You Ain't Going NowhereA white dude with the blues in the uptight capital of the East Coast has got his work cut out for him. Seeking pleasure in Washington, DC has been like sucking honey from between the fingers of the man's tightly clenched fist. Sometimes you get a taste of the good stuff before you get banged in the teeth, but mostly you don't.
I was running my usual frantic grayish-beige laps around the office, from the printer to the boss's cubicle to the boss's boss's cubicle, quick stop at the toilet bowl and then back to the glowing screen when the message came through:
hey man . cmping this wknd. beach. mybe assateagu.e you down?
It was poorly spelt manna from my man Mike, with heavenly relief in place of missing vowels.
We left DC at dawn on Saturday and fucked right off for the Eastern Shore in the well-worn van of the former Carlsonics, current Nethers. The Eastern Shore is a chain of rural islands off of the coast of Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia. Principal industries include agriculture and aquatic harvest of all sorts. I don't know much else about the Eastern Shore, but I do know this: by the time the van crested the giant suspension bridge from the mainland, the Byrds cracking out of the speakers and the wind teasing the brim of my hat, the clenched teeth inside my mind fell right open and whistled along with the radio.
Lest you think otherwise, Mike and I are not what you would call outdoorsmen, at least if the term "outdoorsmen" implies "those who have equipment and foresight in equal amounts." My backpack was a large laundry bag containing a sleeping bag, some shirts, three books, fifteen beers, a Frisbee and an air mattress. No pump for the mattress. Left that one on the coffee table. I carried two gallons of water as well, while Mike struggled with his gear and all the food.
We had to hike four miles south down the beach in the heat of the day--testament to our planning. Beachgoers gawked at us the whole way, packing massive bags rattling with pots and sloshing with liquids, the cooler dribbling onto the sand. We must have looked like we were escaping from somewhere, or like well-packed runaways.
This is all good-natured bitching, though. With copious rests and a couple slugs of water, the hike was exhausting but invigorating.
Once we cleared the public beach, we were in SUV territory. We were ants among industrious rhinoceros beetles, giant metal beasts bristling with antennae and fishing poles, trundling up and down the sand. We cussed them good-naturedly at first, then more vehemently as the laundry bag started cutting off the circulation to our limbs and the sunburn kicked in.
But once we set up camp, I got to thinking about it: each and every one of those campers and SUVS was using the powers of 4-wheel drive for its intended purpose. Most of the trucks had a couple kids or elderly folks inside. I was so used to cussing SUVs in the city that I forgot what they were for...they're for getting out into the wild a bit. And if each of those trucks had two kids inside, and those two kids grow up to have happy memories of camping out with their families, then they are going to have a certain predisposition to preserving nature for their own families. There's nothing wrong with that at all.
We set up camp up among the dunes. Here's a photo of bedtime:
Once we got to camp, all we could do was cool out in the ocean, take a nap and scavenge for firewood. Other folks may have had better wood or bigger fires--but we scavenged ours hard, taking recycling to a true next level--planks washed up by the ocean and bits of a long-busted pier heated up our meal that night.
Here's a shot of Mike checking out the wild ponies of Assateague trying to play like they don't secretly want us to invite them to dinner:
And a close-up of the ponies themselves:
We slept under the stars...I got up for a midnight piddle and the moon was out, bathing everything in a cool and brilliant blue. When I woke up in the morning, I found this little guy hiding out under my bag:
We had coffee on the beach at dawn, hitching a ride back down the beach in a truck. Raindrops started falling as we left the island, but everything cleared up by the time we hit a rural produce stand for summer tomatoes that could have gave Eden's apple a run for its money.
The brilliant thing about hiking and camping is that is so simple, and the rewards are so great. All you have to do is worry about where you're going and how you're going to eat. You already know how you're getting there: on foot. And even if the hike totally sucks, it just makes setting up camp into such a pleasure.
Once you get there, you've got to set up, maybe make a fire, then go to bed early. Those acts in and of themselves are pleasurable, but all that nothing time in between is just gravy. There are no bosses to please, calls to make, or people to impress. Your tasks are obvious and fairly simple. There's no way you can even look good while you camp, so that's a load off right there. All you can do is lay back under the stars, unclench your mind and realize that you ain't going nowhere.