Mountains-to-Sea Trail – Through Pea Island

Starting with 916.1 miles, 94,450 ft. ascent


Pea Island National Refuge

12.8 miles, 100 ft. ascent

Today is all on the beach. We got a shuttle from the friendly owners of Sea Sound motel in  Rodanthe where we stayed for three days.

The Mountains-to-Sea Trail goes through Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge. Sharon and I start south of the Pea Island Refuge sign and finish at the Bonner Bridge.

We’re not sure how we’re going to like walking on the beach for over 12 miles.

MST236-beach The forecast is for thunderstorms, which is not great if you’re the highest thing on the beach and carrying metal hiking poles. We figure that if the weather really deteriorates, we’ll run to the road.

So what is a refuge doing in the middle of a National Park? Pea Island refuge was here before Cape Hatteras National Seashore, created in 1937, while the Seashore was not formed until 1953.

According to Ron Marchard, a very involved refuge volunteer, Pea Island was named after a wild pea. Ron is proud of “his” refuges and seems to work at all the ones around the Outer Banks. I make sure to give him some information about the MST.

Close to the Pea Island Visitor Center, there’s a walkway and lookout station, part of the Kuralt Trail.The Charles Kuralt Trail was named after the the broadcast journalist who “shared
the delights and wonders of out-of-the-way places like these.” I know these are “out of the way” places for the general American public but to me, the refuge Visitor Center is an oasis, a landmark, in the vast beach walking that we’re doing.

The Army Corp of Engineers built the ponds to attract birds and animals. When I visited, I only see red-winged blackbirds up close and lots of turtles.

The big difference in this setting is that the refuge doesn’t allow driving on the beach and has no ORV ramps. And I think I’m seeing a difference in the number of birds on the beach – more pelicans, whole flock of ducks heading north, more sandpipers and a few more oystercatchers.

MST237-shark We even find a shark that has washed up on the beach.

There are few landmarks on the beach and almost no visitors.

Everyone would have to walk here so only a few people venture where there’s easy access to the beach.

MST236-painter We spot a painter who has set up his easel in a hollow of three dunes. He’s out in the full sun in his baby blue shorts and is painting a seascape. I admire his work and wonder how long he’s going to stay out so uncovered.

Since we have no landmarks, we have no idea of where on the beach we are. We can only estimate based on how long we’ve been walking. We can see a blue water tower and the outline of the Bodie lighthouse but they’re a long way off.

Finally, the Pea Island life saving station. This large house was the base for the first African-American group of “surfers” who rescued sailors in trouble. These life saving stations were the precursors of the US Coast Guard.

We climb over the dunes and it feels like we’re marching into the Sahara Desert. See the picture above.

All I can see is sand. These climbs around the beach and over to our car is how we can get about 100 feet of altitude gain, measured by my altimeter on Suunto watch. Around the parking area, families are getting out their towels and picnic lunches and getting ready for a day at the beach. But we get out of the sun as soon as possible.

Tomorrow the big summit to Jockey’s Ridge.     
Cumulative after 74 days, 928.9 miles, 94,550 ft. ascent

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