October 13, 2018

We almost didn’t include Vermont, New Hampshire, or Maine in our travels. Did I just cause you to spill your maple syrup in astonishment? To choke on that piece of lobster you’re eating? I know, skipping those states would have been cray. (I keep shortening words in these posts, texting-style. This whole wanderlust thing has really unleashed my inner millennial.)

That part of our journey took place while we still had a van (the accident is coming…), and because we were going to be traveling through mountainous areas with steep grades, we decided to unhitch the van from the RV and drive them separately. So Todd, as per usual, drove the RV with a few kids aboard, and I drove our lovely van (may it rest in peace) with Kiefer as my companion, and I had the best time ever.

We left the Walmart in Saratoga Springs, NY in high spirits. How could we not? Leaving Walmart always makes me happy. Plus, that day held the promise of spectacular views and delicious food. (Sorry, Walmart. I know you’ve treated us well on this trip…but I still like leaving you. It’s like this is our song.) We cruised out of the bustling state of New York and into the beautiful state of Vermont, headed for the Green Mountains. We drove through lovely little country back roads that twisted and turned through cornfield-covered hills, peppered here and there with red barns and silver grain silos and black and white cows. It was Americana at its finest, and I was thoroughly smitten.

While I was driving along and feeling blissfully happy, Todd was ahead of us in the RV, having stressful thoughts like these: Oh my gosh, how tight are these turns going to be?? How steep are the grades? I haven’t seen any semi-trucks in a couple of hours. Maybe they know something I don’t know….Will we ever see an open highway with more than one lane ever again? GPS says to turn right now. Turning right…..NO! Abort! There’s a bridge ahead with only ten foot clearance! Sorry everyone. Nothing to see here. Just a twelve foot tall mobile home sitting indecisively in an intersection, wondering which way is most likely to prevent us from getting stuck out here forever.

I watched Todd try to make that right turn, and watched him quickly change his mind. He’s so great, I thought. I couldn’t see the bridge from where I was, so I had no idea why he chose to redirect, but I suspected that he was not having quite the same carefree experience I was. But on he went, and on I followed. The road started to get steeper, and the way forward began to be flanked by an ever-increasing number of trees, occasionally giving way to open vistas of distant, misty hills, all blue and grey and green. My only sadness during that drive was that there were no appropriate places to pull off and take a good photo. All of the prettiest views happened while the road was winding and narrow, so the pictures are confined to my memory, where I hope they will stay forever.

Partway through this mountain journey of magical-ness, we passed a sign for a dairy farm/petting zoo, and at the next available turnout Todd pulled the RV over, so I pulled over too. He came over and said “We’re going to that farm, right??” and I said “Heck yes we are!” So we piled into the van, turned around, and headed back.

The farm was as charming and as odd as you might expect. Charming because it was full of everything such a place ought to be full of — a perfectly appropriate number of cows, goats, sheep, llamas, horses, chickens, pigs, ducks, and guinea hen chicks, as well as a shop with an assortment of fresh-made cheeses and unpasteurized milk and local ice cream (everything came straight from their own farm, except the ice cream). And it was odd for reasons you’d probably expect as well — the farm proprietors were a bit over-eager, like people who know how cool their property is and wish everyone else would pause long enough to realize how cool it is too, and yet not another soul came by.

Anyhow, we pet the animals and held the chicks, and the little boys rode on the tractor, and we capped it off by buying cheese and milk and ice cream, which were all delicious. It was very delightful, and it took much longer than expected, and the owners seemed a little sad to see us go. But we smiled and waved and thanked them and promised to come back if we ever pass through again, and we headed back to our respective vehicles for the rest of the drive.

Nearing the Vermont border, Kiefer and I spotted a “country store” which is Vermont code for EXPENSIVE TOURIST TRAP. We pulled off, anticipating we’d make a quick stop and catch up with the slow-moving RV in no time. But then we walked in and saw the gleaming glass jars of maple syrup and the piles of rag rugs and the stacks of handmade soap and the display shelves of fresh fudge and the collections of jams and jellies and preserves, and my heart skipped a beat. I wandered around and around that store, picking things up here and there and repeating to myself Just another minute longer….just another minute, until quite a few minutes had gone by and quite a few dollars had been spent and Kiefer and I finally skedaddled outta there.

We did not see the RV again for the duration of our drive through New Hampshire. Of course, the duration of a drive through New Hampshire is roughly seventeen minutes. Oh, just kidding. It’s more like thirty minutes. Just kidding, I don’t remember how long it is, but it’s not long. It’s every bit as pretty as Vermont, and Kiefer and I started to speculate why everyone has heard of Vermont and its famous maple syrup but it feels like New Hampshire is famous for nothing. Surely it’s the same maple syrup? I mean, it’s the same forests, but I’ve never gone to Whole Foods and seen a bottle of Authentic New Hampshire Maple Syrup. Also, New Hampshire is the one that’s on the ocean, which should automatically give it greater star status than it’s presumptuous little neighbor. I dunno. It’s weird. Maybe the people in New Hampshire are really rich and don’t want the rest of the world coming in and mucking things up, so they intentionally fly under the radar. Or maybe the people in New Hampshire are weird and they scare others away. Or maybe they’re delightful people and everyone else is weird. Regardless, it’s a fun and pretty drive.

We started to catch up with Todd and the RV as we approached the state line into Maine, and because Todd hit it a few minutes before me, he sent this text: “Craziest state line ever.” Which of course is a very exciting text to receive. My mind started to run wild. Would we be saluted by sword-wielding cavalry on horseback? Would we have to accelerate up a ramp and jump the vehicle into Maine? Would there be an explosion of fireworks for every person who entered? Would a state trooper stop us and make us recite the Maine motto? No. It was actually none of those things. It was better.

There is a great deal of water around the border, and the water tends to create fog, and the fog is particularly abundant around bridges. As a matter of fact, on that particular day, the fog was only around the bridges, and the New Hampshire/Maine border happened to be on a bridge. On the New Hampshire side — sun. On the bridge — dense, swirling fog. We drove into this thick, mystical darkness, crossed over the bridge, and emerged into sunshiny Maine. There were trees and rainbows and for the briefest of moments I had the feeling of having entered Narnia. Well done, Maine. Well done.

We finally caught up to Todd and the others at a rest stop, re-attached the van, and continued our journey together. For a variety of reasons, we realized we weren’t going to make it as far as we hoped to that night, so around 7 pm we called a KOA that was nearby, secured a spot, and parked the RV. It was late but we were quite hungry and we’d heard a rumor that Maine has good lobster, so we hopped back in the van and drove down to the beach in search of seafood. It was a strange little part of Maine that we ended up in, the beach feeling more like a carnival than a peaceful oasis, but we found a pier with restaurant on it so we plopped ourselves down and ordered some lobster….which they were out of.

So instead we ordered a plate of fried seafood — scallops and shrimp and I don’t remember what else — and Todd and I ordered margaritas, and we sat in the cold salty darkness on the pier and stuffed our faces with hot salty food and listened to the waves crashing on the beach below us.

The next morning I drove out to meet my sweet friend Danielle (whose house we’d failed to make it to the previous night) for coffee at the very impressive and humongous L.L. Bean flagship store. She drove her three children out early in the morning just so we could connect, and I was so blessed by how flexible she was with all of our craziness. It was a wonderfully fun and refreshing time in that pretty, mist-enshrouded place.

Back with my family later that day, we finally got our hands on some really delectable lobster, and it was worth the wait. We ate the lobster near the one and only lighthouse we tried to see….which was under construction. We have a knack for impeccably peccable timing, but even a lighthouse under construction looks a bit awe-inspiring when it’s set against the backdrop of the north New England ocean.

I said that we almost didn’t go through those three states. I know I’m the lucky one because I didn’t have to navigate a giant RV though all of the curving country roads (complete with too-low highway underpasses) for hours on end with little kids in tow. I got to drive an easy-to-navigate van with only the company of a pleasant and articulate thirteen year-old, so Todd may have a slightly less rose-colored memory of that drive than I do. But between fresh milk and maple syrup, misty bridges and seafood eaten on the beach, that’s one leg of our journey that I wouldn’t trade for anything.

RV’s and the Nor’east

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