Brown Pelicans on a tidal flat in Chincoteague Bay


Challenge Weekend 2010

Last updated August 21, 2010



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Day One | Day Two | Day Three

I had been reading about the various feats Jack LaLanne has accomplished. He is not one to let age slow him down. Feeling inspired (and a little old), I decided it was time for me to push myself physically.

What to do? There are two things I've been wanting to do. One is to circumnavigate Chincoteague Island via kayak. The other is to do a century (100 mile) bicycle ride. With no better time than the present, I explored both options.

I did my kayaking preparation:
  • At Sea Kayak Cheseapeake Bay, I read a trip report from one kayaker who did what he measured as a 26.5 mile circumnavigation.
  • I acquired tide information from Tide Location Selection for Virginia.
  • I make campground reservations at Tom's Cove. This would also be my launch site.
  • I planned to paddle my S1-A surf ski. Hence, I invited Brian and T-Bear to join me. They are both highly competent and fast surf ski paddlers. I figured we would make a good team. Unfortunately, they both had other plans for that weekend.
  • I watched the weather closely.

  • I also did my bicycling preparation:
  • Since this was to be my first century ride, I chose a flat route...the ViewTrail 100.
  • I got a tune-up for my Trek 7200 hybrid.
  • I loaded up lots of high calorie, nutritionally dense meals. In other words, I packed meals ready-to-eat (MREs)...military rations.
  • I put together about 2 gallons of fluids comprised of half Gatorade and half water.
  • I packed my global positioning system (GPS).
  • I packed my Worcester County ADC map.
  • I got more than enough sleep.

  • Day One, Friday, August 13, 2010

    I left work a little early to ensure I would make it to Tom's Cove Campground before dark. I arrived with about an hour of daylight left. My campsite was B2. I asked for something near the boat ramp and by golly that is what they gave me. Only B3, B4, and B5 were closer. The site was small but big enough for me, my car, and my tent. The restroom wasn't far away.

    There was a good breeze that made setting up the tent a bit challenging but it also kept away the mosquitos...that is, until I went into the restroom where there is no breeze. Then I was attacked by numerous blood suckers. I also saw several insects about an inch long in the sink. I had never seen anything like them before and still have yet to identify them. There was a 1.25 inch long horsefly in the restroom also. I was not wanting to spend anymore time in there than I absolutely needed. Next time I will spray down before entering.

    I caught up on some reading and ate an MRE. A little later, my neighbors at B3 offered me spaghetti but I was done eating for the night. I was in bed by 2100.

    Day Two, Saturday, August 14, 2010

    I was up before 0600. But high tide at the north end wouldn't be until about 1400 so I spent the morning scouting for launch sites. I plan to return to this area in October with some friends so I wanted to have several good paddling options to present to them.

    Curtis Merritt Harbor
    First, I drove to Curtis Merritt Harbor. See first photo. This is a great place to launch if you want to explore Wallops Island, Toms Cove, or do a circumnavigation of the island. I mention the latter because if launching from either endpoint of the island, one will only need to time things with the high tide at the north end if launching from the south end OR the low tide at the south end if launching from the north end. Since there is no place to launch from the north end, this south end launch site is ideal for a circumnavigation. But even if that is not the goal, it is a good site. Lots of parking, no fee, and restrooms near the ramp. Unfortunately, no beach, but that never seemed to be an option with any of the places I explored.

    This place gives one access to big, open water...not little creeks. It seems like this might be a good place to look for dolphin.

    Power boats like this area so there may be a good bit of chop during the tourist season. So make sure your self rescue skills are good if you launch from here...or paddle with a buddy.

    Queen Sound
    My next stop was Queen Sound. See second photo. At first, this looked like another place to access big particular, Queens Sound Channel at Queens Sound Bridge. But further investigation reveals it gives one access to some creeks at Wallops Neck.

    South of the launch site is Shelly Bay and Sally Cove. These connect to Willis Creek and Squirrel Creek which don't look particularly interesting on the map. I believe these are just salt marshes and probably very homogeneous in terms of scenery.

    But on the north side of the bridge and to the west, one can access Cockle Creek after about 0.75 miles. Judging by the maps, this is the biggest creek in the area. I assume that it too might not be the most interesting place to paddle. But another 0.75 miles north and to the west is Mosquito Point which marks the mouth of Mosquito Creek. To me, this looks more interesting. The creek heads inland (west) for a good 4 miles though I don't know if it is all deep enough for paddling. Along the way, it turns into Little Mosquito Creek. Then, the main part veers south and becomes Wattsville Branch while a tributary on the north side is called Snead Branch. There are definitely trees once one gets to Little Mosquito Creek so the scenery won't be quite as consistent as it is our towards the bay. But don't expect to get too deep into nature. Little Mosquito Creek forms the north boundary of the National Aeronautical and Space Administration (NASA) Wallops Flight Facility. Not that this is necessarily bad. If you're lucky, you might witness something shooting off into space.

    On the return trip, one can take Mosquito Creek heading south to Cockle Creek then take Cockle Creek northeast. Three quarters of a mile south of the mouth will be the launch site.

    I believe this is a place worth exploring. In October, I expect I will launch from Queen Sound then kayak to Mosquito Point then go up Mosquito Creek to Little Mosquito Creek. On Little Mosquito Creek, I'll paddle upstream as far as I can go, exploring every tributary along the way. On the return trip, I'll continue south on Mosquito Creek to Cockle Creek then head back to Queen Sound. it is hard to say how long such a trip would be since I don't know how far I'll make it up the smaller waters but I'm guessing anywhere between 8 and 16 miles. Except for maybe 2 miles on the Sound and Cockle Creek, I expect the water to be quite flat.

    Assawoman Creek
    They say you're from Delmarva if you don't think "Assawoman" is a funny name for a creek. I still think it is funny, in a juvenile sort of way.

    My goal before reaching Assawoman Creek was to find a high resolution map of the area. Hence, I stopped at several gas stations and convenience stores to find something...preferrably an Accomack County, Virginia ADC map. Unfortunately, I was told that no such animal exists. So instead I made use of my low resolution Virginia Delorme map.

    I drove to the NASA Dock at Assawoman Creek. This is about 30 minutes south of Chincoteague. Sure, there are lots of places closer to launch from where we'll be staying...but I believe this place is worth the drive. See third and fourth photos.

    The trip up the creek is documented at "Virginia Department of Environmental Quality - Assawoman Creek" (broken link as of 2018). According to this site, it is about a 6.2 mile beginner trip. Judging by satellite photos, it looks like there are plenty of trees and great scenery. I definitely wouldn't want to miss this trip.

    One can also paddle downstream into Bogues Bay. This trip is mentioned at "NASA Dock to Wisharts Point Landing" (broken link as of 2018). It is rated as an intermediate/advanced route. But by Chesapeake Paddlers Association (CPA) standards, I'm guessing it is more of an advanced beginner trip. Not sure how interesting this would be. I would be more inclined to paddle down the creek to Womans Bay then towards the ocean at Assawoman Inlet before heading back. Combined with the trip up the creek, I reckon this would be a total of about 13 miles. Of course since this is an out and back trip divided into two halves, it would be easy to shorten.

    Wallops Pond
    I headed back to Chincoteague, pleased with my find at Assawoman Creek. Just off Chincoteague Road (route 175), I passed by what I thought was a scenic little creek. I pulled over to investigate. It was indeed scenic. See fifth photo. Unfortunately, instead of finding a creek, I found Wallops Pond. Maybe a good place for fishing and photography but unles you've got a recreational boat, you'll be done all too soon.

    NASA Wallops
    Next, I pulled into the NASA Wallops Visitor Center. I really wasn't expecting to find a place to launch. I just wanted to see what the place had to offer. But I was too early to enter the facility. Maybe I'll return in October. See Little Joe in the sixth photo. This rocket
    was used to test the Mercury spacecraft prior to manned flight. Monkeys Sam and Miss Sam [couldn't they think of a better name?] were launched from Wallops utilizing this rocket vehicle.
    - from sign at visitor center

    What surprised me is that there is a NASA Wallops launch site at the visitor center. Unfortunately, it is not open to the public. A shame. It if was, it would put one just a mile from Little Mosquito Creek.

    Fir Landing
    The last place for me to investigate before my circumnavigation was Fir Landing. This is perhaps the best place to launch on the island because it is sheltered and scenic. For this reason, the outfitters make good use of it. See seventh photo. The site gives one access to Little Oyster Bay.

    My recommendation is upon leaving the bay, paddle north and then clockwise around Morris Island. Once you get east of the island, hug the Assateague Island shoreline while kayaking south along Carrs Marsh. It is quite scenic in through here. Unfortunately, I don't think there is anyplace to stop. I think it is all protected/keep-out wildlife preserve lands. Continue under the Maddox Boulevard bridge until you are just past the Assateague Lighthouse. Then cross the channel, hug the other side of the shore, and head north, back to Little Oyster Bay via the Assateague Channel. The whole trip should be about 9.5 miles. In my opinion, this trip will satisfy your need to explore, do a little birdwatching, and see the island. It is easy to navigate, sheltered, and except possibly for the section nearest the bridge, there won't be too terribly much boat traffic...certainly not during the off season.

    Parking here can be a bitch so if you plan to stay overnight, consider getting some of your paddling buddies and staying at the Wild Heron. See eighth photo. From here, it is about 100 meters to the water.

    It was now time for my circumnavigation. I launched at 1100 from Tom's Cove. There was a considerable amount of boat traffic and the water was choppy. I tried to hug the shore to keep out of their way.

    The wind was blowing at 15 mph from the east. Since the open water is mostly north and south, the wind wouldn't be much of a problem.

    I paddled clockwise. For the first couple of miles, I was paddling against the tide.

    I rounded the southern tip then caught the flood tide which pushed me north in the Chincoteague Channel. Boat traffic was very heavy for about 3 miles. What made it challenging is that I couldn't get too close to the shore because of all the fishing lines. Sometimes I would encounter a fishing boat anchored which meant I had to get further out into the heavy boat traffic. I encountered up to 2.5 foot wakes. But it was fun. I was still fresh and enjoying the challenge. That's why I was paddling clockwise. I wanted to get the roughest part done first.

    After I got north of the route 175 bridge, boat traffic mostly died out. Rather than paddle through Lewis Channel and hug the shore, I ventured out into Chincoteague Bay. I was now paddling on the west side of tidal flats. They were comprised of a mix of sand, grass, and oyster shells. See ninth photo. I saw several brown pelicans (tenth photo). This is the first time I've seen them on the east coast. They looked smaller than their California cousins.

    Getting around the northern tip of the island, Wildcat Point, reminded me of the first few times I hiked Twin Bridges. See July 29, 2008 for my most recent hike there. Getting to the top is a tease in that it looks like it is just a short distance away but then once I get there, I realise it is further. This goes on for quite some time until I really do reach the top. Well Wildcat Point on Chincoteague is the same way. I kept thinking it was just after the next marsh, then after the next one, and so on. This went on for some time and my concentration started to fade. I checked my GPS and realized that I paddled past Chincoteague and was now at Assateague Island! So I had to backtrack. Now that I was facing south, it was obvious that I missed my turn. I'm thinking I paddled an extra 1.5-2 miles because of this.

    I was now kayaking south in the Assateague Bay, catching the ebb tide. I hugged the Assateague side which was more natural and scenic. Though I originally started out thinking I would make good time, I now felt it was best to enjoy the scenery and take a more casual pace. The place was full of egrets. I also saw numerous crabs swimming near the surface. I thought about how the crab population in the Chesapeake Bay has more than doubled over the last two years. See Bay Daily for more information.

    After paddling under the Maddox Boulevard bridge, the boat traffic picked back up again. But I was almost home.

    By 1530, I was done. I paddled 22.7 miles, averaging a mere 5.1 mph. I was hoping for at least 5.5 mph. I reckon that if I paddled through Lewis Channel and if I didn't miss my turn at Wildcat Point, I could have done it in 21 miles. I don't know how the fellow who wrote Sea Kayak Cheseapeake Bay did it in 26.5 miles. I was mentally prepared for up to 30 miles so this trip seemed pretty easy. But it was also fun. I just wish I had seem some dolphin. I've never seen any while kayaking.

    I spoke to my neighbor at campsite B1. He spent over 29 years in the army and had just retired 10 days ago. He said he has never seen so much boat traffic at the island as this weekend. But by October, he assured me there would be very little.

    Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge (NWR)
    After eating another MRE, I set out to do a little more exploring. This time, I headed out to Chincoteague NWR. The traffic out there was hideous. I really hit a busy tourist weekend. I think it had to do with the fact that the entrance fee to the NWR was waived for the weekend.

    I noticed that the NWR is very bicycle friendly. There are several paved bike paths that run parallel to the road but in the tree line.

    I stopped at one short trail but just long enough to read a sign. See eleventh photo. It seems there are a good number of short trails and places to explore in the NWR. I expect I will return with my bicycle in October and spend one day bicycling and hiking rather than kayaking. There is just sooo much to see and I want to get a well-rounded exploration experience.

    There were numerous large ponds on the island. They are very scenic and pristine. Unfortunately, one cannot paddle there being as they are protected...I guess that is part of the reason they are so pristine. But one can launch on the beach and in Toms Cove. Launching from the beach will put you out in the ocean where one can play in the waves. I believe one can launch into Little Toms Cove from Toms Cove Visitor Center which is on the south side of Beach Road, right before the beach. Call 757-336-6577 for info about the visitor center and launching. I believe there may be seasonal restrictions.

    On the way out, I stopped to photograph some egrets at Swan Cove, one of the places off limits to boats. See twelfth and thirteenth photos.

    A little later, I saw some wild ponies way our yonder.

    I ate another MRE and was in bed by 2030.

    Day Three, Sunday, August 15, 2010

    I woke up naturally at 0515. I was feeling pretty good about circumnavigating Chincoteague Island yesterday and that was a good way to start the day. I packed my tent in the dark then left. I headed north, back into Maryland. My goal for the day was to do a century ride on the ViewTrail 100.

    There are many places I could have started the ride. I didn't want to start where the directions state because I would waste too much morning sun driving so far north. Hence, I decided to start in Pocomoke City at Winter Quarters Golf Course Landing. This is a great place to launch on the Pocomoke River (see first and second photos) because it puts one just a mile downstream of Dividing Creek. I paddled this creek on June 21, 2009 and saw more snakes than I'd ever seen before while kayaking. In terms of narrow creek scenery, this is as good as it gets. Unfortunately, when I paddled it last year, we turned around after about 1.75 miles at Dividing Creek Road (route 364). I'm thinking I would like to do it again in October on the last day of my big kayaking weekend, but this time go considerably farther. I would bring a saw, loppers, and Ivy Block. Some portaging might be involved but I have no doubt it will be worth it.

    I started at 0710, biking the route heading clockwise. That is mainly because the directions are written for one heading clockwise. One reason I started in Pocomoke City is because I wanted to make sure the most difficult part of the ride was at the beginning, when I was still fresh. When I say "difficult" I don't mean physically. The hardest part of this ride is navigating. I studied the map before coming out here and I knew that the first few miles after leaving Pocomoke City were confusing. By doing this early, I would hopefully get through it easily. However, that was not the case. There was one section that took me three tries before I finally got on the right route. Ironically, my first choice was right but I doubted myself and thought I was wrong. The lack of road signs makes it all the more frustrating.

    Having made it through the worst part, I could now enjoy the scenery. There were lots of corn fields, soybean fields (third photo), and chicken farms. Unfortunately, there was also the smell of chicken farms. But there were also other birds...turkey vultures. I saw several, including many that seemed to think someone died in this house. See fourth photo.

    I had never done a century ride. The longest ride I had ever done previously was about 75 miles and that was 20 years ago! So I was taking it easy, drinking lots of fluids, and taking lots of breaks. But I wasn't intending to take so many breaks. I just had to stop frequently to check directions. Next time, I'll program all the turns into my GPS.

    The biggest morale booster in the ride was making it to mile 50. Even though that means I still have 50 miles to do, I know that I am halfway done and for me, mentally, that means a lot. I was also feeling pretty good at mile 50. Now I didn't have any doubt I wouldn't finish. It was just a matter of time.

    I made it to the northernmost part of the ride in Berlin. Up to now my ride had been pretty quiet. But there was quite a lot going on in the town. The atmosphere was festive. There were lots of folks out walking around and I heard music. I would have loved to stay and explore but I had to take care of first things first.

    I crossed the Pocomoke River at Whiton Crossing Road. This is 5 miles upstream of Porters Crossing Road. I've never paddled upstream of Porters Crossing Road and had been curious what the river looked like upstream. It actually didn't look too bad. Certainly paddle-able. Maybe I'll look into this more some other time. I got the feeling Chip might be willing to join me for such an adventure.

    I found an osprey tail feather...a mighty fine specimen. See fifth photo.

    I crossed over Nassawango Creek at Old Furnace Road. This land is part of the Nassawango Creek Preserve. I expect I will return someday to explore this, the Paul Leifer Trail, and the Old Iron Furnace which are all located at Old Furnace Road and Millville Road. While I'm at it, I should also check out the half mile Pusey Branch Nature Trail which is on the north side of Old Furnace Road just east of its intersection with Old Beech Road. The Pusey Branch is a tributary of the Pocomoke River.

    Around mile 72 I started to cramp up. I had been drinking nothing but a mixture of Gatorade and water. I was also eating salty snacks. But now I wish I had saved those salt packs from the MREs I ate earlier. If I rode at a moderate and consistent pace and took breaks, I was fine. But if I tried to go fast, I would cramp up. Also, the forceful jerk to free my shoes from the toe clips on the pedals made my legs cramp so I quit using the top clips.

    At mile 75, I biked past a house with a fairly large, muscular dog out front. He was looking at me in a not-so-friendly manner. I knew that if he started chasing me I would have to haul ass to get away. Then I would cramp up, not be able to pedal, and possibly get attacked by the dog. Then the dog started running after me. After running about 10 feet, the owner yelled its name and it stopped. Next time I will definitely bring salt packets.

    I was now riding through lots of trees. The shade was nice. It was also good to get away from the 9 mph southeast wind.

    Around mile 82, Norma called. She told me our neighbor passed away. We spoke for about 20 minutes. Though the news was sad, the break gave me enough time so that cramps were no longer a problem for the rest of the ride.

    I biked over Dividing Creek at Dividing Creek Road (route 364). I saw the section where we turned around last year when kayaking. It was still as pretty as ever. See sixth photo.

    I reached mile 100 after 9 hours. But keep in mind that much of this was spent stopping to read maps, take photos, eat, and talk on the phone. I think if I did this again I would shoot for 6.75 hours.

    But I still wasn't done. I had another 6 miles to go...probably because I wasted so much time taking wrong turns. I finished after 9 hours and 35 minutes. My moving average was 12.6 mph and my overall average was a mere 10.8 mph.

    Except for those 10 miles where I was having problems with cramping, I felt pretty good. My butt was sore but that's to be expected. I don't think I would want to ride more than 100 miles but I would certainly want to ride that distance again but faster, or perhaps over a more challenging route.

    I stopped in at the Pocomoke City Pizza Hut where I ate two-thirds of a large meat-lovers pan pizza and drank about a quart of Diet Pepsi. I can't remember the last time food and drink tasted so good.

    It felt good to accomplish my goals over the self imposed Challenge Weekend. I'm already thinking of what I can do next year. Perhaps it will involve paddling the Pocomoke River from Porters Crossing Road to the Pocomoke Sound. Or maybe circumnavigating Saint Michaels with a portage across the isthmus. I've got plenty of time to think about it.