Tuesday, July 29, 2014

A Week in New Hampshire

Today is July 28th and it is currently about 2:30 PM. I'm sitting under the awning of the motorhome in the pouring rain. We have had a nonstop deluge since about eight o'clock this morning. It is actually rather pleasant, which surprises me. The rain keeps the mosquitoes down and the awning keeps this little 8 x 15' patch of ground reasonably dry. The sound of the rain is quite soothing and since no one else is foolish enough to sit in the rain, I have my little patch of semi-dry ground all to myself.

Vicki at her deepest submergence
We left Vermont on the 22nd and drove to Shelburne, New Hampshire which is a tiny, wide spot in the road about 5 miles from Gorham, which is the nearest town big enough that you might actually find it on a map if you took the trouble to go looking. This is in northern New Hampshire, an area they like to refer to as "the Great North Woods". It turns out that New Hampshire is essentially exactly like Vermont except that it is upside down and the mountains are white instead of green. The area within a 100 mile radius of us is just vast tracts of forest land.

We are staying in a motorhome park called Timberland Campground. The camping sites are gravel but quite solidly packed so we are not sinking into the mud as we have at some of our previous stops. It is heavily wooded and we are nestled in amongst the trees. The only downside here is the water pressure is only about 25-30 PSI, which is really inadequate for a decent shower, so we have to run the water pump to punch up the flow and every couple of days I spend 20 min. refilling the water tank.

Floating in Emerald Pool
When we signed in, they gave us a list of waterfalls and swimming holes in the area and we more or less immediately tracked one down called Emerald Pool in the White Mountain National Forest. There was a pullout along the side of the highway and a disturbingly steep 30 yard "trail" down the side of a cliff that we and the puppies navigated with only minor injuries. At the bottom was a small cascade with a pool about 15 feet deep in the center. The trick of swimming in a rock lined stream bed is the transition from dry land. Walking along the dry rocks at the River's edge is no problem. Swimming in the water is no problem. But the rocks along the edge of the water are unstable, slick as snot and it is almost impossible to see through the water reflections to figure out exactly where you are putting your feet. I was pretty sure I was going to twist an ankle or shatter a shin bone. Fortunately, I was able to make it the first few feet with no major injuries. Once you get out to about knee depth you can just flop forward onto your belly and dog paddle out to deeper water.

The water was moderately cold but we have certainly swum in colder, for example at the Great Lakes last year, so I got in and got used to it fairly quickly. Vicki got wet up to her belly button and then chickened out and headed back for shore. Wuss.  The schnoodles were content to sit on the rocks and watch, but Julian went splashing into the water and Christopher spent a half hour trying to manage him. He did not want to go in beyond shoulder level and when we dragged him out further we found out why. He is allegedly half Labrador but for a retriever he is the crappiest swimmer I have ever seen. He desperately wanted to chase a frisbee out into the pool but he would get into water about as deep as his chest, then turn around and retreat. He eventually decided to stay on shore with Vicki which gave Christopher a chance to do a little swimming. There was a large rock on the far side of the pool you could climb up and use as a diving platform, which Christopher tried out but I decided not to press my luck. I have a waterproof camera that I bought several years ago but I use it so infrequently that I didn't know how to set it for action shots… so, what the hell, here is a picture of a blur jumping off of a rock into the water.


We transitioned out of the water again (in my case by crawling on my belly like a reptile), put on our mountaineering gear and scaled the trail back up to the road. Literally within seconds of getting back in the car it started pouring rain, which it kept up for about an hour.

Chris and friend at Frenchman's Hole
By the next day it had largely cleared up and we went out looking for more waterfalls. We are only about 5 miles from Maine, so we snuck over the border to Bethel and headed north looking for Frenchman's Hole. This involved turning off the main highway and going a couple miles this way and then a couple miles that way, then 3 miles until the pavement runs out then 2 miles on the unpaved road then turn left across two unmarked bridges, then look for the pullout on the left. The fact that we found it at all was pretty surprising. The trail from the road took you to the top of a waterfall. You could jump into the pool below, but the only way back to the top was to climb a rope someone had thoughtfully tied around the tree. For me, that meant it
Only swimmer at Frenchman's Hole
would be a one-way trip, so I stayed and swam in a shallower pool at the top of the waterfall. This was only about 4 feet deep and Vicki and Christopher could not be bothered. I enjoyed myself anyway.

We climbed back into the car and continued up US Highway 26 to Grafton State Park, the home of Screw Auger Falls. This is a really beautiful area that was carved out by the glaciers at the end of the last Ice Age and there are apparently a whole series of waterfalls, but we only went to the ones that were easiest to walk to. You can appreciate natural beauty and be lazy at the same time.
Screw Auger Falls

Osprey nest seen along the Moose Tour
That night we had tickets for the Gorham Moose Tour. They take you out in a mini-bus to go look for moose which are a big thing in the Great North Woods. The moose population is declining at a disturbing rate so it is unclear how much longer you will be able to see these gigantic creatures. The lady who drove our moose bus has been doing this for 17 years and says she is usually successful because she just will not turn around and come back until you see at least one moose. She is apparently more than a little moose obsessed. She goes out "moosing" on her own several times a week AFTER she finishes doing the Moose Tour or gets up at 4 AM to do a little early morning moosing before sun up. Christopher was astonished to learn that there is more than one four o'clock in a 24-hour period.

Umbabog Lake
We took off from Gorham at 7 PM and headed north on Highway 16 through Berlin and wound up driving all the way to Umbagog Lake, some 50 miles north, in search of the uncooperative beasts. In all that distance, all we saw was the hindquarters of one stinking moose as it disappeared into the trees. Every few minutes the crazy moose lady behind the wheel would tell another story about the great moose viewing she did last week or last month or in her backyard a couple of years ago. As the hour grew later and later each story got just a little bit more desperate.

Finally she gave up and turned the bus back around towards Gorham and, at last, some moose started showing up. This is partially because  it was
Moose in the dark
pitch dark and by Jack Lighting the sides of the road you could spot the reflections in their eyes, so they were easier to find but harder to really see. Crazy Moose Lady was actually pretty good at locating them and getting a spotlight onto them so you could get a brief look. And moose don't immediately dart off the way a deer might. Ever since we wiped out all the wolves, they have no natural predators, so they just sauntered along doing apparently whatever they would have done if we weren't there. We saw a couple mother/calf pairs cross the road just in front of us.  Auto -moose collisions are a fairly major problem around here. 

Unfortunately I did not bring along my big flash, so I just had the tiny flash on top of the camera to grab a couple of moose pictures out through the bus door.  The seats on the bus were only about half as wide as my personal seat, so the Moose Tour was not very comfortable and by the time we finally got back to Gorham at about 11 o'clock I was seriously thinking this was more Moose Tour than I was really interested in.

On the road up Mt. Washington
The next morning Christopher claimed to feel a little under the weather so Vicki and I went touring without him. We went to the top of Mount Washington which is the tallest mountain in New England at a towering 6800 feet. They bill it as having the "worst weather in the world" which I suspect would be questioned by the researchers in Antarctica. It does, however, indisputably hold the record for the highest recorded wind speed of 231 mph recorded at the summit in 1934. This is kind of surprising given that the altitude is about the same as that of Big Bear Lake in Southern California, but it is also 1000 miles further north, which I'm sure makes a significant difference. Due to the high winds and cold northern winters, the tree line is at only about 5000 feet and the top of Mount Washington is barren rock.

Tip-Top House on Mt. Washington
There is a trail to the top of Mount Washington which is an offshoot of the Appalachian Trail and numerous hikers travel to the summit by foot everyday in the summer. We did not take the trail to the top. There is also a cogwheel train, similar to the ones at Pikes Peak but here they only go half as far and charge twice as much as in Colorado, so we decided not to take the cogwheel train either. The road to the top is another privately owned toll road, so we didn't get off scott free.  It is steep and winding and you have to drive the entire 8 miles in first gear. We were not in a hurry and the scenery was pleasant enough although it was quite hazy again and less than ideal for photographs.

Wooden building chained to the rock
At the summit there are a handful of buildings including an old rock building that has been there for over a century. There's also a newer building run by the state at includes restrooms and a snack bar. The old wooden observation building where they took the 1934 wind measurements is still there as well. It is the only time I have ever seen a building literally chained to the ground to keep it from blowing away. While we were there the temperature was about 40° and the wind speed about 40 miles an hour which made it feel right chilly and we pretty quickly retreated back down the mountainside. Vicki has a thing about heights and the narrow road with no guard rails had her heart galloping so although she drove up the mountain she refused to drive down. I actually found no problem going down except that we were immediately preceded by two motorcyclists who were even queasier than Vic and proceeded most of the way down the hill at about 5 mph. Oh well, we weren't in any particular hurry.
Slow motorcycles

We continued on down Highway 16 to Conway, which is a heavily touristified town at the southern border of White Mountain National Forest, then turned east on the Kancamagus Hwy, eventually making a loop back to Gorham.  The Kancamagus Hwy is supposed to be famously beautiful in the fall but in July is just another road with dense green forest on either side. There are some camping areas, but almost no day use areas. We eventually found a picnic table alongside the highway to eat our lunch. Other than that, there was not much to do except drive. There were a fair number of hiking trails along the road and at each one the parking lot was packed and cars were parked along the roadside for 100 yards on either side of the trail head.  Way more hiking traffic than I am use to.

Albino Moose

Mounted trophy
Saturday we made a northern loop from Gorham up to Dixville Notch and then back down to Lancaster. Christopher was feeling better and did all the driving. This drive turned out actually to be much more scenic than
the loop through the White Mountains. We stopped in Errol to see the L.L. Cote outfitting store whose motto is "if we don't have it, you don't need it". They have a fairly large collection of mounted heads and stuffed animals including a more or less albino moose which apparently gets a good deal of comment. They had a large collection of firearms of which Christopher wanted one each but we held ourselves back. He did get a couple of items of clothing and some flip flops, so he is now ready for the backwoods.
LL Coat Outfitters
Lunch on the road
At Dixville Notch we found a small state park with picnic tables where we ate our sandwiches and bananas, then took the half-mile trail up to a fairly nice waterfall. Christopher and Julian made the death-defying climb up to the top of the falls while I stayed back to record the event for posterity. It was a pleasant hike and made a nice break in the middle of the trip.

Back at Colchester we had arranged to have our mail delivered. Ours arrived with no problem but Christopher's mail had not gotten to the campground by our departure date. He had apparently ordered a watch to be delivered to the mail forwarding service in South Dakota and then it got forwarded with his regular mail which made it a bigger parcel and slowed down the delivery (as near as we can figure it out). So he spent the day yesterday driving back to Lake Champlain to retrieve his mail and said watch while we spent the day in the motorhome without him. I spent most of the day mining and building castles in a computer game called Minecraft that Christopher has gotten me roped into. Vicki wasted most of her day cleaning.  Ewww!  It rained off and on during the day so we were just as happy not to be out touring

A watch and a half
So here is the watch the Christopher spent five hours driving to retrieve. It has a large analog watch face to tell you what time it is where you are currently at and another, smaller analog watch face to tell you what time it is someplace else.  It weighs about 4 lbs.  It has half a dozen buttons and knobs scattered around the rim, five of which I'm sure Christopher has no idea what they are for. And it has a tiny little compass. Given that it is encased in ferrous metal, I have my doubts about the compass' accuracy but Christopher seems to be inordinately proud of it. Oh, he also got a cooling fan for his laptop which at least seems somewhat practical.

That brings us to today. It was supposed to start clearing up but apparently the weather service change their mind at the last minute and called for ceaseless rain instead. And that is why I am sitting under my awning blogging this afternoon.  I am smoking a pork shoulder for dinner which allows me to moan and groan about having to spend all day cooking when in reality I'm just sitting on my ass.  Sweet.  Tomorrow we pack up and head for Maine and unending lobster. I can hardly wait.


Kayakers on the Androscoggin River

Intrepid hikers at Dixville Notch
The falls at Dixville Notch

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Lake Champlain

Up for Breakfast
Hmm... So now I have to catch up with Christopher.  Here goes...

Our last day in Arlington we decided we were all up for breakfast. As previously mentioned, there is not a lot of restaurant choice in Arlington so we again went looking in Manchester and found a place called Up for Breakfast. It is on the second floor of an old downtown building, so in order to get there you have to go UP FOR... yeah, you get the idea. The inside is pretty tiny but the menu was interesting. I had Eggs Scandinavian, which is kind of a variant of eggs Benedict with smoked salmon instead of Canadian bacon. We all managed to get a pretty good breakfast without having anything smothered in Vermont Maple syrup. I didn't think that was legal in this state.
Tiny interior

That afternoon Vicki and I took The Skyline Drive up to the top of Mount Equinox, the tallest mountain in the local area, topping out at an astounding 3848 feet. In Colodaro that's known as a speed bump.  It is privately owned and a big chunk of it was donated to the Carthusians, a monastic order founded by St. Bruno. Of course, I had never heard of the Carthusians, nor of St. Bruno. He was apparently a buddy of Pope Urban II, who is the one who fired up Europe for the first Crusade. But as humility was a key component of his creed, Bruno apparently intentionally had his contributions left out of the histories so we do not know much about him. This was a pretty smart call given that history has not treated Urban particularly kindly. The Carthusians live a
The monastery.  No talking, no visitors.
hermetic lifestyle, living in individual cells in near total silence, communicating their needs via written notes to "lay brothers" who apparently get to do all of the actual work around the monastery. The contribution of the hermits is the benefit of their constant prayer. I'm pretty sure that and six bucks will get you a cup of coffee in most any Starbucks. Apparently St. Paul's admonishment about "he who will not work" is not a big part of Carthusian doctrine.
The view from the top
The monastery at Mount equinox is the only Carthusian monastery in America and, for obvious reasons, they don't really encourage visitors. The family that owns the mountain does encourage you to drive up to their observation platform at the summit, for a generous fee of course. There apparently used to be a ski lodge up there but they tore it down and put up the observation area with a little Carthusian chapel about 10 years ago. The day we went up it was pretty hazy and the viewing was not particularly impressive.

There is a story, by the way, about a bunch of Army cadets who were marched to the top of the mountain on Sept 21, 1823 to take barometric readings and named the mountain Equinox because of the trip's timing. It turns out the story is bunk. The name actually comes from an Indian word, "Ekwanok", which roughly means "the place at the top".

We were rather disappointed with our drive up to the top of the mountain so on the way back to the campground we went by the old Anglican church in Arlington and took some pictures of the graveyard. Nothing cheers us up like graveyard pictures.
Cheery graveyard picture.
Tuesday morning we pulled up stakes and drove north to Colchester, Vermont, just north of Burlington near the shore of Lake Champlain. We stayed in a fairly nice RV Park called Lone Pine just long enough to get the weekly rate, which was still pretty pricey but we figured out way back in the planning stages for this trip that we weren't going to be able to stay in New England on the cheap. We will have to bring down our average daily cost somewhere else during the year.

The cormorant - Old Blue Eyes
The next day we took a loop drive around a portion of Lake Champlain. We started out by taking a ferry across the lake at Burlington. While waiting for the ferry to depart we watched a cormorant fishing for his dinner. From our vantage point at the top of the ferry you couldn't really see, but in the photos I was impressed with the bright turquoise color of his eyes. Christopher and I accidentally hooked one of these while fishing off of a jetty in Oregon many years ago when he was maybe 7 or 8. The bird eventually broke our line but for him I suspect the encounter was terminal. I think that is the day Christopher lost interest in fishing.
A successful hunt
When we got off the ferry we were in New York, "The State so Nice They Named It Once". I believe that area qualifies as "upstate" New York or, as the city folks like to refer to it, "Hicksville". It is extremely rural. Those of us who grew up in Southern California and watched the steady urbanization of everything from Santa Barbara to the Mexican border kind of assume the East Coast is the same way, completely urbanized. But there is still a ton of forest and farm land once you get away from the major city centers. We drove north up the New York side of the lake, stopping for lunch in Plattsburgh and then on up to the town of Champlain at the Canadian border. At that point there is a bridge that takes you back across the lake where it is very narrow at Rouse's Point. A set of smaller bridges brought us south through the  Champlain Islands and back to Burlington. We had intended to stop at some of the state parks along the way but all of them either did not allow pets or did not allow day use (I have never seen so many "camping only" parks), so we mostly drove and enjoyed the view.
Train arrival
So long sonny boy
Thursday was the day Christopher departed for his big train adventure down to New Jersey. His experiences were extensively documented in a blog post much more amusing than this one elsewhere on this site. If you have not read it yet, look for the entry entitled "The City so Nice They Named It New York". After we dumped him at the train station (which was really just a sidewalk) we rushed off to start seeing what fun and exciting things we could find to do now that we did not have to lug him around with us. Like the Echo aquarium.
Echo Aquarium
It wasn't really that much of an aquarium. I mean it had a couple dozen fish and some frogs and some turtles. It was really more of a children's Science Center with the emphasis on "children's". There wasn't really very much there to interest adults.


Two turtles...

...and a frog
We did get to see some real-life sturgeons. Remember those fish that they had all the statues of back in Wisconsin last year? Well here is what they look like in real life:
Sturgeon
These were about 3 feet long but apparently adults get up to 6 foot. I hear their eggs are nice on crackers.

Bad Dim Sum
Of course, Christopher did not take Julian to New Jersey with him on the train so we had the pleasure of his company all week. There was a quite nice dog park in Burlington about 5.5 miles from our campground and I dutifully took the dogs there everyday. It must've been about 7 or 8 acres of fenced grass and the first day they
were very excited about it. Each subsequent day they got a less excited until by Sunday they didn't even want to get out of the car. They're so hard to please. Anyway, for the next three days we mostly just sat around the motorhome. Vicky did her Vitas work and I took the dogs to the park and we otherwise vegged. It was pathetic. We did go Sunday morning to Dim Sum at a little Chinese restaurant in Burlington. It was terrible. The noodles and dumplings were chewy and most of the fillings seemed to have no flavor. I suppose it's kind of like having Mexican food in Kentucky. Don't do it.

Arsenic and Old Lace
We also got tickets to see "Arsenic and Old Lace" at the St. Michael's College theater. I assumed it would be a student production but apparently, with most of the students gone, they rent out their theater to a professional summer stock group. I had never seen the play and enjoyed it quite a bit. It's a hilarious romp about serial murder. Vicky largely failed to see the humor in the subject matter.




The smallest capitol in America
Monday we finally got off our rear ends and took a scenic drive around the green mountains up to the ski area at Stowe. It's pretty dead in the summertime. Then we drove down to Montpelier which Vermont proudly proclaims is the smallest state capital in the country. It seemed like a nice town. The capital building was crowned in gold and made for a good picture. Along the way we pulled into the parking lot of the main production plant for Ben & Jerry's, of ice cream fame. However tourists were disembarking literally by the bus load and after looking at the line for the creamery tour we decided we didn't really want ice cream that badly. We took Interstate 89 back to Burlington and had just enough time to give the dogs a thrilling visit to the dog park before it was time to go pick Christopher up at the sidewalk... I mean, train station.

This morning we packed everything up again and hit the road for New Hampshire. If anything happens while we are here I will be sure to let you know.

Leaving Burlington

Monday, July 21, 2014

The City So Nice They Named It Twice and Other Stories By Christopher Rains

Little Critter
"Chugga-chugga-chugga-Woooooo! Chugga-chugga... WOOOOO-WOOOOOOO," 3-year-old Christopher shouted as he ran around the inside of my head. His name is Critter, due in equal parts to his similarity to a storybook character and his inability to pronounce his own name, and he loves trains. I use 'love' only because English does not contain a word that accurately describes the emotion. It is not the relationship between a man and his dog, or a man and a woman, or a mother and a child. It is the relationship between fish and the ocean, between wolves and the moon, but more than anything, it is the relationship between Critter and trains. As I rode an Amtrak locomotive from Colchester, VT to Newark, NJ, the deep, dark, unused parts of my mind that still remember how to be Critter turned back on. I spent the first hour of the trip just gawking out the window, doing my best not to let out a giggle. As the trip went on, however, an inexplicable impatience settled over me. It was a nameless agitation for which I could not determine a cause.

Little Critter, no relation
It suddenly became clear to me as Critter asked, "Where are the dinosaurs?" His first-hand experience with trains is limited to the Disneyland Railroad. I couldn't respond, partly because I didn't have the heart to tell him, and partly because, if I'm honest, I was secretly hoping there might be some dinosaurs along the way. We passed forests and streams, red barns and green cornfields, old-fashioned Vermont towns and modern Connecticut train stations. I found it exhilarating and beautiful, but Critter was left unsatisfied, although he did perk up a bit every time we passed over a bridge. I'm afraid 24-year-old me can't remain constantly excited about a train ride for 10 hours straight, so at about the 4 hour mark, I dozed off. I am extremely grateful that the porter mentioned in passing that the train would change direction in Connecticut on its way to New York and New Jersey, since waking up to discover the landscape was going by in the other direction would have been most unsettling otherwise.

I had just woken up, noticed the change in direction, and taken stock of which passengers had left and which ones were new, when the scenery outside started to shift from rural forest to urban... well, graffiti. Seeing the old factory buildings and the efforts of graffiti artists was only briefly interesting, and I had just about decided it was time to get bored again, when the train rounded a bend and began to cross a much more elegant style of bridge than I had seen yet... and then there it was: The Manhattan Skyline. I was a gawking child once more. I tend to think of myself as more at home in a small town, or a forest or beach, but there really is something about Manhattan. It is a purely man-made landscape, and for once, we made something that can contend. "Big..." said Critter. "Big," I replied.

Did I mention, Big?

Suddenly, we were underground. I saw nothing out my window but my own reflection and blackness, save for an occasional passing light. Hang on, I thought, I know this. It was finally going to happen! Any second now, the black wall would pull away like a curtain, and there would be a scene from the Cretaceous Period, complete with giant reptiles. And just as I knew it would, the black wall pulled away, and there was... Penn Station. Critter went back to the dark recesses of my mind to pout, and I didn't hear from him again. There was a certain eeriness to the long underground tunnel with 4 tracks running along together, side by side in the dark, but no one could call it beautiful. When the daylight bathed the train once more, we were in New Jersey, which is somewhat unfairly made the joke state of our country, and provides a unique atmosphere and housing for many who work in the city... but no one could call it beautiful either. Newark Station was my stop, and after a brief moment of disorientation on the platform, I located the stairs into the station, and met my friend Shauna, for whom I made this trip in the first place. After a short but terrifying car trip, punctuated by her occasional cursing of all things New Jersey, we arrived at her home in Livingston, despite the best efforts of NJ drivers. We made guacamole and enchiladas to satisfy my growing need for Mexican food (well, I mostly provided moral support and unhelpful advice) and turned in for the night. Shauna only had to work a half day on Friday, and we were going to see NYC!

I woke up on Friday at the crack of noon, taking full advantage of the real bed and lack of anyone to wake me up. Shauna had left for work several hours previously, leaving me with the house to myself, save for her dog Grissom. I busied myself with blog writing and sketching until she returned, and then we packed up to leave for New York. We drove to the Short Hills station in New Jersey, which is a bit closer to Shauna's house than Newark, but we soon learned a fairly critical drawback of this origin: there was no place to park. I do not mean that all the parking spaces in the area were full; I mean such parking spaces did not exist. There were a handful of permit parking slots, presumably for people who live nearby and take the train to work, but even so, there simply was not enough parking in the area to support a train station. We drove around for a while until we found a spot on a side street that wasn't really in front of anyone's house, crossed our fingers, and then walked to the station. The ride into the city was quick, and before I knew it, I was back at Penn Station, ready to set out into New York, New York.

The word of the day is throng. I have been in a crowd before, I have been in droves and groups and hordes, but this was a throng. Inconceivable numbers of people moved in every direction, an order emerging from the chaos as, somehow, none of them seemed to collide. Shauna confidently waded in, and with no other option, I followed after. I was presented with a strange inversion of the classic child lost in a crowd. I can remember what it felt like to be in a sea of people taller than you looking for someone taller than you, and it is extraordinarily similar to being in a sea of people shorter than you looking for someone shorter. Locating someone based on the top of their head is about as difficult as doing so based on knees, although the increased sight range does help. I was just beginning to enjoy the rare satisfaction of feeling tall when we walked out of the station and I looked up, feeling tiny once more. Confident in our new-found success with NJ Transit, we strode towards the entrance to the subway.

Obligatory
We wanted to head just a few stops north, to get some authentic New York pizza, so we picked up a couple metrocards, and for the first time in my life, I boarded a subway train. We passed the 28th Street stop without noticing anything amiss, but at 23rd, we caught on: The numbers were counting down... we were going south. We quickly exited, crossed the street, scanned our metrocards again, and for the second time in my life, I boarded a subway train. We clattered along for a couple minutes before we arrived at the Christopher Street stop, which was definitely not 28th... we were going south. We quickly exited, crossed the street, and after a brief argument in which I pointed to uptown and Shauna pointed to downtown (assuring me she had it figured out now), for the third time in my life, I boarded a subway train. Soon thereafter, we arrived at Houston Street, which was definitely not 23rd... we were going south. Off, cross street, point to uptown, scan card, and for the first time in my life, I boarded a subway train going in the direction I intended. I was very gracious about being right about uptown, and Shauna barely had to hit me at all to get me to shut up.

Best Observed at Night
After a few minutes, we were back where we started, and after a few minutes more, we were at 50th Street. Up the stairs, I was exposed to the assault on the senses that is NYC. Sound ranges from the low constant hum of human voices to the staccato beeps of taxis and minivans. You are constantly bumping into people, and the sooner you decide not to care, the easier traversing the city will be. As far as sight, you have neon reflected off mirror windows reflected off other windows and puddles and sunglasses. And smell... well smell is something else entirely. Taking a long breath through the nose virtually ensures you will not be smelling the same thing at the end of the breath that you were at the beginning. Every type of food imaginable scratches at the nostrils, imploring one to imagine what these foods would be like combined. How would sushi taste on a pizza? Chow mein on a hotdog might be good. What would Italian sausage taste like after it's partially digested by a hobo? Ugh, well not all the smells are good. In fact it's close to 50/50, but I couldn't convince myself to stop sniffing. Each new discovery was worth the risk.

You can really taste the fame
Navigating the streets on foot is far less complex than going underground. When you cross a street, you definitely end up on the other side of the street, and with the Streets counting up from south to north and the Avenues counting up from east to west, it's impossible to get lost. In no time at all we had reached Famous Original Ray's Pizza on 49th St and 7th Ave. The city is peppered with Ray's Pizzas, all to some degree of fame and originality. I don't know if this one is truly the original, but it's the one you want. The slices were wide, the toppings were delectable, the crust was cracker thin, and I folded it in half like a true New Yorker. Sated, we headed for Times Square, which is also an assault on the senses, in the same way that Everest is also a mountain. Like a regular tourist, I walked, necked craned back, mouth agape, probably drooling on myself. I allowed as to how it would be a shame to come to NYC and not see a Broadway play.  We got tickets, and after a bit more meandering, we walked into Chicago... er, that is, we walked into a theater playing Chicago.

I had seen Chicago before, but it didn't matter. Velma was played by a South African woman who can sing like a very smoky angel, and Roxy was played by a Mexican woman who can dance like a very unabashed gymnast. I've seen renditions with more impressive sets, more razzle dazzle as it were, but the band and the performers on Broadway were on a level completely their own. A major highlight was the character Mary Sunshine, clearly classically trained in opera, who [spoilers] on the line 'Everyone loves the big bambooz-a-ler' in "Razzle Dazzle" revealed that she was, in fact, being played by a man. The crowd went berserk.

The Vast Majority of That Jazz
On our walk back to Penn Station, on a whim, we stopped at a Wine Bar called L'ybane on 8th Ave. I can't speak for their Lebanese cuisine, since we weren't hungry, but I had a glass of Cabernet that was out of this world. Shauna had some fruity, fizzy, sugary nonsense wine that made me shudder, but she seemed to enjoy it. We sat, sipping wine and listening to the live jazz trio playing at the back. They played an extremely jazzy version of Sweet Georgia Brown, better known as the Harlem Globetrotters' theme, that is still running through my head. I honestly can't imagine a better way to cap off the day. We wearily rode the NJ Transit train back to Short Hills, found the car again, and made it home. Senses still alight from the day's activities, we found it impossible to turn in, so we stayed up, catching up on each other's lives and reminiscing on times past. We finally crawled into bed around 4:30 AM, fully expecting to get nothing done the next day.


The Remainder of That Jazz 

In that sense, Saturday went exactly as planned. I again slept until nearly noon, and Shauna, not to be outdone, did not emerge from her room until about 2:30, after I stomped past a couple times to get Grissom to bark at me. Deciding that 24 hours was much too long to go without pizza, we set out for a restaurant recommended to us by her parents as the best pizza they've found in New Jersey. The streets and highways of this state are labyrinthine at best and incomprehensible at worst, and the GPS routes have clearly been designed by someone with a nasty sense of humor. Shauna eventually found our destination, but for some reason, she did not take my gentle chuckling at her as the motivation I intended. The town we ended up in was none other than Maplewood, New Jersey, which you've probably heard of... if you were born in Maplewood, New Jersey. I'm pretty sure when people design a 'quaint little town', this is the prototype. I was forced to reconsider my first impression of the state; it's not all smokestacks and steel frames, and someone would most certainly describe Maplewood as beautiful if they shared my lack of a thesaurus. We walked up to Arturo's Brick Oven Pizza to discover a line around the front of the building. This was decidedly strange to us, since we also discovered a closed sign in the door. Apparently Arturo's does not open until 5:00. Shauna glanced at her cell phone; it was 4:55. Pleased once again at our extraordinary success despite any sort of planning or foresight, we took a place in line and got one of the last tables available when the doors opened.

Go here. Eat this. Do it.
The popularity of the joint was well deserved. I am loathe to admit it, but I think it was better than Famous Ray's Originally Famous Pizzoriginal. I continue to long for the comforts of my home state of California, and one sure way to my heart is sourdough bread. Now, you make a sourdough pizza crust? Fuhgeddaboutit! Still basking in the warm bliss derived from dough, cheese, and tomato sauce, we hopped across the street to the Village Ice Cream Parlour. This is the single friendliest ice cream shop, or indeed, location of any kind that I have ever visited. After being offered a multitude of flavors and free samples, I was complimented on my choice of scoop and cone in a way that was so genuine, I felt proud of it for the rest of the day. When we got back, we raided the wine cabinet for a lovely red and watched a movie... unless Shauna's parents read this blog, in which case we definitely did not do that and the bottle that's in there now is the same one it's always been.

Pictured: The reason I came all this way... also Shauna

Sunday went very much the same. Although it is not exactly an area-unique experience, Shauna and I both have sort of a thing for Cracker Barrel, so we decided to go there for breakfast, after another memorable battle with the GPS. Eating one's weight in comfort food is not an effective way to prepare for an active day, so our plans for the rest of the day suddenly got a lot smaller and less specific. We wandered around the Short Hills mall for a bit looking for a pair of sandals, and I would like to visit there again someday if I ever have a seven-figure salary. Back at Shauna's place, she asked me if I wanted to work out with her, which I politely declined, since I needed to use the time to look at myself shirtless in a mirror and tell myself I ought to work out more. That evening, we went to pick up Shauna's parents at the airport. They had been in California up to this point, visiting their other daughter, who has just given birth to a beautiful baby girl. I was glad to get to see them before I left, since having four people with the same sense of humor in a car at once is a mirthful, if somewhat competitive, experience.

Today, Monday, I needed to return to Newark Penn Station to take a train back to Vermont. The departure time did not sync up as well with Shauna's work schedule as I'd hoped, and we had been mulling over how to tackle this problem since Saturday evening. In an act of exceeding generosity, her parents paid for a town car to take me to the station, for which I will have to call them every day and thank them until Christmas. It was a rather entertaining experience to have a man in a neat suit come, put my lumpy bags in the trunk, and act for all the world like I was not scruffy, unkempt, and wearing a t-shirt. The ride into Newark was spent pretending I was a billionaire, which frankly takes a lot of imagination. In retrospect, I probably should have asked the driver his name. I don't think he appreciated it very much when I said, "Pull the car around there, Wimberly, and don't wait up. There's a good chap." Anyway, I tipped him well.

I'm now sitting on the 56 Vermonter Northbound Train, finishing up this post for all you excited Rainsbow followers. I leave rereading my first four paragraphs in reverse order as an exercise for the reader. Trying to decide how I am going to fill another 10 hour ride will be eased somewhat by a fact I wish I had discovered on Thursday: the entire train has internet WiFi. Most likely, this will be posted up by the time I rejoin my parents, dog, and progress towards Maine.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Arrival in Vermont

So we took a few days to get from Michigan to Vermont. We crossed over into Canada at Point Edward and drove along Canadian highway 402. Crossing into Canada was fairly easy. Vicki and I had updated our passports last year and Christopher applied for his just before we left California and had it mailed to my sister's house where we picked it up on the Fourth of July. We only waited in line at the border a few minutes. We had gone to great pain and expense to get health certificates for all three dogs. The border people did not care about the dogs and did not ask to see the certificates. All they wanted to know was whether we had any guns, took a passing glance at the passports and we were on our way.

We passed about 10 miles north of London, Ontario and stayed at a nice motorhome park in a tiny little town called Granton. All of our time in Canada (all of about 24 hours) was spent in Ontario farmland. It was beautiful country and the farms appeared to be productive and better maintained than many of the American counterparts we had driven through in South Dakota and Minnesota. Gas up there is selling for about a $1.40 per liter but fortunately we did not have to buy any Canadian gasoline. The following day we were back on the road and reentered the US of A on Interstate 190 just North of Niagara Falls. To get back into our homeland we waited in line for a couple of hours, which was no fun. The border patrol ask more questions than the Canadians did like "why are you in a car lane instead of the RV Lane". Well, Vicki was driving.  'Nuff said. They didn't appear to care about dogs or guns either one but did actually climb on board our rig to make sure our pictures matched our passports. Finally they let us return to the United States in spite of being in the wrong lane.

We spent the night of July 7 in Blossvale, NY, which I'm sure you are all familiar with. No you're not. You've never heard of it. It's so tiny, it doesn't even show up on Microsoft Streets and Trips. But it was a Passport America campground, so by driving 10 miles out of our way we saved ourselves a few bucks. The following day we were back on the road and finally made it to Vermont. We were officially in New England.

Covered bridge ar Arlington on the Battenkill
For those of us who are too Californian to really know much about the Northeast and too old to remember our American history classes, it is sort of natural to assume that Vermont was one of the 13 original colonies. This turns out not to be the case. The area that is now Vermont was given to three different groups of investors by three different kings at three different times because of overlapping descriptions of landscapes the Brits really knew nothing about. The land that is currently Vermont fell under the auspices of New York, Massachusetts and New Hampshire all at the same time. The governor of New Hampshire handed out a bunch of land grants and people started settling the area even though it was unclear which of the early colonial governments they fell
Cheese and syrup shop
under. This condition persisted right up through the American Revolution. At one point New York tried to assert its control over the area and sent a sheriff from Auburn to throw the New Hampshire grant holders off the land. They met him with muskets and informed them that if he tried to enforce his writ, he was a dead man and he retreated back into New York with his tail between his legs. This was the era of Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain boys who were organized not so much to fight the British as to get the New Yorkers and Bostonians to keep their mitts off of their Vermont property. In order to accomplish this, in 1777 Vermont declared itself an independent republic. Vermont actually negotiated with the British to become a loyal British colony during the revolution but were unable to get the papers signed before Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown and England lost interest.

The dehumidifier
With England out of the picture, Vermonters began to realize they would eventually have to join the United States but they were in no hurry. After the Revolutionary war ended in 1881 they put off the inevitable for another decade, finally becoming the 14th state in 1891. The first capital of the Vermont Republic was in a little town called Arlington. What is currently in the little town of Arlington is an RV park known as "Camping on the Battenkill", which is where we have been staying for the last five days. The countryside is beautiful but the
humidity is pretty intense. When we first arrived, we felt like we needed snorkels every time we went outside. The temperatures have not been particularly high but if you go out and try to do any kind of activity you quickly get pretty drippy. Fortunately, we bought a dehumidifier for the motorhome back in February in case we started getting condensation in the freezing temperatures of Chinle. We never got it out in Arizona but we have been using it here to decrease the interior moisture levels and it works surprisingly well. If you run it all day, you have to empty about a quart of water out of it, and that is water that you would otherwise have been living in.  Vicki and Christopher have also complained about mosquitoes but I have been pretty lucky in that regard. I guess the bugs find them more attractive, which is just fine by me.

Somewhere in Michigan, our front air conditioner quit producing cold air and with humidity levels running between 60 and 90%, one air conditioner was not going to be adequate. We thought we were going to have to drive all the way to Massachusetts to get it fixed, but once again a traveling RV service came to the rescue. It kept us at the motorhome all day waiting for repairs Wednesday, but the guy drove 50 miles from East Rupert and found a leak in the copper tubing that had released all the refrigerant. After some welding and recharging the coolant, it seems to be working again although not as efficiently as I would like. I'm afraid we will probably have to replace the unit somewhere down the line but we are getting by for now.

The Mapletini

Wednesday evening we decided to go out.   There are three restaurants in Arlington and on Wed. they are all closed.  So we drove 9 miles north to Manchester and ate at Ye Olde Tavern in an 18th century hostlery.  The food was excellent and they had a locally brewed 1770 style ale that was quite good.  Maple syrup being the official food of Vermont, Christopher tried a Maple Martini for
dessert.  It was OK, but had a glop of syrup in the bottom so the more of it you drank the maplier it
got.  The other official Vermont food is "cheddah" cheese. so the next morning Vicki dragged us to the Arlington cheese shop to purchase our required rations of cheese and syrup.

On Thursday we took a circle tour of the Green Mountain national Forest. The original settlers of this area were actually French and they called it "Verde Monts", the Green Mountains in French. It shortens to Vermont, get it? The French wound up siding with the wrong Indians and got kicked out during the French and Indian war. Until then, the area was part of Qu├ębec. Anyway, the drive was quite lovely. We went through a lot of little New England style towns. Some of the old houses are really nice but a lot of them are quite run down. We stopped and went through the museum
Calvin Cooledge's birthplace
at Calvin Coolidge's birthplace at Plymouth Notch. I did not really know much about Calvin Coolidge and we discovered why. In nearly 8 years as president, almost nothing happened. He presided over the years between the end of World War I and the beginning of the Great Depression. It was the roaring 20s, the economy was good and he had what could only have been an extraordinarily boring presidency. They have preserved the whole town he grew up in and it's a quite beautiful little place. A stroll through the whole town will take you about 15 min. We learned all about Calvin Coolidge and then forgot it before we had gotten 5 miles up the road. We continued along Highway 100 up to Quechee, then West on Vermont 4 to Highway 7 and back down to Arlington. We were in the mountains the whole way (well, they call them mountains. The highest one is about 3000 feet.) and they were definitely green.

The last couple of days we have been pretty inactive. The Battenkill River runs down the backside of the campground and we swam in it a little bit. You're supposed to be able to go down in an inner tube for about 25 or 30 miles and we were considering that but it's been pretty rainy and none of us were really up for 30 miles of tubing in the rain. We did go to a play last night in Bennington, about 10 miles south of here. We thought the acting was quite good but the play did not seem to have a lot of point to it. I guess I am old-fashioned. I like the story to have a beginning, a middle and an end. This one just had a middle.

The river ar Quechee
The weather might clear up some tomorrow, in which case we'd like to reconsider the tubing idea. Otherwise, we will probably veg out again. Then we head North to Burlington, on the shores of Lake Champlain. Vicki apparently has all kinds of interesting stuff planned for Burlington. Christopher is so excited about it, he's planning to take off for New Jersey to visit a former roommate. We will let you know how things work out.