Boston to Portland
I landed in Boston for a drive to Portland, Maine. I had to take a bus offsite to the rental car lot. The lot is on the McClellan Highway, which does not allow left turns. The bus turns around at an exit far from the lot itself. I make a mental note. Roundabouts (err, rotaries) on state highways? Bad idea. I passed through three of them, and four Dunkin Donuts, before reaching I-95. In New Hampshire, the motto is "Live Free or Die, but pay toll first." This toll plaza has eight lanes, and they are jammed for two miles. Three middle lanes are dedicated to EZ Pass customers, but few people have an EZ Pass, so drivers cram into the outer lanes to pay cash.
At Portland, I attend the Portland Sea Dogs-Reading Phillies baseball game. Observations: Hadlock Field is modeled after Fenway Park, complete with Citgo sign and "green monster." The mascot is named Slugger. Portland has two additional mascots-- the trash monsters. I'm not even sure what the trash monster is supposed to be. The trash monsters resemble fir trees with dorsal fins. Not only do the people inside humiliate themselves as mascots, but they demean themselves further by collecting garbage. Reading wears vivid powder blue uniforms with claret trim, much like the major league Phillies did on the road 30 years ago. Their pitcher is making his AA debut. Foul balls dented two cars in the parking lot. My decision to use the $5 garage looks wise. One of the contests involves catching plastic lobsters flung by people with pool skimmers. Slugger and the trash monsters did a hip hop line dance on the third base dugout after the 6th inning. Slide to the left. Slide to the right. Cris-cross! Portland hits two home runs (a light house rises from center field with each one) and hangs on for the win.
Portland to White River Junction
I start out late from Portland because War Games is on AMC. Determined to avoid tolls, I took U.S. highway 202 most of the way to my afternoon destination. 202 crossed the border at Rochester, New Hampshire, where Dunkin Donuts and Burger King occupy the same building. Oh yeah! After a brief stop in Concord, I nearly got tricked into taking the Spaulding toll highway. Foot off the boat, Spaulding! I persisted on 202.
My afternoon fun was a hike up Grand Monadnock, a 3,200-foot mountain near Jaffrey, New Hampshire. I probably didn't pick the best day to do this climb. The air quality was in the red: very poor. The temperature was 90-92 degrees, and the humidity very high. I had six bottles of water in the car, but I only put two in my backpack. You can see where this leads.
The trail is steeper than it appears. I couldn't properly capture the haze on camera. Regardless, after a steep ascent and lying on my back for a while, I struggled on the way down. I slipped about halfway down, falling a few feet onto my left thigh. It started to hurt, then it started to cramp. My stomach cramped and I vomited. That was fast. I didn't have enough water left, either. What should've been a 3.5-hour adventure turned into 5.5, with the humiliation of a ranger escorting me as I wobbled the rest of the way. He mentioned most weekends they carry multiple people off this mountain, but I suspect he was lying. At least I could walk. Adding to injury, fog rolled in for the 1.5-hour drive to White River Junction, Vermont. I couldn't wait to step into the shower!
Connecticut River Valley
No movie could distract me today, but instead, incredible tightness in both of my thighs made it a struggle to wander out of bed. I had to scale back whatever hiking I wanted to accomplish today. I walked around downtown White River Junction, Vermont. Very little was happening. I drove farther down, ultimately ending up in New Hampshire again with an unplanned visit to Claremont. Claremont's downtown is on a rotary (roundabout). Like many other towns in New England, Claremont has an opera house converted into a building for city administrative uses. After lunch, I returned to Vermont to my intended location, the Ascutney State Park. But with my muscles not responding as I would like, I cut the hike off after 1.5 miles. This genuinely turned into a day of recovery, not as I had anticipated. I returned to the motel room, drank water, ordered pizza, surfed the internet. I couldn't possibly have accomplished less.
Vermont to Cape Cod
Today is a scheduled driving day. I travel from mid-Vermont to the end of Cape Cod, or close to it. My thigh muscles are still feeling tight, but that won't affect my driving. Determined to avoid tolls again, I will cross Massachusetts on a state highway that alternates between two and four lanes. In a few days, I have encountered four different radio stations calling themselves “The River,“ and all have roughly the same format. Somewhere near Fitchburg, I snap a photograph of a sign that states “Live Parking Only.” If you're dead, will your car be towed? Come on, Massachusetts. If I want to abandon my rented Focus for an hour, I should be allowed to do so. Speaking of the Focus, I noticed the alleged gas mileage has steadily increased throughout the trip. It started at 28.8 MPG in the rental lot, and now it is at 33.0. I am skeptical.
This is a Tuesday afternoon, so traffic is reasonable. I can't imagine what traffic on Cape Cod is like on a Friday afternoon. I enter the Cape in 3.5 hours, and the hostel in Truro 1.5 hours later. The hostel is an old coast guard station that also serves as a school in the off-season. I can reach the beach with an eight minute walk. The temperature is 80, with clear skies. The long dune grass waves gently in the breeze. What a perfect remedy to a bad mountain experience. I do nothing but stare at the sky and occasionally cool down with a dip in the chilly water.
The previous day of driving onto Cape Cod yielded something of a surprise. Cape Cod is more forested than I realized. Hopefully they don't surrender to economic pressure to clear room for huge vacation homes. I spent the morning on a nature hike somewhere between Orleans and Brewster. I walked from forest to marsh to beach. I ate lunch at a deli in Chatham run by a loud Italian couple. I wore my KU NCAA championship t-shirt that day. Also in the deli were three North Carolina Tar Heel baseball players (playing in the Cape Cod League). They never saw me because SportsCenter was replaying the Chapel Hill Title Town USA entry.
That afternoon I spotted a black racer snake on the way to the beach. I also discovered more deer ticks. Deer ticks frolic on the beach here. I buried one in the sand, but it burrowed to the surface in five minutes. It is also very windy today, and the sand lodged thoroughly in my hair. A cold water shower outside and a tepid water shower inside could not eliminate the grains right away. That night, I stepped out for some twilight photos under the half moon. The hostel looks haunted.
Today I visited the end of Cape Cod, which meant a visit to Provincetown. Provincetown has a unique reputation because of its open homosexual culture. As one of the oldest towns in the country, and the first landing site for the Pilgrims, I did not expect an easy time in the car, even with a rented Ford Focus, a smaller sedan. In some parts of town, I felt as if I could reach out the window and touch the buildings because they were so tightly packed and flush against the streets.
I lucked out with $2/hour parking at the high school. Portuguese flags line the main square. Apparently I am early for some festival. Nearly across from the town hall I spy a second-floor balcony with male mannequins wearing female dominatrix gear. That is the Toys of Eros. Farther down the street, while making mental notes of potential lunch places, I encounter a sign for an establishment called The Wet Spot. I decide not to investigate further.
One can reach the end of the cape with a shortcut across a lengthy rock wall in the tidal pool. Eight people are sitting on or near the wall, painting the same scene. The end of the cape isn't much more than dunes, shrubs and a light house. A sign indicates contaminated shellfish, but a family of three ignored the warning and waded into the water to gather snails and whatever else they could find. I returned across the rock wall and walked back to the center of town. I ate lunch at a pizza deli, primarily because of the cute girl behind the counter and the James Brown music on the speakers.
When returning for my afternoon on the beach at Truro, I didn't notice anything amiss. After an hour, I decided to take a dip to cool off. But the ocean was violently ill. At some point in that hour, a large pool of green, sickly-looking algae washed ashore, giving the impression the ocean had just vomited. That night, the radio reported a Great White Shark sighting. Excellent!
Cape Cod to Boston
This is really just a driving day, returning to Boston so I can awaken at 4:30 in the morning to catch a Midwest Airlines flight home. Apparently I didn't eat enough at breakfast, because I required a cranberry ice cream cone as I filled up the gas tank. ($4.19/gal.) Cranberry ice cream? For the win! The time of day didn't matter; I just couldn't pass up cranberry ice cream.
I tried taking a detour into Hyannis, but road construction prevented me from enjoying the town. If you think road construction around Kansas City is annoying, try maneuvering through a work site on a two-lane highway with summer tourist traffic. I stopped for lunch in Plymouth. Would you believe Plymouth Rock is under renovation? Plymouth reminded me of Lawrence, Kansas, in many ways. I shouldn't be surprised, considering the church I attended as a kid in Lawrence was Plymouth Congregational Church. For the record, I had a tuna sandwich, but it was huge-- far more than I could eat. I felt awful, because I really couldn't take tuna fish in the hot car with me to save for later. Restaurants don't learn.
I'm staying near the airport, which requires using the McClellan Highway again. This is the highway that doesn't allow for left turns, instead making drivers turn around at either end (one of those ends being the airport). My Mapquest directions from Plymouth to the hotel are not accurate, so I wing it in rush hour traffic. I make the right move every time. Take that, Boston.
In the morning, at the rental car office, I see mosquitoes everywhere. It's 5:00 in the morning, mind you. These mosquitoes are huge... much larger than the ones in Alaska. Logan Airport is playing that Frankie Valli song currently used in the Planters Peanuts commercials. Midwest Airlines wants $8 for a ham and cheese omelet again. No thanks. Despite heavy rain at KCI, we land on time. But lightning delays my airport escape, because the baggage handlers won't turn on the carousel if they see lightning. When I finally receive my luggage, it's soaked. Oh well, at least I had a few days to dry out!