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Posts Tagged ‘hike’

Day Fifteen: “Take those kids with you!”

22 Jun

Phew! Felt like more than a single day, that’s for sure. From a hike to a summit in Acadia National Park, to me wanting to throat punch the rude front desk clerk at our middle of nowhere hotel (oh, excuse me, inn!) Highs. Lows. Almost 400 miles behind the wheel. Yeah. Quite a day…

We started with a decently early start from our hotel. We went to downtown Bar Harbor and walked around the cute little waterfront and village area. I couldn’t resist venturing into Sherman’s Books & Stationery. I’m a sucker for an independent bookstore, and the fact that this one had been in operation since 1886, well, that’s pretty darn cool, don’tcha think? And even better, when the kids started clamoring for new books and I told them they would have to pay for them with their own money, they were totally cool with that. The older two even bought brand new hardcovers that they just had to have. Love that these kids are that enamored with reading. After the bookstore we happened upon a cool, little ice cream shop. And, well, what makes a better mid-morning snack than ice cream? And yes, they did serve lobster ice cream. And no, Chris, I did not eat any! Unbelievably, we managed to add the elusive state of Montana to our license plate game tally while wandering the streets of downtown Bar Harbor!

After our stroll, and the disappointment of discovering that the old time soda fountain was closed on Sundays, we headed back into Acadia National Park. (Adding yet another elusive state – Utah – in one of the parking lots there. Only Wyoming and Hawaii left to go!) I had read about another hike that supposedly a good one to take with children – South Bubble Trail – so we took off in search of that. The park map is very easy to read and the roads are well-marked, so we found it rather easily. Parking was another issue, though. For such a a popular trail, there are very few parking spaces and no roadside parking available. Luckily it was only a few minutes wait as several cars loaded up and pulled out, and we were ready to take our walk in the woods. Here’s the thing, that trail that was supposed to be good with kids? I think they meant literal kids, you know, like baby goats. It was a rather vertical trail. Very short, less than a mile, but with a vertical gain of 518′. It was a bit humbling to be reminded how desperately out of shape I have become, and my knees were not terribly fond of the descent, but those issues aside… WOW! It was a great hike. The views from the summit were spectacular. Looking out over Jordan Pond from such an elevation was truly breathtaking. (Of course, the climb was also a little breathtaking, in a different way, but I was happy for the work out.) The kids were ecstatic with the results of our work, and I’m starting to think that maybe we are getting really close to being able to do some more hiking together. After the obligatory pictures (including selfies, natch), we made our way back down to the car. Because what was in front of us, not just 518′ of elevation change, but at least 6.5 hours of driving to get to our hotel in Connecticut. We ended up leaving the park at a little after noon, and after a stop for food, we settled in for a long drive.

We were all a little sad, and gave a shout out of thanks to Maine for another great week as we crossed the Piscataqua River Bridge in New Hampshire. And it was weird that one of our stops was at the Kennebunk Service Plaza off the Maine Turnpike. That’s our exit for the cottage! I was sorely tempted to drive back into Kennebunkport and spy on the people who are renting the cottage this week. I’m sure they couldn’t possibly be the exemplary tenants we are. But I resisted the urge and we kept on trucking. Or at least, we tried to, but holy crap the traffic was terrible! What’s the deal? It was a gorgeous afternoon; why is everyone trying to *leave* the state of Maine? It was seriously stop & go traffic on 95 for quite some time in Maine as we approached the bridge. Then it all magically cleared. Only to return as we were trying to cross from NH into Massachusetts, and at several points in MA. Talk about something my knees weren’t happy with. Not being able to use the cruise control at all today had my right knee very unhappy by the end of the day. And I’m not sure why I thought traveling 385+ miles in a day was a good idea, but honestly, I wish we had traveled 386+, because I was feeling pretty good after a dinner stop at Panera and could have gone further, but more because the hotel we are staying in tonight has an insanely rude front desk clerk. Those of you who know me personally would have been pleasantly pleased with the restraint I showed when dealing with her.

So, I picked this hotel – The Farmington Inn & Suites – randomly off Hotels.com because of its location along our path of travel. The distance seemed a doable driving distance from Bar Harbor. And the price seemed okay based on location and amenities offered. I made my booking, being perfectly honest about the fact that the room was for a single adult and three children under the age of 10. We arrived at around 7:20pm, and when we entered the lobby the children went directly to the little sitting area where they sat on the couches and started watching ESPN. The desk clerk was sitting in her chair behind the desk, chatting with a man. At first I assumed he was another employee – she was chatting so casually with him – but it turns out he was another guest who had obviously been there for some time. She was completely ignoring the fact that we had walked in, so during a lull in their conversation I just said, “Excuse me, but where is your restroom? We’re checking in, but I need to use the restroom first.” She looked at me with undisguised exasperation and pointed over her shoulder, “It’s down the hall, on the right.” As I headed in that direction, with a quick “I’ll be right back” to the children, she shouted, “Take those kids with you!” and then added a somewhat maniacal, fake laugh. I paused only briefly, gave her a smile and my own fake laugh, and then went down the hall. Since they are going for a homey inn feel, despite the fact that they are clearly just an old hotel, the restroom was about as far away from the tv/sitting room as my powder room is from my family room. When I returned briefly, I waited another minute for her to finish her conversation and the man to step aside. When he did, she stood up, looked me right in the face and said quite loudly and rather rudely, “I wasn’t kidding when I told you to take those kids with you! Children are *not* to be left unattended here!” I gave her a quizzical look, as if perhaps she was speaking a foreign language, and responded, “Um, okay.” She continued on, in the same rude tone, as if she was talking about a pack of wild animals, rather than my kids who were sitting quietly on the couches, “I mean, it’s over and done now, but don’t do that again. You cannot leave those children unattended!” Giving her my best deadpan expression, while expressing murderous intent with my eyes, I said, “Got it.” No, I didn’t apologize for my apparent flouting of some unwritten rule. After all, I made the booking for a room with three children, so obviously they don’t have any anti-children policies in place. She went on, never once saying a kind or professional word to me, never once welcoming me to the inn, just shoving paperwork under my face and saying, “Be sure to write down your vehicle information so we don’t tow you!” Yeah, definitely getting the warm fuzzies about my stay. If the room had not been prepaid, I would have walked out the door without a doubt. I guess my cold, dead eyed expression was finally getting through to her, because she suddenly shouted out in the general direction of the tv, “Hey, kids, you can have some cookies if you want!” Harper shouted back, “No, thanks, we’re good!” But I fixed her with a stare and said, “My children have food allergies, so they can’t have any. But we appreciate the offer.” She stammered an apology, and I continued, “It’s not a problem. Like I said, we appreciate the offer. In fact, I’m not sure you heard her, but my daughter said, ‘No, thank you.’” She smiled and said, “Oh, they are well trained.” I waited until she looked me in the eye before I said in the flattest, most restrained voice I could muster, “No. They are just good kids.” A small “oh” escaped her lips, and then she shoved the key at me and told me the breakfast times and the wifi policy. I was still standing at the desk, staring expectantly at her, when she went to sit back down in her chair. I said, still through gritted teeth, “And where might this room be located? What it the best way to get to it?” She seemed flustered at the question, and then said, “I don’t remember what room I put you in.” When I showed her the key folder she pointed up the stairs and said it was about halfway down the hall. I was seriously shocked at the appalling customer service. I wanted to punch that lady in the throat. I didn’t see any bears in Acadia, but this woman in Farmington, CT, definitely poked the (Crazy) Momma Bear. It might have been one thing if I had been allowing my children to behave like wild animals, but to speak about my children who were at that particular moment behaving more angelically than most adults in hotel lobbies as if they were wild animals, I wanted to show her exactly how a wild animal behaves. But I didn’t. Even after a long, trying day, I managed to show some restraint. And sometimes, that’s the best I can hope for. Just showing some restraint.

Tomorrow: “Only” 5.5 hours of driving. An “easy” day, if you will… After we decimate the breakfast buffett at the inn, that is. I may get charged $5 if I inadvertently don’t return the little slip of plastic that is my key (yes, that is an actual rule that I had to initial at check-in), but I intend to take this hotel for every free thing they offer.

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I Know What I’m Guana Do Today!

18 Aug

(Alternate title: “This Day Brought to You By the Letter S for Solitude”)

About noon today my kids went off to spend the night with their dad. This meant that I had the majority of a Saturday free and all to myself. And despite the fact that there are multiple projects I need to complete at home, and despite the fact that I was getting a bit of a late start on the day, since I had absolutely no one to play with, I decided to take my solitude to the woods. I’ve been wanting to do this for weeks now. Take a walk in the woods. I find it difficult to call walking on trails here in Florida hiking, because there is basically zero elevation change. For some reason to me the definition of hiking involves not just trails, but elevation change. Be that as it may, I have been wanting to take a good walk in the woods, and luckily, despite the flat terrain, there are a few places nearby that have trail systems available. And while I fully intend to scope out the Jacksonville Arboretum some other weekend, today I decided to head a bit south to the Guana Tolomato Matazas National Estuarine Research Reserve. Otherwise known as Guana to us local folk. Of course, not to be confused with the beach access parking lots also referred to as Guana. But to say I was going hiking at Guana, well, if you were from around here, you’d know where I meant.

Anyway, Guana is great for the impromptu walk in the woods. For only $3 per vehicle you have access to a paved parking lot with convenient facilities right at the trail head. A beautiful, glossy trail map lays out the overview of a well-defined trail system including several loops in varying lengths from 1.7 miles to two interconnected 2.7 mile loops. It also has a straight shot 1.1 mile road leading from the parking lot out to the shore of the Tolomato River. Today I wanted to really spend some time, put some miles under my boots. Breathe deep, listen, look, see. So I eagerly pulled into the parking lot at about 2:00pm, hopped from the car, and proceeded to shellac the entire surface area of my body and clothing in insect repellent. To say it gets buggy at Guana is a bit of an understatement. Now, lately, it’s been hotter than the surface of the sun around here. And if the heat doesn’t kill you, the humidity might. So I was prepared to sweat, especially since I was getting such a late start on the day. But the breeze was blowing nicely and I had high hopes for a pleasant walk in the woods. That is, until I saw the signs posted to the trail map kiosk stating that several portions of the larger hiking loops and the straight shot connector road were underwater. Hmmm. Flooded trails + heat = mosquito boom. Okay, well, thanks for the warning, but I’m going to strike out and see just what you mean by the trails being flooded. How flooded? Too deep to traverse in hiking boots flooded? Flooding too pervasive to bushwhack around? I’m in, let’s give it a go.

As an aside, when friends were visiting back in April, we brought our six collective kids, ages 4-8, out to Guana for a little adventure. Today I chose to bypass it, but there is a really cool Environmental Education Center at the GTM Research Reserve. The admission is low (in addition to the parking fee closer to the trails), only $2 for adults and $1 for children ages 10-17 (children under 10 are free), and it contains quite an impressive collection of exhibits and displays. The staff was super friendly and provided each of the kids with an age-appropriate activity sheet to complete in the Education Center. I was really impressed with this building, and would definitely go back with other visitors. But today, it was just me, my boots, and a backpack with water and insect repellent. So into the woods I went.

I struck out first on the purple trail, also known as the 2.7 mile Timucuan Trail. I had seen the signs stating that a good portion of the western part of the trail was flooded, but I was really trying to connect to the red trail, also known as the 2.7 mile South Point Loop. And if the trail proved to be impassable, well, then, I’d just have to turn around and retrace steps. The eastern part of the Timucuan Trail is broad, basically a sandy road. But still rather pleasant. A good way to ease into the woods. Lots of wide open space. The first thing I saw almost immediately and then continuously throughout the course of the day were animal tracks. Easy to see that the deer are using the trails, as well. I saw huge, buck prints, and tiny little hoof prints that could only belong to fawns. You could tell when they were walking, or bounding. Deep impressions in the softer dirt where they had sprung off. It was fun to see the way they had traversed the trails. There were also lots and lots of tiny toads.

Doing my best not to step on any as they scattered before my feet, I almost tripped over my first intimate wildlife encounter. A gopher tortoise, out for a stroll, in the middle of the trail. He tucked his head in when I got close, and I was pretty close before I realized he was there. But I stopped, crouched down, and waited for him. He poked his head out, looked directly at me for a moment, then continued on his way. I walked beside him for a few seconds, and he was really motoring along. Don’t know where he was off to, but he seemed in a hurry. So I snapped a pic and left him to go about his business.

Another half mile or so and I came to realize what they meant when they said the trail was flooded. Yeah, a few inches of standing water in the middle of the trail. But the trail was wide in this area, so it was fairly easy to skirt the edges of the newly formed ponds. But I will say that I was very, very happy to have on my new Merrell boots. To be honest, there is really no need for boots at Guana. But the last time my friend and I were there with our kids, my middle daughter came inches away from stepping on a water moccasin while wearing ballet flats. And my thought process for choosing my footwear went like this: hiking boots = modicum of protection from snake bite. Seriously. This is what I was thinking. Never mind the fact the snake would likely rear up and strike my leg, I was willing to take the extra precaution that I might be able to present a hard rubber sole to the head of a striking snake. Yes. I am weirdly obsessive about running potential scenarios. Anyway, I was happy for the boots because it helped to keep my feet dry as I skirted these trail ponds in a way that my running shoes would not have been able to do. But, alas, after scattering thousands of fiddler crabs on the banks of the Tolomato River, I found myself completely thwarted by the western part of the Timucuan Trail. I wouldn’t so much say that the trail was underwater, as I would say that a flood plain now existed in the area the trail used to cross. There was no way around it, and given the critters I knew to be living in this area, chief among them American alligators and water moccasins, I had absolutely no interest in wading through it. Backtracking to the trail convergence with the South Point Loop I found that route also wet and I hesitated to get myself so deep into the woods with potential afternoon thunderstorms threatening. So, I figure, no big deal, I’ll backtrack out the eastern part of the Timucuan Trail and head over to the loops on the other side of the trailhead. Walking along, innocently enjoying the day, having already put probably two miles under my boots my eye is caught by the slightest movement just to the right of the trail. Luckily, it took my brain a few steps to properly process what I was seeing about three feet from my right ankle. Because that meant I was out of striking distance before I realized this beauty was staring at me.

Look closely at this picture and you’ll see a rather substantially sized diamondback rattlesnake. I regret not getting better pictures of it, as it was a positively gorgeous snake. But considering it’s size, the fact I had walked so very close to it unawares, and the knowledge that it could kill me, my heart was hammering pretty hard with that initial adrenaline rush. And clearly it was not scared of me. It didn’t coil, gave no warning rattles. Just made eye contact and started moving towards me. The ironic thing being that maybe five minutes before I saw him I thought to myself, gee, I wonder if I’ll see any snakes today. Last time we saw a few. Yeah, this counted all right. I was in awe of this snake. But boy did the circumstances of seeing him trip my heart.

With my adrenaline pumping I considered jumping ship when I reached the trailhead. But I really wanted to spend more time in the woods, despite the things that could kill me there, so I crossed the connecting road on the orange trail, or 1.7 mile Guana Loop. This is what I would refer to as a close contact trail. The trail was very narrow, with foliage brushing on either side. Having just seen that huge snake, I have to admit my ankles were tingling. Kind of like how I feel when I dangle my feet over the side of the bed. I just know one of these days that horrific clown from Poltergeist is going to reach out and grab my ankle. Today I was trying not to imagine the snake that might be lurking under the palmettos to reach out and grab my ankle. Once again, very, very thankful for my boots, even if they might originally be seen as preposterous overkill for such level, packed trails. This trail also had a few elevated boardwalks due to it crossing some very boggy areas. I got probably a mile on this trail before I once again encountered flooded trails. And the orange trail was not one of the ones that merited a warning sign at the trailhead! Sigh. It was just too narrow and too densely wooded to try to skirt the flooded parts. So, once again I backtracked, this time all the way to the parking lot.

But, you know, it may have been beset with some difficulties due to trail conditions, but overall, I found that to be a very successful walk in the woods. I put at least 4 miles under my boots, didn’t see a soul for two hours, and during that time only used my own voice twice: once, to converse with my tortoise friend, and again during a rather comical incident involving me walking face first into a huge spider web, the whereabouts of the spider unknown. I apologize to all the squirrel mothers who had to cover their little ones’ ears during my choice words. Hopefully you enjoyed my flailing dance of fear and disgust. Ironically, I was silent as a stone during my encounter with the Nagini-like viper. But it was a great workout and a lovely solitude.

As luck would have it, the weather seemed to be holding, so I headed slightly north from Guana to Ponte Vedra Beach to trade my hiking boots and water bottle for a bikini and an ice cold beer. Throwing a towel into my bag with my book, I took my chair, and my beer in requisite red solo cup (natch), down on the beach. I enjoyed the breeze offsetting the warm sun, the sound of the surf. But after a bit I was approached by a young man in khakis and a button-down shirt. He was very polite as he asked me to please move from my spot. Neverminding the fact it is a public beach and I was sitting right in front of my family’s home. But I understood, because I had seen the big white bows on the public access next to the neighbors house. It seems there was to be a beach wedding, and for whatever reason, I was a little too close to the action that was about to begin. And though the photo bombing possibilities were endless, I was proud of him for being so polite, and seeing as though I obviously knew it was coming, I decided to move on peacefully. Now, when they moved their party off the beach and into the back yard of the house next door? Well, I was sitting on my own patio in a chair, reading a book. I think it was kind of me to put on a cover-up, so as not to offend all the fancy people drinking in the next yard over. But I was not about to decamp from my ocean front perch just because there were some boys wearing seersucker and girls in strapless sundresses looking at me funny. Personally I question their manners, since I was no more than 20 feet away and no one offered me a drink.

By the time I finished my book it was getting to be almost 8pm and since lunch had consisted of a handful of almonds, my stomach was growling. And for whatever reason, I was craving Japanese teppan-style food. I love Japanese steakhouses, but I never get to go to them. My kids are notoriously picky, and what’s more, they have an egg allergy, so I’m not convinced of the safety of the teppan table, even if I could get them to try something new. But you have to have either no self-respect, or high self-esteem (still haven’t figured out which applies to me) to be seated as a single at a hibachi table. Tonight I joined the table with two couples who were clearly on a double date. They anchored four spots diagonal across from one another at one end of the table. By the time the chef came, I was still the only person at the other end of the table. Really? Not even another couple walked in the door during the 15 minutes we were waiting? Sigh. Okay, so there’s me looking like a leper with three empty seats around me, and the four friends at the other end of the table. Ah, here it is again. Solitude. And I’d like to thank the chef for pointing it out, as if the guy seating me didn’t make a big enough deal of it. Chef: “Just you?” Me: “Yep. Just me.” Chef: “Just you alone?” Me: “Yep. Just me. Alone.” Chef: “Why just you?” Me: “Because I’m alone.” Chef: (sad voice) “Oh.” Me: just smiled at chef and shrugged my shoulders. Oy.

So, I feel like I managed to really suck the marrow from my day. In about 9 hours time I fit in some rather vigorous and entertaining walking/hiking, some quality time soaking up the sun on the beach, some more quality time sitting and reading in the shade, and a super yummy, if humbling, dinner. Tomorrow morning? Probably do something reprehensible like see The Expendables 2. I don’t know yet. But I’ll let you know…

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© 2010 Krista Lindsey Willim