As you have probably intuited if you are a regular reader of my blog, 2023 has been a pivotal year for me, although stressful. I’ve confronted and battled with some big demons from my past. My last living relative on my mother’s side became critically ill and died, which meant two unplanned trips to Pennsylvania for me. This illness also meant saying good-bye to a much-loved cousin, waiting with her as she finished life in this world, resolving emotionally fraught end-of-life issues, and overseeing her estate. There has also been a rather unsettling shift and expansion of my spiritual life. During the course of this year, I have been working to put the self-discoveries into practice in real life. Change is difficult for most people. For me, it is an uphill slog over a mountain of mud while wearing cement boots. I felt like a vacation was definitely in order.
Recently, Max and I took off on a trip to Vermont and New Hampshire. We took a bus tour of New England about five years ago. That trip was a comedy of errors- so many things went wrong- but I loved, loved, loved New England. I decided that I wanted to go back, without the restrictions of a tour group or the need to constantly bop from one hotel to another. We decided to limit the number of destinations on this trip and to wander in the wind without planning every possible moment. I
In the past, I would have been too scared and nervous to attempt such a bold move. In the past, my anxiety insisted on tidy, carefully planned and scheduled, professionally orchestrated bus tours. I worried I would not be able to find my way around if we went on our own. I worried about directions and driving conditions. I worried that we would miss something critical if I served as the tour guide. I worried that we would “waste time” if I could not articulate a moment-by-moment agenda for the trip before we ever left home. I worried that selecting hotels or vacation rentals on my own would result in lodging us on Skid Row or similarly sketchy neighborhoods.
I was much more confident of my abilities this year. In the past couple of years, I have driven to Georgia, and South Carolina. I drove all over the state of Pennsylvania and much of Maryland during my trips related to my cousin’s death. I have stayed in a few vacation rentals in the past and all of them have been fine.
I was kind of amazed that I was not more nervous as we embarked on the trip. I was actually feeling pretty sassy. I told myself that all that “putting the self-discoveries into practice in real life” was paying off big time. Take that, crappy self-esteem! Still, I was looking forward to a week of relaxing, irresponsible, reinvigorating vacation.
What happened was not that.
Incidentally, my birthday was the day before we left on the trip. It was fairly low key because we were preparing for the trip and wrapping our heads around the notion of leaving for the airport to fly to Vermont at 0 dark yesterday. I had scheduled an Uber a few days before and I thought we were set to leave at 3:30am. Uber confirmed my reservation so I thought we were good. Luckily, a nagging notion in the back of my mind prepared me when 3:30am proved to be too early for the Uber driver. I drove us to the airport. It was not only too early for the Uber driver, but it was also too early for valet parking at the airport. I left Max at the terminal with the luggage and ventured off to find a parking spot. I left the car and headed back to the terminal, breathing a silent prayer that I would be able to locate the vehicle when we returned in six days.
Our flight to Vermont was uneventful. “Eventful” happened for the first time when we went to pick up the rental car in Burlington. I handed over my credit card and driver’s license, like a good girl. The guy at the counter pointed out that my driver’s license was expired… because my birthday was the day before. I had no idea. We solved that problem by having Max rent the car with his unexpired license. The next step to my “solution” was for me to drive the rental car around all week as an unauthorized driver on the vehicle. When we went to get some lunch, I quickly renewed my driver’s license online, but that still did not address the unauthorized driver problem. Luckily, I was not arrested at any time while I was in New England.
We spent the night in Burlington and had an enjoyable time wandering the shops at the Church Street Marketplace. The vrbo rental, although a little worn around the edges on the outside, was charming and comfortable on the inside. The next day, we drove to Stowe, VT to visit the Trapp Family Lodge. I wanted to break into song the moment we turned the corner into the parking lot. The hills certainly were alive with the sounds of music and the sights of a million leaves turning into God’s autumn oil painting. The scenery was spectacular, and the resort was uncrowded.
I decided I wanted to hike to the chapel Werner Von Trapp built behind the lodge. Max was not a fan of that idea because it involved walking down a trail some ways from the main path. He was, predictably, concerned that monsters would get me. I think he meant humanoid monsters that might be hiding beside the trail to attack me. I decided to pursue the trail anyway. After I walked about ten minutes, I saw the trail offshoot to the chapel. Mountain goats would have had trouble navigating it. I am not a mountain goat. I have the coordination of a seasick sloth. As I turned to make my way back to the trailhead, I found Max hiking up behind me, to make sure I was okay.
After a lovely morning at the Trapp Family Lodge, we made our way to New Hampshire. We had tickets for a trip to the summit of Mount Washington on the COG railway the next day. Finding our way to our vacation rental proved to be quite difficult. We found the condo development with little trouble but were stymied by the numbering system. There were other renters who eyed us suspiciously as we circled around the complex looking for numbers that did not exist. I don’t blame them for being suspicious. We could have been casing the joint. I finally stopped to ask for help from some of the suspicious strangers, not so much because I thought they could really help, but because I wanted to make sure they didn’t call the cops… especially with that expired license thing. After consulting with the suspicious strangers, calling the condo owner twice, and Max getting out of the car and inspecting the doors of about five different condos (which, of course, all looked alike), we had our eureka moment. We found the right condo. We breathed a sigh of relief as we hauled our suitcases up the flight of stairs leading to the unit. Well, maybe it was a sigh of relief. Maybe we were just winded. The flight of stairs was pretty steep.
For dinner, we googled restaurants in the area. There were only a couple of choices within thirty miles, and they had odd hours of operation. We found a place that was actually connected to a nearby campground. It wasn’t great, but it was certainly acceptable. We should have taken the hint that our vision of “vacation dining” was not going to pan out well at this location. I guess we got taken in because we went to the stunning and elegant Mount Washington Hotel the next morning for a delicious, bountiful breakfast. That meal gave us the false hope that food in Bretton Woods was plentiful and accessible.
We enjoyed beautiful weather for our ride to the summit of Mount Washington. It was 78 degrees at the bottom of the mountain. It was 47 degrees at the top of the mountain, with 40 mile per hour wind gusts. The guide assured us it was a mild day. A few days later, the temperature at the top was -7 degrees and the wind gusts were 75 miles per hour. We learned a lot of interesting information from our tour guide on the railroad trip.
The most important thing I learned is that people from New Hampshire are crazy. When they were building the railway, workers used to fashion makeshift toboggans- dubbed “devil’s shingles”- to descend the mountain. Skiers wield velocity down mountainsides that are more perpendicular than my living room walls are to the floor . I have no clue what keeps them attached to the snow. Daredevils engage in government-sanctioned car races on the automobile trail up the mountain. You notice I don’t call it a “road.” This trail was not even fully paved until last year. It is a narrow path with no guard rails. As these drivers varoom up the mountain, they look out their windows to see fairly alarming scenery- an 8,000 foot drop off into oblivion. If you ask me, all of this is just wrong. I know New Hampshire’s motto is “live free or die,” but I do have to wonder how many of them have ended up dying somewhere on Mount Washington.
When we returned from the summit, we checked out the little “restaurant” at the visitor base of the mountain. You know those hot dogs that whirl around a heat lamp in movie theaters? The cuisine was similar at the “restaurant.” Max and I decided to pass. When we went looking for another Google restaurant. The directions took us into a campground and seemed determined to lead us through a tunnel into the woods. Max’s spirit of adventure did not extend to traveling in a car down a path to nowhere that looked better suited to foot traffic. He asked (well, “asked” might be an understatement) me to give up this folly and get back on the main road. I wasn’t sure how to grant his request, since there was no place really conducive to turning around, I tried, but Max seemed to think I was going to back us off the path into a ravine. Finally, with his direction, I ended up driving the quarter mile or so back to the main road in reverse. At that point, my own sense of adventure was feeling a bit peaked. I was up for driving the 30 miles or so to the next town with a population large enough to warrant a real restaurant that might actually be open at… you know… dinner time. Max, however, was done. He identified a gas station convenience store, and we bought some suspicious looking shrink-wrapped food to stave off cannibalism. I was feeling a bit testy.
Please tune in next week for the final installment of Sometimes You Feel Like A Nut; Sometimes You Don’t.
Have a nutty day!