New England or Bust
I think deep down, just about every person has a longing for adventure. The only difference is that some of us grow to love and trust the comforts of home, the comforts and structure of a schedule; and some of us learn to love the road and to embrace the longing for adventure, to trust the comforts of a world without structure or schedule. Iconic American Author John Steinbeck, author of classics like The Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men puts it simply: “People don’t take trips, trips take people.”
In May of 2016, at 18 years old and still a senior in high school, my brother and I set out on our first major overland trip—a trip I had coined as the “New England Loop.” A trip that would, as Steinbeck put it, absolutely take me. In four days, I covered over 700 miles of New England, starting in Massachusetts, heading north into Vermont, right up to the border of our friendly northern neighbors in Canada, east into the White Mountains of New Hampshire, into southern Maine, and finally back to Massachusetts. I actually may or may not have completely missed my anatomy and physiology final exam because I was still kayaking in Maine… However, this story isn’t about the New England Loop, or how great it was or what I did or where I went or who I saw or what happened. This story explains all of that with one fact: I took another big New England trip just a few months later—It was that good.
Now a college freshman at the University of New England, I saw absolutely nothing better to do on my fall long weekend than to take on another New England Loop, but this time hitting what I didn’t know about or have time to go to on my last trip. I packed my every last nook and cranny in my Jeep with supplies, and left the dorm for the next four days with absolutely no plan on where I would be sleeping and eating. It would be nothing but myself and a camera taking on the roads of Northern New England: the White Mountains and Acadia National Park.
Fall foliage was in full swing and I remember traveling into the White Mountains surrounded by a quilt of orange, reds, yellows, and everything in between. My first stop was the White Mountains, one of my favorite regions from the last New England Loop and still to this day one of my favorite places I’ve visited so far. On the last trip, I had only a night and the following morning in the White Mountains, so this time through I set aside far more time to explore and dig into the Whites. I arrived in the early evening, where in the fall the sun had already started its descent, casting a golden light across the already flaming yellow and orange leaves. I began with a quick hike to Glen Ellis, where I stopped to admire the 70-foot waterfall and take some pictures for another article I was working on for OutdoorX4 Magazine. I knew my light would be dwindling fast in just a few hours, so I made way for my camp, which that night would be Dolly Copp Campground, the same place I had camped on the original loop. There were no rangers at the gatehouse for me to pay for a site, so I just went in and set up in an empty spot. I set up camp, made dinner, messed around with some photo editing, slept, but not long enough. Around 6 a.m. I had a park ranger outside my tent asking if I was planning on paying. Duh, so at 6 a.m. I groggily reached for the wallet in the 35-degree morning cold and paid my $22, something I had planned on doing two hours later on my way out of camp after a tall, boiling cup of French Roast. This was a blessing in disguise though, because I was now fully packed up and on my way out of Dolly Copp at the time I had my alarm set to wake up—meaning I was one of the first people bound to ascend the Mt. Washington Auto Road that day. The road is a harrowing drive with no guardrails at an 11.6-percent grade that ascends to the summit at 6,288 feet, the most prominent point in the Northeast. While the toll is pretty damn expensive to drive up, I’ve done it three times now, if that puts into perspective how much it’s worth it. After the road and a quick bite in Gorham, I found myself wanting to get off pavement, and so I headed a little north to explore away from the asphalt. After a while of trail riding, I decided it was time to embark to the next leg of the journey, a four-hour ride to Acadia National Park—because highways are for losers (and for people whose cars can go faster than 65 mph with ease).
I arrived in Acadia National Park under the cover of darkness, and happened to be lucky enough to have planned this trip the same time my university’s Outing Club had planned their weekend camping in Acadia. So, this tired adventurer arrived into a camp with an already welcoming fire surrounded by friends and like-minded individuals, with food and s’mores ready to go, and the following morning some delicious oatmeal. The following morning as the outing club left for their hikes and adventures, I once again became a lone wanderer, this time bound for Bar Harbor. In Bar Harbor, I had immense difficulty navigating the seemingly endless sea of pedestrians and tourists, being dropped off quite literally in boatloads due to the cruise ships visible out in the harbor. I took my Jeep out onto the Mt. Desert Narrows sandbar to get a view from the Oceanside perspective before snagging a bite to eat in Bar Harbor at Coffee Hound, which served me a real nice maple latte and some delicious and fresh clam chowder. Now I was off to the entrée location of my Maine section of this trip, Acadia National Park.
Knowing very well I had only a few hours and that I’d be heading back home the following day, I opted for the park loop road. The park loop took me through what everyone recognizes as the stereotypical Maine rocky coastline, but also through things that people don’t talk about which are just as cool—lakes, mountains, and dense coniferous forests with a distinct and unimaginably pleasant smell. Through this unique landscape are glorious stone bridges and stunning points to stop and take in a vista. I was at one point annoying myself with the amount of times I had to start and stop my car just to get out to satisfy my sense of wonder by checking out vistas, cliffs, trailheads, and even at one point a carriage house. The day went by too fast, and I seriously hope to return to Acadia again to see it in even more detail through its seemingly endless amount of hikes and ways to see the park. I made my way back to the Outing Club campsite for another night of sharing stories and jokes around the fire.
The following morning arrived with a crisp rain and heavy fog, putting a clincher on plans to see the sunrise from Cadillac Mountain, but making the drive home one of the perfect rainy day cruises set to the tune of your favorite music and dictated by the rhythm of your own drum. I stopped only once on the way back to admire the Penobscot Narrows Bridge near Fort Knox, before pushing back south to Biddeford to resume my college student life.
There is a sense of home to be found on the road, some may say I just can’t sit still, but I think there is a real place of being and purpose behind the wheel of a vehicle that you can take wherever you want, whenever you want. These trips are not about going on a trip, but again as Steinbeck put it, to be taken by the trip. Travelers are a product of their journeys, and these New England trips have taken me farther than ever expected, and I feel the day we cease to travel and find comfort in the road is the day we cease to live to our fullest. While I urge everyone at some point to get out and see New England in the ways I have (and will continue too), all I want is for people to get out, explore, and find their comfort on the road—to be taken by their own trip.