By Johna Till Johnson
Photos by Vladimir Brezina
(click on photos to expand them—they look a lot better when they’re BIGGER!)
I was awake and outside the bivvy sack… but cold! While New York City was experiencing a heat wave, out along the North Shore a cold front had zipped through, and my feet felt like ice.
So we sipped coffee and watched the sun rise, leaning our backs against the rocks.
I felt something tickle one of my toes and looked down to see…
… a millipede slowly wending its way across my foot. I’m not particularly squeamish about insects, and this one didn’t look harmful (I later found out that millipedes, in general, don’t bite or sting—it’s the centipedes that do). So I merely picked it up with a stick and moved it to a spot on the rock where it could continue its progress.
We found a few more of the tickly critters in the next few minutes, as we took down the bivvy sacks and began packing the boats. (The results of our experiment? There’s no speed advantage to using bivvy sacks—two bivvy sacks are no faster to set up and tear down than one tent).
But it wasn’t until we were ready to to launch that we realized that the appropriate name for this campsite was, truly, Millipede Beach. Because when Vlad went to go put on his spray skirt, he uncovered a giant ball of them, gamely attempting to build a nest inside! He had a bit of work to do to ensure they were all safely deposited on the beach, as we didn’t plan to transport any millipedes home to New York City.
We set off from Millipede Beach around 7 AM, aiming to make it at least to Port Jefferson. If we could reach Port Jefferson, Vlad reasoned, we could make it home in two more days as planned.
We passed Port Jefferson in the early afternoon, and Vlad suggested we might make it all the way across Smithtown Bay to Eaton’s Neck or even Lloyd’s Neck before dark. So we set out down the middle of the Sound, paddling with all our might.
But almost immediately the favorable current deserted us, and soon it became clear that our goal was overly ambitious. So we turned south and aimed for the shore in the interior of Smithtown Bay. From the distance, it looked like a long stretch of sandy beach against low, tree-covered hills.
“We should be there in an hour or less,” Vlad said confidently. I didn’t even think it would be that long. But as one hour stretched into two, and then three, and the sun sank lower in the sky, we started to worry that we wouldn’t make it there before dark.
Once again, we landed just as the sun was setting. The good news? The beach was certainly camp-able, and it seemed to be remote enough that we wouldn’t be disturbed.
The bad news? The beach was very flat, and was not that high above the water, even just now, near low tide. And the weather report on the radio had predicted for tonight a high tide of at least eighteen inches above normal.
We investigated. Although it appeared that the water had recently come up fairly high on the beach, there was a slightly elevated strip of the beach that seemed to be powdery sand, untouched by water—even though the water had, a bit alarmingly, surrounded it on all sides. Plus, there was a row of pilings conveniently located along the strip—someplace to tie the boats to so they wouldn’t get carried off if the strip did, after all, flood.
Of course, we dubbed the beach “High Water Beach”.
We decided to risk it. As night fell, we pitched the tent and tied up the boats, making sure our gear was stowed safely inside. The tent was a little closer to the water than the boats, so the rising tide would wake us before it got to the boats. Of course, Vlad would go out and check on them periodically during the night, as he always did.
As I came back from washing the dishes, I got a bit of a shock: Flickering lights, and moving shapes. It took a moment to realize it was a half-dozen fishermen, wearing headlamps like ours, setting up their own tent a little ways away.
It was surprisingly nice to have company.