Saturday, May 28, 2016

Day Nine - NH & ME

Saturday, May 28

Today we drove from our campground in northeastern New Hampshire to Fort Kent, Maine. We are so far north we can see Canada from our parking lot. No joke: the border crossing is across the street from our hotel. I had no idea. It is not on any map I've looked at. So we're blaming Canada for the fact that this is a college town and yet everything, including McDonalds, is closed by 10. The border crossing is the only spot of light on Main Street.

It was a fairly nondescript, non-eventful drive. Idiot GPS Susan tried to take some backroads but we thwarted her. The mall in Bangor lacked adequate food, so we went to Wendy's, and we got some nice pictures of Mount Katahdin from I-95. There's a place we want to get lunch, and wanted to get dinner, but it was closed. So hopefully tomorrow I can report on moose mac pizza and proper poutine. Fort Kent is covered in Quebec flags and again, I can SEE QUEBEC FROM THE PARKING LOT, and yet... the man at the front desk, which is so small-town that I walked up and he said "Are you Rachel?" couldn't pronounce our name. He did the Me-Me-MeLANken thing. I was so disappointed.

Not a lot to report today. We had good driving weather and it was shockingly hot (92 degrees) until we hit Aroostook County, and now it's a balmy 55 or so. I'm drinking maple syrup whiskey courtesy of Alex, who prances across the border back to her native Mooseland tomorrow morning at some unholy hour. Tomorrow after we eat, we're heading back down to Acadia National Park for our last two nights of camping. I want to climb another mountain. Aaron thinks I'm "certifiably insane." We'll see what happens.

I see you, TS Bonnie, idling off the Gulf Stream. Please do not send my dog into rolling anxiety attacks.

Shower. Real bed. Climate control. We are so excited.

View of Mount Katahdin from I-95.

Might have driven through Rwanda.


Heck yeah!

Day Eight - NH

Friday, May 27

So I hear that Charleston is under a tropical storm warning for this weekend. Of course it is.

I have my album. We went to a McDonalds and I camped with their wifi and outlet until I had it downloaded and then uploaded onto my MP3 player. All is well in the world. And now I'm scarfing a Big Mac as I write this.

Last night featured howling coyotes (fun fact: the coyotes up here are actually a hybrid coyote-Canadian wolf), a wild windstorm that kept me awake, and then came the downpour. The raindrops sounded different, sharp and brittle, and I wouldn't be surprised if there was some graupel included. The funny part is that in the morning, the site was dry. The wind blow-dried it for us. This is what we get for camping in the White Mountains!

(The bugs are also pretty bad. DEET, smoke, and sweating like a hog keep them mostly at bay.)

Today had one objective. We ate an MRE for breakfast and then headed out for Edmand's Path. It's a 2.9 trail to the traverse along the Presidential Range, rated as moderate and claimed to be dog-friendly and a gentle slope all the way up.

THIS IS A CHEATIN-BARNER LIE. It also scares me for harder trails, like, say, Mount Washington. There is no way I would take a dog, even one as trail-savvy and intelligent as Ruten, on that rock field. No freaking way.

We found the trailhead without issue, although I'd like to state that whoever complains about South Carolina's roads has clearly never driven in New Hampshire. Those poor cars. It started easily enough on a gentle dirt path over a bridge and some creeks, then got steeper and steeper. We did the first mile in 40 minutes, the three of us and the dog (a Australian Shepherd), the second mile in 1:30, and the third mile not much faster. At one point Aaron, who was in the lead, called back down, "Um, I think we have ice."

This was an understatement. It was actually a giant slab of leftover winter snow and ice, slowly melting. But it made a wonderful little stream and waterfall that I could refill at and Ruten could cool down at. This was the point where Alex and Ruten decided to camp out and wait for us, because it was getting rough on the dog and they were exhausted from a ten-mile hike yesterday. (Ruten actually fell asleep curled up between rocks.) So Aaron and I scrambled on, and I do mean scramble. It was almost as hard coming down as it was going up. But then we got higher and higher, and the horizon fell away, more ice appeared on the trail and alongside it, the trees thinned out, and we found the infamous above-the-tree-line, worst-weather-in-America sign.

To get to the rest of the saddle, we had to cross a rock field. There was no trail. If I hadn't been concentrating so hard on my footing, it would have been terrifying, because one loose rock or rolled ankle would likely mean tumbling hundreds of feet down a rock field. Then we were on dirt and lichen and moss again, in an alpine zone of only dirt and fragile plants. With 360 degrees of views. Mount Eisenhower was further up and only .4 miles off, but a LOT further UP, and we were... pretty much done. I had just run out of water, anyway. We met a thru-hiker doing the full traverse loop who said this was the best view in the range, so hey. 

This is one of the coolest places to me. You can walk along the ridge to every peak, including Mount Washington. It's part of the Appalachian Trail. It's a giant hotspot of geographic and meteorological nerdery.

Because it was almost 2pm, and clouds were beginning to build, we didn't spend too much time up there. We sat, posed, reflected, all the stuff you do when you're on top of the world and staring across the sky at the Mount Washington Observatory, and then it was back down before the muscle fatigue set in.

Down was really hard, too, but we moved a hell of a lot faster. Ruten, who is a herder, was ecstatic to have the rest of his sheep together. We refilled my water and I drank out of my Sawyer Squeeze for the rest of the descent. My knees and ankles are very not happy.

On the way up, our stepping from rock to rock reminded me of the Psalm about hinds' feet on high places. On the way down, we had two miles to go and my knee was already weakening, so I prayed about also getting hinds' legs. Around the next bend was a perfect walking stick. It was smooth at the edges, so someone else had already used it, but it supported my knees and got me down the mountain where I would have faceplanted a few times without it. I had already rolled my right ankle (the one of the high ankle sprain a few years ago) on a rock and smacked my head on a tree, so I'm grateful for the stick. (I never got the hinds' ankles, but I suppose you can't have it all.) Ruten loved that stick. Whenever I wasn't hiking it, he was gnawing it.

My blood sugar was running low by time we got to the car, despite my water and trail mix, but some Powerade and a Snickers from the car cooler fixed that. We are all pretty stiff but not crippled, and enjoyed a nice, calorie-heavy, salty dinner at McDonalds while I downloaded my album. Even Ruten got at least one chicken nugget.

And now we are mostly recovered, journalling and Aaron's alternately stomping around breaking sticks to use as kindling and playing his DS, and Alex and I are talking trails because we're just masochists. (We also talked horses, as we do.)

Tomorrow, we drive to Fort Kent, Maine. It's the very edge of US 1, as far as we can go without hitting Quebec (which would just be going home for Alex). AND WE HAVE HOTEL ROOMS. WE GET REAL SHOWERS. WE GET A REAL BED. First time in 4 days! We are getting raaaank, even with the baby wipes. It's sad, but I'm almost equally excited for interstate travel with actual, you know, road quality. Seriously. These potholes will throw out your axle. It's like Frogger.

Getting higher...

This is the trail.


Delicious cold water! (After being treated.)


More higher...

Winter never dies.

Pointing to our destination. Check out the 'trail.'

Aaron staring down the rock field.

The top of the traverse.

You can just keep walking.

Totally worth it.

Day Seven - VT & NH

Thursday, May 26


Today we are in New Hampshire, camping in the White Mountains outside the Presidential Range (where Mount Washington is). We've met up with my friend Alex and her wonderdog Ruten and tomorrow we're tackling a mountain. Fingers crossed it doesn't kick our butts.

This morning dawned super freaking hot--we woke up sweaty and I am not going to lie to you, this tent is getting pretty rank. We Febreze'd it before packing it up this morning, but it basically smells like feet and DEET. We slept in, had a nice leisurely morning experimenting with MRE breakfasts, bathing with baby wipes, and letting the sleeping bag and tent air out, and then headed off. There were two passport sites we wanted to hit, and Aaron wanted barbecue.

Then Susan the GPS got involved. We almost threw her out the window and ran her over. A straight line between points A and B suddenly involved construction detours, a confused GPS, and every dirt road in central Vermont past every dairy farm, including one with a sign reading "We sell the best and eat the rest." Our SUV was a trooper, even with only FWD.

We did eventually find our two passport sites. One was pretty boring, the Saint Gaudens house in New Hampshire. We got our stamp, looked at the pretty flowers and some sculpture reliefs, and headed out. The one in Vermont, the Marsch-Billings-Rockefeller House, has an attached farm. The house isn't open yet but the farm is, and we got a stamp and bought some freaking delicious cheese (and sampled other cheese, which I can't wait to make into mac n cheese and we will order online when we get home) from an eccentric park worker. Also, we angered a dairy cow. She mooed at us, peed, and the alpha female cow ordered all the other cows away from us.

After getting lost again and some shrieking, the GPS, atlas, and Google Maps (using what sketchy connections I could find) got us back on US 4 and heading toward the Interstates. Sweet, sweet Interstates. Aaron picked a random restaurant off Google Maps, which happened to be down the street from Dartmouth. So we ate some of the best mac n cheese I've ever had in my life while watching really rich college students amble down the sidewalk. I was pleasantly surprised to find that Dartmouth's buildings (that I saw) are not so different from FSU's (the women's side/new renovation side, not the men's Soviet block side).

But seriously, that mac n cheese was heavenly.

It was only two hours or so down major highways back into New Hampshire and to our campsite, which we found with plenty of daylight to spare for once.

Tomorrow, God willing, we'll get up fairly early, climb a mountain, and then find some wifi so I can download my preordered Lacuna Coil album to listen to at the campsite. (Priorities.) We're here for two nights, so for once we don't have to pack up and can maybe let Feet & DEET HQ air out a little.

Seriously. Gorgeous houses abound.

Covered bridge! And we didn't even have to hunt it down!

The Saint Gaudens house.

He also has a sculpture of what can only be a Magikarp with quartz teeth.

Covered bridge on the way back.

We got lost and had to stop to figure it out, but across the street were draft horses!

Still lovin' these cemeteries.

The cows would soon be angered.


Home for the next two days!

Day Six - NY & VT

Wednesday, May 25

Woke up this morning and confirmed that yes, from our hilltop, wooded site we could in fact see Lake Ontario through the trees. Our campground owners gave us half-off on our stay because we were nice people and had only been there for 12 hours. Shady Shores Campground in upstate New York is pretty awesome. Everyone go there. Before checking out, we went to the water's edge and poked our toes in (it's cold) and Aaron skipped a few rocks just to say that he had.

In Syracuse, we found a laundromat down the road from a quick oil change place. I did laundry and hung out with a friendly retired couple discussing the merits of moving to Charleston while Aaron got the oil changed. I had to change like $13 into quarters because I only had three one-dollar bills and a ten. Who needs quarters? I am drowning in quarters.

That was when New York stopped being okay. Despite everyone's recommendations of the beauty of the Adirondacks, we found it a rainy, dreary, gray, desolate place full of derelict buildings and awful road conditions, and absolutely nowhere to stop for gas or food. We had plenty in the tank, and have food in the car if we wanted to stop and actually prepare something, but it took a definite mental toll. That place was as desolate as Idaho. IDAHO. We arrived at Ticonderoga in dire need of a pick-me-up. The Maplesfield gas station with wifi was a nice touch. Aaron found a diner where we got our first real meals of the day at 4:30 and oh man, it was so needed. Our idiot GPS, Susan, kept bypassing all the pockets of civilization until then. We just kept finding rusted out farming equipment and cemeteries. So many cemeteries. I'd like to visit some, because I love old cemeteries, but I'm afraid some redneck dressed in a Confederate flag (THEY EXIST AND THEY ARE ALL OVER NEW YORK) will gun me down for trespassing on his family's land or something.

Not long after Ticonderoga, we entered Vermont, where XM radio got signal again and the roads magically improved. XM station Octane even streamed Disturbed's set from Rock on the Range! (We went there a few years ago and that's how we learned to hate Ohio, but not seeing Disturbed this spring was one of my concert season regrets.) The welcome station was super nice and handwrote us directions to our campsite, and we had a lovely drive in. Our campsite is nicely manicured again, with a playground and showers on timers and next to a river in the Green Mountains. We're tenting on fluffy grass! No gravel tent pad tonight!

We didn't actually visit Fort Ticonderoga, or Fort Stanwix in Rome. Neither of us paid enough attention in high school to remember why they're significant (beyond their existence) and frankly, New York sucked out our wills to live and we just wanted to get out and get to Vermont already.

Tomorrow, we're hitting some actual historic sites to populate our passport, and then meandering up to the White Mountains of New Hampshire to meet my good friend Alex and her amazing dog Ruten, and then we shall frolic and screech and generally misbehave all over New Hampshire and Maine for... 4-6 days, something like that. It'll be grand.

Things that are odd: it's warm. Like, 80+ during the day and only 50s at night. What. What is this.

Things that WOULD happen: a tropical low stalking me up the coast. I see you, you cute little low. Do not screw with my flight home.

Hilltop tent site!

You CAN actually see the lake! Just very slightly.

Lake Ontario!

It's a rocky lake.

Welcome to the northeast: cemeteries EVERYWHERE.

So what is it you people love about the Adirondacks again? I like gothic stuff, but man.

The ice? Is it the ice you like?

I deliberately picked the campsite by the playground.

Vermont is pretty.

Day Five - WV, MD, PA, & NY

Tuesday, May 24

We covered a LOT of ground today. It was the longest day of the trip, rolling into our campground at 8:50pm with the last vestiges of daylight. However, you can see and hear Lake Ontario from our campsite, so there's that. And there are bunnies EVERYWHERE. We've seen at least five tonight. It's also the warmest night we've ever had while camping, at a balmy 65 degrees or so. The low tonight is supposed to be 55... which is still really warm, let's be honest. Our camp nights tend to be in the 40s.

We left our site around 10am (after mopping up the tent exterior, because it poured all night long) and moseyed through West Virginia highways and byways until Maryland, which took like 20 minutes, and then into Pennsylvania, which is like a particularly forested Kansas. It's really boring until you get to the New York border, then you get mountain highway that reminds me of 441 into the Smokeys and is a lot of fun. There's not a lot to say about Maryland or Pennsylvania. We saw one site featuring two jails and a wastewater treatment plant all crammed together. That was special. We stopped to get drinks and lunch and wash our dishes from the night before in a sink, and I found Surge at the attached gas station. So that was Maryland. Pennsylvania was just really boring. We went along I-99 by Altoona and College Station. Boring. Saw some nice horses?

Really, the most important part of today's drive, aside from the constant fighting with our ridiculous GPS named Susan, was that shortly after crossing into New York, we were playing with the XM radio and I was tired of the same five artists on Octane and the 90s station wasn't doing it for me anymore, so I asked Aaron to see if there was a boyband station or something. He found 2000s pop. It's full of Britney Spears and NSYNC and Eminem and Lil Jon and every single thing I listened to in high school and college, and I proceeded to sing myself hoarse. That is the most important part of today.

In New York we have also seen tons of Mennonites, vineyards, odd farm equipment, Seneca and Cayuga Lakes, more odd farm equipment, and AN ACTUAL AMISH GUY DRIVING A HORSE DOWN THE HIGHWAY AND WEARING A TOPHAT(?) AND FROWNING AT ME IN DISAPPROVAL. I LOVE HIM. HE IS MY SECOND FAVORITE PART OF TODAY.

The third part, obviously, would be that we can hear the waves on Lake Ontario from our tent. And I did a baller job of backing the SUV into our narrow, steep, cliffside campsite. (Fourth part.)

Today was a good day.

Tomorrow, we have to do chores on the way to Vermont. The SUV, Lapras, needs an oil change (we'll get reimbursed by Alamo at the counter later) and we need to do laundry. Probably do that in Rome.

New York is so weird, y'all. I have seen so much weird stuff here. It makes the south look reasonable.

West Virginia has some neat geology.

But mostly it looks like this.

Cute houses from WV to ME!

Twilight Lake Ontario.

Welcome to Maryland. Here are your detention centers.

Free of West Virginia!

Day Four - VA & WV

Monday, May 23

After waking up and screwing around on Katie's wifi and playing with her puppy, we headed off to McDonalds for breakfast, then off to Shenandoah National Park. It was another beautifully gothic day, dreary with low-hanging clouds obscuring the views and intermittant rain, which canceled  our plans to tackle the rock scramble at Bearfence. Every rock scramble we've ever attempted has been canceled by rain. Maybe we're not supposed to ever scramble.

The first place we stopped was at The Point overlook, where there's a little trail down to a rock outcropping that you can climb on. While taking photos there, we passed a group of Asians. They were poaching plants. I had just seen the Facebook post by the park about it being a problem and asking that any suspicious activity be reported, and when people are pulling plants out of the ground and saying "that's the wrong plant," I think that's out of the realm of suspicious and into Scooby Doo levels of Obvious. So we raced up the extremely steep dirt trail and barely missed identifying their vehicle, but had enough details that we could report them anyway.

As luck would have it, we ran into them again at the Byrd Visitor Center. One of the women pulling plants out of the ground was walking through the parking lot back to their vehicle. So we 'took a walk around the parking lot to stretch our legs,' then promptly went and reported their vehicle description, occupant description, and tag numbers. It was a bit of an adrenaline rush. We got our passport stamped, got some trail recs, and headed off to hike our waterfalls. All the while we cackled over our new calling in life: tattling on people. Park Narcs, coming to TruTV this fall.

Today's trail was the Rose River-Dark Hollow Falls loop, which features two 70-foot waterfalls over four miles. It was probably the best trail we've ever hiked, competing pretty hard with the Jenny Lake/Inspiration Point trail in Grand Teton National Park. It was technically challenging without a whole bunch of self-loathing (like yesterday's), long enough to be a workout without taking a whole day, and we followed whitewater for about half of it. It started as a horse trail, then a rocky, narrow trail built into the bank alongside the river (downhill... and down... and down...), leveled out into something downright pleasant, and then slowly made itself back up steeper and steeper until reaching Dark Hollow Falls. Then it's all graded, flat, easy fire road back to the trailhead, so a really great cooldown. Around the point we started going uphill, the rain began in earnest. We were dressed for it, so that was fine, and then the thunder started. We were below the treeline and miles from buildings, so we just kept going.

First I pushed up my sleeves. Then I took off the thin, sweat-wicking long-sleeve shirt. Then I was just sweaty enough that I might as well get wet, so I took off the rain jacket too, just in time to reach the fire road and the falls. We were leapfrogging this family of four and I felt bad for them because every time they saw us, I was taking off some article of clothing. Oh well. It was 55 degrees, but we were so sweaty and hot from the work of climbing almost 1000 feet in the rain, through a trail so wet it saturated past my hiking boots and wool socks, the cool air felt GREAT. We got a lot of amazing photos on that hike.

With the hike done, and stuffing my face with homemade trail mix and water, we headed out of the park and toward West Virginia. The towns in western Virginia are really cute. Then you hit the mountain that is the border between Virginia and West Virginia (via US 33). The trip over Shenandoah Mountain, however, is like 10 miles of narrow, two-lane road and 9% grade up and down. It. Took. FOREVER. West Virginia makes you work for it.

Almost all of WV was like that, honestly. The moments I got to actually go 55 were magical. And yeah, West Virginia is basically a living stereotype. I saw at least one outhouse.

Our campground tonight is Seneca Shadows, with a beautiful view of Seneca Rocks. This is the nicest campground I've ever been to. It's manicured, landscaped, gorgeous, and a teacher taking a bunch of high schoolers backpacking invited us over for their extra cheeseburgers. Our immediate neighbors are metal heads. We saw two rainbows over the Rocks.  And I found a penny on our tentpad.

Shortly before becoming Park Narcs.

Our trail in Shenandoah had so much pretty water!

Rainbow over Seneca Rocks and our campground in West Virginia.

WV home rainy home.