BLOG: Tales Of The New Normal 7/7/2019
Since Devin’s accident, and for reasons that I hope are obvious, we haven’t been able to do a lot of the things we used to. We used to take weekend road trips in the Summer all the time. Hell, it’s one of the reasons I bought JLSUV in the first place (you try driving 6 hours in a Prius and tell me how YOUR back feels). I’ve been itching to get everyone in the car and just go SOMEWHERE. Devin can’t walk on his own still, and he’s pretty much blind from the brain injury. So we’ve been a bit apprehensive about travel. Can I get him somewhere without a wheelchair? The simple reality is if that wheelchair goes, literally no one else can get in the car. So under those circumstances, we struck out this morning not exactly knowing how this was going to work, but we were damn well going to try.
The first step—in this case the step down from the doorway to the porch—is the hardest. But, once we got him outside, the walk down the driveway wasn’t sod bad. Backing him into the backseat and twisting him into position was ok, he was even able to help there. Three kids in the backseat, Mom and Dad in the front, away we go.
Up the Eastern Shore, just about to the Maryland State Line is a wonderful place called Chincoteague. Every year around my birthday they have an event where the wild ponies that live on the island are rounded up, they cross the marsh, and they’re auctioned off to help the volunteer fire department on the island. You may be familiar with the children’s story “Misty of Chincoteague”, this is the real thing. It has been a bucket list item of mine to go and see the swim, but when I got there for the first time a couple years back, I fell in love with the place. It’s a seaside beach town not unlike some of the smaller Keys, or Nantucket, or even my beloved Camden in the Summer. It’s about three hours from my house, give or take. I looked at Kimmers and said “Ponies?”
“Ponies. Absolutely”, she said. So off we went.
For those of you who have never been to my part of the world, there’s not a way to get to Hampton Roads that doesn’t involve crossing a bridge. In three of those cases, those bridges also have tunnels that go under water. In order to get to the Eastern Shore, you must take the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel (CBBT). This is one of the engineering marvels of the modern world, truly. A 17 mile long bridge that has two tunnels that take you underwater deep enough so as not to interfere with the shipping channels for barges, tankers, and aircraft carriers that need to get through there. Yes, the first time is a little…worrisome, but you get used to it. Especially on clear Summer days when the ocean just shimmers. It’s a beautiful drive. If it didn’t cost 20 bucks round trip on weekends, I’d do it way more often just for the view.
Route 13, the main road up the Shore is rural country. The Eastern Shore is mainly agricultural, and pretty economically depressed. You see it in the number of dilapidated houses and shacks that line 13. Off the main drag, you begin to see patterns. Towns look almost exactly the same. Not only to each other in Virginia, but I recognize towns in Western Virginia I’ve been to, and even Downtown Machias, or Downtown Camden in Maine. The buildings even look the same, and they’ve been there for at least a hundred years or more. It dawned on me that all these towns were along a rail track, and that might explain the similarities. It also explained—at least in modern standards—what the ‘wrong side of the tracks’ looked like.
Chincoteague Road is a right off of 13, and takes you by the NASA Wallops Island Launch facility. Great museum there if you have a chance.
Passing the facility, the road takes a hard right turn, and this two lane road you’re on crosses the marsh and deposits you on the Island. Continuing straight will take you through the ‘downtown’ area, the tourist area, and to the wildlife refuge. Aside from the horses, there’s a beach—although trying to find a spot on that beach during Pony Week is a nightmare, and we won’t even talk about hotels—and the Assateague Lighthouse is just beautiful.
The island itself is the kind of place where it’s easier to rent or buy a scooter or a golf cart to get around. It’s that chill island vibe that always hooks me and brings out the ocean water in my veins.
A trip around the island doesn’t take very long, and if you were just going for the trip and back, I could make it back home in 4 to 5 hours round trip. But…we didn’t come here just to go back home.
We came to see the ponies, and the ponies shall be seen!
So, a little history about the ponies. Back in the 17th Century some colonists who didn’t want to get busted over some livestock laws and taxes on the mainland released their stock on the island. Over the years, they developed a taste for the salt marsh plants, and they retain a LOT of water and look bloated a lot of the time. They’re generally short, a little under 5 feet tall, but over the years they’ve proven to be agreeable horses, not difficult to train. They get vet checkups out in the wild over the course of the year. Every year, on the last Wednesday in July, they round up the herd (those that are able) and they swim from the Assateague refuge to the Chincoteague side in a journey that might take all of ten minutes. They are auctioned off, with the money going to the volunteer fire company. Tens of thousands of people gather at the island every year for this. Many of the horses are bought, but under the conditions that they’re returned to the refuge, and on Friday, the horses are taken back. The herd is watched over by the Fish and Wildlife Service, and the swim is to regulate the population on the island, which stays around 150.
Having seen the ponies, see stop for lunch, and we head back for home in time for dinner. Devin handled this remarkably well, although he didn’t remember my love of trance music, so he questioned—loudly—my choice of Armin Van Buuren’s show on the way. I played Pink Floyd’s Animals as we were crossing the bridge back home to make it up to him, and he was satisfied. Sitting posture seems to be a recurring issue in the back seat, I think because he can’t see he may not know he’s leaning or keeping his head up. Also of note, those first steps are like the Tin Man in need of an Oil Can, but once he’s up for a minute he can get moving ok. Leaning forward while walking is still an issue, but a reminder is usually enough.
He still knows the words to Give It Away Now. I’m just sayin’. Just another reminder that while the accident was profound, it could have been worse. We’re grateful it wasn’t. Very grateful.
All in all, a good day, and the first of hopefully many more trips in our New Normal.