Its July 4th, and in keeping with other July 4ths on previous road trips we set out to see a parade somewhere and enter into the general spirit of Independence and small town Americanism. We failed completely. First of all we set out on the wrong road to the small town of Jay which people had suggested might have a parade. Instead of Highway 9n we took Highway 9 and it was sixteen miles before we realised our mistake. SatNav lady, presumably somewhat miffed to have been ignored for the morning thus far, pursed her digital lips and sent us on a series of minor roads paved with that washboard surface which shakes out your fillings. I had to do a series of three point turns to get us back into civilisation. I say three point turns but Harvey has roughly the turning circle of a small aircraft carrier so it was a good job that there was no-one else taking the washboard freeways, as I painstakingly nudged in and out of the hedges at either side of the road. Having driven for about forty five minutes, We were now about an hour’s drive from the town we had set out for, which was no more than twenty minutes away from our campsite. So, all thoughts of celebrating Britain’s glorious defeat were abandoned in favour of a good lunch somewhere. This we found in Keene, at a picture perfect little restaurant with outside tables and an interesting menu and (the Adirondak’s unwritten motto) “service without a smile”.
Its not like that absolutely everywhere here. Should you be considering entering the New York State tourism industry, go and see Jeff, who works at the Gondola to the summit of White Face mountain. He is outgoing, he is friendly, he smiles when he meets you, he answers your questions with enthusiasm. Contrast this with the lady who meets us at the cafe in Keene. “Three for lunch” is her unsmiling greeting. “Yes please, could we sit outside?”. A look of irritation. “There are no tables free”. There are in fact a couple of table pushed together in the middle of the terrace which I look at meaningfully. “That’s a table for eight” she says shortly. Another unsmiling person takes our order. No-one sits at the table for eight for our entire meal and we order coffee, which I ask mein hostess if we can take out to the Adirondak chairs on the other side of the window. “You can’t take breakables outside”.
Its the same story at Whiteface Mountain. There is a toll road that takes you to the very top for great views and to get to that you have to ascend another long steep road for about fifteen minutes (which Harvey does with considerable aplomb – I am proud). We arrive at the toll booth and are met by a stout lady waving her arms and telling us to stop which we do (it is a toll booth after all). “You can’t come in, the car park is full” she says somewhat crossly, as if we are trying to gatecrash a party. OK we say, can we wait here until someone comes down. “No, the car park is full”. Yes, but could we wait here until some people leave the car park and then we can go up? “The car park is full”. Are you saying that even when it isn’t full any more we can’t go up? “No RVs in the car park.” At all? “Yes, its too busy”. I suggest that it might be a good idea to have this on a sign at the bottom of the hill. She, still unsmiling, nods and walks back to her booth. No, “sorry about this but…”, no “why don’t you try the gondola on the other side of the mountain which has a big car park…” Nope, just that feeling once again that it is Our Fault.
Seething, we drive back down the mountain and discover that three miles away there is a gondola which goes up the mountain for great views and we head to it. Ignoring the “car park full” sign across the entrance to an almost empty car park we pull in, get tickets for the gondola and soon, after a friendly chat with smiling Jeff, we are gliding up the mountain with the view broadening out underneath us. This is what the Adirondaks is (are?) really about. Layers of mountains pop up behind each other, blue-green and hazy in the heat. Thin slices of lake expand as we rise. At the top we explore the upper slopes for a bit enjoying the cooler air, before gliding back down, the scenery compressing again as we go. When we got to the bottom there was smiley Jeff, who immediately asked Tom about where in England he was from and generally made us feel happy about the experience all over again. Thanks Jeff.
On the way back, Philippa mentions that if there was an ice-cream stand right now, we should pull over. As she finishes the sentence I spot a bright umbrella over a wooden kiosk and a sign which says “Italian Ices”. We pull over and the smiling ice-cream man, puts down his guitar and serves three lemon ices in soft paper cups. T and I sit in the sun while Philippa chats with him. She tells me later about the conversation in which he asked about what she thought of the area and she said, diplomatically, that she hasn’t quite got a handle on the people… He immediately knew what she meant. He had moved to the area expecting a wilderness paradise he said, but had not been prepared for the hostility he encountered. He was so fed up with the attitude of the people here that he had decided to sell up and move to Delaware.
Its not that the people here are out and out hostile – no-one has chased us with pitchforks, its just that so often we are greeted with a thinly disguised resentment. There seems to be a deep irritation about the idea that so many jobs rely on tourists. You sometimes feel like you have to apologise for asking the waiter if there is a table free, or the ranger if there are any good trails nearby. That’s another thing, none of the rangers we have talked to seem to have any idea about the trails in their park. When asked for a good walk, a ranger in our last campsite (in a State Park), suggested a hike which sounded great but turned out to be twenty five miles away. At the Mount Jo trail head, they had no idea which of the two trails down the mountain was shorter “It could be that one I guess. Or the other one”. There is rather too much riding around in golf carts ordering people out of the lake for not swimming in the right place (as happens even on this beautiful stretch of lakefront), and not enough involvement in the lovely place in which they are working. Its a shame. This is a beautiful place, but like a good restaurant with bad service, it can leave a bad taste in the mouth.
This is a gorgeous location though. We ended our day splashing about by the lake enjoying the sunshine and the view across the blue-grey waters to the mountains of Vermont. We had supper outside with one of those local wines (which turned out to be crisp and delicious), and even managed some fireworks. The people at the site next door set some up in the roadway so we had a little July 4th show after all. Tomorrow, Canada.