Road Trip USA
10.10.2011 - 13.10.2011
In the north east corner of the USA sitting peacefully amongst the pumpkins is New England, the region comprising of Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Maine and Massachusetts. It was here, at Plymouth Massachusetts that the Mayflower brought the first settlers to America in 1620. The area is known for its natural beauty, mountains which are deep woods in summer, orange and red in fall and covered in snow in winter. Its rocky coastline is famous for lobsters and being the nation’s first beaches.
Visitors flock to the region in autumn when the foliage is at its most dramatic change. Foliage, as in leaves. Yes, people go out of their way to see leaves. Us ‘leafpeepers’ as we are called cruise the highways and mountains of New England looking at leaves, forests and the vast New England mountainscapes.
There is a small window of opportunity for leaf peeping, it is the period between when the trees are green to when they turn yellow and fall. This transformation occurs in different stages between later September and mid-October varying depending on differing temperatures. The excitement is the effect of a slither of Mother Nature and sciencey photosynthesis and what not which creates a palette of maroons, vermilion reds, peachy pinks, oranges and golden yellows which spread for miles across the mountains which creates (excuse the art nerd) an Impressionist-style blur of warm colours.
New England is beautiful. Amongst the rolling orange hills are dense forests hiding massive silver lakes reflecting the sky. Little log cabins sit on the water with little boats tied to little wooden jettys. It’s very much American summer camp country and it’s some of the most stunning scenery around.
In the towns there are cosy little wooden houses, beautiful multiple story structures with attics and the occasional turret and often an American flag hanging out the front. It is the picturesque American dream. It is the America that was beamed around the world with living space, freedom and liberty and justice for all.
Apart from the foliage, New England is amazing at this time of year because they embrace the end of harvest season, Halloween and Thanksgiving. Houses put pumpkins on their doorsteps and there are pumpkins patches to pick your own which will most likely then become a jack ’o’ lantern. Corn mazes pop up and apples are being harvested so you can buy fresh apples, cider and pies from stalls beside the road. I desperately wanted a pumpkin of my own but for practical reasons it was not permitted. I was dead certain pumpkin carving was going to be an untapped talent of mine.
So I fell in love a bit with New England. And with those bright orange pumpkins everywhere I looked. I had been to Massachusetts before in the depths of winter, snow past my ankles but I was returning in what is considered their regions peak season.
We allowed Barbara the Sat Nav steer us north from Boston to the White Mountains in New Hampshire. There were a few bad turns, a few instances of being off the map and a lot of “recalculating! recalculating” and a lot of swearing in Barbara’s general direction and throwing her and her muffled voice into the glove compartment.
New Hampshire has some of the most spectacular foliage, the mountains and the Kancamangus Highway one of the world’s most scenic drives. There were a lot of leaves. A lot. A whole lot. A lot of leaves in some brilliant gradations of red, orange and yellow. A Derwent enthusiasts dream, they were all there from a rose madder lake to a burnt sienna and everything in between. Colour as far as you could see, sweeping across the mountains.
The area has a cold snowy winter so the leaf season is its last moment of life before hibernating for the winter begins. Before both old men and bears head into the woods, to caves and log cabins respectively.
After a shit load of leafpeeping and collecting enough leaves for autumn-themed dashboard display we deserved pancakes. We drove 20 minutes out of our way to go to Polly’s Pancake Parlour, a White Mountains institution. Like everything in America there were options. Americas love options. You don’t just get what you are given here. I get so overwhelmed in a Dunkin Donuts I just end up with the staff special ie. Whatever dude stop asking questions. Ah shit they gave me artificial sweetener! The little family run parlour sits in a tiny little mountain town of Sugar Hill but people go out of their way to come to Polly’s. Americans love pancakes. You see on movies how they serve them with bacon and eggs then douse it all in syrup. For us Australians pancakes are pancakes, they are usually from a shake and bake mix unless you are feeling adventurous and make your own. Pancakes are serious business here. First you need to choose your batter. There are four different types of batter, not flavours, batter. Four! Buttermilk, whole wheat, plain or buckwheat. Obviously you are essentially picking from four words because who the hell knows the difference? I though Buckwheat was from The Little Rascals? Then you can combine one of those with a flavour; choc chip, blueberry, coconut or me having developed my pumpkin obsession by then, pumpkin and walnuts. You get them served hot so three at a time two times over, so a casual six pancake breakfast. I persevered obviously and ate them all. Then you can add maple syrup, but only if you want to kick it old school like a loser. Maple is a prefix in these parts so you can have maple sugar or maple butter or even maple pepper if you want savoury. Wash it down with some classic American ‘cawfee’ or unlimited bitter, black water as it should be known as. Of course my unrefined pancake palette thought pancakes were pancakes but these were slightly better than the shake mix. So if you are ever in Sugar Hill on Route 19A New Hampshire do pull over. There is also a wooden toy horse out the front which also makes a nice photo opportunity.
There was a lot of nature appreciation going on, scenic mountainscapes, reflective lakes, babbling brooks and water falls. It was so pretty it was sickening. Nature lovers would wet their pants with excitement at it all. As more of an urban hipster (obvs) than an outdoorsy type personally I like the leaves the best because you didn’t have to hike to them and I could appreciate them from the car while eating lollies and singing along to leafy mountain FM. There were a few rocky rivers with people fly fishing. I obviously needed to climb out on the boulders into the river to have a photo which was great until an older lady followed me and got stranded and I had to rescue her. I watched for a bit to see if she was going to struggle or just quietly succumb to her dire fate but then noticed that her useless friend couldn’t even reach the camera that was outstretched to her so was most likely not going to make any drastic rescue attempts. I think old friend Mabel’s plan was to wait out the season until the snow melted and pick up old stranded Sue somewhere around Maine where the river flowed into the sea sometime next April.
I swept in gallantly with my square chin and puffed out chest and aided her back to land.
After adding “lifesaver” to my resume we headed south from New Hampshire and crossed the state line into Maine where the leaves and mountains begin to blend in with the rocky North American coast and I found my spiritual home. There were big wooden houses with turrets and attics and I spent the majority of Maine spotting houses I wanted to live in. I also fancied getting myself a log cabin on a lake and imagined myself sitting there all winter long with a shawl and a typewriter (because it was also the late 60s in this dream) just being a hermit. Probably carving pumpkins as a side gig and scaring small children around Halloween.
The unseasonably warm weather began to change as we hit the Maine coast and the sky clouded over with a dark grey and brought the rough seas crashing on to the rocks. We stopped in Ogunquit, where I also wanted to live, for a lobster dinner, to be fair, mostly to wear a lobster bib rather than sample the crustacean.
It was goodbye to New England. I made some real estate enquiries for when I have am rich and in the market for a witchy house on a rocky coastline. Part one of Road trip USA was complete.
My new house in Ogunquit.