“I needed something to really get me going”

By on March 12, 2023

Alex Bradshaw, left, and Cory Culpepper at their starting point right before they began the journey
Alex Bradshaw with a huge buoy.
Cory Culpepper with a whale tail they found.
Alex Bradshaw and Cory Culpepper when they reached the Virginia line.
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Two OBX friends take a walk from Ocracoke to Virginia

When Outer Banks locals feel stuck in the monotony of their winter routine, many try taking up a new hobby or challenge. This year, locals Cory Culpepper and Alex Bradshaw decided they wanted to spend five days walking the entire length of the Outer Banks coast, from the Ocracoke ferry station to the Virginia line.

The journey wasn’t conceived to bring awareness to a cause or to collect donations for charity. According to the two men, it was simply to do something, anything, to get themselves out of their rut.

Bartending at the Brewing Station for nine years before switching to Blue Moon last year, Bradshaw, 33, says he feels like he got stuck in his comfort zone — that he hasn’t challenged himself with anything in years. He latched onto the idea of the big hike two years ago when a coworker at Brewing Station told him he had hiked from Ocracoke to the Currituck lighthouse. On the first week of January, he decided March 1st would be the time.

“The bigger motivation behind it was like, if I can get through this, who knows where it can keep pushing me, proverbially or figuratively and metaphorically,” he said. “I can just keep walking to something else in my life…I needed a boost. I needed something to really get me going.”

Culpepper, 33, who works at Colington Cafe, attests to that as well. “You can get caught in that hamster wheel of working and just work home, work, home, work, home. You can get caught in that and you have no idea,” said Culpepper.

Bradshaw and Culpepper gave themselves a little less than two months of preparation. Culpepper went on vacation to St. Lucia ahead of the trip and tried doing a few miles a day walking on the beach there. “I had the mentality of, ‘It’s just walking,’” he said.

Bradshaw, the self-described over thinker of the two, quit drinking for a month, changed his diet, went on five-mile night walks after his bartending shifts, and eventually added a pack to add weight.

“Which wasn’t nearly enough,” he observed. “I can tell you that when we got dropped off in Ocracoke and I put that pack on with food and water I was like, ‘Oh no. I made a mistake – this is heavy.’”

Both men agree that as soon as they put their packs on that first day, they realized they had underestimated the physical challenge of their journey.

After a ride on the Hatteras ferry, they slept under a hotel in Buxton that first night. Culpepper had packed a sleeping bag and Bradshaw had packed a mat and a blanket and they planned to just plop down in the dunes each night. That all changed on Day Two when the wind and rain started coming in.

“That was part of the adventure. It was nerve wracking, but when it’s raining and cold and blowing wind gusts of 30 miles per hour, you just say ‘okay where can we find a spot to get out of the elements?’” said Bradshaw.

On Day Two, they found a gazebo in Rodanthe to sleep in. The third day, they explained, was the hardest as they recounted the task of walking 14 hours in the rain. “We were seriously like wet dogs. We were sweating. We smelled bad. We were just wet,” noted Culpepper.

They had planned to sleep under Jennette’s Pier that night, but the forecast was calling for a powerful storm with wind surges of up to 50 miles per hour. They deliberated what they should do that entire day, but in the end, they decided to get a ride to their homes and sleep there for the night and get dropped back off at the same spot early the next morning.

“I wanted to do everything very minimal and sleep outside the entire time,” Bradshaw said. As for the decision to sleep at home, “I had to tell myself I wasn’t cheating and it’s not quitting.”

After that night, the rain let up. But the last two days were cold and windy. Culpepper and Bradshaw would distract each other from their aching feet and backs by telling each other jokes, talking about old memories from past trips together—they have been best friends since they were kids and once lived in a car together for three months on a cross country road trip. They both brought headphones thinking they would want to listen to music or a podcast. But they say they didn’t use them once.

“Our motivation was each other’s company,” said Bradshaw.

On Day Four, the pair walked that day from Jennette’s all the way to Duck. They pushed a little bit further and plopped their mats down on the ground in Corolla beside a bike path surrounded by bushes and trees that blocked some of the wind. It was cold, but manageable, especially knowing they only had one day left.

The next day they walked from sunrise until they made it to the state line on Sunday, March 5 at 4 p.m. They could see it in the distance long before they got there.

“I’m not going to lie, I had a couple of tears heading up to the fence,” said Culpepper. “A lot was going through my head, just thinking about a lot of random things, and adversity over the past few years.”

They arrived at the state line to find a friend waiting with victory beers, and to their surprise – a plane flying overhead. Another friend, a pilot, had come to find them and watch them cross the line from the skies.

“And when we finally got up to it, I know for myself personally. I was like ‘job’s done. Let’s get the hell out of here and go home.’ I was like, ‘finally I’m done with the woods,’” said Culpepper.

As both men contemplate what’s next after the adventure, Culpepper said, “I just don’t know what that next thing is. When it does come, I’ll have an idea… Like, hypothetically speaking, if we want to hike the Inca Trail in Machu Picchu, we want to hike from Asheville to the Outer Banks…now I know in my head that we can do it.”

For his part, Bradshaw noted that “I think mentally [the journey] gave me a toolbelt to be put in these uncomfortable situations, I feel like now I’m equipped. If I can get through that walk, I can get through situations like an uncomfortable job interview… Now I can put one foot in front of the other and say, ‘It’s just walking.’”

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  • Travis

    Besides learning to overcome adversity and how much food and water weigh, hopefully they also learned something about timing for future trips.

    Monday, Mar 13 @ 2:04 pm
  • Jody Crosswhite

    Living on the OBX in the winter can get pretty old year after year. It’s so inspiring for these guys to do something that creates something as simple as walking and turned into a journey. The moral of their story is that nothing worthwhile is ever easy. We’ll done fellas. We’ll done:)

    Monday, Mar 13 @ 2:54 pm
  • WindyBill

    Wow! Great adventure Guys!! Best not to mention bedding spots, else they start getting to be entrapment spots by the few overzealous protectors of the public safety

    Monday, Mar 13 @ 4:56 pm