Tag Archives: adventure

Be a Local Tourist


The winter before she took off for college, my sister decided that she and I should hike the Appalachian Trail. Never mind that we weren’t hikers. Or campers. Or prepared in any way. We were just teenagers ready to test the limits of our independence — in no small way.

I can’t believe our parents didn’t balk when we announced our daring plan or when the glossy brochures, maps and trail guides arrived in thick envelopes via postal mail. In retrospect, I’m sure they knew it would never happen, so they let our notion run its course – which it did, before we ever broke in our sneakers. (Yeah. Sneakers.) Wasn’t it fun just planning, imagining, bonding?

It was an idea destined to fall apart. We relied on summer job money to pay college tuition. We couldn’t afford an off-the-family-grid adventure. As the plan began to unravel, Linda and I considered driving south, anywhere along the trail “away from home,” “not New Jersey,” and sleeping in her car – a well-worn Ford Maverick we lovingly, laughingly called the Mav-er-wreck. The green machine wouldn’t have gotten us safely to Virginia, let alone Georgia.

We never did hike the trail that summer or at any other time, together. When I read Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods some 25 years later, I laughed out loud. Linda and I were spared the roles of the clueless Bill and his hapless friend Stephen Katz, who carried a stash of Little Debbie snacks to fuel his way.

At 2,192 miles, the Appalachian Trail (AT) is the longest blazed trail in the U.S., stretching from Georgia to Maine.  Three out of four people who start the AT fail to cross the finish line, including casualties Bryson and Katz.  Bryson does go back to hike sections of the trail he missed and highlights a 27-mile stretch along the Delaware Water Gap as one of the most scenic. The water gap, which divides the states of Pennsylvania and New Jersey, edged by the Blue Mountains to the west and the Kittatinny Ridge to east, was less than an hour from our family home and even closer to where my sister and I eventually put down roots. We drove through the Delaware Water Gap almost every winter weekend to ski in the Poconos or to visit my brother. “We need to do this,” I would say looking out the car window at the frozen water cascades clinging to the rock face. “We need to do this,” I would say as the ice turned into streams. “We need to do this.”

Like New Yorkers who have never visited the Statue of Liberty or the iconic Empire State Building, we could go any time, I reasoned. But we didn’t, until we were packing to move to North Carolina. Linda, who complained that kayaking across the Cape May Harbor was forced labor, passed on the opportunity.

On a beautiful August day, Alan and I, a couple of our then college-aged kids and their friends, made a day of it. The hike was a bit strenuous, over streams, through the woods and up rocky inclines, as difficult to climb as they are to descend. After several starts and stops — pointing out a a wildflower there, a patch of blue sky, a suspicious hole in the ground (all covers for catching our breath) —  Alan and I found our way to a rocky outcrop with a spectacular view of the Delaware Water Gap. The young ones were waiting for us with the expected, “What took you so long?”

Why, indeed, did it take us so long?

The hike was an edited version of a much bigger, storybook plan, with a different cast of characters, but it was still awesome.

I marvel at the adventurers who stay at our bed and breakfast. Newlyweds “working their way” around the world. A young couple biking from Tennessee to Virginia. A retired couple who sailed around the world, only to end up in Belhaven, N.C. The Hokulea crew, who traveled the world in a replica of a Polynesian double-hulled voyaging canoe, with no auxiliary power, navigating by the stars. Their stories remind me that there are plenty of brave people in the world and, although I have the heart of a traveler, I am not one of them.

The fact that they are here, in little Belhaven, prevents me from dismissing my own backyard as ordinary. As an innkeeper, it’s my job to see the community through the eyes of our guests, or as a tourist “just passing through.” You never know if “the best part,” the keepsake of their trip, will be something they discovered in eastern Carolina: A bear sighted eating corn on the side of the road. A rave-worthy meal. A surprise encounter with an old friend. Or the most scenic part of the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway.





Adventure is Worth the Challenge

IMG_1778Ed Wall is a man on a mission – a mission to build a boat, from scratch, in a garage barely visible from Main Street in Belhaven. He is so passionate about building his boat that he really doesn’t want to talk about the other parts of his adventurous life, such as the fact that he kayaks on the Pantego Creek or Pungo River at the crack of every dawn, even if he has to break some ice with his paddle. He barely glances over the three weeks he spent backpacking, alone, in the Arctic Refuge pursued by bears and wolves.

He wants to talk about his boat, and you can’t blame him. He started it seven years ago in Ohio and brought the pieces with him to Belhaven in July 2009. His dream is to live on the narrow, 38-foot flat-bottom sharpie sailboat, designed by Phil Bolger of Gloucester, Mass., so he can explore even more out-of-the-way places. Bolger’s sharpie is a relatively inexpensive, high-performance boat that is capable of crossing the Atlantic. Not that Ed plans to test those limits. “I’m building as much as I can handle by myself,” he said.

With the bulkheads already in place, Ed uses some of the boat’s completed sections, as household furniture; other sections are stacked against his garage walls. It reminds me of a balsa-wood boat-model kit on steroids, only Ed is crafting every piece by hand out of marine-strength plywood. This is the real deal. The boat even has a name: Argo, for the mythological Greek vessel with the magical talking prow, piloted by Jason and the Argonauts.

Sitting in his “thinking chair,” something Ed says every boat builder does, gives him perspective as he ponders his work.

If he could just hang up his kayak, he says, he would have fewer distractions and be able to complete his boat in maybe two more years. That would mean the self-taught wildlife expert, who has kayaked the Florida Everglades, the coast of Maine and Alaska’s Inside Passage, might miss the diversity of land-use patterns he sees paddling along the shoreline and “the best density of wildlife anywhere” not far from his Belhaven front door: bear, bald eagles, alligators, otters and, once, a mountain lion.

The conversation comes back to his boat. The lure of adventure is dangling before him like the ram with the Golden Fleece.