AUGUST: Assateague Island, MD
This Ain't No One Horse Town
The ocean laps like a dog’s restless tongue at the legs of short chestnut colored horses as they splash through breaking waves and tromp over sand dunes, as the sun settles high in the sky casting an enchanting haze over everything. The beach is empty and quiet except for the soothing sound of the sea and I stand in the distance, relaxed and watching the undisturbed scene from afar. This unrealistic daydream is what I’d imagined Assateague Island in Maryland would be like, an escape, the perfect place for a solo day trip, where I could unwind and maybe even see a few of the island’s famous wild horses. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t really expect it to be entirely free of my two-legged peers, but I did, however, think it would be much less crowded and even a little less developed. I also wasn’t expecting my restless, overactive New York City tendencies to just disappear, but I figured why not give it a shot?
Assateague Island is about a 15 to 20-minute drive from Ocean City, a thin strip of land where Maryland and Virginia’s Chincoteague Island collide. There are no roads to connect the two, and in order to reach one from the other, you have to drive back to the mainland. There is one long main road on the Assateague Island National Seashore side, Bayberry Drive. It splinters off into hiking trails, campsites, and parking lots along the beach, to areas on the bay where you can go crabbing and fishing, and to a rental stand where you can get bikes and kayaks. I wanted to explore the island by bike, take my time and really see the scenery. Unfortunately, the only bike trail on the MD side of the island runs alongside the cars on Bayberry Drive, not exactly the wild uncharted, solitary ride I was seeking. Chincoteague Island has about 15 miles of bike trails that from the map seem to be more scenic. But instead, I pedaled alongside traffic and past lots of pony poop.
It’s not easy being in the limelight
Where there’s pony poop, there are ponies. At least that’s how the old adage goes right? I saw a fair amount of horses as I pedaled back up the island toward the bridge where I’d come from. They moved together in groups of three and couldn’t seem to shake the paparazzi that crowded around them as they circled dumpsters, scratched their behinds on handicap parking signs, and loitered along the road. They were up close and personal, but it felt more like a circus spectacle than a “wild” animal just being itself. It felt as if our presence forced them out into this little area where they could expect food and their own personal “pony patrol” to play bouncer for them. There’s a protected piece of seashore further down on Assateague Island, and I hope this is a place where the horses can actually eat and run free without being gawked at.
I pedaled faster, leaving the beach behind and foraging into a less crowded area letting momentum carry me, letting the breeze sweep me up and the sun’s sneer switch to a smile as the sweat dripping down my back began to cool. After returning my bike, I tiptoed between the crevices of space left dividing one family's’ beach setup from another. This was my chance to unwind. I pulled out my book and listened to the sound of screaming mothers and crying kids, the two older women next to me gossiped about a friend of theirs, or well from the sound of it not really a friend, and I packed up my beach chair and headed to my hotel within an hour, less relaxed than when I’d arrived.
Relax? How do you do that?
I specifically chose the bed and breakfast, Sandaway Waterfront Lodging in Oxford, Maryland because it seemed to be located in a sleepy, remote area on the Chesapeake Bay. With a private beach, albeit small and mostly grass (but hey, a beach is a beach), dotted with Adirondack and lounge chairs, a big porch, and rooms with their own private screened porches it seemed like the perfect place to take it easy.
While Oxford and it’s neighboring towns seem quiet and calm, when you look at Talbot County as a whole there are actually quite a few activities on the roster. From farmers markets to festivals, there’s something for art appreciators, adventure seekers, history buffs, and people just looking to relax like I was.
It was freeing not having anything to do at all. I filled the claw foot tub in my room with bubbles, slowly ate the cold breakfast brought to my room in a basket, read in my screened porch, went for a long walk, and ate the most amazing orange cream ice cream from the Scottish Highland Creamery for dessert. I people watched in a park and sat by the water. At night there wasn’t much to do at Sandaway but admire the glittering night sky. And while there were many couples outside watching when I sat down, when I looked up again I was completely alone. Just me, the stars, and the relaxed rolling of my heart.