Our family loves road trips, camping, hiking, and biking. We decided to combine them all into an epic New England road trip with our four-year-old, before the arrival of our second baby. As is our style, we crammed five trips worth of fun and activity into one exhausting adventure.
This was my first time in the Adirondack Mountains of New York state. The little towns felt like a flashback to the 1950s. The charming hotels and restaurants looked like they were built decades ago, and could have been sets for the Disney movies of my childhood. When we got out of the car, we discovered the mayflies that swarm your face and neck immediately and constantly. This is where we had thought we might camp, but we decided to keep on moving, especially when I saw a little family with hats that had netting covering their faces and necks. I complimented them on their hats. The two miserable looking children said nothing. The father—in a beautiful English accent—said wearily, “We just bought them today. We were eaten alive last night.”
We drove through Lake Placid, which has been home to two Winter Olympics (1932 and 1980). We saw the outdoor ice skating race track and the ski jump. The ski jump was the most amazing thing–we pulled over and tried to get some pictures, but with the trees and angles, we simply couldn’t. It was like seeing a skyscraper on a top of a mountain–and even more surprising when you realize that people jump off it!
Along our drive we discovered the Memorial Day festivities in a tiny little town called Elizabethtown, New York. The town’s parade included old fashioned cars, ambulances, and firetrucks. We cheered, waved, and had a great time. It lasted maybe ten minutes and was followed by a ceremony at the town’s war memorial. The ceremony was touching in its simplicity and sincerity. A veteran gave a speech, the Boy and Girl Scouts put flowers on each marker as the names of all who had died in service from the town were read. I was impressed at how all the generations were included–the children putting out the flowers, a local college girl singing the National Anthem, and a special mention of the senior citizens who had been wheeled out of the local nursing home to the front grass to watch the parade and ceremony. It wasn’t polished or showy–certainly a far cry from the celebrations we’d become accustomed to near our home in Washington, D.C. But I felt like I had participated in one of the most meaningful Memorial Day celebrations of my life.
We finished our exploring in the Adirondacks and took a ferry across Lake Champlain, a 440-square-mile lake that separates New York and Vermont.We entered Vermont and spent a couple hours in Burlington where we found a playground, a repurposed school bus that sold ice cream, and a great view of the lake. Vermont was full of great people-watching opportunities. It is fascinating to see the array of cultures that make up our nation. My favorite part of the day was a bike ride we took along the lake on a rail-to-trail pathway. The trail even took up through the lake on a causeway that had been preserved for bikes and pedestrians.
We finished the day driving through the capitol city of Vermont: Montpelier. Sadly, we missed the Ben & Jerry’s ice cream factory tour by just a few minutes. We found a beautiful campground with running water. The ranger assured us that the brown water coming from the spigot was potable. The setting made up for the frightening drinking water. We camped lakeside and didn’t get too wet in the rainstorm. The next morning we were delighted to see a woodpecker—a first for our little Joseph.
We broke camp in the rain of Vermont and headed to New Hampshire–to the White Mountains. The day was rainy and misty, but still beautiful. We especially enjoyed hearing Marc’s tales of the Appalachian Trail; he’d hiked more than 1,100 miles a decade ago, and had passed through this area. We saw some of the places he stayed and heard stories of spots he vividly remembered. We saw a moose in the wild, an experience never to be forgotten! “Mount Washington is the highest peak in the Northeastern United States at 6,288 ft (1,917 m). It is famous for its dangerously erratic weather, and long held the record for the highest wind gust directly measured at the Earth’s surface, 231 mph (372 km/h) on the afternoon of April 12, 1934,” according to my scholarly source, Wikipedia. The last time Marc was at the top of this mountain, he had hiked it. The huts there are chained to the ground so they don’t blow away! We drove up the winding path, and that was terrifying enough for me. At the gate, a sign that warns that if you didn’t like heights, sharp turns, or severe drop offs without guardrails, this might not be a pleasant experience for you. Marc conveniently avoided eye contact with me when we drove past the warning.
Then we headed north to Maine. We arrived late in Acadia National Park and set up camp in the dark—by the light of the car headlights. It was rainy and misty all the next day. We went to a lighthouse occupied by a Coast Guard family. We spied deer on the scenic trail. We discovered the famous Thunder Hole where waves crash in a craggy cave, producing huge booms. We ate our picnic lunch in the car, looking out at the pouring rain and beautiful boats of Bar Harbor.
Our second day in Acadia was sunny and beautiful. After a rainy night, we woke up to a whole new place! We revisited a couple of places and couldn’t even recognize them from the day before. We got off the beaten path and explored. The tide pools turned out to be a highlight of our trip. Joseph discovered mussels, sea urchins, seaweed, barnacles, and more. We had a great time biking along the beautiful carriage roads that wind through the park–roads specially designated for pedestrians, bicyclists, and riders. Marc explored a sand bar that goes out to one of islands at low tide, while I sat with a rare, napping Joseph. We walked around the charming town of Bar Harbor, and ate ice cream cones with all the other tourists. For dinner on our last night, we sought out “Beal’s Lobster Pound” that I had found recommended in a guide book. A Lobster Pound is a casual, shack-like restaraunt that sells the seafood it catches right on site. You walk up to a tank of lobsters, pick one out, and its on the plate soon after. You dine on the dock at wooden picnic tables, while watching the fishing boats finish their day’s work.
Traveling as a family brings all sorts of benefits—memories of roasting marshmallows in the rain, chances to hear Dad’s hiking stories, long car rides with time to convert my son to Shel Silverstein’s poems. On this trip we had an added benefit. A few months before the trip, our then 3-year-old Joseph, broke his leg. Despite having his cast off and being told he was healed, he had still been limping and favoring the leg he had broken. I’d taken him back to the doctor, who told us it would take time. We were pretty worried and got quite a few comments from friends and family who knew it was uncharacteristic for Joseph to be slowed down in any physical activity. It broke my heart to see him tell kids at the playground that he couldn’t play chase with them because of his limp. However, this trip made all the difference. Maybe it was the timing, or fresh air, or hiking, or biking, or just being with Dad all day. Whatever it was, his limp completely cleared up. We brought home a Joseph ready to run and bike with the best of them again.