…and as my friend Otter and I stood in the duck decoy store, where we were effectively trapped, watching the police route traffic around the area where the bomb disposal squad was working, she turned to me and said “You know, this is all your fault.”
I argued in vain that it was not my fault, that it was the fault of whoever built the bomb in the first place. Otter agreed that I had nothing to do with any of this, but also pointed out that normal people go to the beach all the time and are not trapped in duck decoy stores by bomb squads, whereas because she was with me, she was simply resigned to this sort of thing happening. Had it not been a bomb, it would have been something else. Possibly a rain of sharks. Honestly, we were getting off lightly.
Kevin, via text message, agreed 100% with this assessment. Outnumbered, I retired from the field and went to go grumble into a bunch of elegantly carved pintails so far out of my price range that I could not actually see the decimals from here.
I suspect that it is a testament to Otter’s sturdiness as a friend that she is nevertheless willing to take trips with me, often on a moment’s notice.
It turned out that the “bomb” belonged to a geo-cacher who had driven up, placed a suspicious looking unmarked tube under a light post, looked around and then jumped into a car with out-of-state plates and driven away, thereby freaking the hell out of the ice cream shop who happened to be watching. My sympathy was broadly balanced on this until I read the comments by geo-cachers on this news report, whereupon I fell heavily down on the side of the police.* (Mind you, I am sure that there are many very nice and sensible geo-cachers out there, and this is just a case of “We have met the enemy and they is us,” but goodness, some of those people had an entitlement complex as long as your arm.)
Our other excitement of the trip occurred on the first evening. We got in around four-ish, checked in, and wandered down to the beach. It was glorious. The sun was shining, the air was perfect, the waves broke into soft gliding sheets hissing up the beach and over our feet, pelicans flew by in formation. We wandered around making the happy sighs of people who spend a lot of time hunched over a keyboard suddenly set free.
“Let’s walk down to that pier,” said Otter, pointing to an object that appeared to be about a half mile away. “Let’s!” I said.
We started walking.
Let me take a moment now to point out the peculiar phenomenon whereby visibility at the beach is rather longer than in many other places. The air is clear and crisp and many of the cues of atmospheric perspective that allow one to gauge relative distance do not apply.
This will be important later.
After awhile it occurred to us that the pier might be a trifle farther away than we had realized. Certainly it didn’t seem to be getting any bigger. But it was a glorious day. Glorious! We kept walking.
A bit after that, the pier had become significantly larger. We had also discovered that the tide was coming in. We discovered this the way that we more or less always discover it, which is when a wave hissed gently over our toes and then went on to slap heavily at our knees. But we had learned from the last time we were at the beach! We had worn skirts! No stiff wet salty jeans for us! We had learned from our mistakes, like competent adult women with jobs and driver’s licenses and voter registration cards!
Slightly soggier, but in good spirits, we continued on. The pier was stubbornly refusing to get bigger again.
The ocean hit us again. It got a bit higher this time. “It’s like being goosed by God!” growled Otter, tugging her skirt down. I found that saltwater mixed with sand between the thighs contributes significantly to the phenomenon known as “chub rub.” (My thighs rub together a bit when I walk. It happens. I’m on the far side of thirty. Of the things that bother me about my body, this one is generally barely on the radar, except that I was wearing a skirt. Because I had been determined to learn from my mistakes.)
The pier was definitely closer.
We reached a small wooden structure of some sort and gazed at the pier. “Do we want to keep going?” I asked dubiously. It seemed like we had been walking for awhile. Maybe it was the chub rub talking there. And we still had to walk back. I didn’t want to be the one to cry off out of wussiness, though.
“We can turn around if you want,” said Otter, “but I think we’re nearly there. Look, we can see people!”
“You’re right!” I said. “I’d hate to get this far and quit! We can do this!” Surely it hadn’t been that long, and also my thighs were bound to dry out, since the ocean is so…err…dry and all. (Okay, I didn’t analyze it too closely.)
We kept walking.
The tide kept coming in. We met several nice dogs. The air continued to be glorious. Sanderlings ran back and forth along the surf line. A willet stalked by, looking vaguely ridiculous. God, or possibly Poseidon, goosed us again.
I began to regret not turning around at the last stop.
Suddenly we were at the pier. There was a bait and tackle shop. We went in and bought root beer and sat on the pier watching kayakers drift by and having the wind blow up our skirts, which is also something you generally stop worrying about on the far side of thirty—if somebody wants to check out your underwear, they’re certainly not the first.
Then we turned around to go back.
We checked the time and discovered that we had been on the beach for almost two hours. Hmm. Well, anyway, it was still glorious. Glorious, goddamnit!
My right calf muscle informed me that it was the one with the crappy job, since we had been walking south, and it kept getting brought up short by the slope of the beach and it was not happy about any of this. I promised it that the left calf muscle would now be the one to suffer. It sulked.
My inner thighs humbly let it be known that this salt and sand thing was not what it was cracked up to be. I attempted to walk bow-legged for awhile. My calf muscles threatened mutiny. I stopped.
We kept walking.
The pier was not getting any smaller.
By now it was starting to get dark, and we were desperately trying to remember which of the fifty million identical buildings backed onto the beach was our hotel. Otter kept muttering about a square building and a yellow house and the building right after it. We were walking rather slower now, and the sand seemed deeper and gloopier and less easy to navigate.
The pier shrank infinitesimally. I decided to stop looking at it. It was only going to make me miserable.
The sun sank in the west. The sky turned lavender and teal and ultramarine. It was glorious. The breeze was cool but the water was still warm.
We kept walking.
Otter apologized profusely and profoundly for not turning back when I had suggested it. I absolved her of all responsibility. Both of us kept saying “But it looked so close!” in wounded tones, and occasionally glaring back at the pier, which continued to look quite close, the bastard.
We kept walking.
We discussed our resources, realized none of us had any cash, and thus our backup plan of limping to the road and hailing a cab was not terribly useful. My neck was beginning to abrade under the weight of my binocular strap, so I took it off and wrapped the strap around my wrist, where it went to work enhancing my carpal tunnel. My lower back, which generally does not get involved in walking, was complaining because when you walk in sand, it has to take a far more active role.
We kept walking.
Lights came on along the pier, which made it look even closer again. Otter spat curses at it. I kept shoving my skirt between my thighs in an effort to keep my by-now-abraded skin from simply tearing like tissue paper. This undoubtedly made me look extraordinarily poised and dignified in the eyes of other beach-goers.
We kept walking.
Night fell. The moon was a blood orange being squeezed into the sea. I don’t need to tell you that it was glorious, do I?
“I’ll go ahead,” said Otter miserably. “It’ll be penance. I’ll go to the hotel and get the car and come get you.”
“No,” I said grimly, feeling my thighs as raw as hamburger and thinking that I would kill Mother Teresa for a handful of baby powder. “I will not be crippled by chub rub, goddamnit.” (Unspoken went the thought that she was making no better time than I was, what with the blisters, and that I might well die of exposure on the beach or at least get really really bored before she found the car. Also, serial killers.) “But you’re driving home from the restaurant, because I intend to get really drunk.” She agreed to this.
We kept walking. The tide kept coming in. Since walking on the dry sand reduced our pace to a wretched limp, we resigned ourselves to the wet sand, which meant occasional intimate waves. Poseidon had stopped merely flirting and now seemed determined to perform a full pelvic exam. My lower back was a single cinder block of pain.
We kept walking. I refused to look at the pier. The pier did not exist. There was no pier.
“I think it’s getting smaller!” said Otter hopefully. “There is no pier,” I said grimly. “The pier is a cruel illusion.”
We kept walking.
Heeding, yet again, the words of the man who inserted my IUD, I began to sing to distract myself. So did Otter. I was doing “Battle Hymn of the Republic” and she was doing “Muskrat Love,” so, y’know, it worked out.
By now it was so dark that we could barely make out where we were walking. We were starting to fear that we had actually passed our hotel and would wind up in Virginia before we realized our mistake. We were laughing hysterically, because otherwise sobbing would have been in order. All sane people had left the beach. It was only a matter of time before Otter stepped on a crab, and since she has a lifelong phobia of crab-kind, this was going to result in screaming and dancing and bolting and I was going to laugh so hard I peed, and then I was going to try to wash myself off in the ocean where I would undoubtedly be eaten by a bull shark, which hunt at night, and who could probably smell my abraded thighs like chum in the water.
I had largely resigned myself to this turn of events and was just wondering whether I would have the strength to punch the shark in the nose or whether I would embrace my fate when Otter said “I think that’s a square building next to a yellow house.”
We could not run. The pier had beaten us. We staggered and limped and straggled up the beach and there were our shoes, our wonderful wonderful shoes, and there was our hotel, and that meant a car and food and COCKTAILS.
It had taken us two hours to get back.
Some Hours Later…
“I want to drive that,” I said, feeling the after-effects of something called a Razz-tini. “I want us to drive from the hotel to the pier and watch the odometer and figure out how far that really was.”
“You know it was like a mile,” said Otter glumly. “We’re just horribly out of shape. It probably took us four hours to go two miles.”
“Probably,” I said, secure in the invincible armor of the Razz-tini. “But maybe it was a mile and a half. That’s like three miles. On sand! Sand is hard!”
We set out towards the pier, in the car, watching the odometer. “Twenty-seven…” muttered Otter, “twenty-seven, twenty-seven, it’s not changing, twenty-seven…ooh! Twenty-eight! Twenty-eight, twenty-eight…twenty-eight…still twenty-eight…oh god, we’re so out of shape…no wait, TWENTY-NINE!”
By the time we reached the pier, it was well over thirty. Sober verification the next day with maps and GPS confirmed that in fact we had walked seven miles, round trip, over sand, or something like a quarter of a marathon. This activity burned something in the range of 1200 calories. I generally expend that many calories in a day keeping all the vital systems running and making sure my brain doesn’t starve to death, but not in concentrated activity. I believe I made most of it up again in Razz-tinis and crab meat, but crab probably doesn’t count because you burn at least as many calories just tearing the legs apart to get at it, so it’s practically a diet food, damnit.
“We are hardcore,” I said.
“We are in awesome shape,” said Otter.
“Let us never do that again,” I said.
And she agreed.
*Seriously, I only vaguely know what your hobby entails, and I have lots of crazy geek friends. If you honestly think that the very first action of tourist-town police presented with a suspicious unlabeled tube stashed under a utility should be to go “Oh, those wacky geocachers!” and go consult your website, you have badly mistaken your hobby’s position relative to the center of the universe.