It didn’t look that high.
I have vague memories of Bodie Island Light Station from a visit decades ago — murky memories of the black-and-white structure visible in the distance when we’d cruise to the drive-in beach down the road. Little brother to the nearby iconic Cape Hatteras, the tallest brick lighthouse in North America, Bodie Island is near the beach house my family has rented since I was a kid . . . but like all things nearby, it fell off my radar. There was always something else to see or do.
Since Spencer made his first trip to the Outer Banks with us last year, I’ve been refreshing my views of the coastal towns I’ve come to love so much — and Bodie Island made our list of local spots to check out this year. We made it there on Tuesday just as black storm clouds crested the horizon. The rain came in not long after I took the shot above, but we’d secured our tickets to climb the lighthouse already — and we were going for it.
That’s what I told myself, anyway.
Have I ever mentioned I’m scared of heights? I mean, that’s not weird or anything, I know; plenty of folks are freaked out by heights. Despite my all-out panic-induced tremors, though, I never let the terror keep me grounded. I’ve been to the top of the Sears Tower, ridden the London Eye, walked across a glass floor at the top of the CN Tower in Toronto. These things scared me, but it was a good scary. It was an “I’m not going to let this defeat me” kind of scared: the sort that leaves you exhilarated after you’ve crushed something that intimidated you.
By the time our tour group made for the entrance of the lighthouse, my palms and feet were sweating. A sudden downpour left me soaking wet and squeaky. Our park ranger explained a bit about Bodie Island and the lighthouse’s original construction in 1872, detailing the grueling hours and tasks performed by the tower’s keepers for more than a century — long before electricity first illuminated Bodie Island in 1932. I was really interested in the lighthouse’s history and Sarahanne was really knowledgeable and everything was cool and blah blah blah, but we quickly started climbing the stairs and man that thing was high and I was getting freaked and briefly thought I’d have to embarrass myself by turning back.
But I didn’t.
The stairs were grated and see-through; the higher we rose from my dear friend Solid Ground, the more anxious I became. The humidity inside the lighthouse was tremendous, twisting my already-damp hair into a mess of frizzy curls I had to keep out of my eyes. I struggled to keep my toes inside my sandals, putting one foot in front of the other, and I began to mumble to myself in the nervous way everyone must just before suffering a psychotic break.
Poor Spencer. My mom climbed ahead of me, reaching higher and higher, as my fiance tried to reassure my trembling form from a few steps behind. I focused solely on walking up step by step. I didn’t look up; I sure as heck didn’t look down. All I could do was focus on each individual stair until I’d scaled the 200-plus steps, all leading to a hatch at the top.
I climbed through.
The rain had slowed to a fine mist, but the combination of slick steps, wind and knowledge that we were really high up was enough to keep me glued to the wall. I dug around for my camera to snap a few gray pictures before spinning around to begin our descent. The walk back was worse than the walk up . . . mostly because as we continued down, I could totally see the ground. And it was really, really far below me.
But I made it, obviously. I’m typing and drinking a Diet Coke right now. And as my mom raised her eyebrows at my sweaty freak-out, proclaiming that she had “no idea” I was afraid of heights, I felt irrationally proud. I am afraid, but I do it anyway. “Feel the fear and go for it,” as they say.
Oh, I felt it.
And I am better for it.