Beach Camping Through a Derecho

I recently planned a trip to the beach for my friends.  We wouldn’t be able to check-in to the Ocean City condo till noon on Saturday… so I booked us a beach front campsite on Assateague Island.  Sounded like a wonderful idea, until I realized as we were driving down that a huge storm system was headed our way.

 
We arrived late to our campsite, around 11pm and saw people tacking down their tents and battening down the hatches.  We hurried to our site and got our tents setup and started a fire.  We made s’mores, drank beers, and started to enjoy our evening.  
 
I’m sitting on the picnic bench in front of the fire when all of a sudden the wind rushes at me, picking up hot coals out of the fire and spraying them in every direction, including my face.  
 
I screamed!  And ran for my tent.  The wind was howling all around us, waking up campers that had already laid down for the night.  I unzipped the door to my little 4 person Coleman tent and the wind flew in the door, knocking me inside, ballooning the whole tent in different directions, as the fly flew in the air!  
 
Help me!  
 
My friend grabbed my fly… and I asked him to help me break down the tent so I could just throw it back in the car.  I guess you can call me a fair-weather camper.  
 
We hustled a big wad of tent back to the parking lot and shoved it in the trunk.  I told him I would be fine and just stay in the car.  He ran back to join my friends in the other tent, that also wasn’t holding up very well, but it was weighed down by their bodies, and they weathered through the storm.
 
I, on the other hand, setup camp in the back seat of my friends car.  I waited for the rain to start and turned on my little portable ipod speaker.  The car started to get hot inside… I started to get bored…


The storm wasn’t as scary as the first burst of wind.  But the lightening was breathtaking.


As I moved to the front passenger seat to charge my phone, 2 guys rolled up in a Land Rover next to me.  I saw them hop out and admire the storm.  One of the guys had the storm on radar on his phone screen. 


I perked up, because that’s exactly what I had been trying to do with my phone.  I hopped out of the car, “Hey do you have the storm on radar?!”


They immediately welcomed me and explained that they had been in the off-road section of the beach, drinking around a fire on the beach when the wind started and did the same thing to their fire!


So they packed up as quick as they could to get back to the camp ground where they had a very sturdy REI tent setup on their site.  


We hung out in their car, drank Captain Morgan, admired the lightening, all while sharing travel stories.  These guys had a couple years on me and I admired their level of outdoorsiness.  They had 2 sea kayaks strapped to the car right above me, I was sitting next to their fishing poles and a surf board.  These guys loved the outdoors and turns out they have a camp site booked in Assateague for every weekend of the summer.


For those of you who don’t know, Assateague books up months in advance.  The only reason I was able to book a site at the last minute was because campers cancelled in anticipation of the storm.  These guys are Assateague die-hards, which is part of what contributes to the difficulty in getting a site there. If you want to go, book in April.  


OK, back to the story… We continued to drink as the storm mellowed down.  We finally decided the rain was light enough to go check on their tent.  I walked with them to their site, a few sites down from my friends.  While they investigated how their tent weathered the storm, I walked over to my friends tent to find them all asleep.  


I told them I made new friends and walked back to the guys.  What I learned later, was that my statement freaked out the girls in the tent, imagining the worst…


The guys had a broken pole in one spot that had ripped through the tent, but for the most part the tent was solid and dry.  I left them to their tent repair and walked back to my car.  


I got in the front seat and started to play with my phone, when I noticed one of the guys walking up to my car.  I opened the door and he said he still wanted to hang out.  I was tired, had no idea what time it was, but the adrenaline from the storm was still in me, so we went for a walk.


We talked and talked and walked and ended up on the beach.  Next thing I know, my guy has stripped down to his boxers and he’s running into the surf!


It’s pitch black on the beach… the clouds are blocking out any ounce of moon or starlight so it’s hard to see anything except the water line and the splash of white on the breaking waves. 


“Fuck it!”  


I took a layer of clothes off and ran into the water.  The water was warm and we had a blast.  Every once in a while a wave would wash me out pretty good out of nowhere, but aside from that it was fun.  


It even got a little romantic when we noticed we were circling around in a cloud of glowing algae.  The more we moved our arms on the surface of the water, the brighter the algae became.  It was beautiful and I’d never seen anything like it.  


It’s amazing how a series of events can occur sometimes, from a collapsed tent to a romantic swim in the Atlantic….


The next morning, we all woke up at the crack of dawn.  What my friends didn’t realize is that I only got 30 minutes of sleep.  But I was excited for the beautiful morning on the beach.  


We packed up the car, stopped by the beautiful bayside nature walk on the island before we headed to Ocean City, Maryland for breakfast.  

Bayside of Assateague Island




Camping in Assateague with the Wild Ponies

I recently had the pleasure of going camping at Assateague Island National Seashore.  I went with a hiking group off meetup.com and we had over 100 people.  We took over one group site and had a bunch of individual sites on the same ocean front loop.  

The ocean front camp sites are the perfect location, tucked behind the dunes which protects you only slightly from the constant breeze blowing off the ocean.  You can hear the waves crashing in the background as you enjoy the wildlife around you at these sites.  There are plenty of interesting birds that love to chirp and visit your site, and they aren’t sea gulls!  

We went camping in late April to beat the mosquitoes.  There can be a mosquito problem if you go later in the summer, so just come prepared!  

Paddling through the mist on the bay side.
It was misty and foggy the first day I arrived.  It was not raining, but it was like the clouds had dropped from the sky and were floating across the island.  

I made friends with some of my camp neighbors and we decided to explore the island and see what there was to see.  We walked over to the bay side and found beautiful views from a boardwalk trail.  We could see people in the distance on stand up paddle boards.  

In the distance behind the paddle boarders we could see wild ponies on the narrow peninsulas.

We saw a pair of mother and child ponies.

Itchy ponies

A cloudy misty beach.  

Dogs were having a blast on the large open beach.  After exploring the island, I setup my camp chair on the beach and enjoyed the beach as well.  


Later that night, we all go together for a bit of a potluck and everyone grilled their meats on one big grill.  We enjoyed a beautiful night on the beach under the stars.

Camping under the stars!

I couldn’t help but wake up and watch the sunrise, with my tripod in tow.  

Our tents for the “group” camp site were nestled among the dunes.

Sunrise over the dunes from my camp site.

Beautiful boardwalk trail leading to the bay.

Kite Surfer enjoying a perfect day on the bay.


At the end of a perfect day, hiking and socializing with the group I headed south for a journey to the Low Country, but that’s another story!

Shenandoah National Park

SNP Collage
Shenandoah National Park is a beautiful park if you’re in the mid-atlantic region.  A road called Skyline Drive runs from the North end of the park to the South along the top of the Blue Ridge Mountains.  The Appalachian Trail also runs directly through the park.  In addition to the drive with over 75 overlooks, there are 500 miles of hiking trails and 4 campgrounds.  One of the most popular times of year to visit is when the leaves change in the Fall.


This past fall, I reserved a campsite way in advance for the peak weekend.  During this weekend, every year, Skyline Drive is inundated the entire length with families, photographers, and tourists.  Armed with cameras, packed into vans and SUVs to save on the per car entrance fee, they take over!


But if you show up friday night and camp out, you beat the crowds to the punch!  We camped at Matthew’s Arm, which is the furthest north campground in the park.  On top of avoiding the traffic, you are also guaranteed a parking spot at your camping site.


The campground has a trail that connects to the popular Tuscarora Overall Run Trail, that provides views of several waterfalls.  One of the falls is 93 feet tall and stunning as it cuts through the fall colors.


I would like to embarass myself a bit now and share my experience of trying to sleep outside in October in the mountains.  It’s cold!  I wasn’t quite prepared.  I had my tent and sleeping bag and lots of layers, but I forgot my air matress, which would have lifted me off the cold ground.  So instead of bothering my other friends in their tents and trying to spoon… I ran to my car in the middle of the night and slept on my passenger seat laid out flat, snuggled in my bag.  I wasn’t sure I’d be able to sleep in my car… I thought it would be uncomfortable, but I passed out.  I think after shivering for two hours, I was exhausted.


OK, spare me the lecture… I learned my lesson.


Enjoy the pictures from our hikes and drive along Skyline.

Smart People have campers…
Going down the trail.  Down the mountain!
Creek crossing
The fall foliage and the Blue Ridge Mountains in the distance.
One of the waterfalls
Overlook from the trail
Hikers enjoying the vista
Last look before heading back to campsite.
To warm our feet after a long day of hiking.
From a Skyline Drive overlook
Skyline Drive view
Hiking in the Fall – wear layers and enjoy the colors!





For more information, visit: http://www.nps.gov/shen

Rain at Swallow Falls

    On a rainy weekend in June, my friends and I went camping at Maryland’s Swallow Falls State Park.  It’s very close to Deep Creek, which I’ve been to multiple times, but I’d never been to Swallow Falls.  Now that I’ve been, I’m disappointed that I hadn’t been there sooner.  It’s very beautiful, with 4 waterfalls on an easy hiking trail.  Now if any one mentions they’re going to Deep Creek for the weekend, I tell them to take an hour and stop by Swallow Falls.
Swallow Falls
    Most people would be extremely dissapointed if they were camping in the rain, but we had a different experience.  We had plenty of tarps and ropes, so we set up our little tent city with a tarp roof system over our picnic tables.  During the day it was only a drizzle, but at night, it was a heavy downpour, each night.  Thank you Coleman, for a sturdy tent by the way.
     While hiking around the falls during the day, it felt like we were walking through a rain forest.  I haven’t been to the rain forests in the north west US, but I imagine this is what they’re like.  It was very beautiful, admiring the waterfalls in the mist.  While walking along the trails, under the thick tree cover, you couldn’t tell if it was raining or not.
    We went swimming at the falls pictured above and the first picture below.  The water is quite shallow but a little chilly.  We were able to walk up to the falls on the right side and popped underneath the falls into a little alcove beneath.  The alcove or cave is not very big and it made me a bit claustrophobic with the pounding water right behind me, but it made feel brave for a moment.  From the right side, we slowly worked our way to the left, where you can sit down on large rocks, with only 3 inches of water flowing accross the top.  The only trouble is fighting the current on the slippery rocks.  One slip and you’re floating away in the quick current.  But we made it and sat down in the white water on the flat rocks and enjoyed the scenery as tourists hiked by taking pictures.
Swallow Falls, panoramic from the top of the falls

Just past Swallow Falls, the trail follows a creek, to Tolliver Falls, pictured below, which was actually my favorite part.  This was the most beautiful set of mini cascades.  The forest encompasses you so well at this fall, that you feel like you’re in a private room, with a water fall.  There’s less traffic at this fall, so it’s a great place to relax.  Our campsite wasn’t far from the falls, just 200 feet up hill, so we could hear the roar of the falls in the distance and revisit the falls easily whenever we wanted.

Tolliver Falls in Swallow Falls State Park

Sunday morning I woke up early and walked down to Tolliver by myself.  It was so beautiful and peaceful.  The perfect place to enjoy my cup of coffee, before breaking down camp.  Standing there by Tolliver Falls, I made a promise to myself, that this would not be my last visit.