Thursday, May 26, 2011


All you have to do is look out the window and you've gotta wonder,
"Why would we want to leave this spot?"
It's true, the view from the house where we stay when we're in North Carolina is something special. Look out the front and you'll see the crashing Atlantic Ocean and the inviting near-deserted stretch of beach that lures us daily for walks, rests and dips. The back-of-the-house vista features the river-like backwater that twists its way from the intercoastal waterway to the edge of our yard. Either way, it's easy to get caught up in the surroundings here and want to stay put day after day.
Or not.
"We've gotta start doing some daytrips," I said a few weeks ago.
She smiled, knowing that my absolute favorite kind of travel is the type that involves an early departure, a long, leisurely drive and something--or a whole list of things--to look at and learn about along the way. Sometimes the objective is a little hazy, with the journey itself the real thing, while other times, there really is a plan of sorts and a real destination in mind.
These trips have been a part of our lives for as long as we've been together, starting back when a long drive to see and experience something new and different was just about all we could afford as entertainment and a break from a week's worth of work. Later, those trips became a virtual lifesaver for me, as I struggled with cancer that often left me mentally exhausted, physically devastated and entirely discouraged.
Megan did a lot to keep me kicking in those days, whether it was by convincing both me and my doctors to press ahead with some of the more unpleasant, aggressive treatments that would eventually save my life, or via a few simple acts of love and kindness that would make that life seem worth staying around for.
"Let's hit the road," she'd say, usually on a sunny Sunday morning after church.
And so, we would.
She would drive, while I would navigate and doze by turns in the passenger's seat. She was still working as a classroom teacher in those days, and Sundays were her chance to catch up on a little work around the house, attack some take-home schoolwork, and even, perhaps, relax a bit. But she would, instead, sacrifice her plans for the day to spend time doing something she knew I would enjoy and remember as I slowly regained strength and a renewed zest for living.
We've continued our daytripping ways, but had gotten a little complacent about them since our arrival at a spot that most folks would probably consider an ultimate destination anyway.
"Where should we go?" she asked.
We had both spent time reading and researching about the coastal Carolina area we've landed in.
There were places we wanted to go. There were things we wanted to see.
Some are astonishingly beautiful, while some are historic and cultural.
And some, of course, are a little quirky.
Like the "Missiles and More" museum located just ten miles or so down the island we inhabit. The museum celebrates the fact that besides its history as a pirate hideout and a "by-boat-only" fishing haven, Topsail Island was once an important missile testing ground.
At the end of World War II, the US Navy began a joint venture with Johns Hopkins University with the tongue-in-cheek name "Operation Bumblebee" to develop and test ramjet missiles. Named after an insect, which, although aerodynamically unable to fly, does not know it and flies anyway, this venture led to the development of supersonic aircraft and shipboard missiles in the mid-20th century. The missiles were assembled in the building where the museum is now housed, then hauled to a concrete launching pad (now the patio for a popular motel and fishing pier) and test-fired up the coastline, which was (and still is) dotted with a series of concrete observation towers, where reckless souls would track the flight of the high-powered projectiles. Given the total lack of any sophisticated guidance controls and the rustic nature of the wooden launching devices, those towers seem more like targets than viewing spots to my admittedly untrained eye, but, apparently, the scientists and engineers knew what they were doing or were blessed with a good bit of luck. After the military abandoned the site a few years later, the bridge they left behind gave easier access to the island and began the gradual growth of the the long strip of sand as both a permanent place to live and a vacation spot.
Other places of interest that we've seen on the island include a Sea Turtle hospital and the coastlines, backwaters and inlets that combine to make up the fragile, beautiful ecology of the area. By going a little farther afield, we've visited the lovely, historic city of Wilmington and Fort Fisher, the civil war fortress that protected the vital trading routes of the Wilmington port until its capture by the Union in 1865, an action that essentially cut the Confederacy off from the goods and supplies they needed and spelled the ultimate end of the war. A lengthy northbound Mothers' Day Trek to Ocracoke Island, a pearl of a place just off the Outer Banks, probably convinced our son and his family that we are, indeed, out of our minds, as the way there includes a two-hour drive coupled with another two hours on a ferry across the Pamlico Sound, making for a longish day that's just our style, but probably a bit much for those with jobs, school and children to attend to the next morning.
There's plenty more to do and see as we enjoy this springtime segment of our Illinois/Carolina living scheme, but here's the thing.
It doesn't matter if we really see anything spectacular. And it's no big deal if we don't learn anything important or do anything special at all.
The trick--and the blessing--is to be ready and willing to go and do and see anytime anybody says, "Let's hit the road."

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