July 25, 2017

Island Living: 
The Perils of an Old Dog Learning New Tricks

By JOY CRIST

There is an arsenal of items on my supposed Bucket List that I inherently know I will never get around to, but which I keep on said list just so I will seem more adventurous or active than I actually am.

These items include skydiving, hang gliding, running a marathon, hiking to the top of Mt. Whatever, and a bunch of other things that I’m pretty sure I will never be motivated or physically coordinated enough to accomplish.

Meanwhile, other equally important Bucket List items – such as enjoying a cheese plate that represents at least four countries, or doing a brewery tour of the North Carolina Piedmont region - have been effortlessly accomplished.

Suffice it to say, I know my strengths. And they basically boil down to my remarkable ability to eat and drink things.  

But at the same time, as you get older, you do start to wonder if you still have that adventurous spirit that allows you to enjoy new experiences outside of a safe realm. (In my case, I feel most comfortable in the restaurant and beverage arena.)

For example, when I was very young, I used to more or less live in the ocean. My dad would sit on the beach and enjoy a moment of peace and a beer, while I spent hours in the water, trying to ride waves, find deep-sea shells, or swim to England. It’s actually a longstanding family joke that on one such occasion, I had spent so much time in the water that a fish lodged in my bathing suit, and I didn’t realize it until after I had been out of the water for quite a while.

But as an adult, hours of time hanging out in the ocean no longer occurs for a myriad of reasons.

For one, work.

For another, the ocean is no longer my comfort zone.

Somehow along the way from the kid who catches fish in her bathing suit to a present day adult, I learned about sharks. And rip currents. And skin cancer. And time management. And the potential embarrassment of having to call the Recuse Squad if you try to swim to England and don’t quite make it. And did I also mention sharks?

So suffice it to say, you know way more about the dangers of enjoying potentially daring activities as an adult, to be sure. But you also miss a bit of joy as well.

Case in point, if I see a shadow of any kind in the ocean, I hightail it to the beach.

And yet I remember a time years ago when a large manta ray was, um, trying to “be acquainted” with the raft I happened to be floating on, and at the time I thought it was the funniest thing in the universe.

That sort of scenario would not play well now. Not only would I get out of the water as soon as possible, but I imagine I would be upset at the ray’s audacity. Because, seriously - no courtship or at least a pick-up line first? C’mon, ray. Up your game a bit.

In any case, when you realize that you don’t have the courage or adventurous spirit that you used to, you start to wonder if an old female dog like yourself, (rhymes with witch), can learn new tricks.

And I am happy to report that you can, but you may need a little young blood to get you going… or at least a little liquid courage first.

So in that spirit, I’d like to share the odd adventures I’ve had in the past couple months that were so far down on the Bucket List that they were all but forgotten, and which were miles outside of the old comfort zone.

I’m happy to report that you can still surprise yourself by trying something new – even if you fail miserably in looking remotely coordinated, adept, or cool in the process.

Horseback Riding

My niece is just 13 years old, and she is a total horseback-riding boss.

So when she came to visit Hatteras Island from her home in Seattle, (and mentioned that she never went horseback riding on the beach before), I immediately signed us up for a horseback ride along the island shoreline.

Now, “horseback riding” is one of those items on the Bucket List that I put on there for good measure, but never seriously intended to accomplish.

As you get old, things that you never expected to scare the bejeezus out of you suddenly do – and apparently being thrown by a horse factors into this equation.

Regardless, we got up at 5:45 in the morning to go on a horseback ride, with my niece terribly excited, and me wondering if I should have made a will at some point before we left.

But this is where the fabulous influence of young blood comes in, as well as the expertise of people who actually hang out with horses on a regular basis. The amazing folks at Equine Adventures - as well as my niece - were both exceptionally patient with my total lack of knowledge.

After being hoisted on a horse for the first time, I tried to tell people “Despite what it looks like, I’m an expert at this!” as my ride, a horse named Cochise, wandered around backwards and munched on plants that were well off the beaten path.

And I’d like to say I got better as the ride progressed, but I didn’t.

Cochise wanted to stop as often as possible to snack – an inclination I completely sympathized with – but all parties involved helped us move along so that we could enjoy a stunning trek to the ocean.  

I’ll admit, I was slightly terrified for a good chunk of the ride.

I know nothing about horses – that’s my amazingly smart niece’s area of expertise – and wandering through the woods en route to the shoreline made me also consider other potential terrors. Like snakes, or spiders, or snapping turtles, or alligators, or even dinosaurs, if they are still around. (There are parts of Buxton Woods that look identical to scenes from Jurassic Park, after all.)

And I’m guessing that if we did encounter a threat, Cochise wouldn’t even notice because he was too busy eating stuff. (Again, a situation I can completely relate to.)

But when I paused my detrimental train of thought, I got to enjoy a world of beauty in every direction. The trail veered from the woods, to the aforementioned Jurassic Park-esque atmosphere, to the high sand dunes of Buxton Woods, to the beautiful oceanfront. It really was amazing how quickly the landscape changed, without missing a beat on providing awesome scenery along the way.  

And man, my niece was having a blast when she got to canter down the beach, which was a sight that easily thwarted any fear I had of dying from horse / alligator / dinosaur related injuries.

Now was I sore in all the wrong places the next day, and complaining about it excessively? And was I still mulling over “Oh, what could have gone wrong?” days after the experience?

You betcha. That’s in my adult nature.

But the ride was very much worth getting out of my comfort zone. After all, I got to see a stunning section of the island that few people ever get to see. And having the opportunity to witness my awesome niece grin and kick butt as she cruised down the beach on a horse is an experience that is truly unparalleled.

Swimming with Sharks

The first time I went to the new sandbar off of Cape Point, I encountered a couple of other friendly beachcombers who had somehow attracted the attention of a “sharksucker.”  (I think the official name is “remora,” but “sharksucker” has a much catchier ring to it.)

In any case, it was one of those fish that likes to stick to the bottom of manta rays and sharks, and which was trying to find a new temporary home on one of the visiting beachcomber’s legs.

It was a really funny endeavor to watch, and we all made plenty of jokes about the sharksucker’s intentions. (It even made me think about my manta ray ex-boyfriend, which made me laugh even more.)

But minutes after this initially amusing encounter, it dawned on me that this “sharksucker” wouldn’t be out in this area if there weren’t nearby sharks to suck.

And that dominated my thoughts for the rest of the trip – to the point where I was looking obsessively at the surrounding waters of Shelly Island, waiting for a shark with a craving for a big ol’ piece of beachcomber.

The funny thing is that all shark-related precautions were taken care of for this adventure. We went at low tide, there was no wind, and we had a kayak to get us to and from Shelly Island.

And yet I was still nervous about an imminent shark attack. (In the movie Jaws, the shark attacks in super calm waters close to the beach, after all.) And I kept thinking about all those aerial photos you see on social media that show clusters of sharks that are seemingly just inches away from Shelly Island.

It didn’t ruin my day by any means. I left Shelly Island with a bunch of whelks, a big cluster of coral, and an almost whole Helmet Conch, so I call that a win.

But it bugged me after the trip was over that I was so obsessed with being a shark attack victim, despite the fact that I stayed on the sand, and had an actual ride to and from the shore via a kayak. (And yes, the phrase “you’re going to need a bigger boat” popped into my head more than once.)

Simply put, sometimes I need to force myself to remember that your chances of meeting your end in a shark attack are way less than dying in a car accident, airplane crash, lightning strike, AND an elevator malfunction combined.

So I’ll keep swimming - or at least kayaking – with sharks. As my dad once told me, when it comes down to it, “Such-and-such died in a vicious and epic battle with a shark” is a way more impressive epitaph on your tombstone than virtually anything else.

Dancing like an Idiot

There’s an often quoted phrase out there that you should always “Dance like nobody’s watching.”

Well, whoever came up with that phrase did not grow up in the era of cell phone cameras and Facebook.

I may have busted a groove in my teens and early twenties, (a glorious time of undocumented debauchery we’ll call the “FunSaver Camera” years), but it would take a ton of liquid courage to show off my skills now.

And this is primarily because my dance skills are positively wretched.

I can do the “sprinkler,” the “lawnmower,” and the “shopping cart,” and that’s about it… also, I generally require weeks of practice to accomplish any of these clearly elaborate dance moves. My husband, however, is a ridiculously great dancer, and I always feel bad that I demure from dancing for the simple fact that I’m likely to injure him, myself, and / or others within a 100 foot radius.

But on a recent trip to Beaufort, where we stopped at a good bar with a great band, I threw all cares to the wind. (Also, there was ample room so that I wouldn’t take anyone out when I inevitably flailed my arms and feet into someone’s face, which is pretty much required for a complete “sprinkler” cycle.)

And I’m happy to report that when I danced with my better half, I didn’t injure anyone, and my moves were not so ridiculous that a viral YouTube video surfaced a day later. (I checked. Obsessively.)

So I’ll admit that while it may not be beneficial to “dance like nobody’s watching” in our modern age, it is OK to “dance like you know what you are doing, even if you totally don’t.”

After all, I didn’t get caught for my out-of-date and poorly orchestrated sprinkler moves, and I doubt you will either.

Now you may think that going to a local sandbar, dancing in public, or taking a lazy horseback ride is a ridiculous way to actually test the limits of your comfort zone.

And you would be 100% correct.

But when you open the floodgates to rekindling an adventurous spirit, there’s no telling how far you can go.

Simply put, old female dogs like me benefit from having a gateway to adventures. Once we conquer a fear or two, it makes it easier to approach the next hurdle – whether it’s spending an hour or two in the ocean, or going skydiving.

And there’s something to be said for surprising yourself, even if it’s on a small scale.

I doubt I’ll try to reach England via swimming again. (As it turns out, the logistics of this are not as simple as my 7-year-old self envisioned.) But I may venture past the breakers to just float and unwind for a bit based on a newfound courage. And who knows, maybe there’s a single manta ray out there looking for a good time, which only my raft can provide.

So get out there and enjoy our island to the fullest.

Whether you dance like a weirdo, have a fear of sharks, or steer clear of new activities that don’t involve beer or cheese - or all of the above, like me - I promise that you’ll have a better time if you do it anyways.

And worst case scenario, you’ll have an amazing epitaph and / or a viral YouTube video because of your ridiculous efforts.

Besides, there hasn’t been a dinosaur attack on a horseback rider for quite some time. 

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