Things aren't always as they seem. And that's okay.
The Google reviews gave Delaware Seashore State Park 4.0/5.0 stars. That was good enough for me to book a campsite at the park for Friday and Saturday nights. Despite spending much of the past five years here in the Mid-Atlantic, I haven't had much occasion to wander to the Eastern Shore. The over-crowded, over-sugared, and kitschy scene in Ocean City has never lured me to the beaches. But, the forecast was conceived for a beach weekend, so we went.
Mac and Greg arrived at the campgrounds on Friday night around 8 PM and their phone call of concern set the stage for expectation. The campground, if you can call it that, reminded me of festival style camping- an open field with blue coolers, shade tents, and gigundo tents large enough for king-sized beds. We call those mammoth, 8-person tents “Taj Mahals”. Exacerbating the situation was the proximity of sites. They were so close, I felt like I was on vacation with the Japanese family next to us.
The camping area of the park is less than a quarter-mile from a pristine Atlantic beach. But, ripping across the expanse between the two is Coastal Highway 1- complete with roaring motorcycles and the whoosh of minivans. The cacophony of traffic, at all hours of the day and night, drowns the soothing lapping of waves and caw of gulls. Without trees, the reverberation is unbounded. The thin nylon and netting of a tent do little to muffle the clamor.
Before settling in for the night, we chatted with other campers at the community fire pit, drank a couple of bottles of wine, and ventured to the beach to bask in the glow of the Harvest Moon reflecting off the rippling coast. The Harvest Moon was remarkable- an enormous pumpkin pie hanging low in the sky. The temperature, the gentle breeze, and the light spray off the ocean were perfect. A family with small children was using headlamps to find tiny Ghost Crabs scampering along the sand.
A sleepless night was imminent, however. The glare from flood lights on all four corners of the bathhouse rivaled stadium lights illuminating a football field. And, the only thing louder than the growl of Harleys and zip of crotch rockets along the highway, were the Japanese aunties cackling over a citronella candle and their Coleman lantern. Though I had hopes of sleeping in, especially since Jordan’s new Monday-Friday schedule means waking up hours before the sun, shut-eye was not in the cards.
I rolled over at 6:00 AM, awoken by the gruff voice of a man walking to take a morning whiz. Dehydration and lack of sleep gave me that fuzzy, morning haze feeling. I looked up the time for sunrise, 6:46 AM. Though we had already missed the best colors of the morning, I roused Jordan.
The sky was a full array of warm, sunrise colors when we sat on the beach. A few fishermen already had lines in the surf. Jordan and I sipped instant Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Lattes made on the WhisperLite. Mac and Greg joined, sleepy-eyed, shortly after. As we stood on the beach surveying the day, Greg spotted them first- dolphins! One of the older gentlemen we spoke with the night before, an avid bottle collector from Pennsylvania, had told us if we were on the beach early enough, we could see dolphins feeding near shore and the inlet. At the time, I had dismissed this tidbit: 1) Because I was skeptical about dolphins inhabiting waters this far north, and 2) Because I had every intention of sleeping in past dolphin breakfast time. Sure enough though, there was a pod of dolphins breaching and splashing in the brackish swirl near the inlet flowing under Coastal Highway-1. I clapped my hands as if Flipper had just performed an epic trick at SeaWorld. I couldn’t wipe the ear-to-ear grin off my face. If we had called the trip a day after seeing the dolphins, I would have been a happy gal and STILL would be writing this glowing review. Sometimes, I realize 6- year old Victoria and 26-year old Victoria are not all that different.
Given the lackluster car camping scene, I’m glad that I encouraged everyone to bring their bikes. We opted to ride south towards Bethany in the coolness of the late summer morning. My initial thought was that we would grab breakfast and ride back to the campground for a 12-mile ride. However, after breakfast, the flat ride and broad bike lane were encouragement enough to continue south. We rode to Inlet Park in Ocean City. As we pedaled motorcycle after motorcycle passed us. We pieced together that there was a rally in Ocean City. I guess we brought the wrong kind of bikes. Arriving back at the campground, Mac’s bike computer ticked above 40 miles.
With an easy, long ride completed, we packed lunches and towels to the beach for a dose of Vitamin D. Jordan and I splashed in the waves. The water was warmer than the last time we played in the ocean. While Jordan, Mac, and Greg absorbed sunshine, I dove into my Finance textbook. If anything can make finance a little more bearable, it is learning about it with the sea breeze in your hair, sunshine on your back, and crashing waves providing background noise.
Because of the lousy camping situation, Greg and Mac opted to head back to Baltimore for a better night’s sleep. Jordan and I took one last dip in the water before driving to Rehoboth for dinner. The last time we were in Rehoboth was December 6, 2014 for my sixth marathon. Jordan and I had recently met and he was adamant about bringing me to my race. Consequently, he spent five hours, on a winter morning wandering around Rehoboth alone while I was dealing with traversing 26.2 miles on undertrained legs. I’m glad we were able to visit again under more fun circumstances in better weather.
After perusing the boardwalk and the square, Jordan suggested Dogfish Head Brewery’s restaurant. I consented, though my expectation was that the place would be a run-of-the-mill beer bar with greasy pub grub. To my immense surprise, the restaurant was exceptional- chic, beachy décor, phenomenal service, their usual great beers, an exciting menu, a happy hour menu, and Dogfish Head’s locally distilled gin. You read that correctly: Dogfish Head distills gin. And it is delectable. Put it in the record books, this was my first time visiting a beer bar and ordering a martini. We gobbled up the mako shark belly, hush puppies, and lobster deviled eggs- each plate more enjoyable than the last. The Dogfish Head Brewings and Eats is definitely a must-visit if you’re on the Eastern Shore.
Later that evening, we caught sunset over Rehoboth Bay from Dewey. I fell asleep assuming we would catch sunrise again on Sunday morning, but seemingly the previous night’s poor sleep and the fun-filled day were enough to keep us asleep until long-after the sun crested the horizon. The morning’s make-shift plan was to find breakfast, spend time on the beach, and then meet with Heather for lunch before heading back to Baltimore.
The first stop of the morning: The Fractured Prune, a Maryland-based franchise donut shop. I’m a sucker for a story and the story of the name for The Fractured Prune comes from the nickname of a hard-nosed, Baltimore woman who owned the original donut shop’s property in the nineteenth century. As the story goes, Prunella Shriek frequently competed with men in sports and though a tough competitor, she usually came out with a broken bone or two and was thus given the nickname “Fractured Prunella.” Story over. The donuts are served hot and hand-dipped to order. Treat yo’self! Get a half-dozen.
With donut filled bellies, we drove to Rehoboth to park and claim a spot on the beach. We were confronted with traffic and limited parking because the square was blocked for use as the transition zone for a triathlon. New plan: Watch the triathlon, and then go to the beach.
It was interesting watching people’s techniques in transition. It was also interesting to see the diverse array of people competing. Jordan and I watched the first male competitor, a long and lean guy in a Delaware tri-suit, rip out of transition and begin the run. Twenty minutes later, the crowd was roaring with cheers as he crossed under the finish arch on the boardwalk. Other athletes, none the wiser, continued to trickle into transition to rack bikes and begin their run. I really love this sport and cannot wait to delve deeper into it in the coming year.
As the race continued, Jordan and I moseyed to the beach, staked our claim, and ran to the waves. There were clear skies and no humidity. While waiting for suitable waves, we spotted dolphins about 100 yards away. They were slapping their tales and breaching. We watched them for more than fifteen minutes. In no time, we had to pack up, change, and head to lunch to meet Heather. I didn’t want to leave the beach, so I chose to keep the gritty sand on my sandaled feet as we walked to lunch.
Now, we could have allowed the monumentally awful camping experience and a restless night to define this weekend away. But, we chose not to. Things aren’t always as they seem. They aren’t always as we plan. Sometimes, plans will go completely awry. And that is okay. You always have a choice to make the best of a situation. This weekend we made the choice to say yes to the beach, and yes to sunshine, and yes to an enjoyable time- despite that which was stacked against it. I’m glad we did. Had we not, we would have missed dolphins, sunrises, bike miles, locally distilled gin, an end of summer tan, and hand-dipped donuts. So, I urge you too, to say yes to happiness and yes to experiences and yes to donuts because I’m certain you won’t regret it- especially the donuts.