Prior to this, the closest I got to Chincoteague was a trip to Wallop's Island Marine Science Consortium in High School and we did a bunch of research on tidal basin water. Turns out I was about 5 miles from Chincoteague and I was none the wiser. Anyway, it was a pretty fun trip. Here's what I remember the most: My friend Becca and I were finished with the experiments for the day and we were walking to the dining hall or evening meeting or something. (The details are a little foggy after so many years.) We were walking past the boys lodge and we heard someone singing in the shower. It was my good friend Brian who was singing a song dedicated to another friend on the trip, Charlie. Presumably, Charlie was in earshot and could hear his name being sung to the tune of the Kink's "You Really Got Me". So instead of "Girl, you really got me goin', you got me so I don't know what I'm doin'," Brian sang, enthusiastically, "Oh Charlie, oh charlie charlie charlie, oh charlie charlie charlie charlie charlie". It's one of my most favorite high school memories.
On this trip, it was just my mom and I. She has had a lifelong love affair with horses and I love them to. She taught me how to ride. Neither of us had ever been, so it seemed like a perfect destination. I picked her up in Richmond, had lunch with her at my parent's house, and then we started off down to Norfolk and back up the Eastern shore. I-64 from Williamsburg to Norfolk is a stretch of road I know so well from shows at the Norva, from line dancing at Saddle Ridge, and trips to Virginia Beach. In summer all the crape myrtles are in full bloom and are so beautiful. Also, I love water and our drive included two great bridges: the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel and the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel. Highway 13 takes you through coastal terrain and then a right turn towards the horizon a few miles up takes you to the small and welcoming town of Chincoteague. You cross over the marshlands and turn into a row of small cottages and houses. It's also a touristy town. My mom and I took a sunset boat tour after we arrived and got to our hotel. I wasn't really sure what wild ponies would look like. In case you are wondering:
It was oddly thrilling. I have now been on lots of wildlife safaris and have had the amazing fortune to see lots of animals in their natural habitat. My brother had been camping on Assateague and said that the horses seemed to him like large hairy rodents. He went in the late fall when the ponies have their winter coats and look like shag carpet rolls with four legs. From the photos, you can see this was not the case. I have seen lots and lots of horses in my life but it was particularly special to see these herds unpenned, unbridled, grazing peacefully in their families.
The boat tour was relaxing and beautiful. I really love coastal Virginia and so do these horses. They spend most of their days grazing because the grass they live on has a pretty low nutritional value and they have to eat a lot of it to sustain themselves. As I watched the sun set, saw the small fishing boats rocking softly in their slips, and listened to the sea birds calling over the water, I was composing sonnets to Virginia in my head. All they've amounted to is this blog post.
I should take a moment to mention the momentous presence of MISTY OF CHINCOTEAGUE, the pony that launched a thousand pennings. It's a sweet book and a great story. I read it when I was a little girl because so did my mom and she gave me the book when I was about 7 or something. I barely remembered it, but going to the island makes it so much more real. I remembered the characters, Paul and Maureen, Grandpa and Grandma, Misty and Phantom. And the island certainly doesn't want you to forget either. Just about the only thing without Misty in the name is Mister Whippy's, the delicious soft serve ice cream place that I have been curious about since a girl I knew in middle school wore their t-shirt a lot. The ice cream didn't make me want to write more poetry, but it was a nice end to a beachy day.
The next day we had a relaxing morning and then headed north to Assateague. All we really did is drive through the two state park areas but the horses run wild everywhere. They will mill about parking lots, trot across roads, and walk right along side you on the trails. It was on one of these trails that I sustained one of the more miserable sets of injuries I've ever had. We wanted to walk a short nature trail to get a better look at some of the salt marshes. I was out of the car for around 5 minutes and received no less than 47 mosquito bites (and that's when I stopped counting). It was mosquito blitzkrieg. I had to bail on the half mile hike and RUN back to the car to take shelter. It has always been a problem for me, they love my blood for some reason and I react to the bites more than most. But I walked unprepared into a full assault from the insect population of the island. I had to stop at a drugstore and buy special cream so that I could keep driving and not have to feel like I was on fire for want of itching. My mom escaped the attack unscathed, so I learned that taking me along on your trip is 100% effective for you, and less poisony than deet. Win win! (for you anyway). I can only liken the discomfort of those bites over the next three days to the time when I got horrible poison ivy in North Carolina when I was cleaning out someone's backyard. My extremities were absolutely covered and I could barely sleep. In this case and that one, I was applying cream to my lower arms and legs for the better part of a week.
My mother and I had a great time exploring these far reaching islands in Virginia and Maryland. It's recommended for a nice weekend away as long as you don't mind driving a good bit. It's pretty far but oh so peaceful. Also, the seafood is fantastic.