Traci and I had not stayed anywhere other than our own house since March 2020 when travel became strongly discouraged due to the coronavirus pandemic. We had not even visited family. Wearing face coverings and attempting to stay 6 feet away from others while in public had become the norm. Traci and I were somewhat germophobic before the pandemic but with this health crisis still in the news daily, we saw travel as risky. Nonetheless, we decided to do a mini vacation to celebrate our wedding anniversary.
It was about a 4-hour drive from our home to Chincoteague, Virginia. During the first part of our journey we listened to our Sunday morning church service. Our church was doing online worship instead in-person at the time to avoid the risk of spreading the coronavirus. While we were driving, I realized had not driven longer than an hour since the pandemic began. We broke up the journey with a couple of stops. Shortly after crossing the Choptank River Bridge into Cambridge, Maryland, we noticed a sign indicating a turn that leads to the Harriet Tubman Memorial Garden. We decided to check it out. It was a small plot of land across the street from a shopping center. I almost missed it thanks to a street corner preacher who had parked his mobile baptism trailer in front of the garden to deliver a fiery sermon via his PA system. We walked along the short path reading plaques describing the brave journeys Harriet Tubman took when leading other slaves to freedom. This garden is one of the sites dedicated to telling the story of the Underground Railroad that Tubman used to lead slaves to freedom in the 1800's. In fact, I found out you can do a self-guided drive along the 125-mile Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway. The memorial garden is one of 30 stops along the byway. We’ll have to save that excursion for another time. As for our visit that day, we had a look around for about ten minutes before getting back on the road.
Our second stop was at a rest stop in the town of New Church, Virginia. One of the road trips Traci and I did during the summer to break up the monotony of sheltering at home to avoid the coronavirus was an outing we called “Looking for Love”. Virginia has a tourism program called Loveworks in which artistic creations that spell L-O-V-E have been erected all over the state. After all, the state’s slogan is “Virginia is for lovers.” There are more than 200 of these creations that are constructed from various materials such as metal, plastic, wood, and even concrete. During our summer outing we visited seven of them located less than hour’s drive from our house. These days, any time Traci and I travel to some place we have not visited in Virginia, I first check the Loveworks map on the Virginia.org website to find out if opportunities exist to photograph a few more L-O-V-E signs. The rest stop in the town of New Church presented one such occasion.
It was not long after our selfie stop at the Loveworks in New Church that we found ourselves approaching the bridge to Chincoteaque Island. The water of the marshland seemed to come right up to the road until we ascended the bridge.
Driving down Main Street to our hotel, the town had an old-time charm look about it. There were small B&B’s, manors, souvenir shops, antique shops, and restaurants. Given we were there during the off-season, the street looked deserted. However, at closer look, most of the establishments were still open. This was perfect for Traci and me who were trying to avoid crowds while the highly contagious coronavirus was raging worldwide.
We made the right turn into the parking lot of the Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott Chincoteague Island Waterfront where we had booked our two-night stay. For those of you who have been reading my trip reports through the years, you know why we chose this hotel. The reason is because we are members of the Marriott rewards program. We did not have enough points for a free stay this time but we used the occasion to build up points so that maybe we can began having free stays again after the pandemic.
Traci and I were nervous when I parked the car. This would be the first time we stayed somewhere other than home since the pandemic hit the U.S.. We worried about touching surfaces. We worried about crowd sizes. This vacation felt strange. A face covering was required to be worn in all the public areas of the hotel.
Traci went in to get us checked in while I waited in the car. I was somewhat dismayed when she returned to the car to tell me about her check-in experience. While she was waiting to approach the receptionist, I big muscular man who was not wearing a face mask, got in front of her so that he could talk to the receptionist. While it was upsetting to hear that the man cut the line, I was even more concerned that he might be one of the people who refuse to wear a face mask because they feel it is an infringement upon their rights. Wearing face coverings had become a contentious subject in the nation during the pandemic. I felt a little better as Traci continued to tell me the rest of the story. She said the man returned after Traci finish checking in and apologized to her. He did not realize she was waiting to talk to the receptionist. Even better, he was wearing a mask this time.
We had a nice room with a balcony that overlooked the marshes. Traci had booked the hotel’s anniversary package. There was a handwritten welcome note from the hotel staff along with a box of candy, a bottle of wine, and a $50 coupon to the Ropewalk Restaurant next door. We generally don’t drink alcohol but we enjoyed the candy and loved the restaurant – more about it later.
view from our balcony
watching the sunset behind the hotel
anniversary gift from the hotel staff
We took a little stroll along Main Street. Our destination was another Loveworks sign. We then took our time wandering in and out of a few souvenir shops. Face covering were required to enter the shops. Furthermore, every place had a bottle of hand sanitizer that you were expected to use as you entered.
Loveworks at Chincoteague Island
Loveworks at Chincoteague Island
Loveworks at a rest stop in New Church, Virginia
For dinner, we used the $50 coupon given to us as part of the anniversary package. The restaurant was taking precautions against the transmission of the coronavirus such as limiting capacity and increasing spacing between tables. We even saw a few brave souls eating outdoors on the restaurant’s beach-themed patio on this chilly, windy evening. Traci and I were not ready to begin eating in restaurants yet so we placed our order to-go so that we could eat it in our hotel room. The food was delicious! We kept talking about how good that meal was for the rest of the night.
crab legs from the Ropewalk Restaurant
The next morning, we were surprised that the hotel offered their complimentary breakfast buffet given all the coronavirus precautions. Sure there were signs reminding guests to keep a distance of 6 feet from one another and to wear a mask among other instructions, but many places during the pandemic had shut down their buffets to minimize the risk of spreading the virus. There were very few people in the dining area that morning. Despite this, Traci and I decided we would get our food but eat it in our hotel room.
Our plan for the day was to rent bicycles and ride to the beach. Although there are several bike rental shops in Chincoteague, I chose the Bike Depot since their name came up whenever I searched for Chincoteaque on the web. The Bike Depot is located almost two miles from our hotel. Knowing that Traci is obsessed with getting at least 10,000 steps per day on her pedometer, we decided to walk there. Besides, it would give us an opportunity to explore the town a little more.
The Bike Depot is located a few yards from the bridge leading to the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. We rode our bikes across the bridge and entered the refuge. Admission is free if you enter on foot or on bicycle. There are several paved trails through the park. Traci and I cycled along the Wildlife Loop and other trails that day. The paths are flat which made cycling a pleasant, leisurely experience. We mainly saw marshland during our visit. Before this visit, “beautiful” never came to mind when I heard the word “marshland”, but I must admit the vastness of the water and vegetation was captivating. The area is known for its wild ponies. We did not see any. In fact, we did not see much wildlife other than egrets and grasshoppers.
We eventually followed a trail that led to a very long beach. There was no one else there. It was a chilly, windy day and the waves were vicious. Despite this, it was a welcomed change of scenery for us. We took a few photos as the water grew more agitated and the tide continued rise. Suddenly, a humungous wave crashed onto the shore sending a rush of water towards us. Traci and I had to scramble up a nearby sand dune to avoid getting wet. We followed a different footpath to get back to the rack where we left our bicycles. The original path we walked to get to the beach was now a stream. By the time we got back to our bikes, we saw that the bike rack was partially submerged as were our tires.
white egret walking through the marsh
We continued to enjoy our ride along other trails in the wildlife refuge. The two topics that people mentioned when I told them that Traci and I would be spending a few days in Chincoteaque were ‘camping’ and ‘mosquitos’. Chincoteague and nearby Assateaque are popular with campers. Traci and I are not outdoorsy so obviously we would not be doing any camping. As for the mosquitoes, people warned us they are a real menace in Chincoteaque. We were warned to wear insect repellant. Despite this advice, Traci and I did not use insect repellant when we found out how chilly and windy the weather was. It turns out we made the right choice. Other than a few grasshoppers, we did not see any insects – that is until rode on a trail that led into the woods. Wow! We were suddenly swarmed by mosquitoes! We quickly turned our bikes around and pedaled back to the paved path to escape the ambush. In fact, we continued out of the refuge and returned our bicycles to the bike rental shop.
During our two-mile walk back to the hotel. We explored the shops and attraction along Maddox Boulevard. It seems to be the main drag of Chincoteaque. One of the places at which I had to make a stop was an ice cream shop called the "Island Creamery". I came across its recommendation often when I was researching Chincoteaque. The place did not disappoint. We got ours to-go but Traci finished hers before we finished walking back to our hotel.
scrumptious treats from the Island Creamery
For dinner that evening, we decided to press our luck to find out if another meal from the Ropewalk would be as good or better than the night before. There had been several menu items that caught our eyes when we visited the previous day. Traci was interested in trying the scallop dish and I was interested in trying the jerk chicken wings. Once again, the Ropewalk blew us away. The food was delicious!
We awoke on our final day of this mini vacation to a gorgeous day. Unlike our first two days of windy, chilly weather, this day was warm and without a cloud in the sky. We probably could have gotten away with wearing shorts, but we did not pack them after seeing the gloomy weather forecast before we left home. Why does the weather always seem to clear up on the last day of vacation? Continue...