I just got back from one of the best vacations ever. My fella and I drove the 6.5 hours from Asheville, NC to Hammocks Beach State Park, where we stayed on Bear Island. The island is accessible by boat only, and our boat of choice was two sea kayaks. I had never been kayaking before, and let me just say that kayaks – like me – are awkward (especially when you have all your backpacking gear strapped to it). But after following James’s advice to “wiggle around a bit and try to tip over”, and subsequently realizing that tipping over was in fact, very difficult, the awkwardness subsided and I became a professional kayaker.
The 2.6 mile trip out to the island usually takes about an hour, but in addition to my inexperience, we were also completely loaded down with supplies and fighting both the wind and the tide. Plus it was sunset, so the colored trail markers were hard to see. Maybe we took a coupla wrong turns. But we got there with enough daylight to set up camp and cook some chili dogs.
The next morning we rose, almost with the sun, and went exploring. April is still the off season, so we had the entire island to ourselves. We wandered the marshes and beach, found lots of shells and sand crabs, saw lots of birds, and enjoyed the perfect weather. Literally perfect – sunny and 72 degrees, with some wispy white clouds and a pleasant breeze. One thing that was a little off-putting though, was the presence of a military training base directly next to our island. We could hear them testing their giant weapons off in the distance. The visitor’s center even had a sign explaining the “thunderous noises” we may be hearing.
How beautiful was our campsite? Well…
The folks from the state park organization were actually using it for a photoshoot while we were out exploring. (James’s pictures are better though!)
We enjoyed 3 days of our peaceful island, travelling by kayak, napping in hammocks, and just enjoying life with no cell phones or computers. But there was something there that we hadn’t counted on – clouds and clouds of gnats. The locals call them “no see -ums” and they are on the beach year-round. At first we thought they were just annoying – they would just engulf us and fly into our noses, ears, eyes, and mouths. As time went on, however, we found that we were each covered in tiny bites. I’m pretty sure the gnats were trying to either devour us or carry us away piece by tiny piece. They got to be such a thing that we ended up leaving our camp a day early.
Yes, we were wearing bug spray. But this was mountain bug spray, and these were beach bugs. I’d hate to see what would happen if we had no bug spray at all. Or if we had come later in the summer. I do not want to find out. Although I have concluded that the nextdoor military base should be finding ways to weaponize these gnats, because they were damn maddening.
So we packed up and headed to New Bern, NC where we were able to extend our inn reservations by a day. New Bern is a cute little colonial town, full of history and quirky art. The fire hydrants are painted like local historical figures. There is lots of public art, including various bears painted in symbolic ways. We ate lots of yummy food, and had the best showers ever. (The showers were probably so great because they were our first ones in days and they got rid of all the sweat, dirt, and sand we had built up.) The inn we stayed at was an historical building owned by a cute retired couple that made us breakfast every morning.
The only downside of the inn was that the tv in our room was smaller than my laptop screen. It was only a problem because I couldn’t read the channel numbers, or hear it when the AC was on. But, we didn’t go on vacation to watch tv, so it really was a minor problem.
So, after 5 days and 820 driven miles (plus who knows how many kayaked and walked), we returned home. Refreshed, and maybe a little itchy from lingering gnat bites.
To see the best of James’s photos from our entire vacation, click here.