At some point in one’s life, it is customary to take a cross-country road trip. Widely regarded as a “coming of age” experience, it appears that you cannot be considered a true American until you have gone through this literal rite of passage. Allow me to then point anyone gearing up for their own trek towards a less traditional trail than the commercialized Route 66. If you are looking for a different perspective and maybe don’t have as much time on your hands, I would highly recommend a good ol’ New England road trip.
Fade in on five 20-something year olds crammed into a Kia that I’d describe as cozy at its best, snug at its worse. Oh and our 6th passenger, a full-sized guitar. That first day leaving New Jersey, we headed towards the famous Lake George, the initial destination of our expedition. It is important to mention that New England has some very cheap rates for camping throughout its different states, and we took full advantage of this money-saving opportunity. Our first night was spent at a campsite near Lake George, roasting burgers and getting to know each other in the firelight. The next morning was spent exploring the town of Lake George itself, taking in the landscape and getting a feel of the local vibe. I would say that a couple of hours is sufficient, unless you also plan to swim, something that we declined to do in lieu of a much more adventurous option. We left Lake George (and my poor sunglasses) behind and drove on to a spot where we could kayak on the Hudson River. Given the time of day, there was no one else in the water and it felt like the entirety of the nature at hand belonged to us. The stream is much calmer than the Delaware and apart from the arm workout and a couple of overturned kayaking incidents, it was a remarkably peaceful experience.
I took the wheel for the next part of the drive towards our next stop: Burlington, Vermont. Little did we know that the route we chose required us to take a ferry from the state of New York to Vermont! Although confused at first, none of us were too upset by this phenomenon. We brought out our various guitars, ukuleles and harmonicas and serenaded (subjected) the rest of the ferry-goers with our musical stylings. We got to Vermont and checked into our rather cheap (yet with an indoor pool) motel and got ready for a night out on the town. The one main street in Burlington is Church St and there you can find anything to please your heart’s desire. We went for the bars and were not disappointed with the lively, open, and very mountain-y demeanor of each establishment we went to. Between a karaoke bar, a frat bar, and a bar with live music, the night would easily be chalked up as a success. The following day was much less packed than the previous, with a leisurely shopping and wandering goal set in everyone’s minds. We even stopped in at the Magic Hat brewery to sample beer and soak up some local claim to fame. Evening and the sunset was welcomed in on the beach of Lake Champlain with a couple of local friends and the night was then spent, yes you guessed it, camping! This was a very rough night of outside living simply because it rained almost the entire time but we managed, and we saved money. We hiked a trail in the Green Mountains in the morning and then headed off to our next point of interest.
The thing you need to know about New Hampshire is that there is basically no service there. Phone, data, all of it goes right out the window as the fresh air blows in. When a phone’s GPS stops working because the location from the satellite has been lost you know you’re in a connectivity dead zone. This is in stark contrast to all the luscious greenery and life that covers a large section of the state. In opposition to the Green Mountains of Vermont, the White Mountains of New Hampshire are significantly taller and more imposing. Covered almost entirely in pine trees, it makes for a very picturesque view while driving. We arrived in the evening to spend the night the most adorable motel imaginable. Instead of rooms we were delighted to find personal mini houses, painted in an array of vibrant colors, arranged in a half circle on a field surrounded by New Hampshire’s natural beauty. After a 45 minute drive to Applebee’s (not much else open at 930pm on a weekday in Gorham) we went to bed early so we’d be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed the next morning, ready to spend entire day doing outdoorsy activities. In the morning we left our motel and moved to a campground where we set up the site we’d be staying at for the night. This was a very wise move, which we now understood after the weathered experience of setting a tent up in the dark…twice. With our water bottles full and our sleeping arrangements settled, we drove off in search of a hike. We ended up climbing the Glen Boulder Trail. Although not the longest of trails, it still took us 7 hours there and back and rewarded us with some of the most spectacular views and crisp air I’ve ever witnessed. Afterwards the guys informed us that what we had climbed was one of the hardest trails. Those of us who were not aware of this fact beforehand were equally shocked and entirely willing to believe this was true. It was an effort, and it was definitely worth it. Camping that night consisted of watching stars and having deep talks about life and existence. Understandable considering the physical feat of the day and the encroaching end of the road trip and therefore summer.
I could really see myself living in Portland, Maine. I was almost robbed of the experience of spending even a night there because the gullible group of us didn’t realize we needed to book a room in advance on a Friday…that happened to be on labor day weekend. In our defense we had made all of our previous bookings the day of our check-in and had no problems but this was admittedly during the week. Regardless we eventually found a place while communally sharing some succulent lobster rolls and clam chowder. We got ready at our motel and decided to take an uber into town so that everyone could enjoy the night out. As it turned out, the first Friday of every month in Portland is a city-wide art fair. This may be part of the reason I fell in love with it so much. There were people selling jewelry, art, and wands, musicians playing for money in the street and just a generally joyful artistic vibe through the night. I ended up playing with a 10-person strong elderly ukulele ensemble and even putting in some solo time at a choice spot on the main walking street. We walked through the market and moved onto bar-hopping, during which we got to sample a solid amount of local live music and culture. It was unfortunate that only a day could be spent there, this is definitely one of the spots that I could’ve explored further. Sadly the next morning we headed all the way back home, with a short stop in Boston to break up the driving. Personally, after all the beauty and character of the places we’d seen throughout the week, Boston just did not cut it for me. It has its charm, but my heart has been stolen by the more northern New England states.
The road-trip in its entirety was an amazing experience for me. The atmosphere and attitude that I felt in New England was something that I’ve rarely felt on American soil before. There’s all the ambition and fast rhythm of the east coast, but people also actually smile and say hello to you. As someone who spends a lot of time in the lonely largeness of New York, this was a very pleasant change of pace. Now for some parting bits of newly gained wisdom! Firstly, it’s ok to have your trip only loosely planned. Pick your main destinations and attractions but don’t be afraid to keep it free flowing and open; a strict regiment will just stress you out when you have things like traffic, weather, and other people’s whims and desires to think about. Secondly, always set your tent up in advance or at least when it is light out. No discussion, it will save many a strain on your friendships and sanity. And lastly, try to get out of your comfort zone when taking such a trip. You’re in each place for so little time that you have soak it up! Hike that hardest trail, play music in the street and talk to every single sweet-smiling person you come across because those moments when you’re wondering what in the world is going on are going to be the ones you remember the most.