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.

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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.

Kitty’s Kitchen Is Christmas Forever

the sistas!

The dawn greeted us at the Cape Disappointment State park, and we were up and out, cruising south on highway 101 along the northern Oregon coast with its lighthouses, rocky cliffs and endless ocean. The coastline has so many towns to explore…. Tillamook. We went for the free cheese samples. People are crazy for cheese. Lines for samples, lines for Tillamook memorabilia, lines for having your kid get his picture taken in the cheese-van driver seat. We were frightened by all the people; no cheese for us. We ran out of there in 5 minutes after patiently waiting for Laura’s turn for her picture in the cheese van. We were later waylaid in quaint Wheeler at a fabric store and a deceptively enormous Antiques & Oddities shop full of mason jars, old tools and end tables. Heceta Head Lighthouse, one of the most photographed lighthouses on the coast, was also visited.

We were winding our way towards Reedsport, a small town on the Oregon coast. A billion years ago, Laura spent a summer at her cousin’s restaurant, the Harbor Light. She needed to get off the Coastside and spent July and August being a go-for to her talented chef-cousin, Lauree. Many vegetables were chopped. The tradition has continued over those 20 years, and various other cousins have spent the summer in the kitchen.

It turned out to be a unexpected mini-family reunion! The current crop of kitchen help is Laura’s cousin, Anna. Her sister Karly is a veteran of the Harbor Light, too, and happened to be visiting on vacation. Flying in from Colorado was their mom, cousin Patty, or “Pat” to her daughters. Or “the Patster” to Patty herself. Rachel, another cousin and Reedport local, rounded out the herd of gals.

What a fabulous time with fabulous weather: we had a dinner and lunch at the Harbor Light Restaurant, we picnicked at a local lake, Laura got to briefly reprise her sous-chef side-kick role for Lauree, and we got the flavor of living in a small town: When no one really wanted to drive 90 minutes to Eugene, OR to pick up Patty, who had just flown in from CO, we ordered her a shuttle service and could they just drop her off at the Little Brown Hen Restaurant in Florence, OR? Great, thanks. The shuttle driver and Patty became fast friends and would have stopped at an estate sale on their way to Florence, but since they were already behind schedule, they decided regrettably to pass.The gang2

In search of a pie for the picnic dinner, we called Kitty, of Kitty’s Kitchen Is Christmas Forever, a combination pie shop, Christmas boutique and hot dog stand. And the lemon meringue was on its way!

We camped in the driveway/back lawn of Lauree and Rachel’s house and were alert for a cougar (a real one!) that had recently peered into a bedroom window. Anna photographed it. We’re not sure we wanted to meet it or not.

It was a great time to spend with family; hilarity was had by all. What a fortune that so many were there at one time. Heceta

Van Confessions

Look closely at the photo on the title page of the blog. You will notice our house and how much of the van is artfully hidden by a purple agapanthus flower. In another post, the van door is open, but it’s tough to tell what the ‘theme’ is. If you are new to the blog, you might have noticed that our transportation is riotously painted. If you are a veteran to the blog, know that we have been holding out on you regarding the details of the paint job. We admit to purposefully censoring the van.

Let us explain.

We rent the van from a company called Escape CamperVans. Their ‘schtick’, if you will, is that their vans are all painted: floating eyeballs, trees, birds, Jimmy Hendrix, abstract. It can be anything. You get whichever van is ready to go; you don’t get to choose.

Last year’s van was named CanLove and resembled the Partridge Family van or a lavender Mondrian painting. It was harmless, and we got lots of ‘thumbs up’ and ‘dig your van, man’ comments. (You can see photos on last year’s blog.)

This year’s van is called Monument and features two Native Americans and paintings of Monument Valley’s iconic mesas and buttes. We picked up the van and were skeptical. We parked it in the driveway. Friends and neighbors ‘hmmmm’d’. We ‘hmmmmm’d’. We will be traveling through Native American territory in a van that features clichéd (although historic, yes) pictures of Native Americans. Would the van offend anyone? How would we be received, as drivers of the van?   Could we trade in the van? Should we avoid tribal territories? Maybe we should cover it with Post-its.

There had been some gnashing of teeth; but we knew we would need to accept the van.

We had great trepidation about the van, especially when a 5 year old boy pointed at the van and yelled, “Injuns!” Oh boy. Then we entered Klamath Falls, OR. In the parking lot of the Big 5 Sporting Goods store, a man walked by us and gave us a big thumbs up and said he liked the van. We came out of the Big 5 and two teen boys were taking a picture of the van with their phone. Big smiles from them. All of these men could have been Native American. In the parking lot of the Crater Lake Lodge, we are prevented from getting to the van because a Honda is sidled up to the driver’s side, its occupants taking photos.

A few mornings ago, Laura is in the van and Dudley is in the gas station taking care of business and big, burly, bearded Harley-driving men kaloomph towards the van. Laura tentatively rolls down the window. “Can I get a picture of me with your van?” Sure, she says. Photo op taken, the van rolls away. We see the Harley men pointing and appreciating the van, Confederate flags waving from the backs of their hogs.

A man in the Safeway parking lot told us he ‘liked the motif.” One middle-school aged girl told her parent, “I want to have a car like that. Do you think he bought it like that?” Dozens of people–park rangers, other drivers, hippies, suburban moms– have smiled and given us the ‘cool van’ nod.

This van elicits far more response than last year’s van ever did.

We are still trying to accept the van. When people say, Hey, like your van, we respond thanks, but we still always follow up with, It’s a rental. We are still trying to make it our van. To that end, here are beauty shots of the van, in all its uncensored glory.

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