Before crossing the Chesapeake Bay Tunnel / Bridge, we stopped at Gull Island to take a close up look at the ships.

Approaching the first tunnel of two that dive under the sea water to allow passage of ships. Black at entrance, red shows exit.

They said clearance 13' 6", but it was about 15'. Little kids tried to hold their breath the whole time but I think they were breathing through their noses.

A couple of weeks ago we picked this little island out of places we’d like to stop enroute to Washington, knowing that we’d need to kill a few days since our DC tours are looking like they will come together at the end of the month.

Just before arriving at Chincoteague on 175, the NASA Wallops flight facility visitor center was an easy exit from the 2 lane highway, across the asphalt from the fenced airfield. Outside, some rocket relics on static display competed with the ubiquitous mosquitoes for our full attention. Safely inside, we enjoyed a nearly empty museum that paid tribute to the mostly research activities of its namesake.

In their backyard is the rocket that propelled Sam the monkey, and first mammal into space flight.

A research balloon can be flown for less than a tenth of the cost of a rocket, which is attractive if you’re a space scientist, and need to get your load 190 miles in the ‘air’. That same balloon is launched looking limp and inadequate, but at altitude it grows to almost 600 feet across, able to heft an 8,000 payload. Very cool thing we didn’t know. We launched air powered rockets, checked out the technology of satellite measurement and found this museum to be worth stopping- contrary to what our fellow reviewers at trip advisor had written. Notably this facility, which consists of the flight operations control center/airfield and a separate launch pad facility is slated to launch resupply flights for the International Space Station now that the Space Shuttle program is ending. They’re excited about the new program. If you do stop here, don’t miss the roof observation platform, and the theater with great sound that plays films on request.

Quaint, quiet, slow, friendly Island community.

In preparation for our arrival in Chincoteague, Kelly found a copy of Misty of Chincoteague a few stops ago, which you may recall was the book every 6-8th grade girl loved in the old days… We have been reading it to the kids over the last few nights. The author, Marguerite Henry visited the island on Pony Penning Day after receiving a tip about the story of swimming the ponies across to Chincoteague Island from Assateague Island each year. Of particular further interest to us, the Volunteer Fire Dept owns and manages this annual event of swimming the ponies across, and the related carnival. For years they have been in charge of the event, as truthfully told in ‘Misty’.

After arriving in town, we visited the fire station, and were lucky enough to run into the Fire Chief, although he looked like he was running late somewhere. As he was about to open the door and let us ‘take a look around’ while he headed out, our luck continued as a firefighter bearing a 4 leaf clover over an IAFF logo on his ball cap strode up the sidewalk and the Chief promptly handed us over to him.

Nick told us everything from an inside perspective about the ponies, clam farming and island life. Nice guy!

He was Nick Raymond, a new EMT graduate with about 10 years of experience with the CVFC (Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company). He was very kind to take 45 minutes and tell us about his simple and fascinating part of Chincoteague life: He traveled as a child thanks to the military, and finally chose this community of his own accord to stay in. He applied with the FD as soon as he could (at age 16) and has volunteered since then. He is also now a ‘salt water cowboy’, and assists with running the wild pony herd to the island in July for their event, although he admitted that it’s only about 60 feet of swimming when they time it with low tide. Nick went on to tell about his current line of work that has him farming clams and oysters for a local business. He says its hard work, but gets him outside and he really enjoys it. Consider raking sand off of buried clams, keeping the beds clean while they grow (16 months on average), breaking up ice to work sometimes, and vacuuming them up from the sea bed at harvest time. The job he described didn’t pay him enough (in my opinion, no matter they are paying him). Sounds like hard work, although he’s pretty happy with the motor that the boss upgraded on the boat he drives- 150HP up from a 115. Nick was a great story teller without even knowing it, and generously offered a cap and shirt ‘for a fellow firefighter’ as we departed that I tried to say thanks for with a small donation.

Grandma and Grandpa Beebe from the Misty story are real people, and are buried on the island.

Historic downtown Chincoteague has the charm of ‘the old days’. It is a charm that is probably unintentional, and they surely must have a ‘revitalization’ plan in the works as so many communities do when they look like Chincoteague does today. Some of the businesses are shuttered, some need paint, while others are meticulously kept. Overall it has a feel of authenticity, as if we had stepped back to take a look of what it used to be like. The way it is you can picture yourself standing there without trying too hard. This is good! So many communities have adopted the attitude of freshening up and in the course of that have shed their personalities. We vote for a little sweeping, painting and power washing- and with community pride the revitalization will be complete. We’ve already seen the spirit of the community (Chamber Visitors Center staff, Fire Dept, Sundial bookstore, et al), so just need to organize the clean up. Reminds me of Radiator Springs in Cars. They already have the tourist traffic, just need the polish. It almost has me calling to ask about how much the movie theater is for sale for, or what houses are selling for- it’s that comfortable of a place. They say about 3,000 folks live here- nice size, too. I’m a sucker for spotting opportunity and taking on a challenge; without any disrespect intended, when this revitalization (as I’ve described it) goes down, trade will only go up!

When we say waterfront: a guy could have gotten his toes wet if he stepped too far! A duck family entertained the birdwatcher in the family (KJI).

..and from inside the bus, a front row view of the bridge dissasembly and crane operations.

The bookstore adjacent to our streetcamping location sold us a copy of the 1961 Misty movie that was fun to watch during a hearty meal of chili in the bus. We are comfortably on the waterfront (8’ away) as the sun drops below the horizon just past the disassembled swing draw bridge on rte 175. We’re hoping the local authorities will allow us 45’ of space for the night without trouble, since we have a busy day of discovery on these islands tomorrow.

Dawn came gently, almost as slow as the 25 MPH speed limit on this island. The temperature is cool, enough to pull the covers up around your face with the bus windows open and the afn running- pajama bottoms required for warmth! We moved our show along to the Assateaugue Island Wildlife Refuge and were able to park along the shore. While Kelly (driver), Ethan (crabber) and the little kids (pony spotters) headed for the pony spotting and crabbing grounds, Trevor Lauren and I started South for the abandoned Coast Guard station. Funny how these simple hikes never stay simple. The 1 mile hike was closer to 2.5 miles one way, and the tide was coming in, and the shoreline was lined with a rope barrier and signs every 30 feet that prohibited people/vehicles because of the ‘important bird nesting’ going on. Of course, this is the first day in 8 months that I’ve had shoes on other than Keen sandals, so dodging the encroaching waves is more important. Trevor and Lauren are clad in flip flops and laugh at my distress when I am stuck between the rope fence and salty water rushing up to me. I made it there without incident, but I started to get nervous about the return trip if this was the tide coming in… Before we arrived at the station, we encountered a dead 8’ shark on the beach, beautifully laid out on the beach, but dramatically missing any teeth or eyeballs, but otherwise nicely intact. We speculated about what happened for a few minutes, then carried on.

I had been joking about finding a beached whale for the last 30 minutes, but was speechless when we came upon this shark.

As a road opened up from the beach, and the rope barrier parted, we found a 20ish girl wearing a Fish and Game uniform, holding a shovel and staring at her well-stuck pickup truck. Turns out she had been counting Plovers (birds) and was going to turn around when the sand struck! Or she got stuck. Either way, despite an effort on our part, the truck was very successfully stuck. Silver lining: she told us that the shark was a young Basking Shark- bottom feeder without teeth- that would grow up to 5 tons - second in size only to a whale shark. She also reported there was a 3’ diameter sea turtle down the beach that washed up, and recently a young 3’ dolphin had come ashore North of the public beach. Not related, just another day in the life of wildlife.

A little digging, a little grass under the wheels- but nothing wins against a nice high center job!

She said others were enroute to assist with the truck problem, so we continued on and got a good look at the isolated CG station. Abandoned since 1967, it had obviously been maintained by someone, but it looked like an uphill battle, and for what reason to preserve it? The NPS is in discussion with locals about what the best course of action is. “Money Pit”, I would say. Is “neat” worth tens of thousands of dollars and more?

In a rare appearance on the camera, Lauren and Trevor, together at the abandoned Assateague CG station.

Without shoes, Trevor was hurting his delicate feet an the shells and rocks- so I gave him a lift as long as my back held out. Nearly killed me- our first baby boy has put on some weight, and height, and good looks like his old Dad (!).

We made it back to the bus in the late afternoon and then shifted to ocean playtime: Trevor surfed the huge waves a little bit, and Ethan rolled in and out for an hour in his wetsuit. Ethan is a funny boy, and is very playful; shreds of his old playful optimistic self show up every now and then and he’s an inspiring joy to be with… like today. Cold beach showers and dinner on the beach, then tucked into bed and we were on the road back to our previous nights’ sleepover spot in historic Chincoteague.

Trevor surfed it and Ethan rolled in it. The ocean that is.

Kelly related that the little kids had tangled with poison ivy and mosquito repellant- so she had showered all of them this afternoon- which explains why they were playing so nicely in pajamas so early …

Our final day here ended with our departure after running a few loads of contaminated laundry (beach and bugs yesterday) and watching the construction company deconstruct the old draw bridge. It must have been a popular local landmark- as the crane removed major pieces of the bridge, a steady stream of cars pulled in to take a look for a few minutes, then moved on. One of the men working related that he had been cautiously received by locals when they found out what project he was working on. They must have loved the old draw bridge.

Early in the morning while picking up some crabbing bait, we spotted this blimp - and checked it out. It's marked "NSWC Dahlgren, VA". Googled that name and discovered that its the weapons testing folks. A nearby fisherman thought out loud that it was #1 A waste of our tax money and #2 An AEGIS exercise.

This boat had the blimp tethered to it on an electric winch. It cruised out to the Assateague Bay, where it would be for most of the day with the blimp overhead at around 2500' off the ground. The Park Service rangers indicated that they had secured permits for 30 missions over the coming days.

This boat followed the blimp tender out into the water- well powered by to 150HP outboards and men in black gloves. Probably nothing secret going on here. The second boat remained out of sight during the day while the tender sat in one spot with the blip at altitude.

Now, I think we’re headed for Washington DC, but I never know for sure what the final destination is until I am ready for bed, standing in my underwear and have insured everyone is asleep.