It has been many years since I last
went on the beach with a vehicle. Way back when I worked for
E. B. Luce Corporation, I joined Barry
Berggren and Larry McDonald on an outing on Cape Cod. Barry had a CJ and Larry had a
Land Cruiser, if I remember correctly. I was amazed by the ability of the vehicles
to travel in the soft sand and was reminded again of that long-ago trip when we started
driving along the shore this time. I also remember going to Cape Cod with my
CJ-2A in the hope of going on the
beach. But I soon learned that conventional snow tires do not air down and
"balloon" well so that trip ended without any "sand time".
This time out, I was rewarded for my
6-hour road trip with what seemed like almost endless sand and sea. We drove along
for several minutes, around to where a bridge spans Oregon Inlet, and where a number of other people had driven out to do
some surf fishing. There was a trickle of water that ran in and was host to a school
of small fishes. The kids had a great time chasing the fish around. They also
discovered an abundance of hermit crabs and spent some time harassing them as well.
And of course we all waded in the water.
After a while we headed back the way
we came, and claimed a spot on the beach, parked the Jeeps and unloaded for the
afternoon. This is when I was reminded of one aspect of the beach that I could live
without... The sand that finds its way into everything you own... This would
haunt me well past the time when we returned home. Anyone who goes to the beach in a
vehicle already knows this, but I suggest leaving precision instruments that you care
about AT HOME! That includes pretty Jeeps and expensive cameras...
Somewhere along the way we passed a
1958 Jeep Station Wagon parked on the sand with two men fishing. I could not resist
taking a look at this crusty old beast and spent a few minutes talking with the owner and
his buddy. He converted it to a Ford 289 V-8 and put some Dune Diggers on white
spokes. It was not registered but used only for beach fishing so... He
commented that he liked it the way it was (crispy around the edges and lots of surface
rust where the paint had worn off) because it "beats taking a $25,000.00 like yours
out here". And he is, of course, right about that. Sand is the
enemy. Salt is even worse. And both are found in abundance on the beach.
The water was warm (mid-'70's) and
the waves were just big enough to do some childish body surfing without getting
hurt. More sand in places I may never get it out of (my ear tubes!) I spent
almost an hour just floating about and talking with Hugh while the kids played in the sand
and near the edge of the water. They haven't had much beach time and are still a
little timid. We shall have to work on that! Once everything was adequately
coated in sand, and skin was starting to get pink, we packed up and headed out for
dinner. We stopped at a gas station and aired up. It was pretty close to the
beach so it seemed worth saving the time it would have taken with my
compressor. I would later learn there might be other
reasons that was a good choice...
On the way down we had noticed a
billboard that said something to the effect of "I got my crabs from Dirty Dicks"
(sorry - that's what it says) and sure enough, there was a seafood restaurant called
"Dirty Dicks". I have to admit that the billboard got me. We
rewarded their questionable taste in marketing slogans by going there for dinner.
The crabs were so-so and the rest of the food and service was OK. Not a cheap bill,
but nothing down here was cheap.
After dinner, Hugh, Mindy and Shea
hit the road for home (ugh) and we went shopping at K-Mart and Wal*Mart. As Maria
would say, "We drove all the way to North Carolina to go shopping at
Wal*Mart?"... What can I say? I have to hunt for new cars for my
columns, and something irresistible always lures me to
these stores no matter how far away from home I may be. We once went to an
incredible K-Mart in Cuernevaca, Mexico, but that, of course, is a story for another day.
We finally got the kids into bed then
crashed and burned. The next morning, we split up for a little while so that Maria
and the kids could go to the beach in front of the hotel, and I could go check out the 8
way points that Hugh had given me for beach entrances for
vehicles. Long story short, I drove a little ways down the main drag and soon
realized that the entrances were between 15 and 100 miles away... So I did a U-turn
and went back to the hotel. It took me a couple minutes to find Maria and the kids
on the beach but we reconnected and had lunch, then hit the road down to the second
way point that Hugh had given me. Again, Teddy made airing down
a joy, and we made our way in to the beach.
This time we were met with a series
of "whoop-de-doo's" that Tomi got a big kick out of. We drove for quite a
ways in then turned around and started back. Maria wanted to make some video of me
driving the Jeep on the beach so she got out and started taping. When I got close to
where she was, she tried to step back out of the way, got tripped up in the ruts and went
head over heels onto the ground, camera still running. So we have a nice segment of
video tape that now looks like I ran her down and left her for dead!
Again, we parked the Jeep and
unpacked for a while. More sand in places it should not go. We stopped by a
place where the surf washed in and got trapped, making for a shallow, warm pool.
After some coaxing, the kids were happy to play in it but still would not go near the
surf, even with me carrying them on my shoulders. In all fairness, the waves were
very bad, the shore patrol had posted swimming warnings ("not recommended") and
it was obvious that going in the water was not going to be much fun. So we had to
make do with running along the shore, playing in the wash, and stuff like that.
After a while, we packed up
again. When we reached pavement, I decided to air up using my
compressor. It took it down from it's storage
location, plugged it in, and started airing up the first tire. The compressor ran
for about 2 minutes and then quit. Well when I first got it, it had blown a fuse in
the Jeep right away so I checked that. Sure enough it was a blown fuse. Well
three fuses later (and with several still in reserve) I decided that this was not going to
work. So we drove along into a little town and got air there. Now I had to get
my nearly new (and only used once) compressor fixed or replaced. I would later
exchange it for another at K-Mart, with Teddy berating the counter clerk with echoes of my
So we headed down the coast to the
ferry that takes cars back
and forth to Ocracoke Island.
It was a long ride but the scenery was interesting so it went fast. The ferry ride
was pleasant and only lasted about 40 minutes. I wandered around taking pictures,
brought the kids on deck to look around, and let them hang out in the "passenger
lounge" up in the center of the ship below the bridge. They were wild and
consumed most of Maria's energy disobeying orders... Finally we docked and
disembarked. We headed towards town with a view toward getting something to eat.
Along the way we encountered a Honda
Civic parked in the dune on the side of the road. Stuck would be a more apt
description. Two recent college graduates were fumbling with a board in a vain
attempt to get unstuck. I swung around and offered to help them. It was a
simple matter of locating the tow loop that all Hondas have, putting a D-Ring on with my
strap attached, then a gentle tug and they were back on pavement. I moved off the
pavement into the dune to get out of the road. Once I had everything put away, I
tried to drive off and found that I was stuck. I aired down. It was a
little better, but still no-go. It took me a few minutes to realize that maybe
4-Wheel-Drive would be useful...? What a dolt am I.
So once I got that engaged, we drove
out without problems. But of course, not before someone in a Land Rover stopped to
offer assistance... How poetic. Sheesh. Anyway, we got out (of course we
did) and drove to the edge of town where we grabbed a bite at a local pizza joint. I
checked for an air hose and found one a couple doors down at a convenience store. I
stayed aired down and we made tracks to a beach access point not documented on Hugh's list
of way points. This one had a regular hard-pack dirt road
that led out to the beach, where the track resorted to soft sand mixed with drifted sand
over hard sand.
It was dusk when we arrived and
nearly dark when we left. It was almost dreamlike. Once it got dark we began
our return to the entrance, greatly assisted by the GPS
since our tracks had been obscured. It was like flying by instruments - I just
followed back the track displayed on the unit and easily found the hard dirt road. I
guess we would have found our way out anyway, but this just made life a little easier, and
made our choices certain.
We scurried back to town to air up,
and then to the ferry landing, but found ourselves
four cars too late for the ferry that would leave in 10 minutes, forcing us to wait for an
hour to catch the next one. I took this time to make some time exposures of the area
and the Jeep. The temperature had cooled and a breeze had come up. But it was
very nice to sit there and relax, even though it would have been nice to get off the
The ferry ride was uneventful.
We were loaded into the front of the ship and got to watch the passage through the rail
and scattered passengers who had left their cars. I watched the GPS and enjoyed
knowing what was coming next at every turn. The kids had fallen asleep shortly after
we left the beach and slept all the way home. It was a long ride, and even Maria
fell asleep. Along the way, someone "out there" came on the
CB wanting to talk, looking for a radio
check. He turned out to be about 5 miles away, down on the beach near Oregon Inlet, where we had
been on Friday. As I went over the bridge that crosses that section, he flashed a
light and we made a distant connection. It's a funny thing, knowing that you are
talking to someone "way down there", and even though most of this technology is
pretty old hat, it's still amazing when you see it in these terms. Maria just thinks
I'm turning into a redneck.
The kids went to sleep pretty well
when we got back to the hotel. The next day was your basic pack and leave routine,
with the long ride home from the beach. We were gradually surrounded by more and
more traffic. By the time we reached I95, it was pretty bad. At one point
before we left the highway, Teddy could not hold it any longer so I dropped it into 4WD
and climbed the side of the road so that we would be well off the highway while he did his
business in the woods. I suppose my driving must have seemed a little antisocial but
last year a whole family was wiped out by some idiot who hit their car parked in the
breakdown lane, waiting for their son who was taking a pee. I do not want to become
a statistic like that. Anyone who would have hit us during this pit stop would have
to have gone WAY out of their way!
We hopped off at Exit 133 and took
Route 17 north to 28 and then wove our way around the back roads traveling due north to
Leesburg, where we detoured to Wal*Mart (for diapers) and then to Whites Ferry, and
homeward. When I got home I discovered that one of the items loaded on the roof rack
had not been secured - a duffel bag with sand toys - and had miraculously not blown
off! I have no idea how it stayed on there because it is very light and should have
disappeared as soon as we hit 40 m.p.h. Go figure.
It was a nice vacation, with some
off-road time. If you don't mind a little sand in your shorts (and everywhere else),
you owe it to yourself to get a couple days free and go down for a ride on the
beach. Any stock Jeep will do...
Somewhere along the way, I
picked up a Jolly Roger sticker for my steering box skid plate.
I didn't install it for quite a while!