When we drove across the New New Inlet bridge last Monday, I looked at the people fishing, sunbathing, and generally cavorting in the new spot, and I thought, “Man, I want to go down there!” This morning, after we missed church because we couldn’t FIND it (Fair Haven’s building having been pretty much destroyed in the storm, it’s meeting in the community center), I was in a dangerous mood.
This resulted in the Great Toilet Paper War of August 5, 2012, which, let the record show, my daughters lost, especially the oldest one. To save lives, my Beloved took me up to the New New Inlet, which is “Oh-holy-cow-this-is-incredible” fabulous. It’s every bit as awesome from ground level as it is from the highway.
We learned some interesting stuff by accident. We parked first at what’s left of the old ranger station lot, and hiked over the dune, where we saw that access to the inlet is blocked by a host of ropes and stern warnings. All the debris from the ranger station and its buildings has washed down on that side, and the sign warns “New dangers emerge with every low tide.”
We hiked back to the Baja, went across the bridge and parked on the north shore, along with what looked like a significant portion of the citizens of Dare County. Let’s switch to second person, so you can see how this works.
When you hike in from the north, you go along the sound side of the bridge, past stagnant ponds and general fetid marsh. Soon you realize that the thing to your left is the old NC 12, and it’s an eroded, undercut piece of asphalt that ends in a drop-off. If you keep to the right, a number of trails lead toward the sound, but because you’re with us, you’re going left and under the bridge.
The outgoing tide is ripping along, probably eight miles an hour in the main channel. You wonder, watching all that water spilling out, how the bridge’s engineering is standing up to such an erosive force, but then you stop wondering, because you’re underneath, and every time a car passes, the bridge clangs and rattles in an unsettling way.
You hurry out the other side, and discover a whole new world. First, it’s got the biggest crowd of any beach on Pea Island. These are mostly locals, too, with little kids, grandmas, and loaded picnic baskets. Some of them are fishing, but most of them are playing in the water. The line of umbrellas and canopies goes around the corner and up the Atlantic beach. Wow.
The main attraction is the inlet’s secondary channel. You notice two things; first, it is relatively shallow, and second, the
current moves along here, too. There is a sandbar on the seaward side of this, teardrop shaped, with the big end of the tear toward the main channel. The main channel looks menacing, first because the tidal rip is so fast, and second, because there’s a bunch of sheared-off pilings out there. The ocean breaks across the mouth, and people are surfing the break. You decide not to look at that.
You get up your nerve, shed your shorts, and your Beloved helps you walk across the shallow channel, which is only knee deep, but the water pushes like it cares. You clamber up onto the sandbar, and you are standing in the MIDDLE of the NEW INLET. It is so cool, you grin like an idiot. Parents and little kids are floating with the current, stopping themselves before the surf break on the other end. It’s like nature’s water park ride. Your Beloved floats around in the channel, while you dangle your legs and boggle that you’re even here, where this time last year, there was only ranger station and beach.
As a side issue, we need to mention that the ranger station fell into the inlet, and now there’s just some alarming-looking plumbing coming out of a sandbank on the south shore. Nobody goes there; it’s the ghost town to the populated north bank, so either the rangers patrol constantly or it’s really that scary.
After an amazing paddle and a hike back to the beach, you’re ready to head out. Instead of going back under the bridge, you take a path through the dunes, around a pond, and back to NC 12. New New Inlet is just as cool as you thought it would be, but probably only at low tide.