Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Vacation: Day 6 Assateague Island

So on Wednesday morning we packed up our camp in northern Virginia and headed off to far southeastern Maryland, the Atlantic Ocean and Assateague Island. But first some background.......

The kids' only request of this year's vacation was that they get to go to the ocean. Four years ago they fell in love with the sand and the waves on the shores of Lake Michigan, but since then they've been clamoring for the real thing. Of course, Brian and I certainly don't mind a trip to the beach ourselves, and we were only going to be 150 miles from the coast, so why not?

We got online and searched for the "best beach near Washington D.C.". The result we got was Assateague Island. We looked it up on the map and discovered that it was indeed one of the closest Atlantic beaches to D.C. , but the deciding factor was when we told my mom about it. She immediately exclaimed, "Oh, Assateague Island! That's the home of the wild ponies. I read a whole series of books about them when I was little. I've ALWAYS wanted to go there!" So we went.

One of the neatest things about driving from Washington D.C. to Assateague Island is that you get to cross the amazing Chesapeake Bay Bridge. There are two massive bridges side by side across the bay. You can see ocean going cargo ships sailing in and out of the bay as you drive overhead. It really is an awesome sight. Of course it comes with a price. We paid $6 for the privilege of crossing it. Mom and Dad with their camper had to pay $16.

We arrived on the island (via another slightly less impressive bridge) around 3 o'clock or so. We confirmed our reservations and located our campsite. As Brian and I started to untie and unload everything the kids started exploring our new home. Kinley was intrigued by a pile of seashells that she found that had been left by the previous inhabitants. Within 30 seconds we heard screaming. Kinley was panicking. She was crying and jumping around. I had no idea what was wrong with her. I ran over to her and just as I bent to scoop her up I saw the problem. Her legs were covered in mosquitoes. And when I say covered I mean at least 20 on each leg. I grabbed her and swatted mosquitoes as I ran to the car. We shut the kids back in the car and started digging out the bug spray.

We didn't realize it at the time, but we had just discovered the terror that is Assateague Island. You see, it's an island, (obviously) which is surrounded by water. The Atlantic Ocean on one side and the Chesapeake Bay on the other side. There are two campgrounds on the island, Seaside and Bayside. The seaside campground has lots of gusty sea breezes to keep the mosquitoes at bay (no pun intended). The bay side campground has grass and bushes and trees and no breeze to speak of. Guess which campground we were in?

The bad news was we couldn't go outside...which is a little tough when you are CAMPING. We ran full speed from our cars to the camper or tent. If we had to be outside for some reason we wore jeans and jackets and hats and lots and lots of deet. We couldn't have a campfire or sit out and enjoy the sunshine. The kids couldn't ride their scooters or bikes without being covered head to toe in clothing....and it was slightly hot......definitely not jacket weather.

The bad, bad news was that there is no electricity on Assateague Island, which means that when we did have to sit around in the camper or the tent for fear of our lives we couldn't turn on a fan or the air conditioning etc.

The good news is that there were no mosquitoes on the beach. As soon as we walked over the big sand dune that separates the parking lot from the beach we noticed the difference. We weren't slapping and twitching and swatting constantly. People were wearing swimsuits, not parkas. It was such a relief. We stayed at the beach all evening until it got dark and we reluctantly had to go back to our infested campsite.

Now, let me address the ponies. First of all, they aren't ponies, they are horses. Pony is just a colloquial term of endearment. Legend has it that their ancestors were the lone survivors of a shipwreck near the island. The "ponies" then turned wild and populated the island with their offspring. There is no historical proof that there ever was such a shipwreck, but it is well documented that farmers in the area used to pasture their horses on the island. No need for fences. So, it is much more likely that they are descended from a few strays that missed the farmer's round-up. Regardless of their pedigrees we were anxious to spot these wild ponies.
As we pulled on to the island we began a contest as to who could spot the most wild ponies. I pulled out to an early lead by spotting one through the trees, deep in the forest. Then Ryker saw one near the shore of the bay. Then we set up camp and had the whole mosquito panic and climbed over the dune to the beach and saw.......

Apparently "wild" is a relative term. These ponies are less wild than my house dog. They were stomping over beach towels, ripping in to bags of potato chips, and generally making a nuisance of themselves. They were everywhere. They tried to break in to dumpsters and coolers and any other food container they could find. It was kind of neat to be able to go right up to them and pet them but it was a little disheartening to find that they were more of a public nuisance than some type of exotic wildlife. We were picturing them more like the wild mustangs in Nevada that we drove for hours trying to spot in the high dessert outside of Reno.
Anyway....the kids LOVED the beach...ponies and all. The waves totally frightened her, but Kinley was content to play in the sand for hours.

The boys, on the other hand were in heaven. They thoroughly enjoyed the surf. Cainan played it safe and stayed close to shore but Ryker was out over his head jumping and riding waves all evening. We had a great time trying to body surf and getting knocked senseless by the 6 and 7 foot waves. The boys definitely did not want to head in for supper.

But there was even more fun to come!

Since we couldn't face a muggy evening in the camper playing SkipBo, we decided to don our headlamps and head back to the beach for some crabbing. We had so much fun!

The weather was PERFECT! Seventy degrees with a salty breeze and an almost full moon...and NO mosquitoes. There were a few small groups of people sitting around campfires on the beach, but for the most part we were completely alone. We walked up and down the beach straining our eyes to see the little shore crabs scurrying in and out of their homes.
We managed to be quick enough (or should I say, Brian and Dad were quick, and brave, enough) to catch a few of them to get a closer look.And then we came across some of the ponies dozing just above the high tide mark. We saw the cutest little colt standing there sleeping.

It was getting late and we needed to head back to camp. We jumped in the back of Dad's truck, drove to the campsite, and dove through the small slit in the tent door for bed. I am not kidding when I tell you that the inside of our tent looked like something from CSI. There was blood smeared all over the walls. The hundred or so mosquitoes that came in with us when the 5 of us dove in every night had to be killed before we went to sleep. The kids would hide (heads and all) inside their sleeping bags while Brian killed the mosquitoes (simultaneously trying not to punch a hole through our nylon tent). I was the spotter. I would lay in bed with just my eyes and forehead exposed yelling out the location of the next victim. If we weren't so busy scratching I'm sure we could have laughed at ourselves. had been a great day at the beach. The kids had a wonderful first trip to the ocean. Too bad it was all about to go downhill.

Come back tomorrow to read about our further "adventures" on Assateague Island.

To read about Day One travelling and Day Two in Gettysburg go here.
To read about Day Three in Baltimore go here and here.
To read about Day Four in Washington D.C. go here.
To read about Day Five in Washington D.C. go here.

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