Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Person County

I make kind of a big deal out of visiting as many counties as I can. But once I visit a county that first time, is there a reason for me to go back? In the case of Person County, apparently, no.

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My home county of Durham County shares a border with five other counties. Those other four (Wake, Orange, Chatham, Granville, Person). Wake, Orange, Chatham, and Granville, I've been to countless times. Person County, however...well, I can only remember four times in which I've gone there, ever: 1) On my way to Staunton, VA in 2006. (But not on the way back.) 2) On my way to South Boston, Virginia, for a round disc golf. (But not on the way back.) 3) On a bike ride earlier this year that started in Bahama (northern Durham County). 4) A couple of weekends ago when I went on a Sunday morning drive to fill in some gaps in my U.S. Routes Driven spreadsheet.

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(I just felt like documenting that drive. Documenting these things occasionally comes in handy a few years later.)

And, that's it. I can't think of any other trip to Person County, ever, even though it's, like, right there.

Why don't I go to Person County more often? Well, it's pretty simple: 1) There's nothing there, at least that I know of. There's the town of Roxboro, and...? 2) There aren't any major through roads there. There are no interstates, and the two U.S. Highways that pass through it, I rarely have a reason to take. If I'm going north towards Lynchburg, taking NC-86 and US-29 by way of Danville is a much better option than US-501 through Roxboro and South Boston. By the way, thanks to that Sunday morning drive a couple weeks ago, I've now driven every mile of U.S. Highway in Person County.

That said, it was kind of a nice drive through Person County the other day. But there are so many other places we can go. I just think it's kind of an interesting fluke that despite the many, many miles of driving we do, there's a county very close to home that I've only been to four times.

As for Marla...will she ever visit Person County? So far, she has not.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Curling Recap: 10/26/12

Another (relatively) long hiatus from curling - five weeks - is over. Back to the ice! Good timing, too, given that kickball just ended.

Career game #197: 2012 Fall League - October 26, 2012
(my team: K. Jackson)

End........... 12345678S |TTL
K. Jackson.... 101021010 | 06
M. Jackson.... 010300201 | 07

Despite the long hiatus, I actually played pretty well. I had my draw weight, and my aim was good...most of the time. After five years of curling, five weeks off isn't really going to affect my game all that much. My sweeping muscles, on the other hand...that's a different story. This was my first game as a sweeper (non-Skip) in eleven weeks. I'm still feeling it today.

The game was another epic Kathy v. Murray showdown (they're married, for those who aren't in the club) that came down to the final end, and subsequent shootout. And because I wasn't the Skip, it doesn't bother me so much that we ended up losing...except that we're the only remaining winless team in either the Friday League or the Sunday League. But on the bright side, we count "shootout losses" in the standings, just like the NHL, except that this season, wins are worth three points instead of two. So instead of 0-4, we're 0-3-1! Woo? (Note: I missed two of those losses while in Vermont.)

It has been a tough season so far, in part because we have yet to have our entire four-person roster at the rink all at once. Perhaps this season just wasn't meant to be. Even though we're pretty much out of contention, there is still plenty to play for, at least for the stat-minded among us who have a couple of notable streaks in jeopardy:
- Can I keep my streak alive of not finishing in last place in any league, ever? Assuming we finish the regular season in 7th or 8th place, that will come down to the 7/8 game the final week. With any luck, we'll even have our entire team that week!
- Can I finish 2012 with an above-.500 record for the year and keep that streak alive as well? I'm 17-19 so far this year, so if our last four league games are the only games I play the rest the year (which they may or may not be), I need to finish the year 3-1 to end at .500, or 4-0 to end above .500. An uphill battle, yes, but I figured I'd have a sub-.500 year eventually. And even if I did finish the year above .500, that will only be because we bought Debbie McCormick for a weekend, so does that really count?

Well, either way, I probably won't be feeling the pressure too much the rest of the way. In some ways, ending both of those streaks might actually be a good thing.

We have another game this Friday...and again the next two weeks after that! Sweet.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Sports Friday: 10/26/12

College football - Let's start with the positives this week. (As in, not the NFL, and certainly not the NHL.)

I mean, this is perhaps the most anticipated Florida State/Duke game ever! (Actually, I'm sure it's not. We all just have short memories when it comes to all-time superlatives.) Duke is 6-2 and bowl eligible for the first time since...well, I don't feel like looking it up. But I do know that they're leading their division in the ACC, which is just crazy. I mean, this is Duke we're talking about. Might this even be an ACC Championship game preview???

Florida State is still a pretty big favorite here. Although given some of the injuries FSU has endured, most recently to running back Chris Thompson...you never know, right? Duke at Florida State - Sat 3:30p, ESPNU

I haven't talked about Penn State much lately, because once their season got off to an 0-2 start, I kind of settled into a "well, this season doesn't really matter anyway" mindset. But hey, they haven't lost since! And this week they play fellow probationists Ohio State in a game that could very well be against the best two teams in the Big Ten, except that neither is eligible for the Big Ten title, of course. Maybe they could stage their own non-NCAA-sanctioned bowl game this December. Just because. I'd watch that. Ohio State at Penn State - Sat 5:30p, ESPN

NFL - This just in: the Jaguars aren't very good. Things look as bleak as they've looked in a long time. But then again, if they were 2-0 in overtime instead of 0-2, the Jaguars would be 3-3. How unbelieveable is that? Even more unbelieveable is that given Chad Henne's performance last Sunday, Blaine Gabbert - as disappointing as he's been this year - might actually be their MVP! But I'm pretty sure the Jaguars' new GM (hopefully) will be looking long and hard at taking a quarterback with whatever Top 5 draft pick the Jaguars end up with next April. Jacksonville at Green Bay - Sun 1:00p, NFL Sunday Ticket

If the Jaguars get blown away early - and let's face it, that's pretty likely - I have a backup plan: Robert Griffin III. Yeah, he's been getting a lot of hype, and that's normally a turnoff...but here's the thing. Among all the big cities, I've kind of developed a soft spot for the Washington teams. (Except for the Capitals. They still suck.) And, let's face it, Redskins games have been pretty entertaining this year. Washington at Pittsburgh - Sun 1:00p, NFL Sunday Ticket

MLB - Remember that whole "I've been watching more playoff baseball than I have in quite some time" thing? Well...once the Nationals were painfully eliminated by blowing a 9th inning lead, with two outs, in the deciding game, I pretty much stopped watching. I probably watched about five minutes of the League Championship series, combined. But now that we're up to the World Series, I've started watching again, at least until the 5th inning or so (a.k.a. bed time). My rooting interest: former FSU player Buster Posey. San Francisco at Detroit - Sat 8:00p and Sun 8:00p, FOX

NHL - Of all the professional sports that could place a team in Raleigh, how come we get stuck with the one that's most poorly run? Doesn't seem fair. And how can they expect the sport to grow in "non-traditional markets" if we have to go through this every few years? At this point, I can't blame anyone in, say, Phoenix, for taking their money and attention elsewhere.

That said, the lockout could very well end, you know, tomorrow. All one side has to do is cave. And once one side caves and makes that phone call, this lockout will be over faster than you can dial 1-800-SCREW-YOU-BETTMAN.

But until then...I need something to fill the void. (Well, I don't need something, but there is room in my sports viewing schedule for it, especially on days like Tuesday and Wednesday.) And that brings me to...

Soccer - A few weeks back, I started watching French soccer on an obscure new soccer channel called "beIN Sport". Two months later, and I'm still watching it! (You can thank Gary Bettman for that.) In fact, I've even developed a rooting interest: Olympique de Marseille, the 9-time Ligue 1 champions, and only French team to have ever won the UEFA Champions League.

OM (as they're commonly abbreviated) is actually the most popular team in France. Now...It's very unlike me to adopt an already popular team as my favorite, but, here's the thing: 1) Nobody in the US gives une merde about French soccer, so I haven't already developed a distate for OM like I have for some of the more popular English sides (e.g. Manchester United). And while Marseille has a very strong domestic following, I'm not sure they have much of a fan base outside of France. 2) I wanted to adopt a team that at least had a chance of occasionally making the larger European championships, like the Champions League. Sure, I could have picked a middle-of-the-road French team like Toulouse, but what's the point? Toulouse is never going to be a threat at the European level. Marseille, on the other hand, has that history, even as recently as last year when they made the UEFA Champions League quarterfinals. (Note: the only other French teams I would consider capable of being "competitive" at the European level are Olympique Lyonnais and Paris Saint-Germain, and maybe Girondins de Bordeaux. So it's not like I had too many options here.)

Here's another thing that's nice about Ligue 1. I can record games over the weekend (because that's when they play), and can comfortably wait until the following Tuesday or Wednesday to watch it without having to worry about someone on Facebook spoiling the result. It's perfect for the DVR. You can't do that with an NFL game.

Also, some Tuesdays and Wednesdays - which used to be good hockey nights - feature the UEFA Champions League. Three French teams are in the Champions League this year, but Marseille isn't among them; instead, they're in something called the "Europa League", which from what I understand is basically the NIT of European club football. I haven't invested any time in OM's Europa League games yet, though. (I guess I'm not that big a fan yet. ... Actually, I'd be surprised if those games are even on TV.)

But, I have been watching Champions League games that involve French teams. While Paris Saint-Germain has a chance to go deep in the tournament, unfortunately, the other two French sides (Montpellier and Lille) are going nowhere. It's actually kind of interesting: you qualify for the 2012-13 Champions League based on how well you did in your domestic league during the 2011-12 season. So what happens if you had a good team in 2011-12, only to immediately lose a bunch of your best players to other teams? That's what happened to Montpellier and Lille. Even though they finished 1st and 3rd in Ligue 1 last year, neither team is all that good this year. And because they happened to qualify for the Champions League based on last year's aberration, they're making Ligue 1 look bad in the process. (That actually does matter, because each league's performance in the Champions League - and Europa League, too - determines how many spots each league gets in future competitions. By the way, I love how complex all of this is.)

I'm sure I'll come running back to the NHL the minute they start playing again. But until then... Marseille v. Lyon - Sun 6:30p (tape delay), beIN

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Co-ed Kickball: Season 6 (Almost) Recap

It's been kind of a crazy season in kickball. Most nights, we have barely enough women to meet the minimum (three) and field a legal team, which has occasionally forced me to sit out while Amber goes out and plays. (We can't bring Marla out for every game. And it's getting even harder now that she's more mobile.) But still, if you count preseason games (I do) and playoff games, I still got 8 games, just like last season. That's actually the ideal number, I think.

Last season, we finished barely over .500 (7-5), but caught some breaks, and had a 9th inning rally in the championship game to win the league. This season, if you count the preseason game and Monday's playoff game, our team's record is 7-2-2 - and that even includes one forfeit loss!

Now...about those ties. Our games are becoming increasingly low scoring, mostly due to improved defense. Against most teams, if you kick a ball into the outfield, it will be caught, so pretty much your only chance offensively is to play 'small ball' - bunts and sacrifices. We've been doing it that way (me especially) for a while now, but now everyone is doing it. And against a good team, you'll be fortunate to score more than two runs in a game. And that results in ties. We had our first two ties ever, this season. We're like a soccer league now! (Regular season games can go to a 10th inning, but not an 11th inning.) I think one thing the town should consider to promote offense is reducing the number of outfielders from four to three to help open things up a bit. A kickball doesn't carry like a softball does.

So, you're playing a team that bunts well, and is virtually guaranteed to get first and second with no outs. How do you defend? Well...basically it comes down to, well, not throwing the ball away. Offensively, many of our runs have come when the throw to first goes haywire, allowing someone else to score from second, for instance. Many times, the best play is to eat the ball, load the bases, and try to get the force out at home next batter. It seems like we've been doing that a lot lately; in fact, in our playoff game on Monday, the game ended when the other team's would-be tying run was called out at home. (Exciting!) When a runner is on third with less than two outs, is probably when funky pitching is most important: keeping the kicker off balance and making it harder for them to kick one into the outfield for an automatic sacrifice fly. It also helps to have fielders with strong arms that can fire the ball to home plate in a hurry.

The stats from this season (prior to tonight's game):

Season batting: 18 H in 24 AB (.750), 1 RBI, 9 R, 1 2B, 0 BB/K. A sizeable improvement from last season's .645 average. And, I got a double! Yay! (The double came as a result of a bunt almost going foul. The other team waited for it to roll foul, but it never did, and while they stood there watching it, I ran to second.)

Season pitching: 7 starts, 5-1-1 record, 1.51 ERA (10 ER in 59.2), 3 K, 4 BB (3 IBB). Another career low ERA...for now. That could change tonight. (Our opponent in the championship game is the #1 seed, and the only team that has beaten us on the field this season.) And the days of 10+ strikeout seasons are long gone due to the smaller strike zone, but at least I got three this season. (All of those came in one game. Pretty much the only way to get a strikeout anymore is to pitch fast, with spin, and hope they're not ready for it.)

I'll add an update to this post after the game is over. I think our odds of repeating as champions tonight are about 50/50. Goooo team!

UPDATE 10:30p: We lost. Totally jinxed us with the "career low ERA...for now!" comment. But I did finish with a career high batting average, at least.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Lowercase Letters

Now that I'm done blogging about the Vermont trip, I can get back to complaining about stupid things that don't really matter, such as...

This is Arby's new logo.. Aside from a new font, the big change is that the capital 'A' has been replaced by a lowercase 'a'.

Having an all lowercase corporate logo is trendy. Many companies have gone from ALL CAPS to only capitalizing the first letter (e.g. Walmart), but some are going all lowercase, including the first letter. One company Amber occasionally works with even insists that when you type out their company name, that you do so in all lowercase, even when it leads off a sentence.

I found this New York Times article from 2009, which sheds some light on the reasoning behind lowercase letters. Basically, it makes your company seem 'friendlier' and 'more approachable'. I'll buy that. NOBODY LIKES GETTING YELLED AT.

On the other hand...you should at least capitalize the first letter, right? I mean, didn't these people attend English class? Not that I ever go to "arby's" anyway, but now I'm definitely not going.

Bicycling Trip to Australia: Halfway

Ten days ago, I reached the halfway point in my 2,473-mile fictional bicycling journey across Australia, known as the Bicycling Trip in Australia. Hooray! (By "fictional", of course, I don't mean that I'm faking the mileage altogether, only the fact that I'm bicycling in Australia. The mileage is real.)

The trip started near Sydney in February, and I'm currently on pace to reach the Indian Ocean in late Spring / early Summer, 2013. That's about the pace I predicted, and my average weekly pace isn't that far off from the preceding Bicycling Trip to Alaska (37.1 miles/week now, compared to 37.4 miles/week for the Alaska trip). However, I can sense it; the motivation has been lacking as of late.

Recall that the main the reason I do these fake bicycling trips is to motivate me to exercise. In that, they've been huge successes. But it was much easier to motivate myself when the trip was in familiar North America, along roads that I've actually seen and driven in person, than in Australia, which I've obviously never been to. Besides that, let's face it: Australia has a whole lot of nothing in it. That's part of it's charm (and one reason I want to go there), but from a statistical standpoint, it isn't particularly interesting to one who is faking a cross-country bicycling trip. "Woohoo, I just reached a town with nothing in it. Only 43 more miles until the next town with nothing in it!"

Sure, the Alaska Highway had a lot of nothing, too. But at least I've actually been there, and because of that, otherwise unimpressive dots on the map such as Muncho Lake actually mean something to me. Every dot on the map along the Alaska Highway is at least a little familiar to me. On the other hand, these small towns in Australia really are just dots on the map to me.

Every week when I update my progress, I load up Google Street View from my fake location. I'm sure Google Street View doesn't do Australia justice, but the view has looked pretty much exactly like this for the last four months:

View Bicycling Trip in Australia in a larger map

As boring as this part of Australia looks on a screen, I'm sure it's anything but if you actually go there. And some day, we will. But that doesn't help me too much on this here bicycling trip. I mean, even the meaningless dots on the map are about to go away completely. For you see, I'm about to cross the Nullarbor Plain, home to the longest stretch of perfectly straight highway in the world (90 miles), and on paper, not much else. 700 miles away on the other side of the plain is the town of Norseman (population 857), which - believe it or not - is the largest city I'll see for the next 1,000 miles.* (To put that in perspective, Whitehorse is 27 times larger than Norseman.) It will take me four months to get to Norseman, if I'm lucky.

(* - I haven't updated the web page yet, but I made it past Ceduna last weekend; Ceduna's population is over 2,000.)

So I guess what I'm saying is, this Bicycling Trip in Australia is turning into somewhat of a grind, even if it is only a fictional journey. (I mean, can you imagine doing this for real? Holy crap!) But I can do it. Just keep on pedalin'.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Vermont v. New Hampshire

Several years ago, I wrote a blog post comparing my home state (Florida) with Amber's home state (Ohio), and stunningly, I declared Ohio to be "better". (Note - that blog post predates, and is unrelated to, the popular Florida or Ohio blog.) Now, let's compare Vermont and New Hampshire! Because surely, spending four days in one state and one day in the other state automatically makes me an expert.

I'm going to use the same criteria as I did for Florida v. Ohio. Let's start with...

Weather - Vermont v. New Hampshire is a tougher comparison than Florida v. Ohio, because I mean, the states are right next to each other! But it comes down to this, for me. Both states are too cold, and since New Hampshire is closer to the ocean, New Hampshire is less cold. (Slightly.) New Hampshire also has the weather curiosity that is Mount Washington. Advantage: New Hampshire

Population - I gave Florida the nod against Ohio based on its upward population trend. Let's use the same criterion here. In 1870, Vermont had a higher population than New Hampshire. Since then, New Hampshire has had more decade-to-decade population growth (on a percentage and absolute basis) than Vermont, in every single decade! Today, New Hampshire's population more than doubles that of Vermont. Advantage: New Hampshire

Driving - Just like with Florida, the flip side of a higher population is more traffic. New Hampshire may have more spectacular roads, but Vermont has more scenic drives total, and less traffic on them. Also, billboards are illegal in Vermont, which is a huge plus. Advantage: Vermont

Scenery - Nothing against Vermont, but the mountains and the views in New Hampshire were incredible. Both states are beautiful places, though. Advantage: New Hampshire (barely)

Wildlife - We didn't see a whole lot of wildlife in either state during our trip, but it just seems like we were more likely to see a moose in Vermont. As in, our chances of seeing a moose were 0.0002% in Vermont, compared to 0.0001% in New Hampshire. Advantage: Vermont

Industry - Another tough call. New Hampshire's increasing population would imply that it has more jobs. However...Vermont makes lots and lots of maple syrup! And, yes, they have Ben and Jerry's, too. ... Seriously, though, I'm not sure you can base an entire state's economy on maple syrup and ice cream. (Which is very unfortunate, I must say.) Advantage: New Hampshire

Tourism - Everywhere you go in Vermont, there is something to do - a ski resort, a maple syrup farm, a nice small town, something. It's a great place to spend a week. New Hampshire isn't bad, but the tourist stuff all seems to be localized to the northern third of the state. That part of New Hampshire also seemed more "tourist trappy", if that makes any sense. Advantage: Vermont

Taxes - I had to do some research here. In terms of income percentage, Vermont has the highest local tax burden in the country, while New Hampshire has the second-lowest (source). Advantage: New Hampshire

Jokes - Hmm...I don't know any good Vermont or New Hampshire jokes. This was easier with Florida v. Ohio. Advantage: Tie

Famous natives - I don't feel like sorting through these lists, so let's narrow it down to former presidents. Vermont has two (Arthur, Coolidge); New Hampshire has one (Pierce). Advantage: Vermont

Sports - In terms of pro sports, both states are pretty much Boston territory. (By the way, if you're not a fan of New York or Boston sports, do not watch the sports report on the Burlington local news.) So to differentiate Vermont from New Hampshire, I must turn to the state universities. On one hand, UNH's hockey team has been more successful over the years than the University of Vermont hockey team, although neither has ever won a national championship. (UNH and Dartmouth are both 0-2 in national championship games.) On the other hand, in a game I remember well, Vermont did beat Syracuse in the NCAA basketball tournament several years back. Advantage: Tie

State nicknames - New Hampshire is the Granite State; Vermont is the Green Mountain State. Hmm...I knew both, but it took me longer to come up with Vermont's nickname than it did New Hampshire's nickname. Does that mean New Hampshire's nickname is better? Advantage: New Hampshire

State slogans - LIVE FREE OR DIE! Case closed. Advantage: New Hampshire

License plates - No contest. For my money, Vermont has the best license plates in the country. They're beautifully simple, yet very distinctive. Never change your license plates, Vermont! Advantage: Vermont

Proximity to Canada - This replaces the ridiculous "Proximity to West Virginia" criterion from Florida v. Ohio. You'd think this would be a draw, but if you look a map, you'll see that most of Vermont is closer to Canada than most of New Hampshire is. Or to put it another way, Vermont's Canadian border is longer than New Hampshire's Canadian border. Advantage: Vermont

Shopping - I'm adding a new category because I want to make a point here. Vermont seems to be, well, unfriendly to big box stores such as Walmart. Vermont only has four Walmarts in the entire state! And it's not just Walmart, either. Cross the border into New Hampshire, and we were instantly greeted with large grocery stores, Walmarts, and the like. In Vermont, everything is small and local, just like the old days. I'm sure that's how they like it in Vermont, and that's part of its charm. It's part of what makes Vermont, Vermont. But the fact is, New Hampshire is a better place to be if you forgot to pack underwear. Advantage: New Hampshire

FINAL TALLY: New Hampshire wins, 9 to 7! Or, to put it another way: New Hampshire is a better place to live, but Vermont is a better place to go on vacation. But if you're going to come to northern New England on vacation, you may as well visit both states. Especially if you forgot to pack underwear.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Driving Through New York City (and New Jersey)

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(Map key: Point A - the cabin; Point B - Williamsburg Bridge; Point C - our hotel in Marmora, NJ; Point D - Cape May - Lewes Ferry; Point E - home-ish.)

For our return trip from Vermont - which we evenly split up into two days - I thought we'd incorporate a little bit of driving in New York City. And by that, I don't just mean driving by on I-95; I mean, driving in New York City.

That's from the Manhattan side of the Williamsburg Bridge, which took us from Brooklyn to the Lower East Side of Manhattan; we then made a (more or less) straight line across Manhattan to the Holland Tunnel, which took us into New Jersey. I thought it would be a fun experience, if nothing else.

So, I guess we didn't really do all that much non-expressway driving in New York City. From the end of the Williamsburg Bridge to the start of the Holland Tunnel is just over two miles. But how long did those two miles take? ... Bah! I forgot to time it. Maybe 15 minutes? 20? Not too bad, really.

This drive featured two main challenges. Challenge number one: pedestrian traffic.

This being New York, there were plenty of pedestrians. And did they wait for the "Walk" signal? Nope! Most followed the lights, but many still just walked straight across, crosswalk or no crosswalk, green light or no green light. I'd like to know how many pedestrians get hit by cars daily in New York City. Reckless pedestrians are perhaps the #1 danger if you're going to be driving in Manhattan. Jaywalking is often thought of as a "petty" crime, but if you're ever going to legitimately write someone up for jaywalking, New York City is the place to do it.

Challenge number two: getting into the Holland Tunnel.

This is what took most of our time. The tunnel carries two lanes of traffic westbound (and I assume the same eastbound). How many lanes of traffic have to merge down to the tunnel's two lanes? By my unofficial count, eight! And all of those lanes are loaded, too. That said, the merging process was fairly painless; everyone was generally cooperative in performing the "zipper merge". It just took a while.

A third challenge would have been finding a parking spot, but we knew better than to try and stop anywhere. Finding parking in a big city is perhaps my least favorite driving-related activity. If you're going to spend time in Manhattan, driving there isn't the way to go, obviously. Take the subway!

So, that's New York City. Being "nature lovers", we've never considered New York City to be a vacation destination; in fact, spending time in New York might be the the exact opposite of my ideal vacation. But for a half hour, sure, why not?

Might as well weave the rest of our drive back into this blog post, too, like our drive down the Garden State Parkway. Not as exciting as driving through Lower Manhattan, but still...lots of people. Lots and lots of people. The flow of traffic did keep moving; I was just in awe at how many people really live in the Tri-State area. It's hard to interpret what "19 million" actually means until you've seen it for yourself. Suffice to say, I like it here in North Carolina.

On that note, I thought the town of Marmora - where we spent the night - would be pretty much a "nothing town". I also thought that beach season would be over around here. Wrong on both counts! Despite Marmora's less than impressive footprint on maps, the town's grocery store was packed. Were those people all just beach goers, or locals? I'm honestly curious. Maybe I'll have to go back in the middle of winter and compare. And I have a reason to, because...

Obligatory dumb statistics - counties visited: Driving down the Garden State Parkway took care of every county in New Jersey I had yet to visit...except one. Gotta go back! Someday. In New York, I now have six counties remaining, including Nassau and Suffolk, which gives me a reason to drive through New York City at least one more time. Unless you take a boat, there's no other way to get to Long Island.

Finally, there was the Cape May - Lewes Ferry. We enjoyed it!

But is the ferry an efficient way (in terms of both time and money) to get to (or from) southern New Jersey? Not really. The ferry cost the three of us $46 one-way (that's the peak season pricing, apparently), and I'm sure it's cheaper to go around and take the Delaware Memorial Bridge. It's probably also faster, too, because you have to get to the ferry 30-60 minutes before departure, and then the ride itself takes 90 minutes on top of that. That's about 2½ hours total, only a modest savings - maybe an hour, according to Google - over the Delaware Memorial Bridge route. And that's if you're driving from ferry terminal to ferry terminal; chances are, your starting and ending points are not going to be Lewes and Cape May, specifically. (Maybe one or the other, sure, but probably not both.) That said, you do get to get out of the car and relax a little, and that counts for something, especially when you have kids.

Side note about ferries: Every reservations-requiring ferry we've ever taken, we've taken in the early morning (Swanquarter to Ocracoke, Skagway to Haines, Cape May to Lewes). Why? Well, it's just easier to plan ahead that way. It would have been kind of stressful to book, say, a 5 PM Cape May to Lewes ferry ride, knowing that if we hit traffic in New Jersey, we may not make it in time.

Trip over! Now, back to the routine.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Vermont/NH: Day 6 - Québec

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(Map key: Point B - Parc national du Mont-Orford; Point C - Knowlton; Point D - Arbitrary turnaround point; Point E - Haskell Library / Opera House.)

I've been calling this the "Vermont / New Hampshire" trip, even though most of Day 6 was spent in neither Vermont nor New Hampshire.

We hadn't been to Canada in any capacity since we came back from the Alaska trip over two years ago. Our cabin was located only an hour from the border, so...we just had to do it.

If you're curious about what documentation we needed for Marla: while Amber and I need passports, children under 16 crossing the Canadian border by land or sea only need a birth certificate, not a passport. Speaking of which, we had no problems whatsoever entering Canada or re-entering the United States. I mean, they didn't ask me to open the trunk or anything! Like I thought before the trip, having a kid with you might actually make you less suspicious.

First stop: Parc national du Mont-Orford, where we went on a nice hike by a lake.

We almost had the park to ourselves when we got there (9 or 10 in the morning), but there were about ten cars in the parking lot when we got back. Notable: EVERY OTHER CAR in the lot had a Québec license plate. Maybe this is just because of the weather that day, but this part of Québec - the "Eastern Townships" - doesn't seem to attract a lot of American tourists. But I think it's very underrated. It's not as mountainous as Vermont/New Hampshire (the hills taper off as you continue north and west), but it's still nice. Instead, everyone who comes to Québec just goes to Montréal and Québec City, non?

Once we finished with the park - with Marla, one hike per day is plenty - we decided to drive around the Québec countryside and see what we could find. What we found were a few large lakeside mansions (vacation homes for affluent Montrealers?), and the small town of Knowlton.

(I just thought that was an interesting way to denote a four way stop.)

Side note about language. Obviously, most Québécois speak French. I do not, and that bugs me. I took four years of French in high school, but didn't pursue it after that, so I've lost most of it. So, I don't even bother trying to speak French to the natives. And that bugs me, too, because they start out speaking French, and only once they detect the blank look on our faces do they break out the English. I'm sure they're used to it - although maybe not so much in this part of the province, because like I said, not too many Americans seem to come this way. But they didn't seem to mind; being Canadian, they were all very nice*. Still, it makes me feel like a dumb American. (Which I am, I guess. But I want to be better than that!)

(* - While Canadians have a reputation for being very nice people, French Canadians...well, not so much, really. But they were all very nice to us, so I can't speak to that.)

We found several radio stations that only played music in French. I thought that was great! We ate it up. Many of those French-only stations were commercial free, too...or so we thought. Since we don't know French that well, for all we know, that "song" we just listened to could have actually been a commercial for a furniture store. How would we know?

Given how short our stay in Canada was, we didn't bother getting Canadian money or anything. So, it's a good thing the National Park we went to took American money...although they did calculate the exchange rate rather than just take our money as-is. Why? Because as of now (or at least as of our trip), the Canadian dollar is worth more than the American dollar! Good time to be Canadian, eh? (I think the exchange rate was around $1 US = $1.03 CAN during our Alaska trip in 2010.) Well, either way, I hope our waitress in Knowlton didn't mind getting a tip in American currency.

Once we were done inconveniencing the locals with our "English" and "green money", we got back in the car, gave Marla a long car nap (similar to yesterday) along Autoroutes 10 and 55, and headed back south.

So really, we didn't do a whole lot in Québec, I suppose: we spent an hour at a National Park, we drove around for a while, and I ate some poutine. (See separate blog post about the poutine.) Still, it was great to be back in Canada, if only for a few hours. Maybe next time, we'll spend the night in Canada, and I'll get to watch the Weather Network.

But that's not all! After crossing back into Vermont, we stopped at the Haskell Library and Opera House.

We were hoping for a tour of the opera house, but tours had closed for the day by the time we got there (between 3 and 4). Planning fail on my part. So instead, my takeaway from the border town of Derby Line will be this:

That's the Canadian border. Nobody cross, you hear?

I wouldn't be surprised if they had a surveillance camera mounted in the vicinity, but I didn't see one. (Maybe that's the idea?) Either way, it's quite a contrast from, say, the Mexican border. Never been to Mexico, by the way. Closest I've been to Mexico is I-10 in El Paso, from which you can see Mexico, at least. Even that was kind of creepy. And that was before I started watching "Breaking Bad".

Yeah, I think we can wait a little longer before we need to venture into Mexico. It'll be a while before we get tired of Canada. (Provided we Americans can still afford to go there in ten years, that is.)

Wednesday, October 17, 2012


Once upon a time - during our honeymoon, actually - we ate at a restaurant in Thunder Bay, Ontario. The meal I ordered came with french fries, and the waitress asked me if I wanted gravy with my fries. I said no, and thought, "Why would I want gravy with my fries? Weird."

Then, I learned what poutine was all about. I've seen poutine on restaurant menus in Canada before, but I've never ordered it, because I wanted to wait until I was in Québec to give it a try. Poutine was invented and is most widely available in Québec, so if I was ever going to try it, it was going to have to be there. I certainly didn't want the A&W in Sarnia, Ontario - just to pick an example of another place I've seen it on the menu - to give me my first impression of poutine.

When we went to Québec during our Vermont trip and stopped in the small town of Knowlton, I thought, "Hey, I bet I could get poutine here! And so what if I just ate lunch less than two hours ago?" And sure enough, I could; although, more of the diners and restaurants we looked at in Knowlton did not have poutine, than did.

So, I actually have several options here: large poutine, small poutine, large Italian poutine, small Italian poutine. Gotta go with the regular version, obviously. And since I'm here, why not go large? I mean, how often am I in Québec, anyway?

Large indeed! This is about the size of your average cheese fries appetizer served by many American restaurants. And speaking of which, "cheese fries" also happens to be the closest thing to poutine you can get in the States (most places), although down here, fries are rarely served with gravy. But they do both come with cheese! And the cheese is the best part, in my opinion. It's interesting that the cheese is not evenly spread throughout; instead, the cheese comes in small chunks, which means with some bites, you get a mouthful of cheese. Which is quite alright.

As for the gravy, I've never really been big on gravy. I always have my mashed potatoes with no gravy, for instance. But just like the cole slaw on a Primanti Bros. sandwich, it works here. If nothing else, it serves to make the fries soggy. I actually like my fries soggy (sometimes), which is partly why I often douse them with ketchup. Another note: the menu referred to the gravy as "BBQ sauce", but it's nothing like what we think of as barbecue sauce. It's gravy.

My opinion of poutine? Yum! But how much of my "large poutine" did I actually eat?

I boxed the rest and saved it for later. And after driving for three hours with a half-eaten large poutine (a.k.a. a small poutine) sitting in the passenger seat, let me tell you...that stuff has a really strong smell! Oh, and I am proud to report that unlike the In-N-Out Double Double, the large poutine did not give me a massive case of indigestion. YES!

So after eating an entire large poutine in two sittings, here's my question: why? Isn't the concept completely ridiculous? French fries aren't bad enough for you as it is, so let's top it with gravy and cheese, too!! But the ridiculousness of it all is part of its charm. The idea that poutine is as popular as it is north of the border, makes me fall in love with Canada all over again. Seriously, you guys are the best.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Vermont/NH: Day 5 - White River Junction

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(Map key: Point B - Dartmouth College; Point C - Quechee Gorge; Point D - A general store near Sunapee, NH; Point E - arbitrary turnaround point; Point F - White River Junction train station; Point G - the cabin.)

Probably the least interesting day of the trip, if I'm honest. But we can blame the weather for that; the morning was pretty much all wet.

What do you do when it's raining? Go inside! (Or, attempt to hike to the highest point in Vermont, I guess.) We spent 30 minutes at an art museum on the Dartmouth College campus, and a little more time walking around the campus and the adjacent town of Hanover, with umbrella in hand. (Art museums are more Amber's thing, of course.)

Obligatory dumb statistics - Ivy League campuses: By my count, Dartmouth is the second (of eight) Ivy League campus I've been on, the other being the Princeton campus some 20 years ago. (The Princeton visit wasn't as a prospective student, but was because my dad was there grading AP Chemistry tests.) We might have driven by the Cornell campus on this trip, but drive-bys don't count in this case. I haven't toured a whole lot of college campuses, but from what I've seen, college campuses in the Northeast have to be the most scenic ones out there. Everyone else is just copying the campus feel that you get at a small northern college, right? (And for the most part, the colleges up here were certainly "first".)

A break in the rain. Quick! Let's go to Quechee Gorge while we can!

On a nicer day, we would have spent more time here, and perhaps actually walked down into the gorge. But not today; instead, we just took a quick peak from the bridge.

It started raining again, so we drove back into New Hampshire and hung out on the porch of a general store for a little while. That was actually kind of nice. The Fudge Round was nice, too.

After that, it was Marla's nap time, so we gave Marla a nice long car nap by driving down I-89 until an arbitrary turnaround point, and then back to Vermont. (Well, the turnaround point wasn't completely arbitrary, because we had a 2:30 train to catch. Otherwise, we may have gone all the way to Concord.)

Obligatory dumb statistics - interstate mileage: I really like the interstates up here in interior Vermont and New Hampshire. They're scenic, and they don't have much traffic to speak of. If we had time - and if it was practical - I would have driven every mile of them! Instead, we only drove about a third of I-89 (65/191 miles) and a quarter of I-93 (40/143 miles in Vermont/NH). But we did drive the entire length of I-91 throughout the week, all the way from the Quebec border down to New Haven, Connecticut*, making it my 14th completed interstate, and the 6th that I've finished off just this year. (* - Disclaimer: I-91 is not as much fun in Connecticut.)

Obligatory dumb statistics - counties visited: Another benefit of that Marla nap drive down I-89: two additional counties! I now have 6 out of 10 in New Hampshire, combined with 13 out of 14 in Vermont. (Despite spending almost a whole week up there, we actually only visited 9 of Vermont's 14 counties; however, I had previously visited 4 of the other 5.)

And, finally...train ride!

The train we took in Skagway, Alaska was great, and we figured Marla would enjoy the fact that a train ride does not require you to be restrained in a car seat. Scenery, plus a happy Marla! Win-win!

The train ride was okay, but fell short of expectations. For one, the route was kind of boring. I thought the train would take us into the mountains or something, but instead it just paralleled US-5 most of the way. (That's my fault for poor planning.) And because of that, the foliage we saw on the train was short of peak; while the mountains of northern Vermont were at peak that week, the river valleys farther south (which is where this was) were still up to two weeks short of peak. So, the moral of the story is this: if you're going to take a train ride, you may want to research where the ride actually goes.

Tomorrow: Marla's first trip to Canada!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Vermont/NH: Day 4B - Mount Washington

Part of the reason we saved the New Hampshire day for a "good weather" day was because the road up Mount Washington has a tendency to close due to bad weather. In fact, this was the scene the day before we visited Mount Washington. Although, I can't confirm one way or the other whether that closed the Auto Road or not. (For those of you too lazy to click the link: it snowed at the summit the day before our visit.)

Well, Tuesday was a great day for a journey up Mount Washington. Let's go!

Mount Washington has long been a 'bucket list' item for me. Sure, it's the highest entire Northeastern United States, but there's more to it than that, for me. The main draw for me is its place as a meteorological curiosity. They claim to be "Home of the World's Worst Weather" (debatable, of course). They average 311 inches of snow per year, and since it's a highpoint in the mid-latitudes without much surrounding resistance, the summit frequently gets very strong winds; Mount Washington experiences hurricane force winds on an average of 110 days each year. (Disclaimer: The exact numbers are ripped from Wikipedia, but they sound about right.) Mount Washington also boasts the strongest ever wind gust recorded at Earth's surface at 231 mph, recorded on April 12, 1934...or, at least they used to. There wasn't any indication of this at the summit, or on the audio CD*, that their wind record was actually broken in 1996 (made official in 2010) on Barrow Island, Australia during Cyclone Olivia. Geez, first the Old Man of the Mountain falls down, and then Mount Washington loses its wind speed record; it hasn't been a good decade for New Hampshire, has it?

(* - When you pay your toll and drive up the mountain, both Mount Mansfield and Mount Washington provide a free audio CD for you to listen to on your way up and back. The Mount Mansfield CD was mostly an advertisement for Stowe and the surrounding area, and only lasted 10 minutes; the Mount Washington CD was far more educational, and lasted 40 minutes, or virtually the entire length of the drive up and back. So, again, Mount Washington wins, despite not admitting that they don't have the wind record anymore.)

Notice that the sign says "by man". Technically, that's true, because the Cyclone Olivia observation was automated, while the Mount Washington observation was not. But, come on...we don't record winds "by man" anymore! That era is long gone.

Let's talk about the road up the mountain. Holy crap! Not recommended for those afraid of heights. It's plenty wide enough for two cars, but there are no guard rails, and only 75% of it (give or take) is paved. The road is 8 miles long and takes 20-25 minutes, depending on how many slow people are in front of you. It was thrilling! It was also a bad idea to come to a complete stop on the road, which is why I don't have any pictures of the road itself. (The Mount Mansfield road, on the other hand, we almost had to ourselves.)

Even in the Smokies, where a few of the mountains are higher than Mount Washington, I don't think you get such dramatic views, from above or below. Driving up Route 16, it was almost like I was in Colorado, given the difference in elevation from valley floor to mountain top (between 4,000 and 5,000 feet, I think, which might actually be close to what you see in Colorado). And then once you're actually at the top, the views are really something. Sorry, Mount Mitchell - you may beat Mount Washington by a few hundred feet, but Mount Washington has more dramatic views.

The Auto Road (which cost us $33) isn't the only way to the top. There's also a train, which approaches the mountain from the other side. And, of course, you could hike up. Even in our pre-children days, I think hiking the entire mountain would have been beyond us.

So, here's proof that we made it to the top:

The summit was very crowded, which is the main reason why we don't have more pictures from the top. There was a line about 10-15 people deep waiting to get a picture with the summit sign. But like I said, it was a nice day, so I doubt it's like that every day. It's reasonable to think that there were a bunch of people who would have come the day before if not for, you know, the snow. I mean, the temperature at the summit when we were there was 44°F! That sounds cold, but for Mount Washington, that's actually quite warm by October standards. By comparison, let's look at (yesterday's weather atop Mount Washington: high of 25°F, max wind gust of 88 mph, and an average wind speed - that's an average over the entire day, mind you - of 53 mph. Safe to assume the summit was probably not as crowded yesterday as it was during our visit. And that's if the Auto Road was even open yesterday. (They're likely to close the Auto Road for the season any day now; their announced "tentative closing date" is October 21st.)

Now I could put the bumper sticker on my car, if I wanted to. I probably won't, but I will hold onto it.

Finally, here's our route from the second half of Day 4, just for documentation purposes. (Point B - the Mount Washington summit.)

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Friday, October 12, 2012

Sports Friday: 10/12/12

We interrupt the Vermont trip recaps for...snarky sports discussion! The trip recaps will return on Monday.

MLB - I've noticed something lately. The amount of interest I have in a sport at any given time is often related to how well my favorite teams are doing. Case in point: I've been watching more playoff baseball this year than in years past. Obviously, I'm watching the Washington Nationals' games, but I'm also paying more attention to the other playoff games than I otherwise would. Why? Because the Nationals' success gets me excited about the sport in general. Yeah!

It's too bad that if the Nationals don't win tonight - or, actually, if they do anything except win the World Series - that the National Sports Media will say, "This is all because they shut down Stephen Strasburg!" As if the team would have automatically won every game that Strasburg would have started. Sure, a healthy and effective Strasburg helps a lot, but this is just the National Sports Media looking for narratives, and I'm tired of this storyline, honestly. Let's just play the games. (By the way, here's a pretty good analysis of the Strasburg thing based on math and logic. I'll just leave it at that.)

So...Game 5, tonight. Go Nationals! St. Louis at Washington - Fri 8:30p, TBS

NFL - On the other hand...the Jacksonville Jaguars stink. This has to be one of the worst teams in franchise history, even worse than last year. Last week's loss to Chicago was the worst home loss in franchise history. Unless they turn it around, and fast, you can count me among the "Fire (GM) Gene Smith!" crowd. As it stands now, his tenure has been a failure.

And it's funny, because on draft day in 2011, the Minnesota Vikings' selection of Christian Ponder - which came two picks after the Jaguars took Blaine Gabbert - was widely ridiculed and universally panned. A season and a third into each player's career, which pick looks better? The Vikings are 4-1 so far this year, and Ponder has the 10th best QB rating, and 2nd best completion percentage, in the league. As for Gabbert...well, suffice to say he's near the bottom. And yes, I know the Jaguars' offensive line hasn't been great.

For Jaguars fans, there's more at stake here than just their place in the standings. If they have five or six bad seasons in a row, what's going to happen to the team? All I know is that when an NHL team in an untraditional market strings together a bunch of crappy years, they lose the fan base (if there ever was one to begin with), and then the team moves to Winnipeg. (The Winnipeg Jaguars? Could be worse.)

Anyway, getting back to what I said under the MLB section...not only do the Jaguars stink, but so do most all of the other teams I have a minor interest in. Like the Jaguars, the Panthers, Bills, Browns, and Buccanneers are all under .500, and only the Bills have one more than once. So, it's hard for me to really get into the NFL right now. I need some other rooting interest to keep my attention. ... Hey, how about Christian Ponder and the Vikings? That works. Skol Vikings (or something)! Minnesota at Washington - Sun 4:25p, NFL Sunday Ticket

College football - I have a bone to pick with the National Sports Media, and also the Local (ACC) Sports Media. Every year, they say something to the effect of "Florida State is BACK!", put a shiny low number next to their name in the rankings, declare the team ACC champions (or at least ACC Atlantic Division champions - that is the division they're in, right?) before the season begins, and then what happens? They lose to an unranked ACC team like NC State or Wake Forest. And because of that shiny low number Florida State had next to their name, the other team's fan base goes nuts! "Yeah, we just beat the #3 team in the country!!!" (At least in the case of NC State. Wake doesn't really have much of a "fan base".) And then next year, the exact same thing happens.

This needs to stop. STOP OVERRATING THE SEMINOLES EVERY FREAKING YEAR. Not only do you impose unrealistic expectations on the team and give FSU fans everywhere false hopes, but you also empower the rest of the ACC when they inevitably beat the Seminoles every year. (Actually, maybe that's the idea? It's a conspiracy to make NC State look good! The ACC does revolve around the state of North Carolina, after all.)

Sometimes, I wish I could trade Florida State's reputation with, say, that of Northwestern. Like FSU, Northwestern came into last weekend's games undefeated, and lost to an unranked team on the road. While the FSU fan base is acting like this is a massive failure of epic proportions, the Northwestern fan base (I can only assume) is disappointed, sure, but they've moved on, and they're certainly not calling for the head coach's, well, head. What's the difference? Northwestern was only ranked 24th or something.

Well, anyway, this goes out to everyone who gave Florida State a top 5 ranking at any time this season: go @#$% yourselves. Boston College at Florida State - Sat 5:30p, ESPN2

Soccer - Big weekend-plus for the United States national team. Two 2014 FIFA World Cup qualifiers coming up - one tonight, and one on Tuesday. And if they don't play well, then you can kiss the 2014 World Cup goodbye. (They're currently tied with Guatemala and Jamaica for the group lead, and only the top two teams after Tuesday advance to the next round of qualifying.) They're likely to advance here, but...you never know.
United States at Antigua and Barbuda - Fri 7:00p, beIN sport
Guatemala at United States - Tue 7:00p, ESPN2

Auto racing - Didn't have time to write something good here, so in short:
- Dale Earnhardt Jr. concussions or not, I think Talladega racing has gotten too crazy and too random. It's now crossed that line.
- Formula One is going to be televised by NBC Sports Network next year, it was announced today. (Well, "according to sources". You know how it goes.)
NASCAR Sprint Cup at Charlotte - Sat 7:30p, ABC
Formula One Korean Grand Prix - Sun 2:00a, SPEED

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Vermont/NH: Day 4A - Franconia Notch

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(Map key: Point A - the cabin; Point B - Old Man of the Mountain memorial; Point C - Flume Gorge; Point D - Conway.)

The New Hampshire day was the day I was anticipating the most, mostly in anticipation of our "climb" of Mount Washington. But before we get that far, New Hampshire has some other neat stuff, too!

This is Franconia Notch, located along Interstate 93 in northern New Hampshire. It's home to Cannon Mountain (which we could have taken a tramway up, but didn't), Flume Gorge (which we did visit), and the iconic Old Man of the Mountain...or at least, it used to be home of the Old Man of the Mountain. The rock formation fell down in 2003.

So, that's where the Old Man used to be. It's a real shame, if nothing else because of how much New Hampshire has promoted the image of the Old Man of the Mountain heavily over the years. It's on their state quarters, their license plates, state route symbols, you name it...and now, it's gone. But as Amber pointed out to me, perhaps sustaining all of those things as "tributes" or "memorials" is kind of cool, in a way. The Old Man will live on!

And, in fact, they've built a 3-D memorial of the Old Man from the former viewpoint, configured such that when you stand in just the right place, the 3-D memorial creates a 'fake' image of the Old Man profile exactly as it used to be, like so:

Here's me from the side, taking that picture:

I thought that this was kind of neat. The Old Man will live on!

Next, we went to Flume Gorge, where we broke out the baby hiking backpack again and went for a nice two mile walk. Pictures as follows:

It was a nice walk and a nice gorge (kind of reminiscent of Watkins Glen), and it gave us a few nice views of the surrounding mountains. Well worth it, despite the price: $17/adult.

Now...about that price. In the Northeast, a lot of tourist attractions are on private land rather than public, due to being scooped up before the concept of "National Parks" was popularized. Privately owned attractions are almost always more expensive than the corresponding National or State Park, in part because they can't rely on taxpayer subsidies (obviously), but also because the owners of said attractions...well, they might occasionally engage in a little price gouging to take advantage of gullible tourists. (Ouimet Canyon in Northern Ontario, and Matanuska Glacier in Alaska, come to mind.) The price of Flume Gorge would suggest that this is privately owned, too, but...nope! It's all part of Franconia Notch State Park. Well, taxpayer subsidies or not, I guess you set the price according to the demand. Flume Gorge was pretty busy, especially among Tour Buses Full of Old People*. And actually, most everything that's worth doing in the White Mountains costs about that much, privately owned or not.

(* - They have a shuttle bus that takes you within 0.2 miles of the Gorge, for the sake of the physically challenged. We declined the bus ride.)

As for Marla...well, she missed most of it. The backpack must have been comfy, because she slept during virtually the entire hike.

After that, we drove the Kancamagus Highway (NH Route 112) east to Conway. The Kancamagus Highway has a reputation as being one of the most scenic drives in New England, especially this time of year. It didn't disappoint! Pictures don't do it justice, but here's what I have:

We might have stopped at more pullouts, but virtually every pullout was crowded - not necessarily to capacity, but still. It was a popular day to be up in the White Mountains. Conway was very crowded, too, but that was only because of a fair or something.

This picture was taken at a McDonald's in Conway (or maybe North Conway?). Calling Mr. Plow!

It never really occurred to me that private business would have to actively hire a third party to plow their parking lots. Then again, I've never really thought about it, either. I mean, how else would they do it?

Next up: Mount Washington.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Vermont/NH: Day 3 - Montpelier and Lyndonville

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The original plan was to head to New Hampshire today, but based on the weather forecast (cloudy with a slight chance of rain today, partly cloudy with no chance of rain tomorrow), we changed it up. Instead, we headed back west and started our day at the Vermont State House (the capitol) in Montpelier. (Map key: Point B - the Vermont State House; Point C - Morse Farm; Point D - the Vermont Corn Maze; point E - a covered bridge near Lyndonville; Point F - the cabin.)

This is the second state capitol building we've visited together, the first being Missouri. Technically, we've never actually "toured" the North Carolina capitol. Might be worth doing on some random Saturday, hmm? Although it'll be hard to beat the scenery here in Vermont.

Out in front of the capitol is a statue of the guy who effectively eliminated the name "Ethan" from consideration, if we ever have a boy:

The state legislature was out of session, which meant we got to check out where the Senate and House meet. Hooray! The Senate room seemed quite small, as in, "They do state government in here? Really? That's so cute!" But Vermont is a small state, of course; they rank 49th in population, only ahead of Wyoming.

Obligatory dumb statistics - the relative size of state legislatures: The House room, or whatever you call it, was much larger. Vermont only has 30 state Senators, but they have 150 representatives in the House, or one representative per ~4,000 residents. By comparison, North Carolina only has 120 representatives, or one representative per ~80,000 residents. Florida also has 120 representatives in its House, which comes out to one representative per ~150,000 residents. Only New Hampshire has a higher ratio of representatives to residents than Vermont; New Hampshire has a 400-person House (!), for a ratio of one represenative per ~3,300 residents (source).

Meanwhile, they always seem to have the upstairs roped off at these state capitol buildings. What's up there, anyway? Marla was certainly curious.

(Side comment: Since Vermont is not a swing state, I didn't expect to see many political ads on local television. Wrong! The Burlington stations carry into New Hampshire, which is a swing state, so there were still plenty of Obama and Romney ads. And there were also quite a few ads for local races, including that for Governor of Vermont.)

That's from the steps of the capitol back towards State Street.

Our next stop after the capitol building was a maple syrup farm. Because if you're going to go to Vermont, it only seems appropriate to do something maple syruppy. This particular from is located just north of Montpelier.

We indeed bought some maple syrup, not for ourselves, but as gifts.

It never actually occurred to me that most store-bought "maple syrup" isn't actually maple syrup at all. The stuff you see at your neighborhood Food Lion is usually just "pancake syrup", and makes no mention of "maple" at all, because as pointed out to us in the farm store, most name brand syrup, in fact, contains 0% maple. The more you know! Perhaps, real maple syrup is prohibitively expensive to make in large quantities, and that the fake stuff like Aunt Jemima tastes "good enough" in comparison.

While I didn't get any maple syrup for myself, I did get some maple ice cream. It was quite good. Take that, Ben and Jerry's! (Marla had some, too.)

Our next stop after that was going to be the Great Vermont Corn Maze...but they were closed, and I'm not sure why. Their website said they would be open! Instead, we went to the nearby town of Lyndonville and found a token covered bridge:

Covered bridges are everywhere in New England, and from what I understand, they're a pretty big "thing". As in, people tour the region looking specifically for these things. I would imagine that there's likely a club out there (at least one!) for those obsessed with covered bridges, visiting all of the ones that exist, debating which ones are the best, and so on. As someone who obsesses over lots of other things, I can relate to that.

In downtown Lyndonville, we found a nice little park to hang out in for a while. This is what Fall in New England is all about.

We then drove through the Lyndon State College campus, just because. Lyndon State College is notable to me because they produce more than their share of meteorologists. If you're a meteorologist, you may know someone who went there.

Next up: New Hampshire, easily the highlight of the trip.