It was a dark and stormy night. No, really. The rain fell in punishing waves and the wind whipped the trees like a dungeon master. There were voices, too…shrill, torturous sounds coming from the sea that was thrashing about, just yards from my bedroom window.
My mind was racing. 400 years of history were flashing before me as I lay in my bed on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Wind and weather forged this chain of four islands – spits of land surrounded by sea and constantly shifting sands.
I imagined the hardships the Lost Colonists faced as they landed on these remote shores in 1587. They were families and farmers, left to survive under hostile conditions, with natives who were growing increasingly wary of the waves of European settlers encroaching on their land. They disappeared without a trace.
Get a grip, I said to myself as I hid under a thin layer of covers – as if blankets would protect me from pirates.
Visions of Blackbeard were holding me hostage and I hadn’t even been to his haunt on Ocracoke Island . But stories of his terrorist reign were playing out in my skull. He was be-headed in 1718, in a battle just south of here – and by all accounts he deserved it.
Then, too, there were shipwrecks. 1500 or more that went down in the treacherous sea off the coast of Hatteras Island. I hadn’t yet been to the Graveyard of the Atlantic, but my thoughts were swirling like the terrible whirlpools and eddies that sucked unsuspecting sailors into its gaping jaws.
It didn’t help, either, that my girlfriend and I had just watched Nights in Rodanthe – Richard Gere and Diane Lane in a hurricane – being buffeted about as they tried to save the rustic inn on the remote stretch of beach just north of us.
Enough! At some point I realized I had to get sleep and I got up and found some earplugs. The wind muted, I fell into a comatose slumber and awakened to a landscape that was awash in sunlight and promise.
In fact, the sand sparkled like diamonds and the wind that seemed untamable was now a playful companion to kiteboarders and hang gliders. Despite having hip surgery four months ago, I was compelled to join them.
There’s something alluring about flying near the same strip of land that the Wright Brothers used to launch their first aircraft in 1903. Just up the road from my hang gliding school was the site where Orville and Wilbur first parted with earth. Soaring (perhaps sputtering) over the soft sandy beaches, their first glide lasted only 12 seconds and went 120 feet.
My first flight in a hang glider went about the same distance, and it left me with the same feeling they must have felt, the overwhelming urge to do it again. The Wright Brothers made over a thousand flights from the top of Kill Devil Hill. I made only three, in the sand dunes a few miles south of those hallowed grounds. But I came away understanding the synergy between man and nature – and the history shaped by these two forces – in the birthplace of America.
If you go:
The Outer Banks of North Carolina Visitors Bureau: outerbanks.org
Waves Village Kiteboarding Resort: http://www.wavesvillage.com/
Kitty Hawk Kites Hang Gliding School: http://kittyhawkkites.com/