What better way to test your freshly one-year marriage by going on a backcountry kayaking trip? For the first time ever? To a place you had never been before?
It was awesome and terrible. And terribly awesome.
In case you didn’t understand what I meant in that first paragraph: We decided to go backcountry camping for our one year anniversary. We headed out on a brisk Friday morning in April to the ranger station on Assateaque Island. We said we wanted a backcountry campsite and they handed us a white three-ring binder with pictures of the various camping sites from which we could choose. Like a travel agency! Or a cruise line! And we were off. Dropped the kayaks at the launched point, parked the car, and we began our five mile aquatic journey to our camp site.
You might recognize Assateague (after you giggle at the name) as the island with the wild horses. That is correct! We started at the Maryland entrance, which was closer to us and conveniently closer to the campsites.
Assateague Island National Seashore has both beach sites and wooded sites at which you can camp in the backcountry. Beach sites are less protected and more public– and they are on the ocean, so you have to hike to them. We were determined to paddle, so we chose the wooded sites on the bay side. Lovely. And since it was only April we had the place to ourselves.
We made ourselves at home. We ate a lot of oatmeal, hiked out to the beach, read books, and pretended we were Bare Grills.
Those tracks you see above are from Over Sand Vehicles, aka people who pay to drive on the beach to fish. Seeing cars and people driving by made our campsite feel slightly less “backcountry”, but this might actually save our lives later. You wait and see.
And we saw wild horses! The drive-in campsites near the ranger station also saw wild horses– they were more used to humans, and would let people walk up and the pet them (which is against the rules, FYI). The horses we saw were terrified of us and walked away whenever we tried to get a good camera angle.
We had excellent weather the first few days we were there, but wouldn’t you know it: we had a strong headwind on the day we needed to paddle home. Headwind against the current of the ocean. 30 mph headwind. “We can do it!” we said! No we cannot. It took us hours to paddle a mile. HOURS. I cried. Debated giving up, living on the next land we saw. Thinking about all those things I knew I should have brought with us, like emergency blankets and flares, in case something like this happened. But we didn’t bring those– because no one actually uses those, right?! (No, I have never seen 72 hours. I should watch it.)
We made it three miles to the next campsite. And we both agreed unanimously that it would be better to abandon our kayaks and walk on the beach two miles to the ranger station. Which is what we did. (I noticed while writing this part of the adventure was not photographed… No one thinks to take pictures at a time like this!)
When we arrived at the ranger station, the non-park-ranger workers there seemed at once both confounded and apathetic about our situation.
“Hi! We are weak and can’t kayak back.”
Awkward silence and blank stares. Did we speak English? Are they too distracted by the fact that we haven’t showered in days?
“Can we take our truck to get our kayaks?”
“OUR KAYAKS ARE AT THE FIRST CAMPSITE. WE CANNOT PADDLE THEM IN. HELP US PLEASE.”
They just kind of all look at each other.
“We are closing in 15 minutes. We would go get them, but we don’t have a truck that can make it. We can’t take you. We are closing in 10 minutes.”
“Can we leave them at the campsite and paddle them up when the wind has died down? Tomorrow?” (This is our most desperate option. We do not live close. And all of our worldly [camping] possessions are in those kayaks. And we don’t want to paddle ever again.)
“Well. You can purchase an Over Sand Vehicle Permit for a bazillion dollars and drive your truck to the camping trail. And then carry your kayaks to the beach [over a bazillion miles].”
“We don’t have a bazillion dollars. Are there any other options?”
“Let me call the park ranger. We are closing in five minutes.” (This is less than three minutes later.)
We stand around waiting for 10 minutes. They do not close. We wonder if our smell is making them un-helpful.
Suddenly, like a choir of angels: “Hey! You guys are stuck at the first campsite? The wind is brutal out there! I can take you out there to pick up your kayaks.” The Park Ranger!
He turns to the non-park ranger workers and explains to them that OBVIOUSLY we can’t paddle in because its a 30 mph headwind and no one could do that! So he is just going to go get our kayaks! But first… He needs to the keys to the truck that can get over the sand. WHICH ARE IN ONE OF THE WORKER’S POCKETS.
Thats right. The boys who told us they couldn’t help us had THE KEY TO OUR SURVIVAL. Literally. Thankfully, I am always a little slow at catching on, so I didn’t fully comprehend this until we were out the door. But don’t worry, I sent him “YOU ARE RIDICULOUS” looks through the wall.
Then Shawn and the Holy Park Ranger got our kayaks and we were on our way home. Easy as pie.
Everyone told us the first year of marriage would be the hardest. But you know, it wasn’t too bad. It was actually pretty fun. And when we tell people this story, they think that it must have been terrible. And you know, it was… but in retrospect, it was actually pretty fun.