I’d never seen the ocean; so I went


Hannah Ash

It all began with an insatiable boredom and a simple piece of advice.

One night this past summer, I found myself pacing the length of my cage like a trapped animal. I was bored and restless and wanted to be anywhere but where I was.

It quickly became clear that I was suffering from a strong case of wanderlust.

In response to this acute restlessness, someone important told me a story about a map.

This map is dotted with different colored pins representing places that the person has been (red), places the person is actively planning to visit (blue) and places the person dreams of visiting (white).

“Start with the white pins,” the important person advised.

With that advice, I began to think of traveling in different terms. I stopped thinking of global exploration in terms of “someday” and instead asked myself which places I dreamed of seeing most.

I quickly decided that I needed to see The Ocean. In my almost-22 years on this planet, I had never dipped my toes into the salty brine. My eyes had never feasted on the tugging tide or rolling waves.

I began planning my first white-pin trip right away. I carefully budgeted my money and began researching different cities along the coastline, eventually settling on Hatteras Island, part of North Carolina’s Outer Banks region.

After months of planning and reluctant waiting, the weekend of my trip finally arrived. I left work Friday afternoon and drove all night. I did everything I could to keep myself awake during that 13-hour drive. I rolled down the windows and turned up the music and fought sleep the whole way. During the trip, I had a waking nightmare where I fell asleep at the wheel and drove the car right off the side of a West Virginian mountainside. Despite this fear, I reached Hatteras Island alive but exhausted.

The scenes I saw when I arrived at that first beach fed my hungry eyes and weary mind more than I ever beach 4could have expected. The descriptions of writers, the snapshots in albums, scenes in movies – none of it could compare to experiencing it with my own senses.

Sand-colored crabs scurried in and out of their homes on the shore. The sea breeze tasted differently than the air at home, and even the trees bent to the whisper of the ocean. I tasted the salt water and napped on the beach and watched the sea-glass green waves kiss the sand. I felt as if I had stepped into a different reality.

I sat on the beach and allowed myself the precious time and patience to contemplate the direction of my feet. To contemplate the birds overhead and my obligations back home. I thought about the anxiety tracker application on my phone and the colored lines consistently shooting up. And I asked myself why I am doing what I do.

I let my eyes pinpoint the place where the expanse of sky seemed to meet the ocean in one great breath of blue, and I remembered once again that I am free.

That I am a human being who does not have to be bound by appointments, deadlines, assignments, job positions or expectations. I am where I am because somewhere along the way, I decided it would be worth it.
I work two jobs so I can pay my car payment each month and gain much-needed work experience. I am devoted to my studies because I want to earn degrees to meet certain career goals. Because I thoroughly enjoy learning. Because I want to be the best Hannah that I can be.

But if I wanted, I could leave it all behind.

If I wanted, I could quit my jobs, drop out of school, let the bank take my car and find a job in a bakery of some new city where no one knows my name or cares where I went to high school. And some days, that sounds unbelievably alluring.

If I wanted, I could wait forever to start marking checks on my bucket list, or I could start crossing things off now. I could start replacing the white pins with blue and then red ones.

My weekend away passed too quickly, and I left Hatteras behind to rejoin the appointments, assignments and responsibilities of my life.

Every day, I miss the flavor of the breeze and the whisper of the waves, but I brought back more than trinket souvenirs.

I hope I never rinse the salt from my hair or the sand from my toes.