Thursday, June 14, 2007

Off Roading Towards Virginia

Richard visited Assateague on Monday and Tuesday. He showed me some of the ponds and insect areas that are off the beaten path, and provided sound advice about avoiding ticks and mosquitos (he has lots of experience there!).

If you look at a map of Assateague, you will see a circular drive, which is normally the southern-most place you can take a car. You can, however, get a permit to drive the off-road section (ORV) which leads, after many kilometers, to the Virginia fence.

To drive the off-road section, you must have a four-wheel-drive vehicle; you must reduce your tire pressure to 15 pounds; you must carry boards, ropes, and a shovel; and, as I discovered, you must have nerves of steel.

The park rangers were willing to give me the training I would need to drive on the ORV part of the park, but Richard has done it many times and offered to take me. This, as it turns out, was a MUCH better option. I doubt I would have gotten very far on my own!

We got a truck at the park service and drove to the beginning of the ORV segment. The deep, rutted sand began almost immediately. There really is no road -- only markers on the right that provide the western edge of the drivable part of the beach, and the surf on the left. Surf fishermen (and women) have chosen their spots on the beach so they are widely separated from their neighbors. These are "hard core" fisherpeople -- some had upwards of six lines in the water. They, and the researchers/rangers are the only ones to drive here. Backpackers can hike in to this part of Assateague, but they use the beach rather than hiking through the deep sand. Flat stretches of nothing but sand are set aside as camp sites for the backpackers.

Driving in the ruts isn't really driving as much as giving the car gas and wrestling it in, out, and through the ruts. In the really deep ruts the car can only continue to go where the ruts go. Where the ruts are somewhat less, it is possible to steer, to some degree, to avoid obstacles like boards, horseshoe crabs, or detritis washed up from the sea.

That's it. Rutted sand, the occassional fisherman, sea birds, more sand, and a beautiful, rugged view of the sea. And buzzards enjoying a dinner of horse. Ex-horse, rather.

There were a few "roads" that led westward towards the salt marsh, and we eventually took one. It soon changed from a sand covered road in the dunes to a forest trail. One lane, but easily drivable. It led to a house on the marsh that used to be a private residence, but is now owned by the park service. It isn't exactly unoccupied -- a black racer lives under the house, and mosquitos live outside. I'm assuming the previous human occupants got there by boat -- or horse!

It was a very special experience, and I thank Richard for taking me along.

As I write this, I'm watching the rain come down. It has gotten "sweatshirt" cold, and the wind gusts frequently, shaking the RV and making odd things go "bump" in the night. Still, it's nice to wake up to a whinny and look outside to see horses wandering by -- even if they haven't figured out the directional signs on the pavement.

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