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280 Miles Behind

#1
This was a short creative nonfiction piece for a writing assignment I had for one of my college courses a couple weeks back. Spent all night writing it, figured I'd share it here. This is my first legitimate attempt at any sort of creative nonfiction. It's different from creative fiction because you have to draw from facts, so it's a little harder to draw inspiration that makes a good story from actual experiences. Nevertheless, it was a pretty good exercise as far as getting me thinking. 

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280 miles behind


“I wish I were in your shoes,” a very close friend of mine told me a few short years ago. “You have no idea. You’re smart, you’re driven, and you’re passionate.” I laughed and turned the other way. “I can’t” were the only words I had ever lived by. I suppose good friends make all the difference, but I was more distracted and insecure than most at the time. For everyone in my generation, life is arguably as busy and crowded as it’s ever been. Cell phones and social media are always present and ever distracting. The world is so accessible from our fingertips. And TVs and movies put us in another realm as a cheap substitute for what nature and the imagination can already do. It’s hard to experience a moment of silence anymore.

It’s July in the middle of summer. Myself and a few friends are packing to take off for a short (albeit impromptu) camping trip for the weekend before returning home to our normal routines. The destination is a 280 mile drive from home to Ocracoke Island, a mild tourist attraction off the coasts of Cape Hatteras. It’s a barrier island native to NC, spanning miles on end. It’s mostly uninhabited, with, of course, the exception of one small development at the edge of the island for tourism. Only accessible by ferry, and lacking any cell service with little connection to the outside world, we packed our bags and planned on leaving within about an hour.  

“Is that your corolla?” Josh inquires.  

“Yeah, what about it?” I responded.

“What about that radiator? Didn’t it blow yesterday?”

“I’ll take my chances,” I quietly respond.

I wasn’t particularly confident, but car problems were not going to stop me. Cramping five people into a Dodge sedan and adding luggage on top didn’t sound like a particularly pleasant idea, and the acute high from averting risks was somewhat satisfying to me. So my brother and I topped off our fluids, and took off separately from the rest and followed them behind. We drove off into the sun, leaving a trail of steam and a trail from the profusely leaking radiator in our path.

It was as if we had a death wish on our backs. Our vehicles unwittingly roared at 110 MPH for the thrill of it, pushing our machines to the very edge of their mechanical limits. As long as our mothers didn’t know, we were not going to consider ourselves reckless. Not the wisest words we’ve ever spoken.  

The majority of the drive, traveling mundane freeways and familiar towns, was uninspiring. But as you near the coastline, the culture and the architecture steadily become more vibrant and more lively. The houses were hurricane proof, the towns were more colorful, and the scenery was all the more satisfying. You drive across narrow bridges that were miles long, you see the exceptionally wide Pungo river to the right, you feel the breeze grow a few degrees colder. The sunset shined right in our rear-view mirror.  

10PM eastern.

We were nearing the coast line, and the roads were becoming more windy with fewer establishments left in sight. Approaching the end of our route, we pull into the ferry terminal, our only access to an island otherwise inaccessible by road. An attendant pulls us in and walks us through the usual routine for both vehicles.  

“How many passengers?”

“Five”

“May I see your ID?” 

“Of course” we answered.

“Thank you, allow me a moment please.”

[Attendant fills out his paperwork]

“Alright, you’re good to go. The next one boards in 20 minutes. The last one boards at midnight, and no ferries will be run overnight. Please make sure you have everything you need when you arrive.”

We boarded, saying goodbye to the 280 mile road behind, and embracing the coasts of Ocracoke ahead. We cut the engines and killed the lights. A cool ocean breeze ahead, and no coasts in sight behind. Nothing but a mild darkness over the ocean surrounded us, slightly illuminated by the sky. It was a first for all of us. None of us had ridden a ferry before, and certainly not one spanning 20 miles and 45 minutes. There was no cell service to track where we were. It was eerily solitary and silent.

11:30 PM

We boarded off and drove both ends of the island in full. In our lack of preparation, we realized that we had failed to prepare for one important detail. The island’s campsite was for reserved campers only. The ferry’s final departure was leaving shortly at midnight, and we had soon realized that we were going to be stranded on the island with no formal place to camp. We decided to make the most of it and to camp on the beach anyway. We would improvise and make do with what we had.

And it was in that moment that I truly realized what it meant to feel connected with nature. I can’t quite remember when I first realized my affinity for it, but I can recall many afternoons and many evenings spent at the lake or at the river. Spent trying to escape or to disconnect. But this was different. I’m not sure if it was the depth of the silence, or if it was simply the absence of street lights or traffic, but somehow being stranded to camp on the beach, something we didn’t choose, felt more enjoyable and more free.

The campsite that we prepared was on the corner of the island, with both the east and the west sides visible to the eye. By early morning, we had five sleeping bags and a small tarp of camping supplies set up only yards away from the shore. I was restless. The others fell asleep. I stayed awake with one eye open, lost in my thoughts.

I was reminded of those words that I had been told before. That sometimes others would kill to be in the very shoes that we walk in. That life sometimes hands us what we don’t expect, and that we did not always get the privilege of writing every aspect of our script. But if some were not privileged enough to know where their next meal was to come from or to have a car that would run and drive, that I would be grateful for what I did have. That I would see the cup as half full instead of half empty. And in giving up our plans, we subsequently had one of the most enjoyable weekends that I can remember. Fishing, camping, cooking, and enjoying the beach unobstructed from other visitors were some of the many memories for which I can’t take back.

The following Sunday, we began the four hour drive back home. Starting with the bridges that were miles long, and the homes and towns that were built in style, and ending with the freeways that were uninspiring and unremarkable. Arriving home, I bought my new radiator, and subsequently fixed the corolla. We went back into the next week a little brighter than the week before.

The following weekend, I took off again. This time alone, and this time with no expectations. Driving off into the sun, I said goodbye to the 280 mile road behind.
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#2
Yes its a pretty good read Smile
thanks for posting this Hans !
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