Article by contributor Chase Nilson
A glorious June day in New England. Low 80s inland, mid 70s on the water. Partly cloudy, the summer heat stings your skin. The breeze is revitalizing. Car windows down, sunroof open, locusts hum during a particularly sunny interval. Seemingly, there is nothing that can get in the way of the picture perfect beach day ahead of you. Except COVID-19.
Social distancing is no easy feat, especially while summering near the famed New England beaches. Turning onto Atlantic Avenue in Westerly, your fears are confirmed: Misquamicut Beach is filled to the brim with unmasked beachgoers. Ugh. Continuing east on Atlantic Avenue, you drive slowly in hopes of spotting a lonely stretch of sand. As you near Weekapaug Point on the scenic Spray Rock Road, you note several parked cars on the right shoulder.
To your delight, you have found another beach. Not just any beach, but one that is empty enough to properly social distance. As you descend from the parking area to the shore, the scent of warmed botanicals fill your nose. The ocean wind is brisk, yet the sun remains steadfast in warmth. Nearing the waters, a cresting wave sends a cascade of water over your toes. Certainly, these are not the waters of Florida. Yet, you still wade onward. You grimace as the water reaches new heights on your leg. Though the shallows are rocky, the stones are smooth and kind to the feet. Hands on your hips, you observe your surroundings. Patches of kelp ride the motions of the tide. A larger wave crashes into a boulder to your right, sending cool droplets over your scorched shoulders. A cormorant lifts it wings to the sun to dry. Poised and still, you have caught the bird in a state of prayer. A neighboring cormorant can’t be bothered with meditation, as fishing is deemed a more favorable activity.
After a quick dip, you lay your towel upon a patch of rock-less sand. Feel the soft give of the sand as you place your chin on your resting hands. The shore, lined with bright green foliage, is dotted with vibrant flower petals. Docile bumblebees hop from one to the other, the sound of their buzzing drowned by the nearby waves. You could spend hours napping in this spot, lying peaceful and safely unmasked.
Relaxing feels fabulous, but nothing beats exploring. Re-masking yourself, you pick up your belongings and set out north on Route 1 to find another gem. A turn off West Beach Road leads you to the quiet community of Quonochauntaug. So sleepy is the community that driving 15 miles per hour seems reckless. The vacation homes are large and luxurious, their design true to the region. Though the beach here is private, a slow joy ride through the village is worth the detour. Head back to Route 1 northbound, only to immediately turn right down East Beach Road. Happen upon Blue Shutters Beach, only to turn away due to the crowd and $20 non-resident parking fee. Continue down the road, as you trade asphalt for sand. A minute drive brings you to the East Beach entrance kiosk. Though cheaper than Blue Shutters Beach, parking remains steep at $12 for non-residents.
Like Misquamicut Beach, few beachcombers are masked. Though many people are at the beach today, you find a lovely spot to lay your towel, at least 20 feet from the nearest group. The waves are large, therefore a peaceful wade is impossible. Instead, with a deep breath, you take the plunge into the aqua depths. Initially alarming, you emerge from the
water made whole and content. Smiling, you turn your back to the oncoming wave, arms outstretched, ready to bodysurf. Kicking off from the sand, the wave propels you forward, as your smile turns to a laugh. Turn around, stretch your arms, kick off the sand, propel forward. Repeat. The repetition is hardly monotonous, even if you find yourself in that space for over an hour.
The beaches of Southwest Rhode Island are hardly a secret. During a global pandemic, you may feel a relaxing trip to the beach will be anything but, especially if you are committed to social distancing. As you drive parallel to the shore, arm resting on your open window, be patient. Be still. There are still peaceful spots to be seen.