A Summer Outing to Chincoteague Island For the final report in our summer travel series, Neda Ulaby takes her mother and sister on drive from Washington, D.C. to Virginia's Chincoteague Island, a bucolic summer getaway destination full of quiet walks and lush scenery.
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A Summer Outing to Chincoteague Island

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A Summer Outing to Chincoteague Island

A Summer Outing to Chincoteague Island

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This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.


I'm Alex Chadwick.

This summer we've been presenting a travel series that we call A Hundred Bucks of Gas. Simple concept: we send a writer off from home base to a place they can get to and from on $100 worth of fuel.

BRAND: Today we present the final story in our series. It's from NPR's Neda Ulaby. She lives in Washington, D.C and she went on a trip with her sister and her mother.

NEDA ULABY reporting:

My mother, Maryanne Hammond(ph), came to the nation's capital not to really to visit me, her daughter, but for a Peace Corps training session. But before my 60-year-old mom shipped out to Jordan for two years, we went with my sister on an all-American road trip thanks to gas from the Middle East.

Okay, for nine and a half gallons of gas we're paying $30.26.

When you drive through the District of Columbia in the midst of a sweltering day, the monuments shimmer in the heat. And thanks to gridlock, there's ample time to admire them and converse with follow motorists.

(Soundbite of horn honking)

Ms. MARYANNE HAMMOND (Mother): You want me to go right over her? What do you want?

ULABY: My mild-mannered mother finds honking gratuitous and impolite.

Ms. HAMMOND: What did you want me to do?

Unidentified Woman: I wasn't blowing at you. I was blowing at him. (Bleep) hole!

ULABY: Inching right along, we passed the new Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, currently under construction, and then we'd get lost. I should mention we're less than a mile from my house.

Ms. HAMMOND: You know, we're going the wrong way.

ULABY: (Unintelligible)

AZIZA (Sister): U.S. 50 (unintelligible)

ULABY: Thanks to my sister Aziza, we're soon grooving along Maryland's pristine highways, en route to Chincoteague. That's a tiny island off Virginia's eastern shore, refreshingly underdeveloped and clinging to what's left of its fishing industry. It's also the setting of a classic kid's book from 1947 called Misty of Chincoteague, about two kids who tame one of the wild little ponies that inhabit a neighboring island called Assateague. It became a film in 1961.

(Soundbite of movie Misty)

Ms. PAM SMITH (Actress): (As Maureen Beebe) It makes me sad the way she keeps looking off at Assateague.

Mr. DAVID LADD (Actor): (As Paul Beebe): She's just not used to civilization yet.

ULABY: There's a dramatic shift in landscape soon after crossing the monumental suspension bridge arching over the Chesapeake Bay. At 4.3 miles, it's one of the longest and most scenic over-water structures in the world.

Ms. HAMMOND: We just came down out of these little hills and then it was very flat and coastal all of a sudden. Little inlets with boats. We're on the coast.

ULABY: And we're hungry. So we start talking about food.

Ms. HAMMOND: My goal is to try some kind of seafood. There wasn't a whole lot of seafood growing up at El Paso, Texas. Maybe a clam, a flounder.

ULABY: But a shortage of crab shacks on this stretch of the Maryland highway stymie mom's ambitions.

Ms. HAMMOND: There's a tacoria.

ULABY: You know, a tacoria doesn't sound too bad.

AZIZA: You know it does sound good.

(Soundbite of doors opening)

Ms. HAMMOND: I cannot believe we're doing this.

ULABY: My Texan mother is reflexively critical of Mexican food cooked beyond 50 miles of the Mexican border. But she was impressed by our lunch.

Ms. HAMMOND: I have to admit you guys made a great choice. The Chesapeake Bay Mexican food was delicious. Your tacos al pastor, that barbecued pork ones, were delicious, Neda. And it seemed like they...

ULABY: Oh, god, we just hit a car.

That's right. My mother hit a car. But incredibly, that car was dented and rusty the owner told her not to worry. Still, it wasn't long before the next road trip debacle.

Ms. HAMMOND: Oh, there's a cop.

ULABY: We got pulled over on a scenic stretch near Cambridge, Maryland, a famous stop on the underground railroad where there've been sightings of a ghost slave named Big Liz. It may have been her supernatural interference, but mom's luck held.

Unidentified Man (Police Officer): Ma'am, I'm going to bestow a little mercy on you. This is a written warning for the speed violation.

Ms. HAMMOND: Thank you.

Unidentified Man #1: No points, no fine.

(Soundbite of traffic)

ULABY: Oh, man. That was so awesome.

Ms. HAMMOND: How did that happen? I mean...

AZIZA: Make a warning, let's read about this. An important message for - oh my god, he gave you a brochure of how to not do that.

ULABY: When you get close to Chincoteague, at the legal speed, the grass turns marshy and you pass a field of enormous satellite dishes, part of a NASA center that works with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency to track hurricanes, rockets and the space shuttle. There's even a NASA radio station...

(Soundbite of radio static)

ULABY: ...with terrible reception. Chincoteague, year-round population 4,000, is dotted with mom and pop motels, homemade doughnut shops and duck decoy emporiums.

(Soundbite of music)

ULABY: At twilight, on a fairground near the docks, the annual carnival offers crab sandwiches, a modest assortment of rides, hand-made pony-themed quilts and games of chance

(Soundbite of carnival barker)

ULABY: There you can mingle with the locals.

Mr. ROE TERRY (Duck Man): The call me the duck man.

ULABY: The duck man?

Mr. TERRY: Yup, I've been carving decoys for 37 years: ornamental ducks and hunting decoys and geese and swans.

ULABY: Roe Terry is also an officer for the local volunteer fireman's association, which runs the carnival. It's part of the festivities leading up to Chincoteague's hotly anticipated pony swim. That's when all the firemen and women, known as salt cowboys, round up the ponies on the neighboring island of Assateague and swim them across the bay.

Mr. TERRY: This is the Super Bowl, this is the Daytona 500 all wrapped into one, and when the ponies get here at the corral, you can't throw a rock across this carnival ground without hitting 10 people. I mean it's just wall-to-wall people. It's all the people we want. We don't want to expand. We don't want to get any bigger.

ULABY: About 80 foals are sold at the auction each year. Terry says the others are inspected by veterinarians and returned to the wildlife refuge.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Man #2: Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge lies along the Atlantic flyway, a major route that migratory birds travel between their breeding grounds as far north as the Artic.

ULABY: The National Parks Wildlife Center urges visitors hiking the Evergreen Trails to watch for bald eagles, delicate Sika Deer, and of course herds of little misties.

Ms. HAMMOND: (Unintelligible) ponies here. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven. And it looks like there's a foal out there.

ULABY: Less cute animals are also in abundance.

I just got bit, too.

Ms. HAMMOND: Oh, man.

ULABY: On my back. Ah!

ULABY: We escaped the mosquitoes at a seafood joint with screen porches, where Mom finally got her clams and oysters.

(Soundbite of people talking)

Ms. HAMMOND: Mmm, mmm.

ULABY: Top that off with a little fresh produce on an otherwise uneventful drive home.

Ms. HAMMOND: Oh, peaches.

ULABY: Peaches, produce...

Ms. HAMMOND: Produce, woo! Strawberries, snowball.

AZIZA: Oh, dude, melons, (unintelligible), tomatoes, barbecue, sweet corn. We've got to stop, Mom.

ULABY: Pop-Pop(ph) was out riding his mower when we pulled up at the roadside stand, which he has run with Mrs. Pop-Pop for 15 years.

Ms. ANITA CORBETT(ph) (Fresh Produce Vendor): The cantaloupes has been extremely good this year. The cherries are excellent.

Mr. JOSH CORBETT(ph) (Anita Corbett's Grandson): Everything's good.

ULABY: That's Anita Corbett and her 11-year-old grandson, Josh.

Ms. CORBETT: This little man is his first year alone on the register.

ULABY: What's your favorite kind of snow cone?

Mr. CORBETT: I would pick a strawberry-banana, mixed.

ULABY: What's the worst kind?

Ms. CORBETT: Spearmint.

Mr. CORBETT: Spearmint, yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. CORBETT: I am putting the flavoring on the ice, and this ice is unbelievable, it's perfect. It's just like snow.

(Soundbite of song)

Unidentified Man #3 (Singer): (Singing) Out in the hot sun, standing in line, buying snow cones in the summertime, buying snow cones from the snow cone man.

ULABY: The cool trickle of strawberry and banana is like a perfect bit of American summer on your tongue, a taste of home my mom will remember when she's far away. Neda Ulaby, NPR News.


Pictures from Chincoteague Island and a summary of all the stops on A Hundred Bucks of Gas are at our Web site, npr.org.

(Soundbite of song)

Unidentified Man #3: (Singing) Out in the hot sun, standing in line, buying snow cones in the summertime, buying snow cones from the snow cone man.

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