Category Archives: national parks

28: #5, #6

Well, this is only very slightly overdue, but over my birthday weekend (10/10) John surprised me with an awesome gift that allowed me to check off half of the 5th item on my Life List AND a ¼ of the 6th! What a guy.

You may have noticed a trend of me writing “John surprised me”, and you’re probably getting super bored by it, and maybe you’re wondering if I’m still surprised by all of this surprising.

Well, sort of.

See, my birthday happened to land on the Monday of Columbus Day weekend, and we had been talking about going to Salem, MA around Halloween, so I had a hunch that we’d probably go then, and I was right.

BUT, I never suspected that he’d also want to drive all the way to Acadia in Maine! I was totally floored and so happy.

I was not so happy when he urged me to rush home from work at 5:30 one recent evening, and instead of the flowers or elaborate dessert I thought would be waiting for me, I found a locked, dark apartment.

SURPRISE!

I guess he tries to keep me on my toes.

Anyway, so on that Friday evening, John and I shipped up to Boston and stayed downtown for the night thanks to my mom, Queen of Marriott Rewards. The next morning we picked up our rental car and headed over to Concord, home of Louisa May Alcott, Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Nathaniel Hawthorne so that I could cross off the MA portion of #5 on my Life List.

And really? Someone should study that coordinate. The air just felt smarter and more transcendenty. I was most interested in visiting Orchard House, home to Alcott and the setting for her most famous work and one of my personal favorites, Little Women. My grandma gave a copy to me when I was pretty young, and it was the first “classic” I read on my own. I loved reading about girls who, even though they were living over a hundred years before me, were genuinely relatable, which is why the book was so popular when it was published, and continues to be today.

To see the inside of the house you have to take a tour, and even though our ancient tour guide was a little repetitive and slow, it was still worth it. So many things that belonged to the Alcott family have been preserved and restored, so it looks very much the way it did when the family (on which the book is based) lived there. Really fascinating to hear how intertwined the lives of the famous philosophers and writers of the day were, which is obvious in their work, but in Concord, MA, the evidence is geographical.

Afterwards, we stopped at another literary hot spot, Walden Pond. The weather was unseasonably warm, so families and their cars were out in droves which made things probably slightly less peaceful than, say, when Thoreau was hanging out  . . . but it’s so beautiful that you can understand how one would be inspired there.

From there we headed to Salem to check out their Halloween festivities. We picked a good weekend, because it was the day of the Annual Zombie Walk. Salem takes their spooky Witch Hunt history very seriously and so this is a great time to visit an already really cool city. My cousin and his husband live there and, being the good citizens that they are, fully partake in all of the festivities! It was a total coincidence that we ran into them at the festival! The ghost of Tituba must have been working some magic. We were having so much fun that we really wanted to stick around, but we had a long drive to Maine ahead of us, so we left that evening . . . you know, after I had my tarot cards read. She didn’t mention anything about brain tumors or lottery winnings or George Clooney, so I don’t really remember what she said.

Boring future read, off to Maine we drove, figuring we’d find a place to stay on the way. I mean, it’s Maine, right? Who goes to Maine? Like 40 people live in Maine – why would anyone possibly need to go there? I began calling hotels on the road to find that this is not the case. EVERYTHING was sold out. Did you know that Maine’s slogan is “Vacationland”?? No? Well it is! And apparently EVERYBODY knows that but us. We couldn’t stay at a Motel 6 if we paid them. Even a creepy roadside knock-off, Motel 5, was totally booked. We were beginning to think that we’d have to sleep in the car when finally we got the very last room at the Lakeside Motel in Winthrop which was totally creepy and obviously haunted by angry deer-hunting ghosts. Very surprisingly, we weren’t killed or haunted or eaten alive by bed bugs, so all in all it was a good night. We survived! Onward to Acadia, 1/4 of #5 on the Life List!

sign outside of the fabulous Lakeside Motel

The weather was gorgeous the next day, and after my big outdoor adventure out west, I was really excited to have another National Park experience. I had my tennis shoes and sporty looking pants on, and this adorable Lululemon hoodie, which I wore even though it was too hot because, hello, it’s outdoorsy and cute and so am I, damn you.

The foliage was just beginning to change, the clear blue water was sparkling in the warm October sun, I looked like an outdoorsy Californian who knows what she’s doing and it was a birthday surprise: what could be better?

The park. The park could have been better.

I mean, ok, yes, it was beautiful, but it was east coast beautiful, meaning pretty, but not impressive; awkwardly good looking, like Anne Hathaway, but not staggeringly mountainous, like Courtney Stodden.

Look, I just went to Utah. It would be like going to Paris and then, a few months later, going to whatever city the “Paris of Alabama” is.

Ok, just kidding, it’s not that bad. At all. It’s gorgeous and the foliage really was just starting to turn and the colors were radiant and the water really was unbelievably clear and sparkling, and we did have a great time there. I think I was just expecting the kind of overwhelming wow factor I got at other National Parks. I mean, I’m like a super experienced outdoors woman, so I really wanted to be challenged with a strenuous hike that my outfit was clearly meant to handle. This is a different kind of park.

ok, fine, it is beautiful!

Fall or summer is probably the best time to go . . . which I guess is why we had to stay at the Lakeside Motel. Make reservations!

The park is right outside of Bar Harbor, which is a darling, typical New England coast resort town, full of pubs, lobster restaurants, Victorian-style houses, and t-shirt shops. We rewarded ourselves for all of the driving that John did with delicious lobster rolls, blueberry ice cream, and Allagash. Luckily found a hotel in Portland that night, which is a weird, but cool, but not really, city. It sort of reminds me of the hipster sections of Baltimore, but also sort of like Alexandria, VA, with a population of rebellious suburbanites whose suburb was an hour outside of the city and not on a Subway line.

Make sense?

But it was cool, and I’m sure that with more time and more exploration I would have really liked it, however it was an early night because we (meaning John) had to drive all the way back to Boston in the morning . . .

But not without stopping in Kennebunkport!

We really don’t like to relax.

Anyway, it was a totally packed three days, but that’s how we like to do things and that’s how we get things done.

Seeing as I’ve only completed 10% of my still incomplete list, I think we might have to move a little faster.

#45 – Go Camping, Legitimately, in a Tent, in the Middle of Nowhere

This past trip was very nature-centric and unlike any I’ve done before, and so I was very excited to be able to be out of my element and check some things off the Life List.

When we were planning out logistics, the idea of cutting camping from the trip came up and I probably did one of my “wide eyes, tight lips” glares at John in which he could sense my internal freak out.

That was the end of the camp-cutting convo.

We don’t have room in our apartment for an ironing board much less camping gear, so it’s not something we’ve ever thought of purchasing. Plus, we’ve never seriously considered going camping before this. Plus, how would one suggest I travel cross-country with a tent? And a lantern? And those roasting marshmallow pokey things? Am I allowed to carry those on? And a small stove, right? Because we’re going to be cooking fancy campsite meals, aren’t we? OMG sleeping bags! Duh! But those are kinda big . . . but maybe we should bring our air mattress, too?

This was not helping the case for camping.

So we decided that the easiest solution would be to buy all of our necessities before we headed out on the road at a Wal-Mart outside of Vegas.

Wow, this really was an All-American trip.

When we got to Wal-Mart, there was some more hesitation about whether this really was a good idea or not. Pretty valid points like, “uh, what are we going to do with this stuff when we’re done?” and “is it worth spending all of this money on camping stuff when we can probably find cheap hotel rooms for the same price or less? Isn’t staying at a Motel 6 kind of like camping anyway?”

Even I was being swayed.

Plus, everyone was speaking German and so I was off looking at bullets and bait and DVDs.

Eventually, however, it was decided that we were doing this for the experience, not to necessarily save a ton of money, and so we started piling stuff into the thankfully gigantic carts.

We ended up buying the very bare camping necessities: two small tents, two fleece “sleeping bags” (in quotations because these were more like thin, cheap blankets that had zippers), an LED lantern, and that’s it. No tools for s’mores, no fancy-pants camping stove, no fun stuff. We then bought copious and completely unnecessary amounts of snacks. I chose surprisingly sensible things like granola bars and apples. Omesay othersay oschay ingsthay ikelay an eakingfray FUN PACK of 24 agsbay of ipschay. Oh, and a Halloween bag of oppersWhay.

Ateverwhay.

It wasn’t totally planned out where or what nights we’d camp, but I definitely tried to slyly suggest instances in which it would work out to be a day that I had taken a shower in the morning and wouldn’t need to wash my hair that night, things like that. “Tonight? What? Didn’t you just feel that raindrop?” It pretty much worked out for me. I think the trick is to be high-maintenance one or two nights a week so that you can be low-maintenance the rest. I did that with the following tools:

Flat Iron: straight hair is just easier to take care of and wear for a few days of non-washing

 

 

 

 

Oscar Blandi Dry Shampoo – this makes the non-washing thing possible. I’ve been intrigued by the idea of dry shampoo because I don’t like to wash my hair everyday. Sprinkling a good amount of white powder into my hair made me a little apprehensive, but it works!

 

 

Andrea Eye Q’s – the best eye makeup remover I’ve come across. Is gentle, works like a charm, and no water necessary.

 

 

 

 

 

Huggies wipes – ditto. There are fancier makeup removing wipes, but I don’t mind using plain old Huggies because they’re cheap. You can clean your whole face in-tent, without having to trek out in the dark to the slightly creepy bathrooms.

 

 

And no, not wearing eye makeup is not an option. My ipchay-ovinglay endfray was earingway ivefay oundspay of akeupmay every day, and I didn’t want to look completely slovenly. Plus we were taking like 5,000,000 pictures . . . I don’t want ugly memories.

Anywhoo, where was I? Oh yes, right, camping.

This trip was the first time I’ve heard the term “backcountry camping”, which basically means camping in a place, typically after hiking to the bottom of some canyon with your crap strapped to your back, that has no facilities . . . like toilets or showers or power hook ups. Like real manly man camping. This is what I wanted to do, but . . . see the photo of “dry shampoo” above.

We camped on campgrounds with campsites and toilets that flushed – the fancy kind. I was sort of disappointed but mostly relieved. I don’t know about the backcountry campers, but the campsite campers? Soooo hoity-toity. They’ve got all of this sexy camping gear and gadgetry that, I mean, I’m my pathetic little “sleeping bag”, I really looked down my nose at. Why not just stay home if you’re going to completely replicate the comforts of your own living room to a campsite? Wusses.

Not us, though. We didn’t even have pillows!

Correction: I didn’t even have a pillow! I brought one inflatable pillow because over the years my mom has given us some really random crap that at the time seemed totally useless. “Um, thanks mom, a solar powered radio, wow, cool, this is going to be, like, totally useful to me seeing as I don’t even listen to electric-powered radios.” Or, “yeah, this mini-flashlight with your company logo on it is super-rad, thanks.” “An inflatable pillow, how did you know?” I let John have it because I’m the perfect girlfriend like that. Plus he was doing all of the driving and, you know, he sort of deserved it.

It turned out that all of her weird, random cast-offs were completely and utterly useful on this trip. It’s like she’s a Jedi or something.

All in all, my introduction to camping was a good one, despite one night of absolutely inhumane temperatures (upper 40s! Come on! I slept in JEANS!), and I’d like to do it again. As with other experiences on this trip, this was a great introduction. Now that I know a bit more about this world and know what to be prepare for, I think I’d actually like to try out the backcountry stuff.

If not, I think I could do something like this . . .

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