July 29 to September 6, 2017
When you plan an epic road trip like this one, my advice is to look back through your life to determine who were the people and what were the things that made you the happiest along the way. Then focus on that and avoid stuff that didn’t bring you a smile and a “wow”. Early on in my process from going from a normal, predictable, safe life to that of a modern day, big rig hauling gypsy, I was driven by the freedom I now had to go wherever I wanted (as long as it was south of the freeze line). Three things became my guiding passion…. to see friends and family I infrequently see, to immerse myself in the awesomeness of nature and beauty of national and state parks I’ve yet to experience (including our now threatened National Monuments), and at the end of the day, to be able to drift off to sleep with a smile on my face knowing tomorrow will be just as fun and rewarding.
So keeping to my plan, August 2017 was dedicated to one of my favorite places, the beach at Montauk, NY. By some stroke of luck, I was blessed with a brother who played his cards right on Wall Street, bought a big house in Montauk years ago and decided to retire to a life of leisure just before I rolled in. Now anyone who knows the roads, bridges, tunnels and thoroughfares of New Jersey and New York, would agree, it just isn’t a place to bring a 43-foot trailer. Those things just aren’t welcome in these parts. Too big when having to share the road with 20 million other nutzo drivers. So I parked Big Mo at my buddy Goodyear’s outside of Harrisburg, PA and completed my eastward plunge in Mini Mo (the new name given to my GMC pick-up by the Eastern Wiggins clan). Sun, sand and surf was the mission but as you can guess, there was so much more!
So here was my typical day in Montauk…. about 30 of these in a row
- 7 am – Get up, drink coffee, read the NY Times, check emails, check the weather report. Sometimes when no office work to be done, go for a bike ride.
- 10 am – Drive with bro Jim to the fish market (you can plug in: Chicken farm, organic veggie stand, liquor/beer store, IGA market, or gourmet grocery store in East Hampton) to get items for dinner.
- 1 pm – lunch of last night’s dinner leftovers.
- 2 pm – THE BEACH – maybe the Atlantic side (just a 5 min walk), maybe the Long Island Sound side (5 min drive). Lay on the sand like a beached seal in the sun, listen to my tunes, splash in the waves, drink beer.
- 5 to 7 pm – Happy Hour back at the house (as my bro pointed out, “you have to have the second half of your cocktail after draining the first.” If conditions looked good we often drove to a bar or beach on the northwest side to see the sunset – wow.
- 7, 8 or 9 pm – First watch as the fish, chicken, steak, whatever… gets expertly grilled or smoked, help set the table, light the candles for the right mood, then EAT!
- 9 to pass-out – star gaze, gather around the outside fire ring, or if there were enough young bloods around, open the Tiki Lounge downstairs for music and laughs.
- Next day – repeat with even more determination.
For those who are geographically challenged, Montauk (aka The End) is located all the way past the snooty Hamptons to the end of the south fork of what is Long Island. It has incredible beaches, ultra hip bars and club scene, a vibrant harbor and fishing industry (the thriller Jaws was inspired by locals here), interesting celebrities past and present (Andy Warhol, Dick Cavett, Edward Albee, Robert De Niro, Bernie Madoff, Mic Jagger, and Teddy Roosevelt to name a few), an historic lighthouse commissioned by George Washington, lots of open space with cool trails, the best surfing in the northeast at Ditch Plains, a quaint downtown and way too many summer tourists which my presence didn’t help. The local saying is that Montauk is a drinking town with a fishing problem. After a month there I fully agree. One fact I didn’t know…. it also is home to Deep Hollow Ranch, a working cattle ranch founded in 1658 way before there were cowboys. Another thing I didn’t know (and they just found out), off shore is a natural nursery and breeding ground for Great White sharks which they were busy studying and tagging all summer long. Made a swim more interesting. Here are some Must Do’s when in Montauk….
- Surf Ditch Plains
- SUP off Navy Beach
- Get ice cream at John’s
- Hike the trails (watch out for ticks) and see old WWII bunkers
- Catch a sunset at the Montauket
- Buy the freshest fish possible at Gosman’s Market and grill it for dinner
- Get fried chicken for a beach picnic at Herb’s Market (can’t beat their meat)
- Spend a cloudy afternoon at nearby Longhouse Sculpture Gardens
- Ride a bike out to the lighthouse
- Play mini golf at Puff ‘n Putt
- Have a sunset beach cookout (bring a fire pan)
- Try to make dinner reservations at the Harvest (2-3 weeks out)
- Have a drink at the Memory Motel (made famous in a Stones song)
- Take the ferry to Block Island and rent scooters
- Have lunch at Lunch (seen in Showtime’s The Affair)
- Beware of the Montauk Monster!
You know summer is fading fast when you get to Labor Day. Sorta sad. But who knew we were in for a special treat? Went to the beach that day as usual and set up my chair facing the pounding surf. As my eyes drifted over the rollers coming in I spotted what looked like a spout of mist in the corner of my eye. I kept staring and 30 seconds later I saw a black blob rise and sink. “WHALE!” I shouted. Sure enough 40 seconds later the majestic beast rose a fin and whale butt out of the ocean. Been looking for years off this beach and this was my first sighting. Way cool way to kiss the summer goodbye.
The next day everyone left and Jim and I celebrated Tumbleweed Tuesday – the annual event for Montauk townies to get together at the town square for live music and BYO beverages. Gone are the bad drivers, congested roads, packed bars and restaurants and the general din of way too many tourists. Tomorrow we were to head out but today we join in the party wishing my ass farewell.
Thanks to brother Jim, boss Chris, nieces Alison, Lily and Margret for extending their generous hospitality for more than a month! It was great to have Luke come out for a week of fun and beach Olympics. Met some cool people and ate some very fresh farm & sea to table fare. Looking back now…. August just doesn’t get any better than this. On to the hills of Pennsylvania!