When I first started wrapping my head around taking time off this summer, I wanted the first official stop of my trip to be Greensboro, NC to visit my BFF from University of Iowa, Ab.
The drive from TN to Greensboro was stunning. As I drove eastward, the beauty of the Smoky Mountains rose ahead of me. Intermittent but welcome rain showers materialized as I crossed into North Carolina on I-40, leaving the stunning Appalachian Mountain range behind as I traveled into the Piedmont. I arrived in Greensboro to find my dear friend completely untouched by age and as smiling and vibrant as ever. As we caught up on each others lives and shared a meal and a couple of delightful adult malt beverages at a local microbrewery (The Natty Green), I realized why we could so easily pick up after the years….I had found a kindred spirit. As I spoke about my journey and the events leading up to it, Ab would finish my thoughts, articulating exactly what I was thinking. I shared my inner struggles and introspection and noticed that we both are choosing to look at life and approach our interactions and relationships with others with the same philosophy.
Ab was scheduled to play a runout summer concert in Kinston, NC with the North Carolina Symphony, and then suggested that after the concert, we could drive to the coast and spend the next day kayaking along the inlets of the Atlantic. What an unexpected surprise! I could hear her play with a fantastic symphony and then get to do one of my favorite, though seldom done, activities. Thursday afternoon we loaded the kayaks atop her car and headed east. We arrived at Pearson Park, the outdoor concert venue in Kinston with plenty of time to spare. As we walked around the park, we came to the edge of the Neuse River, and there, sitting at a picnic table we encountered a petite white haired little old lady. She introduced herself to us as Pinky Harper, 95 going on 96, but you wouldn’t believe it. She had a twinkle in her eye and a quick wit. She was the epitome of a spry old lady. We asked her what the secret was to her longevity, and without missing a beat she said “hard work.” She told us of her life and all the places to where she’d traveled. I told her why I was in town and the adventure and travels ahead of me, and she looked me in the eye and told me to go for it and not waste a minute of my life.
After the concert we drove to a little city called Beaufort, just off the North Carolina Coast, and checked in to a lovely little spot called the Inlet Inn. We set our alarm for 5am and the next morning drove to across the Atlantic Bridge to Morehead City to watch the sunrise. It had just been thunderstorming a few hours earlier, and the sunrise through the remaining clouds was spectacular, and the only sound around us was the crash of the waves and the call of the seagulls.
At 8:30am we loaded our kayaks into the water into the Atlantic Inlet just off Carrot Island about 4 miles from the Inn. It was already quite warm but there was a pleasant breeze as we paddled along the inlet. We were headed for Horse Island, hopefully to catch a glimpse of the wild horses that roam the main area of Rachel Carson Nature Reserve, made up of Town Marsh, Carrot Island, Bird Shoal and Horse Island. After about an hour of paddling, we turned into an inlet and caught a glimpse of a sole wild horse far off, grazing along the bank. Going a bit further, we saw two additional horses in the distance. Satisfied with this, we headed back the way we came, as the sun rose higher and became more intense. Imagine our stunned surprise when we turned around a bend and came upon an entire HERD of wild horse not 50 feet away from us! Hurriedly we grabbed our cameras as they came closer to the bank. Ab quipped “who would have ever thought you’d see wild horses at the ocean!”
Our curiosity satisfied, we paddled back to the boat ramp, exhausted but exhilirated by the experience, loaded the kayaks back onto the car in the blazing heat and humidity, and made our way back to Greensboro, stopping only once on the way for lunch at the most delightful spot for my very first North Carolina BBQ. And yes, the first sweet tea of my life!
It is rare in this lifetime to find a friend who loves you for exactly who you are, with no judgement. Who speaks the same language, who is on the same spiritual path. Who enjoys the same activities, with whom you can travel easily and comfortably, with eleventy billion bathroom stops without complaint! I am so thankful for my friend Ab, a true kindred spirit.