Day 26 – On the Road to Montreal

Our next stop, Montreal, is just a few hours down the highway. It’s not a very interesting drive. I had forgotten that this part of Quebec Province is very flat and farm-oriented.

On the way, I think about all the beautiful flowers we’ve seen ever since we got to New York State. Where we lived in Virginia, people have flowering trees and shrubs, maybe a couple of pots by the front door but mostly the landscaping is green and boring. We were the oddballs in our neighborhood, with a perennial garden out front that I would augment with brightly colored annuals – zinnias and asters – if the perennials weren’t doing well (usually chomped by the deer). Our neighbors would tell us they loved the flowers but we never saw anyone follow suit. Maybe that’s because it would get so hot and flowers take so much water and attention in that kind of heat?

But in the Northeast, where winters are longer and summer is to be enjoyed to its absolute fullest, we see boxes and planters of flowers everywhere. I started to take pictures of flowers in Rhinebeck and, although my photos never do them justice, I have continued everyone we’ve been.

I’m going to post a few below, just to give you a taste of the exuberant plantings I’ve been enjoying.

Ok. Back to Montreal.

After we check into our hotel, we walk to Vieux Montreal for a fantastic dinner at Robin Square, a small, family-run establishment. Cream of onion soup, pork belly, mac and cheese. Everything is sublime, with smoky and spicy notes that elevate casual food to one of the best dinners we’ve ever had. We had found the restaurant using our favorite “best restaurant in…” Google search and then sorting through the various “Top 10” lists to find what works for us. We don’t necessarily want the high-end, formal restaurant. We like authentic food that’s prepared well.

Wandering around after dinner, we see a huge white tent on a nearby wharf. We have bumped into the Cirque du Soleil show “Volta”. We love Cirque shows and since we’re 35 minutes away from tonight’s performance, we get tickets and head in.

A few weeks ago, I had read an article about the woman who goes around the world looking for unique acts that can be incorporated into a show. That has to be how she found the guy who dribbles, juggles and does acrobatics with basketballs. Even though the beginning narration is in French, the plot’s simple enough that we can follow the show easily enough and it’s not like the plot matters when you’ve got BMX bikes jumping in tandem or a lady twirling from the ceiling by her hair!

We’ve had a great introduction to Montreal.

Day 25 – Quebec City

Our first stop of the day is the Citadelle, the home of Canada’s 22nd Regiment and the fort that the British built to guard against both a feared American attack and a potential Quebecois uprising (neither ever happened).

We’ve timed our arrival for the 10 a.m. Changing of the Guard, a 35-minute ceremony complete with a band, pomp and ceremony, and, oddly, a goat. Yep, there’s a very well-trained billy goat that takes part in the daily ritual. It is explained that Queen Elizabeth gave Batisse, a Kashmir goat, to the regiment during a visit some 50 years ago and ever since then the goat (and his descendants, all named Batisse) has served as the official regiment mascot.

We join a one-hour tour of the Citadelle and I can’t help but marvel at all the huge cannons. The biggest cannon, named “Rachel” for unknown reasons, sits at a high point with gorgeous views overlooking the city and the port.

Our tour comes to a close just as it’s time for the noon ceremonial cannon-firing (not one of the old ones, but still an event I’m happy to witness). There is a young couple setting off the cannon, with guidance from two soldiers. I wonder how one gets to do that? I once hit the button on 500 pounds of explosives set by a contractor I knew who was building a high school track. It was a rush.

We had breakfast at the hotel but it’s now early afternoon and we’re headed for another tour so our next stop is ice cream. Vieux Quebec is crammed with ice cream shops (and souvenir shops, which we avoid) so it’s no problem to indulge. Walt finds us soft-serve and we head off to the Chateau Frontenac.

The chateau is actually a Fairmont Hotel and, despite its glamorous name, was built as a hotel, not a private home. Our guide is dressed in “period costume” – a suit and tophat like those worn in the late 19th century – and introduces himself as the “mayor of Quebec City”.

In addition to learning about the hotel’s origins – built by the railroad to make train travel more palatable – we go into ballrooms and corridors, including the gorgeous Rose Salon with incredible views of the city and port. Our final stop is staircase that is known as the “wishing staircase.” Legend has it that if a woman walks down the right side and makes a wish while a man (preferably her husband) walks down the left making a wish, if they meet and kiss at the bottom, their wishes will come true. We shall see.

Walt has spied a bunch of tall ships in the port, so we walk down a long set of steps to the old part of the city. All of the city is just fascinating. There are beautiful stone buildings with windowboxes full of flowers, interesting paint combinations.

The port is crammed with people and the tall ships are actually modern ships with sails but also with engines, less interesting to us than true sailing ships.

It’s sunny and hot so after a stop for water and a cookie, we head back up the steps and through the city to our hotel for a little break before dinner.

The concierge had recommended a few places for dinner, marking them on a map. We don’t know their names but we hit one that we think he might have recommended, Tournbroche, and have a lovely dinner.

Day 24 – Bye-Bye to Maine

We’re leaving Maine this morning and it’s a 6-hour drive to our destination: Quebec City so yesterday we pulled up camp a night early and opted for a room at the nearby Seawall Motel. We want to be on the road by 10 and there was just no way we could break down camp, do laundry, and clean and pack the car in the morning.

It made life much simpler to take care of all the washing (us, clothes and car), drying of camping gear (it hasn’t rained again but we’ve been fogged in for 2 days and the cloud condenses in the trees, causing a constant drip) and re-packing while based in a motel room.

We’re very glad we came and that we stayed on the quiet western side, having visited the small, extremely picturesque towns of Southwest Harbor, Bass Harbor and Northeast Harbor in addition to Bar Harbor.

As we drive toward Canada, we become increasingly happier with our decision to do our chores yesterday so we could leave on time this morning. We hit road construction in several different towns and we get held up, then diverted briefly, for an accident. Finally, we arrive at the border and the very polite Canadian official takes one look at our packed little car and decides we must be hiding something.

Half an hour later, Walt and I are re-packing our packs and car, the officials having pulled out pretty much every bag we have. No matter. We are on our way.

We find our way pretty easily to our hotel. It sits on one of the main streets but it’s one of the many old stone houses that have been renovated into a commercial establishment. We have a lovely room and are walking distance to all of old Quebec City so we are well content to wander out and find dinner before calling it a night.

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Our Quebec City hotel.

Day 23 – View of the Clouds

Our final full day in Maine is very cloudy/foggy. We’ve mapped out a hike on the western side of the island, near Long Pond, thinking that we will have views to the north and west that we haven’t seen before. And maybe we would have, if we’d had any sort of view at all.

We hike up the Perpendicular Trail, which essentially consists of stone steps going up for nearly 1,000 feet to the top of Mount Mansell. When I ask Walt how he’s doing, he replies: “It’ll all be worth it for the view at the top,” knowing full well he’s only going to get a view of 50 yards of rock and trees.

It’s actually pretty interesting to be hiking in a cloud at such a low elevation. It’s warm and yet the trees are dripping on us. I take a picture of an area that is filled with dozens of spiderwebs, not on the trail but off in a grassy area. I’m also noticing lots of orange and yellow mushrooms. And there are beautiful patches of vibrant green moss.

We head down into the Great Notch (a col), then over a “nubble” (small mountain), then into another notch before making a last push up to Bernard Mountain. Again, no view, but there are a couple of wooden benches at the “overlook” and we have a nice snack and rest before continuing our loop back to the car. We’ve only done 4½ miles today but we’ve done about 250 feet more of elevation than yesterday, so we feel like we’ve had a pretty good workout.

At the car, we look out a Long Pond. We can’t see very far but I take a photo anyway and it turns out to be one of the best photos I’ve ever taken (see below).

The cool weather has made us disinclined to go in search of ice cream but we make up for it during dinner in Southwest Harbor, where we each have a blueberry dessert (pie for Walt, crisp for me) accompanied by ice cream.

 

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Day 22 – Somes Sound from the East

Acadia was on the western side of Somes Sound, so we head to the eastern side of the sound where there are many mountains and trails. We chart out a loop that will take us up Parkman Mountain, down to a col (the low spot between mountains) then up to Gilmore Peak, then down again before heading up to Sargent Mountain.

The trails, again, are steep and rocky but very pretty. When we get to Sargent we have a view of Eagle Lake to the east and we can see cars driving up Cadillac Mountain just past it. We know everyone on the island is supposed to go to the top of Cadillac but we’re just not in the mood to hike to the top of another mountain where most everyone else has driven. Part of the joy of hiking mountains is the quiet and peace of being at the summit. Sure, there’s often other people but the number of people who hike is very small compared to the number who drive. It’s great that there are mountains that have roads to the top so that non-hikers get to experience the incredible summit views; but there are plenty of other mountains for me to hike.

It’s a very sunny, warm day. Sargent is lovely with its views and a breeze. We eat our snack before hiking a ridge line down to a junction where we decide to forego our fourth peak of the day and just head out. We still get a 6-mile day.

Since it’s sunny, we head down the road a bit to Northwest Harbor, another quaint little town with galleries, jewelry shops and, yes, ice cream. The soft-serve machine is down but we make do with hard ice cream.

After showers, we head down to Thurston’s on the other side of Bass Harbor for dinner. We wait 20 minutes to order but it’s worth it for what Walt calls “the best lobster I’ve ever eaten.”

We have another campfire with toasted marshmallows and crawl into our tent well content with our day.

Pictures: Walt on his way to the top. The view from Sargent. The gull sitting on the ridge. Our friendly neighborhood showers. Thurston’s vintage truck.

Day 21 – The Acadian and the Criterion

We wake up in the pre-dawn to the sound of rain on our tent and go back to sleep to wait it out. We climb out after it stops about 8 a.m., congratulating ourselves for having decided last night to forego hiking today – not because of the weather forecast, which was for clear skies, but because the showers are closed on Sundays and we don’t want to have to find someplace to eat post-hike without being able to shower first.

We head to the little town of Southwest Harbor for breakfast, also hitting a book sale at the public library and logging onto its wi-fi. We’re so used to having Internet and cell reception, not to mention electricity, that it’s been a bit of a culture shock at the campground. No hot water for showers, no electricity. The western side of the Mount Desert Island, where our campground is located, doesn’t have great cell reception either.

The library is small-town cozy with Mission-style reading tables, a vaulted ceiling, and leather chairs arranged in front of a fireplace. I’m thinking I maybe could tolerate the Maine fog and cold winters if I could hang out here all day. I wonder if they’d let me bring in coffee?

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Southwest Harbor Library.

We take care of business and head off to catch a two-our nature cruise on the Acadian, which docks in Bar Harbor. On shore, the temperatures are in the high 70s and it’s sunny but once we get on the boat, not only is there wind – we’re sitting on the open top deck, of course – but we keep hitting fog banks, which make the temperatures much cooler. The boat people are well-prepared for this and hand out thick wool blankets, so I’m cuddled in my jacket and a blanket. Walt’s content in his rain jacket.

Our guide is more wise-cracking than nature-loving but he’s entertaining and knows a lot about islands, the lobster industry, and the people who built their 30-room-plus “summer cottages” back when the island was pretty much just lobster fisherman and wealthy summer residents.

We do see eagles and seals but no porpoises.

After shedding our layers, we wander the town, stopping for a frozen custard – no we haven’t burned enough calories to have earned our treat but it’s hot and there’s an ice cream shop about every 50 feet; too hard to resist them all.

Again, we’re not really in a place to buy anything in the shops but it’s still fun to look. After a very nice dinner at the Side Street Café – lobster cobb salad for Walt and lobster mixed greens salad for me – we buy tickets for the new Spiderman movie. It’s being shown at the Criterion – a restored Art Deco movie theater (the pictures below do not do it justice) with velvet seats, decorated ceiling, and a balcony.

We head back to camp and our little tent in the woods, content with our day.

Day 20 – Acadia Mountain

The forecast had called for rain overnight but we wake up to silence. No rain. Every time I rolled over last night, I listened for it in the trees and on the tent but it didn’t happen. The day is cool and overcast but the forecast says if it doesn’t rain in the next hour or so, we’re in the clear.

Car camping is odd. I remembered to sleep in some workout clothes, so I can just pull on shoes and go to the bathroom without embarrassing myself too much (although a quick look in the mirror shows my hair has gone crazy-muppet poufy in the humidity -that’s why I have hair clips, a buff and a hat).

We make breakfast using our small stove and pots, change into hiking clothes and catch the free shuttle to a trailhead. We are very glad for our map because our Acadia guidebook (a general book, not a hiking-specific book) talks about “strenuous, 2.6-mile” hikes. We’ve done strenuous hikes of that length – the Western Breach up Kilimanjaro comes to mind – but we’re not persuaded that the author’s idea of “strenuous” matches ours. Since we have our map, we can see that there are many more hiking trails than discussed in the book and we can hit the high points (literally and figuratively) that the book points out but we can also extend the hikes to a length that better suits us.

So up Acadia Mountain we go, at 700 feet of elevation in three-quarters of a mile we’re at about a 20% grade so we work up a bit of sweat despite the 60-degree temperatures and cloud cover. The views from the mountain are gorgeous. We can see water and boats and other mountains. I estimate that despite the energy it took to get here, we haven’t yet worked off our breakfast of instant oatmeal and a chocolate whoopee pie (bought in town last night).

We continue down the other side of the mountain, only just now realizing that we have left our hiking poles in the car. Walt and I love our hiking poles. They help on the uphill (your arms help propel you up along with your core and legs) and they are a tremendous source of security on the downhill. We especially would like them on this very rocky, steep downhill descent to the cove. Too late now.

The air is still unless we’re on a peak or a ledge so there’s very little cooling breeze. The hike isn’t long – we calculate about 5.5 miles – but there’s some 1,250 feet of uphill and the same amount of steep downhill. It’s so different hiking here than anywhere else we’ve been. The mountains are so short but they still offer beautiful views of water, islands, huge estates on Northeast Harbor across the cove, fishing boats and nearby villages.

There are wild blueberries along the tops of ridges and I swipe a few. Sun-warmed and sweet. Yum.

For all that we are in such a popular area at the height of summer, we don’t meet that many people on the hike; a few families coming up Acadia as we’re coming down to the cove and a few other people toward the end but not the crowds we would run into were it a nicer day or if we were on a more popular hike.

By the time we’re done, we’ve agreed to a plan for the rest of the day: take the shuttle bus back to camp, get towels and clean clothes, drive to the pay showers at the little nearby store before finding (an early) dinner somewhere.

Because the weather is clearing, after we’re showered, we drive down to Bass Harbor to see the lighthouse (old, not too big). We stop at a little dockside restaurant that the shower lady had recommended to Walt and enjoy our dinner on an empty, sunny patio. I tell Walt that anytime we eat dinner before 5:30, I know we’re retirees. But except for some trail mix and peanut butter crackers, we haven’t eaten since breakfast.

It turned out to be a very nice dinner and our helpful waitress answered questions about the lobster industry and tides.

We had a campfire and toasted a few marshmallows back at camp. We called it a day by the time it was dark.

Day 19 – A Visit to Hyperlite Mountain Gear

It’s still a bit cool and cloudy as we pack up the car and head for Acadia National Park, Maine. We’ve plotted a 5-hour route that takes us through Biddeford, Maine, the headquarters of Hyperlite Mountain Gear (HMG).

You can look at pictures of us on pretty much any hike for the past 6 years and we are carrying white HMG-logoed packs. Kilimanjaro. Salkantay Pass on the way to Macchu Picchu, Peru. Shenandoah National Park. The Mont Blanc loop. We love their products. Hyperlite Mountain Gear (https://www.hyperlitemountaingear.com) is the creation of Mike St. Pierre, an avid outdoorsman who just got tired of heavy, non-waterproof packs and tents and started his own company from scratch less than a decade ago.

My brother Matt met Mike while Matt was hiking the AT 6 years ago and became an instant convert. He converted me and then I converted Walt, who when I met him was carrying a four-pound pack. Our current packs weigh less than 2 pounds and don’t need a pack cover because they’re completely waterproof. They’re actually lighter than most people’s daypacks, which is why we use them no matter what type of hike we’re doing.

HMG is located in an old, huge, warehouse that has been re-purposed into incubator space for companies like HMG. We had seen Mike and his brother/co-founder, Dan, at Matt’s wedding after-party and Matt’s texted them that we’re stopping by. Mike gives us a tour of the shop. He has 50 employees, a first-class production facility and all sorts of lightweight, waterproof gear. It’s so impressive.

Of all the HMG products, I think my favorite is the stuff-sack pillow: it’s a waterproof, zippered sack that you can put gear into by day (I usually put in spare socks, a warm hat and gloves). At night you take the stuff out, turn the bag inside out and there’s a fuzzy side. Re-fill the stuff sack with a jacket or something else fairly soft, zip it up and you have a nice little pillow. It adds tons of comfort for just ounces of weight.

Our trip into Maine is otherwise fairly low-key. We’re not in any big rush but we don’t make any other stops after HMG.

We arrive at Seawall Campground, one of only two campgrounds actually in Acadia, with rain forecast for the coming night and morning. We set up camp. It’s actually very nice in that we are car camping, so there’s a paved road to our designated campsite, a picnic table, a metal-ringed fire pit and a scraped area for our tent. There are also flush toilets, dumpsters and taps for drinking water but, to our surprise, there are no showers. We just assumed that a campground like this would have showers. We’re not worried about tonight or tomorrow morning, but we are planning to hike tomorrow…

Anyway, we’re sort of odd for a car campground. We have a small car, a small tent. We’re set up for hiking into the woods with all of our gear on our backs (which we will do several times on this trip). No cooler, no big bags of food, no tub for doing dishes. Actually, we don’t have dishes, just our titanium teapot, drinking cup, French press and long-handled sporks (titanium is expensive but it’s the lightest metal for these implements).

We set up our tent and head to Bar Harbor for dinner; lobster, of course. We eat at a nice place on the waterfront, wander the town, buy a good hiking map of Acadia, sample the soft-serve blueberry ice cream and call it a day.

We’re in our tent by nightfall, reading by the light of a little lantern Walt has brought. I’m a little nervous about waking to rain our first morning in a tent but since there’s nothing to be done about it, we curl up shortly after dark and go to sleep.

Day 18 – Last Day in New Hampshire

We wake up to rain. That’s OK. The only items on our agenda today are laundry, packing up and having a last dinner out in Wolfeboro.

We’ve really had a good time in New Hampshire. We’re a bit sorry that we haven’t used the kayaks that were available to us to explore Crescent Lake. Walt had also hoped to do some fishing in the lake. But we can only pack so much into our days.

Today ends the longest time we will be in one spot on this trip. It also marks the last time this summer that we will be staying in an actual house. From now on we will either be camping or staying in a hotel – about 50-50 time-wise. We’ve liked having a kitchen, a spare bedroom to store our gear, and a spot to sit (comfortably) outside. Then there’s the view over the lake, which is lovely even when it’s raining.

Plus, our hosts, Kim and Nanci Rossi, were very helpful and accommodating, offering information about boat tours and places to eat and encouraging us to enjoy our time to the fullest. We really couldn’t have asked for a better place to stay in New Hampshire and we still have more we’d like to explore here.

But it’s all good. We’re eager to head to our next destination.

Day 17 – Mt. Washington

All of our hiking so far this trip has really been working up toward this day: the highest peak in the Northeast.

Our fabulous hiking guides, Roger and Anne, have pointed us toward the Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail, one of many routes up Mt. Washington.

In its favor, the trail is one of the shortest: about 4.5 miles up to the 6,288-foot summit. Of course, at 4,188 feet of elevation gain, we will be hiking about an 18% grade.

We are well-stocked with protein bars, energy gels, 3 liters each of water, our rain gear, and, in my case, a warm pullover.

We park in the Cog Railway parking lot and head up just as the first train is headed up the mountain. Traveling at 5 mph, it will beat us to the top by several hours.

The trail is very rocky, even for New Hampshire. As we continue, the rocks get larger to the point where there’s very little ground (ie., dirt, pine needles or roots). There’s just big granite rocks. I am loving the rocks but eventually the thought snaps into my brain that I’m loving the rocks because I associate open, bare rocks with the summit. We are maybe halfway to the top. Oops.

At the 3.0-mile mark, we reach the Lake of the Clouds Hut. The Appalachian Mountain Club maintains these hiker huts across the White Mountain National Forest, providing beds and meals for a fee. On our way up to the hut, we met a couple on their way down that told us there are muffins and cookies for sale at the hut. I immediately brightened at this news.

We buy a cookie at the hut before heading for the summit.

The sign at the hut says it’s 1.4 miles to the summit of Mt. Washington. After just a little bit, we come to a junction – there’s a lot of trails up here – with a sign that says it’s one-tenth of a mile back to the Lake of the Clouds Hut and 1.4 miles to the summit.

Ummm. How’s that? Either this sign or the one at the hut is wrong. I understand that the distances on these signs aren’t as precise as they claim but really no one’s thought: “we’ve got to fix one of those signs?”

On we go. We’re above the treeline so it’s just rocks with beautiful views down to the train station and the historic Mount Washington Resort some 6 miles away. We can see the Ammonoosuc Ravine below. I’m not a huge fan of hiking like this along a ridge with no trees. I like the views. I like the rocks. I don’t like seeing people pass us and disappear far up the trail ahead of us. I know we’re older than most of the people up here. I know we’re slow on the uphill. But my ego still winces. I am better when someone passes us and then disappears in just a few yards because the trail is so dense and twisty that there’s no way to tell how far ahead the person is after just a few minutes. The ego is a powerful force.

We finally see one of the antennas that dot the summit. I’m excited until Walt says the antenna is very tall (meaning we can see the top from fairly far down the summit).

On a sunny summer day, it would probably be hot out here on the rocks but there’s a good deal of cloud cover, keeping us cool.

The top of the mountain really is just a huge pile of rocks but not like the big boulders of Mt. Chocura. It’s a lot of small rocks just piled up all over each other. Hard to describe and I’m not sure if our pictures will do it justice.

The summit turns out to be a huge disappointment. Usually we’re thrilled to be at the top of a mountain, filled with satisfaction over a hard job well done. Because Mt. Washington has both the cog railway and an auto road to the summit, it is filled with hundreds of people, most of whom did not hike here.

We follow the Crawford Path/AT trail to the actual summit, marked by a big rock cairn and a sign only to find that we have to wait in line to have our picture taken. I’m not really sure what’s the big deal of having your picture taken at the summit of a mountain you didn’t hike or climb yourself but apparently I’m in the minority. Certainly the couple ahead of us holding their little dog seem happy to be here.

Walt and I look at the gathering clouds and listen to the hikers behind us worry about the chances of running into thunderstorms on their way back down the mountain. We opt for the train ride back down the mountain instead of a hike. It’s not cheap but how often will we get the chance to take a train off a mountain that we just hiked?

We get in line – there’s family of three ahead of us doing the same thing – to buy our one-way tickets down. For some reason, it is taking forever for the clerk to process three tickets and I am cold, wet, tired and out of patience. Some people call it “hangry.” I call it “low blood sugar” because I may not be actually hungry, but I do need some sort of food to take off the edge. I ask Walt to fish out the bag of trail mix and sit on nearby bench.

Walt, still patiently waiting to buy our tickets, turns to me after a minute or so. “What are you doing?”

“You know what I’m doing and you know why,” I answer. After half a dozen years together, he knows the signs of me “having a moment” and the path to avoid such a moment. You see, I am not just eating the trail mix, I am cherry-picking the M&Ms. And Walt knows exactly what I’m doing.

He laughs. I eat. The family’s tickets transaction is finally completed and we’re next.

The ride is blissfully short and easy. We make our last New Hampshire soft-ice cream stop before we hit rain.