Friday, July 28, 2017

Camping Vacation

Occasionally, I get a good case of wanderlust and work up big ideas like, "we're going to go camp for five days and go see the Liberty Bell and NYC and drive and drive." And so I followed this wander-lusting idea to Chincoteague Island. Chincoteague captured my imagination when I was a girl and read pretty much every book Marguerite Henry wrote, including "Misty of Chincoteague." I had heard this was no dreamy world in a book, but that it really existed. There is an event every year called "pony penning" where the herd of wild ponies on Chincoteague and the Virginia side of Assateague are gathered, driven to swim for a few minutes across a channel, then brought to auction as a yearly fundraiser for the town's Volunteer Fire Department. I had no idea when I scheduled our camping trip that we were arriving during pony penning...the biggest deal of the year. Luckily, we were able to procure a camping spot that allowed us time to explore the charming village atmosphere of the island, for two nights.
We arrived at the campground at roughly 9 pm and set up our tent. The warnings about mosquitoes were true. Nonetheless, we slept and woke up to the snuffling of miniature ponies, and llamas who were kept in a marshy field right behind our tent. We went to Chincoteague beach as soon as we could. It was beautiful and there were trails and a lighthouse but I couldn't tear my kids from the beach. We saw plenty of ponies in the marshes and it is an incredibly beautiful place.
The second night, it rained and rained and our trusty tent stayed nice and dry. But the campground wasn't very nice and we decided we needed to move.
Now, I'm a talker and during our Chincoteague stay, in between beach time, we ran into a pony penning event. The saltwater cowboys, as they're called, were going out to the marshes and field to round up the South herd for auction. The North herd would join the south herd on Monday for an early morning run on the beach, then they'd be readied for the swim. People brought chairs and lined the fences in the hot, hot sun to watch the cowboys bring the horses in. That was a treat because we got to interact with the locals, who had named all of the horses and were a tight-knit group. The charming town reminded me a lot of Gilmore Girls' fictional town Stars Hollow. And then, those famous ponies!
In talking with the locals, I learned about Assateague State Park in Maryland. Just an hour north, we again got lucky and were able to procure a tent site on the beach for the next three nights. We found out it was entirely possible to fall in love with a place. If one loves the idea of horses, the smell of horses, the habits of horses, and the look of horses, one loves this place. We got to combine tent camping with horses and the ocean. What bliss!
But adventures are not adventures without some foibles and mistakes made. We ended up with terrible night weather for camping and our tent was not strong enough to withstand the wind. Rain, we could handle. But the wind that came with it flattened our tent completely. After reassembling our tent twice, we made a makeshift tent out of the van and used the back hatch as a tent roof. That worked beautifully and we fit one queen air mattress on the ground and the other queen in the van. Having lost our van storage, I was able to put our necessities under a tarp and weight it down.
We were warned about the horses. They're kind of like big raccoons only they just stand there if you try to shoo them away. They are always looking for food. You will be fined if you feed or touch them so you can't treat them like pets. They have to be shooed away through loud, clanging noise.
When we arrived, we were visited by five horses who snuffled around looking for food. I think they just like to socialize a little too.
I have to gush about the bathrooms. They were almost spa quality. I almost cried when I saw the bathrooms because the Chincoteague campground was run down and not very nice.
We spent the next three days fully immersed in the beauty of the island, falling asleep right next to the waves, playing on the beach, walking with wild horses on the beach, and keeping our cooler full of ice. It was HOT.
I highly recommend this trip. There are no hotels on Assateague but I think the National Park (which is right next to the State Park) might have cabins. We found out there are people who camp there every year in the same place and so a community of familiars is built. There were a lot of teachers there (smart!). The people in our loop were so nice and we made new friends. And as a bonus, camping is cheap. I spent as much on camping as I would have on one night in a hotel room.
We fell in love. We have found our "happy place" and will definitely return to the magic of Assateague. After being on the island, the city sounded so much less alluring and home and our own animals were calling, so we wanderlusted back to where we began.
Next time, though, I will plan differently for pony penning week. We didn't see the swim because we were on Assateague and we would have had to leave at 3 or 4 am to make it in time to Chincoteague. We were tired and wanted to see more of the beach.
Thousands of people come for the swim and next year I might spring for a hotel room on Chincoteague and make that our last night so we can experience that too. I will take more sunscreen, more bug spray, and a lower, stronger tent. Less food requiring the cooler, although we did cook eggs and grilled cheese on my trusty iron skillet. Oh, and we even made ramen noodles and macaroni and cheese. Oceanside camping is a little different than other camping I've done, in this case, because of the wind and weather. The breeze at night is wonderful but it gets extremely hot in the day. The water in the ocean is COLD. Much colder than Florida beach water. No offense to Florida and I do wish the water were warmer, but I prefer this Maryland beach.
I was told it is best to book your campsites a year in advance. Yes, a year in advance. It's an 11 hour drive from Louisville, through pastoral Delaware and mountainous West Virginia. Cell service is spotty which will certainly reduce your stress level.
I didn't get a crab cake but I really wanted to. Next time for sure. There were lots of stands that served organic coffee. You can surf there.
We returned tanned, blissed, and full of each other in the most loving way. It felt so nice to connect with my little family in this beautiful place.
Here are some pictures from my phone:

Horses like to sunbathe too!

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