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

Maine or bust!

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Woke, put the van in drive and rolled out early while the rest of the campground was still snuggled in their Smuggler’s Notch tents. Slept-drove a few miles into Stowe, VT for some coffee.

Wound our way over twisty, rutted roads alongside whitewater rivers and beautiful tick-infested meadows. Across the border into New Hampshire where the speed limit increased and the helmets came off the motorcycle riders: “Live Free or Die”

Through the White Mountains and skirted around Mt. Washington. Dudley has a vague memory from his youth of a family trip the windy summit.

Rural New England is a lot like rural areas in the Pacific Northwest or the South or probably most out-of-the-way places:   Houses with sagging rooflines and off-kilter porches in need of a fresh coat of paint. It’s hard to figure where the jobs are and there appears to be all kinds of ways folks supplement their income– antiques, “antiques,” hubcaps, crafts, fresh eggs, vegetables, dirt, split firewood, Christmas trees, scrap metal, pies – are just a sampling of items we saw advertised with hand painted signs in front of houses and at the end of driveways.

The most common activity seems to be lawn mowing. We pass countless men and women on their John Deere riding mowers zipping around vast acreages of grass.

You can get a McLobster Roll at McDonalds in these parts. Something called a Maple Creamee is a softserve treat around here. We pass on both.

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Acadia National Park hosts 2.5 million people per year and is one of the busiest national parks. We knew we wanted to come to Acadia and have also been dreading it a little: it will be mobbed, we got the last campsite in the entire park back in April when we booked it, and the mosquitos will be vampire-like.

So we pull in and…we have a phenomenal campsite: Site A16 is stunningly private, perfectly flat, large, with its own grass driveway. When we arrive, there are (tick-infested) deer grazing languidly in its meadow. And dig this: there’s a small cemetery at A16. Yep: there are about 5 gravestones, all from 1860s and earlier, about ten feet from the van. Little gray granite lozenges sinking awkwardly into the ground, one a “California Pioneer,” as the gravestone announces. There are two children, Hatty and Fanny. There are several whose identities are no longer known.   The rangers don’t know much about them except that their descendents still visit the graves. We know this, too: there are two American flags stuck in the ground of two.

Although all the campgrounds are “full,” we took two short hikes in the afternoon and met few people. It’s stunning here: the rocky coastline, the volcanic rock, the lobster pots. We were scared, but Acadia has charmed us.

#oldsterhipstervanlife

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The day started early, as all days in the van do: the farther we head east, the earlier the sun—and we– rise. 7:30: Up and out, coffee, tea, and almond butter & jelly sandwiches in our hands. Stunning drive—more green mountains, vast meadows of cornflowers, Queen Anne’s lace, yarrow, solar panel farms, blue and silver silos, and red barns. So bucolic. We drive hwy 7 north through Rutland, Middlebury and into Burlington where we make land in time for a visit to Crow’s bookstore.

Burlington seems kind of hip. To fit in, Dudley wore his new-to-him thrift store hipster snap button shirt he bought for $9 the day before in Brattleboro. Church Street Marketplace, several blocks of a bricked pedestrian walkway, is reminiscent of Pearl Street in Boulder, CO. Lots of young people with tattoos, sundresses, sunglasses, dogs, cats (yes, cats!) and musical instruments lolling about on a Tuesday afternoon.

We plot our next move over lunch at a lovely café off the pedestrian walk: we will drive to Lake Champlain and hope to camp at Grand Isle State Park.

We arrive, check in and there are plenty of sites. Whoo-hoo! The lake is practically there, the park has meticulous gardens and acres of mowed grass. But something itches at us: we weren’t ready to settle in for the day. Back in the van! Head toward Mt. Mansfield State Forest, which features Mt. Mansfield, the highest point in Vermont at 4393 feet.   We hoped Smuggler’s Notch, the only campground in the forest, held a campsite for us. One left: hurrah We’ll take it!

Smuggler’s Notch area is a mountainous area of tremendous rock walls, and caves. The road is extremely narrow, and there are trails everywhere. During Prohibition, smugglers used to bring liquor from Canada (about 20 miles away) by way of the caves. Runaway slaves, too, used the Notch for cover and get-away.   We take a lovely, strenuous 90 minute hike up to Sterling Pond, 1.5 miles straight up. There are many crippling features: exposed tree roots, boulders, mud, pebbles… We are feeling our aged knees, especially as we hike down. There is some discreet “oof-ing.” “Can we run past you?” comes a breathy voice from behind us as a young woman runs, leaping like a drunken fawn, up the hill.   Her less fawn-like male companion chugs after her, slightly apologizing to us as he goes past us: “She likes to fast run up this mountain.”

He must really like her, we think.

Tonight we rest in Smuggler’s Notch campground surrounded by birch trees and maples. The air is cool, the mosquitos are few, and the ticks haven’t gotten ahold of us yet.

Greetings from the Green Mountain State!

Instead of starting our camping adventure from home, we flew into Newark, NJ, grabbed our bags off the carousel, and Uber’ed our way to Jersey City to the Escape Campervan depot at the marina. It’s hot and sticky in this part of the world in mid-July.

We finally get the keys to “Woodsy”—it’s a forest-themed paint job for the van this year– and inch our way through the Holland Tunnel to Manhattan and into Connecticut.

Three hours later, we arrive at the best resupply store on the Eastern Seaboard: Dudley’s mom’s house. After cocktails and a delicious dinner, we collapse into bed, rising to begin the supply process—paper towels, linens, duct tape, a sponge, plastic Tupperwares, rope: check, check, double-check. Everything packed, we wave goodbye and we’re off! To the grocery store: tortillas, almond butter, gorp, gin, bread, beer, apples, black beans, avocados.

But then we’re really off! Through Connecticut, Massachusetts, and into Vermont. Green hills, valleys, and more green hills. Little towns with established dates of 1754. We pull off at Brattlesboro, VT, an artsy college town with a historic downtown that has a long literary history– home to Saul Bellow and Rudyard Kipling. We climb out of the rig in search of lunch. We cruise the downtown, among the junk/antique shop—Dudley purchased a smart, pearl-buttoned western wear shirt!–, two bookstores, several restaurants and Sam’s, greatest sporting goods store ever. Could we live here? Maybe.

Satisfied, we make our way through more green hills and valleys, the clouds impossibly puffy and the hills impossibly green. It is a stunning landscape. We are used to the towering, angular Sierras, but these rolling, voluptuous hills offer an equally mesmerizing scene.

Emerald State Park calls our name, and we pull in. We are the only ones camping in our section of 50 campsites. The teen ranger takes our money and says something about a storm. “There’s a storm coming?” Laura asks. “Oh, yeah,” she says. “In about an hour.” “How long will it last?” “Awhile.”

We hustle-walk the mile back around the lake to our campsite, thunder overhead. The tarp and duct tape have come in handy. Dinner is done, and we are now tucked warmly into our van, Dudley drinking a whiskey and reading Station Eleven, Laura reading H is for Hawk, the rain pouring outside, and the green mountains growing greener by the moment.

We are back in our familiar van and ready for our new adventure. This is, indeed, the fun.

The Last Blog Post: Home! (plus, the Shadow Blog)

Last day

‘Sal, we gotta go and never stop going till we get there’

‘Where we going, man?’

‘I don’t know but we gotta go.’

                                    —On the Road by Jack Kerouac

And go we did. 4024 miles, four states and two Canadian provinces later, we are back in our little house by the sea, a needy cat making her presence known. The laundry pile is impressively and oddly large for a pair that essentially wore the same thing for 3 weeks. Dudley mentioned that it’s nice to drink out of a glass.

This year’s trip was a little harder than the last–the weather wasn’t as cooperative, and our destination wasn’t as clear. Because we traveled essentially in one area of the country, we saw how the West is burning up: it’s dry and devastated. But we had a wonderful time and met many traveling souls who would agree with Kerouac—they were just going until they got there, wherever It is. Like us, they were out there crafting their lives:  finding joy in nature, meeting people and seeing the world.

As Kerouac also wrote, “There was nowhere to go but everywhere, so just keep on rolling under the stars.” We rolled all over the Northwest, through the volcanic Cascades, along the mighty Colombia River, into the desert of Washington and into Idaho. Then north across the border to the glaciated mountains and aquamarine lakes of the Canadian Rockies. We went everywhere until ended up back home in Moss Beach and although we were joyous at seeing the stars in so many beautiful places, it’s nice to see the stars, here, too.

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 4000+ miles with one other person.

Shadow Blog

Last year after our trip, we posted what was known as the shadow blog. It told the unseemly side of traveling in a van with 1 person for 3 weeks.

This year’s shadow blog isn’t very shadow-y. We contemplated why and decided it was because we included the shadow as we went along: if the weather wasn’t good, we told you. If we were kevetching about the van, we wrote about it. If Dudley didn’t see the point of stopping for food, we mentioned it.

Here is as shadow-y as it gets this year:

  1. Dudley and Laura went through some heavy existential dilemmas regarding travel while in the Rainbow Campground outside Estacada, OR. For Dudley, travel mostly means to stay off highways and see as much as possible. From the car window. Laura likes to get out of the car.

We had decisions to make, weather to contend with, people who wanted to see us and whom we wanted to see. Covering 4 states and 2 countries. In 3 weeks.

We are fussing and pouring over the map and kicking around ideas for at least an hour after a day of driving for 8 hours.

“It’s a journey,” opines Dudley, metaphysically, during a break in negotiations.

Laura (lovingly and tongue-in-cheek) might have said something like, “Oh shut up. Don’t give me your new age California bullshit.”

  1. Laura lost her sunglasses about 5 times a day. “Have you seen my sunglasses?” was the most-oft-heard Laura question.
  1. “I don’t need to eat. Do you need to eat?” was the most-oft-heard Dudley question.
  1. Dudley secretly turned on the air conditioning rear vents for Taylor, his guitar. Gotta take care of my girl, he was heard to whisper.
  1. Dudley is the most optimistic person on the planet. If he loses hope, look for the apocalypse soon after. That’s what happened on Friday morning in Jasper. It had been raining for 15 hours and the weather had teased us mercilessly: It’s raining. It’s brightening. It’s raining. It’s brightening. Dudley started getting bitter: The museum is boring. I don’t want to hike anymore. Laura had to leap into action: we need to get out of here. So we did. Phew.
  1. If Laura sees another peanut/almond butter and jelly sandwich before 2016, it will be too soon.
  1. Dudley and his slight OCD, moving the van 78 times (1 inch at a time) to get it just right in the campsite.