Whatcha Going to Do When They Come For You? Busted! DC UL Does Assateague: Trip Report

Posted by Michael Martin on

I'm excited to announce that DC UL is making a $1,225 contribution to the National Park Service. Anything we can do to help out in this time of sequestration!

I'm sure everyone will find this an entertaining narrative ...

So, Saturday morning, Travis, George, Miles, Brian, DougW, Jen, and I all meet up on the far side of the Bay Bridge for a very rare trip eastwards--a beach backpacking trip to Assateague! We had a beautiful day and weekend ahead of us, and as the hours of driving go by, we're increasingly enthustiastic about the weather. At Toms Cove, where we leave two cars for the shuttle, we're stripping off the winter layers and beaming at the sunshine. From there, it was another 70 minutes to the northern trailhead. We popped into the visitors center there to get our backcountry permits, as we were trying to follow the park's rules, which are voluminous.

"Oh, the backcountry sites are all closed, because they're flooded," says the woman at the desk, looking a little mortified. I am non-plussed. "That's remarkable," I say, "as I called twice this week to set everything up, and no one mentioned any problems." The woman is unhappy, too, and said she just found out this morning herself.

At this point, I've been doing the car shuttle thing for about 5-6 hours to set this thing up. For me, the choice (either to car camp at Assateague or just blow off the park and get on with our trip) is really no choice at all. We are not equipped for car camping--there are no cases of beer in the cars! So, we enter the park, leave the cars and, in minutes, we're off backpacking down the beach. It's literally a case of go to the beach, turn right, and start walking south for 20-odd miles.

And let me say that the miles were glorious. It was a perfect day full of sunshine and blue skies--the surf was pounding on our left, and if walking along the line of the shore was monotonous in some ways, it had a rhythm to it that was pleasant. The miles flew by. The rumored difficulty of walking on the sand did not manifest itself, and all seven of us--fine backpackers all--maintained a pace of 3mph, or even a shade above, without really rushing. It was just fun to walk. And it was beautiful.

I'll have no trouble recommending that this is a trip that every backpacker in the region should do, despite the inconveniences. It really is a different and an interesting walk. (Also, with weather like we had, it is a perfect early spring hike. We saw not a single mosquito or sand flea.)

As we cruised south, the day hikers and the surfers faded away and we reached beaches that were really completely isolated. The tide was coming up, and the higher and higher tides pushed us back to the dunes. We sometimes had to walk through little bays of surf. At about high tide (5:15pm) we reached the turn off for Pope's Bay campsite. I should say that *none* of the campsites were flooded, so the park's pretext for not issuing us permits was ... inaccurate. We did decide that camping on the ocean side was a little risky, as the surf was high. We turned to the bayside camping spot on Popes Bay, and enjoyed sunset and a campfire at a lovely place.

We did have a moment of consternation as we realized that the waters of the bay were rising as the tide retreated in the ocean (I don't understand the mechanism of that). George and Doug moved their tents away from the water, out of caution, but ultimately this did not affect us.

Oh, and around the campfire, Jen, whom we all love, earned a trail name! Suffice to say that one set of car keys was not where it was supposed to be. So, forever more, Jen will known as "Shuttle." :)

Other trail names were discussed, but they did not stick, perhaps for the best.

The next morning, we were walking at 8am, having waited to start so that the tide would be retreating--it's much easier to walk with a retreating tide than a rising one. And again the miles flew by. The state line, ruined houses from the days when someone tried to develop, interesting flotsam on the beach, lots of pictures. Finally, after a beautiful morning of walking, we reach Toms Cove ...

Where 5-0 is waiting for us! So, yeah, we were busted by the cops for camping illegally. $175 times 7. I won't really go into all the bull shit that surrounds these tickets (camping in the established sites in Maryland costs $175, but if we'd walked a mile south and camped in Virginia (where camping is not allowed at all), it would have been only $75 per). It's frustrating to try to follow the park service's rules and yet be continually put it a position where you have break them, if you actually want to go backpacking. They seem to have very little interest in actually facilitating the true point of the parks, which is for people to enjoy them. Of course, the fact that the backcountry sites weren't flooded at all didn't play into the conversation.

Tickets in hand, we reversed the shuttle, and reversed it again. We enjoyed excellent pub grub and pints in Salisbury, and then headed back home. We all made it in time for the evening perp walk, as Doug commented.

The GPS said we walked 12.75 on Saturday and 28.3 total, so that would be 15.55 on Sunday. Very easy miles.

I recall asking everyone as we paused for group photos if they thought this trip would enter into DC UL's repertoire and if we'd do this again next March. Several people said they'd like to do it again. I wonder if they still feel that way! It was wonderful and worthwhile trip with a great crew ... but the logistics are tough. With the only two trailheads over bridges and behind NPS gates, it also requires a level of bureaucratic wrangling that even SNP doesn't have. Compound that with the park's willingness to shut everything down for no good reason, with no notice, and it's a tough destination.

All in all, I'm sorry we got the tickets. I'm NOT sorry that we blew off the rules and did our trip. Even the cops were complimentary, saying that we obviously know what we're doing. Sometimes, the rules are made for breaking.

Thanks, everyone, for your good form and for dealing with the setbacks yesterday with such proverbial "grace under pressure." As always, there's nowhere I'd rather be than out with the people in this group!

MM


George Davis posted on

Good write-up! I'll all the pictures I took as soon as I have access to my computer back in the dorm.


Jen posted on

Agreed! Nice write-up, and I'm happy to report that I now understand the concept of a shuttle. Sorry again for the flub. I guess it makes for a good story.....


Michael Martin posted on

Nah, no worries. We'll all be laughing about that for years to come. Stuff happens.

Please forgive me, next time, when I ask everyone 19 times if they have their keys.

I think Travis is right that we should all get ourselves one of these, just in case:

http://www.amazon.com/Master-Lock-207D-Magnetic-Keycase/dp/B003WXGLS2/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1363028381&sr=8-1&keywords=magnetic+key+holder


Miles posted on

One of my favorite things about backpacking is that it connects natural processes to physical experience. For example, prior to this trip I was vaguely aware of how tides work and sort of paid attention to them when I was at the beach. But when Travis said something along the likes of, "Um, do you guys realize how much the water's moved in to our campsite? It's about 4 inches from Doug's tent," and I looked up from the campfire to see that, sure enough, there was a lot more water all around us than there had been when we started eating and libating, and I began to have visions of waking up adrift in Chincoteague Bay on a NeoAir raft, well... let's say my interest was piqued. (Getting pushed up onto the dunes and watching disconnected puddles of water in the sand connect to the ocean and form little creeks got my attention, too.)

At the time, I had a hunch that the small, narrow openings of Chincoteague Bay combined with its narrowness might delay the force of the ocean tide moving into and out of it. It turns out that this is very much the case.

[b]Tides for North Beach, Assateague Island[/b]

[b]Tides for Assacorkin Island in Chincoteague Bay[/b]

This lines up perfectly with our experience. High tide on the beach was ~5:30 PM. But the tide was only beginning to rise in the Bay, and continued until we went to bed around 9:30PM, when we noticed the high water. That's a delay of 4 hours! Amazing.

It's also interesting to note how much smaller the tide was in the bay than on the beach: 0.51ft Bay, 3.74ft Ocean.

Lots of other interesting info out there. This NOAA guide is a good place to start.

P.S. I pre-emptively decline the trailname Assacorkin.


Michael Martin posted on

You better watch out, Miles, you can only decline so many before one sticks. :)

Yeah, that is interesting, about how the tides differed on the bay-side versus the ocean-side. I too found the experience of walking along the beach for hours, watching how the tides changed the walking environment, to be quite fascinating. It's a set of natural phenomena that we, as people who are usually outdoors in the mountains, are not trained to see or understand.

Judging from the sunburns we all have, we could probably use some education on that topic, as well!

MM


Michael Martin posted on

Could it also have to do with water flowing into the bay from freshwater sources after the storm? The ocean tides might tend to back that water up in the bay, I guess.


Carrie Graff posted on

[quote]

Yeah, that is interesting, about how the tides differed on the bay-side versus the ocean-side. I too found the experience of walking along the beach for hours, watching how the tides changed the walking environment, to be quite fascinating. It's a set of natural phenomena that we, as people who are usually outdoors in the mountains, are not trained to see or understand.

Judging from the sunburns we all have, we could probably use some education on that topic, as well!

MM[/quote]

As I like to say...IT'S GEOLOGY!! Everything usually comes down to it in the end. If you sat in my Oceanography class, you'd have a whole weeks worth of lessons on tides! Don't you wish I'd been along to give you a (boring) geology lesson? :)

Sounds like it was a fun trip!


Michael Martin posted on

Carrie, I always wish you were on a trip when you aren't.

I really wish you had been there for the "dubbing of Jen," as we call it. Perhaps not as dramatic as the Booty-less moment, but darned close.

MM


Joffrey Peters posted on

[quote]Could it also have to do with water flowing into the bay from freshwater sources after the storm? The ocean tides might tend to back that water up in the bay, I guess.[/quote]

I don't think so. That might very very very slightly affect the amplitude of the tide, but probably wouldn't have a measurable effect (I could probably do a back-of-the-napkin calculation of the volumes involved to give you an idea of how little, but am too lazy at the moment. The lag is due to constriction, and the amplitude difference due to the fact that there isn't pressure for the tide to rise as high when the water has already begun to recede outside the bay when the bay tide peaks. I appreciated the graphs to see the phase shift, and the amplitude numbers to accompany. Physics is fun!

Sounds like you had a good time. I used to car camp down there every year with friends. I'll have to join this trip next year and earn my camping spot, I guess.