Crossing the Bay of Fundy and the US border
As we drive away from the vineyards, we head out towards the edges of the Nova Scotia peninsula. Instead of taking the long way around we have opted for the ferry across the Bay of Fundy, getting us straight into St John in New Brunswick. The sail is very smooth and the surroundings beautiful, although a bit of time on board is also spend on making some homework and watching a movie in the kids lounge :-). As we land on the other side we head straight up to the Martello Tower of St Johns, our final Parks Canada destination. It proves to be another great location where we learn about the use of the martello towers across the world, and the one in St John in particular across the centuries. As we finalize and collect the last tag, we drive down the coast towards the border with the US.
Crossing it is a breeze, right in the middle of the town of St Stephens, to Calais across the water (much shorter water than the one in Europe ;-)) where we fill up our almost empty tank of gas with US priced gallons. On this side of the border is our first NPS site which is actually the only one that is shared with Canada: St Croix Island. As the first island settlers arrived on 400 years ago it is a testimony to the hardships endured by them and learnings taken – especially about winter in this area. We explore the area and of course get back into the rhythm of collecting badges! Welcome back in the US!
Acadia NP – Maine
After a good night sleep at the local Walmart, we get to our next National Park (one of 63); Acadia NP. As it is set on a peninsula traffic is heavy getting to it (even on a weekday outside of the holidays) and for the first time during our travels we feel cramped in a National Park, a strange experience. The park has a scenic loop drive that takes you along the highlights, and as we have left early we make a straight jump to the Beehive trail, a very popular and strenuous trail we want to take before the crowds roll in. Parking is already very limited as we arrive, mostly because the nicest sandy beach is across the street from the trail, but we manage to put our RV on the side of the road and begin the ascend.
The trail turns out to be really fun as we climb on ladders and metal bars, while getting higher and higher up. Around several corners we are stunned by the views out to the ocean, and across the park itself. As always, at the top we meet several other hikers enjoying themselves and sharing their experiences of travel in the US and must-see places which is a great way to share tips and come up with new ideas. The trail makes a loop around the peak down again to the parking lot, so we easily make it down and spend a moment on the beach to feel the (chilly) ocean waters before we grab lunch.
For the afternoon, Sven pulls his bike from the RV to take the rest of the loop plus the big climb up Cadillac Mountain (no RVs allowed), while the rest of us head out to another hike called ‘the Bubbles’. Part of it we go north first with a scramble along a lake before turning back climbing up the peak called ‘Bubble Rock’. While the hike is quite a challenge and the boys start to feel the strain, the views as always take a lot of the pain away as we chill for a bit before heading down.
Take out for us: Acadia NP has beautiful landscapes and fun trails, but a lot of humans and thus very little wildlife showing their faces. We complete the loop and pick up Sven again at the visitor center where the boys hand in their JR work and collect the badge. As we have a destination to get to in a week, we need to speed up a bit so we drive for a long time through the country roads of Maine and New Hampshire to get to a parking lot for the night.
Vermont & New Hampshire
2 NHS on the plans for today, very close to each other but on the other side of the state line. First we drive to the town of Windsor to find a library – we need to provide a printed copy of the NP pass voucher we have, very old school – where we meet the friendly librarians and a guest that even drives us out to the one place in town where we can fill up our water tank, really awesome. Then we need to make a detour as the bridge on our route will not be able to take our RV’s height! The Saint Gaudens site is the home of a famous sculptor, who has made multiple statues across the US. As we are not very knowledgeable on the topic of art, it is a good way to expand the horizons of all of us, plus a really cool fact is we will visit many of the cities where these statues are placed.
Across the state line in Vermont is another NHS location; the Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park. It is a location dedicated to the conservation of nature, as 100 years ago the area was completely emptied out and lumbered away. This had a big impact on the environment, and the efforts to plant back trees and bring back Vermont to its original status have transformed the place from the pictures shown in the exhibit. The park gives a good explanation about how our efforts of conservation make a difference and what everybody can do at home to take part. All in all a great day out in the sun!
Boston city – Massachusetts
We spent the night in the streets of Boston, which is not something we would recommend anybody to do as it is very noisy and thus very little sleep. The benefit however is that we are in the middle of the city the next Sunday morning and that the spot we are in is free parking that day so we can get an early start. Boston is a great city with plenty of beautiful brownstone houses and an enormous historical background (well, for a US city that is :-)). We start of by pulling our bikes from the RV and riding along the Charles river towards Cambridge, the suburb where the Harvard University is located. It is also home to the Longfellow’s House – Washington’s headquarters NHS, where we take a guided tour of the house and learn about its previous inhabitants.
One of them being the first president of the US – George Washington – at that time still in the army and using the house as his headquarters when battling the British in an effort to become independent. It also tells the story of slavery and the ending of it in the northern states where the abolition happened earlier and the call for freedom was made. It is a great introduction to the city and its history, and so with our first badge we ride back to the city center in the shape of Faneuil Hall.
When visiting Boston, freedom is a big theme split into two major themes: The freedom of the US, where the fight for independence from the British has been initiated and declared, and freedom for the enslaved African-Americans. The city does a great job and making the two into walking/biking trails (complete with a red brick line on the ground!) is a fantastic way to explore its history. We start out with the independence from the British, learning about the Boston Tea Party and its battles fought around the city. The trail takes us along some of the most important sites, and the JR booklet helps us understand some of these major events and puts them into context.
Walking towards the bay with its many islands, we learn about the geographical location of Boston and how it has changed over time, creating and enlarging the land to ensure its defenses. Now, the islands of Boston are mostly recreational, and the NPS manages quite a few of them and the education around its preservation. After taking the pledge (in which the ranger also made them promise to bring her brownies next time we visit :-p), we walk back into the city to pick up our bikes. Time to cross the bridge again to Bunker Hill.
Bunker Hill is the stage of a large battle fought, and now the location of the Bunker Hill Monument. Climbing the 250 steps is a feat, but the views of the Boston skyline are definitely worth the effort. Down the hill, in the harbor, two military ships are preserved and can be visited to explore the different ways of warfare over time. Riding back to the city we ride into the Beacon Hill neighborhood, well-known for its network of African-Americans who help those fleeing the south get to true freedom. Not easy at a time where the Fugitive Slave Act (1850) was passed; while slavery was abolished in the northern states, those whose slaves fled were allowed to search for them and take them back. Full abolition throughout the US would only happen in 1865 after the civil war.
Riding back we see the Shaw Memorial made by… you guessed it; Saint Gaudens! And we roll through the Boston Commons and Public Garden back to where we parked our RV. All in all, the day in Boston was a great day and we highly recommend visiting as it will spark many questions and answers quite a few as well on US history. At the end of the day the score was quite nice: 4 badges, 1 patch, 1 BARK ranger tag and 3 stickers :-).
RV Repair & Cape Cod NS
After a Walmart night, we drive to the garage we have an appointment at to take a look at our steering. It has been a source of irritation for a few weeks now, and thus something we need to get fixed, so getting an appointment along the way was as always a challenge, but the people at Rodman trucks could actually squeeze us in. Not knowing what the problem is and if they would have the necessary parts to fix the problem, we prepare for a full day out and a potential overnight stay without the RV as we say goodbye to Jerry and ride our bikes to a nearby shopping mall to escape the drizzle. There is a Bass Pro Shop which is always enough to entertain for at least an hour, and after a quick haircut the drizzle ends and we get notified by the garage that they found the issue, have the parts and can get it fixed shortly after lunch!
With that good news (of course the cost of the repair is never good news) we get back on our bikes and head out to a nearby forest where there are a number of trails we can bike. Unfortunately it is not a specifically maintained for mountain biking area, but more of a multi-use forest paths, so we found ourselves muddling through endless trails with tree roots and rock gardens. The boys are not phased however, and the practice they get from it is valuable as well so we give it a go for a few hours. Then with time to spare we drive out to Cape Cod National Seashore, to experience the sea and get our feet stuck in the sand for a bit while preparing dinner in the parking lot. Unfortunately we are kindly reminded by a park ranger that despite it being low season and nobody there we are still not allowed to stay here, so we head out at night as the boys go to bed.
To the farm(s) – Rhode Island & Connecticut
Driving back towards the more populated areas of the country, we drive through Rhode Island (blink and you miss it!), and finally land at a Harvest Host farm in Connecticut. With some fresh chocolate milk and delicious chorizo sausages straight from the farm we have a really calm night in the field next to the cows. The next morning we drive to Weir Farm NHS, this time a location dedicated to the painter that lived here and became a place for many impressionist painters to make use of the light and colors of the landscape. Unfortunately our visit is cut short as the location does not have a lot of parking for oversized vehicles and a school is coming to visit, but it was still fun to stroll the grounds.
Baseball & beer – New York
Final destination (for now) is New York, more specifically Long Island. Driving into the state and making our way along its roads is not easy with an RV and of course traffic is horrendous, so our patience is tested and so are our driving skills. We have found a Harvest Host beer brewery to park for the night, and have plans to tackle another typical American experience; our first baseball match! Granted, it is not one of the big tickets, but as we are not sure if we like it or not we opted for a ‘first-time’ easy one first; Mets vs Cubs. To get there we take the train from Oceanside and are nicely dropped at the Citifield Stadium less than an hour later.
We have good seats high up that give us a good overview (although the boys are disappointed their chance of catching a ball is very low here), and manage to find some kind fellow viewers to explain the rules a little bit… and there are many!! Main take outs: Both teams’ fans are mixed in the stadium (take that soccer fans!), it is a lengthy sport, many rules make it complicated, and the action is a bit too slow for our soccer-brainwashed sports experiences. So maybe we will not go again (although we are sure a high stakes game will have a different atmosphere), but it really was a great way to explore the sport! Less great is the fact that the train had maintenance going on when going back, so we need to go all the way to Penn station before returning to Oceanside taking us 2 hrs!
The next morning we take our time cleaning up the RV and packing our (hand) luggage for our next destination; Colombia! We have found a storage location here in Long Island where we will leave the RV for almost a month while we fly out of JFK to explore another South American country high on our list. When we get back we will leave it there for some more time as we want to see the city of New York and there is no way you can get your RV into Manhattan. So it is goodbye Jerry for now, and on to the airport!
Next week: Colombia!