modest budget. The Outer Banks seemed perfect, and on the afternoon of our wedding, we left East Tennessee and headed toward the Atlantic Ocean.

We spent one night in the bridal suite at the Regency Hyatt in Winston Salem, NC, and the next day we drove to Kitty Hawk. One of my favorite memories of that trip is shooting a 110 photo of my new bride with her arm around the bust of Wilbur Wright.

While we were visiting the Wright Brothers Memorial, I started asking folks we met about a good place on the Banks to eat local seafood. Several establishments were suggested, but the one that came up most often and with the strongest endorsement was called Captain Ben’s at some place called Ocracoke. I am a lover of most foods with an aquatic source, and as we drifted in a leisurely manner south/southwest along the Outer Banks, Captain Ben’s came up again and again. We spent time in a few spots playing in the surf. We stopped at historical markers. We climbed the Hatteras Lighthouse. You could do that in those days, and it was, of course, still in its original location.

As we left Hatteras, I realized that the day was long spent, and that we needed to hurry if we were to eat at the famous place. We had learned that reaching Ocracoke involved a ferry ride, so we scuttled along and caught a departing boat without major wait. The ferry ride was delightful, and after our brief drive along Ocracoke Island, Captain Ben’s was one of the first businesses we saw on the outskirts of the village. I was thrilled to find the modest, white-painted block building with a faded sign. I vaguely remember some trappings of seafaring life affixed to the front. Maybe a fishing net and some crab pots. The inside had nothing to distinguish it from hundreds of other roadside mom and pop restaurants other than the thrilling aroma of fish frying in cottonseed oil. I went weak kneed as soon as we opened the door.

In spite of my wobbly walk, I managed to get us to one of several open tables, and we sat down. The waitress brought us water and a couple of single sheet menus. I was ready to order as soon as she left, but I waited politely for my beautiful wife to peruse those luscious saltwater options. She was still reading intently when the waitress returned. I don’t remember exactly what I ordered, but it included fried oysters and soft shell crab. When our girl turned to Beverly, she never looked up from the menu as she said, “I’ll have fried chicken.” I nearly fell off my chair. It was the only time in all these years that I seriously considered the possibility that I might have made a mistake.

I had not, by the way. The only problem was that Beverly had been underexposed to aquatic cuisine. At her house, “seafood” meant Mrs. Gordon’s fish sticks. She had no background for appreciating the delights of Neptune’s larder. After being around me for a while, her palate affected a serious and permanent recalibration. She gets as excited as I do about the possibility of great seafood. Almost. All she needed was judicious exposure.

I had a second surprise on that night so long ago. In those days, at that time of year, the ferry boats did not run at night. By the time we finished our meal, and I was in no particular hurry to end that experience, we were stuck on Ocracoke. We were making this trip in the manner we would make nearly every adventure of our lives: general planning, but no rigid itinerary. Staying on Ocracoke did not mean missing a reservation made somewhere else. We were young and and tough, and we could have slept in the car if necessary, but we found a room in a cheap motel — long gone now, of course — and we enjoyed our first night in the “quaint little drinking village with a fishing problem.”

We were up and out before dawn so we could watch the sunrise over water and see the wild ponies which at that time roamed the island freely. We discovered that Ocracoke is a magical place where the rest of the world fades by several degrees. We loved the unhurried pace and having to pay strict attention to what local folks were saying. I’ve always been interested in language and accents and colloquial speech patterns, but this was unlike anything in my experience. Our couple of days on the island made us lifelong fans.

Still, though, quite a few years slipped by before we made a second visit. By then, most of our six children were in tow, and all of them eventually made that ferry trip at least a couple of times. Some of them caught the Ocracoke infection and have since returned on their own. Others found it uninspiring. That’s their loss. Beverly and I are still under the spell, and now that our nest is several years empty, we have vowed to visit Ocracoke regularly.

As I write about the history of our first exposure, our bus is parked beside The Topless Oyster. This outstanding seafood restaurant sits on the site of the long-defunct Captain Ben’s. We met the owners a year ago, and part of our current Ocracoke joy is both eating and playing music at TTO. The fact that it occupies such a significant historical location makes our being here that much better.

We love Ocracoke’s people, its beaches, its pace, the intense music scene. I’m finally attempting to learn to surf fish with the help of friends we met last October who come here every fall to catch flounder and drum and blues. The weather is just the right mix of chilly evenings and glorious sunny days. Since we’ve come to this place and time from one of the busiest summers of our life — a time of gutting the bus we live in so we could reskin it and build back enough basic amenity for this trip — being here with no particular schedule provides us a delightful and much-needed restoration.

Thanks to all who bothered to read this far. I’ll follow this lengthy intro with some photos and travelog. Stay tuned for the next couple of weeks as we proceed with no particular agenda or itinerary. Be well and productive, and may the force be with you.
« Last Edit: October 20, 2014, 11:20:58 AM by Lostranger » Logged

Jim Huskins
Marion, NC
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You CAN convert a low floor.
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« Reply #1 on: October 20, 2014, 08:57:23 AM »

An enjoyable read Jim, let the tales continue.  Jack
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« Reply #2 on: October 20, 2014, 10:40:43 AM »

Well Sir, now you have made me late for the several phone calls and messages upon my desk. I guess I have to learn to read your posts at night. Wink Enjoyed every word.
Thank you.
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Jim Eh.
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« Reply #3 on: October 20, 2014, 01:46:28 PM »

Great story, brought to mind some of our "adventures" all of those many moons ago. Smiley
Wasn't it great to drive till you didn't want to anymore and just stop at the first place that
came into view, or even just sleep in the car?
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« Reply #4 on: October 20, 2014, 04:10:50 PM »

So.... Hard to pick a beginning for this trip. That's why I meandered so far afield in the opening salvo. I kept reaching further and further back, but I can't tell about this trip from a purely historical perspective. I'm tempted to start with my mid-August trip to Elkhart, IN to buy windows and tanks. That was the first step of the reskin which has occupied so much of our lives since, but that story is (still being) told in my build thread on Nomadicista. The little spell of mostly electrical difficulty which spiced our recent trip to Pennsylvania is already discussed in two threads on this BB. No need to rehash that or its aftermath in spite of the resulting delay.

Probably the fair starting point is 8:43 P.M. on Thursday, October 16, eight days after our planned departure. That's when we actually pulled onto the interstate headed in the general direction of Ocracoke. Bus improvement had been brought to an arbitrary but usable state of closure. Food and other supplies had been purchased, sorted and stored. I had in my pocket a fresh North Carolina Unified Fishing License. Absence of that item had kept me from learning to surf fish last year, and I did not want to repeat the omission. Bus, equipment and provision checklists had been (mostly) attended. Lastly, the fuel tank had been topped, and my strategy of waiting out the recent down turn in pump prices rewarded us with a few cents per gallon in last minute savings. We did it! We were on the road. But we knew it was mostly a symbolic beginning.

We had begun that day with hopes for hitting the road by mid-afternoon AND with a mutual pledge to leave town before midnight. No matter what. This prep stage had gone long enough. We needed to GO, but both of us were exhausted from weeks of intense effort. No way was I going to drive far, and we knew it, but we had a plan.

October 16 is Beverly's birthday, so we wanted to do something a bit special. We drove about 60 miles along I-40 to the closest iteration of our favorite fast food joint, Jack in the Box. The reason we love Jack is another long story which I will save for another occasion, but I'll hint that it involves my earliest exposure to tacos. This particular Jack is adjacent to a box store lot, so after a late supper, we had a place to spend our first night. Here's a shot of Sophia in predawn parking lot light:



On Friday we started early and made good easterly progress in spite of stops for Burger King coffee, walking Kora, buying fuel, checking fluids and browsing at Camping World. We stopped for an early lunch at Steak and Shake, another of our favorite chains which is not often available to us. And yes, BK sells excellent coffee.

By midday the reality of being on vacation was beginning to set in, and we started thinking a few unstressed thoughts. One of those trains led to us deciding over lunch to consider a major route change. We had always gone to Ocracoke by driving east and a bit north to Manteo and then driving the length of the banks to their southwest terminus. That route is fun and scenic, but it is also long. We realized that we had the choice of spending another night on the road or arriving on Ocracoke very late. We preferred to do neither.

Most people who visit Ocracoke take a ferry from either Swans Quarter on the northern part of Pamlico Sound or Cedar Island farther south. By running online comparisons, Bev determined that we could save several hours and many miles by sailing out of SQ. The only problem might be the ferry schedule. The last boat leaves Swans Quarter at 4:30 P.M. Repeated route checks with MapQuest and iPhone Map showed us arriving around 4:15. Not much margin for error.

By the time — around 1:30 — we decided to go for it, our necessary stops had been made. We did not speed, but we did not slow down much, either. Most of the route was divided highway, but on the latter 2 lane sections, a couple of school busses with no apparent purpose held us back for MILES. In spite of everything, we pulled to the ticket station at 4:11. We knew that the fare would be $30, and we had already figured that the boat ride would save much more than that in fuel. The ferry sailed at 4:35 with us aboard.

During the two-and-a-half hour ride, we had a grand time visiting with others who were generally as excited as we were to be Ocracoke bound on a late Friday afternoon. I was apparently in an unusually gregarious mood, so I spent most of the trip on deck talking about Sophia and graciously accepting compliments on our wonderful Australian Shepherd: "Why thank you. Yes, she is gorgeous. And her coloring is so striking. And yes, she is exceptionally well behaved." Most of those folks have never seen a child who will listen and obey, much less a dog. Even though we had some room on our side of the deck, I resisted the temptation to get out her Kong Flyer and show off her catching and retrieving skills. I could too easily imagine that red, ten-dollar disk flying over the rail, and it is the only frisbee-like toy we have on this trip. Kora does not like the hard ones.

After the fact came out that I build stringed instruments for a living, I consented to drag a couple out and even played part of an old time tune before one of the D strings broke on my open back banjo. Soon after that, we watched a gorgeous sunset over the Sound and donned sweaters to finish the trip. Here are a couple of shots of Beverly at the rail, one with Kora and one with sunset:





And here is Sophia on the boat in deep dusk:



We offloaded at 7:10 and drove to our favorite seafood place, The Topless Oyster, where Bev had flounder and I had — well — oysters. It was a perfect end to a wonderful day.

More to come.

Jm H
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Jim Huskins
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« Reply #5 on: October 20, 2014, 06:21:48 PM »

Enjoyable read about bus tripping. Thank you. Nice for a change from mechanical problem treads.

JC


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JC
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« Reply #6 on: October 20, 2014, 06:47:09 PM »

Jim, when are you releasing your book? Let us know, I can't wait to read it, in the mean time have a nice trip.
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Yvan Lacroix, Father of 3, grand father of 8, detailer of anything, and GMC 5302 driver, Granby Quebec.

Feel free to follow along the renovation here http://s144.photobucket.com/user/repare-brise/library/bus
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« Reply #7 on: October 20, 2014, 06:56:25 PM »

Jim enjoyed reading your writings, you are gifted there
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Lee
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« Reply #8 on: October 20, 2014, 07:05:31 PM »

A re-purposed used brake chamber diaphram makes a great soft frisbee.
« Last Edit: October 20, 2014, 07:09:17 PM by krank » Logged

Jim Eh.
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« Reply #9 on: October 21, 2014, 05:51:04 AM »

Jim, when are you releasing your book? Let us know, I can't wait to read it, in the mean time have a nice trip.


Thanks for those gracious comments. My writing is not everyone's cup of tea, but some enjoy it. I, too, get tired of the same old tales of woe and breakdown, even though I've contributed my share of those.

Yvan, on the off chance that you're serious about wanting to read my book, here it is: http://bookstore.authorhouse.com/AdvancedSearch/Default.aspx?SearchTerm=Livermush%20Theology

It's called Livermush Theology. Livermush is a western North Carolina variant and dramatic improvement of a pork based food that many areas call scrapple. It's something I love, it was likely my first solid food and I use it in the book as a metaphor to talk about values which I find important. The book is a collection of moderate length essays which can be read independently, so it makes convenient bedtime reading. It is definitely religious in nature since it grows out my understanding of Christian faith, but it is not preachy or dogmatic.

Authorhouse has the book on sale for $11 US. The electronic version is $3.99. Either way, I make a buck when you buy one.

Our stay on Ocracoke continues to be wonderful. I'm working on the next travelogue installment. We've met professional musicians, politicians, sailors from Germany and Poland and a woman from Southern Pines, NC who apparently loves to be thrown from horses. Maybe once too often. We've been accosted by a federal campground ranger with a Napoleon complex. We've played in the surf and reveled in the not-too-intense October sun. We've learned that Kora has no interest in the ocean. She actually seems afraid of those waves sweeping toward her. Hard to imagine from a dog that will face down a full-grown steer without flinching. We've loved having time to cook and our bill of fare has ranged from light and fluffy pancakes taken from Bev's grandmother's recipe book to my homemade spaghetti and meatballs to fresh catch of the day to a meal we call "cheese'n'apple" (A snack tray which includes sharp cheddar, pepperoni, raisins, and Ritz crackers. The apples on this trip are my favorite: mountain grown Stamen Winesap.) to my mother's homemade rice pudding. Mother is past the point of being able to cook anything edible, but please don't tell her I said that if you run into her. Bev makes the pudding to perfection and her switch to brown rice gives that luscious custard just the right textural contrast.

Did I mention that we do not use the popular "nuclear" method of preparing food. We have several reasons for not owning a microwave, but near the top of the list is taste. Food tastes so much better when prepared by traditional means. One of our favorite cooking methods is seriously traditional. Here is a part of our collection of "macrowave" ovens:



Most people call them Dutch ovens or camp ovens. Call them what you like. We simply love what they produce. Incidentally, homemade bread in a campground guarantees instant popularity. We've met some wonderful folks that way.

I get a chuckle when I read about conversions that don't include an oven or even a full cook top. "We never bake," they say. "We always eat out," claim others. While I celebrate that freedom to choose, our choices are different. We love to eat out, but only occasionally. We both bake, and we both love to cook. Our current range is a Magic Chef made for RV use. It has a moderate size oven — we baked two bowls of rice pudding at once last night — and three propane burners. We use it because we have it. The finished conversion will include a 30" Peerless Premier range with battery ignition to complement our off grid power system. That oven will swallow the largest turkey, but I always cook turkey in the macrowave.

This morning is now well along, and I want to get in some fishing. I'll have to check the tide schedules and buy bait. You never know what you might hook when you cast a line into the sea, but just maybe tonight's supper will include my first fresh flounder. Wish me luck.

Jim & Bev on Ocracoke.
« Last Edit: October 21, 2014, 07:29:36 AM by Lostranger » Logged

Jim Huskins
Marion, NC
1999 Gillig H2000LF
Yes Virginia,
You CAN convert a low floor.
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