Finding My Footing (Among Other Things) In the Outer Banks

Whenever I go to a new place, I find exploring is the best way for me to find my footing in my new surroundings. At the minimum, I want to figure out how to get to where I need to go. At best, I want to find secret little spaces that I can claim as my own. So I was very grateful when we were assigned an Outer Banks scavenger hunt during our first week of orientation. Its goal was to familiarize us with the Outer Banks, geographically, historically, and culturally. Beyond that, it gave me a purpose to my explorations, a map of sorts to direct me along the Outer Banks.

Our scavenger hunt
Unpainted aristocracy

Before I could start off on my adventures, however, I needed to do my research. The first item on the list, “Unpainted Aristocracy,” had me stumped. One google search later ( ), I learned “Unpainted Aristocracy” was the name for a row of old, wooden beach houses in Nags Head. These houses were built more than a century ago, surviving hurricanes, nor’easters, and Nags Head’s rapid development. Excited to see this part of history, I set out for Nags Head one morning before class. Driving along Virginia Dare Trail, I passed the rows of wooden houses, a stark contrast with the newer development around them. They seemed a testament to the resiliency of the Outer Banks, and a reminder of a simpler beach experience. One quick photo later and scavenger hunt item one was completed.

House in the surf zone

The next morning, I woke up ready to do some more exploring. I grabbed my keys and headed for Rodanthe. The scavenger hunt item for this trip: houses in the surf zone. The weather for the trip was perfect, a bright blue sky and light breeze rustling the sea oats. Crossing Oregon Inlet, I marveled at the beauty of the waves breaking on the shore and the brilliant blue of the ocean. Everything was so picturesque. Before I knew it, I arrived in Rodanthe, where I immediately noticed the mounds of sand along the road, indications that this town was slowly moving closer and closer to the ocean. I found my way to a beach access, and only had to walk a little way before I found what I came here for: a wooden house stood jutted beyond the dunes, the water lapping at its stilts. I noticed a rental sign in the window, indicating this result of rising sea levels has now been turned into a quintessential tourist experience. Another quick google search as I write this lets me see exactly how it’s being marketed, as a beach home with “waterfront views from almost every room” that’s “only steps from the beach.” It just shows one of the ways the Outer Banks have adapted to situations thrown at them, a resiliency I’d learn a lot more about in the weeks to come.

Throughout the next week, I got to explore downtown Manteo with Jason, where we were able to check more things off our list. One item, however, differed from the rest, as it was time dependent, requiring us to get up early enough to see the sunrise. A group outing was made of it, with plans to leave the house at 5:55am to get to the beach in time to see the sun rise over the ocean. And so the next morning a group of us left the house in our pjs or other cozy attire, perhaps not all the way awake and missing our beds, but committed to seeing the sunrise nonetheless. We went to Jennette’s Pier, layed out our towels, and settled into the sand. We didn’t talk much as we watched the sun make its way above the horizon, but that space was filled by calls of gulls and the waves crashing onto shore. We all just sat there, taking in the beauty of the morning. After the sky’s colors faded, we picked up our towels and headed towards breakfast, chatting and laughing amongst ourselves.

The sunrise group. Left to right: Jane, Fran, Joseph, Rebekah, Nathalie, Me, Anna. Photo creds: Mackenzie

The rest of the scavenger hunt items were slowly collected during the next week, on everyday trips with various members of the group, but it still served its purpose. From road trips to sunrises, each item helped me get a little closer to the Outer Banks and my classmates.