Search This Blog

Marine encounters

Hatteras Island, North Carolina.

Yesterday, as I finished my walk along the Copa beach, I was lucky enough to see a pod of dolphins just beyond the breaking waves.  It's always a thrill to encounter wild animals when out running, and I have written about some of those rare encounters in other posts (Katahdin, More animal encounters, Yellowstone).  Meetings with sea life tend to be even more rare, and yesterday's sighting got me thinking about other such occasions.

Probably the most exciting encounter was thirty years ago when we were touring the U.S. and camped on Hatteras Island, a very long and extremely narrow barrier island off the coast of North Carolina.  Two islands just to the north were Nag's Head, famous for the historic Kill Devil Hills where the Wright Brothers took the first powered flight, and Roanoke, where one of the earliest groups of English colonists in America, comprising 150 people, disappeared without trace some time between ship visits in 1587 and 1590.  Despite the local history, the running options on Hatteras were very limited - either a run along the boring road that traversed the length of the island or along the sandy beach.

Hatteras Island beach.

I chose the latter, and having run a 25 miler the day before, was just cruising southwards along the empty and monotonous beach, when I got the feeling I wasn't alone.  Looking into the small surf to my left, there was a pod of fifteen to twenty dolphins, little more than 20 metres from the water's edge, travelling south at exactly the same speed as me.  I have to believe they knew I was there, because for the next half mile, they maintained their relative position as we eyed each other off.  They then peeled off into deeper water and I was on my own again.  I had another "marine" encounter a mile or two further on, with a very large and very dead hammerhead shark on the water's edge, but that doesn't really count as wildlife.

A whale passes South Point on Wilsons Promontory.

Although not a running encounter, another meeting that lives large in my memory was at the start of a mountain bike ride from the southernmost point of mainland Australia, South Point on Wilsons Promontory, to the northernmost, Cape York, in 2006.  It wasn't possible to ride my bike all the way to South Point for the start because of National Park regulations and difficult trail, so I set out early one morning from the settlement at Tidal River to hike the 42 kilometre round trip.  At the isolated South Point, large and slippery boulders washed by occasionally large swells made it quite difficult to clamber down to the water's edge to fill a small jar of water I was planning to carry for the 4300km journey north and empty into the sea at Cape York.  At one point I wondered whether my journey was going to end where it started, with my body never found, but eventually accomplished the task.  As I climbed back up to a point of relative safety, I heard an incongruous noise just to my right, and there, moving very slowly through the water about 20 metres offshore, and occasionally spouting, was a large black whale.  It was close enough for me to see its eye and it seemed to be looking right at me.  I took the sighting as a good omen, and as it turned out, had a great trip.

I walked 6km today, including some hills, without any difficulty or breathlessness.  However, I am constantly conscious of my heart beating, and although my pulse seems regular, can't escape the feeling that something is not quite right.  I woke in the small hours and couldn't go back to sleep, just lying there hyper-sensitive to my heart beat, trying to work out whether it was functioning properly, and looking for signs that it was not.  It may be, and I hope it is, just some post-procedure anxiety.  If that's right, then my sensitivity will diminish in the next couple of weeks and my confidence will grow, but at the moment I still feel like I am walking on eggshells.