It sounds like a dream come true, right? Freedom, adventure, new friends… What could go wrong?
Unlimited Cell Service? Psssshhh.
After discovering that the middle of Maine was a dead zone (at least for me), I took to hand writing my directions before entering unknown territory. Luckily, the impressively eclectic radio stations provided the perfect soundtrack for my 90s-style, Google maps-less travel. (Rant for another day: Why does New York City radio have the most monochromatic music on the face of the planet?)
“Fully Equipped Kitchen” Means Very Different Things to Different People
If you’re planning to do any cooking on the road, and assuming your lodging (mostly AirBnbs, in my case) will come equipped with certain basics as described — think again. Here are some common items missing in one or all of my AirBnb kitchens: Ice cube trays, wine opener, strainer (colander), dishwasher soap/cleaner, pot large enough for boiling pasta, curtains (ahem), and spatula.
You’re Going to Spend More Money Than You Think You Are
As a [former] project manager, I’m ashamed to admit that I didn’t fully acknowledge the ‘over deadline, over budget’ mantra that accompanies so many projects – including road trip ones. Besides ALL THE GASOLINE, unplanned expenditures are bound to crop up almost daily. Like, oh, I don’t know, duty charges on your case of wine, forgetting your dog’s kibble and discovering he’ll accept no substitutions apart from homemade people food, and ice cube trays/spatulas/THINGS ANY NORMAL KITCHEN SHOULD HAVE.
But lest you think road travel is all a pile of tears…
Most People Are Mostly Nice. Really Nice.
By far the best part of traveling alone is forcing yourself to rely on the kindness of others. Rarely did I find anyone who wasn’t more than willing to offer the insider scoop, their washer/dryer, or just a general helping hand. I’m headed back to New Jersey with friendships and experiences I never would have had were I to stay inside my comfort zone.
And isn’t that the whole point?
Next time, though? I’m bringing my $%&*@! colander.
Have you ever road tripped? Was it what you expected?
I know this because, despite being a New Jersey native, I’m spending most of April in one of my favorite states.
I can do this because I quit my job and now my life is filled with rampant lawlessness.
When I arrived in rural Maine, intending to volunteer on a friend’s farm sanctuary for two weeks, I didn’t immediately realize my cell signal had given out. A half hour earlier.
I diligently followed my friend’s instructions to “look for the next driveway after the sanctuary’s entrance,” where my cabin was located. Instead I saw train tracks and a sign that read, “Pavement ends.”
Being from what you might call a New York City suburb, I interpreted that to mean, “TURN YOUR CAKE ASS AROUND, JERSEY.” I did so happily, heading back towards the sanctuary’s driveway instead.
“Mud season” wasn’t just a cute saying. My non-all wheel drive sedan squealed for mercy as I attempted to haul her up the hill.
“Oh my GAWD are you f*@#&$ kidding me?” I imagined her saying. “I am sooooo going to need a pedicure after this.”
I had gotten AAA before the trip, though, and felt cavalier mildly confident. (Until later, when I realized I wouldn’t have even been able to call AAA if I HAD gotten stuck.)
Once I made it to the sanctuary, the owner looked confused. I explained that I couldn’t find the cabin. Apparently I was supposed to charge past the “Pavement ends” warning and go another mile or so to “the next driveway.” I felt silly explaining that in Jersey terms, “the next driveway” is usually measured in feet. Sometimes inches. I kept quiet and accepted her gracious offer to lead me there – something I knew she didn’t have time for.
Running a farm sanctuary is No. Joke.
“Thank you so much. Just a warning that I’m going to keep a safe distance from you going downhill.”
She smiled knowingly, casting a glance at my mud-spattered pansy car.
We soon reached the small cabin, which was clean and well lit, warm from gas heat and equipped with the basics. Except internet. Which, I quickly began to realize, was going to throw a wrench into this whoooole plan. I checked my phone; still no service whatsoever.
“This mayyyy be a problem,” I said, feeling the panic start to rise in my throat, the extent of my remote location settling in.
Let me just text… No.
Let me just look up the nearest… No.
Let me just check the weather for tomorrow and… No.
I waited until she left to execute what would come to be the first of many, many strategies to try to make the next couple of weeks work out.
I’m just going to drive towards a town, and see when my service picks up. I didn’t even bother unpacking, just loaded Uncle Jesse (the dog) back in the car. As I made the first turn, my stomach flip-flopped, trying to memorize my surroundings. Holy god I miss Google maps. The sun would set in less than an hour, so after just a few minutes, I decided to give up and turn around in a church parking lot. The last thing I wanted to do was make the situation worse by getting lost.
As I did a U-turn, I noticed the church’s sign.
I decided to go back to the sanctuary -walking from the bottom of the driveway this time- and borrow someone’s phone to let my family know I had arrived safely. A volunteer was sorting vegetables and happy to offer her phone, so after I successfully texted Babs (mom), I helped sort produce for the next couple of hours, chatting and feeding Uncle Jesse stray bits of cauliflower.
Thankfully, my phone still worked as a flashlight, and we made it back to the car and our cabin. It was pitch black. As I unpacked the car, I caught a glimpse of the stars twinkling brightly – the way they only could when not overpowered by street lamps and cramped houses. I stood still, and for the first time in hours, took a deep breath.
Maybe this will all work out…
I finished unpacking, popped some potatoes in the little oven for Uncle Jesse, and cracked open a bottle of wine, deciding to make the most of my off-grid night. I’d sort out my phone issues in the morning.
Fast forward two days, and my phone -even with a new, more expensive carrier- still wasn’t working. Nor were my pseudo, DSW-purchased “muck boots,” which I managed to puncture by repeatedly tripping on a sharp rock while cleaning the rabbit houses.
Every two minutes, I thought of some reason I needed to use my phone, or get online. Upcoming bills I had to pay, friends with momentous events I had planned to check in on, ASMR videos on YouTube I needed to watch, travel plans I’d yet to make…
Shame washed over me in endless, sickening waves. I am so fu@*#^% soft. Here I thought, with my tiny living and frugal spending, I’d become so flexible! So strong! So adaptable! But 48 hours without a phone broke me, and after Sunday’s full work day, I fled back to my comfort zone, checking into a pet-friendly motel 90 minutes south, in one of my favorite parts of Maine.
“Does the dial go all the way up to ‘donkey’?” I asked Darla when I stopped by the next day to do laundry.
How would you fare if you were unexpectedly off-grid?
When I pulled up to my rental cottage in northern Maine this past weekend, I let out out a sigh of relief. Ten hours in the car with a distressed Labradoodle, two wrong turns, and a long, steep decent via gravel road had been worth it.
I had booked the cottage nearly nine months earlier, anticipating my summer residency, a week-long retreat required as part of my Humane Education Masters degree program. (YES, it’s a THING.)
I knew after nine-hour days of singing Kumbaya and braiding my cohorts’ armpit hair, this New Jersey native and closet introvert was going to need some alone time.
I arrived at my little rustic gem with a view and, per the check-in instructions, headed straight for what I thought was the front door. “Doors will be unlocked,” the instructions read. “The key will be inside in an obvious location. Should you need a spare, it will be under the back doormat.”
I jiggled the handle. The deadbolt, apparently, was working overtime.
I jumped from foot to foot, having had to pee for what felt like 127 hours.
I walked around the side of the cottage and saw another door. “Ah, of course,” I said to myself. “This must be it.” I turned the handle and once again – door locks working the night shift.
My bladder screamed as I tried both doors again. I checked and rechecked under both doormats. Uncle Jesse, my dog, bounced around me as if to say, “Is it time to go back to Jersey yet?”
I groaned loudly and walked back to my car to retrieve the check-in instructions. I called all four numbers listed on the paper and not a single person answered. My bathroom situation went from a slightly unpleasant Kevin Costner film to Waterworld.
I looked around surreptitiously. People were sitting on the porch at the house to the left, but they were almost entirely shrouded by trees. The house at the top of the hill had a partially obstructed view of Fort Knox my cottage, but, maybe no one was home?
There was no time left to wonder. I grabbed a battered box of tissues from my car and tiptoed to the side of the cottage. With one more wary glance up the hill, I said, “F*ck it,” and, well.
The relief was as sublime as the view. I was a woman on a mission now. After wrestling with several ancient windows held secure by what I think were pine tree shivs, I managed to pry one open.
I climbed inside, unlocked both doors, and started unloading my overstuffed car when I saw a man walking down the gravel driveway. He looked like a cross between a young(ish) Jeff Bridges and a basket handwoven by fruitarians.
I gave a shy hello, crusted in sweat, shame and ten hours of car funk, assuming he was headed towards the small staircase that led to the coastline.
As he neared, it started to feel increasingly awkward. Maybe he was one of the numbers I’d just called? I took a few steps forward and held out my hand.
“Hi…. I’m Jules. …I’m renting the cottage for the week…?”
“I just happened to notice you pull up,” he said. “I live in the black and tan house that’s shaped like a teepee built in 1971 by a blind nudist colony.” He pointed up the hill, his long brown locks swaying in the breeze.
“Oh, yeah, so,” I stammered. Holy hell. He saw…everything. “I couldn’t find the key and no one answered the emergency number, so, I peed my brains out on the lawn and climbed in through the window…”
“I think I know where the key is,” he said without missing a beat. He headed towards the porch and knelt down by a crack in the wooden staircase. “The owner was just here two days ago.” He handed me a small silver key. “Want to give this a try?”
“Wow,” I said sarcastically. “I feel really secure now.”
He laughed and waited for me to try the key, making small talk about my dog and having once lived in New Jersey. Rattled, I tried to shake him off, and he soon headed down the stairs towards the water, as if that had been his plan all along.
Last Sunday, the stars aligned and three bloggy universes collided (much like my car with many, many rocks and trees).
Peg (Peg-o-Leg’s Ramblings), Darla (She’s A Maineiac) and I stumbled across each other’s blogs eons ago, back when we were still trying to figure out how you posted the whosewhatsit up by the whatchamathingy. I’d been lucky enough to hang out with Darla before, but this time we upped the ante and met Peg in Portland, where she was visiting with family.
Any Catfish fan knows that meeting an online friend can go terribly, awfully, heinously awry – but not with these two. They’re every bit as hilarious, warmhearted and adorable as their words. Last weekend we were just a gaggle of blogging vets, inhabiting the same fresh Maine air, trying to fit four years worth of conversation into two short hours.
In fact, rather than try to cram all of the goodness into one post, I think I’ll let the two of them explain the rest. (Click on their logos below to check out all of the great things they have to say about me their accounts of our meet-up!)
When I got a dog, I vowed never to leave him home alone for more than a half a day, tops. “It’s not fair to him,” I said. “I’ll be his whole world, the side pony to his elastic hair band, the ‘stache to his wet nose, the Kelly Kapowski to his Zack Morris.”
And for the past six and a half years, I’ve been pretty successful.
This week, I took my dog with me on a trip to Maine, and for the most part, the scene out and about has looked like this:
RANDOM PASSERBY 1: Is that a Labradoodle?
RANDOM PASSERBY 1: What’s her name?
ME: His name is Uncle Jesse.
RANDOM PASSERBY 1 (smiling): Dukes of Hazard?
ME: Full House.
RANDOM PASSERBY 2: Adorable!
ME: Thank you!
RANDOM PASSERBY 2: Is she a puppy?
ME: Nope, he’s six.
RANDOM PASSERBY 2: Wow, she looks like a puppy.
RANDOM PASSERBY 3: Oh my god. She’s so cute.
(Repeat above to infinity.)
On Wednesday, I took Uncle Jesse to Jordon Pond in Acadia National Park, and just as we set foot on the trail, a shout stopped us.
“Hey! Hey! Can I see your dog?”
A thin, middle-aged man took his foot out of a red kayak and jogged over.
No! Shut your eyes and turn around, madman! I thought.
Uncle Jesse squatted and pooped.
“Goldendoodle?” the man asked.
“I have a Goldendoodle. I couldn’t bring her today because I’m going kayaking.”
“Yeah… well… that makes sense,” I offered.
“Here, let me show you a picture.”
Kayak Man pulled out his phone and took three minutes to bring up a blurry photo of a giant Goldendoodle in front of a tent.
A park ranger who’d been within earshot approached. He stared at Uncle Jesse.
We were originally going to go Friday-Sunday, but decided to leave on Thursday afternoon so we’d have a full day with Darla while her two adorable kiddos were in school.
Without traffic, it’s a 6 hour drive from New Jersey.
We took Rachel’s car, agreeing to split the driving time. Did I mention her car is new? And if there’s a pothole, I’ll hit it?
Somewhere between New York and Connecticut, we (and by we I mean me) hit 37 potholes. And I’m not talking little divots in the pavement.
On Rachel’s high-tech dashboard, we watched the air pressure in the driver’s side tire plummet.
By the time we reached Boxborough, Massachusetts, we had a flat. Rachel pulled over while I surreptitiously checked her fuel tank. Plenty to keep the car running and heated for at least an hour or two. Whew.
“I don’t know how to change a tire. Do you?” she asked with a laugh.
“I’m from New Jersey. I don’t even know how to pump my own gas,” I replied. “But I just renewed my AAA membership!”
In under 30 minutes, a tow truck arrived. The driver got the spare out of the trunk and started rooting around while Rachel and I bounced up and down trying to keep warm.
“I can’t find the key,” he announced.
It took us much longer than it should have to understand that tires have unique “keys” to unscrew the lug nuts so no one steals them. The spare in your car is supposed to come equipped with its matching key.
We tore apart the car, but alas, no key. Thanks, Toyota.
Eventually, he said our only option was to go to the nearby dealership and have them change the tire – when they opened. In the morning.
Oh, did I mention Rache had 20-inch fancy rims?
“I’m so sorry I broke your car!” I wailed for the first of many times.
After the tow truck driver unloaded the car at the dealership, he said he could drive us to the nearest hotel. Nevermind that we had two non-refundable rooms waiting for us a mere two hours away in Maine.
“Do you have anywhere for us to put our luggage?” we asked.
“Just your laps.”
Our essentials were scattered between six bags, not including my swinging 1970s, fully-loaded cooler, which took up half the back seat. I grabbed my laptop and two bottles of champagne. “Screw it,” I said to Rachel. “This is all I need.”
When we arrived at the hotel, Rachel explained our predicament to the front desk. The man at the counter replied deliberately, “You have a coupon, riiight?” He nodded slowly.
“Um…yeeees,” Rachel said, catching on.
When we saw the receipt: 50% off! What’s more, our room overlooked a funky indoor pool, white lights and palm trees (you go on with your bad self, Holiday Inn), so we opened the balcony sliders, and more importantly, the champagne, and toasted to the kindness of strangers.
Rachel called the dealership at 8am the next morning, and they finally got back to us with the verdict two hours later.
“It’s not just a flat. Your rim is damaged beyond repair.”
“Of course it is,” Rachel replied.
“And since you have 20-inch ones, we’d have to custom order a replacement. It wouldn’t be here until Monday.”
“So…my only options are to wait until Monday…or get 4 new 18-inch rims and tires?”
“Correct. And it’d probably cost the same either way.”
She covered the mouthpiece. “I knew. I knew when we got that car with those friggin’ rims…” She spoke into the receiver, “I guess I’ll have to get four new tires and rims, then. How long will that take? …Okay.”
“I’m so sorry!” I cried.
“Jules, it’s not your fault. I hit them, too,” Rachel reassured me, gracious as ever. (It was totally my fault.)
Turns out they had to order the ‘regular’ rims from a nearby dealer and couldn’t start work until 1pm.
They gave us a complimentary rental car, and we killed time at a local diner.
At 3pm, they gave us the good news: “Almost done.”
At 4pm: “We just realized we have to put all of the tire censors back on. It’s going to be another hour.”
5pm: “Okay, just finishing the paperwork.”
5:02pm: “Our computers just froze.”
5:30pm: “Let me give you the damaged tire and rim. Oh, wait, it’s filthy, we need a bag. Hang on.”
5:35pm: “We can’t find any more bags.”
5:45pm: Finally, FINALLY on our way. “Good thing we left Thursday night.”
7:00pm: Reach Maine.
7:30pm: Darla texted. “I can’t get out of my driveway. It’s a sheet of ice.”
That’s right. At last we were in Maine, 24 hours behind schedule, and NO DARLA.
But there was lobster. Lots and lots of lobster.
Saturday morning, another text from Darla: “I still can’t get out!!”
So Rachel and I shuffled around the icy streets of Freeport alone, waiting for the temperature to climb above freezing.
At one point, it was so slippery, a gift shop owner reached out a hand while holding the door, towing us inside. Later, when we peered longingly into Freeport Chowder House, the man inside waved us in.
“Are you open?” we asked.
“Not for two hours, but I never turn down customers,” he replied. “I don’t have the fryer going yet, but what do you want? Lobster roll?”
Rachel and I looked at each other. “YES.”
It was noon on Saturday before we saw Darla, but she was worth the wait.
Despite the many snafus, this li’l trip north had so many heart-warming moments, I wouldn’t trade it for anything would totally trade it for another 10am lobster roll.
P.S. – I even learned how to pump my own gas!
Since the word count on this post is already as atrocious as the potholes on Route 15,I hope you’ll head over to Rachel’s Table and She’s A Maineiac to read more about our adventures!
Have you ever had any vacations that didn’t go, ah, according to plan?
The three of us had been daydreaming about a Maine get-together for ages. One December morning, I blurted, “Why wait? I’m not working [since my “separation” with Big Pharma], and Darla doesn’t have to go back to [Medical Assistant] school until late January! When will that ever happen again?”
Maine? In January? You’re probably thinking.
Sure, they’re having the harshest winter Darla’s ever seen, but I think I’ll be spending less time outdoors and more time doing this:
Besides, while most people fantasize about palm trees and white sand, I lust after evergreens, crisp air, mountains, and of course, an ocean view at every turn. I’ve been in love with Maine since my first visit [to Freeport, Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park] 16 years ago. It calls to me. It’s like my Paris.
I also realized I had a golden opportunity to woo several people at once with my homemade Tollhouse pie.
Because that’s how I roll.
I hope to return next week with some wacky and wonderful tales. In the meantime, stay warm – and don’t have too much fun without me!
Where’s your “Paris”? What part of the world calls to you?