Have you ever wanted to sell everything you own and just "take off?" Travel the country's back roads, paddle down a meandering stream, experience breath-taking mountain views, walk among 100-year old trees, and just marvel at America's beauty? That is the dream that my partner, Betsy, and I decided to make a reality. This blog describes our adventure. The food we eat, people we meet, sights we see, and the enjoyment we find in traveling.

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Welcome to Maine!

When the state of Maine opened camping to non-residents, we were there and back in a place we love - the Portland area.  Just south of Portland is Bayley’s Camping Resort (in Scarborough) and a place we have hung our hats many times.  Usually when we are in the area, we hit the Portland Food scene.  Portland was named Bon Appetites Best Food City 2018 and garnered many other foodie accolades.  The recognition is well-deserved with the tremendous pool of chefs and restaurants that bring dining to life.  From the succulent tender meat at the casual Noble BBQ to pretty food at the long-tenured Fore Street Restaurant to the freshest seafood on the downtown Commercial Street wharf, Portland has a wonderful gastronomic pool.  But, here it comes again, the ever-present 2020 spoiler … COVID–19.  Maine clamped down quickly when the pandemic hit and, as a result, they have some of the lowest positive case numbers in the country.  Still, we just didn’t feel comfortable going to the city and eating outside.  Besides, dishes like BBQ are not really eat-in the car kind of meals and who wants IPA steamed mussels with chorizo for carry-out?  So we avoided tight spaces, crowds, and opted to abstain from visiting our favorite food city. 

A mere few miles down the road (or a walk down the beach if you take the scenic route) from the campground is the throwback beachy town of Old Orchard Beach (OOB).  The town boardwalk was named as one of the 19 most "awesome" boardwalks in the United States by Fox News.  It has the rides, the arcade, the pier, the food, and the promise of sand and water that lures people back year after year.  In fact, Betsy used
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to come to OOB as a kid and it always brings up good memories of summer fun for her.  This year, the arcade and rides were closed but the town still seemed to draw people once the hotels and motor inns opened.  Yep, it's that kind of town that still has the one-story motor inns with two kitschy chairs outside your door and a pool in the middle of the parking lot.  The summer fun beach town vibe is enforced by the food.  This year, we fell prey to the temptation of the “famous pier fries.”  These babies are the kind that are fried up crisp and served hot in a paper cup, or for you really hungry visitors, a box!  The pier fries compete hard with the other local favorite – fried dough.  Yes, that’s right a blob of dough gets dropped in a deep fryer and served up hot on a paper plate with powdered sugar.  Other places in the country jazz up the name and call their fried creations "beignets" or "funnel cakes," but at OOB, it's just "fried dough."  None of these foods help your beach body, but who cares, we'll just blame it on Covid-19. 

Another beach town even closer to our campground is Pine Point.  Pine Point is a little spit of land that juts into the Nonesuch River and abuts the Atlantic Ocean.  Pine Point Beach is open to dogs so it was our place for a morning walk and swim for Spirit.  Pine Point also has a favorite lobster pound of ours - Bayley’s Lobster Pound which is our go-to for fresh lobster and crab meat and it is home to the Bait Shed Restaurant.  The restaurant has always had outdoor dining on picnic tables so the only difference caused by the pandemic is that the tables are spaced farther apart and the servers were wearing masks.  The restaurant has a great view of the river and Scarborough Marsh (the largest saltwater marsh in Maine).  A couple of evenings we drove down to the pier for sunset pictures with a sundowner (that's another name for a cocktail, in case you didn't know) in our hands and watched the amazing sky light up behind the lobster boats dotting the harbor. 

The beautiful early summer weather beckoned us outdoors (and for other reasons than eating French fries).  One of our favorite things to do is hike, and fortunately, there were plenty of hiking opportunities in the area.  Ferry Beach State Park has some nice trails and abuts the ocean with a large stretch of beach.  There is an admission fee so we opted to purchase an annual senior state park pass for $45 knowing that we would be repeat visitors and were planning on visiting other Maine State Parks. 

Other hiking options included the trails provided by the Scarborough Land Trust.  A handful of beautiful preserves were set aside by generous land owners for public enjoyment.  The trails are usually short (less than 2 miles) and offered pleasant hikes through meadows, woods, and along gentle brooks.  Completely free and open to all for outdoor enjoyment!

What’s a visit to Maine without seeing a lighthouse?  One of Maine’s most famous is the Portland Head Light standing proudly on a rocky point in Portland Harbor.  The head light attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors annually because of its majestic appearance and location.  This year was eerily weird in that there were very few visitors due to the pandemic.  The lighthouse and museum were closed but the surrounding park and trails were open but way less crowded than previous years.  We actually really liked it without the crowds.  

Cape Elizabeth is an upscale bedroom community of Portland with beautiful stately oceanfront homes and scenic views.  “Cape E” is also home to a beautiful lighthouse of its own and another great lobster pound.  Win, win!  With the backdrop of the towering white cylindrical light, we enjoyed our lobster rolls outside feeling the cool ocean breezes, listening to the waves crash on the rocks, and watching the eiders bob up and down.  

Portland and the surrounding towns have always been a draw and we were looking forward to spending more time there than in previous years.  Our original reservations were supposed to start late April but Covid-19 cut that short and we only had three weeks so we made the most of it and know that we will always come back.

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Bites Along New Hampshire's Seacoast

The state of New Hampshire is 190 miles in total length but really shrinks as you get near the coast and only claims 18 miles of Atlantic Ocean.  We always like spending time here because the beach is beautiful, the food is great, and the neighboring towns of Portsmouth and Newburyport (click for a link to a previous blog) are charming coastal New England towns.  Plus, you are not far from the Maine border and their pretty towns of York and Kittery. 

Once again Covid-19 dictated what we were, and were not, going to do.    Portsmouth has a number of great restaurants, many of which sport plaques and framed accolades from food magazines and the James Beard Foundation.  This year we focused our eating on seafood joints and not fancy dining since the state restricted restaurants to curbside and outdoor dining and we decided seared scallops and beurre blanc would not taste as good in a cardboard container as on a plate.  So we dug out our Lobster Shacks book and set out to check off a few more boxes at places where outdoor dining is best.  Just down the road were Ray’s SeafoodRestaurant and Petey’s Summertime Seafood and Bar

Driving along coastal Route 1A, Ray’s bright blue two-story building stands out, but they are most famous for their 12-foot tall wooden lobster chainsaw sculpture.  Ray’s owner owns two lobster boats so there is a constant supply of fresh lobster.  Steamed whole lobsters and lobster rolls are popular items but there are also a half dozen other lobster dishes like lobster baked stuffed mushrooms, baked stuffed lobster meat with a Ritz cracker topping, and lobster pasta.  We opted for lobster rolls and clam chowder.  Lobster rolls come either hot (sautéed in butter) or cold (with a bit of mayo) and were very good. 

Just down the road you can’t miss Petey’s with its brightly colored buoys and other lobstering paraphernalia hanging on the sides.  They claim to have more lobster buoys than any other lobster shack in New England.  There is a full bar and outside dining on the second story which boasts a great view of the marsh in back and the beach across the street.  Petey too is a lobsterman and splits his time between running the restaurant and lobstering.  The menu is simple with lobster and deep-fried items.  Petey’s is famous for their chowders (clam, haddock, and seafood) and have won several local awards, so of course we had to try.  Most lobster rolls come on a split top bun characteristic of New England but this one came on a hamburger bun. 

For years, we have been hearing about Bob’s Clam Hut in Kittery, Maine.  On the main drag (coastal Route 1) is Bob’s roadside stand that has been serving up fried clams and other coastal favorites since 1956.  Bob’s fried clams were the best Betsy claims to ever eaten.  Dipped in condensed milk before frying helps keep them sweet and juicy but costs more.

The New Hampshire seacoast may be small but it definitely is beautiful.  The beaches are beautiful and wide.  Unfortunately, they were all closed when we were there due to Covid-19 restrictions but the drive along coastal Route 1A is beautiful and has stately mansions that grace the coast and boast fabulous views.  One morning when my eyes popped open at 4:30, I decided to venture to the harbor at Rye Beach for the sunrise.  It was the perfect morning with broken clouds to magically light up the sky.  It started red with the first glow and then progressed to orange and bright yellow.   On my way home, I spotted a beautiful barn with an American flag standing proud among the cows and sheep that couldn’t understand why they were being photographed at such an early hour.

There is something we love about coastal New England and the simple charm that appears to be everywhere.  Between the beautiful Federal style homes, Atlantic beaches, seafood, and fresh cool air there is a lot to love about this area.

Friday, June 5, 2020

RV Park Review - Moose Hillock Camping Resort (Fort Ann, New York)

We really liked this park!  The sites at this park are huge.  So big that you could have parked two large RVs in our site and any other site, for that matter.  

Not only is your site large but there is great separation between sites with trees and shrubs that block out your neighbors and provide lots of privacy.  Yes, there are closer campgrounds to downtown Lake George (which is only a 10-minute drive) if you want to be near town, but none of them are as nice and the sites are so much closer together.  

The large pool (a.k.a. “Tropical Swimming Pool”) is a major attraction for this park.  It is touted as the “largest heated campground swimming pool in the northeast” and features caves, waterfalls, waterslides, LED lights, swim-in theater for nighttime movies, and cabana rentals.  It was closed while we visited due to Covid-19 precautions but you can bet it can get quite crazy in the summer.  There is also a café serving lunch and dinner which is convenient for being at the pool all day.  It's all lit up at night making for a great experience.

If you want internet, bring your own because there is none at individual campsites.  We were able to get good Verizon cell and internet.  There is a cable hook-up at each site and most would be able to get satellite reception.  All the RV sites are full hook up with 50 amp service. 

The bathrooms and laundry were clean but laundry costs were high at $3.50 for a wash and $3.00 for a dry. The park is very large so if you want to be near the pool/entertainment area or nearby bathrooms, pick your site accordingly; otherwise, it can be a long walk.  Rental golf carts are available for a steep $86/day for a 4-passenger cart or $89/day for a six-passenger.  The park has a nice camp store with everything from t-shirts to RV supplies to food.  There is a very convenient propane fill up as you drive in.

Nearby is good hiking in Adirondack Park where trails range from easy to difficult and have some great views of the lake and surrounding area.  The Inman Pond Trail (about 15 minutes north of the campground) is a nice 2.5-mile walk in the woods which takes you to a pretty pond that is a great place for dogs to swim and cool off.  There are also picnic tables and a fire pit if you want to picnic.  The trail on the south side of the pond ends in a large boulder that provides a nice view of the pond and surrounding woods.

One of the things we did not like was how dusty this park was.  It wasn’t bad when we first arrived because the park was nearly empty and it had rained.  As it started getting dustier, the park spread calcium chloride on the roads to mitigate the dust but after a couple of days and no rain it was bad.   What made it worse were all the golf carts that zipped up and down the roads as the park was full for Memorial Day weekend and it seemed everyone had a golf cart.  The other bad thing about this park is the cost.  We arrived before peak season and were paying $66/night (w/s/50 amp/cable) but that price jumped up to $99/night two nights later as it was peak season.  An additional $20/night was added for the holiday weekend and we would have not stayed except that our reservation at a Maine campground was cancelled and every other campground was full.

We did enjoy the large sites and sitting outside was very peaceful.  The Lake George area has lots to do with beautiful scenery and ample hiking opportunities. (Here is a link to our post about the area)  The town of Lake George was mostly shut down because of the pandemic when we were here so all we got to do there was walk around and look in store windows!  At another time it would have been fun to kayak on the lake and eat at restaurants.  We would definitely come back but only during the shoulder season when the nightly cost is more reasonable.   

Saturday, May 30, 2020

The Adirondacks, New York

Upper state New York is a place we have always liked exploring.  This spring, we ventured to Lake George at the foothills of the Adirondacks and instantly liked the area. 

The Adirondack region spans more than six million acres and is home to the largest protected natural area in the lower 48 of the United States.  Just our kind of place!  The region is a patchwork of communities, topography, and endless beauty.  Tall mountains are graced by towering trees cascading into deep blue lakes flanked by charming towns that have lured visitors for years.  What you find is clean crisp air and expansive views.  The word Adirondack is thought to come from the Mohawk word “ha-de-ron-dah” meaning “eaters of trees.”  The word was used by the Iroquoians as a derogatory term for groups of Algonquians who did not practice agriculture and therefore sometimes had to eat tree bark to survive harsh winters. 

The name Adirondack is synonymous with that laid back iconic chair bearing its name.  The Adirondack chair dates back to 1903 when a man named Thomas Lee created the chair that is characterized by its raked back and deeply slanted seat.  The slanted seat design allows you upright even when placed facing on a downhill slope.  But spending your day sitting in a chair is anything but what you want to do while you are here.  This place spurs you to get outdoors and explore. 

Covid-19 has totally transformed these summer tourist towns into almost ghost towns.  You get the sense Lake George is a very attractive summer destination with an amusement park (Great Escape), boat excursions, indoor water park, shopping, historic fort, zip lining, mountain top chair rides, fishing, and we counted nearly half a dozen miniature golf places.  Covid-19 closures kept these places and restaurants closed.  But that still didn’t keep people from coming out to the downtown on a sunny weekend day.  All of a sudden the town swelled with people sitting in green spaces having picnics, sunbathing, and taking the kids and dogs for a lakeside stroll.  We went downtown on a Saturday and couldn’t believe how many people were milling about.  It was the complete opposite from when we were there during the week.

So off to the woods we went to social distance.  The Adirondacks offer a plethora of hiking from difficult to easy and short to long.  Many lead to mountain summits with expansive views of the surrounding lakes and mountains.  One of our favorite hikes was a short one to a place called the “Bear Slide.”  The trail follows along Buttermilk Brook which provides attractive scenery and pretty water features.  The rock laden brook creates pools, riffles, and cascades down a slick rock face.  At the top of the trail, a beaver dam floods a depression and the surrounding dense dark woods create an interesting gnome-like space.  So, did we see a bear?  Not sliding down the “bear slide” but a black bear did cross the road in front of us as we drove the gravel road leading to the trail head. 

We have been very diligent about social distancing, wearing masks, washing hands, and limiting our exposure to other people.  Sadly, with most restaurants closed we have not been able to participate in one of our favorite daily activities - going out for lunch.  As much as we would like to support local businesses and even with carry out, we have been leery and abstained.  But, we made two exceptions and for the first time in a looooong time picked up food.  The local brewery was calling our names with beer brats, sauerkraut with apples, green beans, bread, and a cold cocoa porter.  Battle Hill Brewing Company is like every other small business trying to stay alive.  The owner nicely told us about a park on the Champlain Canal where we could enjoy our food outside in the fresh cool Adirondack air.

Driving to one of our favorite hiking spots, we passed a roadside stand that made us slow down and do a complete stop when we spotted a bin labeled "pies."  This nice lady hand makes jams, jellies, tea breads, pies, face masks, bird houses, flower arrangements, and grows herbs and flowers in containers for purchase.  We picked up a cherry pie and mask and found ourselves stopping for another pie the next time we drove by.  Thanks Webby's Mountain Stand!

The campground we stayed at was Moose Hillock Camping Resort in Fort Ann (review to come in a following post) and we loved it!  Even though it is a private park, it has a state park feel with lots of trees towering over sites, huge sites, and lots of privacy.  We were surprised that during the Memorial Day weekend, we felt our site was really private.  It was nice to hike in the morning, come back to our campsite (site 614) and hang-out in the afternoon and evenings.

Lake George area was a very pleasant surprise and we will definitely come back.  For you outdoor lovers, you should put this area on your list.  Despite being there during the New York Covid-19 shutdown, we still found lots to do and couldn't believe how quickly our 10-day stay was over.