The cool ocean breeze tickles my lungs as I watch the evening's kaleidoscope of a sunset. Perched ever-so-comfortably on a gleaming white rocking chair from my three-story, mint-green vacation home dubbed A Gathering Place, I fight the urge to run down and leap into the Atlantic. If only it was a little warmer, I think to myself as I opt instead for a soak in the hot tub.
I'm here in the family-friendly beach town of Emerald Isle, just one of many seaside cities that make up North Carolina's Crystal Coast on the Outer Banks, to relax and recharge.
But I also want a little bit of adventure.
The next morning, I head to the Hot Wax Surf Shop, where owner Mike Crews loads up his truck and leads me to White Oak River for my first stand-up paddleboarding experience.
With wobbly legs, I rise up and quickly lose my balance. I fall sideways into the crisp, calm water. I may have failed, but it somehow feels refreshing this early in the morning. Following some quick pointers (bend your knees and stay in the center of the board), I re-adjust and I'm off for a half-hour excursion.
After staying above water long enough to dry off, I'm starving and swing by the Village Market for lunch. While I wait for my order of sweet tea and a pimento cheese sandwich, I check out the selection of beach-themed art and gifts. I contemplate purchasing a seashell candleholder but there just isn't any room in my jam-packed carry-on.
With a full tank of gas and the windows down, I make the drive east to Harkers Island Visitor Center. I hop on a ferry, which takes me past Shackleford Banks, the 9-mile long island known for its wild Spanish mustangs.
Historians believe the caramel-colored beauties ended up here centuries ago after Spanish vessels exploring the New World shipwrecked. The boat pauses as a herd strides to shore. All seven gallop directly into the water — without hesitation — for an afternoon swim. As I reminisce about last night's sunset, I envy their bravado.