Going Wherever It Leads

An adventure blog


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What Makes a Travel Writer?

After a long hiatus from this blog, I thought my comeback post would be all about going to the Maine Whoopie Pie Festival. Instead, it will be all about not going to the Whoopie Pie Festival.

The night before, with our bags and even the trunk of the car packed for an early start and excitement running high, I was awakened by my daughter with the by-now tell-tale sign of a cold coming on because, of course, her first week of summer camp, new germs to mingle with. And just like that all of our weekend plans were canceled. Her middle-of-the-night sniffles and energized fever chatter lead into a day of snuggles on the couch, house cleaning, a quiet day to process my feelings more around the snatching away of women’s rights by a government I can no longer believe in (sorry, that was a lot to unpack there, but that’s where we’re at right now), and then an evening reconnecting with my creativity to help me release a particularly horrendous bedtime at the end of a long solo-parenting day (my husband happened to be off doing unrelated chores elsewhere).

Just an example of some of the cute mess I cleaned up this weekend

But because talking about mopping my floor is not very interesting, and because I know I won’t have time to write about every adventure in discrete posts, nor are the events themselves discrete from one another, since the solo artist date I took myself on last week probably allowed me the patience I needed for the weekend, I will tell you a bit about my day trip to Rockland.

The charming coastal town of Rockland

With an open day on my calendar and a story deadline I could push (and was procrastinating on anyway), I took myself to Rockland, an iconic Maine town, dubbed the state’s arts capital (though Waterville will soon be giving it a run for its money, more on that later). I am almost ashamed to admit that I’ve never visited Rockland before, at least not that I have a memory of.

I walked the 1.9-mile out-and-back Rockland Breakwater Trail to the lighthouse

That got me thinking about how there is still so much I haven’t seen of the state I’ve called home for most of my life. Even so much of my own near surroundings I haven’t experienced (though the pandemic is a good excuse for a lot of that, since we moved to our new town a month before it began). Earlier in the week I found a trail on the way home from summer camp drop-off, along the river, shaded by alternating pines and deciduous forest, and it was such a luscious trail run. I marveled at the fact that it was less than 20 minutes from my house and I never knew about it.

Solo exhibition by Reggie Burrows Hodges and a peek around the corner at a painting by Nicole Wittenberg, part of The View from Here at the Center for Maine Contemporary Art. I had a nice visit to the Farnsworth Art Museum too, both in downtown Rockland

That got me thinking even more about what it means to be a travel writer. The phrase to me conjures up exotic locales, luxury hotels, extravagant comped meals, or off-the-beaten path rugged adventures discovering hidden gems to share with readers (some of which I’ve written about)– but how can one be a true travel writer if you haven’t properly explored your own surroundings? Your own state, town, even the foreign nooks and crannies of your own backyard? I discovered the remains of a trillium bloom in the far corner of our tiny lot earlier this summer and I thought, how did I miss that these past three summers? But I’ve now mapped that corner of the yard in my mind and look forward to welcoming it next year along with some spring bulbs I planted nearby because for the first time in a long time I know I will be in this backyard next year and the year after that and the year after that. That changes travel.

My twenties and thirties were for flying away, escaping, exploring the unfamiliar places far afield and I see now my forties, motherhood still sitting fresh and fragile on my shoulders, is the time to better explore the unfamiliar places right under my nose, perhaps, even, within myself.

This is all part of being a traveler, the maybe less sexy, less talked about part — the coming home, the canceled plans, the living in between the big trips.

View from my hammock

Instead of judging whoopie pies among a crowd of thousands on a scorching summer day, we created art in our cool basement from the flowers we’d pressed two weeks ago during another bout of mild illness and canceled plans, made prints from a celery stock that looked like roses, and rocked in the hammock and looked at the sky.

Weekend arts and crafts

I hope traveling will be a larger part of this year and the years ahead — both solo and with my family, both distant and nearby, but life comes up and I want to come up to meet it. Going wherever it leads is sometimes running down a dream, and sometimes catching boogers running down an energetic preschooler’s nose in the backyard of a little yellow house you bought on Valentine’s Day to be closer to the family that raised you to help raise her. Both a grand adventure in their own right.


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One Toddler’s First Summit

Our five-year PCT trailaversary quietly passed us by last month with no more fanfare than my husband mentioning it in passing in the middle of the night after he got the baby back to sleep, otherwise I would have forgotten. (Catching longtime readers up to speed – we had a baby and moved from the West Coast back to Maine. Emily is now 20 months old.)

Just as I was clumsily gaining my hiking legs around Idyllwild, California around this time five years ago, this weekend Emily, not inelegantly, gained hers and summited her first mountain — Great Pond Mountain, elevation 1,029 feet.

 

And amidst all the chaos, stress and uncertainty of our daily pandemic life, it somehow seems the perfect time to resurrect this blog.

We are now going wherever it leads at toddler speed. This means noticing varieties of lichen on rocks, bugs crawling through grass and moss, birds singing, lots of collecting pine cones (Emily handing them to me, instructing “put in pocket”), scaling boulders with the help of Mommy’s hands, stumbling, and getting back up again.

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Although we’ve been spending several weekends in the woods or on the coast, this felt like our first real hike since moving back to Maine from Washington State this past December.

Great Pond Mountain Wildlands in Orland offered us the quintessential Maine coastal forest trail, remote enough to safely social distance, south enough to be free of snow this time of year, and far enough from home to afford Emily a good car-nap each way.

The trail was lined with red spruce and giant granite covered in mint green lichen and deep green moss, the smell of pine needles kicked up from our feet — the landscape that had been calling us home from the dry high desert and rolling hills of Walla Walla, where we’d spent our last four years since getting off the trail. It’s early spring, so only little buds on some trees and mucky spots beside springtime streams that I lift Emily over. A 2.9-mile round trip out-and-back path with a lovely summit loop at the top that Emily walked completely (almost 0.5 miles), the rest of the time she rode in her hiking backpack on Daddy’s back.

My heart was so full seeing her as ignited by hiking as we are — excitedly searching for the next blue blaze, blazing down the trail herself. While walking, she chattered away “Mommy hiking. Daddy hiking. Emily hiking.”

We had a typical trail lunch (or as Emily calls it, a “picnic table,” whether or not we’re at a table) of salami, cheese, crackers and fruit sitting on a flat rock, sheltered by pines and spruce with a view of Maine’s spring forest — shades of brown dotted with pale blue lakes and, farther out, the ocean and coastal mountains, a darker shade of the gray-blue matching the overcast sky.

She’s gotten used to our quarantine hikes — the big event of her little life at this point. This morning after I explained what we were doing for the day she was eager to help us pack, naming the things she would need, “water bottle, cheddar bunnies, books” — for the car ride. She got Mommy’s hiking shoes out of the closet and almost had a tantrum when Daddy suggested they go play while I showered. She didn’t want to play, she wanted to help get ready for our adventure.

As new parents we are far from ones to be giving advice, but here are some things that worked for us to keep her interested for a full hike:

  • Searching for the next blue blaze (first pointing them out ourselves our voices full of exagerated excitement, then letting her lead the way to the next one)
  • Taking it slow, letting her scale a boulder or meander off-trail when she needs to explore
  • Interspersing having her walk on her own with carrying in a trail pack (we have an older version of this one) or in our arms
  • Me running ahead while Daddy shouts “Let’s catch Mommy,” then hiding behind trees and popping out to her squeals of delight
  • Lots of singing

Here’s a great resource for those interested in getting out for a hike with littles: Hike It Baby.

A note on hiking safely during the COVID pandemic: We take the time to find out-of-the-way lesser-known public lands and trails. We look at the number of cars in the parking lot and have one or two nearby backup plans if it looks too crowded. We practice physical distancing on trail.

social distance hiking

Until next time, happy trails,

Comet, Not a Bear, & (introducing) Alarm Clock