Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Rusticating in the Big Country

"I had a job in the great north woods" - Bob Dylan

(Left: A non-vacationing Bear and Curly wait for their Uncle Joe to come take care of them.)

As Peggy and I get older we seem to be getting more rustic. Last year's Fall vacay was in Nova Scotia, this year we went as far north in New Hampshire as you can go without stepping into Canada... and then we stepped into Canada.

Peg booked us into the Lopstick Lodge and Cabins way up in Pittsburg, NH for the first part of our trip. We stayed in Cabin 6... not quite spartan accommodations, as it included a 2-person Jacuzzi and DVD player among its amenities.

"So, what do you do up there?" someone asked before we left.

Well, let's see. You peep a lot. Our view of First Connecticut Lake right from our porch was spectacular. All the views were spectacular. You forget how much country is still in this country until you get to somewhere like the Great North Woods. It's nice to be reminded that there's still Big Country not that far away from most of our doorsteps.

You animal watch a lot. Route 3 in the area is nicknamed "Moose Alley," as there is sometimes more moose on or near the roadway than cars. We only saw one moose on the trip up, but the cabin's journal listed dozens - if not hundreds - of moose sightings, mostly in the early morning, when the vacationing Fred and Peggy were loath to rise. The cabin journal is a nice tradition. Each Lopstick cabin has its own journal, where visitors can record impressions and animal sightings. Cabin 6's journal was filled back to 1995.

Anyway, outside of our sole moose, we saw lots of loon - enjoying their weird maniac cry - ducks, frogs, and a mooching Brittany spaniel whose name might have been "Russell" or "Marshall." The Lopstick also doubles as a hunting lodge during bird season, and the owner's wife runs a pack of eight Brittanys. As my dad used to say, there's no such thing as owning one bird dog if you can own two, or three, or eight.

One of the pups, Marshall, enjoyed visiting us, especially if he thought he could get some cheese. But Marshall was a gourmand, he was happy to eat anything. To your left you'll see him chawing down what was left of some crackers I had tossed out for the ducks who also came to visit each evening. Marshall took great glee in first pointing at the ducks and then scattering them to the winds.

If you like the water, and we do, you can also boat on the many ponds, lakes, creeks, rills, and rivers in the area.

Peggy and I wanted to try kayaking this trip and after successfully bopping around our side of First Connecticut Lake, we girded our loins and strapped the kayak on the Mini - to the amusement of many - and went meandering off to adventure.

The adventure included scuffing up the Mini's roof and bruising Fred's nose when we accidentally dropped the kayak on the return trip, but except for that minor mishap a good time was had by all. We're thinking about buying a (lighter) 2-person kayak and maybe a holder. Or maybe a new SUV, as the Mini - once named the Bub but at the moment called Mr. Scruffy - is petitioning to be returned to Southhampton where he can be adopted by a family appreciative of the British motoring experience, rather than the mad fools he's currently stuck with.

On Friday we did the other thing you do while you're in the Great North Woods (if you're not fishing or hunting) and went hiking to the northernmost point in New Hampshire, up to Third Fourth Connecticut Lake - which is no lake at all but a boggy pond - and the source of the Connecticut River.

When I say "northernmost point" I mean it. Pittsburg, the last town in New Hampshire, is closer to the North Pole than it is to the Equator, being above the 45th Parallel. 20 miles north from Pittsburg, you park next to the U.S. Customs building to get to the trail, and the hike has you regularly crossing the U.S./Canada border. To your left is one of the border markers, which if you straddled, would give you one foot in the U.S. and one in Canada.

The guide books note that the trail to Third Fourth Connecticut is "steep at times," which you may find a masterful understatement when confronted with near-90-degree pitches. But maybe (no "maybe" about it baby, I hear my wife chime in my head) I'm just a wuss, as we met while hiking up a family that included baby in backpack, small child, and grandfather, all enjoying themselves immensely. As did we when we finally made our way to the lake and stood at the source of the Connecticut, not much more than a brook at its beginnings.

Peggy spotted many moose tracks on the trail, but no moose.

On Saturday we crossed the border and made our way over to Montreal, where we didn't have a bad time, but didn't have as much fun as we did while rusticating. Probably lots of things contributing to that. The weather, which had been coolish but sunny during our stay at Lopstick, went funky on Saturday and drizzled through Sunday. Last year we made out like bandits on the Canadian exchange rate (and had done pretty well on our trip to Niagara Falls a few years back, too). This year the exchange rate was almost equal between U.S. and Canadian currency. And Montreal is not a cheap city to eat, stay, or play turista in. By Sunday I had coined the slogan, "Montreal, you're going to pay," after emptying my wallet at bars ($11 Canadian for a martini!), restaurants, flower gardens, and even churches. "All the money goes to the church restoration," the girl behind the counter said, I think seeing my wince as we paid to visit the gorgeous Notre Dame Basilica in Montreal. On the other hand, she gave us a great tour.

Maybe the Montreal stay was too short or maybe the contrast was just too much. Dunno. But we're planning a return to Lopstick soon, and I think you'd have to give us a reason to go back to Montreal.

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