Island Time

Ryan on the Ferry
Ryan on the ferry ride to Ocracoke. A long way from the streets of New York City

This morning, I made my train by about 45 seconds, after a twenty-minute walk. In other words, I timed it perfectly.

When I get off the train on which I am writing this post, I will walk uptown in New York, mostly on the edge of the streets, because, well, the sidewalks just move too slow. Blame the tourists. Everyone in New York does.

The point being? I’m a regular participant in the rat race, timing my days to the minute, sprint-walking from place to place, life governed by the train schedules back to suburbia.

And I don’t mind it. New York City is an amazing place. I love going there every work day. I also love leaving at the end of every work day.

But all that is besides the point. When I’m on vacation, I leave rat race far behind. Sprint-walking becomes lazy strolling. For our beach week, I didn’t pack a watch. I only wore socks once, which is one more time than I shaved.

There’s something about the beach. You can’t help but slow down and let the lazy rhythms of the ocean take over. It’s hard to get too excited about doing anything in a hurry when you’re surrounded by the same, repetitive beauty all day every day. I put myself on “island time.”

We love our beach vacations because they work for us. We all fall quickly into our new routine. Rising with the sun, waffles on the deck, maybe an a.m. soak in the hot tub. Mornings on the beach. A brief break from the sun for lunch before back to the beach and maybe a stop by the pool before heading back up to the condo for dinner.

Endless beach at Ocracoke
This. This is why you take the trip to a place like Ocracoke.

Last year, our third in the Outer Banks, we decided to get a bit more adventurous after two years of basically nothing but the paragraph above. We took a day trip to see the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. For the unfamiliar, the Outer Banks are a series of narrow barrier islands that form a “V” off the North Carolina coast. At the point of that “V” is Hatteras. By the time you reach it — some 40 or 50 miles after largely leaving civilization behind on State Highway 12 — you’re a good 25 miles out into the Atlantic Ocean, on a strip of land that is sometimes so narrow you can see the ocean and the sound almost without turning your head.

Ryan complained about that trip but ultimately managed to enjoy himself climbing the lighthouse, which is simply a breathtaking spot.

This year, we got even more ambitious. About 10 miles south past the lighthouse, Highway 12 ends at the Hatteras ferry terminal, where it’s an hour ride to get to the road’s continuation on Ocracoke Island, which is only accessible by boat or private plane.

We left our condo at 6:30, skipping the traditional waffle breakfast in favor of a box of fresh-glazed donuts at Duck Donuts, which might actually be part of heaven, I’m not really sure. We reached the ferry terminal in Hatteras by 8:30 and were on the boat at 9. Arriving on Ocracoke an hour later, we stopped to see the wild ponies, then took a stroll across to a 12-or-so mile, completely undeveloped beach. At that time of morning there were maybe 10 people on it. The sand is so clean and white that its brightness hurts your eyes and it squeaks when you walk on it.

Island golf cart
Navigating the island in our killer golf cart. All it needed were some flames on the sides.

We headed into Ocracoke Village, stopping first to explore the Blackbeard museum. The legendary pirate met his demise nearby. In the village, the favored means of transportation is a golf cart, so we rented one for a couple of hours and set out to explore. We stopped by the lighthouse. We stopped by the British naval cemetery, resting place for several dozen British sailors killed off the coast by a German U-Boat in World War II. We searched for a restaurant for lunch. We even stopped in a couple of gift shops.

All Ryan really wanted to do was go to the beach, but he barely did more than grumble. And when he did, he was likely to stop himself and say “I’m really trying to be more flexible,” like a phone on auto-correct.

We returned our cart, got lunch, and headed to the beach. Ryan grumbled that some of us needed to stop at the changing house to get our suits on, as he had come prepared.

Ocracoke Lighthouse
Ryan and Riley at the Ocracoke Lighthouse

Once we returned to that amazing stretch of beach, he got in the water immediately. The surf was rougher than the waves by our condo. I worried about both the kids’ safety until I got out in the water with them, established some ground rules, and saw they could handle it. Still, within five minutes, both of their boogie boards had snapped in the surf.

This might have derailed past trips. A summer earlier, maybe I’m in the car, driving 10 miles back to the village in search of replacements. In summer 2014, both kids got back in the water and body-surfed instead.

Flexible, indeed.

We stayed on the beach for four glorious hours, Veronica and I reminding each other every so often about how remarkable a day this was. The weather, the location, Ryan’s willingness to adapt.

Body surfing on Ocracoke
No boogie boards? No problem.

It was now late afternoon. It had taken us three hours to get here. Ryan knew that. He wasn’t worried.

There was a slight mishap when we went to leave. We misplaced Ryan’s change of clothes, forcing him to ride home in a wet, sandy bathing suit.

Was there a meltdown?

Not even. There was some minor grumbling.

When we had to wait for two ferries to get back to Hatteras, there was only minor complaining.

Endless beach on Ocracoke
The beaches on Ocracoke are certainly worth the trip

It was almost 8 p.m. when we drove off the boat, still in search of a place to eat dinner. This was a HUGE break in Ryan’s routine. We stopped one place. The menu looked good for Ryan, but not for Riley. He didn’t complain when we skipped it. We tried another spot before finally finding something that worked at around 8:30. Still, no complaining.

Our drive back was completed in darkness with Riley asleep in the backseat and Ryan silently listening to his iPod. We didn’t get back to the condo until almost 10 p.m.

We tucked both kids into bed after 10, heaping tons of praise on Ryan for his willingness to embrace the trip. He repeated his line about trying to be more flexible.

We learned over the years to stick to routines, to pay attention to schedules, to protect Ryan’s sleep patterns like a delicate flower. The consequences of not doing so were too extreme otherwise. As a result we skipped many opportunities, to eat out, attend an evening event, stay out late. I watched friends and family members attack similar opportunities with vigor, knowing they could just drive home late with their kids asleep in the car and let them sleep in the next morning.

I was jealous. Such outings just didn’t work for us.

After our day trip to Ocracoke, I can no longer say that.

All it took was getting on island time.

Sunset over the ferry
The sun sets over our ferry ride back to Hatteras
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