Story by Jo Ann Mathews
Photography By Wendy Hunt
Peter and Cathy Meyer have hiked 21 of North Carolina’s 22 islands, and they write about their adventures in a new series of e-books.
SoHo is best known as a neighborhood in lower Manhattan, but the moniker exists along the Carolina Coast as well. Brunswick County’s SOHO – collectively, Sunset Beach, Ocean Isle Beach, Holden Beach and Oak Island – is all about ocean views, sandy beaches and unique flora and fauna.
Peter Meyer of Wilmington coined the term when he and his wife, Cathy, decided to write “Coastwalk North Carolina: Section 1 – SOHO.”
“Our walks put the whole coast into perspective,” Cathy says, her demeanor as casual as a stroll on the beach. “It’s hard to keep all those islands straight.”
Thus the acronym.
“What people don’t know is that the beach is public,” Peter adds, in the same relaxed manner as Cathy. He emphasizes that the barrier islands of North Carolina are suitable for walking, encompassing a total of 425 miles. “A mini Appalachian Trail,” he says.
Cathy explains that the number of barrier islands changes when hurricanes and other storms open or close inlets, but 22 islands made up the North Carolina coastline in 2011. She and Peter walked 21 of them, avoiding Brown’s Island, a Marine Corps bombing range.
They began their endeavor in October 2010 and walked at least 6 miles a day and up to 17 miles with the average being about 10 miles a day. They finished their project in May 2012 and chose to use Apple’s iBooks Author app to publish their first e-book, only able to those with an iPad.
“E-publishing for illustrated books is chaotic,” Peter says. “Kindle isn’t kind to illustrated books. We felt [iBooks Author] was the best option at this time.”
“Coastwalk North Carolina: Section 1 – SOHO” has 88 pages with a large numbers of photos and short video clips. It includes what the Meyers saw as they walked and investigated the islands, a slide presentation, an essay and information on how to walk the islands, including beach accesses, distances and other pertinent information.
Section 2 “Between Capes – Cape Fear to Cape Lookout,” will be available by the end of the year. Section 3 “The Wild Banks – Cape Lookout to Hatteras Inlet” and Section 4 “Out There – Hatteras Inlet to the Virginia Border” are in the works.
The Meyers have a history of publishing. In the 1980s when they first began their hikes, they discovered that a variety of plants, animals and marine life survive on the coast. They tried to find guides that explained this environment, but no comprehensive text was available.
They took pictures on their walks and wrote notes about what they saw, then realized the compilation they had wasn’t available on the market. “Nature Guide to the Carolina Coast” was the result.
Traditional publishers passed up the opportunity to print the book, so the Meyers established Avian-Cetacean Press and published it themselves in 1991. It became so popular the second edition came out in 2010. More than 80,000 copies have sold. Other books they have written and published include “Blue Crabs,” “Simply Blue Crabs, “You are the ER Doc” and “Medicalese, A Humorous Medical Dictionary.”
Although these last two books involve medicine, the couple doesn’t advertise their medical abilities. Cathy was a registered respiratory therapist, and Peter downplays that he is board-certified in emergency-room medicine.
“I never thought I’d gain respect by calling myself ‘doctor,’” Peter says.
He grew up in Columbus, Ohio, the youngest of four children, three of whom went to medical school, following in their surgeon father’s footsteps. Peter received his bachelor’s degree in zoology from Miami University in Ohio and his doctor of medicine degree from Ohio State University. After his residency at Bowman-Gray Hospital in Winston-Salem, he accepted a position as emergency room physician at Cape Fear Hospital. More than 20 years later he left the hospital and was Student Health Center physician at UNCW for seven years.
“I enjoyed medicine very much,” Peter says. “I’ve been able to help people, but I could also write and be involved in nature. I have no regrets. I love nature, writing and critters.”
Cathy grew up in Fairmont, West Virginia, the third of four children. Cathy and two of her siblings entered the medical profession, following their mother, who was a nurse. Cathy received her training at Fairmont State College then continued taking classes and earned a bachelor’s degree in English, concentrating on technical writing.
When she came to Wilmington to visit her brother, Cathy fell in love with the coast and accepted a position at Cape Fear Hospital. Within months she began working at New Hanover Regional Medical Center. She had met Peter at Cape Fear Hospital but didn’t see him at a social event until seven months later. Now they’ve been married 29 years and have two sons. Benjamin, 26, earned a degree in political science and environmental studies from University of North Carolina at Asheville, and is now a student at N.C. State University working toward a civil engineering degree. Jason, 24, is a mechanical engineer in Mebane, N.C.
Although the contents of “Coastwalk North Carolina” are complete, the Meyers walk the beach often and refer to themselves as coastal naturalists.
“We don’t tell people we’re experts,” Cathy says. “We just know a lot about the beach. We favor the undeveloped islands.” Masonboro, an uninhabited barrier island about 5 miles southeast of Wilmington, is their favorite one.
“It’s beautiful, pristine, like heaven under our feet and over our heads,” Peter says, paraphrasing Henry David Thoreau.
The couple’s clothing reflects their fervor for the environment. Embroidered on the front of Peter’s maroon-colored shirt is a blue crab. A design of individual leaves cascade down Cathy’s blue sleeveless blouse. At home they have a 10-gallon saltwater fish tank with shrimp, crabs, grouper and other seafood inhabiting it.
“The Carolina coast is a wonderful resource, and we need to protect it,” Peter says. “It’s an amazing ecosystem.”
What raises the Meyers’ ire is finding trash on the beaches, primarily balloons.
“Releasing balloons is dangerous, especially to marine animals,” Peter says and explains that a collapsed one looks like food, such as squid, to sea life. He also disagrees with balloon companies’ claims that their products are biodegradable.
“The coast is a wonderful advantage and opportunity,” Peter says. “You can get out there and walk and protect it. That’s our most important message.”
The Meyers’ books are available at www.aviancetaceanpress.com .
“Coastwalk North Carolina: Section 1 – SOHO” is available at iTunes for $4.99 and will download to iPads.
Coastwalk North Carolina: The Trail
• 425 miles of footpath
• Never crosses a road
• From the bottom of the state to the top (or vice versa)
• Wilderness always on at least one side, often on both sides
• A shorter, flatter Appalachian trail… for beachcombers
• No trail markers — but hikers are unlikely to get lost
• Soft, sandy surface
• Good therapy for the body and the mind
• Relaxing, refreshing, even romantic