The Perils of an Old Dog Learning New Tricks
By JOY CRIST
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.
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
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
My niece is just 13 years old, and she is a total horseback-riding boss.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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
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.)
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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
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.)
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
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
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.
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
And this is primarily because my dance skills are positively wretched.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.