This trip is in honor of several April birthdays, including mine and Jack’s. We’re off to go camping with Mary and John (Mary has an April b-day, too) over to Virginia Beach, to stay at First Landing State Park. Our first stop along the total 6-ish hour drive was an overnight at our fave southern Virginia campground, North Bend (about 3 hours drive from home). Followers have heard about our excellent experiences over the years at North Bend, and this was no exception, even if it was too short (one night). We didn’t even unhitch or take the bicycles off the rack.
But we did go to have a look at the unserviced site, along the same peninsula into Kerr Lake, that we reserved for our return west again—at that point, we’ll be meeting up with Alto trailer friends, and doing a “boondock” for a 3-night stay with them. It is a lovely site, #117 at the end of the peninsula, with a nice park bench situated so a body can watch the sun set. Our friends will be across the small road on a similar but east-facing site.
We decided to try out the park bench. As we sat there, unwinding from our drive, we saw an eagle fly into a tall pine across the inlet. The Canada geese below had a bit of a heart-attack when it flew over, because one of the pair was sitting on a nest (could see all this with binoculars). The one not incubating the eggs was in the water, and it honked and splashed around, getting big and mean when the eagle flew overhead; but then it settled when the predator perched and stayed put for a while (despite being harassed by crows).
Our outbound site, #114, has pretty robust cell service, but down at #117, it’s truly magnificent. Among the purposes for this trip is to de-winterize Roomba, so when we got to North Bend, we spent some time at the dump station. Before leaving, Jack had filled the fresh water tank, and flushed all the antifreeze into the gray waste tank. Then he refilled the fresh water tank and dosed it with some Clorox, so that would get some good sloshing around on our drive to North Bend. Then, before even seeing our campsite, we dumped the gray tank and ran the fresh water tank empty again; filled it again, and dumped everything again. It took a while, but it was the middle of the day and there weren’t too many rigs there on a Tuesday, so we didn’t create any long waiting lines.
Narrow entry to back into.
Sunny now, but soon to be more shady.
While the site has full hookups, we opted for only the electricity, as we wanted to have one more flush of the system before we used any site’s water hookups. Around 6P, we had a dinner of pesto pasta and a salad, and listened to some more of our audiobook (the next in the “Department Q” series, called The Scarred Woman) before hitting the hay.
The next day (April 11) we set out for Virginia Beach by about 10A. Things were fine until we got close to the Suffolk/Chesapeake/VA Beach metroplex, where we found some construction that backed up one lane onto the “Outer Loop” of Interstate 64, as everyone including us tried to exit from I-64 onto I-264 East. Other than that one long crawl to the exit, it was the best way to go. I-264 ends up ending as a highway and becoming the last city street before you “T” into Pacific/Atlantic Ave. along the shoreline at VA Beach. Turn left there and First Landing is just a few miles north, around the curve into the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay, and thus to our spot, #181.
The site is tight but cozy and discreet except at our bumper end.
Roomba from the dune, on the northwest, toward the Bay.
We took our time nesting and setting up, figuring out how best to occupy our very small (intimate) site. But things worked out and we put the picnic table under the screen house, which is arranged at the hitch-end of the trailer. Unfortunately, there are no trees here big enough to hold our hammocks, but over the dune to the west is a flat, sandy area like a private sunning area. We’re a goodly distance from the water, and don’t want to walk over the dunes to get there anyway, but there are boardwalks arranged strategically for campers to use to get to the water.
The bath house here offers 4 private showers, but the toilets and sinks are commonly-accessed, with the men’s on one side and the women’s on the opposite. Between the two sides, where the showers are, is a generous amount of space for washing dishes—two sinks (but no drain stoppers) and a long counter for putting your dishes.
Somewhere in the midst of set-up, a couple walking a pretty dog happened by and they hailed us as fellow Alto owners. We had driven past their 1743 model without seeing it, but they’re just down the road a bit from our site.
Michel and Claudette are from Quebec, and we’ve become familiar with their names from our Alto owners group on Facebook. Michel has some Scottish background, and he and Jack got to talking malt whiskey, so after dinner (grilled tuna steaks & zucchini, with rice) we got together in our screen house to share. It was a chilly but very fun night, and putting 3 panels on the windward side of the screen house kept things from getting too terribly cold.
We enjoyed talking of travels, and plans, and cultures far into the night. By the time we actually called it an evening, both Jack and I were chilled to the bone and Roomba’s insides felt even colder than outside, so we turned on the heat pump—even though the outside temps were in the 40s. We slept well at the end of a long, fun day, looking forward to bicycling and seeing John and Mary when they arrive tomorrow.
Our final night at Kiptopeke Saturday, April 22) was quite a bit different from what we had expected. For one thing, most everyone in the park quickly broke camp and left. It was windy and the night was supposed to be rainy, but what did they know that we didn’t?
So I think I mentioned that Jack spent a lot of the day packing up things we knew we would not need. Due to the wind, we elected to pack up the awning, too, leaving no where to grill our pork chops for a final-night-at-a-site dinner. So we put together some sandwiches and ate indoors, listening to more of the Jussi Adler-Olsen book we’ve been listening to in the car since we left Meadows of Dan.
Due to this fact, the packup to leave for Belle Isle State park near Kilmarnock, VA was quick and easy on the morning of Sunday, April 23. Also of note, is that the Kiptopeke State Park campground does NOT have a dish-washing station at the bathhouse, but a big bonus is that they DO HAVE sewer at every electric site in the park. Very nice feature. We only had to back up a couple of feet to dump our gray tank, and we were away (after waving goodbye to our killdeer neighbors, steadfastly sitting the nest in the rain, but the wind had died down and there was nothing near flooding levels of precip).
I mention all this because there is absolutely nothing to say about our transfer to the new campground, since travel went perfectly, and the wind was not scary at all as we crossed the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel.
Once we arrived, however, our reserved site (#3, which we highly recommend) was occupied. My only complaint about anything about Virginia State Parks is that sometimes we find that the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing. The Ranger where we checked in said #3 was still occupied, as the folks there had not yet checked out. The Camp Host, however, came by and assured us #3 didn’t have anyone there, and we could drive right in, even though it was a little after noon. Secondly, on one piece of paper it says check out is 3PM, where another (and the internet) says it’s 1PM. No wonder staff and volunteers are confused (not to mention campers).
The folks already there in site #3 showed exactly zero signs of moving out, and in fact were nowhere to be seen when we set up shop to sit a while and “encourage” them to get on the stick (by parking nearby and glaring at them — naw, just kidding on the glaring part. We did, park nearby and watch, though). Luckily, it was a pop-up, thus a relatively simple break-down process, and once they began, it was only about an hour before they pulled out.
Speaking of the internet, the reservation system is rather Byzantine, too, when we come to niggly complaints. All we wanted to do was to change up our reservations for the upcoming weekend. For example, what we intended to do was to grab 3 extra days at park Y by transferring our current PAID days (the SAME DAYS mind you) at park Z over to park Y, and basically, cancelling our stay at park Z. But the sequence in which you reserve and cancel is critical to the SYSTEM. If you feel like, logically you want to secure the site you’ve already got a couple of days reserved at park Y by adding the extra days onto that site-specific reservation (before someone might take it and you end up having to break camp and move to a different site during your stay), and you enter the reservation system to do so—but the helpful person on the other end (all of whom are invariably nice and quite helpful) neglects to understand the full scope of your needs—and you begin by reserving more time at park Y BEFORE you cancel the time at park Z . . . . well, let’s just say those days won’t transfer in that order. You MUST do it in the reverse order to save a buck or two.
We did secure the extra time, and did manage to cancel the days at the park we didn’t want, but we had to pay both a NEW registration fee AND the cancellation fee; instead of making it a seamless transfer of the same paid days to a different location. **sigh**
Belle Isle is a lovely State Park, with big, flat, roomy sites with plenty of brush between sites. There are some really pristine pull-through sites, although they’re not as shady as the others (not an issue during our stay, but in the summer? Might be a factor). Another really nice, deep-set back-in site is #25. That one might be a good grab next time we come. The bathhouse is modern and clean with both a laundry and a dish-cleaning station; and the showers are each private rooms off the back. The fire pits are well-positioned far from where you might want to stake a guy line or erect a screen house.
And we took advantage of just such a fire on our opening day, once we finally managed to get in. The rain held off until we were set up, which was wonderful. But then began just after our Billy-Boil cooked Lebanese Chicken Stew dinner, enjoyed by the fire (the temperatures were chilly, too), and as the firewood was no longer in need of constant attention to stay lit. We watched it turn to embers from the screen house until it got too cold to sit outside, and then we retreated to our heated Roomba.
It’s been raining ever since.
We believe we would really love to explore this park, because, near as we can tell through the rain and fog, there are tons of bicycle-friendly trails out and about, some even heading down to the Rappahannock River. But at this point, we have not off-loaded our bikes from their rack and waterproof cover.
Instead, we went exploring by car on Monday, April 24. Driving in with Roomba on set-up day, we had seen exactly one grocery store. On Monday, we figured we’d make that our last stop before heading back with the hope of clearing weather. We first drove to Kilmarnock (the locals call it “Kill-mar-nogh” in which the final “ock” is sort of swallowed at the end). That was where the grocery store and a likely lunch place was. Since it was still early when we passed through on Monday, and we’d had good hearty steel-cut oatmeal breakfast and weren’t hungry yet, we drove through and down by back roads to Irvington, where the Tides Inn Yacht resort is.
We noted some damage to numerous trees in that neck of the Neck, guessing that the recent “Snowmageddon” storm might have been the culprit. But the yachts all seem to be fine.
From there we ventured out to where the mouth of the Rappahannock River meets the Chesapeake Bay, at a place called Windmill Point. Here’s what the historic marker says about Windmill Point:
During the War of 1812, the British blockaded the Chesapeake Bay and sent raiding vessels up the rivers and creeks to plunder and destroy property. The lookout at Windmill Point (about a mile east [of this marker]) on Fleet’s Island reported that on 23 April 1814, the enemy “landed near Windmill (Point) or North Point (about 2 miles northwest) and plundered a poor man . . . of a boat, everything he was worth.” A detachment of the 92nd Regiment of Lancaster Militia posted in the vicinity fired across a creek nearby and drove the British back to their ship. This was the final raid of the War of 1812 in Lancaster County.
And here’s the one about Fleete’s Island:
Henry Fleete was born about 1602 in Kent, England and moved to Jamestown, VA, in 1621 Fleete was seized by the Anacostan Indians during a trading expedition and held for five years. He learned their language and after his release in 1627, became a negotiator for the Virginia and Maryland colonies. Fleete helped establish Maryland in 1634 and served in its General Assembly from 1635 to 1638, and in the Virginia House of Burgesses from 1652 to 1661. He established the boundaries of Lancaster County when it was created in 1651. In May 1661, Fleete died and was buried at his home here on Fleete’s Island.
Not too far from these two markers, where the road ended, I hopped out and grabbed a couple of photos of the Mouth of the Rappahannock on one side of me, and the Chesapeake Bay on the other.
The return drive held a few photograph-able views, but the rain was like a spigot that a 2-year-old was playing with: sometimes heavy, sometimes light, sometimes just barely sprinkling. The sky was uniformly gray, however.
In the biggest, first photo above, you can see two blue herons that startled near the road as we drove past, one lower left and one high middle-right.
Headed back to Kilmarnock and drove around a while to find the local hang-out: Lee’s Restaurant (how wrong could be be?).
I’d already thought that a warming lunch of soup and a sandwich would be just the ticket, and Lee’s is where we found it.
By the time we’d returned to camp, the rain was worse than ever, so again we retreated to listen to our book for a while, and later, prepped, cooked, and ate the long-delayed grilled pork chops and grilled corn on the cob, accompanied by wild rice. As you’ve probably noticed, eating is a mainstay of our travel experience, and we usually do it up right.
Hoping for a bit of clearing tomorrow, although the prospect is not great, but better for Wednesday, when we move on to Powhatan State Park near Richmond. Maybe if we, like our predecessors in site #3 observe a 3PM checkout, we might get a cycling tour in before we leave. Otherwise, we’ll just have to return to explore further.
We rode up to Cape Charles and then back down to the end-of-peninsula wildlife refuge, actually a reclaimed Army post, called the Eastern Shore National Wildlife Refuge (you might remember we saw a gateway to this refuge back when Jack and I first landed on this side of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel – I think that was April 13).
Anyway, we found a way to get up to Cape Charles that did not involve any riding along the busy artery, Route 13. We crossed the busy road a couple of times, but we mostly headed north and then south again along Rt. 600, or Seaview Road. We discovered later that this used to be the road that was the primary north/south travel route.
For us, however, it was lovely and traffic-free (just about), although the day had turned quite hot for a change. We saw several interesting things, and once we got back across to Cape Charles, we had to climb “the hump” as we discovered the highest bridge was called by the locals (and over which we’d driven to obtain our dinner last night at the Shanty). One of the locals said that it had been built for the time when Cape Charles was a rail hub, and no one could cross the tracks on the ground, they were so busy. So rather than allow residents and visitors to sit in long lines of traffic to get to the beach, the town fathers built this high bridge over the rail tracks.
Today, the hump is no longer required, but has become a landmark.
We toured a bit through the shopping district, which has fun and quirky shops and restaurants. We saw a place called The Dacha Russian Tea Room, and another called Deadrise Pies (pizza). There was a local market for veggies and other fresh stuff, and lots of art galleries and gift shops. Bistros with on-street seating and fancy looking restaurants dotted the long main road.
Ending up at the public beaches, I walked along a boardwalk while Jack minded the bikes, just to see what I could see, and the beaches were surprisingly vast, clean, and fun-looking. Not having brought along the kite on the bicycles, we found that that beach would have been the perfect place to fly it. Maybe next time.
The last photo is a pair of osprey – one on the nest and one perched above.
At the boardwalk and the beach intersection, we found a Virginia Is for Lovers “LOVE” sign, and a very interesting (but somewhat deteriorated) info sign about a meteor impact that elevated the geology of Cape Charles so that it’s higher than much of the surrounding land.
Here’s what the info signboard said:
A meteor/comet two miles wide crossed paths with Earth 35 million years ago. Moving at a speed of 21 miles per second, it crashed here, at what is today the town of Cape Charles, creating the Sith largest impact crater on Earth.
The meteor blasted into the shadow sea that covered the state’s eastern half and exploded with more force than the combined nuclear arsenal of today’s world powers. Rock flew skyward, bedrock fractured seven miles deep, and enormous tsunamis raced westward to the tops of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Melted rock splashed upward in the center, hardening into a central peak nearly a mile tall, which is directly under Cape Charles. Over the centuries, sediment and debris have filled in the crater, and what is now called the Chesapeake Bay lays over much of it today.
Although the crater is not visible today, small earthquakes occasionally rock its fault lines, and two low ridges appear to mimic its contours far underground. One of these can be seen near the town of Painter, northeast of Cape Charles. The other is just east of Gloucester Courthouse on the western side of the Bay.
We spent a bit more time cycling around the neighborhoods of the town, with some really lovely old homes and others that were works-in-progress. We both commented on the fact that so many of the old places appeared to be getting renovations rather than being torn down to make way for something bigger and inappropriate (as happens in Jack’s old neighborhood in Hampton, VA).
Later we found a picture and information board about the famous Cape Charles lighthouse, but were interested to see that the community had designed their public water tower to appear as if it’s a lighthouse. Very clever.
We also found it rather odd that so many people park their boats in the streets. Later, we saw boats parked in a variety of strange places.
Town of Cape Charles Historic Marker
The Town of Cape Charles was founded in 1884 by Alexander Cassatt and William L. Scott as the southern terminus of the New York, Philadelphia & Norfolk Railroad. The extension of tracks south from Maryland to Cape Charles opened the northeastern markets to Eastern Shore seafood and farm produce. Using railcar barges and passenger steamers, the new port established a link to Norfolk. Cape Charles enjoyed rapid growth and soon became the commercial and residential center of Northampton County. The old town historic district, with its many Victorian-style residences, is listed on the Virginia Landmarks Register and the National Register of Historic Places.
But Cape Charles is a small place, and if you’re not eating, swimming, sunbathing, or shopping, there’s not much to see. So we retraced our steps to the Eastern Shore National Wildlife Refuge, which, as I mentioned, was once an Army Base.
The Visitor Center (2.5 miles along the bike path) was open for about 10 minutes when we got there, and the docent behind the desk was a native, and it was from him that we learned about “the hump” and Rt. 600, and so many other tidbits about the area. We kept them a bit long past their closing hour, looking around at the kid-oriented displays in the Center, but the guy recommended that we take the time to follow the Butterfly Trail down to the Big Gun. After sharing a granola bar, we did just that.
16 inch/50 Mark VII Gun #393
The 16 inch gun barrel, designated U.S. Navy Mark VII #393, was mounted in the rear gun turret aboard the famed battleship USS Missouri and saw extensive action during WWII. The USS Missouri is best known for the Japanese surrender ceremony held on board in Tokyo Bay on September 2, 1945.
This barrel is 66.6 feet long—50 times its 16-inch bore, or 50 calibers. Each gun weighted 239,000 pounds (267,900 lbs. with the breech). The built-up gun is constructed of liner, tuibe, jacket, three hoops, two locking rings, tube and liner locking ring, yoke ring and screw box liner. The gun had two main projectiles – armor piercing (AP) Mark 8 – weighing 2,700 pounds and 72 inches tall, containing 40.9 pound burning charge, all of which needed 660 pounds of propellant; and its smaller sister shell – high capacity (HC) Mark 13 – weighing 1,900 pounds and 64 inches tall, containing 153.6 pound bursting charge.
The gun barrel was taken off the Missouri during the Korean War when the ship was refurbished. The gun barrel was put into storage at St. Juliens Naval Annex in Chesapeake, VA, for possible re-use. But it was never remounted and lay in the yard alongside eight other battleship gun barrels for 55 years. When the U.S. Navy phased out its last battleships in the 1990s, the spare guns at St. Juliens (and others at Hawthorne, NV) were eventually declared surplus and were put up for sale as scrap.
The USFWS, however, worked closely with DOD to save this barrel for display at the Refuge. Gun #393 was selected for preservation because of its historic association with the USS Missouri.
About the USS Missouri (BB-63)
The USS Missouri, a 45,000 ton Iowa class battleship built by the NY Navy Yard, was commissioned on June 11, 1944. She spent the remainder of ’44 preparing for combat, transiting to the Pacific in November, and arriving in the war zone by January of 1945.
Missouri supported the Iwo Jima invasions, the Ryukyus campaign and raids on Japan’s home islands. In May, she became the Third Fleet flagship and was the site of the September 2, 1945 Japanese surrender ceremony that ended WWII.
Following the end of hostilities, Missouri returned to the US, participating in a naval review at New York in October 1945. In March 1946, she went to the Mediterranean on a diplomatic mission. Through the rest of the 1940s and into 1950 the battleship operated extensively in the Atlantic area. She was the centerpiece of a grounding incident off Hampton Roads, VA, in January 1950, but was quickly repaired and returned to service.
Missouri was the only US battleship on active duty in June 1950, when the Korean War began, and made two combat deployments to the Western Pacific. Following that action, and several training cruises to Europe, she decommissioned in Feb. 1955. For the next three decades, she was ion reserve at Bremerton, WA, and became an important tourist attraction. All four Iowa class battleships were reactivated ub the 1980s, with Missouri recommissioning in May of 1986.
Her next 6 years were busy, including (among other activities) a cruise around the world and a combat role inn the 1991 Persian Gulf War. She decommissioned for the last time in March 1992. Stricken from the Naval Vessel Register in 1995, Missouri was transferred to Pearl Harbor, HI in June 1998 to be come a memorial.
We rode along a bit farther to an “overlook” and found low tide and a long, low tidal flat. There we discovered this info plaque about the Cape Charles lighthouse.
Having gotten seriously tired and hot (although we both were drinking good quantities of water) we decided to go by pavement back to the cut-across-Rt13 road along a part of 600 that we’d turned off from to get to the wildlife refuge. There I saw this old boat full of plants at the edge of a hay field.
We finished off with a long cool-down sit in the tree house with fans blowing, a shower, and a nice Leftover Queen’s Royal Salad (with a bit of everything in the fridge thrown in). Checked into the general health and well-being of our killdeer neighbors, and called it an early night.
Cycling stats: 34.5 miles, during 3 hours of ride time, at a 12 MPH pace.
Not much to say about Saturday, Earth Day, because it was raining and blowing, or getting ready to do so, most of the day. So I caught up with blog posts and Jack filled the car with fuel, and found a Custis historic marker (below), then got the groceries for our travel-time BillyBoil stew for tomorrow night. As the wind was getting fiercer, he pretty much broke camp on the outside, and since the awning really needed to come down, we changed our dinner plans from pork chops on the grill to sandwiches. The rains have come and we’re snug inside Roomba and pretty ready for an early departure in the morning to get to Belle Isle State Park.
We awoke on Wednesday, April 19, to 48 degree weather, with a serious overcast. The weather apps, however, said that there was no chance of rain.
Jack had investigated the options for a ferry ride to Smith Island, just off the tip of Crisfield, along the Chesapeake Bay a ways. We’d heard that there were no cars and only golf carts on the island, and folks reported that it was a good place for cycling.
Evidently, one family owns most of the concessions involving Smith Island, and Jack happened to talk to Captain Terry when he called. Bikes are allowed, and it’s $25 apiece round-trip, and he left the Crisfield harbor at 12:30 sharp. Jack asked if there was anything open on the island where we might be able to grab a bite, and he said sure (turns out it also is a family business).
Anyway, we rode to Crisfield, bundled up with our rain jackets and with our long pants stuffed into our socks to keep them out of the chain, and when we arrived about 3 miles later, we were confused because there were 3 boats that had “Captain Jason” in their names, and we were unsure which one we might board.
All 3 Jasons were headed to Smith Island, and one larger boat, that took aboard lots and lots of freight and mail and FedEx/UPS packages while we watched, was headed to Tangier Island.
The front-most Jason was being loaded with construction materials by a man and a woman, and we finally spoke to them and discovered their boat was going to the part of the island (actually, there are several) that had a town called Tylerton, where they lived (and obviously were building). They said we wanted either of the brothers, captain Larry or Terry, depending whether we were headed to Rhodes Point or Ewell. Clueless, we wandered through some of the options with her, and she decided we wanted Ewell, where there is a restaurant and a museum, and therefore we wanted Captn’ Terry. She pointed him out sitting in a pickup and he waved at us. And she said we were wanting the red Jason.
Shortly, a gaggle of women approached and spoke with Captn’ Larry for a while, and then the first mate showed up for the red Jason, and we later learned his name was Hoss, and he’s a fine artist working in acrylics, does water analysis for NOAA, and digs graves on Smith Island when he’s not helping brother Terry out on the ferry line. Hoss could fast a boat quicker than I’d ever seen before.
The ladies were part of a book club, and they all lived in DC, on capital hill, specifically. Their group had read a series of essays on the Eastern Shore, and Smith Island figured prominently in those writings, so the four of them decided to take a day trip to experience it for themselves.
Hoss was a fine gentleman who knew quite a lot about the life and times of Smith Island, being as he lives there. The gaggle of book clubbers (who were all intending to participate in the March for Science on Saturday, April 22; and who had all been at the Women’s March on January 21) asked Hoss a lot of questions and we all received the benefit of his lore.
12:30 sharp we set out for the island, passing a few (but not many) points of interest. It also appeared to me that the three Jasons plus the boat going to Tangier were all racing to see which might arrive first, with the construction materials boat leaving the dock considerably after the rest of us. The Tangier boat peeled off pretty quickly, but Captains Larry and Terry vied for the channel to their respective parts of Smith Island for a while, with Larry usurping our lead.
In the photo above, White Jason is far left with the Tangier boat and Larry’s Jason to the right as we left Crisfield.
There are various small islands out in the bay, including a sand bar with a lone chimney on it that Hoss said had been a seafood processing plant back in its day, but the water came along and cut it off from the mainland of Crisfield, so it was abandoned and all blown out into the bay, with only the chimney remaining.
Next we saw a tumble-down wreck of a structure that Hoss said had been a gun emplacement during WWII, when folks thought the Bay needed protecting from invasion.
As we approached the Ewell dock, our pace slowed and Hoss pointed out a flock of wild goats that occupy one finger (or one separate island?) of the Smith Island complex. He explained that they went feral many years ago, and the human population just lets them be.
We docked and disembarked to a place that looked like it was in dire need of a little TLC.
Here’s what the historic marker about Smith Island said:
Maryland’s only remaining inhabited offshore island group, named for early land owner Henry Smith. Charted by Captain John Smith in 1608 as “The Russell Isles,” English farmers John Evans and John Tyler came via Accomack County Virginia to become the first permanent settlers in 1686. During the Revolutionary War, the British used the island as a base of operations. Once the home of Joshua Thomas, famed Methodist evangelist who held the first camp meeting on the island.
The “museum” was closed and an obvious restaurant right on the “harbor” was closed, but Captn’ Terry pointed out a place along the waterway with a brown roof where we could get a bite.
After finding the place (we rode around a while and ran into a mallard duck family along a ditch as we sought the building with the brown roof), which was called the Harborside Restaurant (no harbor per se, and not much of a restaurant, but more of a convenience store with very few items on the shelves in any case) we enjoyed a totally “meh” seafood sandwich apiece, tastes but greasy onion rings, and signed up for their famous Smith Island Cake, at $4.50 each (small) slice. Not sure why they’re so famous, but they claim that theirs is the “national cake of Maryland.” It has many, many very thin yellow cake layers, with also very thin separations among the layers of chocolate icing. The pieces we had were good, but I found the icing to be sugar-grainy and just so-so overall. Definitely not a great buy at $4.50 a slice (and $40 a cake, as we noted because our book clubbers were each taking a couple whole cakes home with them). Most troublesome of all is that, like the ferry tickets themselves, this was a cash-only establishment. Our cash was running low after giving Captn’ Terry $60 ($5 extra for each bike).
We rode our bikes out to Rhodes Point, passing an open dump that had been set alight, and more dilapidated houses and cars. And certainly, while there are folks on the island who get about in golf carts, there are also a significant number of cars per capita, and the roads can barely hold two vehicles passing one another.
Here’s what the informational marker for Rhodes Point says:
During the Revolutionary War, one of the three Smith Island villages was known as Rogues Point, because it was a hiding place for unscrupulous bandits known as “Picaroons.” The Picaroons used shallow drafted barge to roam the lower Chesapeake to raid many mainland settlements, and quickly return to their island marshland hideout at Rogues Point.
They sold their stolen loot to a Smith Island “fence, Marmaduke Mister, who resold his ill-gotten booty to anyone willing to buy it, including the British Navy who sometimes even bought stolen American sailing schooners, which they used to help patrol the lower Chesapeake Bay during the Revolutionary War.
After Lord Cornwallis surrendered to American General George Washington at Yorktown, VA, in October of 1783, new island settlers began to settle Rogues Point to farm and raise cattle. The name “Rogues Point” endured for another 102 years until 1885, when it received its first post office. It was decided by the people of Rogues Point to rid the island community of it embarrassing name. The new post office was named for a prominent English Missionary, Sir John Rhodes. Since the year of 1885, Smith Island’s smallest community has been known as Rhodes Point.
We tried to ride into a wildlife refuge, but there was no path; and after touring a couple of the neighborhoods (if you can call them that), we stopped at the church so Jack could do some “find a grave” discoveries and photos.
Hoss did not accompany us back to Crisfield, and the return trip was a bit rough with the wind behind the boat blowing the diesel fumes into the sitting area. I ended up standing the whole way, which wasn’t a big deal as the crossing took only about a half-hour each way. Still, it was cold and getting colder, and once we landed, we still had 3 miles to ride back to camp.
Which is also a rather amusing story. We clocked the 3 miles to Crisfield to catch the ferry, and both of us forgot to turn off our cycling distance tracking apps. So when we got to Smith Island, Lo and Behold! we had 14 miles on the odometers. So we knew that the crossing is about 11 miles. We got some “bonus” mileage on this particular trip, because the sum total of our riding on Smith Island was a whopping 7 miles.
Jack pretty much summed up my feelings, when one of the book groupers asked what we thought. He said, “It makes me sad, to think of all those lives and all that community just lost, atrophied.” Sad indeed. But my thought was that through this entire cash economy, the islanders themselves might not mind living more than a little under the radar.
After stopping by the grocery store about 5:30P on our way back to camp, we got a couple of burgers and a tomato and cooked the burgers on the grill and had some tater tots warmed up in the Omnia oven with the Asian Cucumber salad I’d prepped before we left, and Jack made up some of our fast-and-easy guacamole in the Moullineux chopper, that uses no electricity and makes exactly enough for two. Yum.
Not much to say about the break down of camp and the trip to Kiptopeke State Park, 2 hours south, right at the end of the peninsula. We were sad to leave Janes Island State Park because it’s been so lovely to be there. It is definitely a place to which we shall return in the very near future.
Kiptopeke is a nice State Park, with grassy, flat sites, but I can imagine that in the summer when scads of people are here, then the packing-in would be cheek-to-jowl. There are few trees where the RVs can go, and I would also think it would be hotter than a firecracker in high summer. But the sites all have electric, water AND sewer, and in late April, there still are many many open sites. We got site #22, in the C section, at the turn of the cul-de-sac.
The bathhouses are very large and clean and nice, and there’s a laundry. I understand there’s a beach but we will have to explore that later. Also, they have a robust WiFi system for devices but it’s a fee-paid service. Supposedly, you ask to join and the payment “screen” automatically comes up and you can get three levels of service at an hourly, daily, or longer rate. I was unable to log in my laptop, it not being a device and not automatically generating the payment screen I needed for full access. But no matter, we have cellular data we can use, and that’s pre-paid.
We have a large box-on-wheels trailer on one side of us, and a very unusual neighbor on the other: a pair of killdeer are nesting on the site-but-one along from us, and we’ve been keeping a close eye on their process and have been rather surprised at their acceptance of us so near. The Hosts said this pair has done this for the last several years, costing them a campsite, because they have roped it off and put cones and hazard tape all around so folks making their way to the bathhouse don’t inadvertently step on the eggs.
We headed into Cape Charles to a restaurant down by the harbor recommended by our camp hosts, and had an early dinner. The place was called The Shanty, and it was quite the happening place I had fish and chips and Jack ate an oyster basket. The food was quite good, and the fries had been seasoned with Old Bay, which was really tasty. But the fries didn’t have a long “shelf life” and got quite stiff and chewy once they were cold.
Oddly, they sell a lot on the ambience of sitting on the deck and watching the sunset, but the view actually sucks. Adjacent to the restaurant is a — well I honestly don’t know if it’s a construction site or a freight-loading area, but either way, it’s truly ugly. You have to sort of see past all that to get to the sunset and the bay at all. But the place was full of the quirky locals of Cape Charles and the visiting tourists who’d been on the beaches or along the shopping streets. Cape Charles is definitely an interesting place worthy of discovery.