Thirty before 30: Ocean Sunrise and A Message in a Bottle

As part of my approach to living a more purposeful life, I’ve identified a list of things that I want to make sure I get the chance to experience.  To do this, I’ve created a list of my Thirty before 30, thirty things I want to do before my 30th birthday.  I’m happy to report that I completed two of them last week 🙂

Last week I was lucky enough to be able to take a short summer vacation before my internship starts.

My time off normally ends with one of two outcomes: I either spend the whole time doing nothing and lying around until I come home feeling like I wasted every day, or I buckle up and make sure I do things while I’m free from work obligations.  This vacation had a little of both.

Sunset over the river at the vacation house.

Sunset over the river at the vacation house.

The first two days consisted of us hanging around the vacation home, watching movies and walking around the small neighborhood.  While I know that for some people this sounds like a great vacation, I get bored and restless quickly if I feel like I’m not doing anything, so movie marathons tend to make me miserable.  I can’t be too upset though, because one of our party members was awfully sick those few days and we didn’t want to leave her alone.

After being restless for several days, I realized that we were well within driving distance to accomplish one of the items on my list.  The vacation home was on an inlet very near the ocean so I decided I really wanted to try and see the sun rise over the ocean.  Sounds simple, right?  Oh no.  Since it’s summer where I live that means the sun rises pretty early– 5:45am to be exact, for the day I wanted to see it.  That’s not *so* bad though, especially for something so special to me, but there was another problem.  Though the ocean wasn’t physically very far from us, for the vast majority of the coast there was a buffer of a mile or two of protected marshlands that we couldn’t cross.  The closest place I could go with a public physical beach was two hours away.  So, allowing for time to get up and get ready to leave, as well as variations in transit time, I dragged myself out of bed at 3:00am.

Now the vacation home we stayed in was in something of a dead zone.  Virtually the entire time I was there I didn’t have cell phone service and the only reason we had internet was because they had a hot spot from the only cell phone company that did have service there.  I could walk through the entirety of any of the nearest towns in less than an hour, and even the closest town was a fair drive away.  All of these factors together meant that when we left at 3:30am it was pitch black.

No street lights, no porch lights.  Business lights were off, homes were dark.  Just the stars and us.

It’s a weird feeling, driving for two hours in the middle of no where in total night.  But at the same time, it was really peaceful too.  I could see the stars clear as day out of ever window, the nocturnal animals were still out and about and watched us cautiously when we drove by, and few if any cars were on the road save for the big trucks taking advantage of the isolation to make their shipments.

As we drove the sky slowly lightened on the horizon, and every time I noticed it significantly brighter I worried I would miss the sunrise.  When we were less than a half hour away from the beach we noticed the horizon looked somewhat odd.  My heart sank as I realized it was clouds on the horizon, and realized that the one thing I hadn’t checked when I had been planning this trip was the cloud forecast.  Still we drove on, hoping that even if the clouds didn’t dissipate, that the sunrise would be bright enough to shine through them.

Finally we got to Ocean City–the huge tourist beach location that essentially everyone remotely near where I live goes to when they go to the beach.  The summer days are always packed, from the boardwalk to the beach with rowdy high schoolers, college kids, and families.

But we pulled up around 5:15am and it was empty.

We pulled into a parking lot for the beach (it was so early they hadn’t even started charging for parking yet) and towed our blankets and chairs to the ocean.  The sky was a slowly brightening dark blue and the ocean winds were chilling.  As I stared at the water I realized that whatever clouds we had seen before were slowly disappearing and soon the horizon was completely clear.

For the next half hour we sat on the beach, watching the slow symphony of colors growing on the horizon, with the waves crashing in a gently lulling accompaniment.  As sunrise approached the colors changed with greater speed, from dark blue to light blue, from light blue to pink, slowly changing the color of the ocean as well and highlighting the few stray clouds in odd combinations of light and shadow.  Finally, in the last few minutes, the horizon became a brilliant ruby that slowly turned to an orange as the blazing red-orange orb of light peaked out over the horizon.  The color was amazing and it seemed that in a matter of minutes it was completely over the horizon.  We stayed for a bit longer, watching the sun’s distorted reflection begin to appear in the ocean’s waves and the sky’s colors settle on early morning yellows, then we headed back to the car to drop our things off and grab some breakfast.

Less than an hour later we were back on the boardwalk, getting in an early morning walk while everything was still closed.

And it was very strange.

In the past whenever I had visited Ocean City or a similar city during prime summer days, I had seen them in the context of thousands of tourists swarming the place to buy cheap merchandise and fried food from underpaid foreign students.  In the early morning hours though, there was no one.  All the shops were shut up so there was no blaring pop music, no children screaming, no bicyclists whizzing by, everything was peaceful.  And while at times I can enjoy getting lost in the masses, this was far better.  After we walked the length of the boardwalk in this peace we spent a bit of time geocaching, and we found several as people slowly began to populate the area.

Once the crowds were out, we walked the boardwalk again just to notice how very different it seemed compared to several hours before when it had been our deserted ghost town.  How incredibly hectic and hurried it felt now.  Early in the afternoon we finally headed home.

My message in a bottle :)

My message in a bottle 🙂

That afternoon I realized I could accomplish another item on my list while we were still so close to the ocean: sending a message in a bottle.  I took a fair amount of time deciding what to write.  I wanted it to be something personal to me, but still something that would brighten the day of whoever finds it.  Should I write about myself?  My life?  Or something else?  I finally decided on a poem from something I had read once that resonated deeply with me, and that still makes me smile years later.  I jotted it on a piece of sketchbook paper and rolled it up, hoping that whoever finds it–if anyone ever does–feels the same way about the message as I do.

Finally, around 8:00pm I went out to the backyard to see if I could see the sunset.  I thought it would be an appropriate end to a day where I had woken up to see a sunrise over the ocean, to be able to see a sunset over a bay.  The bugs were eating me alive, but I couldn’t help smiling as I saw the same wonderful procession of colors I had seen that morning played in reverse.

The next day on the way home, I tossed my bottle into one of the large rivers that made its way to the ocean, hoping someone would find my message and have a brighter day because of it.

One of the main things I note when I think over the events in my mind, is how little of it focus on the actual event itself.  Most of what I remember about the sunrise was the journey I took to see it, and the rewards I got after.  The feelings of peace and excitement when I saw the world in a light different from any view I had before.  It seems to me that that’s one of the best things about making a list of new experiences you want to have.  Each new experience gives you a new viewpoint, and it might just be one you absolutely love.  At least for me, experiencing the beach in the peaceful early hours has become something I hope I can have every time I go to the beach now.  So, while getting to check something off my list is great, having a new experience–a new viewpoint–is far more wonderful.

I guess it really is about the journey not the destination. 🙂

Stop. Unwind.


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