Category Archives: Outdoors

Away with the Ponies (again!)

Away with the Ponies (again!)

I wrote a beautiful, long, detailed post on my phone, but when I attempted to post it, the app tried twice, failed, and then ate the draft.  So yeah, sorry about that.

Let’s try again.

We had a pretty leisurely start to the day.  The nice thing about camping just a few hours away is that you don’t have to rush.  Once we got the last of everything loaded and the bikes on, it was about 9:00.  We stopped for money, gas and breakfast, and were on our way by 9:45.  Perk of going so early, we’re after the morning rush but before the beach rush.  Traffic was smooth sailing, and it’s a very familiar route for me.  Had I known how close Assateague was to where my old coven is based, we would have gone much sooner.

We got to the park check-In around 1:30.  The kids had to use the restroom, but there wasn’t one in the ranger station, so they went over the road to the beach facilities while I checked us in.  Which was when we saw our first pony of the trip.

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Yes, I know it’s a crappy picture.  There will be better ones.  The kids saw him, too, so we were all a bit giddy as we headed to our campsite.

I had screwed up our reservation, so we were camping on the bay side of the island instead of the ocean side.  The campsites were all very exposed, but that’s to be expected on a barrier island.  That said, they were nice sites, roomy and accessible.

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We decided to have lunch before setting up, which was when I discovered the first disaster.  In my “careful” checklist walkthrough, I never actually checked the silverware drawer in the camping kitchen to make sure it had, you know, silverware.  It didn’t.  So we ended up sharing one spoon between us to eat the potato salad.  *sigh*

We’re getting good at setting up camp.  About 45 minutes later, it looked like this.

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The bikes were parked under the hedge to the right, the food all stashed in the car as it should be, so we were officially camping!

Next up was errands.  We went to the Visitor’s Center to get a sense of the place, which was good in a lot of ways.  We saw the movie about wildlife on the island, especially about the ponies, and we learned about the environmental activities of the park.  None of us were very happy to discover all the bathrooms were pit toilets (bringing back nightmares from my camping as a child), but they use them because of the fragility of the island.  They’re actually vault tanks, so the waste isn’t leeching into the soil and they are easy to move as needed due to erosion and shoreline changes.  I felt better about it knowing there was an actual reason for it.  I got our pins and patches, and then we headed out for firewood.

I’d seen the firewood guy recommended in several different places, so we drove back the 5 miles to his stand.  The recommendation did not fall short.  Good, dry wood, a mix of soft and hard.  We got all we’d need for the weekend for $20.  On the way back we stopped at the island store for plasticware to get us through the weekend.  Hero and I laughed at the “I gave blood at Assateague” stickers with a big mosquito on it.  That would come back to bite us.  Literally.

We got back to camp, unloaded the firewood and decided it was time for a swim.  The park is wonderfully laid out for biking, so we changed, grabbed our towels, hopped on the bikes and headed out the 1/4 mile to the beach.  It’s a really nice beach, easy access by boardwalk, quartz sand (my favorite), and lots of shells.  We dropped and headed to the water.  Just before the water’s edge, I found hoof prints.  I turned to shout up to Morgan, only to see the ponies who had left them in the water themselves a couple hundred yards further up the beach!  Morgan took pictures, which I’ll share once he gets them up somewhere.

The water was perfect, cool but not cold, and the waves were perfect for body surfing.  We spent about 45 minutes cooling off before heading back to camp for a well earned dinner.

We had a surprise waiting for us.

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This is Clyde.  We felt justified in naming him, considering the fact that he spent most of the evening in our campsite, much of it in exactly this position.  We had learned from the video back at the Visitor’s Center that a pony standing in this position, one back leg cocked, is actually taking a nap.  We aren’t supposed to go near them, no closer than a bus length away, so we waited for him to wake up and move on so we could start dinner.  Except he didn’t.  Occassionally he’d put a foot down and we’d think this was it, only to have him switch legs and go back to sleep.  After 45 minutes of this, I sent the kids off for a bike ride, as Xander especially was getting really frustrated.  Meanwhile, I waited.

Which was when I started noticing the bugs.

Now, I’d been warned that the bugs were bad.  But for me, bad bugs meant you had to put on bug spray if you sat around the fire in the evening.  I’d gotten bug bands.  We had spray.  We’d be fine.  Oh, such innocence.  But at the time, I didn’t realize what I was in for.  So I took a tip from the horses and used a dish towel as a swish, back and forth over my shoulders as I waited on this horse.  Finally, though, finally, he started moving.

Between the tents.

First, he had a pee.  Thankfully not ON either of the tents, but dead in between.  I have a better frame of reference for pissing like a racehorse now.  Then he started eating.  He made his way back and around the tent, despite there being only about six inches between the tent and the hedge, then slowly came around the other side.  We’re going on over an hour now, and I’m starting to feel a little desperate.  Were we going to get to eat?  You weren’t supposed to get food out around the horses, because they will literally knock you over to get into your cooler.  Were we going to get to go to bed?  He was a lot closer to our tent than a bus length.  At this point, one of the campground hosts came through on her rounds, so I waved her down and explained the dilemma.  She offered to get a ranger to come chase him off, but I felt guilty about that, so I turned her down.  When she came back through ten minutes later and he was still there, I accepted.  The rangers came through and used a bottle with a couple of stones in it as a noisemaker to chase him off, although that may more have been the uniform.  Apparently the horses recognize the uniforms of the rangers and keep away from them.  I certainly wasn’t going to try it myself.  But at least I could get dinner started.

That wasn’t the last we’d see of Clyde, though.  After dinner, I started the fire for dish water, forgetting that we wanted to go walk on the beach that evening.  So I sent the kids off while I minded the fire and read.  The first time Clyde came back, a ranger came through shortly thereafter and I didn’t hesitate to have him chase him off.  I asked the ranger about going to bed, and he said we’d be fine as long as we didn’t have any food in the tent and we didn’t leave anything open.  Well, the food thing I was programmed for from bear country, so that wasn’t a problem.  Finally when he came back the second time, I’m like, “Yeah, whatever, horse,” and just kept reading while he ate his way across the site.

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We ended up as background in pictures for a bunch of our neighbors.  Eventually he seemed satisfied that he’d made his point about whose campsite this actually was and moved on on his own.  He wandered around a bit, left a dump in the middle of the road (thankfully not in anyone’s campsite) and headed out into the sunset.  Kind of literally.

By now it was twilight, and the mosquitos were getting bad.  The bug bands were doing nothing, and even the spray wasn’t helping too much.  I hid in the car and worked on the post that you didn’t get to read while the kids did dishes, but by 9:30, we were all in the tent, exhausted but content and safely away from the worst of the bugs.

The next morning our neighbors all started rising stupidly early.  I mean, 5:30 a.m. stupid.  The kids slept through it, but I was wide awake.  It was a run day, and I figured since I was up, I’d get an early morning run out of the way.  I knew mosquitos were out more in the dawn and twilight, but I figured I’d be on the move, so I’d be pretty safe.

Ha.

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I hadn’t gotten 50 yards out of the campsite before turning around to go back for the bug spray.  I passed a group of the neighbors out for their run/walk, who just laughed and said, “First day, eh?”  Holy mother of god.  And it wasn’t just mosquitos.  There was every kind of biting insect imaginable.  We had the mosquitos, but there were horse flies, black flies, and green head flies, none of which give a rat’s patootie about your paltry bug spray.  By the time I got underway, I was feeling a little desperate.  But the bug spray did it’s best, and once I got to the ocean side, the populations had dropped enough to be tolerable.  It was a beautiful cool, hazy, slightly humid morning, and it was quiet.  Even the waves were soft background.  I felt bad needing my loud music to keep on pace.  But I did have some lovely guests on the road with me.

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It was good.

When I got back, the kids were still sleeping, so I grabbed a shower and crawled back in the still bug-free tent to read and doze.  We finally all got up around 10:00 and had breakfast.  By 11, dishes were done and we headed off to the beach again.  The mosquitos were gone by then, and the biting flies were more of a mild to moderate annoyance.  We spent two hours in the water and walking the beach, unaware that our sunscreen application had been pointless.  By 1:30, we were all burned, Morgan worse than any of us.  So back we went to the campsite for lunch.  Over lunch, I suggested sacrilege.  What do you guys think about going home this afternoon instead of tomorrow morning?  Morgan and I were both ready, but the other two were hesitant.  We talked it over and finally they agreed that going home might not be a bad idea.  So we had a nap and started packing up around 3, and by 4:30 we were on the road home.

Mother Nature seemed to approve of our decision.

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We all agreed that we really liked the park there, but we were just so not prepared for the conditions.  We would definitely consider going back for a day trip (with better sunscreen application!) and might go back for camping, but just for one night and with minimal gear so we could hike it up onto one of the oceanside sites with a better breeze and so fewer bugs.  I felt like I had let down the family honor by bailing on the trip, but my mother reassured me that the green heads alone would have been enough for her to call it, so I feel better.

We spent the next two days in recovery.  Morgan’s sunburn was purple with little white pimples all over, so he’s on heavy doses of water, ibuprofen, cool showers and aloe.  I look like I have small pox.  Oh, and let’s add ticks to the list, as I just plucked one of those off this morning.  Watching for the bullseye now.  Joy.  So I was on Benadryl to reduce the itch.  We didn’t unpack the car until yesterday, and I didn’t even care about washing everything before packing it away.  It’ll keep.  We aren’t planning another camp this summer, although we may do a run up to Promised Land in August, in which case I can clean everything then.  Or not.  Maybe we’ll just eat out of pie irons and disposables for the weekend.

Thankfully our next trip is to a hotel with air conditioning and an indoor swimming pool.  That should make up for a lot!

On the road (again)

On the road (again)

By the time this goes live, we will (hopefully) be on our way to Delmarva. But at the moment we’re neck deep in last minuting. We actually have about 80% of our stuff loaded already. I ran all the checklists yesterday, so today the kids were able to get it all in the car. They’re getting very good at that, especially Morgan. It helps that now we’re able to take the very back seats out. Makes a lot more room for all our stuff.

Meanwhile, I’m putting the finishing touches on the food. Despite my surgery, I still think about travel in terms of the food. We have an almost set menu for camping, but I’m trying to mix it up some. We are having bacon and eggs, and grilled ham and cheese, and s’mores. But I also made cold fried chicken and potato salad for lunch tomorrow, which was standard road trip fare when I was a kid. And I made these beauties.

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I realized I hadn’t shared these before. These are the traveling cheesecakes, like the ones I made for movie night, only bigger. Aren’t they pretty? And I’ve got wiped cream to go on top when we get there!  I also discovered that a dozen and a half eggs equals a quart.

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I figure I’m less likely to break a mason jar than a carton of eggs. Plus this makes mixing them easier! I just took a batch of corn muffins out of the oven to go with the chili, and we have a whole pan of cinnamon rolls to go with those bacon and eggs. So yeah, we’re going to eat well. We may even take a stab at crab, if the kids decide to try their hand at crabbing. They’ve all said they’re willing to at least try.

Other than that, I’m not sure what all we’ll be doing. Watching the ponies, obviously, almost certainly swimming. We’re taking the bikes as well, so we can tool around on those. But part of me is hoping that, unlike Acadia, this is the kind of campground where you can hang out in your campsite and watch the world go by.  I could use a couple of days of that.

Childhood fantasies

Childhood fantasies

When I was a kid, we lived in this town that was at the crossroads of two major train lines in Michigan, one going north-south and the other east-west.  My brother and I spent a lot of time on those tracks, despite all my parents’ ominous warnings.  We were kids.  Kids are stupid.  We had more squashed pennies and nickels than you’d care to imagine.  I practiced my balance walking on those rails.  We’d walk them for miles (well, at least two) before coming home.  We both said that one day we were going to follow them the whole way, see where they went.

Of course, when you’re a kid, you make these crazy plans.  But then you get older, and you start to realize that they aren’t practical, aren’t safe.  You don’t have the time, or the money, or the commitment.  There are a million reasons, not even excuses.  Kids’ brains are huge and fearless.  As adults, we get more cautious.

Which sucks.

I’ve been feeling a hint of that old fantasy, though, as I’ve started cycling.  I find myself wanting a set of panniers prepacked with a backpacking tent and stove and whatever other supplies I’d need to decide on a Wednesday, “I think I’m going to take a bike trip this weekend” and just GO.  No planning beyond what I could do in 36 hours, no destination, just a long ride out and back or around.  There’s an old abandoned road bed from the original Pennsylvania turnpike, complete with tunnels, out in central PA, but we’d have to drive to get there.  (We may do it, though.)  French Creek State Park is 36 miles away.  That’s a day trip one way, if I could haul my camping gear or get someone to pick me up.  Green Lane is 15.  Could I actually get out there and back?  Probably not.  Yet.

(I actually stopped writing this to map out a couple of routes for that.  I could do it, with reasonable breaks.  Once I get at least a rear trunk rack and bag, I’m going to do it!)

And see, there it is.  When did we stop just GOING?  Okay, yes, I probably need a little more gear (like a water bottle cage) and some maintenance (my gears need to shift properly), but honestly, what’s the point of just looping?  I want to go someplace.  So I bloody well will!  And the kids can come if they want, but they don’t have to, I’m not going to make them.  I’ll pack me a nice lunch, ride out early, have a picnic and a nap, then ride back.  I can ride 10 miles in under an hour now.  Fifteen is nothing!  And getting back is about the same!

And now the adult in my brain is panicking…

Shut up, brain.  I’m going to go add micro-camping gear to my Amazon wishlists.

First Trip

First Trip

Our first trip of the summer is this weekend.  At long last, I’m going to Assateague to see the wild ponies!

Oh, yes, I was totally one of those girls.  From the age of 8 to about 15, I read every horse book I could get my hands on.  I only ever got to ride a few times, but I always dreamed of having my own horse.  My mom says I get the horse crazy from her mother, who loved horses and had her own as a girl.  The closest I ever came was a friend ins chool who had one, and who meanly rode it in front of me but wouldn’t let me take a turn.  Until that point I’d considered her my best friend, but we never spoke again after that moment.

And of course I read Misty of Chincoteague.

40 years later, I don’t remember much of the book, but I do remember the longing to go to a place where horses roam freely on the beach.  Two of my favorite things, horses and the Atlantic.  I’ve always wanted to go, but there were always other things to do, other places we needed to be, or beach camping was too intimidating with little kids.  But the kids aren’t little anymore, and I don’t have any place else to be this summer, so we’re going to Assateague.

It’s a good thing I decided early to do this, because I had to make the reservations back in February.  They book solid for the summer almost as soon as they open reservations, so you have to get right in with your dates.  Since this was a new experience for us, and because I’d heard nightmare tales of the bugs, I decided we’d just go for two nights and check it out.  If we liked it, we could always go back.  So we’ll go down Friday and stay until Sunday.  It’s not a bad drive from here, about 3 hours, which is not much longer than when we go on any other trip.  We’re staying in the National Park, although there is a state campground on the island as well.  All the camping is on the Maryland end of the island, but there’s a lot of stuff on the Virginia end as well.  It’s 45 miles between the two, so I suspect that will be our Saturday activity.

This week is about getting ready.  The kids are getting the camping gear down, and I’m prepping food.  Chili, taco meat, traveling cheesecake, s’more puppy chow.  I have to figure out sand stakes.  I keep reading differing opinions on what to use, but the best suggestion I’ve found was using plastic shopping bags as dead man anchors.  Dig a hole, fill them with sand, bury them and stake out your tent.  Not sure if that will work for our corners, but it will definitely work for the awning and for the screenhouse.  And we will totally be using the screenhouse, because bugs.

And ponies, apparently.  Ponies.  In the campsites.  EEEEEEEE!!!!

Little Cabin in the Woods

Little Cabin in the Woods

Our home away from home, seen during the summer

Remember how I said we stopped celebrating Solstice a while ago?  That’s because we started doing something else.  About 8 years ago, my mom said she was too old to keep hosting the family Christmas at her place, so we should just do something with our family at home.  But the thought of being home for Christmas was just too overwhelming to me.  I needed to escape the clutter and the obligations and just be at piece for a few days.  That’s when I remembered a trip Eric and I had taken just before Xander was born.  We had found a state park in the north central part of PA that had primitive cabins for rent all year round, so we went as kind of a pre-here’s your baby, there goes your life trip.  It was beautiful and snowy and we almost slid the car down the side of a cliff, but it was peaceful.  As that was what I was looking for for Christmas, I suggested it to him, and we decided to give it a try.  Despite a few hiccups (no snow but lots of ice, and a space that was a little too cozy with the woodstove), we had a great time, and decided to make it a tradition.  Oh, and my mom?  She decided it was a good idea too and came with us!  So every year with the exception of last year, we pack up presents and sleeping bags and fairy lights and head off to World’s End for 5 days.  It’s been a great tradition, especially as the kids have gotten older.  You see, the cabins have no wifi, no TV and because of where ithey are, there’s not even any cell phone signal.  So they (and I) have a week of being unplugged.  I don’t have a problem with the wired world, but sometimes you just need a reminder of how to interact with other humans.  Honestly, I usually have the bigger problem giving it up for the week than they do!

We started going for the snow, but for me, I keep going for the peace.  We only had good snow one year, two years ago, which was the first time Nikki went with us.  And it doesn’t look like we’ll get any this year, either.  At the moment, the forecast calls for mild temperatures and rain.  Some of us are crossing our fingers for a Christmas miracle!  But a few clear nights would make me happy, too.  World’s End is up out of the light pollution, and the night sky is simply amazing there.  One of the perks of having to go across the street to go to the bathroom is that sometimes you have to go in the middle of the night, and Mother Nature rewards you for it.  The cabin colony is at the bottom of a mountain valley, so the mountains around you frame off the sky, but above you is just millions of stars everywhere.  During the day, sometimes we go out to walk along the river or up one of the trails, but mostly we just hang out in the cabin, playing boards games or working on puzzles or crafts.  And eating.  Lovely, lovely eating.  Which, yes I will still be doing, but in moderation and with a lot of extra activity (the joys of a woodstove for heat is all the firewood chopping!)

Part of this process is that we’ve moderated the kids’ expectations of presents.  They know they will get a book (or two.  Or three.  I’m weak.), a game, and a special present of some kind.  That’s it.  No ridiculous piles of loot, and they’re just as happy that way.  Well, mostly.  Although Hero said to me that she feels bad for her friends who already all know what they’re getting, usually big ticket stuff.  I just can’t afford that, and I like that they don’t expect it.  The new thing we’ve added this year is stockings.  This is a tradition from my childhood that we stopped doing when there were only a few grownups.  What we would do is at Thanksgiving, all the adults and non-Santa believers would put their names in a hat and then draw, and that was the person you would fill a stocking for.  This is the first year that all the kids have acknowledged an end to the Santa tradition, so I have reinstated the stocking swap.  With me, the three kids, Nikki and Mom, we have an interesting mix.  The kids seemed a little hesitant at first, but we all went stocking shopping on Saturday and they started to get into it.  Now they’re getting excited to find out who has them and how the person they have reacts to what they bought.  It’s fun, and I’m glad to bring this tradition back.

As I said, Nikki and Mom are joining us, which I’m grateful for.  I love my kids, but I like having other grownups to talk to, too.  After Mom’s successful trip up to go camping with us in September, she decided to make the attempt at the cabin.  It looks like the weather will cooperate, so she should get there about when we do.  And Nikki, well, Nikki’s funny.  I’ve invited her every year, and every year she refused for the sole reason that the bathroom was not in the cabin and she’d have to go outside.  I’m not sure what finally broke her, but the last time we went, which was two years ago, she agreed to come with us.  And apparently had a great time.  Good enough that when I started talking about going this year, she mumbled something about missing it.  So YAY!  I may not ever get her to go camping with us, but at least I can get her out in the woods once in a while!

By the time you read this, we’ll be on our way.  We’re hitting the road between 10 and 11 Tuesday morning, and won’t be back until Sunday afternoon.  So have a great week, and Merry Christmas if you celebrate it, and I’ll see you in the new year!

Heading home

Heading home

We were up at 7 and in the car by 7:45.  Pretty good, considering we had to break down all the cots, take down the tent and mount the bikes.  We stopped at McDonald’s in Ellsworth for breakfast (it would be a day of trying and failing to make good food choices for me), and after a little getting turned around, we were off by 9.  I decided this time to go straight out Route 3 to 95 and then south, thinking this would be faster, but it really wasn’t.  Even with snaking through all those little towns, I think Rout 1 is faster, just because you’re going south and west at the same time.  As it was, it took almost 2 1/2 hours to get to 95.

Once we did, though, we flew.  We almost got caught in traffic outside of Worcester, but we pulled over for gas and lunch, and by the time we got back on the road, the traffic had cleared.  The only real traffic we hit was between Waterbury and Danbury in Connecticut ::curse you, Connecticut::.  If we hadn’t made plans to stop by my brother’s in NY, we probably would have made it home by 8:30.

We went to Gabe’s instead, and I’m glad we did.  It’s always good to see him, even when it’s only briefly, and we got to take part in their Shabbat ritual, which was a little grounding in and of itself.  Plus we all got to Skype with Mom, which was fun.  We had dinner, and I was still feeling good enough that we headed out around 8.

No problems getting through the windy NY/NJ back roads.  287, however, had it in for us.  We got stuck in some godawful construction that took 4 lanes down to 1.  We were in that probably an hour and a half.  Finally walked in our front door at 11:45.  There would be NO unpacking that night.  There WOULD be showers, though.  It took a while to get everyone coordinated, so it was probably 1:30 by the time I finally go into bed.  Long day, but a good trip.

I think next time I would just plan to drive straight through both ways.  I’m not sure if it’s my weight loss or something else, but I really felt fine despite all that driving.  If going up we left around 4 a.m., we’d miss all the traffic in NY and CT and be in Acadia by 3-4.  Coming home, again if we left by 8-9, we could just fly through and be home for a late dinner.  Especially if I had a co-driver or two.

I’m kind of glad we ended up coming home a day early, though.  I had all day Saturday to get the car unpacked, do laundry and wash all the camping dishes to repack them for the next trip.  The tents are up and drying, and all the trash from the car is packed up.  I even did the grocery shopping that morning and put dinner in the crockpot.  Which left me the rest of the day to write this all up for you!  Not that I couldn’t have gotten all that done if we’d come home a day later, but still.  This was a bit more laid back.

And now onwards.  Morgan starts school next Wednesday, we’re going on one last camping trip Labor Day weekend, and then the kids start back.  So the next few weeks will be a lot of scrambling to get organized for school, order books, buy new clothes and all that.  At least all the camping gear is ready…

Day 5

Day 5

Nope, still raining.  Okay, another driving day.

I had kind of planned for it to be a driving day, anyway.  We’d gotten familiar with the island, but I wanted to look around off-island at some of the places I’d been finding houses for my farm fantasy.  Fortunately I’d had the forethought to have bought scones the day before to have for breakfast, so we had those and some hot chocolate and then hit the road to travel even further east.

Our first stop (sort of) was the College of the Atlantic.  We’d been passing by the campus every day, and I just wanted to see what it looked like.  Well, it looks like a summer camp for adults, which was fabulous.  When we got home, I looked up their programs, and they’re about the hippiest kind of school you could imagine, which, again, awesome.  Hero’s thinking about going there now.  Good thing she’s only 12, as it’s 40K a year…  I wish I’d known about it when I was younger.  My kind of school.

After that, we headed off-island.  We went out Route 1 towards Gouldsboro and Sullivan.  You could tell this area didn’t share in as much of the tourist trade as the towns west of the park did, but what in Michigan and Pennsylvania would have been pretty white trash looking, here it had a kind of run-down dignity.  And I was surprised by the occasional tourist spots we did see, a B&B here, an art studio there.  Winter Harbor was lovely.  Exposed to the sea but still grounded.  Since we were down there anyway, we checked out another part of the park, the Schoodic Peninsula.  I think this was my favorite part of the park.  It had all the rocks and waves we could have wanted, but it wasn’t as crowded.  I spent a lot of time playing with the burst function on my camera trying to get dramatic wave shots.

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Yeah, still not a photographer.

We had to treat today like it was the last day of the trip, so Hero had to finish her Junior Ranger challenges today.  The last thing she had to do was memorize the Junior Ranger Pledge, so we kept quizzing her on it the whole ride out and back, then stopped at the Visitor’s Center so she could turn in her book.  She was so proud of herself, especially when it turned out that she *hadn’t* needed to memorize it!  She got a big round of applause when the ranger announced it over the PA.

On the downside, we still had no luck getting our reservation extended, so today really was our last day.

That night was the last chance for stargazing.  We ate early and organized camp.  I had hoped to get everything but the tent packed up, but it was all still wet.  Nevertheless, after dinner we packed up the kitchen and took down the screen tent, just stuffing it in one of the empty clothes boxes until we could get it home to dry out.  I got the back of the car all organized so loading the next morning would be straightforward.  But as the sun started to set, the fog rolled in.  Gritting my teeth, I said we’d still make an attempt at going to the star show.  Hero, brilliant child that she is, suggested we go up on Cadillac instead.  My fear of heights screamed at me, but I put it to the vote and everyone agreed.  So I grit my teeth and we headed out.

Best. Decision.  Ever.

We were driving through fog and clouds the whole way, which was not making me feel better.  But about halfway up the mountain, all of a sudden we broke through and the road was perfectly clear, the clouds all beneath us in a way I’d only seen from airplanes.  We could see from horizon to horizon, the pale pink in the west, the darkening sky in the east as the stars started to come out.  And hey, we actually made it into the parking lot!  So did some other people who weren’t considerate with their headlights, but by 9:00 it didn’t matter.  Nothing was going to block out those stars.  Thousands of stars.  Millions of stars.  Billions and billions.  We watched satellites speed past.  Lingering meteors from the Perseids streaked by.  And finally, in a bright, glorious band, the Milky Way stretched across the whole arc of the sky, horizon to horizon, as we looked out across space and time into the universe.

(Not my picture. Crap photographer, remember?)

 

It was the perfect ending to the trip.

Day 4

Day 4

The weather didn’t hold.

It threatened rain all day.  So we decided to play tourist for the day.  Had breakfast (bacon, egg and cheese sandwiches on the stove) and headed into Bar Harbor around 9:30.  We were early enough that we actually got a parking space!  We spent a couple of hours walking the main drag.  It had a Provincetown-y feel to it without being quite as funky.  The kids all got tchatchkis and had fun with the kitsch.

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Then we drove the western half of the island.

Mt. Desert Island, on which are the National Park, Bar Harbor and half a dozen other towns, is much larger than I’d expected, and shaped rather like two lungs.  The eastern lung is where Bar Harbor and the Park are, while the western side is more the residential and working part of the island.  Which is not to say it doesn’t have it’s own tourism and charm.  We drove down to the Bass Harbor lighthouse (it was so wee!), checked out the other campground (more open than Blackwoods, which I didn’t like, although they had cool stone firepits), and then went into Southeast Harbor for lunch.  I got my fried clams finally, which made me very happy.  And didn’t make me sick!  Hooray!  No, they aren’t good for me, but I literally have them once a year.  My diet won’t be destroyed by indulging that often.  What I didn’t realize is that SEH is where one of my other cousins has her yoga studio!  (Told you we were all over)  I didn’t see the studio, though, so, sorry we missed you, Patricia!  We also stopped at a church outside of Somes that was having a pie sale fundraiser.  Everyone around Maine seems to sell pies to raise money.  Which, pie!  It smelled fabulous, too, as some of them were savory pies.  We went with a blueberry, that the kids liked because it had a heart on it.  They called it a Companion Pie, like the Companion Cubes in the Portal games.

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The sun was trying to come out when we got back to camp, so we rode our bikes down to the campground overlook into Otter Cove.  More rock hopping, which made Xander happy, until he got the the part that was about wide enough for his foot and then a straight cliff down 30 feet.  At that point my nerves couldn’t take anymore, so I made him come back.  He still found plenty of perches.

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We ate the pie that night while playing Catan, which was fun!  It wasn’t as sweet as they were used to, so they weren’t crazy about it, but it was still good.  But the weather that had been threatening all day finally made good and by 9:30 it was raining steadily.  The screen tent, which had done a great job against the bugs, was rubbish against the wet, so we had to drag in anything that shouldn’t get rained on and then we went to bed, hoping for a better day the next day.

Day 3

Day 3

Today would be beach day!

But first, another food experiment.  Today it was sausage stuffed pancakes.  Jiffy blueberry muffin mix, precooked sausage patties and pie irons.

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(I’ll post the full instructions for this later)

These were a definite thumbs up, once we got them to cook through.  I have challenges with keeping coals hot enough to cook on, apparently.  When we camp with Mom next, I need to have her edjumacate me.  Once we ate and tidied up, we changed into bathing suits and headed out.  By now it was about 9:30.

We were already too late.  The sign on the beach parking lot said “Full”, so we drove on and found a roadside spot about a quarter mile along.  Hero had a theory that the sign just always said that, whether the lot was full or not.  Possibly true, although it looked pretty full as we came down the stairs.  But it’s a nice beach with big changing rooms.  The beach itself is not very big, at least not to someone who is used to long ocean beaches.  This is at the back of an inlet, so is limited by the cliffs along either edge.  We claimed our spots and went to try the water.

Holy fuck, that’s cold!

It was about ten degrees colder than what we’re used to at the Cape, but my GOD what a difference those ten degrees make!  Both the younger kids made it all the way in, although for Xander it was more because he felt he had to, and he said it hurt until finally I made him get out of the water.  Hero was well and truly in, though.  Crazy child.  Morgan and I had another “Nope” consensus and walked the beach instead.  More rocks, found a crab that had lost half it’s legs and the first live jellyfish I’ve ever seen.  But after 45 minutes or so, we bagged it.

Instead we decided to go back up Cadillac Mountain for a ranger walk.  Again, couldn’t park at the top, so we parked at the overlook and walked up.  I won’t even bother trying to park in the main lot again.  It’s not a bad walk, and a lot less stressful.  Plus, blueberries.  We had to hurry out to make the talk on time, which was interesting.  Found out that while the park was commissioned in 1916, most of the infrastructure was built in the 30s by my beloved Civilian Conservation Corp.  After the talk, we went back to the car, had another picnic lunch, picked more berries, and then headed back to the campsite.

By now, I was loving the place so much that I didn’t want to go home.  But I had screwed up our reservation and had us leaving Friday instead of Saturday.  So we stopped in at the ranger station to see if we could get an extension.  No joy, but they said to keep trying.  I also found out where the nearest gas station was, so I dropped the kids off and drove back into Bar Harbor to tank up.

Right across the street from the gas station was another Hannafords.  ::headdesk::  Oh well, at least now I know for next time.

Dinner was much more low key, just beans and hot dogs, and we got everything cleaned up in plenty of time to go back to Sand Beach for the ranger led stargazing show.  Sure enough, the sign still read full, even though the lot was almost empty.  We got there early enough that I got our Hobbit chapter in while waiting for 9:00.  No grouchy neighbors tonight!  The show itself was disappointing, not because of the rangers, but because of Mother Nature.  Clouds started drifting in as they got started, and by 9:30 the remains of the supermoon was creeping up over the mountains and obscuring everything.  And we were COLD!  So no Milky Way, which was something I really wanted the kids to see.  Oh well.  They did the show again on Thursday.  Maybe we’d have better luck.  If the weather held.

Day 2

Day 2

Bacon and eggs for breakfast.  I could get really spoiled by the new propane stove.  It’s a lot easier than building a fire twice a day to eat! We also started to notice something interesting.  There were no bear warnings.  Camping in NY and PA, we’re constantly warned about not leaving food out or storing it in our tents and told to take our trash to the special dumpsters to keep away the bears.  But all the signs we were seeing were about raccoons.  Not even a hint of a bear warning.  (And we never did even see a raccoon, either).  Curious.  Once we’d eaten and done dishes (well, rinsed), we loaded into the car to hit the Visitor’s Center.

I’m a National Park girl from waaaaaay back.  I grew up in the Cape Cod National Seashore, and was present at the birth of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.  So I know that the place to go to find out about any park is the Visitor’s Center.  I was a little surprised that the Acadia one didn’t have more of a museum component.  This was also the first park I’d been to that had an admission fee.  We had gotten ours when we checked in at the campground, so we avoided the looooooong line of people getting their passes.  (I did find out Xander will qualify for a free lifetime pass due to his ASD.  I just need to get him the right ID and a letter from his doctor and we can get him set up with that.)  We got our first souvenirs, the patches for the kids’ sweatshirts and a pin for my collection.  Then we watched the intro video, which twigged Hero to the Junior Park Ranger program.  So we ended up in line after all to talk to a ranger about that.  I got information about some of the trails I could manage (fear of heights is not a great thing in this park!) and Hero got her junior ranger project book.  We also asked about the bears.  Yup, no bears.  She said it was because it was an island, there really isn’t any way for them to get into the park.  So, bonus!

We decided to spend the day seeing the whole park before we decided what we were going to do.  This is actually kind of easy in Acadia, as it is ringed by a road, the Park Loop Road, that goes past all the major park sites.  It’s a closed one-way road, so you get on and go.  Which we did.  At first we stopped at every pull-out.  At the first couple, Hero began her obsession with blueberries

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And Xander found rocks.

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This would become a theme for the rest of the trip.

The other thing we started to find was traffic.  Acadia is one of the top ten most visited parks in the National Park System, which is great, but it’s not a very big park, and all those people had to cram into not very many parking spaces.  There were a lot of places where people just parked along the side of the road.  Hoping to see falcons, we did this ourselves near the Precipice trail.  The name is not misleading.  We couldn’t see any falcons (as we were leaving, a ranger told us the fledgelings were all flying and moving on, sadly), but we did get a good look at the trail from the ground.  This “trail” goes up a sheer cliff hundreds of feet up.

There are iron rung ladders along it so you don’t have to rope climb, but Morgan and I looked at each other and went “Nopenopenopenopenope!”  Back to the car and on we went.

The next major stop was Sand Beach.  It’s one of the few sandy beaches on the island, and it was MOBBED.  We drove almost another mile along before we finally found a spot along the road to park.  We decided not to bother walking back to the beach, but we found some amazing rock cliffs over the water on the other side of the road that we went to explore.

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I never could get decent scale shots, but these cliffs are probably 40-50 feet high.  We went out scrambling all over them, and to my surprise I only had a few twinges of height fear.  It was just so gorgeous, and as craggy as it was, it was easy to find footholds.  After a while, we decided to head on a little further, and actually got a parking spot in the lot at Thunder Hole.  Thunder Hole is an inlet into the rocks where, if the tide and waves are right, you can get huge plumes of surf crashing up over the rocks and path.  Unfortunately the tide was not in our favor, and it was getting on to lunch time.  So we moved on.

We skipped Jordan Pond (never did stop there) and headed straight for Cadillac Mountain.  Cadillac is the tallest point on the eastern seaboard (which surprised me, because I always thought that was Mount Washington, but maybe they meant near the shore), and has an amazing view of the whole island.

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Or it did once we finally got to it.

Yet again, the congestion worked against us.  There were no parking spots available, and the road all along was packed.  Finally we went back about 3/4 of a mile to an overlook point where, huzzah, parking!  We had lunch out of the back of the car (our bear training guaranteed that we had all our food with us) and then walked up to the summit.  All along the road were blueberry bushes just covered in ripe berries.  I thought Hero’s head was going to explode from it all!  She had the ziploc bag with her that we had started back at the beginning of the loop road, so she and I picked and walked and walked and picked while the boys went on ahead.  What should have been a ten minute walk took us about half an hour, but by the end of it we had a good cup and a half of berries.  Then we went up and crawled all over the top of the mountain.  LOTS of rock hopping happening there!  And my favorite picture of the kids:

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And here’s one of me to prove I actually was there (I think it’s the only one of me we got…]

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We were finally able to get into a bathroom, I got everyone drinks, and then we went out on an adventure of a different kind.

Since we were in Maine, I wanted the kids to have seafood of some kind.  But I wasn’t going to pay $25 a plate for food I didn’t know if they would even like.  I had foil dinners on the menu, but I decided instead to do our own clambake over the fire.  So we went looking for a grocery store for some ingredients and then a lobster pound for the shellfish.  We tried to find seafood on island, but apparently I didn’t know where to look, as we had no luck.  The only supermarket I’d seen was a Hannaford’s off-island in Ellsworth, so we headed up that way.  It was a nice store (good to know for someone thinking about moving up there), and the prices and brands were pretty comparable to home.  First time anyone ever asked me if I’d checked my eggs, though!  Then we went back towards Bar Harbor and a lobster place we’d passed on the way up.  Xander was the only one to go in with me this time, and I’m so glad he did.  The look of shock and horror when the girl pulled a lobster out of the tank and threw it on the scale for us was priceless!  This thing’s waving around going, “Put me back in the water, you miserable so-and-so or I swear I will cut you!” and Xander’s eyes and mouth are open about as far as they’ll go as she stuffs him into a paper bag.  He’s telling the others about it in the car and Morgan starts freaking out.  “The lobster’s in a paper bag?  A PAPER BAG?”  Brilliant.  Absolutely the best thing ever.

Until Hero got to put it in the pot.  That was really good, too.

See, we screwed up one of Hero’s DIY badges earlier this summer.  She needed to cook over a fire to complete her Camper badge, which she did when we went camping in July, but we got pictures of the whole process except her actually putting food in the fire.  So we decided this was easy, just a bunch of dumping.  I got everything prepped, the kids shucked the corn, we boiled the chicken broth, parboiled the potatoes and then off she went.

In went the mussels and littlenecks.

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In went the corn

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Then it was time to take the lobster out of the paper bag.

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She wasn’t about to just reach in and grab him sight unseen, so she tore the bag open.  Slowly.  The boys were all watching from a safe distance, Morgan on the other side of the picnic table, Xander in the tent.  Finally the lobster’s exposed enough that he can start waving his claw again, and she freaks out a little.  I show her how to grab him, and then get my camera ready.  Up she goes, drops him in, I grab the picture and we both slam the lid on him, squealing with fear and laughter the whole time.

I didn’t get the picture.

But here she is after the fact.

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Not so scary now, are you, buddy?

Of course, keep in mind that I HAVE NEVER COOKED OR EATEN A WHOLE LOBSTER IN MY LIFE, EITHER.  All my knowledge here was theoretical and what the girl at the lobster pound had told me.  So when I started cutting him apart to give everyone a taste, I didn’t expect all the greenish water that came gushing out of him!  Many paper towels later, everyone got their piece.  It was…okay.  Not sure if I didn’t do something right or I’m just not a lobster person.  Xander and Hero both liked the mussels, none of us were crazy about the littlenecks (I should have gotten cherrystones), and the corn and potatoes were yummy.  So it was a fun adventure.  By then it was almost time for the ranger show, so I sent the kids on while I kept the fire going to keep the dish water hot.  I’m sorry I missed it, because it was about the formation of the park, but the kids were inspired by it, so that worked out.  The only downer to the day was our new neighbor coming over to yell at me for reading aloud to my kids after quiet time.  How dare I.  Whatever, dude.  Your precious tykes weren’t all that quiet, either.