Our days in New Hampshire are at an end for this trip. We got up this morning, ate some breakfast and then drove my sister Julie an hour down the road to Manchester where she got a flight out to Newark and on to LAX. We returned from the airport, hooked the Invader to Charlotte and took off going west. The first bit of the road was I-89 which is a good road with beautiful scenery on each side. Up by New London, NH, we left I-89 and struck out on Hwy 11 through the New Hampshire countryside.
Although Hwy 11 is predominately a good road, the route takes travelers through towns with amazingly circuitous courses around roundabouts that are actually square, up skinny roads and through overtaxed signals that back up traffic for blocks. Fortunately, this is a pretty scenic part of the country and looking out the windows as you putt along at 30 miles per hour or while stopped is pleasant. It does take a long time to get anywhere because speed limits are ridiculously low and roundabouts fool the Garmin, possibly due to changes made to roads unknown to entities that do mapping.
We ultimately emerged in Springfield, Vermont, where we took some very strange turns up quite steep residential streets before arriving at a delightful campground called Tree Farm. It has a dirt entry road that may fool some but should not deter those who want to stay in a great place. Elizabeth and Ben, the campground operators, met us at the office and answered every question we put to them before taking me on a ride around the place to show me the way into my site. The site is nestled in a mature grove of conifers with a few hardwoods, gorgeous flowers, blooming hostas, full hook-ups, CATV and good wi-fi. The campground is not affiliated with any of the big campground groups like TT or Encore but they are hooked up with Good Sam which ended up giving us a nightly rate of $30, dirt cheap compared with anything in Maine.
Peg and I had both entered a withdrawal period from lack of Chinese food on this trip so we asked our hosts about the availability of Chinese food in this locale. They directed us back into town to a place called Shanghai Garden which is located in an ugly little diner building but which has great Chinese food. My cashew chicken was very tasty and delivered along with an egg roll, fried rice, pineapple chunks after dinner along with the usual fortune cookie for less than $9. Peg got something called General Gau chicken which she also received with all the trimmings and she stated it was also really good. We also got an appetizer called Crab Dragoons which were very tasty. Altogether, the bill was around $25 which we thought was very inexpensive. The only drawback to the place was the staff may be recent immigrants from China and have pronounced accents such that Crab Dragoons are clab dlagoos and one of the waitstaff only grinned and grunted as her form of communication. Regardless of the communication flaw, we received exactly what we ordered, it was delivered very quickly, it was quite tasty and we left very satisfied.
We returned to our Invader and promptly fell asleep. It was a big day with lots of driving and good food at the end.
Just to make things interesting, our hosts elected to make the meal of the day brunch today. So with their extraordinary flair for this kind of stuff, they served up baked French toast, a couple kinds of quiche, fruit skewers, ham and other breakfasty stuff in a big buffet along with an ample supply of mimosas to wash it down. Another success for Amy, Brad, Barb, Riley, Kathy and Steve. Walt and Cassie and Candace had departed for home in Florida and missed out on the food-fest but I’m pretty sure they left happy.
After me pigging out on breakfast, we had a great day lounging around the lake with the remaining 40 or 50 folks (and dogs Moose and Zach) until late afternoon. Zach spent quite a bit of time fishing by trying to bite minnows foolish enough to stray into his shallows but I don’t think he had much luck. He seemed to enjoy it, anyway. We begged off late in the afternoon for the return to the Invader. We gave all ours hugs and sullenly walked away.
I didn’t know I had such great relatives living across the country from me and I regret that I did not make the effort to meet them sooner. Just going to their parties is enough to make me want to hang with them. After having this chance to truly get acquainted, I hope to have more chances to chat and party with these wonderful folks. I’m surprised they are my relatives because they are such good people. Having to leave was shitty.
Today was the big day. This day was the day that was selected to celebrate my aunt Elly’s birthday despite her real birthday being in September. Elly had been quite specific about directing the revelers to omit bringing birthday presents because she alleged she had nowhere to put them although I noted ample space in the Lakeshore Drive property. Some apparently hard-of-hearing or possibly illiterate types did bring gifts, damn them. Elly’s husband, my uncle Walt, was an affluent guy and it would seem there is little Elly might need for her birthday but she was nice enough to have us all up to New Hampshire for a rollicking five-day party anyway. I am not used to sustained, high quality partying but I am pretty sure I could get used to it. Peggy seems to be having a great time as well.
For today’s version of the party, we (all 60 or 70 of us) were all invited to the Lake Sunapee Country Club for dinner and drinks. As usual, I was the proud winner of the most poorly dressed award and I am quite proud of that. Most folks had on what they call “country club casual” which means about $450 worth of clothes per person but some were really gussied up with pretty near formal attire, none of which I wear or own. The food selection was pretty nice with chicken breasts stuffed with some green and red stuff unidentifiable to me along with some great beef tenderloin. I was puzzled about which meat selection I should make so I selected both. They had an open bar and wine was served to all participants except those obviously below drinking age, which in this group seems to be about 13 years old.
The whole thing ended up about 10:30 PM, which I have found is pretty early for these confirmed, hard-core partiers. I understand some were headed back to the lakefront house for more fun but we chickened out and returned to Contoocook where Julie and I stayed up way too late drinking until it was useless anymore.
Elly may not be quite 90 yet but she holds her ground better than most. I am glad I got to come to her party because even if it was only her at this event, I would have considered it a good trip. She is very sharp, absolutely unoffensive and very welcoming, even to wayward relatives from afar. I hope I get to do life as well as she is.
After a very late wake-up, we moseyed into the local municipality which may have been called Hopkinton or Contoocook or something and found the Everyday Cafe for breakfast which they were nice enough to serve us at 1:30 in the afternoon. After dining and returning to the Invader for some extended loafing, we finally got on the ball and returned to Elkins for more partying with the relatives. My relatives, unknown to me until the day before yesterday, are journeyman partiers and don’t miss much when it comes to putting on a good show.
Tonight they served up a lobster boil which was very tasty. I am having little difficulty getting used to Atlantic lobster since they are quite savory and, unlike Pacific spiny lobsters, they have moby claws with big chunks of meat which promptly found their way to my grocery hole. After our long day recuperating from yesterday’s partying, we had arrived late and missed the big family picture which we did not know was scheduled but since I am not very attractive, I figure all those who will gaze upon the pix in the future will be saved from the misery of having my doofus face sticking up in the midst of the other handsome folks. Despite missing the picture, the remainder of the evening was a gas with tons of good stuff to eat, ample beverages of all types, great hob-nobbing with formerly distant relatives and a good feeling about things as a whole.
I feel extremely fortunate in that all the folks I have met have been great to be with and they have welcomed us into the group like real pals. The place we go each day is a great venue for really big parties, the people have been great to chat with, the dog is terrific and sits on my foot when worried, the drive is short and I have additionally had an opportunity to loaf around with my sister who I normally only get to see once a year. I’m glad I came.
We started out the day driving to Manchester, NH, to pick up my favorite sister at the airport who was arriving after a red-eye from Los Angeles to Newark to Manchester. As usual, when we were a bit tardy picking her up, she was grinning away standing in front of the airport where I could easily spot her. We trundled her small bag into Charlotte’s back seat and zipped back up the road to Contoocook. We dropped her luggage at the Invader and continued on to Elkins where even more relatives had materialized for a big dinner at the house Barb and her hubby Riley had set up camp across the road from the main party site. I don’t know the folks who own the house where we went but it was a good ‘un.
Barbara and Riley had us all over to their ample place for Texas barbecue along with a wide selection of other great eats coupled with enough good alcohol for all. It was a tip-top get together without lacking any of the good stuff that makes for great parties. The house is located quite a ways up a steep road and offers a superb view of the lake below. It is my understanding that most of the remainder of the festivities will take place at the lakeshore house which is also a big joint with more bedrooms than I ever needed, two kitchens, a great boat, a handsome and very friendly Doberman named Zach, great shade trees and some very tenacious bugs of a type I could not identify but who found me to be quite tasty. Not surprisingly, the party hosts (and there were a bunch of them) had the foresight to provided an ample supply of bug repellants for common use but the bugs in this area are very tough little buggers and could probably be quite happy dining in a gas chamber.
We got back to Sandy Beach at about 1:00 AM and soon found our way into bed after only a couple more drinks.
Today we gathered up our stuff and left Maine, albeit with some regret. Our journey today took us out of Maine going west into New Hampshire. New Hampshire is another state we have never seen before and the drive there took us through some more really scenic country to our next destination, Sandy Beach Resort in Contoocook. We have no idea who or what a “Contoocook” might be other than a funny-sounding word.
On our way to the campground from I-89, we noticed some very healthy looking wild turkeys lurking in a hayfield of a place called Breakwind Farm. No kidding. Our Garmin then directed us a little bit further up the road and instructed us to turn right over a listing, closed covered wooden bridge with a maximum overhead clearance of 9′-9″, substantially less than required for our 12′-10″ high Barbarian Invader by Forest River. Phone service with our lousy Sprint provider was not available according to the number of bars on the display but we were able to contact the campground with it anyway and given a detour which promptly got us to our destination. We pulled into Sandy Beach, which really does not have much of a sandy beach, and found we had been assigned a campsite which was graded in such a way that setting up our Invader level would have been almost impossible. Peg hopped out and walked back to the office where they stated that we could take any available site we wanted so we moved into G-16 and set up for a 5 day stay. Despite our initial difficulties, we found the campground to be quite pleasant with full hook-ups, nice interior roads, cable TV but crummy wi-fi. Campsites are located quite a ways apart from each other in a large stand of mixed conifer and hardwood mature timber.
We very possibly would not have come to this place at all if it had not been for my aunt’s 90th birthday celebration scheduled by her relatives for July 11 in Elkins, NH, about 25 miles up the road from our campground. Her birthday is actually September 13 but nobody seemed to notice. I think they chose this weekend because all possible participants could arrange to be here in the summer more easily than in September after the kids go back to school. We got the Barbarian Invader all squared away and re-boarded Charlotte to head to Elkins. I have only seen my aunt and one (or maybe more) of her offspring once previously – Elly the aunt (and maybe some others who my defective memory has disregarded) in San Diego in about 1985 and Kathy my cousin in San Francisco in about 1983.
There were a bunch of relatives either already here or soon to arrive. In addition to Elly, all four of her kids (Kathy, Barbara, Walt and Amy) were at the party venue along with their spouses, children, children of children and assorted other cronies. These folks, much to our delight, love to party. They serve excellent food of many varieties and they attach no stigma to drinking. What a great crowd. Were we ever glad we were fortunate enough to be invited to this four day event which provides not only great food and drink but also ample opportunity to hob-nob with folks we wish we had been introduced to much sooner in life.
Today we went exploring in Portland, ME. Portland is a city with gorgeous architecture, a beautiful waterfront, great views to the Atlantic, a good Trader Joe’s and probably the most lucky pedestrians in the world. Folks here do a lot of walking in the streets, maybe because the downtown area is quite small and getting around does not require much strolling. However, they are very bold when stepping out into the road, assuming the drivers of the cars will follow Maine laws and stop for them. They would all certainly be dead in minutes in California where disregard for pedestrians is rampant. Maine laws allow pedestrians all the crossing rights of royalty and boldly wandering out in front of cars, some with dullards at the wheel, seems to be the norm.
All this wandering about by pedestrians creates almost gridlock-like conditions on the streets, particularly on the waterfront where an entire vacation could be spent traversing six blocks of their narrow, potholed streets where parking in the left turn lane and median seems to be de rigeur. We only made one pass through town because two passes would have prevented us from departing Maine on schedule.
The buildings in Portland are primarily beautiful old brick structures with fanciful architectural highlights and we found them to be quite stunning. There is some kind of big block-like building in the middle of the bay in Portland that we did not explore, maybe because we could not get there by driving within our lifetime.
All the folks in the waterfront area seemed to be having a great time wandering around and blocking efficient traffic flow and, if we had more time and been able to find some of the non-existent parking, we might have joined them in their endeavors. There are a bunch of craft breweries right down on the waterfront and I spotted at least one distillery which makes me believe there is not the same stigma attached to drinking here that one might find in, say, California where drinking is stupidly considered to be unnatural, illegal and quite possibly expensive. California is a remarkable environment for laws that are inconsistent with reality. From my ignorant observations of humanity I have found that almost all people, except those in strange Muslim countries and backward Utah, like to occasionally have a drink without the threat of being incarcerated, beat up by the police and booty-raped by large inmates. It would seem that Maine has transcended idiotic drinking laws like one would find elsewhere. Fireworks are also legal here. I like this state.
We hooked Charlotte to the Barbarian Invader and departed Mt. Desert Island headed west across Maine. It is the first time we have gone mostly west since we started this leg of our trip back on December 28, 2014. We have gone as far north and east as we will go on this particular leg of our journeys through the U.S.A. so I guess we can look at the next few months as a return to our residence in San Diego, CA. I am not real sure that makes me happy because I have found I like the exploring lifestyle although when I get back to San Diego I will get to see my kids which will be great.
We took the Maine Turnpike all the way back to the area around Portland where we exited the freeway and wandered down a short series of roads to our camping spot at a place called Wassamki Springs. There are not a lot of RV parks in Maine and they are substantially more expensive than those in other states and this park was no exception. The park has full hookups, crummy wi-fi and adequate cable TV, a big artificial pond, fair roads and ample suckers filling the available spaces while parting with their hard-earned dollars. It was about a four-and-a-half or five hour drive to get here so we spent the afternoon resting up and loafing.
Fortunately, we had an ample supply of beer which we attempted to reduce somewhat.
Most of the folks who have come to Mt. Acadia for the 4th of July weekend are bundling up all their stuff and their remaining fireworks and departing the area. It is tragic for us, yuk yuk yuk. We loaded our ancient bodies into Charlotte and took off on what would be our last day of sightseeing in this magnificent place.
We used our handy-dandy Federal access pass for the fourth time in as many days and entered Mt. Acadia NP to drive again to the top of Cadillac Mountain to survey the 360 degree view of the Maine coast. The weather was very cooperative and the views were almost endless. Our subsequent route was pretty chaotic with some of the drive on the coastline of Mt. Desert Island and the remainder crisscrossing the interior.
If I have my way, every time I get close to this portion of the U.S. I will visit this extraordinarily scenic and beautiful venue. The scenery changes dynamically as the light changes, clouds pass over and we find new pathways around the island, much to our delight.
Regrettably, we were obliged to spend the rest of the day prepping for our departure tomorrow but we were able to take a short break during which we popped over to the local lobster joint for a farewell trip to the trough for shellfish that were dumb enough to stumble into some lobsterman’s trap. Too bad for the lobsters. They were very tasty.
Happy 4th of July.
Today we elected to go somewhere other than Bar Harbor because we noted as we left our campground that there was a steady stream of traffic on the highway headed in that direction. We are sure Bar Harbor has nice fireworks but we are also not fans of seething, squished masses of tourists awed by chemistry while crowded into small spaces.
We chose instead to explore the Schoodic Peninsula which is a portion of Mt. Acadia NP that exists on the mainland of Maine, pun unintended. This portion of Acadia is primeval and surprisingly uncrowded so we were able to drive there almost without seeing oncoming traffic. It was a cloudy day during our visit and the thick forest cover on the peninsula created dark, mysterious conditions that were delightful. The ground is covered with ferns, moss and lichens such that the soil is not visible. Large outcroppings of granite and basalt dot the landscapes and, since the place is a peninsula, the ocean is the view on the other side of the road. There are lots of birds, including an eagle we spotted on the rocky shoreline that was being harassed by seagulls who apparently found the eagle’s presence uncomfortable.
At the end of the peninsula are a series of small parking areas and pull-outs so folks can get out of their cars and explore the shoreline. The views are stunning. Mount Desert Island, the home of Mt. Acadia NP, is plainly visible across the strait and provides a spectacular backdrop to the turbulent ocean in the foreground.
We believe we made the correct destination choice today and we were fortunate not to have to spend the day with masses of the easily impressed. Schoodic Peninsula is truly magnificent but only very few folks seem to be aware that Mt. Acadia NP includes this beautiful area. It is not really shown on the official Mt. Acadia NP maps other than as a small detail inset that does not give any clue as to the location of this don’t-miss venue. I wonder if this omission was intentional because nobody seems to go to this place. We recommend a drive through this part of the world to our readers but ask that they don’t tell anybody else about it. This seems like the kind of place easily ruined by overuse.