On The Road: By Dawn’s Early Light — Adventures of Mothers and Daughters

East Hampton Main Beach at the crack of dawn. (A. Hinkle photo).

My bedside alarm went off exactly at the predetermined hour — 4:30 a.m. Yes, it was a ridiculous time to get up on a Wednesday morning in the middle of summer, but I was on a mission.

Well, more specifically, it was my 17-year-old daughter, Sophie, who was on a mission.

I was just the facilitator.

The intended goal was to watch the sunrise over Main Beach in East Hampton and it had been several weeks in the making. That’s because no matter how adamant Sophie had been at bedtime that she was going to get up the following morning to see first light, it never happened. Even with her alarm set at the appointed hour — 4:30 a.m. — day after day, it would go off and, day after day (or should I say predawn after predawn), she would switch it off and go back to sleep for another solid 8 hours, which is pretty typical for teenagers in summer, I have found.

So that’s when I agreed to get involved and go along for the ride.

I arose at 4:30, stumbled down the pitch dark hallway and into Sophie’s room and shook her hard to wake her up for our adventure. Just the slightest sliver of a streak of dull light was visible in the lowest part of the sky. You couldn’t even tell yet if it was going to be a clear or cloudy day, which meant, like Goldilocks and the porridge, the timing was just right.

It occurs to me that engaging in this exercise in mid-July is rather challenging. After all, the days are about as long as they can get now, which means that greeting the sunrise involves arising far earlier than one would need to if going for the same aim in, say, late November. But hanging out on the beach isn’t quite as comfortable at that time of year … so here we were.

By the way, this isn’t the first time we’ve done this. Last year on the second day of September, just before school started, we arose at an ungodly hour to ride our bikes down to the beach. It was a bit unsettling, frankly, because at that time, our neighborhood in Northwest Woods is still pretty much pitch dark. With no lights on our bikes, it was a nail-biting ride accomplished largely by the feel of rubber on road. Unseen animals made skittering noises in the underbrush as we passed by, sounding much larger than they probably were. We could barely see our hands in front of our faces — until we got to the wide open fields of Long Lane. Then the horizon opened up and we could tell just how close to dawn we really were.

Biking in East Hampton Village is a joyous thing at that hour. With nary a car in sight we bolted through the normally chaotic Reutershan lot and down a picturesque Main Street so free of cars you could actually imagine what it looked like in the 17th century. We, and our bikes, arrived at the beach just in time for a fabulous morning show which we had all to ourselves.

And that’s kind of the point.

After years of living and working here, I think we all have a tendency to get bogged down in our daily routine — work, traffic, grocery shopping, school, extra-curricular activities, repeat — that we kind of forget what it was like for us when we first came out here.

Like we were on vacation.

So that’s exactly how Sophie and I approached our early morning adventure a couple weeks back, this time in the car with the top down, which is not unlike doing the same trip on our bikes except that you can go much further much faster. When we got to Main Beach, it was just us and a couple of cops chatting to one another from their cars. We spread towels out on the sand laid back and watched the day begin.

But soon, the need for coffee and oatmeal became clear. Sophie texted an order to Starbucks, we pulled up right in front — virtually every parking space on Main Street was available, walked right in and, since we were the first and only customers, grabbed our order which was waiting for us and hit the road.

That’s when we decided to have our breakfast out at Lazy Point, a.k.a. the Promised Land, a.k.a. the Napeague Stretch, a.k.a. out yonder by the Art Barge and the Fish Factory where it still feels wild and free … just like those early days when we first moved east, before we had commitments or friends here.

You know, like vacation.

And I have to tell you, at that hour, that’s exactly what it felt like out there and we noticed everything — far more than we’d ever see at any other time of the day while dodging cars, bikes and runners.

The ospreys were mighty active at that hour, flying, fishing and feeding their young, all while sharing their high-pitched calls with the world. Several stark white egrets flew overhead, their long legs stretched out straight behind them, while smaller birds flitted and sang in the bushes as we drove by at a snails pace to take it all in. We stopped to listen to the honking of the captive geese behind the gate at the Fish Factory, rescued a box turtle as it languidly made its way across a totally deserted road, and found a spot to eat our oatmeal and drink our coffee at a dead end on Napeague Harbor.

Supervising an early morning turtle crossing. (A. Hinkle photo).

But perhaps most importantly, this early morning jaunt was a perfect way for mother and daughter to reconnect and at that hour and in that place, that’s exactly what we did. We had no agenda, no time constraints, no one competing for our attention. We shared observations, made jokes and listened to The Cure.

That’s when I realized that at this time next year, I will be preparing to send my only child off to her first year at college, wherever that may be. As we drove around Napeague in the early morning light, I knew we were making a memory. As we left the dead end road to head back towards Route 27 to join the throngs of workers who would now be clogging it, we passed a small cinderblock building I had never seen before on a road I had never been on. It was a community center of some sort with a simple, old school hand-painted sign out front that read “Bingo, Thursday 7:00.”

I’m thinking that will, without a doubt, have to be our next mother/daughter adventure. Let me know if you’d like to join us.