New heights...


Monday, June 28th, Day 7, the networks talked about the sudden, early transfer of power in Iraq. One news show commented that giving authority to the Iraqis was like calling a dog a cat, "and then expecting it to use the litter box." Donna cooked me ham and eggs for breakfast. We had plenty of ham. Donna's mom brought a huge ham with them to the beach house. I'm sure she thought it was a great idea, one that would save everybody money. We had ham sandwiches, ham soup, and ham packed up for our excursion that day. On the day the weather service predicted not just rain, but an 80% chance of rain, Donna's mom packed a picnic lunch for everybody. With ham. Donna promised me we'd eat fish that night, instead of ham. That kept me going.

The nine of us piled into our two vans, and took off down the island. Duck was just a few miles from Kitty Hawk and Kill Devil Hills, the site of the Wright Brothers first manned flight. The Wright Brothers were very big on the Outer Banks, with lots of business and streets named after them. I used my National Parks Service card to get us in for free. The place was really nice. There was a museum as well as a special exhibit set up by the Air Force. Out on the big field, there were markers to show where the first flights started and how far they got. Donna, the guys and I climbed the big hill to the Wright Brothers memorial. I found out later the biggest problem in building the memorial was stopping the hill from moving  it was originally a big honking dune that moved about 60 feet a year. Thousands of truckloads of dirt had to be hauled to the island and used to cover up the dune. Then, they had to plant grass all over it to keep it from moving. Once that was done, the monument could be built.
 
That's me at Kill Devil Hill, the site of the Wright Brothers first flight. It was a little windy that day because a front was moving in. It was an easy hike to the top, except the last few yards got a little steep. The view from the up there was tremendous. It must have been exhilarating for the Wrights to leap off that hill in their gliders, experimenting with wing design and lift. The Wrights were clever innovators, inventing new technologies to overcome the problems of heaver-than-air vehicles. 
The base of the Wright Brothers monument atop Kill Devil Hill. The inscription reads, "In commemoration of the conquest of the air by the brothers Wilbur and Orville Wright. Conceived by genius and achieved by dauntless resolution and unconquerable faith." The inscription is arranged so that the words "genius" and "faith" are on the corners, set off by themselves.

 
On the far side of Kill Devil Hill, there's this unusual sculpture. It depicts the Wright Flyer as it was in the historic photo of their first flight. From left, there's Zack (in green shirt), Kim (inspecting the sculpture close-up), Nick, Donna's parents Don and Marcia Campbell, Donna and Dianne.

The landing points of the Wright Brothers' first flights are marked with granite stones set across the big field where the historic event took place. The first flight, which went 120 feet, doesn't seem very far, but by the fourth flight they reached 852 feet, marked by the tiny granite dot way off in the distance. 

The brothers were so excited after that last flight they sort of, uh, well, forgot to tie the airplane down... a sudden gust of wind caught the plane and sent it rolling down the field. A friend, Charlie Daniels (yeah, that was his name), tried to stop the plane but was dragged along with it. The Wrights were horrified, and were sure their friend had been killed. The plane ended up in a big ball at the end of the field. Charlie survived, and for years bragged that he made the "fifth flight" that day. 

From the monument, we could see the little airport at the foot of the hill. I guess they put it there so that private pilots could say they took off from Kitty Hawk. We came down off the hill and started to set up for our picnic when, of course, it started to rain. I could tell from the weight of the drops it wasn't any wussy rain, either. We hurried back to the vans just in time for the downpour. The rain came down in sheets, and drove away all the other cars that had been parked next to ours. Nick and I sat in the van, eating our ham sandwiches, until the rain let up a little. Everyone else had piled into the in-law's van. The sun came out, and we headed out towards Cape Hatteras. First, however, Dianne needed to stop for a map, so we all stopped at the local Wal-Mart. I picked up some more film, some refrigerator magnets, and an Outer Banks hat. I thought it looked pretty good. From there, we headed south down the island. We passed Nag's Head and Whalebone Junction, and stopped at a visitor center to get more information on the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. Down the road, a lighthouse came into view. It was the Bodie Island Lighthouse, a real working lighthouse, and as such was closed to the public. However, the keeper's quarters were open and had a neat little museum inside. I took a bunch of pictures. There were some folks traveling together on motorcycles visiting the lighthouse, too. We got some sprinkles, but then the sky cleared up.
 
The Bodie Island Lighthouse, first opened October 1, 1872. It replaced an earlier lighthouse that was blown up during the Civil War. 
We crossed a big bridge over the Oregon Inlet over to Pea Island, the site of a national wildlife refuge. There were a couple of little communities, spaced apart by miles of sandy road. Dianne was driving the Campbell's van, and we followed behind. I wanted to stop for a soda pop, but every time I slowed down or signaled or flashed my lights, she never saw it, and Donna didn't want to lose contact with them. Some of the dunes were remarkable. In the little village of Avon, we passed a place called the Froggy Dog. At the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, there was a big visitor's center. Several years before, authorities noticed the ocean was getting closer and closer to the lighthouse, and it was decided to move it to higher ground. Only, they didn't dismantle it first-- they moved the whole 208-foot lighthouse. It must have been an amazing engineering feat. We looked through the keeper's quarters, which was also moved from it's original position, and one of the rangers liked my Starfleet shirt.
 
Donna's folks decided to climb to the top of the lighthouse, so I decided I'd go, too. I wasn't looking forward to it. But, I said I'd do it, so I did. 

See, the thing is, I don't do heights very well. 

There were 257 steps inside the lighthouse, winding around to the top, 14 stories above the beach. The steps were metal, and only about 2 feet wide. As I started up, I counted the steps as I went, but then I stopped when I realized I was calculating how high I was at each step. I just concentrated on one step at a time. I couldn't look up, or down, because that told me how high I was, so I looked straight ahead  ...except, that's where the butt of the guy ahead of me was. So, I watched the wall as I went up. 

There were several landings, which gave people a chance to catch their breath. As I neared the top, my heart was beating so fast I couldn't make out individual beats--  it was just one long, continuous hum.

Finally, I made it to the top. I stood under the metal and glass assembly for the light before stepping through the small door to the landing. The wind was something powerful, like 30 miles an hour with gusts. The rangers were advising people to not go on the windy side of the tower; folks were losing hats and glasses as they got blown off. I stepped out on the landing, but I kept my back up against the tower. Wow, we were high up! The landing felt sturdy enough, but I wasn't taking any chances. There was a spectacular view of the coast, and some visitors braved the windy side for additional views.
Oh, yeah... high... very high...
After about 5 minutes, I figured that was enough, and headed back down. Going down was only marginally better than going up, because it was harder to keep from looking over the rail at the steps going down ...down ...down... I stared at the passing wall again, but then I got to thinking about moving the whole lighthouse and how much that must have shaken up the whole structure and when I passed a crack in the wall a voice inside me yelled Was that there before??? But then, the last few steps passed under my feet, and I was at the bottom. I stepped out the door into the summer air and breathed a sign of relief. I'd done it! I'd climbed the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse and lived to tell the tale. I felt worn-out and frazzled, but proud of facing my fears.

Donna's mom wanted to ride the ferry down the coast at Ocracoke, but it was getting late, and besides, there looked to be a big storm front moving in. So we headed back. I took the lead this time, because I was determined to get a Dr. Pepper for the ride  back. Down the road, we found a convenience store, so I pulled into the parking lot, but not far. In fact, I parked as close to the road without being in it as possible, so that Dianne would see the van when she followed. Instead, she drove right on past without even slowing down. I got everybody treats and started back to Duck. Right before the Oregon Inlet, the storm rolled in, and it looked like a great grey curtain was being drawn across the width of the island ahead. We drove into it, with huge raindrops pelting the windshield and winds pushing the van back and forth. In no time at all, however, we were past it, and the rest of the ride back to the rent house was uneventful.

I couldn't see another meal of ham, so after we freshened up, Donna, Kim and I headed out to find some seafood. We found a likely contender at a place called Jimmy's Seafood Buffet. ("Jimmy's Buffet.") It was a raucous, lively joint, full of talking, happy people. Lots of families were eating there. They had all kinds of seafood: shrimp, fish, scallops, clams and three kinds of crabs on an all-you-can-eat buffet. It was heaven. I tried fish I'd never tried before, like mahi mahi, and I had my fill of crab legs. It was a fun, happy meal, and we were soooo stuffed by the time we left. (I got a t-shirt.) Back at the house, everyone lied around digesting the amazing meal. I watched a little TV and then went on to bed.
 

A little over a month after we visited Cape Hatteras, Hurricane Alex hit the Outer Banks with winds over 100 miles per hour. The lighthouse stood, tall and proud. 
 
 
 
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 All original content copyright (c) 2004 by Tim Frayser