I wrote a beautiful, long, detailed post on my phone, but when I attempted to post it, the app tried twice, failed, and then ate the draft. So yeah, sorry about that.
Let’s try again.
We had a pretty leisurely start to the day. The nice thing about camping just a few hours away is that you don’t have to rush. Once we got the last of everything loaded and the bikes on, it was about 9:00. We stopped for money, gas and breakfast, and were on our way by 9:45. Perk of going so early, we’re after the morning rush but before the beach rush. Traffic was smooth sailing, and it’s a very familiar route for me. Had I known how close Assateague was to where my old coven is based, we would have gone much sooner.
We got to the park check-In around 1:30. The kids had to use the restroom, but there wasn’t one in the ranger station, so they went over the road to the beach facilities while I checked us in. Which was when we saw our first pony of the trip.
Yes, I know it’s a crappy picture. There will be better ones. The kids saw him, too, so we were all a bit giddy as we headed to our campsite.
I had screwed up our reservation, so we were camping on the bay side of the island instead of the ocean side. The campsites were all very exposed, but that’s to be expected on a barrier island. That said, they were nice sites, roomy and accessible.
We decided to have lunch before setting up, which was when I discovered the first disaster. In my “careful” checklist walkthrough, I never actually checked the silverware drawer in the camping kitchen to make sure it had, you know, silverware. It didn’t. So we ended up sharing one spoon between us to eat the potato salad. *sigh*
We’re getting good at setting up camp. About 45 minutes later, it looked like this.
The bikes were parked under the hedge to the right, the food all stashed in the car as it should be, so we were officially camping!
Next up was errands. We went to the Visitor’s Center to get a sense of the place, which was good in a lot of ways. We saw the movie about wildlife on the island, especially about the ponies, and we learned about the environmental activities of the park. None of us were very happy to discover all the bathrooms were pit toilets (bringing back nightmares from my camping as a child), but they use them because of the fragility of the island. They’re actually vault tanks, so the waste isn’t leeching into the soil and they are easy to move as needed due to erosion and shoreline changes. I felt better about it knowing there was an actual reason for it. I got our pins and patches, and then we headed out for firewood.
I’d seen the firewood guy recommended in several different places, so we drove back the 5 miles to his stand. The recommendation did not fall short. Good, dry wood, a mix of soft and hard. We got all we’d need for the weekend for $20. On the way back we stopped at the island store for plasticware to get us through the weekend. Hero and I laughed at the “I gave blood at Assateague” stickers with a big mosquito on it. That would come back to bite us. Literally.
We got back to camp, unloaded the firewood and decided it was time for a swim. The park is wonderfully laid out for biking, so we changed, grabbed our towels, hopped on the bikes and headed out the 1/4 mile to the beach. It’s a really nice beach, easy access by boardwalk, quartz sand (my favorite), and lots of shells. We dropped and headed to the water. Just before the water’s edge, I found hoof prints. I turned to shout up to Morgan, only to see the ponies who had left them in the water themselves a couple hundred yards further up the beach! Morgan took pictures, which I’ll share once he gets them up somewhere.
The water was perfect, cool but not cold, and the waves were perfect for body surfing. We spent about 45 minutes cooling off before heading back to camp for a well earned dinner.
We had a surprise waiting for us.
This is Clyde. We felt justified in naming him, considering the fact that he spent most of the evening in our campsite, much of it in exactly this position. We had learned from the video back at the Visitor’s Center that a pony standing in this position, one back leg cocked, is actually taking a nap. We aren’t supposed to go near them, no closer than a bus length away, so we waited for him to wake up and move on so we could start dinner. Except he didn’t. Occassionally he’d put a foot down and we’d think this was it, only to have him switch legs and go back to sleep. After 45 minutes of this, I sent the kids off for a bike ride, as Xander especially was getting really frustrated. Meanwhile, I waited.
Which was when I started noticing the bugs.
Now, I’d been warned that the bugs were bad. But for me, bad bugs meant you had to put on bug spray if you sat around the fire in the evening. I’d gotten bug bands. We had spray. We’d be fine. Oh, such innocence. But at the time, I didn’t realize what I was in for. So I took a tip from the horses and used a dish towel as a swish, back and forth over my shoulders as I waited on this horse. Finally, though, finally, he started moving.
Between the tents.
First, he had a pee. Thankfully not ON either of the tents, but dead in between. I have a better frame of reference for pissing like a racehorse now. Then he started eating. He made his way back and around the tent, despite there being only about six inches between the tent and the hedge, then slowly came around the other side. We’re going on over an hour now, and I’m starting to feel a little desperate. Were we going to get to eat? You weren’t supposed to get food out around the horses, because they will literally knock you over to get into your cooler. Were we going to get to go to bed? He was a lot closer to our tent than a bus length. At this point, one of the campground hosts came through on her rounds, so I waved her down and explained the dilemma. She offered to get a ranger to come chase him off, but I felt guilty about that, so I turned her down. When she came back through ten minutes later and he was still there, I accepted. The rangers came through and used a bottle with a couple of stones in it as a noisemaker to chase him off, although that may more have been the uniform. Apparently the horses recognize the uniforms of the rangers and keep away from them. I certainly wasn’t going to try it myself. But at least I could get dinner started.
That wasn’t the last we’d see of Clyde, though. After dinner, I started the fire for dish water, forgetting that we wanted to go walk on the beach that evening. So I sent the kids off while I minded the fire and read. The first time Clyde came back, a ranger came through shortly thereafter and I didn’t hesitate to have him chase him off. I asked the ranger about going to bed, and he said we’d be fine as long as we didn’t have any food in the tent and we didn’t leave anything open. Well, the food thing I was programmed for from bear country, so that wasn’t a problem. Finally when he came back the second time, I’m like, “Yeah, whatever, horse,” and just kept reading while he ate his way across the site.
We ended up as background in pictures for a bunch of our neighbors. Eventually he seemed satisfied that he’d made his point about whose campsite this actually was and moved on on his own. He wandered around a bit, left a dump in the middle of the road (thankfully not in anyone’s campsite) and headed out into the sunset. Kind of literally.
By now it was twilight, and the mosquitos were getting bad. The bug bands were doing nothing, and even the spray wasn’t helping too much. I hid in the car and worked on the post that you didn’t get to read while the kids did dishes, but by 9:30, we were all in the tent, exhausted but content and safely away from the worst of the bugs.
The next morning our neighbors all started rising stupidly early. I mean, 5:30 a.m. stupid. The kids slept through it, but I was wide awake. It was a run day, and I figured since I was up, I’d get an early morning run out of the way. I knew mosquitos were out more in the dawn and twilight, but I figured I’d be on the move, so I’d be pretty safe.
I hadn’t gotten 50 yards out of the campsite before turning around to go back for the bug spray. I passed a group of the neighbors out for their run/walk, who just laughed and said, “First day, eh?” Holy mother of god. And it wasn’t just mosquitos. There was every kind of biting insect imaginable. We had the mosquitos, but there were horse flies, black flies, and green head flies, none of which give a rat’s patootie about your paltry bug spray. By the time I got underway, I was feeling a little desperate. But the bug spray did it’s best, and once I got to the ocean side, the populations had dropped enough to be tolerable. It was a beautiful cool, hazy, slightly humid morning, and it was quiet. Even the waves were soft background. I felt bad needing my loud music to keep on pace. But I did have some lovely guests on the road with me.
It was good.
When I got back, the kids were still sleeping, so I grabbed a shower and crawled back in the still bug-free tent to read and doze. We finally all got up around 10:00 and had breakfast. By 11, dishes were done and we headed off to the beach again. The mosquitos were gone by then, and the biting flies were more of a mild to moderate annoyance. We spent two hours in the water and walking the beach, unaware that our sunscreen application had been pointless. By 1:30, we were all burned, Morgan worse than any of us. So back we went to the campsite for lunch. Over lunch, I suggested sacrilege. What do you guys think about going home this afternoon instead of tomorrow morning? Morgan and I were both ready, but the other two were hesitant. We talked it over and finally they agreed that going home might not be a bad idea. So we had a nap and started packing up around 3, and by 4:30 we were on the road home.
Mother Nature seemed to approve of our decision.
We all agreed that we really liked the park there, but we were just so not prepared for the conditions. We would definitely consider going back for a day trip (with better sunscreen application!) and might go back for camping, but just for one night and with minimal gear so we could hike it up onto one of the oceanside sites with a better breeze and so fewer bugs. I felt like I had let down the family honor by bailing on the trip, but my mother reassured me that the green heads alone would have been enough for her to call it, so I feel better.
We spent the next two days in recovery. Morgan’s sunburn was purple with little white pimples all over, so he’s on heavy doses of water, ibuprofen, cool showers and aloe. I look like I have small pox. Oh, and let’s add ticks to the list, as I just plucked one of those off this morning. Watching for the bullseye now. Joy. So I was on Benadryl to reduce the itch. We didn’t unpack the car until yesterday, and I didn’t even care about washing everything before packing it away. It’ll keep. We aren’t planning another camp this summer, although we may do a run up to Promised Land in August, in which case I can clean everything then. Or not. Maybe we’ll just eat out of pie irons and disposables for the weekend.
Thankfully our next trip is to a hotel with air conditioning and an indoor swimming pool. That should make up for a lot!