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The Relaxing Atmosphere of Assateague Island

Updated on August 28, 2018
A herd  of ponies among the beach's dunes.
A herd of ponies among the beach's dunes.

Who Doesn't Love Summer?

The weather’s warm, women wear less clothing, and you have an excuse to go outside and do stuff in warm weather that would be too bitterly cold and depressing in the winter. If someone asks you why you can just point at the nearest window and say “have you seen what it looks like out there!? It’s f***in’ beautiful!”

One thing that is always a requirement is the standard summer vacation, or if you have the money (which I don’t) you can pluralize “vacation.” No matter who you are you should get the hell out of your hometown at least once a year. Especially if you live in Baltimore Maryland, or Detroit Michigan, or any of the cities in this country that could be considered orifices. You should preferably go somewhere you can smell sea air.

There’s Ocean City then There’s Assateague Island

Ocean City Maryland is a major resort town in my home state. The main attraction being the famous inlet. Never heard of it? Don’t feel bad I get the feeling it’s only famous for about four states around otherwise you could just go to Jersey… I mean Virginia Beach… Anyway at this point of the town are two fishing piers (the main one and another one on the bay side), an amusement park, the Coast Guard museum, a small shopping village, and other attractions. As a landmark it represents where the Atlantic Ocean meets Ocean City Bay although it was not always like this.

In 1962 a huge storm blew through bringing the sea, literally, with it. From this point on Ocean City and Assateague Island have been separated. Ever since the separation, Assateague Island has become a nature preserve and national park; while it’s sister land mass has gone on to be a huge tourist town. Assateague’s attraction is that it’s host to all kinds of wildlife and foliage. One of the main attractions are the herds of wild ponies that populate the island.

The wildlife, on the surface, is the main reason a lot of tourists come here. “Oh my God! Let’s go see the ponies!” I can imagine an overly excited (and most likely drunk) woman shout as they run toward a heard of the four-legged beasts. I should mention that getting out of your car and running toward and/or feeding a herd of ponies is both against the law and dangerous. So don’t do that... There is also the nature center at the entrance to the park where you can learn from exhibits and rangers what not to do on the island rather than give into Darwinism. I would recommend that especially since the nature center has a great view of the island with those coin operated telescope things. Just make sure you check for that the lens is clean or else you’ll end up paying fifty cents to look at some really blurry bird turds.

Really the coolest part of the island are the nature trails and fishing spots. There are also beaches and camp grounds. My father doesn’t recommend staying on the island overnight because of an infestation of ticks. If you camp in a trailer or RV this shouldn’t be an issue, tents or “sleeping under the stars: in a sleeping bag is big no no. Not so much the ticks but also because of the prospect of being trampled in the middle of the night by a herd of ponies. Even if you camp within the designated spots the ponies still find a way in.

An old section of "Baltimore Boulevard".
An old section of "Baltimore Boulevard".
If it wasn't for the Nor'easter of 1962 there would be no Assateague Island and this land would probably be inhabited by douche bags and cheaply built summer condos.
If it wasn't for the Nor'easter of 1962 there would be no Assateague Island and this land would probably be inhabited by douche bags and cheaply built summer condos.
Part of the nature trail goes through a small pine forest. Everything gets really quite once you reach the pines on the island. Luckily it's more of a peaceful quite than a creepy quite.
Part of the nature trail goes through a small pine forest. Everything gets really quite once you reach the pines on the island. Luckily it's more of a peaceful quite than a creepy quite.

Being very popular the beach in Ocean City gets very crowded up by the inlet, mainly because of the easy and affordable parking. I’ve seen the inlet beach so crowded once that it’s packed up to the asphalt of the parking lot. Not to mention the crazy amounts of trash in the sand. It always makes me nervous walking around in bare feet on the sand up near the streets entering the beach. The Ocean City police department keep a good eye out for assholes with glass bottles but you never know really… Also last I heard Ocean City had a drug dealing issue “yay mommy I found a needle in my foot!” Don’t get me wrong though it’s not as bad as New Jersey but it gets pretty bad during tourist season. A lot of the beach that is paired with the Boardwalk is crowded because of it’s easy access to shops and food stores.

The beach past 27th Street and beyond gets much less populated the further up you go. The beach on Assateague Island is a lot like that, populated but not insanely crowded. If you like peace and quiet Assateague Island is a much better choice.

Yes I look like an idiot, but I'm an idiot with a cool head.
Yes I look like an idiot, but I'm an idiot with a cool head.

Getting To The Beach

There are some really crappy places to stay in Ocean City. I don’t care what kind of paint job they slap on it The Alamo will always be a flee bag. Leopard carpeting, used condoms in the dressers, and the whole “I think a trucker murdered someone in here” vibe you get from the bathroom. F*** you, Alamo you’re not fooling me. Anyway when my family goes to Ocean City we stay at my sister’s house. It’s a lot more welcoming than just staying in a motel or hotel. Getting to Assateague from her house takes about 30 minutes. A nice drive through peaceful back roads and farm land takes up a good portion of the trip before getting to the highway leading to the island. Getting to the beach, once on the island, takes another 15 minutes along a small highway that cuts through the island. I had never been to a beach allowed 4x4 vehicles, I’m not naïve, I knew they existed but just never experienced it.

My brother-in-law drives a ’92 Chevy Silverado, a more than capable vehicle for driving over sand. It also has a rack on the back for hauling firewood or a grill. One feature that he and my sister added was a rumble seat, the removed backseat from an old Ford Explorer. My sister and I sat on the rumble seat while my brother-in-law and parents rode in the truck cab. Rumble seats live up to their name, especially when going over the treads in the sand made by other vehicles.

Assateague Island has a lot of freedom, unlike Ocean City, when it comes to what you’re allowed to bring out on the beach. Dogs, beer, BBQs, and bonfires are no problem on the beach as long as you clean up after yourself, or else it’s a $45 fine. You also can’t drive faster than 20mph along the beach and must knock tire pressure down to 15psi before hitting the sand. There is also a maximum of 150 vehicles allowed on the beach at one time, which I hear can cause a line of people waiting, especially on the weekends. However it was not an issue for us cause we were there Monday-Wednesday.

Exploring the Island and Things You'll Need

During the trip my family and I went to Assateague Island three times. Once at night and twice in the day. The night we arrived at my sister’s house was the night we went there for a bonfire. We cooked smores, the way God intended, using a strong wood flame. I swear when you try that with an oven burner you can almost taste the gas in the marshmallow, but I digress. The only issue with the bonfire was that the sea air can blow the smoke directly at you when the winds change. For the moments when you don’t have your eyes closed from smoke you can see the sky full of stars. I have come up with a plan to combat against the smoke issue next time.

Not only is this too excessive but it's probably great for a sandstorm too. You know how much they want for the Middle East hoods? Pfft...
Not only is this too excessive but it's probably great for a sandstorm too. You know how much they want for the Middle East hoods? Pfft...
An example of flagging. When strong ocean winds push against trees near the beach they are pruned in this weird natural way.
An example of flagging. When strong ocean winds push against trees near the beach they are pruned in this weird natural way.
I came going after the first video ended. Pentax K-x sucks through Alkaline batteries like crazy when filming. This pond was as far as I went up the ranger trail. It got really quiet right here.
I came going after the first video ended. Pentax K-x sucks through Alkaline batteries like crazy when filming. This pond was as far as I went up the ranger trail. It got really quiet right here.

The scuba goggles are excessive and the bandanna makes me look like I’m going to rob a store on Grove Street, but it’s a cheap way to combat inhalation. It’s also useful to wear long pants and bring a blanket, not just to keep warm, but also to protect yourself from cinders.

The second day we came to the beach during the day and brought the grille. I spent most of that day just staring at the ocean thinking and writing. It didn’t help that I was writing “How Do I Forgive A Thief?” but I wasn’t even stressed out because of the roaring of the waves and the sea air. Despite writing about one of the worse life experiences I ever had I was surprisingly tranquil.

Despite it being easier to write with I would never bring my laptop to the beach and I implore those of you with any good sense not to do so either. I paid $400 for my Windows HP and I want this thing to last me another five years at least. Sand gets to everything and a laptop is the last thing you want on that list. A pad and pen (or pencil) works just as good and doesn’t have the issue of corroding on the inside from salt water vapor or jamming up from grains of sand. While we were driving off the beach at the end of the day I saw one guy sitting in a beach chair on a big laptop. First of all you’re cruising for a bruising like I mentioned above, secondly if he was doing office work that’s just a double whammy of idiocy. I understand the concept of a working holiday, but for Pete’s sake leave that crap at home when you’re on the beach. Stare at the ocean not a PowerPoint!

On the third day I was done with the beach and wanted to go explore some of the trails I spotted the day before. Probably goes without saying but a bottle of water and a good pair of hiking shoes is a must have. You should also bring some bug spray, the mosquitoes get pretty thick once you get further way from the beach. Especially near the pine trees that grow a few hundred yards into the island away from the ocean. You don’t really need to bring a can of spray with you, especially since if it’s a windy day it will just blow in another direction away from your skin. Some Off! Wet wipes are just as good and fit in a pocket easier.

While I’m on the subject of “wildlife” you should probably arm yourself. I am in no way saying bring a gun. A 10mm Glock 20 is not necessary on Assateague Island, it’s not Alaska, but you should keep a pocket knife handy. There are possibly no predatory animals on the island (i.e. Pumas, black bears, etc.) but there are wild dogs. It gets very eerily quiet in the brushier areas and back trails near the beach. Especially once you go inland. Weird crackling noises all around you… nothing else, just the sound of snapping twigs and foot steps… Then you get this gut wrenching feeling like you’re surrounded. And I was, by a bunch of mosquitoes. I had not yet used one of those Off! wet wipes.

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The mosquito road to the fishing area. The building that looks like a little bait shop.
The mosquito road to the fishing area.
The mosquito road to the fishing area.
The building that looks like a little bait shop.
The building that looks like a little bait shop.

The Trails Go On For Miles

Near the beach where my family was set-up is a small nature trail, one of many, that showcases different environments and the history of Assateague Island. I walked along this one first and took my time reading the different information boards. They also had what’s left of an old road there from back in the late 1950s. If you’re into bike riding (which I’m not) you have a huge bike trail that goes around the island, and it even goes down past the Virginia border into Chincoteague Island. I walked a couple miles of it (along Bayberry Drive) before coming to a boat storage building and heading that way out of curiosity. If I hadn’t decided to change my direction I would probably have ended up back at the nature center. A mosquito infested road (Ferry Landing Road) past the pine forest later and I emerged into a fishing area. I should have brought a map with me because on either side were observation decks, part of some other nature trail but I had no clue how to get there.

The fishing area I came across is set up on a string of islands, actually they’re more like sand bars. They have a boardwalk that bridges the gaps over the water. On either side of this broken peninsula are cays with one boat launch ramp near a small shack which I assume is some kind of bait shop. If it’s not it should be. Would be a great location to spend an afternoon fishing.

Assateague Island was always something I liked as a kid, mainly because I was stupid and liked to see ponies like other people. Now that I’m older I can appreciate the nature aspect and the history with this place. I wish I had more time to explore more of the island. Hell I wish I had a bike (yeah I know what I said) and a fishing rod. I’m not going to bull s*** you and say I would love to walk the huge hiking trail that wraps around the entire land mass (Assateague and Chincoteague). That’s a little too nature loving, plus my scalp has this thing about ticks sucking blood from it while camping. Hey but the beach is still cool and mosquito free!

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