Cambridge, Massachusetts. Mile 4054

That’s it. Its taken us 59 days to drive from Washington DC, to Cambridge, Mass. Apparently you can do it in about 8 hours, but where’s the fun in that?

At the Megunticook RV Resort this morning we had pancakes and coffee and a bit of tidying up as the sun trickled through the trees. We hit the road and almost immediately a pickup truck flashed its lights and the driver gave me a vigorous thumbs up. It felt like a good omen. The satnav said four hours to Cambridge but that seemed a little pessimistic to me and so it proved. The roads were fast and silky with big sweeping curves. Harv was as smooth and powerful as ever, effortlessly eating up the miles. At 65 mph there is no trace of vibration, and the water temperature hovers just under 180, even at 84 degrees outside, which it was today. Hats off to you GM.

This part of Maine is mix of the old and the new. There are big towns with McDonalds and large commercial districts, and between them, little hamlets with roadside attractions dating back to a different age. One peeling billboard for a “Motor Museum” advertised car rides and “nickelodeons”.

At Biddeford we pulled off for lunch thinking that the town may have echoes of its pretty English namesake. Perhaps it does but we never got that far as there was a Tim Horton’s in a mini-mall on the way and having had such a good time there on the Canadian border, we though it only appropriate to give them another go. Clearly Mr Horton only recruits intelligent and easy going serving staff because it was just the same experience as the last time and the food was good too. So long Biddeford. Another time perhaps.

Once over the mighty Piscataqua River Bridge we hit New Hampshire, which was no more than a sign and fifteen minutes on the freeway. Then we hit Massachusetts where it seems to be a legal requirement that you talk on your cell phone while driving. Actually, local custom seems to dictate that you also slow down while doing this and weave about a bit in the middle lane. Or, as in the case of one elderly lady we passed, hold your phone in front of your face so you can text while steering for the off ramp, twenty miles an hour slower than everyone behind you. We both have cellphones so we should fit right in. At A and E.

At the Tobin Memorial Bridge we stopped to pay the toll and the young Hispanic guy in the booth gave me a big smile and said “When I grow up I’m gonna be like you man! Get me one of those things and drive all OVER the Northeast.” I can recommend it.

The last ten minutes reminded me why we tend to avoid big cities on these trips. Cavernous potholes, hopeless drivers who straddle the lane when they stop, thus cutting you off from the exit you need, temporary road barriers which leave a gap just big enough for a car but narrow enough that one more coat of paint would make our motorhome too wide. It was good to get out of the city centre and into the street where we will spend the next ten months. The house has a GMC sized drive but also a tree at the entrance to it which very nearly did for us. We squeaked past it with less than an inch to spare, thanks to some lads on the street who were kind enough to move a row of trash bins which gave us just enough room to manoever.

Its now just past ten and we are marveling at the extraordinary luxury of a kitchen with several feet of counter space, a washing machine, a dryer and a sink with a seemingly unending supply of water. I’m told that its possible to spend at least twenty minutes in the shower, should you wish. We had supper at a place called the Lord Hobo around the corner and it was stunningly good, with the best range of beers in Boston.

Harv is parked outside; batteries off, cupboards emptied, freezer defrosted. He needs a good clean and there are several things I want to sort out or upgrade over the next few weeks, which I will reproduce in loving detail here no doubt.

What a trip though; from Pennsylvania Dutch countryside to the mountains of New York. From the foreignness of Gaspe with its impenetrable French and fascinating history, to the unspoilt wilderness of Nova Scotia and then the tranquility of Maine. There were whales, moose and bears; a breakdown which became a fun couple of days in Halifax with some terrific people. Some absolutely terrible roads, some absolutely brilliant ones too, sunsets, thunderstorms, crashing waves, smiles from people watching us go by in our funky motorhome – a little boy pointing us out at a campsite and saying “I would have THAT one”. So would we.

When we set out on this adventure we didn’t really know if it was feasable to buy a thirty two year old motorhome and launch off into the unknown with it. But it really is. It is the most comfortable RV either of us have ever travelled in and its no less economical than the modern ones. It is powerful and easy to drive; light steering with solid brakes which never faded. Everything worked as it was supposed to and when problems arose, they were easily fixable. Best of all though were the smiles it generated wherever we went.

This has been one of the great experiences of our family life. Tom is just a brilliant traveller, able to keep himself entertained for hours at a stretch while we sit up front, but also throwing himself into the wild surroundings we’ve tried to find; scrambling over rocks, plunging into rivers, lakes and the sea, racing through trees and across beaches. To be able to park under the stars, by the ocean, in a forest, is a special treat. Philippa and I have loved the solitude and the quiet, and the fun of the three of us.

The sad thing is that may be our first and last big trip in our magic bus. There will be weekends and possibly even the odd week or two, but we go back to England next summer and we will have to sell Harv in the spring.

It won’t stop me dreaming about other road trips though – up the spine of the country from Texas to Montana, north to Alaska, down the east coast to Florida, or around the Four Corners. There are just so many roads still to do…

Rockport Maine. Mile 3862

It was a perfect morning in Acadia as if the park was mocking us for leaving. Tom’s “cooking with eggs” repertoire expanded again with a quick lesson on boiled eggs, which we ate in rough wooden eggcups we’d bought for a dollar fifty each in Bar Harbor.

We’d decided that if it was raining we would scoot up to the freeway and stop somewhere north of Portland, but with the sun streaming through the trees we stuck to the coast and made for Camden. First though we followed the westernmost road in the park, which we had somehow failed to follow yesterday. This is the less traveled part of the island; the scenery is less dramatic, but it is every bit as pretty. It reminded both of us of the Devonshire countryside; narrow lanes winding through fields and woodland with scattered villages and glimpses of the sea.

Around one curve we spotted a familiar shape in the undergrowth and I went back to check it out. Sure enough, it was a GMC with wildflowers up to its wheel wells. It was faded but seemed to be in reasonable shape.

Somehow neither of us noticed the causeway back to the mainland, but soon we were back in a cluttered forest of roadside fast food signs and billboards, mini-malls and car dealerships. But that too came and went to be replaced by handsome little towns like Ellsworth where we stopped for a break. The main street had a tiny art deco cinema and a hodge podge of interesting shops and cafes. The Maine Grind is on the ground floor of a former Masonic Hall and is just about the perfect coffee house. Free wifi (natch), good coffee in cups the right size for a normal human, everything baked fresh on the premises and even a bowl full of hard boiled eggs should you be so inclined. Tom sucked on a mango smoothy made on the spot with a real mango, and P and I settled into leather couches and made arrangements for our impending landing in Cambridge. If this is what civilisation is like, its really not so bad.

There was more to explore in the building which had various arty and crafty type places, one of which had a female manaquin in a black wig standing guard by the stairs. She eyed me coldly when we came in, before dropping a plastic arm on the floor with a crash. We both pretended not to notice.

Caffeinated and happy we rejoined Route 1 heading down the Maine Coast. The road is broad and smooth and there is clearly more money around here. Harvey woofled through prim little villages like Searsport with large, pristine wood frame houses floating on expansive lawns, spouting turrets and widow’s walks. Then to Belfast which burned down in 1865 and decided to build its main street from brick thereafter. We bought sandwiches from a red caravan where the rosy faced girl behind the counter told Philippa  “You speak English very well!” almost as if she was addressing a small child. She meant well though and went on to say how difficult she found it to understand someone she’d encountered the day before “He was from England and I couldn’t get a word he said. He had to point to the menu in the end.” The harbour was breezy and full of toy boats though Tom preferred the big rocks beside it.

Next stop Camden which is pretty but in a rather knowing sort of way with everything painted up just a bit too brightly. Its also somewhere that seems to prefer RV’s to park somewhere else. Like Belfast. What parking there is, is clearly aimed at cars and one availale space was signposted “no RVs”. We found two spaces on our second pass through and took them. The harbor was busy with pleasure boats, from multimillion dollar luxury cruisers to a tiny little traditional sailboat with a single sail we saw heading out. Someone had carved wonderful faces into the remains of an old jetty, and they stared eerily across the water.

Our campsite was a few miles further on and gave us our last night in Harvey, for a while anyway. We used things up in the fridge in a rather eclectic sort of pasta followed by blueberry pie, which is a Maine staple. Then we had a walk down to the sea at a small overlook. it felt like saying goodbye to this trip in a way. One more family movie on Harv’s drop down screen; we all chose Wall-E which is really one of the loveliest things to come out of Hollywood. To the city tomorrow and new lives doing new things, but first, a final day on The Road.

Still in Acadia… Mile 3774

We had big plans for today. We would drive over to the eastern side of the island, cycle in the back country, eat at a hidden-away lodge famous for its “popovers” and do a little hike to take in the splendid views. Unfortunately the weather had other ideas. We woke to mist and rain. The Ranger said it was set to last all day and into tomorrow. We considered treating it as a driving day and heading south, but in the end we decided to take it easy, go to the wifi cafe at the other end of the sea-wall, then head over to the classic car museum and maybe go for a lobster supper somewhere. Somehow we didn’t do any of that either. The wifi cafe was closed, though the wifi was still on so we sat outside in Harvey and blogged with the last of the batteries in our laptops. Then we set off for the museum in driving rain and somehow ended up doing a big loop which veered off well before the museum and brought us back to within a mile of our campsite.

Teeth gritted, we pressed on to Bar Harbor and found that just about everyone on the island had done the same and it was seething with moistened tourists. We crawled through town and managed to find a space between all the cars in the RV parking lot. Public information message here: folks, an RV parking lot is for RVs. They are the big caravans with engines. If your car does not look like that, you park somewhere else because you can and we can’t. Are we clear..?

We had lunch at a place that was remarkable mainly due to its surly teenage hostess. In fact “surly” credits her with actually having an opinion about those coming in to pay her wages, when in fact she was just so utterly bored that we were like buzzing flies as far as she was concerned. Had it not been pouring with rain outside we would have walked out. But our lip-pierced waiter was a pleasant young chap and wanted to let us know that he too had travelled and enjoyed seeing the world. So all was not lost, but I fear Bar Harbor is heading in that direction.

I’m sure that twenty years ago – maybe less – it was a real place, and it still has a fine harbour and hills rising behind it, but the town seems to have sold its soul to tourism. Souvenir shops line up one after the other selling T shirts and lobster fridge magnets. We bought T-shirts and Tom tried to persuade us to get lobster fridge magnets (we already have some) and we wandered around damply, killing time.

Eventually we walked back through the drizzle and escaped in Harv.

Tom was glued to some new lego as we wound through dark, treelined roads back towards the campsite. We stopped for a cup of tea at the rocky sea wall by the campground to watch the waves crash over the rocks and smell the sea.

On the other side we saw a beaver swim across the pond. That’s what Acadia is really about and I’m sorry we haven’t had more time to see it. Tomorrow though we will see what the weather is doing and try to find some more wild Maine before heading on to Cambridge and the end of this journey.

Acadia

Tom did wait until eight and then pulled on his clothes and rushed out. P and I were sitting up in bed having tea when Sophia appeared at our bedside full of conversation. She is a real livewire; cute as a button and with the same kind of bouncing-off-the-walls imagination as Tom. They are friends as if they always have been. Philippa and I put some breakfast things outside and then sat back and waited while the two of them ran around. Eventually Sophy joined us for breakfast and we listened in while the two of them had stream of consciousness conversations. Tom told Sophy about his “gorilla dreams” and she told us about her cousins and the dog that died. “He didn’t make it”. she said simply.

Then it was back to the bike and scooter and drawing pictures of fruit to stick in the trees so they could pick them like monkeys. It was the most fun he has had in ages, and very sad that Sophy and her family had to leave. They had come from Chicago and were heading to Prince Edward Island. Tom waved them off. He later told Philippa that he had had a dream that night where he saw his initials carved into a tree with someone elses and a big heart around them. “What were the other initials?” she asked “It was M” he said. Which left us none the wiser.

 

We dusted off the bikes and set off for a trailhead to the coast which was a couple of miles away. Our first sight of the sea was a shallow lagoon lined with a carpet of mussel and clam shells. We walked out onto a sandbar which was becoming an island when we got back to the beach as the tide was coming in fast. We clambered over big rocks and had a picnic watching breakers crash just below us. The Pres had done exactly this walk a couple of weeks before and I hope it was a day like this – blue and blowy with dazzling sunshine and brilliant white spray thrown up by the waves.

 

 

We biked on further to Bass Harbor for a drink at a cafe overlooking the water. We could have stayed all afternoon, but we’d had lunch and it was too early for supper so we dropped our bikes at the campground and caught the free shuttle bus to another trail. This one went steeply up through a tangle of tree roots and rocks before coming out at a great overlook next to Somers Sound which is apparently the only fjord on the easter seaboard, though I am not exactly sure what that means. Below us a good sized yact was heeled way over in the wind and the deep blue bay was a mass of little white boats. Its a grand spot.

The shuttle bus took us back to the campground and supper and a movie and another day to come in Acadia. All is completely quiet around us. Where did I put my guitar…

 

Acadia National Park Maine. Mile 3732

President Obama and family were here a couple of weeks ago, but I doubt they would have had to listen to the guy across the campground from us playing his guitar and leading the singalong for quite as long as we have. Had we been the First Family, I imagine a nondescript but athletic individual with an earpiece would have gone over and made it a matter of national security. I’m not against three middle aged people regaling the neighbours with their rendition of “Back in the USSR” – we’ve all done it – but after a couple of hours I am looking for my gun. Harvey actually has a gun cupboard with a lock, but we keep books in it and I’m not sure that runnng out brandishing “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay” would have the same effect. Actually it might…

It didn’t.

Anyway. So now we are deep into America, having persuaded the border police that nothing they had read about us was true. It was a pleasant enough crossing – if a little complicated and requiring a lot of paperwork and questions. We crossed into Calais, which is a border we are familiar with in France, where it is pronounced Calay, but in Maine it is Callas.

On the Canadian side of the river the town is St Stephen and it feels like a border town somehow. I wonder what it would feel like if you didn’t know it was a border town? But you do, with direction signs on the main street saying “USA, left turn” and shops advertising that they take both kinds of dollars. There was a busyness to the place that wasn’t justified by anything other than its location.

Before we crossed the border we used up our remaining Canadian cash at a Tim Horton’s, which we have passed a million times since entering Canada and never stopped at because of a misplaced snobbery that they were some kind of Canadian McDonalds, Oh no. Nancy in Halifax put us right on that one. They also serve great coffee in a range of civilised sizes so you don’t have to get a bucketful of the stuff AND they sell terrific pastries and donuts and again you can get little mouthful-sized things if you want for less than a dollar. Why on earth didn’t we come here before?

Having used up our $9.29 with the bemused server (“Hi, we want to spend $9.29. What shall we have?”) we turned left for the USA and joined the queue over the bridge into America. The entry point was a bit like a tollbooth, but we pulled over and went into the old customs house now serving as a border post. Though doubtless equipped with the latest state of the art everything it was also a rather homely sort of place with chipped formica counters and old metal file drawers with the officer’s names on, which some had decorated with pictures of their kids. There was none of the sullen irritation found in Dulles or JFK here, but a willingness to help and actually a very friendly officer who dealt with Philippa, and beamed when talking about his young son. “Welcome back” he said – and meant it.

At this point, the front of the GMC was in the US while the back was in Canada

While were there an officer ran in and said “call 911, there’s a van on fire out here!” and he pointed in the direction of Harvey. I felt an icy lump form in my stomach and ran out to see that actually there was smoke pouring from under a minivan on the other side of Harv. The owner was pulling into the petrol station and his wiring had got a bit too hot. The smoking soon stopped, the fire brigade arrived and we went on our way into Maine.

They call this bit of Maine “Down East”. Its not very touristy and not particularly prosperous. We passed endless grocery stores up for sale or falling down; a “Dairy Dreams” snack bar with its roof falling in, next to a house looking blindly through boarded up windows. Occasionally we saw people by the road selling things from trestle tables – clothes mostly. The road varied between newly-laid fresh black asphalt and ancient rotting tarmac creased by the sun and the cold and crumbling away at the edges. I drove right down the middle for as much as I could.

In East Machias we saw a restaurant with tables outside covered in dazzling white tablecloths. Lots of cars were parked by the road and we joined them  but found that the restaurant was closed and there was a wedding going on. From the road we looked down a grassy bank to a simple wooden arbor made of birch poles where we could hear the bride and groom saying their vows. It was a lovely little scene.

“But what did you do about lunch”? I hear you ask. Well thanks for your concern. We had lunch at Helen’s Restaurant in Machias three miles further on, and it was excellent, since you asked. Philippa had a succulent lobster roll and I had a Haddock sandwich (“our best selling item!”) composed of freshest, whitest, moistest, and best cooked piece of fish I think I have had on this whole trip.

Across the road was a travelling funfair manned by bored hispanics with no English. But Tom learned how to work a dodgem car and during those five minutes went from cross-faced “this was a waste of money I can’t make it work” to bouncing with excitement “thiswasbrilliantmyabsolutefavourite”. He also went on the whirling saucers twice and wanted to keep going. Philippa and I felt dizzy watching.

 

And back on Highway 1, winding through canyons of trees almost up the road’s edge until we reached Acadia. Its a big park and not quite as either of us had imagined. We were expecting untrammelled wilderness but its actually collection of very pretty villages, surrounded by craggy shoreline and modest mountains carefully arranged to look gorgeous.

We shall explore tomorrow and Tom has promised to wait until 8 before going to find Sophia who is camping a couple of sites down and is six, going on, ooh at least eight. She marched over to us all blond hair and confidence as we were sitting outside and swept Tom away. They played together until it was dark and I think he is a bit smitten.

St Andrews, New Brunswick. Mile 3575

Philippa and I snuck out into the dark last night and craned our necks skywards looking for meteors. The sky was cold, clear and sparkling and it took a while but we both saw flashes of light shooting towards the horizon.  Tom has a bit of a thing about meteorites and believes that at any moment we could all be wiped out by one. He is right of course, but its hard to explain to a seven year old that its not really worth worrying about. He was deeply asleep by the time the Perseids appeared, and I don’t know whether they would have eased his fears or fanned them.

It was chilly when we got up for the ferry this morning and I turned on the heating while we staggered about yawning. We threw on some clothes, drove 3 miles to the ferry terminal, got boarding passes, got in line and had breakfast in the GMC. So civilised.

It seemed to be mostly holiday traffic; several RVs, a few trucks and a lot of Harleys with owners wearing Harley Owner’s Club regalia from Maine. Nearly all seemed to be in their fifties, dressed up as rebels from the fifties. Its a three hour crossing to Saint John, New Brunswick in the Princess of Acadia which is a pretty sizeable ferry, able to carry 650 passengers and 155 cars. It also has a Starbucks, the first we have seen in weeks. Its been so nice to be in places overlooked by the Starbucks megalomania. That said, we both had lattes.

On deck it was sunny but freezing so we retired inside. There was free wifi for blogging, a Shrek movie on a big screen for Tom and a nice quiet crossing was had by all.

 

From a distance, Saint John appears to be under siege from industrialisation. It is surrounded by oil refineries and gravel processing plants and some kind of factory with giant chimneys belching grey smoke. I’m sure it has its lovely bits but we decided to press on down Route 1 on the coast. It felt a little alarming to be driving fast on a big highway after all this time pottering about.

We turned off at New River Beach, a provincial park of the type the Canadians are so good at. There was plenty of parking and toilets and a little cafe and a great big swathe of beach. When we got there the tide was so far out you could barely see it. We had lunch at a picnic table and when we went back to sit on the sand for a bit the water was already in. The beach was so shallow the tide must have raced across it. Tom did his usual civil engineering projects with a bucket and spade, and soon had a large sand-hole to sit in as the waves came further up the beach, carrying a thick mat of bladderwrack seaweed with it. Tom sat in his hole popping the air bladders as they were washed up to him. That’s what you do when you are seven.

A little scorched we pressed on with sea on one side of us and fir and pine woods on the other. An hour later we went south to sparkling St Andrews a touristy little place with a wide harbour. The main street is all brightly painted wood-framed shops and galleries with shingle roofs. We got an “overflow” site at the big campsite by the bay and cycled back in for supper on a sunny terrace overlooking the water. We cycled back through the streets of the main strip and found (again) a plethora of churches. There were three on one block each separated by a single house.

Its our last night in Canada. Tomorrow we will try out Philippa’s new visa at the border and make our way to Acadia National Park in Maine. O Canada, you have been great. Lovely landscapes and terrific people. Can I stay?

Digby, NS. Mile 3508

This was not a day to seize, more of a day to slide into. And that is what we did. A late breakfast outside, a bit of trampolining for Tom at the playground, a bit of tidying up and then a cheery farewell from Gloria and Vaughn and off we went to find out what we were going to do today. Whale Cove was a smashing little place with a great campground and we were sad to leave. I think we could have spent half our trip on Digby neck.

Just a few miles down the road was Sandy Cove, named of course after its burgeoning industrial belt and international airport. Or maybe it was the beautiful “sandy cove” with almost no-one on it, down a winding lane which petered out at an elderly jetty. We made for the beach with camp chairs and books and a bucket and spade and that was the day sorted.

The next few hours were taken up with sandcastle construction, reading, dozing, eating hamburgers for lunch made by Dad, more sandcastles, more reading and well, you get the idea. We all had too much sun and the sea was too cold to swim in but looked lovely.

The cove had one curious incident in its history. Sometime in the mid nineteenth century (accounts vary but between 1854 and 1866) a man in his twenties was found lying by the only rock in the sands (which is still there). Both his legs had been recently amputated above the knee, and were bandaged up. Beside him was a jug of water and a loaf of bread. He was taken in by various people in the surrounding villages and he lived there until 1912 without ever explaining who he was, where he had come from or what had happened to his legs. In fact he remained almost completely silent for the next sixty years. Early on he was thought to have suggested his name was Jerome and that he may have been from Trieste, but no-one ever really knew for sure. The best account I found of this mystery is here. It was rather eerie to look across to the rock and think about the story on such a sunny and carefree day.

Eventually we ambled back to Harv and got back on the main road along the Neck, headed for Digby. “How is Harvey these days?” I hear you ask. Driving better than ever in fact, thanks to his own spot of surgery, smooth and stable. On Paul’s advice in Halifax I switched to regular unleaded (from plus) and noticed no difference in power at all. We have had more questions about our GMC here in Nova Scotia than anywhere else, at petrol stations, campsites and on ferries people want to know about Harv. At the campsite in Digby the owner got us squared away and then said “that’s quite a rig you got there…” and asked the usual questions. Its so nice to drive in something that everyone smiles at.

We walked into the Digby harbourfront. Its a fairly plain little town with a handful of restaurants and what looks like a busy harbour. We had a plain little supper enlivened by the presence of a little cat, a stray rescued by the restaurant owner and getting used to people. The waitress said it wouldn’t let anyone pick it up, but it hopped up on me and went to sleep.

We walked back to the campground in the glow of the early evening. Tomorrow we have to be in the ferry line at 7am, at the end of the road about three miles away. A text message from my Mother says tonight is a good time to see meteor showers (the Perseids says Mr Google). A natural firework display to mark the end of a spectacular time in Nova Scotia.