Monday, June 26, 2006


THE ROAD LESS TRAVELLED

After six states and 2500 miles, I'm back from my trip to New England. It was awesome. It's different driving with a friend than driving with your spouse and two kids (all which have extremely small bladders). No, it's WAY different. Even though we drove a lot of miles, we took our time, we noticed the scenery, and more importantly, we got off the interstate.

Taking the road less travelled started in New York when we decided we needed to see Lake Erie. We got off on a highway and drove by the most amazing wineries. Field after field of grapes--in New York! When we finally made our way to a beach so we could stick our toe in the lake, we saw several people lying, fully clothed in the sand with no beach towels. As Shirley snapped my picture, I noticed the enormous dead fish inches from my feet than the dirty factory just yards away. Hmmm…I wondered the rest of the trip if we should've checked to see if those supposed sun bathers were breathing.

We ended up in Syracuse our first night (it was far too chilly for my sequin-eyed flamingo jammy top but the bottoms made the point quite effectively). We drove around the city the next day and saw very little of the university due to lots of construction and one-way streets. We were told that the Erie Canal Museum was quite interesting but found it to be closed because it was a Monday. So we were back on the interstate but not for long as we decided to get off on a highway and drive through the Adirondack Mountains. I couldn't believe how beautiful New York could be! The lakes and little towns sparsely built up around each were so quaint. We ended up in Lake Placid for the night and I couldn't take the scenery in enough. The mountains were reflected beautifully in the clear still water of Lake Placid. There is a thriving downtown that Shirley said reminded her of Park City, Utah. We got to see where the 1932 and 1980 Olympic hockey teams played as well as many other winter venues including the ski jump towers which made me almost pass out (I'm no good with heights). I wasn't even half-way to the top and I couldn't believe anyone in their right mind would do that--willingly. Monte has always wondered, how do you know you're good at ski jumping? And what was that first jump like when you figured out you're not?

The next day we were on to Vermont and had the pleasure of riding a ferry across Lake Champlain. I've been on a ferry before, but never with a few cars, a Winnebago (pulling a PT Cruiser) and several motorcycles. It took an hour but the time flew since the view was fantastic. One surprise: the people in the Winnebago were my age! Once in Burlington, we drove around the University of Vermont and took several attempts at guessing what type of cat their mascot was. It wasn't until we were in Stowe that someone told us it was a cougar. A note for the University of Vermont officials: it's not an effective mascot if no one knows what the heck it is!

Vermont is one motorcycle and car hauling a canoe on its top after another. It seems as if the entire state is set up to be outdoors all the time. And there are moose crossing signs everywhere! We even saw one bear crossing sign! But no moose or bears did we see.

Stowe, Vermont was a cute little town set up for all seasons of tourists. Our hotel looked like a cheesy one-story motel but our room was enormous. There was a badminton court in the back. You could rent kayaks down the street and we passed several closed ski resorts. I guess the fall brings a ton of foliage seekers. I can only imagine how beautiful the mountains would be snow covered or splashed with the reds, yellows and oranges of fall because seeing how green and alive everything looked in June was stunning. "How did God know to do this?" Shirley asked me one day after enjoying the scenery on one of our roads less travelled. We imagined ourselves pioneers and riding in wagons through dense forests and than discovering one of these tucked away lakes mirroring the image of a bright green mountain. We know now why not every young man heeded the call to go west.

Right smack dab in what we thought was the middle of nowhere was the Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream Factory. Of course, we had to stop. We took the tour of the small factory where they amazingly make most of the ice cream for the world with a few exceptions--Israel has their own factory. I tried a new ice cream flavor: Turtle Soup. It was vanilla ice cream with caramel swirls and chocolate covered cashews. I'm kicking myself that I didn't try their new Strawberry Cheesecake flavor. I thought I'd step outside of my ice cream flavor box but that was wrong, wrong, wrong. Speaking of wrong, their was a Flavor Graveyard on the grounds of the factory with tombstones of the flavors no longer in circulation. Each stone had a cute rhyming epitaph describing why it bombed or just ran its course in popularity. Let's just say the cleverness behind the epitaphs was far more powerful than that behind the Turtle Soup.

With ice cream still on our breaths, we discovered an Apple Cider shop. Even though the cider was fantastic, it felt like lead in my stomach in combination with Ben and Jerry's. But we were off again to the Von Trapp family estate. Wow! I expected a corny themed restaurant with people in lederhosen singing "Doe, a deer, a female deer". Not even close! This place was like a chateau in Switzerland. I can see why they chose to settle in that spot after fleeing Austria--those hills were most certainly alive with the sound of music. Dartmouth was having a reunion for the class of 1956 at the main hotel. I poked my head in their party just to see what money and privileged education looked like old. Not any different.

We had a ball in the Von Trapp family gift shop. Shirley collects charms from her travels. She has over 18 bracelets (before this trip) that she never wears but treats as her own personal scrapbooks. It's such fun helping her find them--sometimes she pays dearly (like the solid gold hockey player charm in Lake Placid) but she always makes a buddy in the cashier or fellow shopper after telling of her collection. Right now, she's waiting for the gal from Ben and Jerry's to mail her a black and white cow charm.

After Stowe, we were off to Bretton Woods to ride the Cog Railway. I was leery from the start when Shirley said we HAD to ride it, but even more so after the hotel front desk lady told us of a terrible crash in 1967 that resulted in several deaths. She needs to learn the art of exercising judgement. The Cog Railway is just the most bizarre concept (nevermind that its 137 years old). It's a steam engine (think Thomas train but without the scary face) PUSHING a wooden car that looks like something in the streets of San Francisco. No big deal? It PUSHES the wooden car (containing me, Shirley and just a few others under the age of 85) along the tracks UP the mountain. Going 3 miles an hour. It's like when you ride a roller coaster and you click, click, click your way to the top of the highest hill to add anxiety and suspense before you scream your head off on the way down. But the click, click, click part lasted an hour and a half and we stopped (yes, STOPPED) three times, once at a 37% grade incline. The little conductor guy, Jaffi, had us stand up (pretty difficult when your eyes are shut tight and your legs are noodles) so we could see that the people in the front rows were 12 feet in the air higher than the people in the back rows. I wasn't impressed. I wanted the flippin' heck off. We did get off, at the peak of the mountain (elevation, 6300 feet) where we could eat and shop at the lodge. Shirley made friends with the flirty "fire man" of the train (he scoops the coal for the engine on the way up and pretty much chills out on the way down). I asked him about the wreck in 1967 (he was so not even close to being born then) and he said he's not allowed to talk about it on top of the mountain, only at the bottom. That wasn't encouraging.

In the lodge there were many weary hikers sleeping at their tables. The weather was foggy and in the 40s (it was nice and warm down below). They claim the weather at the top of the mountain is the worst weather in the country. In the winter they STILL run the Cog Railway! You can buy a one-way ticket and ski down the mountain waving to the train's passengers along the way.

When we got back onto the train they had flipped the seats around so we could see the engine. Apparently, there's no easy way to turn those bad boys around. We got to go a whopping six miles an hour on the way down with only Jaffi controlling the brakes with a steering wheel. He posed for pictures and chatted with people which was just a far too lackadaisical approach to his job than I would've preferred. Not cool, Jaffi, not cool. The ride down was so much better than the ride up because each few feet we made without becoming a runaway train, was one closer to being on the ground. Shirley asked me, "Where have you seen a view like this?" "From an airplane!" I screamed for we were above, WAY above the treeline. Only for Shirley.

Halfway down the mountain, when I realized we weren't going to die a horrible mangled bloody death, I actually enjoyed it. But never again--not even for Shirley.

After our crazy ride, we drove through rain to get to the ocean in Portsmouth. I had to have a lobster roll straight from the source. It was heavenly--and Shirley's first. After the ocean we headed back through the southern part of New Hampshire making stops here and there for Exeter Academy and my friend Andrea's hometown of Brattleboro, Vermont. We fell in love with Bennington, Vermont with its painted moose sculptures and artist palettes everywhere. Robert Frost is buried there, so of course we had to pay tribute to the man we had been quoting all week.

Through rural New York we almost hit a turkey crossing the road. We didn't see a sign for that one or the pig who gave Shirley a ticket for speeding in a work zone (she was going only 10 miles over). He wasn't at all nice about it.

The trip was one amazing view after another with trees, lakes and church spires that could inspire the most uninspirable to pick up a brush and paint. We talked until my jaw ached and laughed until I thought I would wet my pants and we ate the most amazing seafood. Largest jug of syrup in the world excluded, it was a most successful trip.

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