We did a couple of things differently this year. First, we went back to the same place a year later. While we have a handful of spots - almost all in Maine - that we return to regularly, I can't remember our ever vacationing at the same place two years in a row.
Second, we stayed at the same place for the entire trip; very unusual for the Bals, who tend to flit around like birds on their vacays.
But this was a "destination vacation," as Peggy put it. And it was.
We were so enthralled by the Great North Woods last year, and so disappointed that we had only stayed a handful of days that one - or maybe both of us - floated the idea of returning to Lopstick Cabins this time around for a full week. Unlike last year though, where reservations were easy, almost all of Lopstick's 35 cabins/camps had already been booked for the Labor Day weekend as early as June. But Peg was finally able to secure us a so-called "cabin," called Kiley that to me sounded as if was going to be a bit funky and run down, given that we were paying less for something larger than the cabin we had last year. But it was a choice of Kiley or nothing, so we crossed our fingers and did the 4-hour drive up to Pittsburg.
If you clicked on the link, you'll see that I had nothing to worry about. For reasons that still mystify me, the very economical Kiley cabin was more like a spacious camp, extremely private, and with a spectacular view of First Lake. Apparently, the camp's lack of fireplace and/or jacuzzi, both of which amenities came with the unnamed "Cabin 6" that we had stayed in the year before, lowered the price.
It would have been nice to have a fireplace, but we didn't really miss it.
"Do you want to do something different and take a boat out on the lake tomorrow?" I asked Peggy innocently. And just as innocently, she answered, "Yes."
Now, I probably haven't been in - let alone touched - an outboard motor boat for some 40-years, but at one time in my blooming youth I spent most summers in and renting such boats on Sebago and Long Lake in Maine.
Indeed, most days my commute was taking a 12-footer powered by a lil' 25-hp from one end of Sebago to the other, through the Songo Locks ("But there's just one," Peg said in confusion when I finally took her to the Locks) into Brandy Pond and then under the drawbridge to Long Lake and the seaplane base and marina my father co-owned. Because we rented to turistas whose first exposure to boating was oft times when I walked them through the intricacies of a 10-hp Evinrude, I also spent an inordinate amount of time on the water finding and/or rescuing either them or our boat from whatever trouble they had managed to get themselves into. This could include replacing broken shear pins, towing abandoned boats back from wherever they had been beached, collecting day trippers who had gone too far, too long and weren't going to make it back before dark without help, and so on.
So, while many things outdoorsy can throw me into a full, nervous Woody Allen-like tizzy, I'm fairly comfortable on the lake, having dealt with much a lake can toss at you while at a tender age. Which would come in handy.
Peggy and I struck out about 11 a.m. on a warm cloudy morning after one of the lodge hands had walked me through running the little 8-hp motor. Not much had changed in the engineering over 40 years, so we puttered off without trouble. While First Connecticut is the 8th largest lake in New Hampshire, at 2800 acres it's about a tenth of the size of Sebago, so I figured I could easily motor us around the perimeter in a couple of hours. We were at the northern end when it started to sprinkle and the sky blackened.
"Not too bad," I thought, but decided to push back across the lake to the more civilized side, as we had nothing on our side except trees and rocks, and I didn't want to try to beach and hole up there if needed. If it had been five minutes later, I would have taken my chances beaching wherever we could, as the storm just blasted onto the lake, with the wind picking up, lightening bolts crackling around us , rain cascading down and the waves starting to white cap. With us now in the middle of the lake.
Not the first time I've been caught in a bad storm on a lake, and this was one of the worse. The rule is you definitely don't want to be the tallest thing on a flat surface in a metal boat. You get off the water as quickly as you can, and you find what shelter you can. Thinking of Sebago and summer camps, I told the brave Peggy we were heading to the closest cabin's beach. Occupied or not, I figured we could camp on their porch until the storm passed. But a Good Samaritan spotted us running in, waved us to his landing, a few hundred yards further down, and offered us - to continue the Dylanesque theme - shelter from the storm inside his camp, which we gladly took.
Of course, all I had done was beach the boat, and I had forgotten to lift the engine. The wind was blowing so fiercely that it was obvious that unsecured the boat would be sailing off to parts unknown, probably ruining the prop in the process. So even though our Good Samaritan told me he'd fire up his boat and help me recover ours later, I decided I couldn't get much wetter, and went back out and lashed our little boat to his dock.
About 1/2-hour later, the storm had passed, and the very wet Peggy and Fred thanked our Good Samaritans, took our very soggy selves back to the boat, and puttered off yet again.
About 5 minutes out, the motor died.
After running through a check list of "what could be wrong," it finally occurred to me that the smell of gasoline might not be a flooded engine and indeed, I had succeeded in somehow kicking the gas line loose while getting in a more comfortable position.
So much for the Mighty Sailor. Chastened, I rehooked the line, the engine - now with fuel - sputtered to life, and back we went to Lopstick to get dry clothes. We'd bop out one more time onto the lake later that afternoon, but with still-threatening skies, never fully completed our planned circuit.
But someday we will. And that ends Day One. Still to come - Peggy and Fred find the proverbial Twenty Miles of Bad Road.