Thursday, September 27, 2012

Vermont/New Hampshire Trip: Preview #2

Today is our 4th wedding anniversary. Perfect excuse to go on a road trip. Less than 24 hours until this year's Big Road Trip, to Vermont and New Hampshire, begins!

I previewed this preview, if you will, last week. Now, I'm going to get into a little more detail, because we did a wee bit more planning for this trip than we did for, say, that Alabama trip. You know, the one where we didn't even know we were going to Alabama until the day before we left. (I hate to keep pooping all over Alabama. It's not Alabama's fault; that trip just happens to be a good example of a poorly planned road trip. We could get away with a lack of planning pre-Marla, but not anymore.)

So...what's our plan this time?


View Larger Map

(Note: the routes highlighted above aren't necessarily the ones we're going to take. Usually not, actually. I also didn't label our specific destinations in Vermont / New Hampshire; I'll save those maps for the recaps.)

Day 0: A two-plus hour head start

Pre-Marla, it was very common for us to begin a road trip immediately after work, and drive until 10 PM or so. Post-Marla, the rules have changed - no driving after dinner, if we can avoid it. But we should be ready to hit the road around 3 PM tomorrow, so why not get a two-hour head start Friday afternoon? And while we're at it, we'll visit my aunt and uncle, who live two hours north of us in Nottoway County, Virginia.

One reason to wait until Saturday to leave would have been so that I could go curling Friday night. But curling Friday nights are late nights, so that would already put me behind, sleep wise, before the trip even began. More importantly, this two-hour head start is really going to come in handy on Day 2.

Day 1: Drive to Albany, NY

Just driving today, but we do plan on taking at least one "scenic" route: the Taconic State Parkway in New York. Ideally I'd also like to take US-301 through Maryland, but we may not have time to do both. Gotta reach our destination before dinner time, you know.

Day 2: Mount Mansfield and vicinity

That two-hour head start on Day 0 gives us two extra hours in Vermont today. Hooray!

The primary stop is Mount Mansfield, the highest point in Vermont. On the way there, we'll probably stop at a waterfall or two, and perhaps fight traffic, too. This will be a Sunday, and I know a lot of "leaf peepers" (as we're called, apparently) love to clog the roads of Vermont and New Hampshire this time of year. I'm kind of expecting "tornado chasing traffic in Oklahoma" type of traffic, at least today. Hopefully Monday through Thursday won't be as bad.

The road to the top of Mount Mansfield is a toll road that charges $27/car. Seems expensive, right? Well...that's the going rate for things to do up here, it seems, so, we'll pay up. This is a vacation, after all.

After Mount Mansfield, it's off to our cabin in the woods south of St. Johnsbury, where we'll be spending the next five nights.

Day 3: New Hampshire

The New Hampshire day is going to be the highlight of the trip, for me. Mount Washington has always been on my 'bucket list'. It's well known as a magnet for bad weather, it's the highest point in the state, and there are also those bumper stickers. It's a must stop for us!

(I'm undecided on whether I'm going to get a bumper sticker of my own, but regardless, I probably won't put one on my car. I generally don't put vacation-y stickers on my car, e.g. "OBX" oval stickers or "Mile 0 Key West". I think they're a little too trendy for my taste. It works if you have a whole bunch of them from lots of different places on your car, especially if they're uncommon ones, because that's neat. But just having one vacation-y sticker on your car is kind of lame, because you're kind of saying, "I think this one place is better than EVERY OTHER PLACE EVER!" And no, I do not consider my Canada flag sticker a "vacation-y" sticker. Why? Because I said so. Besides, Canada IS better than every other place ever.)

Of course, the problem with being a magnet for bad weather is that the road to Mount Washington (which will cost us even more than Mount Mansfield, by the way) is often closed due to weather. So if the weather looks bad, we'll swap this day's itinerary with one of the next three days. No big deal.

Whichever day we head this way, our next stop after Mount Washington will probably be a drive down the widely acclaimed Kancamagus Highway, one of the best scenic drives in all of New England, apparently. Woo! Then we'll probably go to Franconia Notch after that, which is home to a bunch of touristy areas that cost money, including the former site of the iconic Old Man of the Mountain. Those three destinations will probably fill up the New Hampshire day, but we have more options lined up if necessary.

Day 4: Québec

We considered spending the entire week in Québec, but decided there would be more for us to do on the American side of the border. But hey, we'll be close! So, instead, we'll just go to Canada for a few hours. We haven't been to Canada in any capacity since the return trip from Alaska, almost 27 months ago.

We don't have to get a passport for Marla - a birth certificate is sufficient for children under 16, if crossing into Canada by land or sea - so we already have everything we need from a documentation standpoint for a border crossing. Passing through customs isn't exactly my favorite thing to do, but at least this time we won't have to explain all of the stuffed animals. Actually, having a young child with us might make us less suspicious, no?

Well, anyway, a day trip to Parc National du Mont-Orford should give us our Canada fix. It'll also be the first time we've been to Québec together (we've both been separately). The plan is to also stop in Derby Line along the way and visit the Haskell Opera House, which straddles the international border.

I doubt southern Québec gets too many "leaf peepers". Everyone probably either sticks with New England or goes farther north into Québec, right? The Sherbrooke area of Québec is kind of "in between" everything and doesn't strike me as much of a tourist magnet, regardless of the time of year. And if I'm honest, if we had more time, we'd go farther north, too.

Day 5: White River Junction area

New Hampshire is east of our cabin, and Québec is north. Next up: south!

We've booked tickets for a train ride that departs from White River Junction, so I guess this is the one day that isn't flexible. We have to do this day in order, regardless of the weather.

The train ride isn't until 2:30 (after Marla's nap time, ideally), so until then, we might check out the nearby Quechee Gorge, Calvin Coolidge birthplace, Dartmouth College campus, or maybe head deeper into New Hampshire. Lots to see and do around here!

By the way, the plan is to schedule scenic drives, such as the Kancamagus, so that they coincide with Marla's usual 12 to 2 nap time. Planning!

Day 6: Montpelier / St. Johnsbury / remainder

The closest town/city to our cabin is St. Johnsbury. Why not, you know, actually visit St. Johnsbury? There's a national history museum in town, and a corn maze (could be fun) nearby. Farther west in Montpelier, there's the state capitol and a maple syrup farm, because if you're going to go to Vermont, it only seems appropriate to do something, for lack of a better term, maple syruppy.

Also near Montpelier is the Ben and Jerry's ice cream factory/whatever it's called, but...we won't be going there. It seems like everyone who goes to Vermont pays them a visit, and that is precisely why we are not paying them a visit. Too trendy. And too indoors-y, too. I mean, it's October! We're not going here for ice cream.

It's always good to work in a slow-paced "remainder" day into the schedule. Apparently, a complementary canoe and nearby lake come with our cabin rental, too, so that might be a good activity for the "remainder" day. We have a Marla-sized life vest and everything!

Day 7: Drive to Cape May, NJ (ish)

Time to head home. So...if you'll recall, that Alabama trip was originally going to be a New Jersey trip, but we switched it up because of the weather forecast. Part of the New Jersey plan was to ride from Cape May to Lewes, DE, so I decided to incorporate that into this trip instead.

It would have been nice and convenient if we could have found a cheap hotel in Cape May, but...here's the thing. Even in October, which hardly seems like beach season to me, hotels are still charging exorbitant rates. Some even carry four-night minimums. In the summer, I get it - Cape May is a popular beach getaway. But in October? I don't understand. If I tried hard enough, I could have probably found at least one hotel on Cape May that would let us stay for just one night and for a reasonable price, but instead, we're staying 30 minutes north of the cape in Marmora. That just means we'll have to wake up 30 minutes earlier in order to catch our early morning ferry ride the next day. Day 8: Drive home

And, that's the trip!

Dumb statistics

Yeah, I can't help but consider how many new counties I might visit when planning a road trip. There aren't many holes left for me to fill on the East Coast, but New England is one of them. I'll save the specifics for the recap, but I stand to gain around 15 counties from this trip. Marla is obviously going to gain a bunch, since this will be her first ever trip in this direction. Actually, the heck with counties...this trip will give Marla seven new states. (Plus one Canadian province! Assuming the Québec day actually happens.)

Anyone who's driven in the Northeast knows that toll roads and bridges are unavoidable. According to my calculations, depending on which routes we take, we will be paying a minimum of $31.20 in tolls throughout the trip, and a maximum of $64.80 in tolls. That sounds like a lot, and...well, it is.

Live tweeting

I'll try to live tweet parts of the trip and post pretty pictures en route, but I don't think I'll have cell phone reception at the cabin, and I know I won't in Nottoway County, Virginia. So, we'll see.

See you in a week!

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