Expressway: Cooped up at a Montauk beach -- and loving it
It was early on our last day of camping at the beach in Montauk, and as I opened my eyes, I felt a chill in the air. Ocean gusts shook the tent.
For the past week, each day had been sunny, hot and beautiful. My family was looking forward to a final day of sunbathing, relaxing, fishing and playing in the sand. But on this morning, the sky was full of dark, gloomy clouds.
Of course, we're used to the unpredictable weather at the beach. My family has spent a week camping at Hither Hills State Park every summer of my 25 years. My parents began camping there after they were married in 1978. The tradition has spread, and each year it's a big, enjoyable vacation with perhaps 20 aunts, uncles, cousins and friends.
Hither Hills is one of Long Island's best family camping spots. It's so popular that summer reservations for its 155 campsites are filled within minutes when sign-ups open by phone and on the Internet each fall.
Every year on our arrival, we breathe in the scents of the ocean and ever-present barbecues, and listen to the cries of the seagulls and crash of the Atlantic waves. Camp rangers and staff greet us by name. We say hello to other campers who, like us, reserve the same week summer after summer.
Each campsite, a short walk from the ocean, consists of a small concrete patio and a picnic table, with grass for tents, campers, trailers and/or screen houses. There is no electricity, so we rely on flashlights, lanterns and cookout fires after dark.
This is camping, so there's some degree of roughing it. Before dinner each evening, campers often line up, sometimes 10 deep, at each of the four bathhouses to shower off the sand and salt of a long day at the beach.
The camp staff helps make fun with beach bonfires and sand castle contests. A snack bar sells ice cream, soda and candy; a general store stocks groceries and toiletries, and a deli there serves hot food from egg sandwiches to hamburgers.
One of the best parts is walking on the beach at night and gazing up at dazzling sky to spot a shooting star.
We hate when the end of the week comes, of course, and on that dark Friday morning as we sat at our picnic table drinking coffee, it started to drizzle -- and then poured. My parents, brother and I took shelter in our pop-up camper. Many in our vacation group packed up and headed home early.
In the camper, boredom was taking over. But then the door flew open and my two little cousins, a 9-year-old boy and his 11-year-old sister, and my aunt and my uncle rushed inside.
The atmosphere quickly changed and we whipped out our favorite board game, Taboo. Although cramped on beds and around a small table, the eight of us had a great time. The rain kept falling, but the hours flew by as we laughed and enjoyed each other's company.
As I looked around at the smiling faces, I simply became overjoyed. This is what our annual family vacation is all about, I thought.
The storm had kept us off the beach on our last day, but when my family and I looked back on the trip, we agreed that the rainy day inside the camper was the best of the entire week. When you're camping, you roll with the punches.