By Laini Miranda & Dave E. Leiberman, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com
We just returned home from two months living out of our converted Subaru while we traveled 8,300 miles around the country. We outfitted our Subaru Forester with a platform bed and two drawers underneath to maximize storage, which we designed and built ourselves, and brought along enough creature comforts so that we didn’t miss a thing while we were on the road or wild camping.
These sunglasses are probably the most important gear we own and the most noticeable improvement to this trip versus our previous desert adventures. Dave has enjoyed Warby Parkers in the past and both of us are usually very happy with our standard >$20 sunglasses. These Smith glasses, however, are game changers. I have the rose gold lenses, Dave the green/grey, and we both love how they don’t change the color of the world outside but just enhance it. The polarization is different from any other “polarized” glasses we’ve tried.
Outside almost all day everyday on this trip, we notice that the way the Smith Chromapop Sunglasses filter intense sun while balancing shadows and contrast throughout the day is nothing short of magic. They are also light enough that you don’t notice you’re wearing them all day. Dave even wore them inside a few times without realizing they were still on.
Good hiking shoes are everything. Laini initially bought these Keen Targhees for a 6-day Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu and has sworn by them for the past 11 years. The soles have just finally started to come loose a bit, but it wasn’t anything that some Shoe Goo (another recommendation) couldn’t fix. Dave has also owned his Merrels for many years and had a similar issue with his sole towards the end of our road trip. Both shoes provide so much comfort and support that we barely even notice our feet on 7+ mile hikes. We especially love these shoes for their Vibram soles that seem to let us scale pretty vertical slickrock boulders with zero slippage. They are also both waterproof, making them perfect for creek hikes (for deeper or more frequent waters we’d recommend an actual water shoe like Keen’s Newport style).
We bring multiple pairs of socks with us, but find ourselves washing these out overnight to reuse them since they’re the most comfortable, lightest weight socks we’ve tried. The merino wool lets you wear them for two or three days straight before you even need to wash them (we try to stick to no more than two). These work great for our low hiking shoes, but they also make them in mid-calf for boot styles.
This collapsible water bottle/bag is indispensable for us on our long hiking days. We fill up with our water pump, throw it in a backpack on our way out, and roll it up when we’re finished with it. The super durable handle is also useful for clipping to a backpack and the large threaded mouth is both pleasant to drink out of and compatible with most 42mm threaded filters. The BPA & PVC-free material can also be frozen or filled with hot water. Generally this 4L container plus two water bottles hydrates both of us for 6-7 mile hikes. On longer hikes we bring a water cube and stash it after a mile or so. They also sell a handy Plug-N-Play Cap Kit that can turn your Seeker into a solar shower or camp tap.
Made from 50% recycled plastic, this water bottle is super lightweight, has a great drinking spout, and doesn’t spill when closed tightly. It touts a “patented twist cap that provides an experience like drinking out of a glass”, and as someone who hates drinking out of Nalgenes, I can attest to that branding. It’s so lightweight and comfortable to carry with its durable and flexible handle, I usually prefer to hold it while hiking instead of clipping to my backpack.
These fans are indispensable in desert camping. We did a ton of research to find ones that were rechargeable, kept their charge throughout the night, and didn’t make too much noise. We prefer the convenient hook and fan/light combo of the $29.99 model and find that this is all we need for most nights in the tent, but the Karacel is a great second fan for extra hot nights in the tent or car.
Does just what the name suggests and makes a delicious cup of coffee. We also love that it’s the same height as a standard 16oz Propane tank and our mess kit so all three fit perfectly side by side in the front compartment of our car kitchen drawer.
This may not be the best mess kit out there, but for the price you really can’t beat it. We’ve used this for the past 3 years and love it. The food-grade anodized aluminum is super lightweight, compact, and everything nestles inside each other to fit in one small carrying case. On our road trip we only take with us the two pots, sponge, and spatula, and keep our mugs inside the pots.
Again, there are certainly better versions out there, but we love how lightweight and inexpensive these mugs are. They fit perfectly in the pot of our mess kit and can be clipped to our backpack if we’re on the move.
We shopped around a bit, but I ended up going with Wirecutter’s pick for best solar shower. With the hooks on each edge of the bag and some reusable zip ties, we strap this to our roof rack clear-side-up and by the time we reach our campsite the water is as hot as our home shower (sometimes after extra long summer drives we actually need to leave it in the shade for a bit to cool it off before using––the thermometer on the bag is really helpful for this scenario). The durable strap is made to hang from a tree, but we use it just as much from the roof of our car. In the backcountry of the desert when no one else is around for miles you don’t even need to worry about a privacy tent. Pull the nozzle down from the hose to open the valve, push it back up to close. Two of us can shower (one of us with long knotty hair), and we still have water left in the bag.
You might wonder where one goes to the bathroom when backcountry camping. If you must know, this portable toilet is actually excellent. The accordion wall design collapses to a mere 2 inches and fits in its own carrying bag when traveling. When we set up camp, we pop in the bottom circle which makes the accordion take its cylindrical form, place the seat over the top, and it can apparently hold up to 330 lbs. The seat is surprisingly comfortable for being so small, and it closes so tightly that you really can’t smell a thing when it’s latched. We use these compostable toilet bags (only for solid waste) and tie them to the roof rack until we get to a dump station. TMI? Sorry.
This is perhaps the best $15 we spent in our car living. We stick one of these in each shoe when we take it off and don’t even notice we have several pairs of sweaty sneakers and sandals in our car. These things may actually be magic.
Ok, so our secret to comfy camping is that we bring our big pillows from home because we generally prioritize our sleep, but a last minute thought to throw one of these in the car was great for our long driving days. We continue to keep this in the car since it compresses into such a compact log, and even becomes a nice lumbar support. In the future we may just bring two of these on longer road trips since they are actually quite comfortable––just make sure you give it enough time for the shredded foam filling to fully expand. The attached cover is so soft you don’t even need an extra pillow case.
This 1oz tube is a lifesaver for when you need a quick shoe repair on-the-go. Parts of both of our soles came loose at certain points with all the hiking we do between slickrock and loose dirt. We use this goo at night, hold it in place with some masking tape (painter’s tape, really), and the shoe is good to go the next morning.
We use these for so many things while camping we can’t leave them off the list. The 10” ties hold up to 50 lbs, and are sturdy enough to secure our solar panels and solar shower to our roof rack even while driving on major highways.
One of my favorite places for a driveable getaway is Sandwich, Cape Cod’s first village, settled in 1637. Sandwich is an enchanting jewel where history, exquisite architecture, fascinating attractions abound in a compact, walkable area, a short distance from the delightful Sandy Neck beach as well as the Cape Cod Canal biking trail. It is quintessential New England, an idyllic place to visit, to stay, to make your hub for exploring Cape Cod.
All through Sandwich, you see homes that bear the names of the ship captains who commanded the packet ships and clippers that made this area a mercantile center.
Many of these quaint historic houses and buildings (including a church) have been turned into charming bed-and-breakfast inns, but if you want to extend your time travel back to when the Patriots were debating revolution, a wonderful choice is the Dan’l Webster Inn and Spa, at the heart of the village. It is also is the most substantial in size, with 48 rooms, amenities and services that include a full-service Beach Plum Spa, offering the best of past and present.
The present inn sits on property that was once a parsonage, built in 1692 by Rev. Roland Cotton; in the 1750s, it was converted to the Fessenden Tavern, one of the first and most famous of New England’s taverns and a Patriot headquarters during the American Revolution (the Newcomb Tavern, just across the pond, served as Tory headquarters). In the late 1800s, the inn, then known as the Central House, hosted famous visitors including President Grover Cleveland and poet Henry David Thoreau.
In 1980, the Dan’l Webster was acquired by the Catania family’s hospitality company which operates the popular Hearth n’ Kettle Restaurants, as well as the John Carver Inn in Plymouth and the Cape Codder Resort, in Hyannis. Since acquiring the Dan’l Webster, they have restored it with exquisite taste and respect for its heritage – there are antique furnishings and Sandwich glass.
The Catania family also acquired the historic house next door. A marker outside the house tells the story: Nancy Fessenden married Capt. Ezra Nye in 1826 and moved into the house following their wedding. She was the daughter of the innkeeper (now the Dan’l Webster Inn). Nye was a famous captain who broke the speed record by sailing his clipper ship from Liverpool in 20 days, in 1829. Restored by the Dan’l Webster Inn in 1982, the house now offers accommodates four luxury suites, each named after prominent people associated with the inn, dating back to 1692.
The Dan’l Webster has become an award-winning hotel, spa and dining destination. Recognized as a Distinguished Restaurant of North America (placing it in the top 1% of restaurants in the country) it offers a choice of the casual Tavern at the Inn, the cozy Music Room or the more formal (and romantic) ambiance in a lovely glass enclosed Conservatory.
The Tavern at the Inn is an authentic replica of the two-centuries-old tap room where Daniel Webster made regular visits and which had been a meeting place for local Patriots during the Revolution.
In a village of many substantial attractions and places of interest, what truly stands out is the Heritage Museum & Gardens – a destination attraction. It hits on a spectrum of cylinders – 100 acres of magnificent grounds and trails on the banks of the Shawme Pond; the vast, stunning and notable gardens that feature internationally important collections of rhododendrons, including those created by Charles Dexter, collections of hydrangeas, over 1,000 varieties of daylilies, hostas, herb, heather gardens, and more than a thousand varieties of trees, shrubs and flowers along beautiful and easily walked paths.
Also, the JK Lilly III collection of vintage cars and folk art, and you can take a ride on a delightful working vintage carousel. There is also – imagine this – Hidden Hollow, an enchanting family-friendly outdoor adventure center where you can get a “squirrel’s perspective” of the forest. You should allocate the better part of a day to visit. (Heritage Museums & Gardens, 67 Grove Street, Sandwich, MA 02563, 508.888.3300, www.heritagemuseumsandgardens.org, open daily through Mid-October.)
What built Sandwich, though (and likely the reason that so many of its magnificent buildings reflect the prosperity of the early-1800s) was that in 1825, Deming Jarves built a glass factory to manufacture glass with a revolutionary process that made it affordable for the masses (Sandwich glass is still a thing). The factory grew rapidly to be one of the largest producers in the country with over 500 workers producing over five million pieces of glass annually by the 1850s. By the 1880s, labor strikes, an economic depression, and new factories being built further closer to natural gas fuel sources forced the factory to close.
Today, you can visit the Sandwich Glass Museum which displays original pieces created during the 1800’s and provides demonstrations of glass blowing techniques. The museum’s theater shows a great documentary of the history of Sandwich. Throughout the village there are several glass blowers and artists with open studios to visit, creating a dynamic center for contemporary glass art (Sandwich Glass Museum,120 Main St., 508-833-1540, www.sandwichglassmuseum.org).
A short walk from the Dan’l Webster Inn is the Dexter Grist Mill, a working grist mill since 1654 where you can still buy ground cornmeal, or draw fresh water from the well (as many locals do for their personal supply).
The Hoxie House, built in 1675, was lived in until the 1970s but was never modernized with electricity or plumbing. This saltbox is named after a whaling captain who owned the house in the mid-1800s. it is now a wonderful little museum house showing what family life was like in the 1600s.
Benjamin Nye Homestead & Museum, is the 18th-century home of one of the first 50 men who settled in Sandwich.
Also, the Wing Fort House, built in 1641, the oldest house in New England continuously owned and occupied by one family (63 Spring Hill Rd., 508-833-1540).
A short distance away, you can visit the Green Briar Nature Center & Jam Kitchen (6 Discovery Hill Road off Route 6A), which celebrates author and naturalist Thornton W. Burgess, who wrote the Peter Cottontail stories. There are nature programs, nature trails, a working 1903 Jam Kitchen, jam-making classes (508-888-6870, www.thortonburgess.org).
One of my favorite things about Sandwich is the proximity to the Cape Cod Canal which offers a 6.2 mile-long paved path (on each side) for biking, roller blading or just walking (the banks of the canal are also popular for fishing). Along the trail, you can visit the Aptucxet Trading Post, built by the Pilgrims in 1627 to facilitate trade with the Dutch at New Amsterdam and the Narrangansett Indians.
The Cape Cod Canal is a marvel (there is a visitor center on the mainland side that tells the history). The canal was constructed in 1914 – up until then, there were a tragic number of ships that were wrecked trying to sail around the peninsula. But it is astonishing to learn that interest in building the canal dated back to the earliest settlers: in 1623, Pilgrims scouted the area as the place best suited for a canal. In 1697 the General Court of Massachusetts considered a formal proposal to build a canal, but no action was taken. In 1776, George Washington, concerned about its military implications, studied the site. But it took until 1909 for construction to start. (60 Ed Moffitt Dr., 508-833-9676, www.capecodcanal.us).
Cape Cod also has the most marvelous network of dedicated bike trails.
Sandwich offers easy access to other marvelous places to visit on Cape Cod, like Falmouth, Wood’s Hole, Hyannis but you should spend at least a day on the other side of the Sagamore Bridge, in Plymouth, to visit a score of historic attractions associated with the Pilgrims, including the Mayflower II and Plimoth Plantation, one of the best living history museums anywhere.
Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com
When I finally reach the summit of Cadillac Mountain, Acadia National Park’s highest point at 1500 ft., having huffed, puffed and sweated my way by bike up the 3.5 mile long, ever-rising winding road, little kids come up with amazement. “We passed you on the road. You rode up here!” I must confess to beam with pride while also taking in the view. Looking down to the ocean, Bar Harbor and the Bar Harbor Inn at sea level where we started our ride some 20 miles and several hours earlier, I realize, “Wait a minute, We rode from there!” (In fact, the ride is mostly uphill from mile 12 to 20) The view is amazing, but having that physical, mental achievement is all the more satisfying.
That is what a bike tour is. The scenery, the attractions, the things you see and do are all amazing, but when you bike, there is that added component of being physically and mentally engaged.
Biking up Cadillac Mountain is the pinnacle of Discovery Bicycle Tour’s six-day Coast of Maine bike tour – and a peak of personal accomplishment – but each day presents its own series of highlights and delights. After all, this is Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park on Maine’s Mount Desert Island, with one of the prettiest seacoasts anywhere. The daily itineraries are outstanding – each day’s route so carefully designed for a great ride, interesting attractions, gorgeous scenery.
This means we ride at our own pace, stop for photos or take a breath, take in the view, hike a trail, or just smell the roses. The guides never pressure you to keep with the group or finish the ride at a certain time. One of the two guides rides sweep to make sure everyone is okay, and the other drives the van along the route (where possible). They make every accommodation for riders, so when feasible, even shuttling some to the top of a slope, or on one day, starting three miles further. The two toughest climbs – Day Mountain and Cadillac Mountain are optional.
Another aspect of the way Discovery designs its itinerary is that it adds a lovely mix of other activities to round out the experience: a sunset sail on the historic schooner, Mary Todd; sea kayaking, a hike (we choose to walk across the land bridge at low tide to Bar Island) and on our last morning, they arrange a 4:30 a.m. drive up Cadillac Mountain in the van (you have to get a reservation to drive up Cadillac) for the sunrise, considered one of the primo-supremo experiences in Acadia. (Unfortunately for me, I miss out when my phone dies and I miss the alarm, but I awake just as the sun is rising out my window and dash down to the Shore Path.)
Both our guides, Cindy Burke and Tom Walsh are long-time veterans and particularly of this Coast of Maine itinerary, and filled us with marvelous insights into the history and people of the island, as well as point out specific parts of that day’s ride. And they have a particular challenge, having to re-jigger the rides inside Acadia after June storms forced the closure of the Eagle Lake carriage roads.
Being able to ride at our own pace is key. At the most popular Acadia sights and overlooks – like Sand Beach, Thunder Hole, Bubble Pond, Cadillac Mountain (where cars now need a timed reservation even to drive up), I can just get off my bike and strut over and spend as much time as I like, as when I wait and wait to try to get a photo of a whale’s geyser-like burst of water we spot offshore at Thunder Hole (at high tide, it is said to sound like thunder, but Cindy says most of the time it is a gurgle). Or when I just stop along the road to watch a lobsterman collect the lobsters, throwing back the ones that did not meet the rigid bigger-than-3.5-inches-and-smaller-than-5-inches regulations, and when I just want to get a better image of the stacks of lobster traps and realize Tom is waiting patiently (no judgment!) on the road until I continue the ride.
On our first day, we are encouraged to arrive by 1 pm for an orientation, getting fitted to our bikes, and then an optional 9.9-mile “Schooner Head Overlook Warm-up Ride” on the Park Loop Road in Acadia – except that it is raining. We decide to do it anyway and even when the rain becomes a real downpour, it is wonderful fun (and so fantastic to go into the Bar Harbor Inn’s heated pool and hot tub after). And it shows us, yes, we can ride hills in the rain!
For our Day 2 ride, we are ferried in the van to the start at Seal Cove Auto Museum, where they have pre-arranged our admission. I walk in and am completely enthralled. The museum has an outstanding collection that includes automobiles that are the last of their kind (a 1913 Peugeot is worth $3-5 million; a 1905 Pierce Great Arrow is very rare). But what makes the visit even more fascinating is its special exhibit, “Engines of Change: A Suffrage Centennial.”
Here I learn that Bertha Benz, inventor, business partner and wife of Karl Benz, got fed up with her husband’s endless tinkering so on August 5, 1888, grabbed her children and became the first person to drive an automobile over a long distance (65 miles), field testing the Benz Patent-Motorwagen. Her trip brought worldwide attention for the vehicle and got the company its first sales. (We actually see the 1886 Benz Patent-Motorwagen in the exhibit.)
The notes for the exhibit are fabulous: “In 1873, Harvard doctor Edward Clarke claimed that stimulating a woman’s brain would enfeeble her reproductive organs. Later, when automobiles were invented, it was a common belief that they were far too complicated for women to operate.”
Indeed, by giving women mobility, independence and an opportunity to demonstrate their capability, bicycles and automobiles were the “engines of change” that directly resulted in liberating women and winning the right to vote. Indeed, automobiles were even used in petition drives (we see examples of these cars and photos in the exhibit).
“Before 1900, few women would have had Bertha Benz’s access to an automobile. They did, however, gain greater geographic freedom through the invention of the safety bicycle in the 1880s…Early suffrage leaders credited the bicycle with doing more for women’s emancipation than anything else in the world. Women could more easily go beyond the limited areas where they could walk. This glimpse of a larger world appealed to many women and paved the way for embracing the automobile.”
“A girl who rides a wheel is lifted out of herself and her surroundings,” Ellen B. Parkhurst wrote ca. 1890. (Bicycles also paved the way for new, liberating fashion – bloomers, bicycle pants, and pants that converted to a skirt.)
“The bicycle did more for woman’s equality than anything” and automobiles further bolstered that. On the other hand, the notes say, “the 1917 Spanish flu almost put suffrage out of business.
Meanwhile, automobiles were designed to appeal to women – the electric automobile was clean, noiseless, and slow, versus the fast, loud, gasoline cars oriented to men. (Seal Cove Auto Museum, 1414 Tremond Road, Seal Cove, Maine, 207-244-9242, sealcoveautomuseum.org).
I spend a fair amount of time in the museum before heading out for the day’s mile ride, which takes us to charming coastal villages. A stunning scene is at Thurston’s Lobster Pound.
Another highlight is the Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse, the only lighthouse within Acadia National Park (one of the most photographed in Maine). I walk a beautiful trail to a rocky area below the lighthouse where you have to scramble over the boulders to get any view at all of the Lighthouse (the best view here would have been to get further down to the water, but it starts to rain again).
I continue riding, stopping to hike the Ship Harbor trail, pass by the Wonderland Trail, and ride into the scenic Seawall picnic area, where, we are told, Nor’easters have been so powerful, they spray the rocks onto the road.
Our ride ends in charming Southwest Harbor, where the van returns us to the Bar Harbor Inn.
Almost all the rides include Acadia on the Park Loop road and on the marvelous carriage trails.
Built so that horses pulling carriages would not be strained (we even see one of the carriages as it returns to the stables in the park), much like rail-trails, they are not particularly steep but are a bit steeper and hillier than rail-trails. A good portion of the rides are also on the roads which can have longer, somewhat steeper climbs.
There are 45 miles of gravel carriage trails in Acadia – the gift of philanthropist John D. Rockefeller Jr. who wanted to travel on motor-free byways through the mountains and valleys by horse and carriage. Today, the opportunity to bike through forest is one of Acadia’s special draws.
Constructed between 1913-40, the roads were designed to preserve the line of hillsides and save trees, align with the contours of the lands, and take advantage of scenic views – hence the ups and the downs. Some 16 feet wide, they are in the style of broken-stone roads commonly used at the turn of the 20th century. Tom points out the magnificent architecture of the stone bridges that span streams, waterfalls, motor roads and cliff sides (there are 17 of them), the two gorgeous gate lodges, and the granite coping stones used as guardrails that line the roads (which Rockefeller complained were too precise, not natural enough), affectionately nicknamed “Rockefeller’s teeth.”
Tom and Cindy had to re-jigger rides almost on the fly because sections of the carriage roads (notably the Eagle Lake carriage roads) they normally ride are closed for re-construction after a major June storm (but we hardly noticed, though I had to almost sneak through a barrier to get a photo of picturesque Eagle Lake). Of the 47 miles of carriage roads, Tom estimates we bike almost half. (I try to imagine how I would have figured out where to go in Acadia without their route maps that say, “Sharp left onto Around-Mountain Carriage Road, Post #14. Stay right at Post #1, right at Post #20, left at Post #19, right at Post #18, Left on Post #13, Left on Post #11, straight at Number #6”)
Day 3’s ride also begins with us being ferried to the start – on the “quiet side” of Mount Desert Island, for a delightful ride along the scenic coastal Sargeant’s Drive, passing lovely “cottages” into Northeast Harbor, a quick visit to the Asticou Azalea Gardens before we enter Arcadia National Park and ride the Carriage Roads. We get to the renowned Jordan Pond House (famous for popovers, but the crowds are ridiculous) and here we can choose to take an 8.2 mile extension to Day Mountain, with a 694-foot elevation. (No one does the extension because there is some possibility of rain.)
Wednesday, Day 4, breaks up biking with a sensational day of kayaking and hiking. National Park Sea Kayak Tours does a marvelous job. We kayak about 6.5 miles, spotting harbor seals, porpoise, loons, bald eagles, and are back just in time for low tide which lets us walk the land bridge to Bar Island. (There is something very magical about a land bridge appearing every day, then disappearing back under the water, especially so when as we return, fog rolls in, blanketing the scene.). Walking back to the Bar Harbor Hotel, you see the same image as depicted in the historic photos, from the 1940s.
Day 6 (Friday), which is the getaway day, offers a mild 10-mile ride on the Duck Brook Carriage Roads, passing beaver ponds and the scenic Eagle Lake. I take my time, really taking in the landscapes.
But before, they have organized a ride up to Cadillac Mountain for sunrise, which means meeting at the van by 4:30 am (my phone dies and I miss the wake-up, but get up on my own at 5 am for sunrise, so walk along the shore path).
We have enough time each afternoon to really enjoy the historic Bar Harbor Inn (it dates from 1887), which hands down has to be one of my very favorite places to stay in Bar Harbor – luxurious but cozy, exquisitely landscaped, a stunning (heated) infinity pool with one of the prettiest views in the world, a spa, a dining room with picture windows out to the water where we have lavish breakfasts (and a choice to have continental-style breakfast in the pool house), magnificently poised on the point overlooking Frenchman Bay and the Shore Path, walking distance to Bar Harbor’s shops and restaurants, and all our rooms are oceanfront with a balcony (www.barharborinn.com).
Bar Harbor is bustling – some say it is the busiest summer in this popular tourist town since perhaps forever with people making up for last year and not taking a chance on putting off experiences – but we just breeze passed the crowds and the line of cars. Well, maybe “breeze pass” is an exaggeration. We pedal passed at whatever speed we can muster or choose. Also, because our lodging (in the absolutely gorgeous Bar Harbor Inn) and dinner reservations are booked well in advance, we have both when it is obvious that others, traveling on their own, do not.
Cindy, who is a history buff, regales us with wonderful insights into the places we ride: The interesting, if disturbing, history of American Indians on Mount Desert, the Wabanaki (“People of the Dawnland”), consisting of four distinct tribes—the Maliseet, Micmac, Passamaquoddy and Penobscot – who had come seasonally to Mount Desert Island for 12,000 years to hunt, fish, harvest clams, berries and sweetgrass for basket-weaving. In the early 1900s, they had encampments on Bar Island and at West Harbor and sold baskets and goods and performed as Western Indians for tourists at the hotels. “They were allowed to stay because they had stuff the whites wanted,” Cindy says. She recommends visiting the Abbe Museum, which has a partnership with the Smithsonian Institution and holds the largest and best documented collection of Maine Indian basketry and contemporary Wabanaki craft tradition (abbemuseum.org). (I regret not having the time to visit.)
And before we head out on the Day 5 ride, which starts with a turn onto Schooner Head Road, Cindy tells the story of a woman who perished on Titanic. Her house, High Seas, on Schooner Head Road, may be haunted, Cindy says, relating her personal experience.
Everything about the Discovery Bicycle tour is topnotch – on three nights, we enjoy wonderful dinners in some of Bar Harbor’s best restaurants and for two of our rides, we are provided box lunches we pre-ordered to take with us.
The ride is billed as “easier to intermediate,” but it is best if you do not expect the rides to be easy or expect that “coastal Maine” has anything “flat.” There are lots of ups and downs – mostly short – and the rides are definitely do-able if you have the right mental framework (“I can do it.”) and the guides do their best to accommodate riders’ ability.
Coast of Maine is a particularly relaxing bike tour – because as much as I enjoy inn-to-inn (or supported camping trips) so that every day you are moving forward to a new destination, this trip spends all the nights at the Bar Harbor Inn. That means we don’t have to pack up each morning to get our luggage out to the van and no matter how thoroughly wet we get, we can luxuriate and relax in a heated infinity pool and hot tub. (Boat/bike tours have the best of both worlds).
A bike tour is also one of the best ways to enjoy traveling in these times of concern over COVID-19.
Notably, Thistle Cone surveyed all the tour participants as to our COVID-19 vaccine status and reported back to us that we were all fully vaccinated (which I appreciated knowing). A bike tour also maximizes our time out of doors, socially distanced; our hotel rooms all had our own access and really, the only times we were gathered together inside was for breakfast (if we chose), the morning meeting and the dinners in restaurants, which, notably, were also following COVID restrictions of distancing and capacity.
They are also monitoring and reacting to changes in conditions, for example, recently asking guests to wear masks in the van and where social distancing isn’t practical. “The good news is that your tour deposits are completely refundable (with no penalties for changes) until the final payment date. So you can reserve with confidence.”
There are still several departures of the Coast of Maine bike tour this season.
Also, Discovery Bicycle Tours offers what may be the first to design an itinerary on New York State’s new Empire State Trail, from the tip of Manhattan to Albany (the trail continues north to the Canadian border, and connects with the 353-mile east-west Erie Canalway).
In addition, Discovery has bike tours to Cape Cod; Idaho; Mickelson Trail & Black Hills, South Dakota; Tucson & Saguaro National Park; Lake Champlain Islands; Crater Lake & Scenic Bikeways; Texas Hill Country; as well as abroad including Bike & Barge Moselle River; Catalonia Trails; Chile’s Lakes & Volcanoes; Cotswolds & Stonehenge; and New Zealand Trails.
Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com
There is a mystery to be unraveled, as intriguing as an Agatha Christie whodunnit, but without the murder and mayhem: How were the 26 passengers on the historic Maine Windjammer, Victory Chimes, who came from as far as California, Utah, North Carolina, Virginia, and Pennsylvania connected? And who among us is the interloper, unconnected to anyone else? Is it coincidence or providence that brings us together?
The mystery provides marvelous intrigue during the course of the six-day cruise sailing from Rockland, Maine, among the islands of Penobscot Bay.
A windjammer cruise is as much about experiencing the thrill of the Great Age of Sail, when these mighty schooners sailed with the wind and waves to bring the timber, building stones and raw materials that built the nation – literally engines of the economy – as it is about reconnecting with the joys of simple pleasures as basic as conversation and song.
Song and storytelling, indeed, are the theme of this sailing (many Windjammer cruises have a theme or focus), which features music on Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings by singer/songwriters Mike and Amy Aiken. And on another enchanting evening, several of us listen in as Mike and the multi-talented Chef Adam Travaglione (who is also a musician in addition to being a fabulous chef, raised in his family’s restaurant) compose a song honoring the legacy of the Victory Chimes. The Aikens have sailed up to Rockland on the boat they have lived on for the past 21 years from their homeport on the Chesapeake (a clue to solving the mystery).
Here in Maine are the largest concentration of these historic sailing ships in North America, nine of which are members of the Maine Windjammer Association, sailing out of Rockland and Camden.
Each has its own story, its own character. And each sailing is different, even on the same ship – the product of the serendipity and alchemy of people (passengers as well as captain and crew), weather (which often provides the drama, whether because of fog or squall), and where we wind up anchoring. There is no itinerary. The captain sets course following the wind, weather and whimsy.
Each afternoon, after we drop anchor in some cove or harbor, Captain Sam Sikkema, the newest owner/caretaker of the Victory Chimes’ 121-year legacy, gathers us around with a map, reviews that day’s route and tells us the back stories of the people and places where we have sailed. In the afternoon or the morning before we set out again, we tender to shore to explore. (Maine has some 3,000 islands and 7,000 miles of coastline.)
Deer Island; Little Island; Burnt Isle (privately owned, but we are allowed to walk a shoreline trail); Merchants Run – so named because of the deep water that accommodated the big ships carrying lumber, granite, cattle, which island residents would stockpile and sell to the bigger ships; Crotch Island – named for its notch – is half its original height because so much granite has been taken out to build buildings in New York City and federal courthouses.
We watch as fog literally rolls in and envelops the Victory Chimes anchored in Brooksville, as we tender back to the ship. Later, anchored in Pulpit Harbor on North Haven (which, Captain Sam tells us, was mentioned by the explorer Samuel Champlain in 1515 and the osprey nest on a rock that leads into the harbor), we again watch as fog rolls in, making everything around seem to vanish as if by magic.
The Victory Chimes – the largest in the Maine Windjammer fleet at 128 feet and the only three-masted schooner left in North America out of 4,000 built in the Great Age of Sail – was designed to be sailed by just three, which seems amazing considering how 10 of us line up to help haul in the line to raise the sail.
“Victory Chimes not only exemplifies the 19th and early 20th century development of large American wooden schooners intended primarily, though not exclusively, for the coasting trade on both east and west coasts, but she is the only surviving example of the ‘Chesapeake ram’ type and one of only two surviving examples of a three masted schooner in the United States.”
To give you an idea of just how big – and the challenge of keeping such a historic vessel sailing – the masts of Oregon Douglas fir are over 80 feet in height. “A straight tree 110 feet tall is required to get the necessary length a full 21 inches in diameter.”
There is a six-horsepower Sea Gear engine to raise the anchor (the same one that was installed in 1906 to replace the original donkey engine) but no propulsion engine, so now – as then – there is a yawlboat, Enoch, that pushes the ship when the wind is not sufficient. That innovation, indeed, is what made the Victory Chimes such a cash-cow for its original owner, who made back the $12,000 he paid to build her in 1900, in the first year.
Designed by JMC Moore, her stout build, simple rig and yawl boat made her one of the most profitable ships ever to sail. The Edwin & Maud (as it was originally named by its first Captain, Robert Riggen for his sons) was one of 30 “Ram” schooners – nicknamed for the way they “rammed through” the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal and through the sea. Victory Chimes is the last one.
The schooner rigging – as opposed to the square rigging of ocean-going ships – was a major American innovation that allowed the vessels to be nimble and fast, and operated with a minimal number of crew for maximum profit for the owner.
Cruising each day, we get to help raise the sails, but it is really a marvel to watch the intricate ballet of the crew performing physically demanding tasks – even daring-do – such as climbing those 80-foot tall masts to repair rigging, or snapping to with agility, strength and precision, to reposition sails and rigging to sail us out of the way of a storm.
Captain Sam or Chief Mate Tripp shout commands or signal with hand gestures and the crew calls back, “Ready throat, ready peak. Mainsail halyards hoist away.”
We pull rapidly, the line flying through our hands, until the line finally strains. Then comes the order to “Heave,” to which we respond “Ho” as two crew members pull down vigorously on their lines. Heave. Ho. Heave. Ho. Then, “Throat make fast. Peak make fast.”
And finally the call to “ease up” which is our order to take two steps forward followed immediately by the command, to “drop the line”.
Things get exciting – and we passengers just stand quietly out of the way, watching in awe and fascination – as the crew races to maneuver Victory Chimes out of the way of a squall. Captain Sam shouts out with urgency: “Hard left. James start the boat. Ahead 2000. Take in the mizzen. Take in the outer jib, then take in everything else. Bring James his foulies!”
Captain Sam navigates far south, tacking to avoid the storm. “The crew mustered the hell out of that squall,” he says later with a combination of pride and relief.
I love the language of sailing – “Scandalize the fore main;” “Cast the jigger right off” – and this description of Victory Chimes’ rigging: “The traditional ‘ram’ rig was a standing jib, flying jib, staysail (also called a forestaysail), foresail, mainsail and spanker (or mizzen), which Victory Chimes carries today. The heads of the fore, main and mizzen sails are supported by gaffs and the feet are laced to booms.”
(It’s amazing how many everyday expressions come from sailing: “Above board.” “Learn the ropes.” “Know the ropes.”)
The Edwin & Maud worked carrying cargo through World War I, the Spanish Flu, the Great Depression and World War II. By 1944, still sailing as a merchant vessel out of Baltimore, Edwin & Maud monitored the anti-submarine mine field at Chesapeake Bay and kept a sharp lookout for German U-Boats.
But then, mechanization of the war effort gave rise to bigger ships that made the old wood ships uneconomical. Hundreds were burned or just left to decay.
By 1946, the Edwin & Maud ended her career transporting cargo – lumber, mainly, but also salt, pumpkins, fish scrap for fertilizer or anything to pay the freight – and was converted into a new concept of “dude cruiser” by Herman Knust of Chesapeake Bay Vacation Cruises.
Originally, where the cargo hold would have been, are now 19 cabins (15 with two-berths, two with four berths and one each with a single and a triple berth) with the main saloon and galley.
In 1954, Capt. Frederick “Boyd” Guild brought the ship to the Maine coast and renamed her Victory Chimes after a Canadian coastal schooner he admired as a boy that had been launched on Armistice Day.
She survived a succession of other owners: A Minnesota bank president wanted to sail it on Lake Superior but couldn’t get certified (his own bank foreclosed). It was purchased at auction in 1987 by Domino’s Pizza and renamed Domino Effect. When Domino’s sold off its fleet, Victory Chimes was slated to be sent to Japan to be converted into a restaurant.
Captain Kip Files and Captain Paul DeGaeta, who oversaw the Domino’s restoration, purchased the vessel to keep her from leaving the country, changed the name back to Victory Chimes and returned her to the Maine windjammer trade. Maine’s Legislature welcomed her back with a special resolution.
In 1997, Victory Chimes was named an American National Historic Landmark under the Maritime Heritage Program of the National Parks Service, becoming one of only 127 vessels with that designation. (Apparently, though, historic vessels are not entitled to tax credits as historic landmarks.)
I had sailed on the Victory Chimes some years ago in the exciting annual Schooner Race with Captain Kip Files, who was her caretaker for 24 years.
Now Captain Sam Sikkema has the weighty responsibility of being Victory Chimes’ owner/caretaker. He acquired Victory Chimes in 2018 and had a great season in 2019 before being locked down by COVID-19 in 2020 – for perhaps the first year in its long history. PPP funding helped them stay afloat.
Captain Sam has had quite a sea-going career that began with sailing dinghies with his father on Lake Michigan. He has sailed around the world, on every ocean, in schooners, square riggers, training ships, yachts, fishing vessels and commercial vessels, as well as worked with maritime museums and shipyards as a carpenter and a rigger. Over the years, he sailed as crew on Niagara, Bounty, Sorlandet, Denis Sullivan, Californian, Red Witch, Nina, Robert C Seamans, Spirit of Bermuda, Alabama, Highlander Sea, Columbia, Victory Chimes and the 1841 Whaling Ship Charles W Morgan (serving as Captain Kip’s Chief Mate). He has been Captain of the sailing vessels Friends Good Will, Lynx, Tole Mour, Harvey Gamage, and the training ship Picton Castle, taking her across the North Atlantic Ocean four times. And he sailed the world with his cat, Fiji, who delights us with her antics.
“Of all the places I’ve sailed, my favorite place to sail is right here on the coast of Maine.”
“I am truly honored to be the new caretaker of this vessel and hope to bring new life to her while holding true to the authentic nature of the experience you have enjoyed in the past,” Captain Sam writes to past Victory Chimes passengers.
Cara Lauzon joins Mike and Amy Aiken for their Friday evening concert, when we are anchored in Rockland Harbor.
But on an evening when they aren’t performing, song spontaneously breaks out – starting with commercial jingles of our Baby Boomer youth, then going to popular rock and roll songs (Broadway musicals are not allowed).
For the “A” personalities on board (Sherman, who sailed his own boat up from the Chesapeake to come on this ship, crewed a sailing ship to Antarctica; Karen and Eric were next traveling to Alaska to fish, others share stories about biking trips in Europe), a windjammer cruise provides a rare luxury to just chill out. But each evening when we anchor, Sherman is first to take out the small sailboat (as is Captain Sam), Ed grabs the rowboat, and Glenn jumps into the water for a swim.
We scan the waters for seals, porpoises, birds. The photographers among us are constantly looking out for picturesque scenes to capture, reminiscent of the great seascapes of Winslow Homer and J.M.W. Turner and the Maine landscapes immortalized by the Wyeths (which we can see in the Farnsworth Museum, in Rockland).
Even in the rain it is pleasant on board – the crew puts out awnings so we can still stay on deck if we want and the Victory Chimes, the largest of the Maine Windjammers, with a capacity for 40 passengers, has a fairly large mess area, which doubles as a kind of lounge when it is not set up for dining, where it is pleasant to spend time reading in the evening. There is always coffee and tea, fresh fruit out and whatever dessert is left over from lunch or dinner.
Eating aboard the ships is one of the distinct pleasures. I can imagine a slight rivalry among the ships for best cook, and Victory Chimes cook, Chef Adam, would easily be among the winners, especially with his freshly baked everything (not too sweet or rich). Chef Adam prides himself on researching alternatives for people who have diet restrictions.
There is a routine to the day around food: coffee is brought up to the deck at 7 am; the bell for breakfast is rung at 8 am, precisely after the flags are raised. Lunch is served at noon. Appetizers are brought up to the deck at 5 pm (there is a cooler for you to store your beer or wine, but wine is served with dinner), and dinner at 6 pm. There is always coffee and tea and fresh fruit available. Meals are served family style – breakfast in the galley, lunch and dinner mostly served on deck.
While every windjammer cruise is different, there are certain constants – the feeling of being transported back into this Golden Age of Sail and the traditional lobster dinner. Some of the captains do it on a secluded beach; others, like Victory Chimes, serve on board (as elegant as eating lobster can be) but each one is an unmatched culinary experience of the freshest, most succulent and sweetest lobster in unimaginable abundance that spoils you for lobster forever.
The hours spent sailing are relaxing and chilling out – like a floating beach holiday – reading, playing games like backgammon, scrabble. A group is doing macrame (usually there are knitters or knotters). But a main activity is just chatting, which is key to solving the mystery of what brought all of us together on this particular cruise.
By the time we depart – having celebrated birthdays and anniversaries as if we have always been joined – Diana has thoroughly investigated and charted the connections, solving the mystery: Just about everybody – through college roommates, music, book club, Philly folk festival, sailing, childhood friendships, neighbors and family, is somehow directly or indirectly connected to the Aikens. Who is the interloper? Me. (See her diagram.)
You stay overnight on Victory Chimes at the dock before departing Rockland (giving me time to enjoy Rockland and an outdoor Blues festival). On return, you depart usually by 10 am, giving you time to see the sights in Rockland – the not-to-be-missed Farnsworth Museum of Art and Homestead (www.farnsworthmuseum.org); walk the three-quarter mile long breakwater to the Rockland Lighthouse, and visit the Lighthouse Museum. If you overnight in the area (there are lovely B’n’Bs like the LimeRock Inn where I stayed on a prior visit), visit the Owl’s Head lighthouse (www.lighthouse.cc/owls/) and the Transportation Museum, both in Owl’s Head.
Definitely make time to visit the Farnsworth Museum, an absolute gem of an art museum with an extraordinary collection of Wyeths – NC, Andrew and Jamie. Reopened after the COVID-19 lockdown, it is presently showing stellar exhibits (all on through December, except for “Parallel Visions”, an astonishing exhibit matching Andrew Wyeth’s paintings with George Tice’s photos, which ends in October to make room for the Farnsworth’s annual holiday display), showcasing Maine’s role in American art. Key exhibits include “Betsy’s Gift: The Works of N.C., Andrew, and Jamie Wyeth,” “Women of Vision,” “Betsy Wyeth, Partner and Muse,” and “Transforming the Ordinary: Women in American Book Cover Design,” (Farnsworth Art Museum, 16 Museum Street, Rockland, ME 04841, 207-596-6457, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.farnsworthmuseum.org).
For 2021, the Victory Chimes is offering 3, 4, 5, and 6-night cruises through Sept 28.
by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com
With more and more people – especially those over 65 years old and the most vulnerable – getting vaccinated, Americans are chomping at the bit to get out there and reconnect with family. For many, the ideal destinations are national and state parks, where there is space and enough outdoors, plus all the experiences being in nature affords, to bring the entire family together. Not surprisingly, bookings are already skyrocketing, with campsites, RV rentals, hotels nearest the parks, still operating with COVID19 restrictions, filling up. Those who are just emerging from an isolation mindset may have awakened to find space already booked.
In fact, Tracks & Trails, which specializes in packaging RV vacations to national parks in the western United States and Canada, citing unprecedented demand, is opening 2022 reservations on April 1.
RV Vacations, Novel Lodgings Surge
RV vacations skyrocketed in popularity over this past year, giving renewed focus on the “road trip,” because they offer the freedom and flexibility of touring the country in a fully-equipped and self-contained unit that has everything needed for a perfect vacation. “Picture it as your personal cabin on wheels going to scenic places where lodges or hotels often don’t exist,” said Dan Wulfman, founder and president of Tracks & Trails, whose specialty is packaging RV vacations to national Parks in the Western U.S. and Canada – not just renting the RV.
RV travel allows friends and families to be autonomous and as private as they please while enjoying the freedom of America’s open roads. Time for lunch? Just pull off at the next scenic turnout and open the fridge. Potty stop? Easy. End the day in the natural beauty of national park campsites chosen especially for Tracks & Trails travelers.
Wulfman notes that the pandemic is turning millions of non-campers into aspiring RVers, and the trend is exploding. The RV Industry Association found that 20% of US residents surveyed are more interested in RV travel than in flying, tent camping, cruises, or rental stays amid coronavirus concerns.
“But getting in an RV and setting off without a plan can be daunting for a first-timer,” says Wulfman, who introduced the concept of packaged RV vacations in 1996. “That’s where the sage advice, travel tips, and insider knowledge of experts can make or break the experience. Because of COVID, choosing your dates 6 to 12 months in advance is now essential.”
Tracks & Trails is sold out for July and August of 2021, but trips in September and October may still be available. And due to unprecedented demand, the company will begin accepting reservations for 2022 trips on April 1, 2021.
For those savvy enough to lock in their dates early, the hard part is done. The company’s team of expert planners handles all the arrangements that make it so challenging to organize a worry-free 7-14 day, multi-destination RV trip on your own. Travelers work with their T&T Trip Wizard to select one of the 20 carefully-crafted itineraries, decide on the right RV, and pick optional excursions that suit their tastes. The company takes care of the rest: reserving prime campsites, booking guided excursions with trusted outfitters, and preparing comprehensive documentation that ensures things go smoothly on the road.
One of Tracks & Trails’ most popular itineraries is the 13-night Mighty 5: Utah & the Grand Canyon beginning and ending in Las Vegas that visits all 5 of Utah’s national parks – Zion, Bryce, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands, and Arches – and the Grand Canyon. Optional excursions that can be prearranged include canyoneering, rafting, ATV riding, horseback riding, and Jeep tours. The base trip cost, which includes up to 4 people, ranges from $8,000 to $10,000 and is available from May 15 to October 15 (sold out July-August 2021). (www.tracks-trails.com, email@example.com, 800-247-0970)
Another source for RV vacations is Blacksford, a new recreational vehicle rental business with an all-inclusive pricing model that includes unlimited miles, no generator fees, bedding, bath and kitchen supplies, free Wi-Fi, free annual national park pass and 24-hour roadside assistance. Blacksford also curates road trip experiences by connecting travelers with vetted campsites, guides and other hand-picked attractions. https://www.blacksford.com.
Other sources for places to stay:
Xanterra Travel Collection (www.xanterra.com) is the management company that oversees lodgings – including the campsites, cabins and lodges – in many of the most popular national parks, including the most iconic hotels, like El Tovar in the Grand Canyon, the Inn at Death Valley, Zion Lodge and the historic hotels and lodges in Yellowstone. For information about what’s open, what services will be available, reservations as well as any travel guidelines in this post-quarantine world, go to https://www.xanterra.com/contact/national-parks/.
In many instances, the best way to experience the national parks is through a tour program with an outfitter or company that specializes in hiking, wilderness, nature, or any number of specialties. Not only do they bring an extra measure of enjoyment, literally maximizing the experience, but also have access and expertise casual travelers do not have. Tour companies range from those that are laid back, sightseeing oriented – the classic bus tour like Tauck (tauck.com) and Collette Tours (gocollette.com); find more at Escorted National Parks Tours (escortednationalparkstours.com, 800-942-3301) – to active, adventure trips, even private expeditions.
Backroads has trips to Yellowstone & Tetons, Glacier, Kenai, Olympic, Arches & Canyonlands, Bryce, Zion & Grand Canyon, Death Valley, Yosemite, Saguaro & Tucson, Hawaii, Acadia, Great Smoky Mountains, Everglades, https://www.backroads.com/tours/national-park-vacations, 800-462-2848
Roadscholar, specializing in trips for seniors, offers 220 national parks trips in Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce, Sedona, Yellowstone, Banff, Appalachian Trail, Mt. Rushmore, Group or solo packages include lodging, meals, & expert-guided educational tours. (Roadscholar.org/parks)
Off the Beaten Path (www.offthebeatenpath.com), based in Bozeman, Montana, is an outdoor, active travel company offering guided small group adventures and private custom journeys across the globe, including national park experiences in the Rocky Mountains, Desert Southwest, and Alaska.
Western River Expeditions operates rafting trips in Grand Canyon, Utah and Idaho, 866-904-1160 (Local: 801-942-6669) or visit http://www.westernriver.com/. Western River Expeditions is an adventure travel company headquartered in Salt Lake City, with operations and offices in Moab, Utah and Fredonia, Arizona. Annually from March through October it escorts more people down rivers on professionally guided rafting trips in Utah, Idaho and Arizona than any other company. It is the largest licensed outfitter in the Grand Canyon and the largest single tour provider in Moab, UT, through its division Moab Adventure Center (http://www.moabadventurecenter.com/).
OARS (www.oars.com), famous for rafting trips through the Grand Canyon, has introduced a series of “Road to Whitewater” road trips: five itineraries that lead to at least one major rafting adventure, as well as incredible sites and experiences along the way. The itineraries are designed with Covid-19 protocols and precautions in place. Itineraries include: Colorado Rod Trip: Denver to Dino Loop in Northwest Colorado, Utah and Wyoming; the Scenic route to the Lower Salmon and Hells Canyon from Portland Oregon; San Francisco to Southern Oregon to experience national parks, wild rapids, majestic redwoods and coastal vibes; Salt Lake City to Moab, an ultimate Utah national parks road trip; Los Angeles to Yosemite; and The Tahoe to Yosemite Loop (www.oars.com/road-trips, 800-346-6277).
Novel Ways to Experience The Outdoors
With sustainably built, LEED-certified “tiny house” cabins, Fireside Resort in Jackson Hole, is nestled in a wooded setting at the foot of the Teton Range, enabling guests to get back to nature while enjoying the intimacy of a boutique hotel and the ambiance of their own cozy residence. https://www.firesidejacksonhole.com/
Guests at the Red Reflet Ranch, a 28,000-acre luxury guest ranch in Ten Sleep, Wyoming, stay in fully-stocked private cabins and enjoy farm-to-table cuisine while participating in equestrian programs, cattle branding, hiking, mountain biking, ATVing, fly fishing, shooting, family-friendly activities and cooking classes. https://red-reflet-ranch.net/
A stay at The Wilson Hotel in Big Sky, Montana, offers the opportunity to explore the surrounding mountains, rivers and Yellowstone National Park. Go hiking through shaded forests and wildflower-filled alpine meadows, float or fly fish a clear, cool river, experience the adrenaline rush of lift-served mountain biking at Big Sky Resort, or tour the natural wonders and wildlife of Yellowstone. https://thewilsonhotel.com/
In the quest, so very popular in these days of coronavirus, of finding open spaces to become renewed, revitalized, revel in nature and contemplate one’s place in the universe, there is no better place than Death Valley National Park, spanning California and Nevada.
Our four-day trip to Death Valley has an overlay of planning that goes beyond planning for hiking in a vast desert: the coronavirus pandemic. It impacts our route, where we stay (an Air BnB at the outskirts and the Ranch at Death Valley in the park, having double-checked their COVID-19 protocols), how we organize food and water to take with us (and ice chest) to cut down on the need to eat out.
And our itinerary is designed to pack as much as possible from such an expansive landscape into such a limited time. In the process, we discover that we are very much following in the footsteps of the miners who came before seeking the treasures in these landscapes. For us, the treasures we find are not the material kind, but even more enriching.
With an eight-hour drive ahead of us, we calculate when to depart in order to get to Death Valley in time to begin our exploration. With meticulous planning and organization that the Army would be proud of, we pull away from Sonoma at 5:39 am, taking an interior route, east toward Tahoe, then south, passing the eastern side of Yosemite National Park.
The fall scenery all along the way is breathtaking, going from wilderness, through these little Western towns and ranches.
We pass the ski resorts at Lake Tahoe, where the road takes us up to an altitude of 8,000 ft. and temperatures as low as 19 degrees, and by the end of the day, down to 275 feet below sea level at Death Valley. As we drive out of Tahoe, we watch the thermometer ticking up a degree every mile, until reaching the 80s. Actually, the weather is quite cool and comfortable for Death Valley, which is the hottest place on the planet, with ungodly temperatures that reached 130 degrees this summer, but can also get frigid in winter. Our visit, in October, is actually a terrific time.
Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Preserve
Laini plots our route so we would stop at Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Preserve, in Lee Vining, California, where we have a picnic lunch. The first sight of Mono Lake from the highway above is astonishing: a stunning, ethereal scene with its brilliant aquamarine color and striking tufa formations. We stop at the overlook and then drive down along the shore to the parking lot. The visitors center is closed (because of COVID-19 restrictions), but we go into a trailhead that leads to a short boardwalk to the lake edge.
California created the reserve to protect these spectacular “tufa towers,” calcium-carbonate (limestone) spires and knobs formed by the chemical interaction of freshwater springs and alkaline lake water. The reserve protects the lake surface as well as the wetlands and sensitive habitat for the 1 – 2 million birds that feed and rest at Mono Lake each year.
Covering 65 square miles, Mono Lake is ancient – over 1 million years old and one of the oldest lakes in North America. Freshwater evaporating from the lake each year has left the salts and minerals behind so that the lake is now about 2 1/2 times as salty as the ocean and very alkaline. “The extremely high salinity and alkalinity of Mono Lake has created a rare ecosystem, supporting a complex food chain of green algae, brine shrimp and alkali flies, and more than 80 species of migratory birds.” (www.parks.ca.gov)
(Highway 395, 13 miles east of Yosemite National Park, near the town of Lee Vining, California, 760-647-6331, www.parks.ca.gov; also www.monolake.org).
We stop off at Carroll’s Market (probably the last one we will see), which actually gets high ratings on Yelp, especially for its blue cheese dressing, and has become its own attraction. We buy a dozen gallon jugs of water and stop off to fill up at a gas station.
Death Valley National Park
After a long flat stretch with mountains in the distance, we drive the winding mountain road (make sure you have a full tank of gas), entering the park at Panamint Springs. We stop at the Father Crowley Vista Point for the view over Rainbow Canyon, a colorfully striped canyon created by ancient volcanic activity. Nicknamed “Star Wars Canyon”, it’s where the military practices Star-Wars type of flying. The wind today is so intense, it practically throws us over.
(Nearby is Darwin Falls, a seeming oxymoron in this desert place, quickly turning from a gravel canyon to a lush oasis of cottonwoods and willows, creek crossings, and finally 20-foot waterfalls, a two-mile roundtrip hike, which we have marked down for a return visit.)
We stop at the historic Stovepipe Wells Village – like something out of a Western movie – that links back to the very beginning of tourism in Death Valley. In fact, long after mining gold, borax and talc had collapsed, tourism has been the enduring enterprise in Death Valley.
Herman William “Bob” Eichbaum effectively invented Death Valley’s tourism industry here, believing its “beauty, mystery and history” would attract tourists. Indeed, since 1915, motion pictures, automobile companies and writers weaving tales and promoting advertisements sparked interest (early social influencers) in visiting. In 1925, Eichbaum built a 38-mile toll road over Towne Pass and 20 tent-style bungalows, a restaurant, general store and filling station. He opened the Stovepipe Wells Hotel in 1926. Just a few months later, the luxurious Furnace Creek Inn was opened by the Pacific Coast Borax Company, setting off an intense rivalry. Most enthralling is that both places are still around and give you this sensation of stepping back in time. (Open year-round, deathvalleyhotels.com, 760-786-7090).
Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes
It’s only a short drive from the village to reach Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, a little after 4 pm, giving us at least one hour before sunset. We have just enough time to play on the dunes and watch the colors (and temperature) change with the setting sun. People bring cardboard sleds, using the sand like snow.
Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes is an extraordinary setting: sprawling over 14 square miles, ringed with mountain peaks, the contrast of colors, shapes, contours is just stunning.
In late afternoon, the sand is cool enough to take off shoes and feel remarkably soft granular sand on toes. We climb the dunes –as much as 150 feet high- wowed in the colors of the golden hour as the sun descends. All the pure joy you had playing in a sand box when you were four comes bursting through.
The best time to visit is the early morning or late afternoon; on a dawn hike, the notes say, you might see tracks of nocturnal animals and if you hike at night in the warm months, they warn, be alert for sidewinder rattlesnakes (I’m still thinking about the tracks of nocturnal animals).
Designed to Death
We drive on, reveling in the scenes of the road disappearing into the far distance, headed to our Air BnB, with the intriguing name, Designed to Death, in the small town of Beatty, about 20 miles outside the park’s eastern border (Las Vegas would be about 1 ½ hours beyond). Though the name evokes Agatha Christie, it is breathtakingly beautiful, cozy luxury, with a bit of a Western vibe – easily explained because the hosts are interior designers and the house is a showplace for their talent.
We are here for too short a time to fully enjoy all that the house affords. Set on an isolated stretch of high desert, the 1,200 sq. ft., three-bedroom, two-bath vacation home was designed by Peter Strzebniok to incorporate the vistas, providing stunning views while making the desert part of the interiors – merging the inside with the outside. What we do thoroughly enjoy though, is the large open kitchen, dining room, living room, that opens onto a 900 sq. ft deck with hot tub. The Presidential Suite at a five-star hotel would not have been any nicer or more comfortable.
Our Designed to Death Air BnB hosts are Karen McAloon, an interior designer who works in San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles and Joshua Tree, who was an HGTV host and her partner was her producer. (They have two sister properties, Hip Modern cottage of Amazingness in Lake Tahoe, @hipmoderncottageofamazingness, and Too Pool for School in Joshua Tree, @toopoolforschooljtree.)
They provide excellent notes – like the nearest place for supplies would be at Family Dollar, but the nearest actual grocery is 70 minutes south at Pahrump. They also supply tour information of nearby ghost towns, museums, attractions and of course Death Valley National Park. There is an interesting note about the wild burros that we might see (there is even a traffic sign like a deer crossing), which are descended from burros abandoned by miners a century ago. “Don’t feed them, they can be destructive. They tend to be down at the creek in the morning and wander into town at night.”
We take full advantage of the gorgeous kitchen to prepare dinner (we brought food for dinner and breakfast).
Rhyolite Ghost Town
The next morning, we pack up quickly and head out early morning with a plan to stop off on our way into Death Valley to visit an actual ghost town, Rhyolite.
It is so fascinating to try to piece together what this town might have been like and to realize how big it was – most surprising, really (especially when you see the context) is what’s left of a hotel and casino. A casino! “100 years ago, Rhyolite was the largest city in southern Nevada with more than 10,000 residents. Yet after only a decade, the town became a ghostly remnant of itself” – a classic boom and bust story, with all sorts of lessons about the transitory nature of success in the span of history. It is tremendously exciting to wander about these ruins, so dramatically set.
In its heyday, between 1905-1911, Rhyolite had two churches, 50 saloons, 18 stores, two undertakers, 19 lodging houses, eight doctors, two dentists, a stock exchange and an opera.
The ruins that remain today include the Bottie House, the train depot (there is a caboose there), the remains of a three-story bank building and the jail.
It is one of several ghost towns that are scattered through Death Valley, “the silent ruins of broken dreams.”
Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com
The biggest travel trend to explode out of the time of Corona is ad-VAN-turing – basically a freewheeling adventure in a tricked out van (sleeker than an RV but with most if not all the comforts of a studio apartment on wheels). These high-tech, luxury mobile campers are designed to be self-sufficient, carrying their own water, electricity, toilet, galley kitchen, even solar panels for energy so you don’t have to plug in, but can still have enough power in reserve to run the heat at night so you have incredible mobility and freedom to explore.
In mid-December, we took off with an indefinite week-long itinerary from Sonoma, California, in a Moterra camper van which we picked up in San Francisco.
We spent our first day skiing at Heavenly Resort in Lake Tahoe, California (we stayed overnight a couple blocks away from the parking lot, which made getting first chair easy!).
From there, we drove down to Death Valley National Park, spending one night at the Panamint Springs RV park and another at the trailhead for Telescope Peak (fairly desolate this time of year). We were really impressed with how our van got us safely to the base of mountain treks without issue, thanks to the four wheel drive.
Though the mid-December days were short and the nights were cold, we were cozy and comfortable in our van with round-the-clock heat and cooking amenities. And snuggling up on the roof of the van with wine in hand made for some glorious stargazing (we lucked out our first night in Death Valley with a mind-blowing Geminids meteor shower).
After Death Valley, we made our way to Zion National Park, Utah, stopping along the way in Las Vegas, Nevada, to pick-up a quick dinner. The Angels Landing & Narrows hikes are not to be missed. And being able to pull over at picturesque lookout points for homemade (van-made) lunches made the experience in the park all the more special.
On our way back from Zion, we spent a night in Valley of Fire State Park (about an hour east of Vegas). We were shocked we hadn’t heard of this Nevada state park before. The massive red rocks and scrambly canyons made us feel like we were exploring communities and dwellings straight out of The Flintstones! We spent the night at the spectacular Arch Rock Campground.
While making our way back towards the Bay Area (by way of Los Angeles), we already began planning our next adVANture for Summer 2021 – we’re thinking the Pacific Northwest. As fabulous as it was to explore the National Parks in the off-season (we hear Zion especially can get unbelievably crowded and Death Valley is known to have some of the most extreme temperatures in the world), we’re looking forward to our next trip with warmer weather and longer days for exploring.
Moterra Luxury Camper Vans Lets You Pave Your Own Path
You’ve probably now heard of glamping – luxury camping. Now Moterra Campervans offer a novel way to experience the national parks and wilderness by luxury camper van, which also provides amazing self-sufficiency.
With all the luxury of a 50-foot long RV, the Moterra camper vans, at 19-foot long,are much less cumbersome to drive and park, and can even be used in easier-to-book tent camping spots in national parks, so you can stay away from the busy (and likely booked up) RV parks.
You don’t even need to plug into electricity because the vans are powered with rooftop solar panels and auxiliary batteries (not noisy generators); or have to plug into a water supply, since they hold between 16 and 24 gallons of fresh water, or bathroom, since they have their own sink, even their own bathroom facilities (port-o-potty; some actually have its own shower), and with their own galley for cooking and refrigerator, these camper vans provide a new level of mobility.
These camper vans come with bluetooth audio, cruise-control and touch-screen navigation. A backup camera, blind spot sensors and lane assist technology make maneuvering a breeze. You don’t have to stay in an RV park, but can go wherever tents are allowed.
Moterra’s fleet of specially outfitted Mercedes Benz Sprinters, tricked out by Sportmobile, are outfitted with absolutely everything you need for camping, from sleeping stuff (memory foam pillow!), to cooking (marshmallow skewers) and dining, cleaning supplies, amenities like chairs and table, inflatable solar lights, even bear spray.
There are two models to choose from: The High Roof is perfect for couples – it includes a queen sized bed in the back, galley kitchen, sink, indoor shower and portable toilet. The Pop Top, which sleeps four, is perfect for families, with a double bed down below and a double bed up top in the Pop Top! While the Pop Top does not have an Indoor Shower, you can get as an add-on a solar shower that can be used outside, and has a sink and stove. Both models are rented for $339 a night.
Add-ons available include hammocks & bike racks, and services such as pre-bought groceries.
The Moterra fleet is positioned for adventuring in Yellowstone, Wyoming; the Grand Tetons; Utah; Glacier National Park (Montana); Las Vegas (great gateway for desert adventuring) and California.
Moterra, which founded by Gabe Aufderheide and Trevor James who were formerly with Backroads, the renowned active travel company, also offers packaged and customized tour itineraries.
All-inclusive packages consist of:
Moterra Campervan Rental and cleaning fee
Day-by-day personalized Itinerary with directions and destination info.
Pre-booked campsites, handpicked and booked in advance where possible, or GPS locations for off-the-grid dispersed camping spots.
Scenic routes that take you to the heart of the action while minimizing road traffic.
Individualized suggestions depending on your preferences for hiking, scenic attractions, restaurants and activities.
A wide range of activities to make the trip your own, like white-water rafting, wildlife safaris, road biking, horseback-riding, kayaking and scenic floats.
For example, a 13-night/14 day Mighty 5+ Grand Canyon: featuring Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park, Capitol Reef National Park, Bryce National Park, Zion National Park, Monument Valley and Grand Canyon National Park is priced from $5999.
A six-night/seven-day family-oriented Yellowstone Handpicked Highlights package features Yellowstone National Park and The Grand Tetons National Park (from $4699).
Moterra operates out of Jackson, WY, Whitefish, MT, Salt Lake City, UT and San Francisco, CA.
Check the website for deals, discounts on early bird bookings, extended trips, spring 2021 discounted add-on for one-ways, and gift cards.
by Karen Rubin Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com
On the Centennial of passage of the 19th Amendment, also known as the Susan B. Anthony Amendment, giving women the right to vote, Donald Trump made a grand gesture with much fanfare in issuing a pardon for Susan B. Anthony, who died in 1906.
Noting she was arrested in 1872 for voting before it was legal for women to vote, he exclaimed at the White House signing ceremony, “She was never pardoned! Did you know that she was never pardoned? What took so long?”
Actually, according to those who are the caretakers of her legacy, she wouldn’t have wanted to be pardoned.
In a statement headlined, “Objection! Mr. President, Susan B. Anthony must decline your offer of a pardon today,”Deborah L. Hughes, President & CEO of the National Susan B. Anthony Museum & House in Rochester, NY, stated, “Anthony wrote in her diary in 1873 that her trial for voting was ‘The greatest outrage History ever witnessed.’ She was not allowed to speak as a witness in her own defense, because she was a woman. At the conclusion of arguments, Judge Hunt dismissed the jury and pronounced her guilty. She was outraged to be denied a trial by jury. She proclaimed, ‘I shall never pay a dollar of your unjust penalty.’ To pay would have been to validate the proceedings. To pardon Susan B. Anthony does the same.
“If one wants to honor Susan B. Anthony today, a clear stance against any form of voter suppression would be welcome. Enforcement and expansion of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 would be celebrated, we must assure that states respect the 14th, 15th, and 19th Amendments to the United States Constitution. Support for the Equal Rights Amendment would be well received. Advocacy for human rights for all would be splendid. Anthony was also a strong proponent of sex education, fair labor practices, excellent public education, equal pay for equal work, and elimination of all forms of discrimination.
“As the National Historic Landmark and Museum that has been interpreting her life and work for seventy-five years, we would be delighted to share more.”
We just celebrated the centennial of the passage of the 19th Amendment. But the journey to Women’s Right to Vote, goes back a century before, back to when Abigail Adams wrote her husband, John Adams, in 1776, “Remember the ladies.” He didn’t. The struggle began.
The journey toward Women’s Suffrage is long, and offers a long trail that can be followed, in order to experience first-hand something of what the struggle was like and pay proper respect to the Suffragists’ extraordinary courage, perseverance, and innovativeness. Here are some of the places to follow their footsteps and sense their spirit:
“The National Susan B. Anthony Museum & House, Rochester’s first National Historic Landmark, was home to the legendary suffragist, abolitionist and civil rights leader during her 40 most politically active years, as Visit Rochester proudly notes. “She served as president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association from her home on Madison Street. It was a hub for planning strategies, organizing campaigns, writing speeches, and preparing petitions. This was Anthony’s home base as she made countless trips throughout the United States, to Great Britain, and to Europe to support local suffrage campaigns and organize the International Council of Women.
“Walk through rooms where Anthony met often with Elizabeth Cady Stanton and other leaders of the civil rights movement. Stand in the parlor where Anthony was arrested in 1872 for the ‘crime’ of voting.
“It’s not hard to imagine Anthony enjoying her talks with the famous orator and abolitionist Frederick Douglass over cups of tea in her parlor. Upstairs in the small bedroom where Anthony died in 1906, visitors can’t help feeling some sadness knowing she never had an opportunity to cast a legal ballot. Fourteen years after her death, the 19th “Susan B. Anthony” Amendment was finally ratified and women throughout America were welcome at polling places.” (www.visitrochester.com/susanb2020)
The 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, also known as the Susan B. Anthony Amendment, was ratified in 1920, 14 years after Anthony died, in 1906. The house was her home from 1866 until her death here in 1906; it was the site of her famous arrest for voting in the presidential election of 1872. Her bedroom contains her original furniture, including the feather-star-pattern quilt on the bed that she made with her sister Hannah. The house is filled with photographs, memorabilia, and much of the Anthony family’s furniture. A museum room on the second floor illustrates major events of the woman suffrage movement, including extensive photographs of the people who worked so long and so hard to win voting rights for women.
National Susan B. Anthony Museum & House 17 Madison Street Rochester, NY 14608 585/235-6124, www.susanbanthonyhouse.org
You can visit the Ontario County Courthouse, the site of Susan B. Anthony’s famous trial in 1873, just a short drive from Rochester in Canandaigua,
The final resting place for Susan B. Anthony, Jean Brooks Greenleaf (former president of the New York State Woman Suffrage Association), Frederick Douglass and many other important leaders of the abolitionist and women’s rights movements is Mt. Hope Cemetery in Rochester. There are guided tours and self-guiding maps.
This year is also the 200th anniversary of Susan B. Anthony’s birth, in 1820. The daughter of a Quaker family that promoted abolition and temperance, from the age of 6 and 25, from 1826 to 1845, she lived in Battenville, Washington County, and later in Center Falls, before her family moved to Rochester. So, on the 100th Anniversary of the 19th Amendment, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced an effort to stabilize and preserve Susan B. Anthony’s childhood home on Route 29 in Battenville. The work at the 1832 two-story brick home where Anthony lived from ages 13 to 19, is expected to be completed by September.
For many, the journey to women’s rights begins at The Women’s Rights National Park in Seneca Falls, New York, ostensibly the “birthplace” of the women’s suffrage movement, where the 1848 Convention offers the most identifiable launch-pad for the (ongoing) struggle. The actual exhibit, created during Ronald Reagan’s term, is disappointing, but you can visit Wesleyan Chapel where the convention took place.
The women organized the convention and prepared a document laying out their grievances, the “Declaration of Sentiments,” which was modeled after the Declaration of Independence and mimicked its language in describing the tyranny under which women were forced to live. The document outlined 11 resolutions to “declare our right to be free as man is free…” At the close of the convention, all the resolutions passed with the exception of the ninth resolution, guaranteeing a woman’s right to vote.
Out of the 300 people who attended (the chapel had a balcony then; men were allowed to attend the second day), only 100 signed the Declaration of Sentiments, and of these, 68 were women and 32 were men). (Forty percent of those who attended were Quakers, who already accommodated more equal roles for women.)
The history of the Wesleyan Chapel can be a metaphor for the ambivalence of American society to women’s rights: From 1843-1871 it was chapel, then an opera house/performing arts hall; then a roller skating rink, a movie theater (in 1910s), then a Ford dealership, and ironically enough, finished its days as a laundromat before facing a wrecking ball. “Women fought to save the building,” the Ranger says. It was only in 1982, during the Reagan Administration, that it was turned into a national park.
At this writing, with the COVID-19 restrictions, the Visitor Center is only open Tuesday and Thursday (10-4), historic homes are closed, but Ranger Programs have resumed outdoors and the grounds are open daily. Check the site for updates.
In contrast, The National Women’s Hall of Fame, now in its new location in the rehabilitated 1844 Seneca Knitting Mill building, remains the more meaningful and inspiring exhibit, putting faces on the long, long diverse parade of women, in the place “where it happened.” Indeed, women factory workers, fired for demanding equal pay, provided the seed for the convention (which initially did not seek women’s vote, but rather equal rights to pay, property and custody of children).
The Hall, housed up until last fall in a former bank building, only opened in the new location this spring, but immediately forced to shut down due to the coronavirus.
It has reopened, with timed reservations. Among the new features: a new Hall of Fame display listing Inductees and their areas of accomplishment; a section called “Why Here?” highlighting why all of this history happened in Seneca Falls and the story of the Seneca Knitting Mill and the women who worked there.
“We invite visitors to delve into the history of what happens when women innovate or lead with an interactive exhibit that challenges widely-held assumptions. Visitors can ‘weave’ themselves into the story in a participatory exhibit, and we ask visitors for their own stories of women who have inspired them. The exhibits encourage visitors to engage in creating our future and to understand the possibility of a world where women are equal partners in leadership.” (See the Women of the Hall, the inductees into the Hall of Fame: https://www.womenofthehall.org/women-of-the-hall/)
Visit the home of Matilda Joslyn Gage, who was important to developing the arguments for women’s rights, but has too often been overlooked because she did not attend the Seneca Falls convention in 1848. Gage was a noted speaker and writer on woman’s suffrage and an abolitionist. She and her husband used their home as a station for the Underground Railroad to help escaped slaves. She worked closely with prominent women’s rights leaders Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, often holding meetings in her home. Her lifelong motto and gravestone inscription reads “There is a word sweeter than Mother, Home or Heaven; that word is Liberty.”
Less well known about Matilda Gage is that many of her ideas for women’s rights came from the Iroquois Indians, who had a maternal society where women could be chiefs, own property and have custody of their children. Also, she was the mother-in-law of L. Frank Baum, author of “The Wizard of Oz.” The Gage Center is also an educational resource for discussion and dialogue about the human rights issues to which she dedicated her life. (210 E. Genesee Street, Fayetteville, matildajoslyngage.org
Closer to home, you can join the long women’s march to voting rights at The New-York Historical Society when it reopens its indoor exhibits on Friday, September 11, to see the temporary exhibition Women March. (See www.nyhistory.org/exhibitions/women-march). Check the site for opening hours; timed Tickets are required. More details: www.nyhistory.org/safety. (New-York Historical Society, 170 Central Park West, New York, NY 10024, 212-873-3400, www.nyhistory.org).
by Karen Rubin Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com
Bike tours offer one of the best vacation alternatives in these times when people want to be outdoors in open spaces, and enjoy stunning landscapes, discover heritage and history and have that opportunity for shared experiences that travel uniquely provide. There is still time this season to take advantage of guided, self-guided and private bike tours from companies including Pocono Biking, Wilderness Voyageurs and Discovery Bicycle Tours.
Pocono Biking has space on departures this season on a supported four-day bike tour that takes you 142 miles of the Delaware & Lehigh rail trail, also known as D&L Trail.
I did this ride, anchored by the charming town of Jim Thorpe and the famous historic landmark at Washington Crossing, on the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s Sojourn, though with camping instead of inn-to-inn along this scenic and history-rich trail (railstotrails.org). The RTC trip also was operated by Pocono Biking, a powerhouse outdoors- adventure company in the area well known for its rafting adventures on the Lehigh River in the Lehigh Valley.
The trip, traveling through 57,600 acres (90 miles) of state park, is designed so you get to enjoy three of Pennsylvania’s award winning quaint small towns: Jim Thorpe, Bethlehem and New Hope. Essentially, we follow the route of Anthracite Coal, from mine to market, which thrust America into the Industrial Revolution. Along the way, we see the geography, the resources, and the technological innovations that made this possible, and how they affected the society, the culture, and the economy of the fledgling nation. The trail, part of the Delaware & Lehigh National Heritage Corridor, is so historically significant that it is a Smithsonian Institution Affiliate.
Day 1 – 36 miles: The adventure starts in the wilderness of the Lehigh Gorge State Park, riding passed waterfalls and spotting wildlife (deer!), taking advantage of the newly connected D&L Rail Trail into the charming town of Jim Thorpe. The first night is spent amid mountains in the Inn of Jim Thorpe, circa 1849.
Jim Thorpe – an odd name for a town – was established in 1818 as Mauch Chunk, which means “Mountain of the Sleeping Bear,” the name the Lenni Lenape Indians gave to the nearby mountain. But it was later renamed for an Oklahoma-born Native American, the Olympic hero Jim Thorpe, who is buried there. Thorpe was born in Oklahoma in 1888 and raised on the Sac and Fox Reservation and had never set foot in the borough. But Patsy Thorpe, Jim’s third wife, cut a deal with two struggling towns in Pennsylvania, that if they would merge, rename themselves Jim Thorpe and build a memorial to honor him, she would present them his remains for burial.
The town played a key role in the emergence of the United States as an Industrial Revolution powerhouse. Here, entrepreneurs led by Josiah White formed the Lehigh Coal & Navigation Company in the 1820s (you can still see the brick building), which shipped tons and tons of anthracite coal and other goods to market via the Lehigh and Delaware Canals which they constructed. The town grew in importance when it was named Carbon County’s seat in 1843.
A major attraction here is the Packer Mansion, which I was lucky enough to visit on my trip. Asa Packer’s story epitomizes the rags-to-riches-for-those-with-grit-and-a-good-idea American Dream: Born poor in Mystic, Connecticut, Asa Packer (1805-1879) left home when he was 17, setting out on foot to Brooklyn, Pennsylvania where he apprenticed as a carpenter to his cousin, Edward Packer. In 1828, he married Sarah Minerva Blakslee (1807-1882) and the couple tilled a farm they rented from Sarah’s father. But after four years, they were just as poor as when they started. So hearing that men were needed to captain coal barges on the Lehigh Canal, Asa traveled to Mauch Chunk, in the winter of 1832. He used his skill as a carpenter to build and repair canal boats. He resettled his family in Mauch Chunk and became the owner of a canal boat that carried coal to Philadelphia, then opened his own firm, A. & R. W. Packer, which built canal boats and locks for the Lehigh Coal & Navigation Company.
He tried to get the company to build a railroad, but was refused. So, in October 1851, risking financial ruin, Packer purchased nearly all the controlling stock and interest for the unfinished Delaware, Lehigh, Schuylkill and Susquehanna Railroad (later known as the Lehigh Valley Railroad). By November, 1852, he expanded the railroad from Mauch Chunk to Easton, Pennsylvania, in exchange for the company’s stocks and bonds, and later into New York State.
He became the third richest person in the world and parlayed his business success into political success, serving as a Judge, a state representative, a two-term Congressman (1853-7), and even challenged Ulysses S. Grant for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1868. He narrowly lost election to become Pennsylvania’s Governor in 1869.
The Packers settled in their Italianate Villa in Mauch Chunk in 1861 and, to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary, on January 23, 1878, held a fantastic gala (a newspaper printed in gold described it, and the man who performed their wedding attended). Asa died just 18 months later.
This quaint village is a hub for many marvelous attractions including the Packer Mansion; the Old Jail Museum (the eerie dungeon where the Molly McGuires were jailed; Cell 17 with its mysterious handprint on the wall, under the gallows on which seven of the accused Molly Maguires were put to death); the Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway, St. Mark’s Church, Historic Stone Row, the Mauch Chunk Opera House, Anita Shapolsky Art Center, Mauch Chunk Museum, plus wineries and distilleries (Big Creek Vineyard and Stonekeep Meadery), biking, hiking and rafting.
Jim Thorpe Visitors Center, 2 Lehigh Ave., Jim Thorpe PA 18229, 570-325-3673, jimthorpe.org.
Day 2 – 37 miles: After a night exploring the shops, museums and restaurants in Jim Thorpe and breakfast at the Inn, cycle beside the locks and canals along the Lehigh River to the town of Bethlehem, PA. Along the way you pass the Lehigh Gap Nature Center with its protected land. There are stunning views of the Blue Mountain and Appalachian Trail. Bethlehem, circa 1741, an old Moravian settlement, has cobblestone streets, quaint shops, and history around every bend. Spend the night in the Hotel Bethlehem where Presidents and dignitaries have stayed.
Lehigh Gap Nature Center, a non-profit conservation organization at the foot of the Kittatinny Ridge, is dedicated to preserving wildlife and habitat through conservation programs such as the Lehigh Gap Wildlife Refuge, educational programs such as the Kittatiny Raptor Corridor Project as well as research. I linger in the butterfly garden before setting out again on the trail. (8844 Paint Mill Rd, Slatington, PA 18080, 610-760-8889, http://lgnc.org/)
Along the way, we come upon what is left of the original canal locks – stone walls, wooden gates with metal latches and gears, remnants from the mid-1800s.
At Freemansburg, we find a lockmasters house, the remains of the locks and a mill, which, when I visited, was manned by interpreters in period dress. I wonder whether the village was settled by freemen and am told that it was named for one of the original settlers, Richard Freeman.
Freemansburg is a classic example of a canal town with houses and structures built up against the waterway that was the village’s lifeblood in the 1800s. Members of the Old Freemansburg Association (OFA) reclaimed a 1.5 mile section of the Lehigh Canal the Borough owns from overgrowth and debris and restored the towpath which became the D&L Trail. The OFA spearheaded efforts to protect and restore the 1829 Locktender’s House, mule barn, Lock No. 44, gristmill, and coal yard. Volunteers also reconstructed the barn using canal era tools and equipment, a project that took 10 years to complete. The multi-functional building now hosts weddings, educational sessions and interpretative demonstrations. (http://lehighvalleyhistory.com/history-of-the-borough-of-freemansburg)
Riding on, we come to an island that consists of a shuttered steel mill that today stands somewhat surreally like an abstract sculpture.
Day 3 – 47 miles: After breakfast, the group departs Bethlehem and cycles south following the path of 19th century aqueducts to the confluence of the Lehigh and Delaware Rivers. Visit the only operating mule drawn canal boat east of the Mississippi. Tour the National Canal Museum and pass through quaint river villages, until arriving in New Hope. New Hope offers bustling nightlife and cultural attractions such as the Bucks County Playhouse.
The Delaware & Lehigh National Heritage Corridor interprets this fascinating period of American history in the 520-acre Hugh Moore Park through tours of the National Canal Museum and rides on the 110-passenger Josiah White II canal boat. Here you see remnants of the oldest industrial park in the region, a Locktender’s House and one of only three mule-drawn canal boats still operating in America, which plies a two-mile section of the canal that has been restored. The National Canal Museum, with hands-on exhibits highlighting 19th century canal life and technology, normally is open from June until October. (https://canals.org/)
Day 4 – 22 miles: On day four, after breakfast at the Fox and Hound Bed & Breakfast, ride along the canal trail to Washington Crossing where George Washington crossed the Delaware in 1776. You also cross the Delaware to the D&R Canal State Park and head north to Bull’s Island where the ride ends with lunch before being shuttled back to your car.
Available dates at this writing include Sept. 14 and Oct. 5 (up to 14 guests per trip, with 2 guides; the minimum age is 13; e-bike rentals are available, but the trail is easy/moderate crushed gravel trail). The cost is $995 ($225 single supplement); $90 to rent a bike, and includes the overnight accommodations, professional bike guides; sag wagon; basic bike repair (replacement bike if needed to complete the ride); rest stops with snacks and water; breakfast on three days; lunch on two days; luggage transportation to each accommodation; morning trail briefings and transportation back to your car by 4pm on the final day.
If you would rather DIY, Pocono Biking also offers daily rates and shuttle service, Big Day Out & Big Night Out (Multisport Adventures), two-day trips, and Pocono Whitewater Rafting on the Lehigh River.
“Bike touring lends itself to a vacationing style that uniquely fits these times: small groups and big open spaces! Although we understand that traveling at this moment is not for everyone and is a personal decision, our goal is to minimize the risks where possible and make traveling as comfortable as possible.”
By Karen Rubin Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com
If you want to see how America came to be, travel along the Erie Canal. A marvel of engineering when it was opened in 1825, the canal, which spans 353-miles from Albany to Buffalo, creating a water highway for commerce from the Midwest through New York City to the rest of the world, remains a dazzling achievement. But it was also the artery and an engine for invention, innovation, economic development, and ultimately social and political movements. Bike along the Erie Canalway (now virtually uninterrupted and part of the 750-mile Empire State Trail; there are several bike tour companies that offer inn-to-inn bike trips), but to really get the sense of it, float along the canal, tying up at the small towns and major cities that the canal birthed, and see unfold before you all the major social and economic movements that made America: immigration, labor, abolition and civil rights, women’s rights.
A few years ago, I had that opportunity, and in this time when people are shunning cruising because of the coronavirus pandemic but embracing RVs, renting your own self-skippered, specially-designed Lockmaster canal boat offers the best of those worlds. Founded decades ago as Mid-Lakes Navigation by Peter Wiles who designed the Lockmaster canalboats and was a significant force in repurposing the Erie Canal from commercial to recreational use, the company, Erie Canal Adventures, is now in the hands of Brian Kennan, and . And even though you are still in New York State, the sights and experiences are as interesting and exciting as sailing the canals of Europe.
The company has made accommodations for COVID-19 – sanitizing the compartments so that there is a tape over them until the passengers arrive; instead of cooking utensils and “hard goods” being kept on the boat, they are taken off after each trip, sanitized and provided to guests in a sanitized tote when they arrive.
The orientation is still done on the water – the guide wears mask and gloves – to take you through one of the canal locks (thrilling), but the orientation that would have been done in the cabin is now offered by video.
Bikes are still provided but they are taken off the boat after each cruise, sanitized and replaced for each trip.
This part of New York State is already in Phase 4 – meaning that there is indoor and outdoor dining (with social distancing), many of the museums and attractions have reopened like the George Eastman Museum and the Strong Museum (with limits on capacity). In the various canal towns, you won’t have any trouble finding groceries or restaurants. And New York State has been successful containing the spread of illness and turning from the worst infection rate to the lowest in the country, because New Yorkers have scrupulously adhered to using masks and social distancing. (Now, to prevent any reemergence, the state is imposing a 14-day quarantine on visitors from states where COVID-19 rates are surging.)
I am at the helm of a 41-foot canal boat, a boat so enchanting and lovely, it turns heads and evokes waves, smiles, and snapped photos as it chugs pleasantly along at a top speed of 6 mph.
From this vantage point, I can appreciate this marvel of engineering, of grit and ingenuity the Erie Canal was, the vital role it played in the United States’ emergence as an Industrial giant in the 19th century and a dominant economic power in the 20th century.
There is no place in the United States like the Erie Canal, and no experience like having your own self-skippered canal boat – our floating home for the week – and a bicycle with which to explore the towns that were literally birthed by the canal. And to a New York City kid, seeing this bucolic countryside is a revelation. (“This is New Yawk!”)
It is extraordinary and thrilling to travel on the 363-mile long Erie Canal that slices through New York State and played such a vital part in the nation’s history, especially as we go through locks that are filled for us, and under bridges that must be lifted for us to pass.
Most of all, it lets us explore and appreciate the extraordinary innovation and ingenuity that developed because of the Erie Canal, the villages and towns, the factories and businesses that developed, and how the canal turned New York City into a global financial capital, and united the East with the West, how it funneled thousands of immigrants who populated the Midwest.
This is a true adventure. One where there are new discoveries, new insights, new perspectives formed with every new encounter. The Erie Canal birthed these places and now we see how they are being reborn, revitalized.
Setting off on our first morning, I have rarely felt that exhilarating sense of being so fancy free – to not have a set itinerary or schedule or even know where I am going or what I will see, but to have the power and ability just go where your curiosity leads. It is a marvelous.
We had trepidation about navigating the boat – a 41-foot long houseboat, like a floating RV – docking and most intriguingly going through the locks along the canal. But when we arrive, we get a two-hour orientation – every aspect about operating the boat, plugging in to electricity and water; how to turn on the engine, the stove, the shower, flush the toilet; how to recharge the batteries by running the engine in neutral; how to operate the radio and the correct protocol when contacting bridge and lock operators to “request passage”.
We are taken on a “shake-down” cruise that includes going back and forth through a lock. We are provided with a chart book and a handy sheet that lets you approximate how many hours between ports (important to keep track of the hours the lift operator is available).
Key advice: “Don’t approach anything faster than you would care to hit it.” The steel-hulled boat is powered by a 50 horsepower diesel engine; its top speed is 6 mph, and it weighs 11 tons “so you can’t get into trouble,” we are told.
The canal boat is outfitted with just about everything you might need – from ponchos to potholders to paper towels. There is even a grill and BBQ tools and canisters of propane. There are safety devices, a tool kit, even a sewing kit.
Our boat, the Canadice, is 41 feet long and can sleep 4 people (one double bed and two bunk beds in the galley; a well designed galley kitchen with small refrigerator and freezer; a shower; a table and sitting area in the bow), suitable for a family; the largest Lockmaster can accommodate 6 adults.
Within moments, the thrill of what this is all about floods over me: This is a real adventure, where have to do everything yourself, not have it done for you, make decisions.
As we sail along, I reflect on how lovely this boat is: the gorgeous knotty pine wood detailing; the varnished wood seats and a railing that makes for a back rest as you hold the tiller, brass and varnished wood. The cabin is beautiful knotty pine. It has a canvas canopy over the helm and even on a hot day, the breezes as we travel are delightful. The bow has screens with plastic and canvas that zip and snap easily so we can close everything up in the event of rain and a table that can even be moved inside.
The design for the Lockmaster came from Peter Wiles, Sr., who was a key architect of the transition of the Erie Canal from commercial to recreational use. He had a small tour boat business on Skaneateles Lake and went to England to see the self-skippered canal boats that operated on the Thames, and brought back the concept for boats that he would design and build here.
Wiles took the charm and the traditional design but adapted the boat to the Erie Canal, with a wider (roomier) beam, mostly flat bottomed and do not have a keel (the Erie Canal is only about 12-feet deep and is actually filled and drained each season). He founded the MidLakes Navigation company which, when we visit, is run by his children, Sarah and Peter Wiles (the company has since been acquired and renamed Erie Canal Adventures).
We soon get the hang of piloting the boat, and after a couple of hours sailing, we come to Fairport, a most charming town, with shops and restaurants right along the canal. It is a picture-perfect model of revitalization.
Fairport did not exist before construction of the Erie Canal dried up a swamp and produced a “fair port” for travelers. “Commerce thrived as entrepreneurs turned ideas into products,” says one of the best guides to this portion of the canal, “100 Must See Miles”
One of these entrepreneurs was Henry Deland who had the idea to produce baking soda from wood ash. The building right on the canal and next to the bridge where there is now a delightful Towpath Cafe was where Deland manufactured his baking soda which was transported by canal to international markets.
Just up Main Street, on the south side of the canal, I find the Deland Mansion, built in 1876. After Deland made his fortune in Fairport, he bought land and founded Deland, Florida in 1876, which he thought to build into a citrus, agricultural and tourism center. He sold his northern business and hired people to clear land, lay out streets, erect buildings and recruit settlers, most from upstate New York; he lost his fortune in an orange freeze in 1885.
The mansion is magnificent: Second Empire style with tower, porches, fireplaces, it was one of the grandest private residences in western New York. After several private owners, including the Clark Family, the Deland Mansion opened as the Green Lantern Inn sometime after 1928, and served as a restaurant, speakeasy, rooming house, banquet hall.
The mansion is across from the First Baptist Church, which was built at same time as Deland built his mansion.
Each of the canal towns we visit has done a superb job of using historical markers and photos to illustrate the “then and now.” As we follow them, it is like a story that unfolds.
At Fairport, there is a marker that shows how Old South Main Street “yields to urban renewal: Commercial block changes from necessities to niceties.”
The beauty of the canal boat is that you can organize the day around what you want to do – whether it is to just hang out in a town – perhaps visit a museum. Our main purpose is to position us to bike the towpath. And so we tie up the Canadice at Fairport, take down our bikes from the roof, and head out about 7 miles to the next major town, Pittsford, along the canal bikeway. It is one of the prettier rides, with lovely homes on the canal.
Just before Pittsford, we cross over a mile-long section called “The Great Embankment.” This is the highest canal embankment, actually built over the Irondequoit Creek which rushes through a tunnel under the canal.
In the earliest days of the Erie Canal, the embankment thrilled both onlookers and passengers as boats seemed to travel in midair over the mile-wide valley created by the Irondequoit Creek. The canal has been rebuilt three times since it originally opened in 1823. The original canal was a mere four-feet deep and 40-feet wide; three times it was enlarged, made deeper (first 7 feet deep and 70-feet wide, then 12-feet deep and 120-feet wide), and in many cases, moved entirely to make a better route as boats became motorized.
This is our first introduction to the engineering of the Erie Canal. I really hadn’t even thought of the canal as having a false bottom, that the canal is actually drained (around November 1), and refilled (around May 1) each season.
The Great Embankment is a revelation, but we will find even more dramatic examples of engineering, as we explore by bike and boat.
We return to Fairport, and prepare to get underway again – actually boating back to Pittsford.
It’s just passed 6 pm when we leave Fairport.
But to leave Fairport, you have to go under a lift bridge, and Fairport’s is very distinctive: it is constructed with no right angles.
There are 16 lift bridges on the Erie Canal, all of them in the west, and the eastern-most one is here at Fairport. The bridges are delights to look at – they have ornate towers and it is wonderful to watch how they work.
We have been instructed on the etiquette of using the radio to ask the lock tender to lift a bridge or open a lock. Some are covered by operators handling multiple bridges, so you might be told to standby and wait for the operator to get back to the bridge. (take note of the hours of operation – westward from Macedon toward Buffalo, the locks are open 7 am to 10 pm; eastward to Lake Oneida in Syracuse (the boats do not go all the way to Albany), the lifts operate 7 am to 7 pm).
We tie up for the night at Port of Pittsford Park, right below the Main Street Bridge (there is no charge but some of the ports along the canal charge up to $15 to overnight).
We stroll the charming streets (and there are some gorgeous residential streets as well), and see what an affluent community Pittsford is. Old money and new money poured in over the last 15 years to revitalize the downtown area.
Pittsford was settled in 1789 by Revolutionary War veterans, but it was the Erie Canal that first brought prosperity to the town, because it facilitated transport to market of tons of heavy gravel from the nearby hills.
We see stunning Victorian-era buildings – the Phoenix Hotel, built in 1812 in the Federalist style, 1812 to serve the Erie Canal and Turnpike trade, restored 1967 as an office building across from the Town Hall, dated 1890. There is also the Canal Lamp Inn, a stunning Victorian, right beside the canal bridge. (Self-guided walk through Pittsford, villageofpittsford.org).
Just minutes after we finish our picnic dinner of pizza and get inside our boat and close the hatches, it starts to pour. We are cozy inside. We hear the patter of rain as we watch a DVD on our computer.
The star attraction – and the major character – in this travel epic is the Erie Canal, itself. The historic markers we come upon are like chapters in the story, and as our trip unfolds, our appreciation of what the canal was, what it represented, and the impact it had, grows.
All 11 Lockmasters in Erie Canal Adventures’ fleet sail from Macedon, near Rochester, NY, and with enough time, you can cruise some 200 miles from Buffalo to Lake Oneida in Syracuse along the canal. Besides sailing along the Erie Canal (as far as , you can also sail on other waterways, taking spurs south to the Finger Lakes, or north up the Oswego canal to Lake Ontario.