Typically, the first thing that my new mountain buddies say when I tell them I’m from Avon is, “Do you miss it?”
Actually, that’s a lie.
The first thing they say is, “Where?” So I repeat, “Avon.”
Then they say “Where’s that?” And I say, “It’s a small town on Hatteras Island.”
Then they say, “Where’s that?” And I say, “It’s a beach vacation spot off the Carolina coast.”
Then they say “Oh, like Myrtle Beach?” And I say “Yes. Exactly like Myrtle Beach”
(Apparently my hometown is not as world-famous as I always believed.)
Anyways, when our verbal dueling finally gets to the question “Do you miss it?” I usually smile and say, “Yeah, parts of it.”
This is also a lie.
I pretty much miss every damn thing about Hatteras Island -- with the
exception of mosquitoes, saltwater flooding, traffic, and driving five
hours to go to the dentist.
But the reason I give this answer is twofold: 1.) Nobody likes the
chick who constantly talks about how her hometown is SO much better
than wherever she’s at now. That lady is never the life of the party.
And 2.) When I think of the things I miss, it always filters down to a
short list of a few things I wish I could always do, on a daily basis,
which I’m no longer able to.
I call this short list my “Hatteras Island Obsessions” list, and it’s
the stuff I miss most when I’m daydreaming about home or skimming
through those tortuous Facebook photos my buddies post of their happy
families and friends on a crystal clear beach day. (Seriously, guys!
Have a heart. Can’t you at least counter-balance these with pictures of
your friends and family getting eaten alive by mosquitoes? Or looking
bored while you’re 20th in a line of vehicles going 35 mph over the
Regardless, it seems worthwhile to share my personal short list of
Hatteras Island Obsessions, which always came in handy for me as a
wake-up call after hurricanes, flooding events, and who knows how many
day-long dentist trips.
Because after these, ah, “adventures,” most seasoned locals, in an act
of internal frustration, will often second-guess their reason for
staying on the islands and ask themselves, “Jeez, why am I here?”
Well, I have a perfect perspective on how green that grass is on the
other side of the state, and I’m happy to share my own personal reasons
why Hatteras Island will always reign supreme when it comes to
incredible places to call home.
SHELLS, BY GOD, SHELLS
Man, I miss shelling. And I used to be such a dedicated and downright vicious beachcomber.
I would get up at 5:30 a.m. on a Saturday, hit up Red Drum for coffee,
and go to the neighboring shelling beaches with the single-minded
intention of being the “first” one to scoop up the helmet conchs,
scotch bonnets, and whelks that would drift ashore. It became an
obsession, to the point that I was fighting pelicans or inadvertently glaring at other poor beach-lovers who were in my territory.
In fact, I have a fantastic example of how deep my love of shelling runs.
Several years ago, I was beachcombing along Hatteras Inlet on one of
those perfect January days where the outside temperatures were
ice-cold, but the sun was shining and the ocean waters were
While strolling, I spotted a gorgeous pink lightning whelk located just
offshore, about 50 yards into the water, and I had to ask myself the
question that all dedicated beachcombers are forced to ask themselves
at one point or another:
“Do I leave it, or do I take my pants off and just go for it?”
As any dedicated shell-lover will tell you, it wasn’t even a contest. You take your pants off.
And so I did, and waded out to the inlet -- with no other beach-goers
in sight cause it was January and all -- to score my treasure.
Well, just as I was on my way back to the beach from the water, while
sporting a newfound awesome whelk, a warm hoodie, and my
tangerine-colored granny panties, a caravan of fishing trucks started
to make their way down to Hatteras Inlet.
This heart-stopping moment led me to the second question that all dedicated beachcombers must at some point face in their life:
“Do I remain in freezing cold ocean waters, or do I show a bunch of strange fishermen my granny panties?”
Well, the fishermen essentially got a show, and I got a lot of honks getting out of the water.
But I am proud to say that the aforementioned whelk has a place of
honor on my desk and was definitely worth the effort, as well as any
embarrassing YouTube videos that I haven’t found and deleted yet,
despite hours of searching.
Everyone has a Hatteras Island activity they’re willing to show their
drawers for, whether it’s shelling, kiteboarding, surfing, fishing, or
any of the hundreds of things you can do on the shoreline.
And I assure you, unless you’re willing to dig 1,000 feet into the
ground and look for fossils, it’s a heck of a lot harder to go shelling
in virtually all other parts of the state.
SWIMMING IN THE OCEAN
I’ve mentioned before that jumping into the ocean Absolutely Cures
Everything. From hangovers to heat waves to hypertension, all you have
to do is head to the eastern side of N.C. Highway 12 and dive right in
to find your cure.
This has been my self-prescribed remedy for years -- Did I mention I’m
scared of doctors? -- and it bothers me that these days, I can’t
utilize this prescription without a seven-hour drive beforehand.
Like most locals, the ocean is just in my blood – “salt in the veins,”
as they call it – and it’s an activity that I’ve enjoyed for almost my
Case in point: I remember my dad bringing me to the beach when I was 5
or 6 years old, and letting me run to the ocean, swim out for yards and
yards, and hang out there until my heart’s content and / or I
eventually drifted to England.
Naturally, back then, people were more lax with their kids, which is
why I have enjoyable childhood memories of steel-and-metal playgrounds,
and being thrown around, sans seatbelt, in the back of a truck on long
But in any case, it clearly fostered a life-long love of being in the
ocean. And while my adult self has new-found worries about impending
shark attacks, jellyfish, fish poop, or garnering a dislocated shoulder
from being hit too hard by an encroaching wave, if I just relax, I can
get back to that happy mindset of just enjoying being in the world’s
second largest swimming pool.
FRIENDS, BY GOD, FRIENDS
Have I turned into a broken record on this subject? You betcha.
But the fact remains that the coolest people I know all live on Hatteras Island.
I adore that when I come back, I get to see so many people that I
recognize, and love, and haven’t seen in years, and can unabashedly hug
in public without fears of weird stares. (Old friends, you’ve been
warned – I’m a hugger.)
And the best thing is that despite the minimal year-round population on
Hatteras Island, you’re constantly meeting new and unique people who
are charming, funny, inspiring, helpful, or who are just fun to share a
beer with on a Friday night.
As a prime example, the last time I visited, which was sadly in
January, I went to a fancy* party in Frisco that was attended by local
(*translation of “fancy”= had to wear a bra. And also pants.)
While I was there, I got to meet several of my long-time local writing
icons, including Pat Gerber and Catherine Kozak. Naturally, being the
perpetual professional, I interrupted their clearly intimate
conversation and said something like the following:
“OH MY, GOD. I love you guys. You write so good. Like, so freaking
good.” (I am clearly nothing if not articulate in social settings.)
But, thankfully, they and everyone else at the party overlooked my
awkwardness and welcomed my silly self into the fold. (They also
welcomed my better socially-suited husband, who actually impresses
people with his knowledge the island’s fishing industry, as well as his
ability to construct sentences without using the word “freaking.”)
It made me realize that there are so many people I want to connect
with, and re-connect with, because we all have that singular stellar
thing in common – our love of island living. And it makes me want to
greet and not glare at my shelling competitors, buy another round for a
newfound colleague at the bar, and just dive into that friendly island
This is my elongated answer to the question “Do you miss it?” and it’s
the answer I won’t share in my new locale, 'cause let’s face it, the
people I was talking to would have left the conversation 20 minutes ago.
But it’s also the reason why I’ll come back, and why everyone who lives
on Hatteras Island needs to construct their own personal list of
“Hatteras Island Obsessions” to remember why they live in such a
remarkable place -- regardless of hurricanes, skeeters, and those
frustrating drivers going 35 mph on the Bonner Bridge.
I promise you, if you leave Hatteras Island, you really will miss it
all – from acting like an idiot in front of your professional idols to
showing your granny panties to total strangers.
And personally, I’m looking forward to coming back home and a future of
not having to miss a thing. (Well, I’m going to at least try not to
flash unsuspecting beach-goers. No promises, though.)
Crist currently lives in the western North Carolina mountains, though
she is threatening to return to Hatteras full-time by fall.)