While working a contract in Rhode Island we decided we wanted to explore a few more of the New England states. We found a stretch of 6 days off in my schedule and started making plans. We pulled out of the campground that we had been staying at, leaving the van, motorcycle, and outside toys still sitting at the site, and headed north. We passed through Massachusetts and crossed into New Hampshire. Our first stop was the USS Albacore, a retired research submarine in Portsmouth, NH. As we walked around and through the vessel we stopped to listen to audio recordings detailing the design, use, and life aboard the vessel. While it never was directly involved in any conflicts, nor did it carry any armaments, this vessel pioneered a number of technologies that were later integrated into US naval vessels and submarines. The kids enjoyed crawling around on the submarine and Heather was amazed at just how tight the living quarters were aboard. Since she now had a decent baby bump, it was entertaining watching her try to navigate the passageways. The normal instinct to turn sideways to fit through narrow passageways actually made her wider, not more narrow, so she kind of half-turned and wiggled through on an angle.
Our next stop was Portland, Maine. We pulled in to a nice little campground hidden in the woods and set up camp for what would be two nights. The weather was cool but pleasant, and slightly overcast. We called it an early evening due to the fact that I had worked the night before at the hospital and was still awake some 20+ hours later. It is noteworthy to mention that this was the largest RV site we have ever had. Yes, the entire area pictured was our site!
The next morning we arose, feeling much more rested, and headed off to the Maine Maritime Museum in Bath, ME. The museum is built on the site of an old wooden ship-building yard. While some buildings remain, many have succumbed to fire, weather, or being torn down for one reason or another. The tour guides were very knowledgeable, and we enjoyed our visit learning about the art of ship-building. They even had a kid’s program that allowed our two little ones to hammer, drill, sew sails, and caulk boards along the tour, which kept them engaged.
On our way down the street from the Maritime Museum we passed the new shipbuilding yards full of steel commercial vessels and one slate gray US Navy vessel nearing completion. After leaving Bath, we explored downtown Portland for a while, and finished the day by eating local seafood at a restaurant aboard an old Riverboat, now permanently docked (but still floating) in the Portland harbor. As seafood goes, our dinner was more expensive than I would opt for on any regular night, but I figured it may be a long time until we get to have such an experience again.
The next morning we headed off again, this time across the state line to upstate New Hampshire to the town of Conway, NH. There we boarded a vintage train pulled by a diesel-electric engine and started up the tracks towards the Crawford Notch State Park and White Mountain National Forest. It was cool drizzly day, but we enjoyed the scenic views up and down the valley as we click-clacked up the track. On the back of the train, instead of a caboose, was an open-air car that we sat in for about half an hour and experienced the damp smells of the forest as we traveled along. Since it was fairly cool for our sun-loving family, we opted for some hot chocolate from the train snack bar. Our ride arrived at the turn-around point and we were allowed to roam the National Forest for an hour. We took a hike around Crawford Lake and explored a bit into the woods before re-boarding the train for our descent down the valley and back to Conway.
After our train ride had completed we drove a few minutes down the road to Diana’s Bath, a natural series of waterfalls and pools in the White Mountain National Forest. Against my initial objections, Heather convinced me to hike (in the rain) 1.5 miles into the forest to the falls. Once there Heather and the kids took off their shoes and waded into the cold water and played amongst the boulders. We spent over an hour exploring the falls before returning to the truck and heading back to Portland, ME.
The following day we hitched up the fifth wheel and pulled out of ME headed for Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream Factory in Waterbury, VT. While there we saw the famous Ben & Jerry’s cows, the production facility including a tour, and got a free sample of an ice cream test flavor that has not been released to the general public. We, of course, could not leave having only eaten a free sample, so we ordered a Mini Vermonster which entails 4 scoops of ice cream, whipped topping, nuts, sprinkles, chocolate and caramel syrups, a banana, chocolate chip cookie pieces, M&Ms, and brownie bites. So, it is basically a diabetic’s worst nightmare. We split this bucket of sugar-laden treat between the four of us, and it was still enough to give us all a sugar buzz for the next hour or so.
We toured the ‘Flavor Graveyard’ of retired B&J flavors, and the kids had fun creating spin art (spin white paper on electric platform and drop colored paint onto the paper creating neat swirl designs). I was also impressed at the size of the solar farm that was present on the grounds. I know B&J tout that they are an environmentally-friendly company, but they certainly back it up when you see the rows of solar panels to help reduce their electrical needs.
From B&J’s we traveled just a 5 miles down the road to Cold Hollow Cider Mill which is also in Waterbury, VT. The smell of cinnamon and apple greeted us at the front doors, which was very pleasant. We watched a video about the cider press operations, and would have been able to see at least some of the process in action behind glass panels, except that it was a weekend, and the production line was closed down. We tasted fresh-pressed apple cider from a large steel holding tank and purchased a dozen apple donuts, which had come highly recommended from some coworkers at the hospital. The donuts were all of 3 minutes old as we were able to see them from batter to donut along the fryer conveyor separated from us by only a sheet of plexi-glass. They were very good. While there we also purchased a gallon of cider. The nice thing about towing your fifth wheel with you is that the cider went straight into the fridge instead of riding on the floor of the truck cab until we got back to our campground.
That evening we were planning to stay at a campground in Waterbury, but since it was raining and gloomy, and we really wouldn’t have done any additional exploring, we opted to bypass the campground, cancel our reservation by phone, and started the trip back to our regular campground in RI. We figured we would grab some dinner along the way whenever we got hungry. Well, let me tell you that between Waterbury VT and Providence RI, and without going too far off the freeway in search of small towns, there are exactly ZERO restaurants along the freeway. We were surrounded by trees, and trees alone. I knew that Vermont and New Hampshire are somewhere around 75% forest, but never have I seen such a void of civilization as we experienced that evening. Sure we could have stopped anywhere along the route and used the gas range to cook ourselves some dinner, but we were more wanting to simply grab something; and without the generator with us, using the microwave was not an option. We ended up making the entire trip back to Providence and got takeout Chinese food from a place just down the road from our campground at 10:00pm.
We were not thrilled at the prospect of trying to back the fifth wheel into our site in the dark and in the rain, so we opted to spend the night in a strip mall parking lot across the street from the Chinese restaurant so we could park the RV in the daylight the next morning. This would make the second night we had spent in that particular lot, and thereafter the kids would comment as we drove past it in the future that “right there is where we slept in the RV”. I guess we are making memories…one parking lot at a time.