Devastation and Holiday Expectations

Leaving Ocracoke

I spent nearly a month on the island of Ocracoke on the outer banks of North Carolina. Ocracoke isn’t for everyone. The only access is by ferry. The campsites don’t have electricity and there is no hot water. The town hasn’t changed much. No arcades or indoor malls. Just beaches and fishing. I hope they keep it that way.

The big excitement was Hurricane Michael barreling up from the gulf. North Carolina had not recovered from Hurricane Florence and they were getting hit again. The campground closed and we all headed into town where we parked together about 6 feet above sea level. (We were told it was the highest point on the island. Who am I to argue?) We all survived with no damage and returned to the campground the next day.

By November those refreshing cold showers were a bit too refreshing and the good friends I made had left. Time to head south.

I’ve been through a number of hurricanes in my life, but I wasn’t prepared for the extent of the damage I saw as I drove. (No pictures as it is hard to take photos while driving…) Every roof had blue tarps. Rich or poor. The entire contents of people’s homes were in a big pile in front. Not just the couches and mattresses, but the wall and ceilings as well. Trees uprooted. This cleanup will take a very very long time.

I headed slowly down the eastern coast and just had to return to another favorite place, the Okefenokee Swamp. Located in southern Georgia, it was beginning to get seriously cold, but I spent two lovely days kayaking around and taking photos.

I had decided to go to the Gulf Islands National Seashore near Pensacola for a couple of weeks. I knew the Florida panhandle gets cold in winter, but this was still November and seemed to be the ideal spot for Thanksgiving. I imagined Thanksgiving by the sea. Making new friends. Maybe a pot luck of dishes as the campers got together for the holiday.

Driving west on Interstate 10 was eye-opening. Huge trees were twisted and snapped in half along the side of the highway. It’s amazing they managed to clear the road so quickly after Hurricane Michael, but they still had a lot to haul away. Entire forests were like matchsticks. And Interstate 10 is pretty far inland. You see pictures on the news, but seeing it in real life makes it, well, real.

FtPickensHeronFort Pickens campground in the Gulf Islands National Seashore is an amazing place. I’ve never seen such white sand. The sand has a strange texture to it that’s fun. The weather was nice at first.

Then it got cold and the sun left. When the sun is out, it can warm up my van nicely. No sun. It was cold. Thanksgiving was spent wrapped in blankets, reading Ursula LeGuin’s Left Hand of Darkness, which takes place on a planet called Winter, during an ice age (which didn’t help). A few tenters huddled by themselves near fires. The RV’ers stayed inside.

It was cold and lonely.

CampgroundFloodThat was the upside. Later it rained. And rained. And rained. The tenters abandoned their water-logged sites. At one point the rain stopped briefly. Everyone jumped out of the RV’s and quickly made introductions, exchanged information and just as quickly jumped back inside as the rain began again.

One of my campsite choices was still closed due to Hurricane Michael and the other was too far north. I called a friend and she encouraged me to come south and stay in her driveway. Suddenly I was filled with hope. I left at first light worried the road would be closed – too flooded to pass, but I made it out of the park. I was free! Warmth and friendship awaited in southern Florida. A stop at Suwannee River State Park was beautiful even in the rain, proving my mood colored my experience.Suwannee

The Christmas holiday was joyful. My friend has children still young enough to get excited about Santa’s coming and her parents joined us for a multi-generation gathering. 

I’m not sure what next year will bring as I will be heading west and will not have the comfort of visiting old friends. I’m sure the Thanksgiving experience would have been warmer if the weather would have been — warmer. The lessons I learned: Don’t take what you have for granted, weather can cause great destruction. Also not to expect any particular day, holiday or not, to be what I think it should be, but to enjoy the journey each and every day.


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