Thursday, September 7, 2006

One of our major hobbies we intend to continue is travel. Our travel time now is limited to the weekends, some of which we extend so we can increase the travel radius of our trips. That will cease to become a factor once we retire. But, for now we will take long weekend trips of which many we go “au naturale” (this means camping and not in the buff). We have had many experiences on these kind of excursions and our last attempt exemplifies that.

We had decided to take advantage of the long Labor Day weekend and take a jaunt to the beach; Assateague Island Maryland State Park to be more precise. We had lucked out, due to a late cancellation, we secured a campsite in the dunes. Assateague Island Sate Park is a premier beach campsite located about 5 miles south of Ocean City, Maryland and is on the most northern part of Assateague Island. This barrier island extends form Ocean City, Maryland in the north to Chincoteage, Virginia in the south. More information on Assateague Island can be found at:

We had decided to extend the weekend by taking Friday (Sep. 1st) off and return on Monday (Sep. 4th). We rented a small hard-side pop-up trailer from the Ft. Meade Recreation Department and were due to pick it up at 9 AM Friday morning. We packed the pickup with all the gear we needed for the weekend and headed out at 8 AM. There was one monkey wrench, however, that both Old Mother Nature and Mr. Murphy (of Murphy’s Law fame) had thrown at all of us early holiday travelers. This wrench had the name of tropical storm Ernesto. Ernesto had hit the shores of North Carolina late morning on August 31st and was forecasted to proceed northerly into the mountains of Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania. That track would take it about 200-250 miles to the west of our destination. Well, we know how reliable these forecasts are.

Once we had picked up the trailer and headed towards Maryland’s Eastern Shore ( ), it had already begun to rain with the wind picking up dramatically. The weather reports still had the track of the storm heading towards the mountains, so we continued on. Just a short thirty minutes latter we began the crossing of the Chesapeake Bay via the Chesapeake Bay Bridge ( The winds were much stronger now and the crossing was a white-knuckle one. The radio said the winds were gusting 20-30 MPH. Not too bad, but when you are several hundred feet in the air, driving a large wind collector and pulling another one, that wind can get one un-nerved. We made it, however, without incident.

The remainder of the 120 miles to the park was filled with heavy rain and ever-increasing winds. We arrived at the park shortly after 11 AM. By this time the winds were quite brisk (30-40 MPH) and the rain was blowing horizontally. We had prepared for the weather by bringing our foul-weather gear so I donned the accouterments and struggled the hundred or so feet towards the park’s registration building. Those two minutes found me soaked to the skin by the time I reached the building. So much for the foul-weather gear. The wind was blowing so hard it drove the rain into every open spot in the clothing rendering the suit useless except for protection against the stinging rain and blowing sand.

We headed for our campsite and found very few campers around. Did they know some we didn’t? More than likely we were a bit more adventurous than they. We parked the trailer on the pad and disconnected it from the truck. We did not attempt to do anything else for the wind was too strong. The Ranger’s weather equipment was registering gusts over 50 MPH at that time. A Ranger, making his rounds, stopped and told us they expected the storm to subside in a few a hours and recommended that we leave the trailer and come back around 3 PM. We took his advice and headed a bit inland where we found a small restaurant/bar and waited out the storm. The problem now? The storm didn’t subside. At 3 PM we headed back to the park only to find the trailer had been blown off the pad and was now stuck in the mud that was once sand. I took the safety chains on the trailer, hooked them to the truck, and was able to drag it back onto the pad, but not without getting soaked again. In addition to the extreme discomfort of the cold rain, biting wind-driven sand and pure aggravation, we were able to get things situated for a quick deployment of the trailer once the wind eased up. But…problem two: the wind got stronger. We tuned in to a local station only to find out that the track of the storm had changed and was now heading up the coast. Now folks, even though the storm had been downgraded further to a tropical depression, it still was a force to be reckoned with. A storm traveling up the coast of the Atlantic becomes what is known as a Nor’ Easter. See'easter for more info on this kind of storm. To add to the problems, the storm was slowing down and decided to make its time over us a memorable one.

Discretion being the better part of valor, we decided to pack up and head farther inland. By this time it was close to 6 PM and we began looking for a place to stay near Salisbury, Maryland, about 25 miles west (inland) of Ocean City. We found a motel, dried ourselves off, got a fast food burger and settled in for a very windy, rainy night. So much for our first night of camping. Oh, by-the-way, the park did not close. If they did, they would have had to refund everyone for that night. Pure economics.

The next morning started cloudy with winds blowing 20-30 mph. This was not too bad considering the day and night before. We headed back to the park and found a line of campers waiting to register. Since we registered the day before, we continued on to our campsite and began setting up. The wind subsided a bit more, but it was still strong enough to blow sand everywhere. This made it difficult to work outside because the sand felt like tiny needles on the exposed skin and it was getting into everything. The camper we had didn’t take long to set up (5 minutes) and we proceeded to make things comfy inside. By mid-morning the wind calmed considerably, however, it was still quite strong. The waves were enormous and kept everyone out of the water save a few brave surfers. Regardless, it all made for a beautiful scene.

The next few days progressively got better and by Sunday evening the sky was cloudless, the wind calm, the temperature warm and the ocean like glass. One would never have known, except for the sand all over the place, that a huge storm had passed here a few days ago. We were able to get some relaxing time in the sun which included some surf fishing. Nothing was biting though. The ponies even returned and gave the campers great photo opportunities. What hams.

Regretfully, on Monday we packed up and headed back to Baltimore. The experience was sure different than any of our previous camping trips. Bad weather is not something we shy from, but there is a limit. Next time we will prepare accordingly and watch the weather more closely. Check out the photos "Labor Day Camping".