assateague: back-country camping on the beach

When A. and I asked for a back country pass two weekends ago at Assateague along the Maryland shore, the ranger looked at us and raised his eyebrows. “Are you sure?” he asked. “I’m just warning you, since it rained last night, the bugs are going to be terrible.” A female ranger yelled from the back room in agreement. “We’ve had people go out and turn back, upset with us,” he said. A. and I looked at each other, slightly bewildered, but said we still wanted to do it. “Yeah?” A. asked me, to be sure. “Yeah,” I said. “Let’s do it.” The ranger said: “Make sure you get 50 to 60 percent deet.” It was 40 percent chance of thunderstorms — and the skies weren’t promising — but this was an adventure.

After filling up with eggs and bacon at “The Best Breakfast Place In The Country,” and grabbing my much-craved latte, we swung by my cousin’s place in Ocean City. B. had said her husband J. calls Assateague “Assfatigue.” B. and J. smiled and shook their heads that we were going to brave the bugs and rain. “Keep us posted! You can always sleep on the couch!” they said.

By 2 p.m., we were ready for our four-mile hike. The clouds cleared, the sun was high and the beaches were packed. Wild horses grazed in the brush near the parking lot. We lathered up with sunscreen, loaded our packs on our backs, and trekked on the hard-packed sand on the ocean’s shore. After two miles, sweating in the heat, we threw our packs down, ate trail mix, changed into our suits behind scant bushes and literally ran into the warm ocean to play in the waves. The rip tide carried us both down the coast and we joyfully gave into it.

We arrived at the campsite well before dark and went on a hunt for firewood (it wasn’t easy among the burrs, a few of which caught in A.’s foot.) We sprayed bug spray on exposed skin (thank goodness we had repellant).

We set up the tent on the beach, and as the sun went down, A. lit the stove for our dinner of pork and beans, corn, green beans and Lipton noodles. In the far-off distance, the sky lit up with lightning. Above us, the stars shone brilliantly — and I wished I could remember more constellations besides the dippers.

A. made a fire, and we sat on a towel — salty, happily dirty and relaxed — before running back into the dark ocean. But the best part was there were only three other tents. The rangers must have scared everyone away. It was gorgeous, quiet and soul-charging. And all to ourselves.

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