Eastern Shore of Virginia

June 17 -- The first thing we did when we got off the ferry at the town wharf in Onancock is walk next door to Southeast Expeditions, an outfitter for folks who want to explore creeks and bays on the Eastern Shore by kayak.  A tan guy named Bill Burnham was out front cleaning off boats when we arrived.  As we chatted about my trek across the state, he mentioned that he and his wife, Mary, have also been doing a lot of hiking across the state.  They have been updating their travel book, Hiking Virginia. Heck, that was one of the books I checked out of the library as I prepared for this trip!  You just never know who you'll walk into next.
Colonial Manor Inn
We got some good advice from Bill about where and how to kayak out to one of the barrier islands after we walk across the mainland of the Eastern Shore (more about that later). Without knowing any good options for camping within walking distance, we treated ourselves to a stay at Colonial Manor Inn.  Roughing it, I know.  In the evening, my parents drove in to join us for the last leg of the adventure (and to give us a ride back home at the end).  Breakfast the next morning was an expedition in itself! A bountiful spread of sausage, and pastries, and bread pudding.  I tell you what - a welcome break from half-cooked oatmeal.

We rolled ourselves out of the inn and onto the road for a fifteen mile walk ahead of us from Onancock on the bay side to the little town of Quinby on the sea side.  Once I digested a little, I felt footloose and fancy free without a full backpack (the benefit of having a car to leave stuff in).  Mom, Dad, Ryan, and I rambled out of Onancock on a gorgeous day.  Back in March when we'd had unseasonably hot weather at home,  I had often pictured this part of the trip in late June as an unbearable sweat-fest on hot asphalt.  And here we were in the mid-70s, dry air, gentle breeze, and blue sky.  I couldn't have wished for better (although Ryan still would have liked more clouds to block that pesky sun).


Melfa's Town Hall
Down the road through Savageville, then Little Hell, Melfa, and Wachapreague, we walked through the land of memorable place names.  It would have been nice to have someone along who knew stories behind them.  Unfortunately, I had trouble connecting with those who I had hoped to meet on the Shore, perhaps in part because we were coming through on a weekend.  But we still were able to take in the scenery - scattered houses along straight, flat roads and then across bustling Rt. 13, the main thoroughfare for traveling up and down the peninsula.  Cars zipping down the highway, gas stations, and chain stores were a far cry from the rest of our route that day.  We rested and ate lunch under a towering oak tree at Oak Grove Methodist Church, with only three or four cars passing by during that time.  The church's claim to fame is that is has the oldest continuously running Sunday school in the nation (though clearly not the largest).  We went inside just to look, since the door was open, and saw beautiful curved wooden pews and stained glass and fans hanging down from the ceiling.  I've since learned that the church was built in 1871 and the average age of the small congregation is 74.

Oak Grove Methodist Church near Melfa
New lab at VIMS in Wachapreague
Town wharf in Wachapreague.
We walked through Wachapreague, which is among other things the home of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science's Eastern Shore Laboratory.  I had visited VIMS once before when my friend, Rachel Michaels, was doing  her PhD research on the relationships between fiddler crabs, plant growth, marsh elevation, and sea level rise.  VIMS not only does an incredible amount of research in the Chesapeake Bay and in the coastal bays of the Shore, but is also very active in helping to restore oyster beds and other fisheries that have diminished over decades in these waters. 


Technically speaking, my first glimpse of the Atlantic waters was there in Wachapreague.  But the salt marshes, coastal bays, and barrier islands all buffer this mainland and the view to the open ocean.   I was closing in on the end of the trek, but not quite there yet.  One more day before I will have really gone from mountain to sea.


Seaside marsh in Wachapreague with barrier islands beyond.

Atlantic Ave, but not the open ocean yet!
Dad, pondering the disappearing pier.
It was another five miles south down a skinny neck of land to get to the little town of Quinby where we found a place to spend the night at the Fisherman's Lodge.  The house sits right next to the town's wharf, so we walked down to see the sun set and the tide come in.  A weird thing happened. In the fifteen minutes or so that we stood there, the tide had come up covering several piers and partly inundated the last one.  We couldn't tell if the pier had been built too low, or if the sea was rising higher than expected.  From what I've heard, it's not unlikely that it is the latter.  Virginia is getting a little smaller than it was...and the Atlantic is getting a little closer.

Dipping my toe into Upshur Bay at Quinby.



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