DOWN THE ROAD A PIECE
By Jane D. Brown
It’s now six months since my husband Jim had a stroke. He’s definitely getting better. He’s followed the dictum of “rehab, rehab, rehab, patience, patience, patience,” and it’s paid off. He’s rarely dizzy, is back to accurate typing, and even plays some pickleball. His blood pressure is under control. Now only pelvic floor therapy remains on the rehab agenda.
We often take a road trip in the fall – half camping / half not. Could we do it this year? It’s Jim’s happiest time, but we weren’t sure he was ready physically or emotionally for an extended trip. So we decided to stay within a few hours of home and for fewer days than usual.
Our friend Janet generously suggested we take an easy start by joining her annual beach get-away at the Atlantis Lodge in Pine Knoll Shores. We rented an efficiency unit on the first floor that included a kitchen and sitting area, as well as a patio with easy access to the ocean.
We first stayed in the Atlantis in the late 1970s when it was authentically modernist from top to bottom. Its original charm remains as the third generation of the Hall family has renovated each room with quiet AC and microwaves and simple stylish furnishings. It was the perfect setting for trying out being away from home. The rhythm of the ocean was immediately soothing.
We were happy to learn that Jim had the stamina for two of our favorite walks — a loop trail beginning at Fort Macon Museum through live oaks and along the surf and a boardwalk path through wetlands at the Forest Service’s Cedar Point Park. We spotted ospreys overhead and Great Blue Herons and Snowy Egrets slowly stalking their prey in the shallow waters.
Then we tested our van camping abilities at Cliffs of the Neuse State Park near Goldsboro. Only one mishap as Jim lost his balance while gathering kindling. He emerged from the underbrush, “I fell, I’m bleeding!” Luckily, I’d remembered the Neosporin and Bandaids, so we patched him up. No permanent damage.
We missed a crucial turn on our next day’s hike and I thought I might have to go back to get the car, but we found our campsite again just in time. We grumbled that we’ve never met a good state park trail map! That evening we were happy to sit by our campfire in the quiet beauty of the old pine and hardwood forest.
Anticipating rain, we headed to an AirBnB in Rocky Mount. We’d heard about a greenway along the Tar River and wanted to see if we could still manage a longer ride on the fold-up bikes we carry in the back of our mini-van. Jim made it about half-way on the excellent 7-mile paved trail. Not bad after no bike riding for five months.
As the rains came, we were lucky to find the Prime Smokehouse in one of the renovated mills near the river. Some of the best BBQ we’ve ever eaten (the meat really did fall off those ribs). A meal worth the whole trip!
We headed an hour northeast to Medoc Mountain State Park near Halifax. It’s not really a mountain at 325 feet above sea level, but was once the core of an ancient mountain range. We like the small shady campground and the trails that run along a meandering wide creek in the lowland hardwood forests that were just beginning to show their fall colors.
Jim left his leather hiking shoes outside our van that night. The next morning one shoe was missing. No sign of it anywhere. “Man, I loved those shoes!” Jim said. A half-hour trip to Walmart in Roanoke Rapids was necessary or we wouldn’t be able to hike again.
That afternoon I chatted with a neighbor camper, Frances, as her tiny dog on a long leash played with a stray hunting dog. She said the dog was likely lost or abandoned by local racoon hunters.
I said, “My husband’s shoe went missing last night. I wonder if this dog may have taken it?” Frances said, “What kind of shoe? Could it be this one?” as she picked up Jim’s shoe camouflaged in the fallen leaves.
And that was the good ending to our short tour down east. Three days at the beach, a bike ride along a river, two state parks, some lovely hikes, a fabulous dinner in Rocky Mount and a found shoe. It looks like there will be more trips in our future. Sweet.
Jane D. Brown taught in the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media for 35 years and has lived in Chapel Hill since 1977.