A Travellerspoint blog

December 2009

Cape Cod and Rhode Island

I’m a bit rushed because I want to make it to my parents’ house for Christmas, but it's not so bad being rushed when I've got the motivation to get home for the holidays. So I speed down the coast of New Hampshire and upper Massachusetts and spend the night in a beautiful hostel just minutes from Walden Pond. That’s when the snow storm hit. I’d seen something about it on the news, but I didn’t worry too much about it: they said it would stop snowing by noon and anyway, weren’t they used to that kind of thing in the Northeast? I’d be fine. But in the morning it was still snowing hard and they were shoveling the driveway by hand. On another date, I would have stayed another night, but as it was, I had to get going.

The biggest consequence of this decision to move forward was that once I got to Boston it was still snowing and the snow plows hadn’t run through since early in the morning. There were very few people on the road and I saw a couple cars skidded off and stuck in the snow. It all was a little too much for me, being inexperienced at driving in the snow, so I had to pass by Boston. I had looked forward to seeing the city, but I couldn’t wait around for the snow to be cleared. So I reluctantly headed down to Cape Cod.

In Cape Cod the next day, the snow was still on the road in sloppy grooves of tire treads. I guess most of the Cape just boards itself up and stays warm inside with a cozy fire.


So that meant I was the only one on the ruthlessly windy and wave pounded beaches. But the sun is out and the snow still covers the sandy beaches. It’s actually incredibly beautiful in a magically strange kind of way. I‘ve never seen snow on a sandy beach before. I can imagine this place in the summer with the van-fulls of children and sunbathers and people packed in line at the frozen custard shack. But for now, it’s haunting and lonely and beautiful.


The next day I’m in Newport, Rhode Island just in time to see the sunset at Brenton Point State Park. On the way to the Point the roads are still dusted with snow, making the path there seem mysterious and fresh. There are lots of cars parked for people to enjoy the sunset from the safety and warmth, but I put on my gloves and scarf and run down to the edge of the sea.


In the morning I tour The Breakers. It has a reputation as the most extravagant mansion tour available in the area if not the entire US, and it does seem to stand up to its reputation. The audio tour keeps people moving, but feels impersonal, and offers somewhat bland observations and stories. It's not the biggest place I've seen, but the detailed extravagance of the interior can't be equaled. After this one though, I think I've had my fill of mansion tours. I need a break.

Posted by Velora 17:38 Comments (0)


Today I made it into Maine. As the snow melts away I can’t help but feel some sadness. It made everything more beautiful, but when I get outside of my car I’ve got to appreciate the warmth. The sun feels great. I park in Biddeford Pool and spelunk down to the strata of rock along the beach. I find lobster claws and lobster traps washed up among the coves. I keep checking the traps in some weird hope of finding a live lobster still living inside. I end up seeing the traps everywhere along the coast: in front yards and parking lots and even stacked up to resemble Christmas trees. For a couple days I debate about the lobster rolls I see advertised everywhere. To me lobster meat mixed with mayo on a softly toasted bun does not sound very good. But eventually I cave in and get one. Poor little lobsters. To be so delicious.

My favorite thing about Maine was following the veins running from Hwy 1 out to the peninsulas. You drive along the bends and discover lonely seaside towns that look as though they haven’t changed much in a hundred years. For some reasons the sunsets were absolutely stunning. The water seemed to have a clear sheen near the rocks, maybe it was icy. It made everything glow.


After the first day of relative warmth, the coast is hit with arctic air. I still try to get out of my car and walk along the shore, but it becomes too icily cold way too quickly. I feel like a wimp, but I can feel my skin cells dying on any exposed skin. Even through layers of clothing the wind pierces through. I give up and resort to stepping outside my car only to run for a picture and then blast the heat once I get back into the car. It does put a damper on things, but at least the sky is clear. I’m enjoying my meandering.


My last stop along the coast is Acadia National Park. When I heard about this park on an island off the rocky Maine coast, I imagined something more isolated. Instead, only part of the island is designated National Park and the rest is more densely populated than the coastline off the island. Most of the park loop road is closed for winter, but I stop to take a short hike. The brochures discourage winter hiking, and as I start up the mountain I begin to see why. The paths are almost entirely stairs made out of giant rock ledges. In the winter an icy slick forms over most of the trail. It was only when I got to a stretch where the ice completely covered the rocky stairs and I couldn’t walk around hem that I realized it would be better to turn around. There was something really beautiful and ancient about the paths though. For someone to take the time to carve out the stairs one by one gave the place a sense of timelessness and importance.


I turn around and head back south, stopping to follow the roads to the peninsulas I missed on my way north. I pass through more touristy sandy beach towns, shut down for winter, but nothing compares with the beauty of the mid-eastern coast.


Posted by Velora 18:06 Comments (2)

New Hampshire

I cross over into New Hampshire and through the White Mountains on a clear but freezing day. Ghostly veils of dry snow blow across the road in front of me. Today I’ve got to drive straight through in order to make it to a hostel in Conway for the night and I miss a lot of the scenery in the dark, but I decide to remedy that by making a huge loop around the mountains from the hostel tomorrow.


I start along the Kangamangus Scenic highway, which I probably would have driven anyway for no other reason than just because it has such a great name. Along the way I stop and tramp through the snow to some scenic sites. My hiking boots aren’t right for the snow, but I’m wearing wool socks and underarmour, so I don’t even notice that my jeans are wet up to my knees. And it’s totally worth it. I made it to Sabbaday waterfall, which was flanked by ruffles of ice along the edges of the stream. Then I stopped at a formation called The Basin, where a cascade hits a wall of resilient rock resulting in a whirlpool churning at the base of the falls. I’m almost more impressed by these sights in the winter. They seem more mysterious and wonderful when the trails leading to them aren’t packed tight with the footprints of the thousands who have been there before. With the snow and lack of visitors, it feels more like I’ve discovered something.


As I make my way around the loop I decide to pop back into Vermont in St. Johnsbury because my guidebook describes it as a Victorian town and I’m a sucker for those. I stop by the Fairbanks nature museum. Housed inside a beautiful churchlike building, the museum showcases what started as a personal collection of unique naturalist finds. The eclectic mix includes ancient Egyptian artifacts alongside Victorian dolls and a mosaic portrait of Abraham Lincoln made entirely out of bugs. But the entire first floor is devoted to the founder’s true obsession of taxidermy. And while many people would be creeped out by so much taxidermy packed together, I’m just impressed by the lovely collection. Especially the birds, which are grouped together on small display trees with other species from their locations around the world. I’ve never seen half of the species. The diversity is amazing and I get that illusive feeling that there are still mysteries in the world and things to discover.


On my drive back to Conway the snow starts coming down heavy. I do catch another glimpse of Mt. Washington but this time it‘s through a haze of snow. I’ve decided that I will have to come back to New England someday in the Fall. And I know I’ve got to add driving to the top of Mt. Washington to my plans for that trip.

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I spent some time at my parents’ house in Pennsylvania to recharge before hitting New England. I got to be there for Thanksgiving and then for the first snow while we decorated the Christmas tree. Nothing like snow and the Chipmunks Christmas album to put you in the holiday mood.

I left the next day and was grateful for the dusting of snow covering the rolling pastoral hillsides: all the grey landscape was suddenly warm compared to the snowy white. The sky was now pink when it had been white and dismal before. The Winter weather made everything so much more beautiful. By the time I got to Vermont the gently sloping hills had turned into mountains and evergreens dotted the forest in increasing numbers the further north I went. The villages here were tucked into the valley and the buildings were clustered together in such a way that I was reminded of snow globes.


I finally felt like I was in the right place at the right time. Starting around the great lakes and through New York, many of the towns I had driven through were boarded up for Winter. “See you in the Spring!” signs were posted on the windows of half the buildings. Now, here in Vermont, the towns and villages were cozy little shelters of warmth among the harsh snow. These towns didn’t close down in the Winter; rather it seemed like this was the time of year when they were needed most. And while postcards with Fall landscapes made me regret for a moment that I hadn’t been here sooner, I still felt like this was the right time. The Fall may be more stunning, but the Winter feels like the defining season.


But perhaps I concluded all this too soon. I spent the night in a hostel in Ludlow. It was a converted barn in someone’s backyard, but it was nicer than it sounds. I had the place all to myself. The next morning though I awoke to find more than a foot of snow on the ground and more coming down. Hum. The weatherman concluded it would snow all day and turn to sleet and ice later on. I hesitated but eventually decided to stay put rather than risk it. I had no experience driving in snow. So I ended up watching some of the obscure VHS movies available: The Electric Grandmother and The Accidental Tourist. I stayed clear of the horror movies, seeing as how I was alone in a barn in a snowstorm.


When I left the next day the driveway hadn’t yet been plowed, but had been shoveled the day before. I dug out my car and shoveled a path in back of my tires. But I only made it half way down the short driveway before getting stuck. I ended up having to dig myself out five times. I had completely cleared a full foot around each of my tires and still they spun in place. The Hostel owner eventually came out and pushed me free. It might sound very touristy of me to say, but I kindof enjoyed the experience. I wouldn’t want to have to do it all the time, but when I broke free I was just so pleased.

And then, the greatest thing of all happened. I found the Ben & Jerry’s factory! The tour was less than stellar, but I was grateful they were still giving tours this time of year, when many of their own ice cream shops were closed for Winter. But as anyone who has been on a factory tour knows, the greatest part is the sampling at the end. We got a nice sized scoop of a new limited edition flavor: Maple Blondie. I highly recommend, especially if you happen to like Blondie brownies. Then the next day I came across Lake Champlain Chocolates and took a tour there too. Even though the tour was more like a lecture in front of a plate-glass window looking into the factory, it was still informative and interesting. Sure I could have learned the same things by watching the Food Network, but it’s something different to learn from someone directly, and it’s really a lot more complicated than you might think.

Posted by Velora 15:10 Comments (0)

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