Yesterday morning I woke up to a thunder storm and pouring rain, and started getting ready for the Sunday night before Independence Day plans - sleeping on the beach and waking up to the sunrise over the ocean. Rain or shine we had said, so that's what we did...
Michelle and I were the only ones brave (or is it stupid) enough to do this, but we always knew that we could come home if it really wasn't going to work out! We made our way to Fort Tilden Beach, grabbing food at a couple of delis along the way (notably Mr Kiwi by my house for "healthy" stuff and Pickles and Pies by Rockaway Park subway station for sandwiches). Fort Tilden Beach is actually pretty easy to access - just grab a bus on 116th street right down to 169th street. It starts just after Jacob Riis Park (the federal beach) and goes pretty much all the way to Breezy Point. It's an unprotected beach, so no lifeguards, no amenities (unless you count the stinky portaloo by the abandoned buildings), just raw, uncleaned beach against a backdrop of dunes and woods.
The pros: not crowded, lots of driftwood to make tents with, beautiful views and pretty much the right to do whatever you want (even sunbathe topless if you are so inclined).
The cons? Only one I can really think of, and that is that the beach is not kept clean. There is a lot of garbage that comes IN from the ocean (it doesn't appear as it was left there by beachgoers).
When we got there it was drizzling. Not many people on the beach (mainly a fisherman and a couple of swimmers). We set up camp by an elaborate wood sculpture, and went to explore. We found a big piece of plastic, half of a huge container of some sort, surrounded by logs. The plastic was aptly named "Piece of white trash" and set up like a little hut - perfect for us when the rain started really coming down (the back and forth between old and new camp in the rain was quite exhilarating). The rain finally stopped, but the sun didn't come out (although we did get a beautiful reddish-pink sky at sunset) - and then the tide came in... and rolled right up to our camp. So we just moved back to the dunes, got into our sleeping bags and watched the stars light up, the fishermen's flashlights a few beaches down, and the fireworks over the ocean.
I slept OK, despite the fact the I wasn't 100% sure someone would scare us during the night. There's nothing quite like falling asleep and waking up to crashing waves...
Sadly there was no amazing sunrise, but nevertheless, something no less spectacular: a white fog coating all of the surroundings, rolling in from the ocean and giving everything an eerie and strange look - you couldn't really see too far around you, especially when you went in the water. Good job it cleared up around 10am, because that's when we (and the few groups of people who had turned up on the beach) saw a shark! Not a huge one, but it was definitely slithering around very close to the shore! It disappeared after a while, but that really put me off swimming for the rest of the day (needless to say I had dreamt that a shark bit my foot off the night before, so I wasn't going to risk that becoming reality!).
And then the people started to arrive. And arrive. And arrive. In droves. To quote Michelle Hel's words directly it was "like Williamsburg just vomited all over Fort Tilden". Groups and groups of hipster/tattooed/fake-rockabilly/country/loudmouthed/annoying people. To be fair, there were a few families, and not everyone was annoying, but it was so lacking in diversity, that I was beginning to feel a little uncomfortable. I'm used to a super diverse crowd in the Rockaways - and I felt like Michelle and I had missed the memo that if you were from Williamsburg you needed to go to fort Tilden on July 4th. Maybe it was that terribly-written article that appeared n the New York Times a few weeks ago? We stayed until about 3pm, but the crowds, the hot sun and the lack of caffeine started to get to me, so we made our way back home on the subway, a little sunburnt, tired, but happy that we actually made it through the adventure.
I will definitely be going to Fort Tilden again - I love the beach itself, the ruggedness, the lush greenery in the park behind, the wilderness. I have a feeling that it won't be as packed next time we go, but it's definitely a place to get to early, rather than late.
If you want to sleep on the beach keep a few things in mind:
1). Camping is prohibited on all beaches (federal and state) - so don't go pitching a tent
2), Choose your beach wisely - I doubt you will get a peaceful sleep on Coney Island, but you may on Breezy point.
3) Bug spray!
4). Water - we took two gallons with us. And used it all.
5). Fruit, snacks and diet coke (for the caffeine addicts out there - I regretted not bringing any)
More pictures to come when I get my film developed :)