8/8/03 - 8/10/03
4X4 ICON 2000 - 2008 The DVD!
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Steve Moore posted a message 7/28/03 on the OCC Group site expressing an interest in a trip to GWNF to do some wheeling and some fishing. Dave Bandel replied with a suggestion to go down to Assateague and do some surf fishing and wheeling. I didn't pick up on it right away, but eventually Carl Smith brought it to my attention. Knowing how much Maria likes the beach, and that we had not been wheeling on the beach since we went to OBX in 2001, it sounded like a great opportunity to combine a few of our interests into one trip. We could bring the bikes with the new bike rack, camp at one of the campgrounds, and hit the beach for a day or so. What's not to like?
Logistics turned out to be fairly involved. First I set about trying to book into the campgrounds on the beach. That met with abject failure as the season was sold out, and we were a little late to get anything that would work. As it turns out, I don't think camping on the beach would be the best choice for us this time out, so I found something a few miles away instead. Some time ago I had stumbled upon Pocomoke River State Park in my never-ending search for new places to legally go off road. I turned up the ATV trail system (Chandler ORV Trail System) they have there, and discovered that unless my Jeep could lose about 3400 pounds, it would not be allowed on the trails. Funny that the same park would come up again when searching for campgrounds.
Using the online reservation system, I did some poking around and booked a site in the Shad Landing section of the park, in the Blue Heron Loop, adjacent to the the bathhouse and water supplies. I passed the information along to Carl and Dave so that they could get nearby sites as well. Mark Long threw in with us a few days later, and our group was pretty much formed. The basic plan was to drive down on Friday, get the ORV Permit at the Ranger Station on Assateague, go check in and set up camp, do some bike riding, staging for Saturday (vehicle set-up and provisioning), and hit the hay.
With our lodging arrangements more or less settled, I turned my attention to the matter of the ORV Permit. The web site lays out the rules very well, where to buy it, how much it costs, and how long it stays in effect. I wanted to transact this online too but found that was not possible. I resorted to old-fashioned methods - the telephone. I called the Ranger Station (the National Seashore Camping office number) and spoke to Christy who faxed me a copy of the application. I produced an online version of it for use by our group, filled out a copy for myself, and stuck it in my map case.
I had to review my Jeep equipment to be certain that I had everything they called for:
Maximum number of wheels per axle 2
Maximum number of axles 2
Maximum vehicle length 26 feet
Maximum vehicle width 8 feet
Minimum vehicle ground clearance 7 inches
Gross vehicle weight rating may not exceed 10,000 pounds
In addition, all two-wheel-drive ORV's must have a minimum of 8" of tread width in contact with the ground. Tires are not acceptable unless they meet the width requirement.
Equipment Checklist : ORV operators in designated zone must carry and be able to display upon request:
A jack support at least 12" x 12" of non-bending steel, 5/8" plywood, or 1 ½" hardwood. (mine is plastic but I think it will be acceptable)
¾" minimum diameter for ropes (except nylon or dacron)
½" minimum diameter for nylon or dacron ropes
¼" minimum diameter for carbon steel cable
5/16" minimum diameter for chain links
Next I made a trip to my outfitter of choice and purchased a dining canopy. Nothing too fancy, just a few poles and a tarp to give us a place to get out of the sun or rain if things get too nasty on the beach. We can also use it for covering the picnic table at the campsite. While I was at it, I picked up some mosquito coils, a citronella candle, and another stuff sack for the sleeping bag that's missing one. I also got some picnic table cloth clamps. Maria grabbed some insect repellent wipes and sun-blocking lip balm. Just those little things that make life a little easier.
And of course I coordinated the trip plans with people who were planning to attend, while updating the itinerary as it developed. I researched and loaded the GPS data, including the waypoints and a route that hopefully will keep us on track until we become familiar with the area. Trips to new destinations, like this one, take a fair amount of planning for me to feel like I have covered the bases. There will always be something, but I feel pretty certain we are prepared.
After work, I kept the appointment I had made to have my tires rotated and balanced. I always include the spare in that activity. It never amazes me that the people doing the work try to hang the tire rotated into the spare position without balancing it. Like it wouldn't bother me if I got a flat and the spare wasn't balanced... I took the trouble to label the tires with what would be their new positions. I have taken to labeling them every 90 degrees because the technicians have a habit of wiping off the markings when they handle the tires to balance them. This goes well and soon the job is done. The tires are nearing the end of their useful trail life, and with winter approaching, most likely will be replaced before the end of September.
Next was the packing. This went pretty quickly for two reasons. First, the gear for camping is already organized, inventoried, and replenished following the last outing. I like to have it ready to go at a moments notice. One never knows what opportunity (or need...) will arise. I popped the cover on the two trunks, removed the kids little tent after getting their approval, and agreement that they would sleep in the big tent, and added the canopy that I bought, put the sleeping bag into the new stuff sack, and stowed the miscellaneous other things that we had picked up on our shopping trip last night.
The best part was the last part. I slid the bike rack into the receiver, loaded the bikes, and clamped them down. Done! Aggh! Loading the bikes for the last two trips was an ordeal. I had stacked them on top of the Jeep after loading everything else. It was not fun, and it was not pretty. Now, the bikes are neatly hung, and the roof rack is less cluttered. Of course the down side is the weight hung out behind the rear axle. Trade-offs...
Road Trip In
The plan was to drive out Route 50 to Route 113, then make a couple connections leading to Assateague where we planned to get the ORV Permit, and then backtrack and branch off to the Campgrounds. I got the form for applying for the permit and put it here. I filled out a copy and put it in my map case. Mark Long expected to meet with us near where Routes 95 and 50 join. Carl Smith is planning to leave later (~6:30 pm) and meet us at the campground. We started out OK and with quick stop to take care of some local stuff before we left. Then I realized that I had some unfinished business that would not wait and we made a side trip to Tyson's Corner. By the time we got done there it was about 11:30am. Mark had called to say he was at the meeting point. He decided to go along and meet us later down the road for a bite to eat.
We continued, met with some traffic at the Bay Bridge, but soon caught up to Mark, Gretchen and Max who had waited for us at the McD's in Easton. After we grabbed some food to take with us, we got back on the road and drove to the Ranger Station on Assateague. At the Entrance station we paid the $10 park fee, and watched while Mark negotiated with the gate keeper about why he did not need a fee for both vehicles (He towed Sunshine down behind the Grand and was just going in the park with both of them for the purpose of getting an ORV permit). He ended up with two passes but got one refunded at the counter in the Ranger Station.
The ORV Permit process was painless. They accepted our faxed copy of the form, cut it out and stapled it to the original, and took our money. In return we get 12 months of access and an attractive sticker for the front, driver's side bumper. We naturally could not wait to attach them to the vehicles... Now that we were officially registered to go on Assateague, we headed for the campground.
Pocomoke River State Park (Campground)
We had four sites reserved. I swung into the Campground office and got checked in. We also picked up food, drinks, firewood, and some goodies. We drove out and found our campsite, and set about putting the tent up and organizing everything.
I took the kids' bikes down and turned them loose. It kept them busy while we set up camp. Once the tent was set up, we went into Snow Hill, the nearest town north of the camp grounds. We stopped in at the Ledo pizza place and had a pleasant dinner. Then we went next door to the Dollar General. I soon found a large selection of die cast Jeeps. There were CJ7's and TJ's, and a Jeepster prototype. As is my habit, I got one of each color for my collection and then grabbed extras for Carl, Mark and Dave. The kids needed their own too, so I let them pick one out.
The store also had some food and convenience items. Maria got some bread and Hot Dog rolls, and I found a gag gift for Carl. It was a pair of broom holders that had self adhesive backing. They looked like little white d-shackles and I thought they would be fun to stick on his back bumper. While I was shopping, Dave called and asked for some twine. So I grabbed some for him. Then we headed back to camp.
We met up with Dave and his family. I passed on the twine and toys that I had gotten. They were pretty well set up and looked to be pretty comfortable. The kids all started playing together.
I decided to take a chance and remove the doors from the Jeep and put the side and rear windows away. The weather was not promising but I was hoping that it would not be so bad that running without doors and windows would still be pleasant... There seemed like a million and one things to do. I got everything set so that I could just turn on the stove in the morning and get everything cooking right away. In a moment of clarity, I also set up the large tarp over the tent just in case it rained. That paid off as later that night it did rain. The Jeep was open but since there wasn't much wind, the inside stayed dry. But it was a miserable night for sleeping as the air was very humid.
Just before we were ready to go to bed, Carl rolled in with his daughter and her friend Alexis. He got his tent trailer set up pretty quickly while we wrangled our kids to bed. Then I snuck over and stuck the "D-Shackles" onto his rear bumper and took a flash picture. I wasn't too worried about getting caught, but nobody came out to investigate.
We planned to have everything ready so that we could simply warm up some coffee while we get the kids ready, then leave the campgrounds by 7:00am for the drive to the Assateague ORV Entrance Station, planning to be there before 8:00am, in order to avoid being shut out of the ORV zone. As it turned out, the people at the Ranger Station told us that the AMSA group was going to be there so the beach would not have a vehicle limit enforced. That was good news, but I still wanted to be sure to get there early.
Carl discovered the "D-Shackles" when he was packing to leave for the beach. He knew I was the culprit. He left them on all day. I was relieved later when I finally figured I had better take them off in case the paint on his bumper might come with them... They came off cleanly and I was off the hook. Well until I get my payback...
We planned to line up at the ORV Entrance Station and wait to be admitted. Once inside the "zone", I wanted to drive down the beach a good ways (it is about 14 miles to the state line) and find a spot to set up for the day. The weather was not looking very good but since we had driven all the way down, it didn't make sense to stay at the camp site. We all hoped the beach would be better.
I suspected everyone would leave the campground together or very nearly so. That's pretty much how it worked out. We drove to the ORV Zone and found that there wasn't a line at all.
We stopped briefly to air down. I disconnected so that the ride would be a little better when we cross ruts, but I wasn't very worried about flex or traction. This stop proved to be a wake-up call.
The bugs were nasty! Maria and the kids quickly retreated to the Jeep but got little relief because the doors and windows were off... Bug spray was somewhat effective but the insects still hung around. Soon we were on the beach. It was pretty much as I expected it to be. There is a long expanse between the ocean and the protected dunes area that is open for driving. There are several pair of parallel ruts that people drive in. For the most part, people travel away from the entrance heading south using the ruts the furthest from the beach.
After getting the group back together and a brief stop just to look, we drove down the beach and through Camporee 2003, sponsored by the Assateague Mobile Sportfishermen Association (AMSA).
It was like something out of Mad Max. A huge colony had formed on the beach comprised of vehicles outfitted with campers and all manner of fishing gear. There were large crowds of people in one central area, a stage with PA, and all kinds of activities in progress, drinking not the least of them.
We agreed to stop once we got out of range of the crowded area and soon lined up at the high water mark. We set up a tarp between Carl and Dave's Jeeps and unloaded all our gear for the day. The weather was bright overcast with some periods where it got a little bit darker. Carl and Dave started fishing. Mark and his family continued down the beach. After Maria and the kids got settled in, I took off to drive down to the VA state line.
I took a couple of the side trails and found that the insects were waiting like muggers in a back alley waiting for drunks. As soon as I got out of the breeze from the ocean, the insects came out in huge swarms and attacked. I decided that I would have to come back with an enclosed cab if I wanted to explore these areas.
I continued driving down the beach, enjoying some music as I went. Soon I could see the Longs in the distance, stopped near the state line. I drove over and agreed to drive together back up to our spot.
During the ride back, we took turns taking pictures and movies of each other and making cracks back and forth on the CB. We also drove down a couple of the side trails for another look at the insects...
Longs Cruising Beach (Movie, 2161KB)
Paul Cruising the Beach (Movie, 6490 KB)
Paul and Longs Cruising Beach (Movie, 1339 KB)
Paul and Beach (Movie, 1140 KB)
Sideways view of rolling wheel on beach (Movie, 851 KB)
Longs cruising the Beach (Movie, 2329 KB)
When we reached the rest of the group, we parked and settled in for some sun. The sun never came. But the UV rays did. By the end of the day, Mark and Alexis had burned. The rest of us either had greater tolerance or, like me, had stayed out of the open sky most of the day, or wore protective clothing.
Tomi playing with his Dune Buggy (Movie, 2395 KB)
Somehow my kids managed to keep from getting burned. We had totally forgotten to put sunscreen on.
At some point during the day, the kids were busy playing so I asked Carl and Dave to kind of keep and eye on them, then invited Maria to drive the Jeep down the beach for a while. She took me up on it and we went for a nice ride - I think I saw her enjoying herself!
Amy Bandel taking a walk (Movie, 408 KB)
Maria Driving (Movie, 1406 KB)
Meanwhile, Carl and Dave were having a good-natured fishing derby. Carl would catch something, then Dave. I don't know all the fish that were caught but both of them caught quite a few sand sharks.
The kids were digging up sand crabs. There were also some construction projects going on, with the kids building holding tanks for the sharks, and dams to hold back the sea. As the tide rose, the projects were swallowed by the surf.
In the early afternoon, everyone decided to head back to camp, clean up and go to dinner. Dave and his family had decided to pack and drive home because of the weather. The rest of us settled on going to Ocean City for possible shopping and dinner. I put the doors and windows back on and we got the kids cleaned up and changed then took care of ourselves. We drove to Ocean City as a group and parked in the large parking lot at the south end of town.
Nobody knew of a favorite place to eat so I asked one of the locals who recommended Bahama Mama's. We walked a few blocks to get there and waited in line to be seated.
We got seats outside on the deck near the boat slips. The weather was looking threatening and Carl predicted rain within a few minutes (it held off for a couple hours). Still, we decided to chance it and ordered. The food was OK, although it took them an unacceptably long time to produce the crabs we ordered. By the time they came, everyone else had finished eating, and everyone but Mark and Gretchen had left the table. By then it was dark. Just as we finished eating, it started to rain. In my haste to leave for cover, I left my camera bag under our table and didn't realize I had left it behind until several minutes had passed. I was fortunate to find it where I had left it, complete with all contents, dry. That was one scare that I didn't need.
By this time the kids were pretty tired, and so were we. But if the kids had their way we would have gone to the "carnival" on the Board Walk. Maria and I just didn't have it in us to do it and paid the price for Teddy's frustration walking back to the car with him begging and screaming the whole way. We drove back to camp in the rain, thinking it would be a dismal night. But thankfully it was cooler and the humidity seemed a little more tolerable, if not any less damp. I started a fire with the two bundles of wood we had bought on Friday night. It took some doing but I managed to get a nice fire going. Maria and I sat for a while and relaxed before calling it a day.
I got up and cooked breakfast. Then I started to get stuff organized. We debated the best way to approach packing and going to the beach. We considered consolidating our stuff and putting it all in the tent to come back and pack up after going to the beach. In the end we decided to pack and check out, and go to the beach ready to hit the road.
I organized the stuff we would need on the beach so that it would be easy to access. We made another trip to the camp store and bought lunch stuff and more ice. The kids went and played a video game in the game room while I got the cooler organized and strapped on the rack.
I made a quick stop at the Dollar General in Snow Hill to pick up another die cast Jeep to replace the one that I had given to one of Dave's boys.
We drove up to the beach easily, aired down and disconnected. Mark and his family had found a spot just inside the entrance and were already catching some rays. We parked next to them and got a tarp set up between the two vehicles. After seeing how badly burned Mark and Alexis had gotten yesterday, I didn't want to take any chances.
We spent the day sitting around, playing with the kids, talking and eating. It was very laid back and therapeutic. The weather was nice for quite a while and I got a chance to play in the surf. I discovered that there was a shelf that drops off pretty severely where we were, and I could feel pretty strong currents. I'm glad the kids didn't venture too far into the water...
Instead, they spent their time digging holes to find sand crabs and watch the waves fill them with water. We played some silly made up games that only 4 and 6-year olds can concoct.
Pretty soon, the Longs decided they would head back home. They packed and left pretty quickly. I put up a tarp with some poles and line that I had brought for the purpose and we stayed for a few more hours.
Pretty soon it seemed like time to leave. So I gathered our stuff together and got it as cleaned up as possible. Packed everything on the roof rack and headed south down the shore for one last drive before hitting pavement. Now I know that some people will have a problem with this, but I decided to let the kids have a turn behind the wheel.
Each in turn, I put them in my lap and let them steer the Jeep down the beach. There was nothing to hit - no other vehicles; no buildings; no trees; and no cliffs. Traveling at under 20 mph there wasn't much risk of capsizing either. I don't think I have ever seen them smile so big. They had a great time "driving" and we shared a moment that I know I will remember.
When we had driven far enough to see the aftermath of the Camporee 2003, and the big 6X6's they had brought in to remove the trash, we turned around and drove along the high water mark back to the entrance.
By this time the tide had come in and the ocean was looking pretty agitated. We hit pavement and did some exploring to see how the beach campground looked. I think if we got one of those solar showers and a shower enclosure...
We saw a few more ponies and then got on the road for home.
The drive home was surprisingly uncomplicated. I stopped for gas then got on Route 50. In Salisbury we got off the highway and ate dinner at Denny's. It was pretty good; the service was far better than the night before. The kids were happy and revived. That was a mixed blessing. We got back on the highway and drove back home. It took us two hours from Salisbury and there were no traffic backups. The traffic wasn't even that heavy. Of course, considering the hour, the weather that weekend, I'm not too surprised. We had a great weekend, enjoyed our time with the Longs, Smiths and Bandels. The kids already want to go back. The ORV Permit is good for 12 months so stay tuned...
Dave Bandel's Pictures
Assateague State Park Map (PDF)
Assateague ORV Zone Map (jpg)
Assateague Island National Seashore (Home Page)
Off Road Vehicle (ORV) Permit Registration (html, reproduced form) (Word 2000 Document)
Off-Road Vehicle (ORV) Use (Info page)
Assateague Island National Seashore GPS Data
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