Great Point Light is my white whale. The 70-foot-tall white concrete tower sits where Nantucket Sound and the Atlantic meet, towering high above a narrow strip of beach. Or so I’ve read. I have never made it all the way out there, to the northernmost tip of Nantucket.
That’s not to say I haven’t tried to get to Great Point. From the nearest paved road, it’s about 10 miles roundtrip, most of it over soft sand. With no four-wheel drive to my name, the only way to get there is to walk.
The first time I set out towards Great Point was this past August, on a quiet morning after four days of rain. The air was still, the sea and harbor on either side of me completely flat. I’d planned the hike with a careful eye: set out at seven, before it got too hot. Carry enough water and granola bars. Slather on sunscreen, and don’t forget your hat. I was going to be a woman alone in nature--I was going to escape the summer crowds and find some solitude.
Everything went as planned—I’d even left a little note on the dashboard, so if I didn’t return by the appointed time, the rangers would know somebody was out there. The one thing I hadn’t planned for were the mosquitoes.
I began to notice I was being eaten alive somewhere near the last house on Wauwinet Road, just at the entrance to the jeep trails to the point. This is nature, I told myself, You’re just communing with nature. When the wind shifted and the mosquitoes began their assault on my face, I ran through the brambles with my beach towel over my head, and dove into the harbor. I spent the rest of the day in a Benadryl induced haze, listening to The Outermost House on tape, cursing Great Point light.
On a cool morning in mid-november, I started driving towards Wauwinet. Nantucket was coming off a streak of gloomy days, the sun starting to peek out. Coupled with the early sunsets, all that dark was starting to get to me. I saw the sands of Wauwinet shimmering in the sun, the purple-bellied clouds, the pale yellow beachgrass. I told myself I’d only walk up to the last house.
I kept walking, past the Haulover, where Nantucketers of yore had hauled their fishing boats from the harbor to the ocean; past Coskata pond; past dozens of seals performing acrobatic feats in the ocean; past the last mile marker….all the while, Great Point looming in the distance, shining bright white. It’s so hard to tell how far away anything is while walking on the beach, as there are no other buildings around for scale.
I got all the way up to The Galls, a name that means weak place. The Galls is a thin bridge of sand that connects Great Point to the rest of the island, a place where winter storms washover and sometimes break through. On this walk, it isn’t the water that is breaking through, but the sand. The winds have increased considerably since I set out, and I’m pelted with wave after wave of blowing sand. The sand is punishing, and after a few minutes of hoping a jeep might pass and take me the rest of the way, I give up and turn around. At least I have now seen Great Point with my own eyes.
I was glad I turned around when I did, that I read the sky and wind and figured the weather was turning fast. The wind had really started to kick up, and the waves of the Atlantic started to lap at the tire tracks. The only thing scarier than being alone with my thoughts for four hours was the thought of being stuck out in the sand when night came at 4:30.
Will I ever make it to Great Point? They say the third time’s the charm.