Even from the name, you can tell the Outer Banks is a lonely place in November. As with any beach, the persona changes dramatically when summer ends, but here? Here you find yourself traveling with a stranger though they may have been with you for the whole ride. There are a few weathered old souls, scattered up and down the endless beach in rusted trucks sporting balloon tires. PVC pipe bolted to the side hold the long rods next to welded hooks for makeshift bait buckets. That kind of stink should be easily accessible, but from outside the cabin. Nothing pretty here. It seems much warmer outside than it actually is. Sheltered by one of those large iconic dunes, in a moment of peace, you sit in the sand from your vista and eat an orange. Closer to the water the wind whipping up whitecaps tells you the truth.
From where they sat, they knew you’d be stuck fast, from the moment you crested the hill. They are not unlike the dry-as-toast Mainers and Vermonters, these. These ones would watch as you picnic in a patch of poison ivy and only ask a day or two later how you’re healing up. No one says a word, they go about their business because you have a Navigator and you probably wouldn’t listen anyway. A Navigator gives you the freedom and permission to do what you like and continue down the wood lined ramp right into the soft sand.
As soon as you hit the bottom of that ramp, you know you are sunk, literally. The Navigator sighs, glances out the window and stretches a bit watching the gulls swarm the far-away bait bucket. It will be a few hours. The gray head in the distance never so much as even turns in your direction. He has seen countless just like you and will see dozens more before he attends his own funeral. It’s is only hours later, after panic and sweat, of wrestling with sand and cardboard, driftwood and a smoking clutch that the Navigator finally speaks.
“Listen. Try the road.”
You hear an engine. Miraculously, it’s a sympathetic UPS driver who has stopped for a smoke that breaks protocol and throws you a rope. He’s not from around here, but even he knows enough to tell you to let air out of your tires for grip.
Back on terra firma, you should cut your losses and just turn right, but the Navigator quietly points you to Cape Hatteras and the romance and excitement of crossing over to the mainland by way of ferry. There’s a little dotted line. It’s only on thumb prints distance on the map after all. You don’t stop to think about how long it takes to drive a thumb, because the Navigator will not shut up when you are trying to think. You are more than halfway through part two of daylight, but you still turn left because there is food and air for your tires a short distance away. You continue on south because the Navigator insists that you have time to make the last ferry, never mentioning the forty dollars and required reservation. You can produce one, but not the other. Now it is nearly dark and returning on the endless road before you, seems overwhelming. In silence and frustration you retrace your steps, each mile and familiar landmark now on your left, each a reminder of where you could be right now if you had only trusted your instincts. But there is no point. You cannot undo what is done. As they say around here, you cannot un-ring a bell. You have driven the road to Nowhere. The black ocean crashes off in the distance just outside the Navigator’s window. You are not alone but that is no consolation, it only adds to the sting.
This faceless Navigator has led many just like you down very different roads leading to very different Nowheres, each one of them a dead end.
Who is this Navigator, this illusory guide that clouds your thinking and influences your decisions? Who is this soulless phantom that occupies the empty seat to your right?