I woke the kids up extra early to get to Chincoteague, an hour away, so we could get there a little before 9:00am when the ponies were supposed to swim. Not surprising, I didn't have to even wake Irie up. She'd been looking forward to the event. We read about it in Misty of Chincoteague, and she loved it so much that it sparked her imagination and gave birth to her imaginary horse, Lightening.
I rushed the kids out the door. We picked up the neighbor kids, Sierra and Pearce, who were also excited, and headed south to Virginia. (Quinn even went but I think it was because the pretty blonde Sierra was coming too.) We took the straightest route there which ended up almost being a very expensive mistake because I got pulled over going 48 in a 30 mile and hour zone. Luckily, I got off with just a warning. For the rest of the ride there I was used my cruise control and obeyed every speed limit sign, even the 25mph ones with cornfields on either side.
We passed by Wallops island and nearly right though the launching site. I made a mental note to take the kids on their tour that was advertised by the road. It wasn't long until we crossed the bridge over the marshland and onto Chincoteague island. Once over the bridge it wasn't even a mile to the high school where, according to the town's official website, you were supposed to park and ride a bus to the site. When we were waved past the high school and down a car-lined road beside it, I suddenly wished we had come earlier. We were never going to park and how long would it be until we found a bus? We would miss the whole thing!
Imagine my surprise when a mile down the road we were waved into a parking spot directly across from the town's elementary school, and we were onto a yellow school bus in five minutes. Being the 91st time the town has put on this particular event to benefit the fire department, I guess it's no wonder they have it together.
When the bus dropped us off at the destination, I couldn't believe the sea of people. There were probably 5,000 people there, and it was HOT! Apparently, if you wanted a close spot, you needed to get there at 5:00 am when the buses started running. I had no idea where the ponies were going to swim because there were people, at least ten bodies deep lined on either side of the cove. We went left and found a place to stand at the fence. Turned out, that was the wrong choice.
In front of the fence, closer to the water was a small, sandy spot where no one was. I wanted to get away from the grumpy, children-hating old ladies we accidentally stood beside who were sitting in chairs, and wondered if anyone would say anything if we jumped the fence. I told the kids to go through the fence and when no one seemed to care, I did, too. There were some old concrete slabs to sit on with some dried marsh vegetation on top that, when I covered it with my blanket actually made a nice seat.
We learned that the very small dots in the tree lined distance were the horses. They were being lined up, and when a flare went off at 10:00, they would start swimming. A little after 10:00 am, the "flare" went off (it looked like a big puff of orange powder, not what I expected). The dots got a little bigger, then a little bigger that that, then through the boats that were lined up, blocking any decent view we had a chance of having, I saw a blur of horses running into the water, only 200 feet or so from dry land, then only a few seconds later the crowd way down close to them started cheering. They were already out and up on dry land. I think, because I couldn't really see. That was the Pony Swim. Next, was the penning at the fairgrounds.
Buses were taking the 5000+ people to the fairgrounds and/or back to the high school. After my little kids played on the playground and my bigger kids stood around with their arms crossed seeking shade, we decided to just walk the half mile to the fairgrounds. Right as we started walking Pearce said he had to go to the bathroom.
"Again?" I asked. Quinn had already escorted him to a port-a-potty, not an hour earlier.
"It's number two," he said. Geez!
"Can you hold it until we get to the fairgrounds?" I was expecting a "no" and a desperate look.
OH, good, I thought, so we started walking. Pearce had a hard time keeping up. I had to slow Quinn down who wanted to run. Irie stopped several times to shake things out of her shoes. When we finally got to the fairground, entering from the back, a much smaller crowd was gathered at the very small fairgrounds. Pearce immediately entered a port-a-potty while his sister stood out front keeping an eye on him. Irie complained of hunger, over the whole thing and wanted to go get lunch and ice cream like I said we would do after the pony swim.
Where we stood, I didn't see any food stands, which I thought was odd. There was a USPS truck selling postcards, but no food around. I saw a man loading drinks into a truck that looked like they were for sale, but they weren't. We were OK on drinks anyway. I had brought 5 frozen water bottles which by that time had melted into ice water, as was the plan. It was food we wanted. Quinn spotted someone with pizza and deduced that somewhere there was pizza for sale.
When Pearce was done, he and Sierra joined back up with us and we found the pizza--and Shiloh and Judah.
"Hey, I didn't know you guys were coming!" I had mentioned it to their mom, Alli, but we hadn't talked about it since. "Is your mom here?" They pointed to Alli and Jasun sitting on the only picnic table around. We joined them, I bought a whole pizza for $12 (reasonable considering it is fair food), and we ate.
"Did you see the dots in the distance, too?" I asked.
"I can't believe I took a day off work for this!" Alli lamented. "I thought it was going to be like, the ponies swim to the shore toward you," (so close you would have to move out of the way or you get trampled.) "I had the kids all hyped. I told them we were going on a field trip and it was going to be the coolest thing ever. Now they said if I come back next year, they will just stay home and watch the dog."
We heard word that the ponies were getting close to coming down the plastic flag-lined entrance way and into the pen. OK. There were hundreds of people instead of thousands, so we had a good chance to see them this time. Alli her crew walked that direction while we went the other way for ice cream. While the kids licked their cones we tried to catch up with them, but didn't see them at first. The carnival stands lined the entrance way with people clustered in between. We looked in the clusters and didn't find them. Further on we caught sight of Shiloh's hair and joined them at the penning ring.
"Oh hey," Alli said, the frowned. "Where's Pearce?" I looked behind and only saw Quinn, Sierra and Irie.
"Guys! Where's Pearce?" I said, working up to a panic.
"I don't know," Quinn shrugged. I looked at Sierra. She had a blank stare.
"Oh no!" I shouted, imagining the worst, and having to explain to his parents that I lost their child. "We've go to find him!"
Quinn and Shiloh went in the direction of the food stands and I was thinking maybe he had to go again and didn't tell anyone and he was in on of the 15 port-a-potties. What if someone took him? He's awfully cute. Why didn't Sierra keep him closer? Why didn't I pay more attention? I was in full blown panic.
Then I heard him shout in his little boy voice, "Hey, guys, where are you going?"
Thank God! I thought. The nauseous feeling subsided. I called to Shiloh and Quinn to return. We rejoined Alli and Jasun. Apparently Pearce was still looking for Alli and them between the stands.
It was only minutes before the ponies were to be herded into the corral, and Irie, Pearce, and Sierra stood right by the fence, a front row seat. I made my way behind them and then the first car of the procession arrived. People cheered. Then another car. Then a few people on horse back. All at once, the wild heard ran in. I held my camera on it's last bit of battery up to video it. In 10 seconds it was over and I pushed stop. Except it didn't stop. It started. I missed the whole thing.
From there we waited for a bus back. I considered walking the two miles back because standing in the line in the hot sun was excruciatingly boring. The kids played in the shade of a tree with some other kids whose parents were also waiting in line, but there I was, my only shade being my big brimmed sun hat I brought that I felt like I had to take off in the crowd because I didn't want to be "that person."
An hour later we were back at our car, then an hour after that we were back at our house only a half and hour later than predicted, with some really bored kids and no pictures to speak of. However, I'm glad we went because now I know I don't ever want to do that again and I can warn others to cross it off your bucket list and put something else more fun there, like, repainting your living room.
Hey all. I need you! If you don't mind, head over here and help me out by giving me your opinion on which sales pitch makes you want to read my still unpublished novel, "Summer 1992" more. Thanks!