June 24, 2013, Washington, DC: An immaculate croquet court behind a restored mansion is the last landmark we pass before reaching the water. We walk alongside a string in the lawn that outlines the court’s boundary and it leads us directly to a dock over the North River just off Mobjack Bay. We sit with our feet dangling above the water on a Friday night. The fish start jumping like mad as the sun sets. Boats return to Mobjack Marina across the cove, clanking in the dark after a long day out on the Chesapeake beyond.
This latest trip to water has required effort. The teeny cottage we’re renting on the property of this grand old home sits at the end of a long dirt driveway lined with dense trees. The driveway itself is located far down the flat country roads that wind throughout Virginia’s coastal peninsulas. It would take an hour or so to reach a loud and crowded highway.
The whole excursion reminds me that the East Coast is not like the West, at least not in these parts. On the West Coast, I could round a corner or top the crest of a hill, sometimes without ever leaving the city itself, and there was — a lengthy coastline — stretching for miles beyond. Back East in the Mid-Atlantic, it can take some hunting. The Chesapeake Bay splinters out into a million fingers throughout Maryland and Virginia so there’s no such thing as driving a long straight shot along its coast. Driving throughout this part of the country requires committing to dead end streets and knowing the peninsula you’re on will continue to narrow around you until you’re nearly surrounded by water and facing the bay.
But that is the point of this weekend outing: To do some hunting. To poke around. On this most recent round of our getting-to-be-annual Chesapeake road trip, the goal is to explore beyond Irvington, a town we know and love, and get a feel for the others out there. We follow the map to a place called Gwynn’s Island. We visit small towns on hot street corners miles from the water’s edge, places with great names like Reedville and Kilmarnock, Deltaville and Mathews. We traverse farm roads you’d never know were so close to coast until finally, surprisingly, arriving at a bridge that connects one peninsula to the next.
Eventually, come Sunday, we cross the Rappahannock River from the Middle Peninsula onto the Northern Neck. We leave the Northern Neck by crossing the Potomac River into southern Maryland. Eventually, we snake our way back up the east side of the Potomac towards home, leaving behind a hidden bay.