Home! (and the Shadow Blog)

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“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild & precious life?” Mary Oliver, poet. On the board at PK Coffee in Stowe, VT

Our one wild and precious life spends time camping. We did about 3 weeks this summer, all told. Camping provides life at its most simple: where to sleep, what to eat, what to do next. Socialize with people. That’s it. No laundry, no current events, no watering the plants.

This trip was different from the others because it was so short: 1500 miles, 10 days. Even with this short of a trip, it always feels like we miss something. Laura tends to fret about what we miss; Dudley enjoys what we see. But this time we covered a small amount of geography, spent more days than we thought at Acadia and although we certainly did miss some spots, we felt like we spent time in places and got their flavor.

We aren’t home in CA, but in CT at Dudley’s Mom’s house. That’s us in CT along with the van and our Dodge Charger rental car. (We need to return the van to its home in NJ and getting back to CT is complex. We decided to rent a car—it’s actually cheaper than Ubering and the train. All the little compact economy cars were unavailable so we got a muscle car for a compact price. Score!). We are on the 5th load of laundry, are enjoying cocktails in real glasses, and will enjoy a dinner with a variety of food. The simple life of camping is great, but our more complicated wild and precious life is pretty great, too.

Thanks for sharing in our journey; it was fun writing for us and you.

PS. See below for the non-sentimental segment of The Last Blog. Spoiler: It’s the seedy underbelly of living in a van and traveling 1500+ miles with one other person.

Shadow blog

The shadow blog isn’t too shadow-y this year. There’s not a lot because we are used to vanlife now and not too much surprises us. You want real shadow-y? Head to the first trip in the van. Oof. Below, there’s also a collection of what we heard and saw on our trip that didn’t make it into the blog.

  1. When her clothes got dirty, Laura laundered. When his clothes got dirty, Dudley bought new clothes.
  2. Always on the first night camping, Laura is worried we’ll get axe murdered by Bad Guys. We didn’t.
  3. Storing dirty laundry is a challenge. On Day 5, we just kept it outside the van in a Hefty bag. Peeee—ewww!
  4. If you know Laura, you know she plans dinner at breakfast. Can’t help it. Her whole professional teacher life has required advanced planning. The story in the family goes that Laura would arrive early for Kindergarten, sharpen her pencils, sit at her desk with her hands folded, and await the learning. Good things come to those who plan.

Dudley is not like this. He goes by instinct.

At the end of April when we were thinking about this trip, Dudley was concerned about camping in Acadia. Should we reserve a site? [We had never reserved a site in our lives.] He went online. There was one campsite left in the entire park for the time we were thinking about being there. Oh well: grab it and hope for the best!

And it was the best site.

During these trips, our individual life philosophies usually get tested: leave it to Dudley to have 1 camping site left, and it’s a great site. Laura would have booked it 10 months ago and it wouldn’t have been ½ as nice. Sigh.

  1. Dudley stopped using deodorant after Day 2.
  2. Dudley likes to get the van parked juuuuuust right. Sleeping is more enjoyable when the van is flat and level. Otherwise we end up rolled on top of each other on one side. This year was a banner year: one campsite required almost an hour (including a beer break) of back and forth.
  3. One of the toilets in the Acadia men’s room was clogged and the maintenance/ cleaning woman was waiting for everyone to exit so she could go in and deal with it. As the last guy exited, she stepped in front of his path, shook a finger and said, “I’m somebody’s grandmother. Would you want your grandmother doing this?!” He wandered off, perplexed.
  4. Not shadow-y, but signs we saw:
  • On a Baptist church near New Haven, VT: “Pessimists need a kick in the can’ts.”
  • Name of an ice cream shop: “Pete’s Pretty Good Ice Cream”
  • Sign on an auto garage: “When DYI becomes OMG”
  • Sometimes a house will have a name on it: Passing Wind B and B
  • Name of various shops that sell lobster rolls: Lobstore, Mainely Lobster, Mainiac Lobster.
  • Name of a company that makes prepared foods for a grocery store: Chow Maine
  • There are an endless number of hair salons, all with fabulous names: Hair It Is! Hair City. The Great Hair Emporium. Hairetic. A Cut Above. Maine-ly Manes. Shear Delight. Maine-ly Hair. Beyond Beauty. Natural or Not? Live Free or Dye. And many more that we didn’t write down.
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Goodbye, Maine

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The day dawns damp and dark. We peer outside: our flip flops have puddles in them. But there is no rest for the weary traveler! Laura, because she works as a college counselor, is gettin’ her full college geek on: she has a 9:30 appointment at Bowdoin College for a campus tour and info session. She puts on her only clean clothes, fluffs her hair, dusts off her business cards, and Dudley drops her off.   He heads to the big antique mall in town—no, no purchases—the slim farmers’ market, and cruises town. He overhears someone in a store mention she’s from Pacifica (next town to where we live in CA). Turns out, she & her family are thinking about moving to Maine because it’s too crowded and expensive in CA. This is getting to be a familiar story.

Since we’re so close, we head to Freeport, ME to the LLBean flagship store. We have purchases in mind. But it’s overwhelming. They practically didn’t have any men’s large clothing. They don’t make women’s chammy shirts anymore. We eat a quick lunch and bid Freeport adieu.

This is our last full day on the road: tomorrow we head home to Connecticut. We decide to drive to New Hampshire. We find a campsite at the Pawtuckaway State Park. Once again, the park is run entirely by teens, mostly teen girls. We find a site and pull on hiking gear, load up with water and put together quick snack packs. There’s just enough daylight left for a quick 5 mile up to the fire tower.

No sooner do we start, then: Good grief! The mosquitos in New Hampshire are treacherous! They follow you. They wear you down. They probably hope you trip so they can chew your arm off. Dudley, who never gets bit anywhere we travel, is swarmed. We are swatting ourselves, hoping they disappear. They do let up.

We eventually get to the fire tower. The views are lovely— vast, 360 degrees of tree-filled mountains as far as the eye can see. The tower itself looks like something out of a Pottery Barn catalog: a lovely fog-gray color and clear, big windows. Crazy.

We head down, ready for mosquito battle. They are waiting for us. We’ll say it again: there are no winners in the Great Mosquito War.

We get back to the site, get changed, get dinner prepared, but there have been delays and we’re eating in the dark, with headlamps. The day has been a bit silly and at one point earlier we were thinking of heading straight back to CT. There was a bunch of indecision today. But no: we’re glad we stayed out here, despite the mosquitoes and despite not having a destination in NH. We got to see what a fire tower would look like if Pottery Barn carried it. There have been porcupine sightings. Laura got to meet the most hilarious child in the bathroom tonight. [“Do you have teeth?” asks the 5 year old. She follows it up with: “Why is your hair so messy?” and as a parting comment: “Tell your husband, Dugley, that I can swim underwater.”] We cleaned our dinner dishes with paper towels. We had nothing to do but be here in this pretty, dark forest on a Tuesday night.

The Rustication Continues

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Here’s how every day ends: the doors and windows of the van are open as we get ready for bed and get some air circulating. We climb into the rig, close the van doors, and spend time reading prior to sleep. We also work on Mosquito Abatement and Elimination. The mosquitoes enter through the open doors or windows and dive-bomb us with their high-pitched whining. They get theirs, however: Laura fwapps them with Olde Hickory, a rolled up newspaper. Inside of the van is the Ceiling of Death. It takes about 20-30 minutes to get everyone killed, and the rest of the evening is peaceful.

Until this morning.

The day begins unnaturally early when one mosquito soldier manages to avoid the previous evening’s assault. He dive-bombs us from 5am onward. He is elusive. He is wily. He appears to be fwapped by Olde Hickory only to rise again from the dead. Laura has decided this one is her Moby Mosquito; she will prevail. She hears him, Dudley hears him, Laura rises with Olde Hickory and a headlamp and while Dudley is trying to catch him with his bare hands, Laura tries to fwap him with Olde Hickory, and Moby heads back into the shadows. The attack continues for almost an hour. In the end, we win the battle. There are casualties on all sides: Moby is dead and one of us sacrificed his or her blood to bring him to his timely end. There are no winners in the Great Mosquito War.

Later in the morning, we head out towards Boothbay, ME to visit old family friends of Dudley’s: Jen, her husband, John and Jen’s parents, Joan and Nick. Nick and Dudley’s dad, Paul, met in college on Day 1 and the couples have stayed friends for 50+ years; Nick is also Dudley’s godfather. The family lives in a beautiful corner of the world, and we saw all the projects and undertakings that have been keeping them all busy. Jen serves us a fabulous lunch – a break from our usual almond butter & jelly. hurrah!–while we relax, laugh and tell stories.

We reluctantly say goodbye & head down the road to the Maine Maritime Museum in Bath, ME. It has been raining a lot of the day, so it’s a perfect activity. As we are getting closer, suddenly the car is in the middle of hundreds of (mostly) men carrying lunch pails and hurrying past the van. Dudley likened it to being stuck in a cattle drive: we just wait it out as all these people flow around the van. We come to find out that our van was at just the right place at just the right time: The Bath Iron Works (BIW) shift had just let out and 1000s of people were leaving work. BIW is one of the largest employers in the state, and they are currently building a ship for the military.

The Maine Maritime Museum is a fabulous history lesson, both past and present, of ship building in Maine. It has an actual ship-building school on campus, has a lighthouse exhibit, and has a terrific exhibit on Maine ships and trade both international and domestic, among others. In one exhibit on the history of ships in Maine, we learn a new word: rusticators. It’s a turn-of-the-20th-century term coined by Maine locals for vacationers who want a more rustic vacation experience and come to Maine to experience it. As you can see from one photo, there were also interactive exhibits: Laura tries her hand at the helm of a ship; she radios for help and promptly crashes.

One of the more compelling exhibits is a photography exhibit of current Bath Iron Works shipyard workers. Two local photographers/researchers set up a booth during the BIW 30 minute lunch break and interviewed & photographed any worker who was willing to talk with them. There are about 5500 BIW workers and the photographers simply wanted to find out the jobs and lives of the workers. The upclose photos and accompanying audio really showcase the gritty conditions, the pride the workers have for their work, and the brotherhood/sisterhood that exists among them.

The rain is worse now, and there is NO WAY that we are cooking in the rain at our campsite. We opt, instead, for a delicious Indian meal in Brunswick, ME (home to Bowdoin College). Full, we head to Bradbury Mountain State Park, our home for the night, and find the best site in the campground (protip: camp in the rain, on a Monday… there will be space available.)

We settle in, cozy and warm in our van, the rain drumming on our roof.

Toodling Down Highway One

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Today we travel west down the coast of Maine, taking in every quaint village we can get our eyeballs on: Castine (thanks for the suggestion, Jen A!), Searsport, Belfast, and Camden. We rest tonight at the Camden Hills State Park, which is notable for its free showers. We are fresh!

Castine is known for its beautifully preserved examples of Greek Revival and Federalist architecture. It’s also one of the first settled villages in the US: settled in 1613, for goodness’ sake! We get a map from the harbor (next to Dudley’s Refresher snack shack!) and drive all over town oogling the examples of homes in stunning states of repair and upkeep. The town itself has a very mellow vibe, no one in a hurry, no major consumerism to be had. Lots of folks greeting each other with a “Good morning!” and a mid-street stop to visit. We enjoy a late breakfast on the porch of the café in town and plot our next move. We understand why people move to Castine.

Onward to Searsport, fleamarket and antique capital of Maine. It’s a tiny town and on this Sunday, there were fleamarket stalls or antiques for sale on both sides of the highway, tucked into empty parking lots, people’s garages or in antique malls. Of course we stopped at them all.   The diversity of goods was astounding: guns, ammo, moose antlers, plastic dolls, sterling silver, jewelry, handmade canoes, vinyl records, mailboxes, clothing from the 1960s, taxidermied animals. You name it, someone in Searsport was selling it! We left empty-handed, but content with the hunt.

Over the new-ish Penobscot Narrows Bridge and into Belfast, where we stop at the Belfast Co-op Market to pick up a few items. There we saw a whiskery man filling his glass bottles with the store-made kombucha. Gotta love the hippy towns!

Our last stop was Camden, a town noted for its picture-postcard look, its large fleet of majestic windjammers, and its tourists. We took our sandwich snack and hung out at the harbor watching the boats and people, then window-shopped through town.

Final activity of the day: Our van does have a small refrigerator, but cannot support any frozen foods, which means that ice for one’s gin and tonics is not possible. So when Laura needs her G and T, she goes in search of a cup of ice to take back to the campsite. This time, she found ice and a chit-chatty father and son at the helm of their lobster roll/ice cream stand, Mt. Battie’s TakeOut. Turns out that they work like the dickens for 5 months a year: mid-May to Columbus Day (mid-Oct) in Camden and then head home to Clearwater, FL to be beach bums for the rest of the year. After the summer folks leave, they told me, they wait until the “white tops” come—the oldsters with their gray hair, who visit New England to view the Fall leaf colors changing.

For the first time in a week, we are cold. Socks to bed…

 

Down East

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We lit out for the Down East area of Maine for a day of sightseeing via car. Down East is the eastern-most part of Maine, from Bar Harbor, east. We drive from home at A16, Seawall Campground, to the Schoodic Peninsula, a part of the Acadia National Park. We visit the visitor’s center, drive the 6 mile park loop, stop at the turn offs, take the pictures, ooh and aah, and then continue east towards Millbridge, ME.

The highlight was Corea, ME, a tiny lobster fishing village, with not a pleasure craft to be found in the marina. Clearly, a working town. We had lunch on the dock. Our travels around the US have convinced us that teenage girls pretty much run everything, and Corea was no exception: Corea Wharf Gallery & Grill was small, picturesque, apparently voted an excellent spot to eat by the readers of Down East magazine, and was run by four teenage girls who capably advertised the Grill on the side of the road, grilled up hot dogs, soy dogs, and hamburgers, made lobster rolls, scooped ice cream, made change, and delivered food to tables and cleaned up. We sat near two ladies from somewhere nearby who discussed “George and Barbara” (IE: Bush), and proclaimed the Corea lobster rolls fresh and light, not like some shacks in Kennebunkport that served it with mayo and butter. We did some more ear-hustling and moved on.

There isn’t… ummm… a lot to see in the Down East area. It’s lovely, for sure, but mostly people just live and work there.  We head back to A16.

We return to Acadia in time to take another glorious hike: up the Beechcroft trail to the top of Mount Champlain. Wow!   Clear day to see all the islands: Egg Rock with its lighthouse, all the porcupine islands (Bald, Long, Burnt, and Sheep), and Ironbound, and areas like Bar Harbor and the Schoodic Peninsula. The picture above doesn’t do it justice. The little iphone just can’t capture the vastness of it all.

It’s our last night in Acadia: tomorrow we take the coastal route towards Connecticut. There will be more tortillas and beans for dinner tonight, and Laura will take in another ranger talk about the local plants and animals. What an unexpected delight Acadia has been. We will miss our view out the van doors when we wake up—grass and aspens and birch trees and little Hattie’s grave—and the weather, the pink rock and casual vibe.

But we’ve got to keep movin’ on! Goodbye, Acadia!!

More Adventures!

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It’s early to bed, early to rise around here. Sunrise is 5:10, and we were up soon after.

Practically the first car in the parking lot, we got the BEST parking spot and hiked up Acadia Mountain for more soaring views of the islands. It is a gorgeous day: a little hot, pretty clear, and few folks on the trail. Hares rabbited across our trail, reminding us of our jumpy cat, Francis.

Our plan is to finish Acadia Mtn and then climb up nearby Beech Mountain to the fire lookout tower, which was used to house the people who literally looked for blazes before the advent of technology/satellites could take the place of the human fire watcher. We finish our hike and return to the van. Our parking space is too precious to give up. Dudley says, “I bet there’s a path along the lake to get from here to the next trailhead.” Nothing shows on the map, but he is confident. “Follow me!” exhorts Captain Dudley.

There is bushwacking, there is slipping on rocks, there is being fwapped by twigs. But there is a trail. Ish. Probably not bonafide, but it’s there. But then there’s the Private: No Trespassing sign. “Follow me!” exhorts Captain Dudley. “Walk quickly!” We have wandered into a private yurt/tent resort with families splashing in the lake. We walk quickly. We proceed past the porch, past the reception area, past two manager-types. We head up the driveway, towards the highway, almost there….

“Excuse me! Excuse me! Can I help you?”

Busted.

We say we are lost—because we are—we say that it’s a really nice place they have here—because it is—and we explain what we are doing here. She tells us we’re close, just a ¼ mile down the highway. We thank her, and promise to find another way back to our car.

So that was us, hoofing it along the highway. “This is the fun!” exhorts Captain Dudley, big Hughes grin, over the auto exhaust and truck noise.

We do eventually make it to Beech Mountain and up to the fire tower. More splendid views, more granite to climb, more pine forests to enjoy. How will we get back to the van?

There is an island explorer shuttle bus that, if we catch it at the right time, going the right direction, can drop us off near the van. The pick up is 1:19. We have 45 minutes to get off the mountain. There might have been some running.

We did make it for the shuttle bus—early—and had a delightful chit-chat with a first season ranger whose job that day was ‘visitor services’: he sat in a park service vehicle helping anyone who needed help and managing the parking lot. He had recently moved from the Bay Area because he and his family couldn’t afford the rent, and he told us about some fascinating scientific research programs going on in Acadia, one about tracking bats and one about planting non-native plant species in order to plan for a future with climate change affecting native plant species.

Our day concluded with an exploration of our small town of Southwest Harbor, a drive around a road we hadn’t yet been on, to harbors we hadn’t seen, and a visit to the local odd store for a coin operated shower! We met the owner who, true to form if one is going to live in an out-of-the-way-place, has many jobs: running this quirky coin-operated shower store that also has for sale hooked rugs (two years’ ago winter project), camping gear, Maine hats, garden pots with stuck-on mosaics (last year’s winter project), ice, blueberry everything, and live lobsters. Plus, she plants seedlings for the nearby nursery, runs 2 seasonal cabins, and 2 all-year apartments. All from the comfort of her hammock behind the cash register.

So it was a day of unplanned adventures. Tomorrow awaits!

Mountain, Lighthouse and Town: oh my!

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If you come to Acadia, apparently you should go to Cadillac Mountain, the tallest in the park at 1593 feet. The view is a spectacular 360 degrees, with all islands visible.

We hit the trail and climbed 3.5 miles up through pine forest and volcanic rock. Ranger Kirk, whose ranger presentation called “Acadia Rocks!” Laura went to last night and whose presentation was voted #2 of all national park presentations (#1 was the lizard lady’s presentation at Arches), says that Acadia’s rock has a special pink color to it due to a mineral called feldspar. We traversed over layers of sedimentary rock that Ranger Kirk said had been there 400 billion years. We were sweaty in the first ½ mile; we were a sticky mess by the end of 7. We will never be able to wear those clothes again. Ranger Kirk did say that it was going to be a hot day, and he was not lying.

There are several ways to get to and times to go to Cadillac: It’s one of the first parts of the US to get the sunrise, too, so it’s a ‘thing’ to go up Cadillac to catch the sunrise. Ranger Kirk says it’s amazing. But given that sunrise is ~5:08am these days, it is not a ‘thing’ with us, and we will have to trust Ranger Kirk.

There are three options to the summit: a short hike up the north face, a longer south ascent, or easy car drive. We chose the longer south route. We hiked up–up, flat, down, up, flat, down—and met the usual number of fellow hikers as we went. It was quite serene, unhurried, and unpopulated. We reached the summit, and there were the people: parking lots and a gift shop full of key chains, ice cream bars, shot glasses emblazed with Cadillac Mountain, bags of pistachios, ceramic ware. People were crawling over the summit like ants on a frozen custard. Ranger Kirk did not warn us about this.

But everyone is having a great time: children gamboling over the feldsparian rocks, people in flip flops or sparkly heels and jeans gingerly walking the path around the summit, and folks of all ages enjoying the spectacular day and landscape. We find a spot amongst everyone to enjoy our snack and, bellies full, we leave everyone to enjoy the view and we continued a quiet descent.

We take our sweaty, stinky selves into Baa Haaba (Bar Harbor) for lunch. It’s quaint, with a lawned center square and cute shops, but it’s similar to Fisherman’s Wharf, what with the tourists and parking. Every single person seems to be from out of town, the restaurants are all selling lobsta rolls, and every ice cream shoppe has frozen custard. Glad we went, but won’t be returning.

If you come to Acadia, apparently you also should go to the Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse, too. So we did. We scored a parking spot, and the lighthouse’s surroundings are glorious.

We are exhausted from our long, hot, glorious day and will probably head to bed soon. The mosquitos are also putting up a good fight; Ranger Kirk didn’t mention those. But that’s ok: we’re so glad to be here