Scenes from a Vacation

Little Hunter's Beach

Come take a walk

As I mentioned and lamented in my last post, I didn’t get to fully enjoy my vacation this summer. Every year we go to Acadia National Park and spend the whole week exploring – tons of hiking and bike riding. I was sidelined by a back injury and not happy about it.

There were awesome views, of course:

Cadillac Mountain

Cadillac Mountain

But often I had to stop and rest while the boys ran ahead, and entertain myself by looking at something not quite as stunning, but still equally cool, like, maybe, a neat-looking rock.

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Yeah, I have a lot of rock pictures from this trip.

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We hunted frogs.

Can you find the frog?

Can you find him?

And herons.

Can you find the heron?

This one’s much easier

We conquered the ocean…

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…and boy-eating bridges.

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Of course we enjoyed a good campfire almost every night, and a good campfire is only complete with sparkler jousting…

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…and s’mores.

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While we were making these, we quoted The Sandlot.

And thinking of The Sandlot reminded me of the best parenting advice in a movie ever: “I want you to get out in the fresh air and make some friends. Run around, scrape your knees, get dirty. Climb trees, hop fences, get into trouble, for crying out loud!”

How times have changed.

Sometimes it’s the little things that put a smile on your face.

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I wonder at exactly what point they gave up.

And no summer vacation would be complete without a trip to a haunted fort:

Inside Fort Knox

Can you see the ghost?

Or a run-in with a boy-eating oven.

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Enjoy your summer days, friends. They’re already flying past.

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The Week I Look Forward to All Year

I’m lying on the cold cement floor of a hotel room in Lowell. It’s not anything kinky, or the tragicomic result of a Hangover-esque bacchanal, or even a line from a Kerouac poem (though he is the local hero). I’m here because it’s the first night of my vacation, and my back is pretty seriously injured. And I’m pissed.

I try to always see the positive. I know all the life lessons: being angry hurts no one but yourself. Depression is anger turned inward. This too shall pass. I usually try to deal with anger in healthy ways. But today, I just can’t.

I’m not the mean vacation mom, like the one in the campsite next to us, who’s just mad about everything. She’s annoyed that she had to pack up half their lives and drag it out here into the woods and set it all up again just to get her kids out of the house so they wouldn’t kill each other. She’s bothered by their behavior and nagging at them all the time. Her older son yells, “Oh yeah, sarcasm, that always works well.”

I’m the mom who lives for this. I’m not a sidelines kind of girl. I like to be out there in the middle of the action. Laying by a pool is fine for an hour or so, but what’s next? There’s a bunch of amazing stuff out there, let’s go see it.

Though I have to admit my packing experience was probably similar to hers. I was in constant pain and couldn’t bend over. I dropped the last clean spoon on the floor, left it there for my husband to pick up, and used a plastic one from the pantry. While trying to find the travel pillows, I emptied half the linen closet onto the hall floor and left it there. I didn’t even change the kitty litter (sorry Mich).

I think, you have nothing to complain about. You’re young and healthy, quit being a baby. I think of Aunt Rachel, who was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis in her early 30s and spent most of the rest of her life in a wheelchair. Or my dear mother-in-law, who is literally in the hospital right now recovering from knee replacement surgery, and is in pain most of the time.

Still.

Being positive all the time feels like a big pain in the ass today. I’m angry. I feel gypped. I want my vacation and I want it pain-free. I don’t ask for much. I get very little to myself that I really want, and I deserve it to be nice.

My job is to function at a very high level all year so other people can have a life. I want mine just for this one week. I don’t think that’s too much to ask for.

My mother (who I’ve been texting for long-distance diagnoses and medical advice) reminded me of the year she put her back out and had to lay on the couch while her entire family went on with all their vacation fun. She said, “Four years later I’m still mad about that.”

I remember that week, and while we were relieved that for once Mom had to let go of the cooking and cleaning and let us take care of her, other than that we only wanted her to get better. No one was mad or resentful, and I think that’s how the men are seeing me this week (well that and trying to make me laugh by challenging me to race little old ladies with canes). I have to push them to go ahead and do the fun stuff without me. I got us here because I at least want them to still have a vacation.

And even though I’m waving them goodbye and hanging out on my own a bit, I’ll still have vacation memories. Like the look on Older’s face when he helped me grocery shop and found a double cherry that looked like a butt. Or clinging in fear to Younger during the scary parts of “The Lone Ranger.” And the way they charged toward me and actually wanted hugs every time we were reunited.

But as I lie here flat on my back on a picnic blanket waiting to pick them up at the end of their bike ride (on the stunningly amazing and beautiful Acadia carriage roads) I can’t help but feel sad.

I have to settle for the tourist views that you can see from your car. I know the hard-to-find ones are so much more impressive, and more rewarding because you had to work for them. This is the one I enjoyed while writing this post:

Bubble Pond

Bubble Pond

It’s not much, but it’s still pretty. I have to be content with the little things this week. Like the dragonfly that landed on me while I waited, and the two beautiful black and blue butterflies that danced over the pond. When the boys arrived they ran to me through the woods, grunting like apes to scare me. I asked if they’d do it again for my video camera but shockingly, no go.

Last year on the drive to Maine I told Dave this was the week I look forward to most out of the whole year. He seemed surprised. I couldn’t imagine why he was, since it really is the best time we have. He said, “There are so many other things to look forward to.”

Sigh. He’s right. It’s not the end of the world. This year I will sit on the sidelines a bit, and I’ll be angry and resent this injury and its horrible timing. As we drive along listening to the special vacation iPod mix I breathe in the ocean air, smell the pines, and try to relax. This is all that matters – that we are together.

Hiking Acadia National Park

You know how I like to get all travel-guidey sometimes. Well today I’d like to say, “Welcome…to Acadia National Park” (say it like Richard Attenborough!).

What is there to say, really?

I’m almost crying because I’m home now and not there anymore. Wouldn’t you be?

But I’m here to talk about hiking because it’s really the most obvious thing to do once you’re here. Besides driving the Park Loop Road, where everybody and their mother is hanging out. So do me a favor. Get out of your car and walk a bit. Doesn’t this trail look inviting?

If you are an experienced hiker you’ll have no problem on most of the trails in Acadia. We still haven’t tackled the Precipice, which is supposedly the hardest, because I don’t trust the attention spans of my children to be able to hold onto the rocks long enough. I’m not taking my kids up a cliff face until they’ve shown me they know enough not to dance on the edges (which, at this point, they don’t). Otherwise you can have a field day out here. I know it’s not as huge or challenging as other national parks, but it’s still spectacular. Plus it’s got the ocean.

Check out those waves!!!

Here are some more views from shoreline hikes. They’re just stunning. Dave’s travel guide called this beach “a geologist’s heaven” because of the crazy assortment of rocks.

Here’s one from a sunset hike. Awesome rocks plus incredible light:

And then you come across scenes that just make you get all artsy-fartsy (but how can you not, when it’s so easy. Point and click and you’re a photographer. You can’t go wrong when nature gives you this to work with):

This is from Baker Island looking back up north at Mt. Desert Island (where most of the park is located). I love this view of the mountains, it’s more encompassing than anywhere else.

There are walks for all abilities and we like to challenge the boys a little more every year. This year it was the Gorge Path. And now that Younger Son isn’t the slowest anymore, I’m the one bringing up the rear. They actually thought of bringing whistles so they could call to me and make sure I was OK. How thoughtful. (Better make sure the old lady isn’t laying in the woods somewhere with a broken leg.)

Note my sturdy hiking boot

This can hurt your feet

But these trails challenge my ability too, as I get older and more out of shape, and my legs get tireder. So if you’re just a casual hiker (and non-exerciser like me) I recommend GOOD HIKING BOOTS. Much of what you’re walking on will look like the rocks pictured at right.

I hiked in both sneakers and boots this week and I can’t emphasize enough the difference decent boots made. They are heavier and clunkier, but they protect your feet and give you a firm, flat supporting surface. It is much more comfortable to move over jutting roots and pointy rocks with that hard sole. I thought that my legs would get tired from dragging the boots, but it was quite the opposite.

The sneakers bend and don’t offer protection on the rocks, but more than that they let your heel drop. I’ve been doing hard hikes for 20 years but I learned something huge on this trip that really made a difference: to trust my momentum. Dave’s been trying to explain it to me for years, and he did teach me the neat trick of staying on my toes going up steep climbs. But for some reason, in my 40th year, it clicked this week.

It's steeper than it looksYou can practice it going up regular stairs. If you just put the front part of your foot on the stair, your heel drops, stretching and tiring your calf (and pulling your weight down and back). If you have that strong hiking boot it keeps your heel up and pushes you forward. Instead of dwelling on how tired my legs were and trying to haul my butt over yet another big rock, I could think about keeping my forward momentum and hopping over them (while having to trust that they weren’t loose).

I found myself spending a lot of time choosing a good path too. You can stay up high and go over the rocks, or you can take the low road and cut among them. It probably sounds strange sitting there in your comfy chair looking at your computer, but this can be the biggest thought on your mind during some of these hard hikes. Maybe that’s why it’s so damn zen.

I also had to accept that, being the slowest, I had to be comfortable with setting my own pace. Let the boys run ahead and worry about me and whistle and yell. Part of a hard hike is the mental aspect and staying focused, especially in a place where the hike down can be just as challenging as the hike up (you would think quite the opposite, no?). But when there are sharp pointy rocks jutting up at you it can be a little scary, and gravity is pulling you down (especially when, as I mentioned, I’m not in the greatest shape I’ve ever been).

Anyway. Sorry to get so deep on you. Communing with nature will do that to a person. Oh and I just wanted to mention that hiking over tree roots is harder than you would think!

Trickier than you would think

Who knew? The entrance to Fangorn Forest is in Acadia. Once you’re in there you might see this. (But look out for the people-eating trees.)

Another great thing about Acadia is that there are plenty of short hikes with fabulous views. Dave calls it a big return on a little investment. This one isn’t the highest mountain or most sweeping vista, but I just liked it:

On your way up the mountains, and when you get to the top: please eat the blueberries. They are good for you (according to the travel guide, they have twice the antioxidants as the ones you get in the grocery store), they are the most scrumptious thing you’ve ever tasted, and they will not kill you. They are your reward for hiking.

No, they're not poisonous

But don’t rely on the blueberries to feed you. You must bring your GORP. I’m salivating just looking at it. I know, gross right? But when you’re hiking it’s like ambrosia. It’s a good thing I got this shot before Younger ate all the M&Ms.

Good ol' raisins and peanuts

AND, friends, when you are camping, do NOT forget sparklers.

Fancy camerawork!

So in conclusion: go to Acadia. And I have one final question. Does anyone else’s dashboard look like this by the end of vacation?

Detritus of vacation