Monday, July 30, 2007

First day back

And I can already tell it is going to be a rough transition.

Last week P and I took off with no solid plans (other than a family visit) other than going somewhere. We figured we had gas in the tank, a GPS, and a mutual love of travel, and that was more than enough. We packed the car with more than we would ever need (why bring one pair of shoes when you can bring three?), prepared for any number of situations and climates. Our fuzzy goal was to camp somewhere, but we weren't quite sure what level of "camp" we'd achieve....

First stop was Cooperstown, NY. I have family that lives about 20 minutes south of there, and much of my family was visiting for the weekend. My niece and nephews have entered into the age old tradition of drop-the-kids-at-the-uncle-and-aunt's-house-for-a-few-weeks-to-give-the-parents-a-break-routine. My brother and I did it most summers while growing up, and now his kids are taking part.

The house was full, and while my aunt would have loved to squeeze us into some corner that would likely involve a 45 year old mattress placed nearly on top of a cat litter box in a highly trafficked area of the house leaving zero space for any semblance of privacy (I'm speaking from experience), we opted to stay at a hotel nearby. It was a very good decision, even if it did require us to receive guilt/grief periodically throughout the weekend for not constantly being underfoot. The sanity saved was more valuable. For some reason, this side of my family believes that if you are not within 10 feet of each other at all times, and talking all the while, then you are not spending time together. It is claustrophobic and exhausting, particularly for those of us who like some personal space and quiet time to reboot.

One day I may write more on this one aunt in particular, as she is, um... a personality. There are three types of conversation in her world: cancer (or any illness, preferably something life-threatening), cats, and Rotary. Everything comes back to that, and usually it's the illness part. She loves her some sickness.

The below samples are all based upon actual conversations that took place during our visit. It is a very, very small sample of the full Experience.

Sample conversation #1 with my aunt:
Me: We have two cats.
Aunt: When our cats die we bury them out by the barn. Yep, these two will one day be out there with the five horses, four dogs, and all the other cats.

Sample conversation #2 with my aunt:
P: The kids are going to go with (uncle) for a walk up the hill. Such a nice day for a walk.
Aunt: There are aggressive coyotes up there.

Sample conversation #3 with my aunt:
Mom: This dinner is great.
Aunt: The other day I ate something and felt awful. It was either food poisoning or diverticulitis.

Sample conversation #4 with my aunt:
Me: [trying to stay quiet and unnoticed so I don't have to engage]
Aunt: SARS! Anthrax! Bird Flu!

I could go on. And on. But enough on that. This post was supposed to be more about the vacation part...

Prior to arriving at the family destination, P and I had stopped near Albany to get something to eat and visit an EMS for some camping odds and ends. While there, I bit the bullet and bought a real pack for multi day camping trips. I've wanted one for many years, and never allowed myself the purchase. Why I don't allow myself these things is a topic I'll put on hold for another blog entry. All I needed was the right impulse, and here it struck. I *heart* it. It makes me want to hike, much like new shoes make me want to run.

While trying on packs, we asked the woman helping us for any suggestions on hiking in the Adirondacks. She suggested a section that was out of the way, and remote enough that it weeded out people who weren't willing to put in a little effort. It sounded perfect, and became our decided destination for the post-family part of the trip.

Before long we were headed out of the Cooperstown area, heading towards the Pharaoh Wilderness. We had plotted a hiking route, transitioned from duffel bags to backpacks, condensed our sleeping bags in stuff sacks, and were ready to lose ourselves in the woods for a few.

First day's hike was a long one, going up and down Pharaoh Mountain and continuing along deeper into the woods. We ended the day at Watch Rock, a peninsula that juts out into the Pharaoh Lake. It was an ideal spot - a grassy spot for the tent, places to hang our gear, access to the lake for water, large flat rocks to sit on for meals or just to stare out over the lake. We were beat from the day's hike, and both of us were physically done by 8:30. It wasn't even dark out when we got into the tent...

We lingered in the morning, as the spot was so beautiful. I'd go back in a heartbeat, and stay longer. And bring my camera. Our plan was to have day 2 be a shorter hike, and we'd picked our landing spot. It was over on the other side of the lake, and took about 4 hours to reach it. A nice walk through the woods with a pretty consistent view of the lake on our left. Took a break in the middle of the hike to eat lunch at a particularly pretty spot (and put down the packs for a few minutes).

Once we reached our landing point, we parked ourselves and jumped in the lake to cool down. Both P and I are not fans of lake swimming - for me, I think it ties back to slasher movies often taking place at campgrounds with lakes involved. Then again, I don't like swimming in the deep end of a pool at night for fear of sharks, and I recognize that the likelihood of that occurring is slim. Why does ocean swimming feel safer to us than lakes? Perhaps because we both grew up on the ocean, perhaps because something about the salt water seems sterilizing. Or, in this case, perhaps it was due to the leeches I saw over at Watch Rock. Eew.

Still, I made it "safe" for myself by thrashing about and mentally willing the potential leeches and other fishies away. And it was good. The cool water made us human again, and after getting out we lazed around the rest of the day. Made some dinner around 5, read, chatted, sat in silence... We also applied large amounts of Tiger Balm to our skin, discovering that not only is it good for sore muscles and stopping the itching of bug bites, it is also a decent bug repellent. And, I imagine, less toxic than deet. By the end of the trip we were convinced that it could do anything. Headache? Sure. Blisters? Why not? Homeland Security? I'm sure if we found the right place to apply it, it would work.

The third day was the hike out. We had a ways to go, and weren't quite sure where were were headed afterwards, so we started on the early side. Packed our bags, waved goodbye to the lake, and went on our way.

Random gear note: I used a different sock combination (liners and running socks) and it worked so much better than my "official" Thorlo hiking socks. Days 1 and 2 I felt that I was destined for blisters; the third day saved me. The fact that I am even mentioning it here underscores how happy I was with the change.

Then again, when you are out back country camping, you spend a lot of time thinking about these types of things... your feet, how your pack is fitting, what you should have left home, what you should have brought, what you will have for your next meal, making sure to drink water... it's all very elemental, and I think that is one of the reasons I love it so.

We passed along Glidden Marsh, which was dotted with lilies and beaver ponds. Parts of the trail were wide and easy, while others were full of thorns and tall grass. You sort of felt your way through the whole thing. We flew through the final hike, getting back to the car 2 hours earlier than we'd estimated.

Once we hit cell phone range, P called a friend of ours who lives in Jersey, but was supposedly coming to Maine. We asked if we could come by for a few days for a visit, and she was happy to have us.

May we always have friends that are up for last minute visitors.
May we always be friends who are up for last minute visitors.

Setting the GPS once more, and cross referencing with our big (and lovingly well used) road atlas, we plotted a route that stayed off the big roads. We wound our way out of NY, through VT and NH, and into Maine. Stopped off at King Arthur Flour (P's version of black tar heroin) for a cookie and some browsing, and continued on to the coast.

Maine was lovely. Had our first real shower in days (oh so good), ate New England summer fare (read: fried fish and cole slaw), went swimming in the ocean (no sharks anywhere, and the water was warm), did crossword puzzles, caught up on some news (both the NY Times version as well as the Perez variety), read Harry Potter (almost done!).

As long as my quads and calves were sore from the hiking, I also went for a really nice run the morning after we landed at our friends' place. I wanted to feel what it would be like to run without the 40 pounds on my back, and thought it would help to loosen me up a bit. I also just wanted to run alongside the ocean, as that rarely happens in my Manchester existence. Success all around: I was clocking 9 -9:30 minute miles and felt great afterwards. After that, I only had one small spot of soreness in my left calf. A little Tiger Balm and 24 hours of no more hiking healed that one right up.

Everything worked out so well on this trip. The only days it rained was when we were in the car, transitioning from one place to another. We had perfect weather for hiking and camping. I love that we had no firm plans and were open to any stop along the way. People we didn't know - and will likely never see again - gave us guidance on our next steps. We ended up in towns days before peak season, meaning there were rooms available without breaking the bank, and the towns were sprucing themselves up for the coming visitors. The GPS helped us find the places we needed to go, be it food, equipment, gas, or a friends home. We ended up at King Arthur right before closing, meaning they handed us free cookies rather than throwing them out. :)

And, as always, P is my favorite traveling companion. I'd like to repeat this trip again and again, perhaps each time in a different state.

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