You may recall one of my previous blog posts in which I wrote about a proposed adventure into the northern woods of Maine and a jaunt through the Hew Hampshire and Vermont countrysides taking in the awesome breath taking scenery of their fall foliage. I also mentioned visiting historical Fort Ticonderoga in the New York Adirondacks Mountains followed by an adventurous Windjammer Cruise aboard the world’s oldest windjammer (sailing ship), The Lewis R French, out of Camden, Maine
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time
Fragment; “The Four Corners” by T.S. Eliot
One’s imagination always creates an idyllic scenario of absolute splendidness, No hiccups, no failures, and no disappointments. This blog post will be a play by play recount of the triumphs and tragedies of my two weeks away from home. I must apologize in advance for its length. I found it hard to compress a two week adventure into a 5 minute read.
First; I feel as if I’m Methuselah reborn in that I am now ancient and feeble and fragile by all accounts. Piddling around the house in Southwest Texas does not prepare oneself for climbing hills or scurrying along boulder strewn creeks or facing the blistering cold wind of the North Atlantic. Daydreaming is fun and exotic but reality actually sucks!
The initial drive from Maine into New Hampshire, Vermont and New York State was awesome. I spent a beautiful afternoon enjoying Fort Ticonderoga and Mount Defiance and the State Park. After leaving Fort Ticonderoga I proceeded north to cross Lake Champlain but decided to camp out at the New York State Park at the foot of the bridge. It was beautiful and I was prepared to spend several nights camping on my vacation. I paid my fee and bought some firewood and parked. I met my camping neighbors as they had a yellow lab and I was already missing mine.
The lady’s name was Sig and they were from upstate New York, she was a watercolor artist and we shared the pictures of our work on our cell phones. I am talkative and friendly and I think maybe obnoxiously so at times! I built my fire and made me a Cuba Libre (rum and coke) and enjoyed the fire late into the night. I then retired to my sleeping bag which I had laid out under this beautiful Maple Tree.
After a fitful and annoying overnight rest (you could not call it rest) I could barely walk the next day. The geese on Lake Champlain had honked all night just like my roosters crowing at home. I came to the conclusion that my body can no longer handle the cold hard ground. I wish I had gotten drunk but then I would have been hung over as well as sore and non-mobile. I was pitiful and dead tired the whole next day and all I wanted was a bed in a motel. It was then I decided there would be no more camping.
I had fantasized about stopping at one of these beautiful streams and doing some fly fishing. I had prepared and brought my foldable fly rod and reel and waited till I got back into Maine to buy my fishing license. I found that there were ample streams enough to fish but that I was now an old man. My attempts to just get to the water were feeble. I no longer have the balance. I mainly slid on my butt downhill and crawled and clawed my way back up using every available branch to hoist myself. I can no longer jump agilely from rock to rock or boulder to boulder without fear of falling and springing or breaking some bone. My second heartache: I gave up trying to fly fish.
On a happier note, even though I had given up camping and fly-fishing, there were still the people I met. I always looked for a roadside diner to stop at and eat breakfast or lunch. This was the epitome of my trip. I found diners that weren’t commercial or glitzy. I wanted dives with lots of cars and locals doing their everyday thing. They all eyed you as you walked in and certainly recognized you as a stranger. The girls would take my order and sure enough would say” you aren’t from around here are you?” I would tease and flirt and use the terms sugar and mam and they were delighted. In a few moments I felt at home and among friends. If the waitresses like you then you are accepted and given no more concern.
I would say these encounters were the highlights of my vacation. The girls would ask” do you want home fries” I would reply no and explain I couldn’t eat all of that. They would say “that’s alright Hon, they come with your order, and if you don’t eat them, then my chickens will”
I traveled through the White Mountains which were beautiful. Even though the fall foliage had not happened at the lower altitudes they were brilliant at the higher altitudes. I saw lots of wild turkey and a dead moose on the side of the road. I traveled up towards Quebec, Canada until I could no longer find an English speaking radio station and then turned south. I drove thru all the backcountry with all its lakes and winter ski lodges. Note! There are no speed limits higher than 55 mph in Maine, too hilly and too many animals crossing the roads. An average speed was about 35 mph.
I finally ran into US Highway One and started south towards Camden. It began raining so I stopped early that day at the farthest point east in the USA, Point Lubec, Maine. It was here that I met a covey of young ladies from Romania and Bulgaria. They were in the USA on work visas I suppose( I didn't ask). I was amazed at their work ethic and intelligence. All of them could speak at least four languages; Romanian, Russian, German and English. We chatted all afternoon in the restaurant, I ate some fresh fish stew made with Haddock (a fish). I watched the people in the evening eating clams and lobsters and something called “wrinkles” (steamed snails). The next morning I was on the pier opposite the lighthouse and witnessed the sun come up. I was alone so I suppose I was the first person in the USA to witness the sunrise. I have now been to the farthest points of the USA at all compass points. I’ve been to Point Barrow, Alaska(north), Point Lubec, Maine(east), Brownsville Texas(south) and I’m not sure about west but I’ve been to Attu( the farthest Island in the Aleutian Islands and Hawaii, Guam and Midway Island, so I must have met that criteria as well.
I followed the coast and took in all the little ports and fishing villages looking for Cabot Cove (Murder She Wrote) but of course it’s fictional. I noticed hundreds of apple trees with their fruit on the ground. I guess no one likes Maine apples.
I noticed every house had stacked firewood but no chimneys. I was curious so I struck up a conversation with this old gentleman while eating breakfast at a diner (he was the only democrat I met (union man retired from a factory). He explained that everyone had stoves in their homes that radiated heat instead of it going up the chimney. I asked about the logs I saw in people’s yards and asked about the wood pellets for sale. He explained that the cheapest wood was logs that were delivered of which you yourself cut and split, split kindling costs more and the wood pellets were even more expensive but that you had to have a special stove to burn the wood pellets, something about an auger. Of course his Maine accent described a cord of wood as a “carde of kin-ling”.
I had miscalculated about the coastal route and arrived in Camden, Maine two days before my cruise. I found a nice roadside Inn and went to church that Sunday and met some lovely people but most especially a World War Two veteran, named Paul Marshall. I thanked him for his service and we sat together in church. He had been a medic in the Army from D-Day until the surrender of Germany and was preparing to be sent to the Pacific when that war ended. He later became a missionary to the Island of Truk in Micronesia. He founded a high school there and devoted his life to it until it closed. He then returned to the states and became an ordained minister in the Methodist Church until he retired. He had written a book called” A Maine Boy Goes to War and the Story of Mizpah” I offered to buy a copy for his asking price of $29.95 but didn’t have the correct change so I gave him my 2016 silver dollar which I carry. He seemed surprised and gladdened and I felt a twinge also. You never know who you will meet or be they angels unawares. I will always remember him.
Now we approach the tragedy of my vacation. I spent my two days shopping and sightseeing between Rockland, Rockport and Camden, Maine. I frequented the local pubs and breweries and ate at different establishments that the desk manager at my motel recommended. I have traveled the world and I am too careful to become sick or come down with any digestive vulgarities but that is exactly what happened. I don’t drink local water, I drink beer and cokes. I don’t eat salads or anything raw. I eat cooked food and I have medicines to plug me up and break me loose. I am a professional traveler. I am here to tell you I got something horrible: run-away diarrhea, gut wrenching explosive diarrhea. I have critiqued every meal and every fluid I drank and can’t arrive at a source. It could only have been some ice in an iced tea I drank or some undercooked lobster or the greens on a subway sandwich. I was hurting so bad I went to a Walk-in-Clinic the day before my cruise and begged. All they told me was that I could go to the ER or start a regime of Imodium or Kaopectate.I didn’t even consider going to the ER for diarrhea so I bought the Imodium and gritted my teeth.
No matter what I ate my stomach cramped so I resigned myself to crackers and gator aid and beer as I was able to tolerate. Carbonation did not feel well. I reported to and boarded my ship and got orientated making sure I knew where the toilets were. We got underway and I was determined I could out last the demonic possession that was living in my entrails. There were two toilets on board and they were both topside (above deck) All of our cabins were below deck so you might be visioning my dilemma by now. HA, HA!
The actual sailing under sail was beautiful and exhilarating. We hoisted sails (the passengers were the crew). We tacked into the wind and I heard the creaking of the hull and the slap of the canvas. The captain cheated a little each night when we approached a leeward lagoon to anchor in. He would put this little motorized boat( yawl boat?) over the side at the stern and we would drop sail and furl them as he motored his way into the cove using the big ship’s rudder. I suppose it’s easier than rowing in, pulling the ship behind you. The nights were beautiful and clear but cold. We all went topside and watched the Space Station pass over us. At that latitude the Big Dipper is directly overhead instead of on the horizon. We could see the Milky Way and I was happy to again see a truly dark sky. All we had for light were some kerosene lanterns.
I must mention my cabin if you dare call it that. I was alone and unaccompanied so my cabin was a broom closet. Truly! My mop closet and deep sink at home were bigger than my cabin. I literally had to sit on my bed and put my foot on the wall to tie my shoelaces. Only half my bed protruded from under the deck. They gave us a fitted sheet, a regular sheet and three wool blankets. Remember there is no heat on this vessel except for the galley and its wood stove. I did have two dim lights in my cabin but my flashlight worked better especially during my frequent forays to the toilets. Making my bed was hilarious because I had to crawl into this hole to fit my sheets and blankets at the foot of my bed and nearly couldn’t extract myself from this spelunker’s nightmare.
I was completely frustrated and cold the first night because nothing stayed covered. The next morning I carried my linens topside and spread them out on deck in proper order then rolled them up and carried them below and unrolled them properly and thus ingeniously solved one problem.
My most embarrassing moments were my frequent sorties to the toilets. Most of them were false alarms and I just sat on the toilet and cramped in misery. The problem was the first mate (Danna) slept in her sleeping bag beside the hatch I emerged from frequently during the night. We became quite acquainted as I would wake her and say "it’s just me again". One night both toilets were occupied and I had to pinch it in and wait. To no avail, when I finally gained admission it was too late. I had shit myself and toilet seat, backside and about everywhere else and spent about an hour cleaning up the horrible mess not mentioning throwing my underwear over the side and hand washing the crotch of my long john underwear. I was so miserable but I’m tough and determined. There is a word for this: longanimity(forbearance and endurance)
The people on board were all interesting. We had two sisters from Brisbane, Australia (one went swimming-59 degree water). We had a Physicist from New Zealand who was interested in celestial navigation and brought his sextant with him and explained its use. We had a lady and her brother; she was from Key West, Fla and he was from Minnesota, she was friendly and we had chickens in common, her brother seemed a little dysfunctional but I didn’t inquire. We had a married couple from Dallas-Fort Worth area. She read a lot and he got a little sick like with a cold. We had another old southern gentleman and his wife and I talked with him at length about hunting and fishing. We had a gay couple( I think) (girls) one was elite and authoritarian and spoke with a Cape Cod affluent accent and the other didn’t look too pleased and was a recluse most of the trip. There was another older couple who were in the cabin next to me who just fussed at each other continuously but it was their nature and sort of funny. I watched him eat four lobsters at our lobster bake and I think he said this was his third cruise on the same ship (maybe he came just for the lobster). There was also a young single lady from Ohio State Univ.
The crew was affable enough. The captain was married with two young children, his first mate (Danna) was this tiny little girl who impressed me so much. She was cute and didn’t weigh 100 lbs. but tom boyish to no end. She hauled on ropes and went topside into the rigging and unfurled our topsails. At the lobster bake she took off her boots and rolled up her pants legs and she had long hair on her legs and looked as if she had never worn a dress or had a pedicure but boy did she work. There were also two other girls that made up the crew, the cook and an assistant deckhand. All total we had four crew members and 21 passengers. Now can you understand the toilet dilemma?
I must mention with some degree of chagrin the ancient windlass we had on board. It was over 100 years old. A windlass is a contrivance by which one raises an anchor. This windlass did it one chain link at a time. We had three men to a side hand pumping this device like one using an old water pump or the old hand pumped railroad car. It was horrible! It sapped our strength completely with some falling out and some of the women helping (the Australian sisters were no slackers) All of those that caught duty on this apparatus learned to hate it. EXHAUSTING!( but memorable)
My cruise ended and I proceeded to Portland to catch my flights home. At least I had some privacy in a bathroom at last (at the Motel) and I took a tub bath and soaked. Five days without a shower is another misnomer. I was still miserable and suffering with my stomach upheavals. I cramped from Portland to Charlotte and from Charlotte to Dallas Fort Worth. I was delayed in DFW for four hours so I drank three double martinis and all of the sudden I felt normal (Alcohol is GOOD!)
I am at home now and after a week and two bottles of Kaopectate, I feel almost normal but my face peeled from wind burn. In summation, what I saw and the people I met was absolutely wonderful. If you are along in years, as I am, I suggest not taking a Maine Windjammer Cruise( it's hard and rough but memorable) and watch what you eat. I keep pondering where I got sick and it's a mystery. It might have been the cantaloupe?