Wednesday, May 22, 2013
Oh ocean! Where art thou?
Last Thursday I went searching for the ocean. Now don't be confused, the ocean isn't hard to find or that far away, but I haven't seen it since landing in Virginia and I was jonesing the sea something fierce. As much as I wanted to simply type "ocean" into my GPS and be off, sadly technology isn't that advanced yet, so I had to do a small amount of planning. I know, I know, planning is not my favorite word and definitely more my boyfriend's department, but alas even with my more than keen navigational skills I only had one day off to locate the sea, and couldn't wing it and run away for days. Well winging it is always something I do, and before I'd even left that day, apparently I started getting that maniacal look in my eyes as DC specifically said,
"You can't run away."
Such a stick in the mud that one. I kid, I kid. He filled up the gas tank for me and didn't altogether lose his mind when he checked in on me later in the afternoon for me to ask,
"How much do you love me?"
"Ummmm... Where are you?"
"You love me a lot right?"
"Okay then, I may be almost to North Carolina. Oops."
But I am getting ahead of myself. I had the knowledge that the ocean was roughly two and a half hours away so that was how far I intended to drive, roughly, give or take four additional hours for lollygagging. All I had to do was find someplace enticing that was on the ocean and type that place into the GPS. It should also be noted that I have gotten really wise with utilizing the GPS for this sort of thing. When I want to go somewhere with no exact coordinates, I always locate a town with a promising name and stats, in this case it was Smithfield, VA and then type in Main St. or Church Street, address 100 or 1. So 100 Church St. or 1 Main St. Works every time in getting me right into the quaint downtown and then I use my bloodhound skills to sniff out the good stuff, A.K.A on this adventure, the sea.
With my coordinates mapped out and my beach bag packed with sweet potato chips, pistachios and a bathing suit of course because once I thought of the sea, I also thought of submerging in the salty water and frolicking about, I was on the open road chirpy as a new baby bird.
After a bit I spotted a Waffle House in timing with me needing a bathroom break and decided to check something off the list of Things I've Always Wanted to Try. I whipped into a parking spot, went right up to the high topped bar with red swivel stools inside, plunked down with my camera and ordered a single waffle and side of bacon, $5.60. When I took out my camera to start documenting my very first, sitting at a bar of a Southern Waffle House experience, a passing middle aged waitress saw my camera snapping away and proclaimed,
"Are we going to be famous?!"
I laughed and answered,
"Well, you will be featured on my travel blog."
She gave the other servers an excited glance and then they all not so discreetly stayed in a lot of my shots. I didn't mind, I felt sort of famous for making them feel famous.
The pit-stop put me back by about a half hour, but the waffle was scrumptious and totally worth checking off my list. I got back in the car and felt the seas fingers beckoning to me.
After two hours of highway driving, however, I was starting to get way antsy and I sort of wanted a shortcut or better scenery at that point. Lucky for me I exited from the highway and was soon on back country roads. This area of Virginia looked nothing like the Virginia I was familiar with.
Not only were there no rolling hills or horses anywhere, but it had a distinct Old South feel. I spotted run-down red gas stations with rusted Coca-Cola machines out front, several dilapidated houses with chipped white paint, and then I started to see signs for plantations. I got excited and turned abruptly to go see the Shirley Plantation which as it turns out is Virginia's oldest Plantation. Talk about a find!
But soon after leaving Shirley I did begin to wonder how far down the coast I was exactly. Then I saw a sign for Williamsburg and noting that I was near the James River began to put two and two together.
So I pulled over and bought a map opening it up to find, that yes my suspicions were correct. I had sort of thought I was just going straight over to the ocean. Instead I went way down and over and then down some more. Oh. Hi, North Carolina, you're an awful lot closer than I realized. Ah well I was already almost to my destination, so I kept going.
Upon reaching Smithfield and driving through the promised darling streets of the downtown I hardly noticed as I was fixated on the water. It was nearly ninety degrees outside and even with the air blasting in the car I felt a strong need to submerge and de-sweat.
But. Here is where my lack of planning sometimes gets me in trouble. The town of Smithfield did say it was coastal and true enough it is on the James River which does in fact reach the sea, but as always my crazed imaginative mind believed I would just drive up to a sand dune, park and run gaily into the water like the scene in the Notebook where Rachel McAdams chases the seagulls.
I drove to the water. But it wasn't the ocean and there were no dunes, just some tall reeds and a pretty posh looking row of brick buildings that seemed to be high-end condos or a country club. I circled around trying to find somewhere that I could dive in the water, but it looked kind of deep and murky and I got frustrated. This is not what I signed on for! I looked at my map now more determined than ever to swim in the ocean at all costs. I had been in the car since 9:30 in the morning. It was now 2:30 in the afternoon. I spotted Newport News on the map and recognized the name and it seemed Newport was closer to the ocean. So I whipped through Smithfield, the town I had been jonesing to see all day and opted for Newport.
This is when my boyfriend called. Refer to the earlier conversation. When I told him I was going to Newport News because I needed to see the ocean, he said,
"I don't think it's the kind of town you're imagining it is."
"A cute sea town? It has to be. I've heard of it. And it's by the ocean and the name sounds like it would be."
"Okay, then go."
"But I feel like you don't want me to."
"You've already made up your mind to go, so go and see for yourself."
I did. And he was right. It was not the sea-scape town I expected. It seemed a lil rough around the edges and I didn't spot one bright blue and white awning boasting seafood or a beach with a lighthouse. Now I was pissed. I called my mom as I did a big loop around Newport trying to find the darn ocean. I spotted one beach near a power plant that was also by the highway and debated going for a dip there but once I have high expectations it's hard for me to lower them. I ranted to my mother that this is why DC planned all the time, to prevent these kind mishaps and I can't believe I had been driving for five hours and had only seen a river and hadn't tasted any lobster yet! Let it be known, though that the James River had been exciting me all day, water of any kind is still my favorite and I do so love to be near it as nature is never wasted on me. I was just a smidge disappointed. When you go looking for the ocean and only find a river it's a little like Galileo looking for the sun and finding a firefly. Fireflies are great sure, but they're no blazing star.
My mother who is beyond wise and has more patience for me than anyone I know, researched local seafood gems with me on the phone and calmed me down, reiterating that the trip could still be salvaged.
I ended up back in Smithfield and at a restaurant my mom approved of, which means it was going to be really tops because my mom doesn't trifle when it comes to finding the best local hotspots.
It was called Smithfield Station and it was on the water. Sure it wasn't the right water, but I enjoyed the view of sailboats as I ate my fresh crab quiche and fruit. My stomach was happy. I was happy.
I finished off my trip with a walk around Windsor Castle Park. A boardwalk over marshy river water in the muggy heat was the perfect calming agent after my near hysterics about the trip being an almost bust. Of course it wasn't a bust. This is what I love and hate about myself simultaneously: my antics. They prove to be quite fun and quite infuriating almost all the time; but my life isn't dull I'll tell you that much.
When I got home my boyfriend pointed out that I could've gotten to the ocean and the kind ocean I'd envisioned to boot, a lot sooner and with a lot less hassle. True enough. And I knew that for next time, but I wouldn't have discovered that I love the town of Smithfield, VA and can't wait to go back and try the famous Ringo's Donuts, that Shirley Plantation and Bacon's Castle are incredible architectural gems indeed and that Northern Virginia is the farthest South I will ever live.
It's all about perspective folks. And that is why no adventure is a wasted adventure.