The restorative power of travel is something that never fails to amaze me. The feeling of casting off routine and being in unfamiliar surroundings is a balm that refreshes the mind and soul and recharges the psyche. This was brought back to me when I traveled recently to the outer banks of North Carolina with my wife and a group of friends. We traveled by car, which is preferable for achieving the feeling of distance that air travel doesn’t always capture.
Leaving in the predawn hours I soon felt like Kerouac as we hurtled through darkness down the great American asphalt ribbon. I was hoping my wife was having a similar experience but all she said was, “Who’s Kerouac?” Eight hours later we arrived in Kill Devil Hills.
On our first day my friend suggested a morning of crabbing, something I’ve never done before, but that is exactly the point of a trip like this – to experience new and different things. We drove to the small hamlet of Colington, N.C., and after securing a parking spot across from a friendly fire house, we walked down a sandy, flat path to an opening by an ancient wooden knee wall where the waters of the sound were smooth and calm.
Crabbing, for the uninitiated, as I was, requires no great skills. It’s not like fly fishing or even getting the last olive out of a jar using one finger. Basically you have a triangular, interlocking hook attached to a piece of heavy duty string about 15 feet long. You take raw chicken and place it on the hook and toss it into the water. When the string goes taught, that’s the sign that crabs are feasting on the chicken and you slowly pull the line to the surface while screaming for your friends to come over with a net to dip the crustaceans out of the water, celebrating like you just landed a blue marlin.
Although there’s no great skill involved, I did take to it immediately and caught two of the critters at the same time with one of my first attempts. We were all successful, though a crab did exact revenge on one of my friends by pinching him to the point of drawing blood.
Nobody had a cellphone, at least that I was aware of, because for more than two hours I never heard a ring, ping, gong, whistle or alert, and that was a larger point of this whole escape, to completely unplug from the ceaseless barrage of media intrusion. In a society that is annoyingly addicted to outrage and the nonstop complaining, kvetching and arguing over everything from vaccines to whether or not “Die Hard” is a Christmas movie (it’s not; Bruce Willis said so), it was a tonic to spend time crabbing without hearing any crabbing. For six straight days I never saw a news broadcast, read a newspaper, looked at the internet or opened an email, and absolutely none of it was missed. I confined my reading to local history of pirates and shipwrecks and was glad for it.
We came away with close to a dozen crabs and one poor unfortunate fish who was repurposed as bait, and when the beer ran out we were done. According to my friend, this is a tradition. “You can’t crab without beer,” he said, and I took him at his word.
The next stop was Kitty Hawk, where my wife and I stood at the exact spot where the Wright brothers made their first successful flight. Standing next to the actual wooden rail that they used to launch their “flying machine,” a single-engine plane suddenly burst into the air from behind a stand of trees at the adjacent airfield. I search for a way to describe this profound emotion but am left wanting.
Days spent watching the sun rise over the ocean and maybe the largest harvest moon I’ve ever seen soon gave way to a return trip. This time up Interstate 95 and the dreaded beltway around Washington, D.C., I felt less like Kerouac and more like Michael Douglas in “Falling Down.” The harrowing traffic transported me back to my days living in Northern Virginia and I realized why I never really missed it.
Of course life can not be just crabbing and golfing and standing next to the ocean feeling as minuscule and insignificant as a Citi Bank customer, but it’s certainly magical if just for a while.
Joe Manning is a resident of Washington.
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