Photo: A fly fisherman on the Pemigewasset River at Franconia Notch State Park.
On the morning of September 12 it was overcast and chilly as we pulled out of Bethel, Maine, headed for New Hampshire, about twenty miles away. On seeing our first New Hampshire license plate we were surprised and little taken aback by the state motto: Live Free or Die.
At the first little town, Gorham, I saw two young people selling organic produce by the side of the road. We stopped and I diplomatically inquired if they were selling any other kind of organic ‘herbs.’ At first she didn’t get my meaning but then it dawned on her and she said, “Oh, sure, we can probably hook you up.” She called her husband over and he agreed to meet me back at the same place in fifteen minutes. Janice and I walked about a mile to a cash machine and, fifteen minutes later, I had what I was looking for. We hadn’t been in the US more than half an hour. We bought some other organic herbs from them and they threw in a bunch of organic cherry tomatoes too. My kind of Americans!
This whole area is the ski destination for the Eastern Seaboard, although the mountains are puny, by BC standards. We followed the scenic Appalachian Trail, Highway 16, stopping to stretch our legs atConway, before turning east on Highway 112, directly through the White Mountains.
It rained pretty well all day so we didn’t get to see much of the White Mountains that everybody has been telling us are so beautiful. If it had been a clearer day we would have driven to the top of 6,000 foot Mount Washington, where you can apparently see as far as Boston on a good day.
Rain or not, we did stay at our nicest campground so far, called Lost River Valley, near Lincoln. It has huge trees, two nice streams running through the site, the Lost River on the other side of the highway where massive boulders separate clear, deep swimming holes and lots of trees with roots clinging to huge boulders beneath them. I’m not sure of the elevation of the campsite but we were right below the clouds.
The rain continued into the evening so we played ‘Hangman’ and I beat the pants off Janice.
Photo: Our campsite at Lost River Valley with the ubiquitous glasses of wine that seem to follow us everywhere we go. Note the tree clinging to the rock.
Photo: One of the streams running through the property.
The next day we stopped at the first of the many covered bridges that we were to encounter.
By the time we drove through the White Mountains, we were almost in Vermont, so we crossed over the border, with the idea that we’d travel down the state and then cross back over lower New Hampshire, to the coast again.
The capital city of Vermont is a stately little place called Montpelier. Don’t pronounce it the French way though because people will look at you funny. As we walked around the town, taking in all of its brilliant gardens, ornate architecture and orderly profile, we became big fans, deciding it was one of our favourite places so far.
Photo: The State House, or capitol building, at Montpelier.
Photo: Inside the State House. I particularly liked the painting of the Admiral.
Photo: Some of the architecture at Montpelier, NH.
Janice had read some good things about the Cabot Cheese Factory, which was not far north on Highway 214, so we decided to take a jog in that direction.
Not far up the road, near Marshfield, we saw a sign advertising Onion River RV Park, a couple of miles ahead on the right. We had already seen it on the GPS so we decided we’d had enough driving and turned in, over the little wooden bridge, following a grassy road up to a sign that said ‘office’. We didn’t know then that we were about to discover a true taste of rural Vermont.
The ‘office’ turned out to be at the top of a skinny dirt path, leading to a completely deserted barn. A bearded guy wearing coveralls appeared out of the rickety house next door, screen door slamming behind him. We inquired if he had an RV Site for the night. He said, “Sure, take your pick.” We couldn’t see the campsite from where we were but, feeling him out, I asked if he had a Triple A discount. He said, “Naw, we don’t bother with none a’ that stuff. It’s $25, cash.” I liked his warm and fuzzy style. No frills, no unnecessary niceties in this guy’s repertoire. I handed him the money.
We followed the narrow, rutted road for another hundred yards or so where it opened to a sweeping, grassy field, bordered on the low side by the Onion River.
There were a couple of riverfront lots available so, of course, we chose one of those. Once we started to set up, almost immediately, a thirty-something, sloppy- looking guy came wandering through the site. We could tell, after two words, that he was a little bit ‘Special.’ We were polite, but decided to move a little further away from the rest of the ‘campers,’ all of whom, we found out later, were full-timers.
As we were setting up we noticed a number of dirty little kids in diapers appear out of a rather shoddy-looking trailer down by the river. When we looked again they were running around, tugging at a couple of equally disheveled looking women.
All of a sudden, out of nowhere, a skinny little guy stuck his smiling head around the corner of our trailer, announcing, “Hi, I’m John Evans, your official Ambassador toVermont.” He was about fifty with a friendly, deeply-creased face. He was very friendly, if a little skittish. He said he’d be happy to sell us some firewood – as much as I could carry for $5.00. He then launched into telling me about his previous life in the navy, smoking marijuana with the Hopi in Arizona, and so on. He even invited us to have spaghetti with his wife and three kids. This all happened within five minutes. It was as if we’d landed ourselves somewhere in the middle of ‘The Trailer Park Boys meet Dog Patch’.
We declined his spaghetti offer, but I was interested in how much pot smoking went on in the US military. He said that, years ago, when he was in the Navy, pot smoking was commonplace. They would normally go inside the gun turrets on the ships to light up. Most everybody knew it was going on though, so it wasn’t that big a deal. In the mid 80’s however, two guys crashed a jet onto the deck of a US aircraft carrier, and were found to have THC in their systems. Ronald Reagan was so pissed that, according to John, it was that incident which started dope testing in the military and, eventually, The War on Drugs.
Apparently there was a huge exodus from The Services at that point. Servicemen either found a way to get discharged or they would be dishonorably discharged after testing positive. According to John, it significantly depleted the ranks at that time.
Meanwhile, our new site gave us a good view over Dog Patch. Some guy that must have been having a nap could be heard mumbling gruffly at a couple of little dogs, “Shut up or I’ll stuff my f _ _ _ _ _ g boot down your throat.” Presumably the dogs didn’t like that because all of a sudden there was a huge uproar with the dogs barking furiously and him shouting over them about what he was going to do to them. A few minutes after that ruckus had quieted down we would hear him (everything he said was at the top of his lungs through a really gravelly whiskey voice) ordering anybody or anything moving or making any kind of sound to “Shut up!” or “Get over here!” or “How many times do I have to tell you?!” or…!!!
He looked to be fifty-something and it became apparent that some of the snotty little kids in diapers were his. After a while it was quite comical because he’d constantly be shouting orders at the top of his lungs, but all the kids, women and dogs simply went about what they were doing, completely ignoring him. Eventually I saw the campground owner’s truck at the site and, after that, there was no more noise.
We awoke to blue skies and happily left Dog Patch behind in order to tour the Green Mountains, stopping at Cabot to shop the cheese factory. We picked up some Smokey Bacon and Horseradish cheddar as well as some Caramelized Onion cheddar.
Back on the road, turning west on Highway 15, the sunshine wouldn’t cooperate so, once again, we weren’t getting to see much of the mountains. We turned south again on scenic Highway 100, passing through some really pretty, typically northeastern, mostly painted white, little mountain towns, all with tall steeples.
Turning west again on Highway 2, another scenic route, and then south again on picturesque Highway 7, we began to see the first hints of fall colour. We stopped at Middlebury to take a walk around. The town occupies a beautiful natural setting, with a massive waterfall in the center of town that once powered a large marble works as well as several gin and grain mills, almost all of which have been turned into funky shops.
Photo: The falls at Middlebury.
Photo: A downtown street in Middlebury.
That night we stayed at Country Village Campsite outside Leicester where we were, once again, the only tourists. We had a ripping big campfire and I made a salad, chopping up just about everything that was in the crisper before Janice added bacon and scallops with a maple syrup/ horseradish dressing. There was a big rock fire pit there and quite a bit of leftover firewood so we had an enormous five alarm fire under a very starry sky.
By morning the weather had cleared a little so we decided that we should retrace part of our route through the White Mountains, back to New Hampshire. It had been raining and dreary on our first pass through, so we wanted to try our luck at seeing them under better circumstances.
It doesn’t take long to get where you’re going in Vermont or New Hampshire. We stopped and walked around Woodstock, Vermont, which is another beautiful historic town with lots of classic architecture. By early afternoon we were back in New Hampshire. One of Janice’s close friends, Janet (nick-named ‘Dingus’), went to school in Woodstock so we took particular interest in it, but we’re all so old now that the school she attended has been closed down for years.
Photo: Some classic digs in Woodstock.
Photo: Another historic home in Woodstock. Hide-and-Seek anybody?
About an hour before we crossed into New Hampshire, we drove through Rutland where we saw the Dalhousie University football team run a couple of plays. We followed Highway 4 into Lebanon, NH, and turned north to Hanover, just up the road. At this point we decided that, because Interstate 91 is designated as a scenic route, we’d cross the bridge back into Vermont and take the 91 to make better time to Highway 302, where we turned right, eventually being spit out at Woodsville, back in New Hampshire.
The area of New England that we travelled through today has produced a lot of famous people. I know I’m just touching on that fact because, in the towns we passed in the last few hours, we’ve seen the hometowns of Ansel Adams, Norman Rockwell, Calvin Coolidge and Robert Frost.
We settled in at the Woodsville Walmart for the night and watched the last of the ten movies we’d bought back in Manitoba– ‘Superman 3’, which was almost unbearably bad, but it was all we had. Just one other unit stayed the night there.
In the morning we set out north on Highway 302, where we soon encountered the tiny town of Bath. There we met Mike, the owner of the oldest continuously operating general store in America. Next door he also has the ‘At the Hop’ ice cream shop which is chock full of rock and roll memorabilia, some of which depicted his band, Rocking Chair. Mike’s a drummer as well as a successful entrepreneur and his band had just returned from a European tour. Next door he had an art gallery and, as we were looking around, a bus tour stopped outside. Apparently that was the signal for a tall, dark, mustachioed artist to appear from the back. He positioned himself in a large antique sleigh and hurriedly began working on an almost completed landscape. The bus tourists ate it up.
Photo: The oldest general store in America, with Mike walking by.
Photo: Janice inside the ice cream shop at Bath.
When we left Mike’s shops we took a walk over the longest covered bridge in North America.
Photo: The longest covered bridge in North America, which is somewhat of an architectural marvel – the dual arches have something to do with it.
Photo: The dual arches in the longest covered bridge.
We continued on the 302 until Littleton and then turned southeast on Interstate 93, destination, Franconia Notch State Park, in the White Mountains. We had researched the area a little and knew that, besides a lot of beautiful scenery, there were many hiking and biking trails in the park. There are only seven camping spots available at Franconia Notch State Park and we were lucky enough to snag one without a reservation. Echo Lake was right beside us and Cannon Ski Hill towered over us.
One of the park trails, the eight-mile long walk/bike trail that follows the Pemigewasett River, (which translates into fast running water) is steep at times but provides direct access to the river. We rode the trail downstream to its culmination at The Basin; stopping along the way at a number of outstanding vantage points to take in the spectacles, including ‘The Old Man of the Mountain’ whose nose fell off in 2007. The enormous rock that was the nose now rests hundreds of feet below, right beside the trail. Reading the plaque at The Basin we discovered that Henry David Thoreau used to walk these same trails. He also spent time musing over The Basin itself. Franconia Notch is an exceptional vacation destination for outdoors-oriented people.
Photo: A fly fisherman on the Pemigewasset River at Franconia Notch State Park.
Photo: The Basin was formed by a glacier about 25,000 years ago and has been finessed by the river ever since.
Later in the afternoon we walked around Littleton before stopping for fries and coffee at the eighty-year-old Littleton Diner which is famed for countless gubernatorial and Presidential campaign ‘stump’ speeches.
We had planned on a campfire that night but the weather turned really ugly, with sheets of rain and high winds whipping down over the mountain. Luckily for us there were a couple of TV stations available. Janice made pozole, our new favourite meal, to ward off the chill. The recipe for pozole can be found in the Road Recipes on the website.
The weather hadn’t improved much by morning so we passed time with me reading ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’ and Janice cleaning the trailer while ‘Good Morning America’ was running in the background. We waited until noon, at which time we pulled up camp, but as soon as we were on the road, of course, the weather cleared. We couldn’t have kept our campsite anyway because there were three major events going on in the area: The Scottish Games, a Two-Hundred Mile in Twenty-Four Hours Run, with thousands participating, and a NASCAR race somewhere just outside the park.
We followed Highway 302 until we hooked up with Highway 16, south, through the White Mountains. We passed hundreds of the 24-hour runners on their way to Hampton Beach from Cannon Mountain. We reluctantly left theWhite Mountains behind, having not seen some of the things we’d hoped to because of the weather. We looked at the Walmart in Laconia but it was in a mall so we continued on to the smaller town of Tilton and set up at their Walmart instead.
As it was Friday, we went for a walk to find a bar, hoping to mix with the locals but, after several miles, all we could find was a TGI Fridays, not exactly what we had in mind. We returned to the trailer to watch ‘Mad Dog Time’ for the second time — it was worth it.
In the morning we stopped at Concord, the capitol of New Hampshire, where we walked around downtown, looking over a farmer’s market and an art market before having lunch in the parking lot. After lunch we turned east onto Highway 9 and headed back to the coast and Portsmouth.
Photo: The State Capitol Building at Concord.
We toured around Portsmouth by bike before looking for a campsite.
Photo: The main intersection in downtown Portsmouth.
Portsmouth is on the water and the price for camping reflected it. The first place we stopped was Libby’s Campsite where they wanted $85 per night, plus taxes. Instead, we decided to drive south for another forty minutes and cross the border into Massachusetts…