Mars & Kind People

On October 14th we woke up at our campsite in the Badlands and rushed to get out by sunrise. We sped to the beginning of the park to get a few sunrise pictures, and FaceTimed our parents to show them the crazy landscape. It is like nothing I had ever seen before--giant alien-like rock formations covering the earth in front of you. We took a small trail that led you into the heart of the canyons that overlooked, honestly, what looked like Mars. When we got to the end of the trail we sat on the rocks and looked out at the rising sun and threw stones out into the canyons. We took some pictures and headed back to the van where we made some breakfast, and started along the road into the heart of the Badlands.

We stopped at various “viewpoints” along the road, which looked over different parts of the canyons, and as we were driving we saw something moving in a field in the distance. We pulled over and got out the binoculars and saw a herd of antelope! John realized that a coyote was stalking them a couple yards away--but it looked far too big to be a coyote, even though there are no wolves in the park, apparently. We’re still convinced it’s a wolf. We were hearing little high pitched noises, and when we looked closer to us we realized there were prairie dogs!! We spent most of the day pointing out neat rocks, giggling at prairie dogs and searching for bison. We got towards the end of the park and stopped at an overlook where we made lunch and relaxed for a while to wait for sunset.

After a while we decided to check out the free campground at the end of the park, to try and get a spot. Unbeknownst to us the campground was at the end of a very long, very bumpy dirt road, and we felt uneasy driving Penny through it. We decided to try anyway, and after about 5 minutes we decided it was wayyy too rocky and we had to turn around--but before we did we looked out the window and realized there were bison!! 6 of them! We sat on a hill and watched them in our binoculars and got all giddy like little kids.

We turned the van around and drove back to the overlook to watch the sunset--and as I walked down to the rocks I heard John calling my name. I turned around and saw him waving me back, so I rushed over to see what was wrong..coolant was spraying from Penny, which could mean anything is wrong, and here we were stuck in the middle of nowhere in South Dakota. Instead of watching the sunset and taking in the beauty of the Badlands one last time, we took everything out of the back of the van and tried to figure out what the problem was. Since we were near the end of the park we drove to the town of Wall and pulled into the nearest gas station to investigate further. As the sky darkened we sunk more into a sadness and uncertainty of what was going to happen next with Penny. A nice South Dakota man in a pickup noticed that we were having trouble, so he came over to see what was wrong. After looking into the problem a bit, he and John realized that the leak was coming from up near the coolant reservoir, which was a big relief at the time, cause that meant that it wasn't anything too serious. It was just a matter of pinpointing the leak and coming up with a plan to fix it. John asked the guy in the gas station if it was ok for us to just stay in their parking lot, and he said that was fine--so we bought some ice cream to eat our remaining sad feelings and went to bed.

The next morning we woke up and drove to the only mechanic in town to see if he could help us out (a lot of mechanics don't like to, and sometimes refuse, to work on Vanagons because they're so complicated). When we arrived he helped us identify the problem (the pipe coming off of the coolant reservoir was broken), and he was willing to try and help but told us he didn't totally know what he was doing when it came to Vanagon coolant systems. We told him we'd try and explore other options and maybe we'd be back--we could only drive 5 miles at a time because the coolant didn't kick in until then, and if you drive too long with no coolant it can lead to big, big problems.

We went to Wall Drug Store, which is a huge tourist attraction in that area that we had been seeing signs for for hours on the way to the Badlands. It's basically a giant building with a ton of souvenirs, little specialty shops inside, a cafeteria and many other silly things. We walked around for a while and John started looking at this website called the Vanagon Rescue Squad, where people sign up to be “on call” to help people fix their Vanagons FOR FREE. John found a guy named Josh in Rapid City which was about 50 miles away, and he agreed to help us out. It was Thursday and he said we could come to his house Friday night or Saturday morning, and that we could overnight the part we needed to his house. He also offered to let us sleep at their house, but we wanted everything to be as convenient as possible for them, so we decided to just get there on Saturday morning.

We spent most of the day after that at Wall Drug, and hanging out in the van in their parking lot, making wallets and stuff, until it started getting later and we called a tow truck to take us to a WalMart about 5 miles from Josh’s house. Literally 10 minutes later a big cowboy in a tow truck pulled up and strapped Penny down--it was pretty sad, actually! He pointed out the scenic areas on the way and told us a little bit about the area. He also mentioned that he has personally seen 2 wolves in the Badlands in his 20 years living there, so he said that its certainly possible that we saw a wolf. He said the officials won't ever officially admit it, but they also won't admit that there are mountain lions, despite one being killed in Wall a few years back.

The next day was spent hanging out in Penny at WalMart--we weren't really within walking distance to much, so we slept in, made breakfast, listened to music and caught up on some things. We went to bed early and woke up early to head to Josh’s house, where he was standing outside ready for us in a mechanics suit and all! His wife Amber came out and introduced herself and offered us coffee, and while John and Josh started looking at the van we stayed inside and talked for a while. She was totally one of the sweetest people I've ever talked to, and I couldn't express enough how thankful I was that they were willing to help us. She had to go pick up their daughter and offered us to use their shower, which was long overdue and totally unexpected! I watched John and Josh for a while as they replaced the bad fitting and bled the system, and Amber came back with donuts for us! While John got a shower I got Penny back in order and we were ready to go on our way! John offered Josh a wallet (which he seemed to need because his was falling apart) in exchange for the 4 hours of work, free showers, fresh coffee and utter kindness. We couldn't believe anyone would ever sign up to invite strangers into their house and spend hours doing free labor--they wished us luck and waved goodbye as we set off towards Mount Rushmore!











Chicago --> SD

We woke up bright and early in Chicago on October 9th, and started heading towards Wisconsin! The drive was a beautiful mix of corn fields and hills, with bright blue skies--definitely one of our favorite drives so far! We stopped in Madison, which we ended up absolutely loving (we didn’t expect to care too much about Wisconsin because, let’s be serious, Wisconsin doesn’t seem that cool). Madison is a college town, with a great mix of restaurants, coffee shops, big name stores and small specialty gift shops with pretty books and Wisconsin-pride knick knacks. We walked down the main street, stopping in the little stores and Urban Outfitters, and ended up sitting outside at a great coffee shop called Colectivo--there was a hilarious guy playing a drum nearby and we split a Po-Boy--it was really nice!

We left towards Dodgeville where we’d park in the corner of WalMart for the night, but we had a lot of time before the sun went down. We ate some hummus, listened to music, John worked on leather and I wrote about the day before we made dinner and went to bed. The next morning we went to the House on the Rock, which was the life-long project of a man named Alex Jordan who built a Frank Lloyd Wright-style house on a big rock in Wisconsin. Over the years it 1,000% transformed from just a house to a giant warehouse filled with his many collections of guns, crowns, carousel animals, stained glass lamps, armor, and a million other things. Of course he doesn’t just display them all in cases, he created these perfect villages with cobblestone streets to show them all off. ALSO, he has the world’s largest carousel, the largest collection of perfectly crafted doll houses, a ginormous sculpture of a whale fighting an octopus, with rooms filled with nautical memorabilia and coin operated music machines that involved entire rooms of mannequins playing instruments. Honestly, I could write for hours about this place and feel like I didn’t do it justice--every room we walked in we would just look at each other like, “Seriously?” It was bizarre and overwhelming and inspiring, and I would highly recommend you go there and get your butt kicked with all that craziness. (John here, I think I feel a little more strongly than Kristen, so I should add that this is by far the highlight of the trip up to this point. This was the most motivating, inspiring place I have ever been. Like seriously, you should all get in a plane and fly here immediately. The whole time we were walking around I kept thinking that I'd be fine with just going home from here, because if this whole trip was just to get here, I'd consider it a huge success. At the end of this blog I'll include all of my photos, but know that they're a sad sad attempt at capturing this place. I really almost don't want to post them, because its a place that you can't really explain to someone who hasn't been there. Ok, I'm done. But seriously, get to this place.)

After we had been there for 4 ½ hours (and we pretty much rushed through the end) we drove a few hours into Minnesota, where we were welcomed by a world class sunset. We stayed at WalMart that night, and drove to Minnetonka in the morning to visit John’s great aunt Nancy and her son Scott’s family. She wasn’t able to come to our wedding and hadn’t seen John in years, so we know it meant a lot to her for us to visit. We spent a few hours catching up, showing her wedding pictures and eating pizza before we decided to get some more driving done. We made a very brief stop at the Mall of America (my inner 16 year old wanted to see it), and after being there for less than a half hour we were like, “Yeah, let’s get out of here.” It’s just a big mall..and if you’re from the Philadelphia area and go to the King of Prussia mall, the only difference is that one has a roller coaster in it--BUT we can say we went there!

Minnesota was a pretty brutal drive because the winds were at least 30 mph against us, and with our flat-faced Penny it took us at least 2 extra hours to get where we needed to. The landscape was flat and filled with brown corn fields for hours, and hours and hours. We couldn’t wait to get to WalMart for the night to sleep so we could head into South Dakota the next morning! The winds picked up even more over night, and we drove straight into them for a couple more hours until we arrived in South Dakota and stopped at a coffee shop called Josiah’s--we spent a while there enjoying a snack and some coffee before setting off again. We stayed in Mitchell, SD and the next morning we went to the Corn Palace!

For those who have no clue what the Corn Palace is, let me tell you, it’s not a whole lot! From the beginning, before we even left on our trip, my Uncle Joe had been telling us that no matter what we do, we HAVE to visit the Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota. To him, it was a place he stumbled upon back in the day when he was on a road trip, and it stood out as such a silly landmark. There have been 3 Corn Palaces over the years, this newer one literally being a fancy looking gymnasium with corn murals on the outside..but we took a tour, got some souvenirs and giggled about it later that day. It’s definitely not something I’d go out of my way to see, but it will always be a funny memory. It had gotten pretty late in the day, so we decided to stick around that area a little longer and do some laundry before heading towards the Badlands. We stopped at a neat antique store and an “1880 Town” which was pretty bizarre. We decided to stay at a campground in the Badlands that night, and by the time we arrived it was almost totally dark out. We could just barely see the rock formations against the sky, and they were so foreign looking we couldn’t help but be ecstatic about what we were going to see the next day!

Here are the photos from the House on the Rock. Again, these do no justice and are infact a sad attempt at capturing this place... In my defense, the lighting was as bad as it possibly could be...




MI --> IL

We woke up in Sarnia, Ontario in a beautiful WalMart parking lot, about 15 minutes from the United States border. When we crossed the border we, yet again, got interrogated, but it was so busy I don't think they really cared about us that much. We were interested in driving through Detroit originally, but we ended up chickening out--that place is no joke. Instead we decided to go to Ann Arbor, where the University of Michigan is, but on the way we passed a giant farmers market and had to stop. It was amazing! There was an outdoor pavilion with a handful of produce stands, and an indoor section with some vendors and a cafe. We got 2 big grocery bags filled with potatoes, garlic, shallots, a cactus fruit, an avocado, a peach and a plum, green onions and a sweet potato for 14 dollars! Across the street was a big thrift store so we also went in there to look around, but came out empty handed..not like we have anywhere to put anything anyway. My friend Mary suggested we go to a Cider Mill, so we found one called Spicer's about a half hour away! It was a cute little orchard with a small petting zoo and homemade cider donuts, so naturally we got pumpkin cinnamon donuts and split a hot apple cider. We walked around a little in their store and around the orchard and went on our way to Ann Arbor.

When we got there, we parked in the middle of campus and went to a free little history museum they have. It was pretty well done, with a lot of dinosaur bones and prehistoric history. We walked into the town to find a sticker for our roof box, and ended up getting a University of Michigan one, since the whole town revolves around the school--oh, and John got his haircut! We went back on campus and noticed a lot of kids in suits and pencil skirts and followed them into one of the buildings--I think it was their student union. The whole place was filled with college kids in these bogus business suits, and John and I walking among them in our boots and flannel shirts. I think it was a job fair..we got out of there quickly--it felt super weird to be there. From what I understand, University of Michigan has a good law program. We went into the library and felt even more out of place--it was beautiful and looked like something out of Harry Potter, with long tables in perfect lines running the length of the room. There were students at every seat, perfectly, quietly studying while we clunked down the isle to take pictures. Sorry guys.. We went back to the van and drove a little while to Portage, MI where we made dinner and went to Tim Horton's afterwards to spend some time editing pictures and charging our devices. That night we slept at WalMart!

The next morning we drove about a half hour into Indiana to go to the RV Museum and Hall of Fame! It was much cooler than it sounds..they had the first camper ever made, from 1913, which was really just an old car with a bed in the back and a separate camp stove structure. They had a room with ridiculous $90,000 brand new RV's that were literally like apartments with flat screen TV's that came out of the fireplace, ceiling fans, and an island in the kitchen. There was another room with about 55 RV's ranging from 1913 to the late 80's, and a lot of them you could go inside. It was pretty cool to sit in old RV's that had all of the original furnishings and fabrics..its fascinating to sit in these giant apartments on wheels, and imagine the stories they'd tell if they could talk. (I'll include all of the photos from the museum at the end)

From the RV museum we drove a couple hours to Chicago to visit my cousin Katie at her college, North Park University. We found a prime (free) spot literally outside of her door, and she came out to meet us. She brought us inside and showed us her little (surprisingly clean!) open format apartment with a little kitchen, a living room and a shared bedroom. Katie took us on a tour of her school, and we went with her to get her mail because we knew Aunt Sue had sent her cookies! We spent a few hours talking with her and her friends Caytlyn and Mariah, until we decided to head into the heart of the city. We walked a few blocks to the L--we were on the Brown Line which is above ground, so it was cool to watch the sun set over the city. It was getting later so we couldn't do too much, but we went to the Bean, which I think is probably cooler at night anyway! The city lights reflecting off of the mirror surface of the Bean was pretty beautiful. We were getting hungry so we looked around for a place to get dinner, and after a little bit of wandering around we settled on an Asian Fusion place called Sunda. Katie's not much into trying new things, so we were excited to introduce her to some of our favorite foods. We decided to do what John and I always do and get a whole bunch of stuff and split it. We got edamame, Pad Thai, tuna stuffed avocado, and a spicy Thai chicken dish served inside of a coconut--all so good. We walked around a little after that, and then went back to Katie's apartment to eat cookies and hang out.

We got to sleep on the floor of her apartment (which was nice because we didn't have to worry about where to go), and the next morning John made everyone breakfast--chocolate chip/banana pancakes, home fries, eggs, toast and sausage. Katie, Mariah and Caytlyn came to show us around the city a little, and we started out our day at Shedd Aquarium! We found a secret general admission deal that was only 8 dollars and you still got to see a lot of the exhibits. The ticket let us have free range of the downstairs exhibits, which had different wings of fish and small reptiles, and a big center aquarium with turtles, small sharks and schools of fish swimming about. The Aquarium is located right on Lake Michigan and has a great view of the skyline, so we acted a bit like tourists and took selfies, and then headed towards the Buckingham Fountain--which ended up being turned off and closed. The walk there was nice though along the water. We ended up walking on the edge of town for a while, until we decided to go to Giordano’s to get some real Chicago-style pizza.

Before we headed back to the apartment, we took the L to Artimage Street which is a little more on the quaint side, with cute little boutiques and artisan shops. When we got back to their apartment, John spent some time making a wallet while I sang Disney songs with the girls while they did homework. The next morning we set out for Wisconsin, definitely feeling like we didn’t get a solid feel for Chicago, but happy to have spent some time with Katie and her friends!

And here are the photos from the RV Museum!



Niagara Falls!

In the beginning of October, we set off from the Adirondacks towards Niagara Falls--choosing to go through the Canadian side not only because the view is better, but because we could cut through Canada to Michigan, rather than loping back underneath Lake Erie, through Pennsylvania. We stopped in Rochester, NY and went to the best little coffee shop/roaster/bar we've found since we left--called Joe Bean. It was inside of a weird little building, but the inside of the shop itself was really cool with brick walls, neat wooden tables and a great bar--even their espresso machine was hammered copper. We spent an hour or so in there drinking coffee, working on the blog and charging our many devices before we drove a little bit more to Niagara Falls, NY for the night. We learned while going into Canada the first time that we did not like going over the border at night, so we found a WalMart about 15 minutes away.

In the morning we looked across the parking lot at a van that was parked nearby who had also stayed the night--their van was white with a blue stripe down the middle, and on the side was painted JESUS. THE WAY. THE TRUTH. THE LIFE. Walking towards us was a younger guy with a coffee cup in his hand and a string holding up his jeans. He introduced himself as Brent and said that he and his wife had been traveling in their van for 11 months as missionaries. He himself had lived in vans for about 5 years, and they were planning on moving to another country (maybe Argentina?) in the next year. We probably talked to him for about an hour exchanging van life "hacks" and what not, when another guy pulled up to us and asked about Penny and suggested some places for us to visit in the area—Penny felt popular that day.

That guy told us about a place nearby called Devil's Hole, so we decided to check it out, but once we got there we realized that it would take a long time from where we were to get to the heart of Devil's Hole (major rapids that all collide together in the same spot), so we set off for the border instead. Getting into Canada at the Niagara Falls border is such a fast and easy process—probably because so many people are passing through every day, they can't be too picky. We found a place to park and started walking towards the falls--there were people everywhere, but I’m sure it wasn’t nearly as crowded as it gets in the summer. It was a pretty cloudy and drizzly day, but to me it only made the falls look more beautiful! The color of the water was almost turquoise, which I noticed was also the case with some of the Great Lakes--our lakes at home are always brown. The body of water leading up to the falls looked so shallow, it was unbelievable that there was so much force and water coming down. Apparently there are 3,160 tons of water flowing over the falls per second, which is absolute craziness.

We walked along the ledge looking out over the falls, taking pictures and trying to avoid getting in other people’s selfies. We went in a souvenir store to find a sticker, and then walked down to the Hornblower to get tickets--the Hornblower is the Canadian version of Maid of the Mist, which is a boat that takes you into the horseshoe of the falls. We got our tickets and soon after were boarding the boat with our red ponchos at the ready. We didn’t get the best spot at first, but we got on the side where we would see all the good stuff on the way back to the dock. We started out towards the horseshoe, and the power of the falls to our left was whipping around the ponchos of the people across from us. We slowly came up towards the horseshoe and lingered there for a while, getting covered in mist and the wind blowing us all about. The falls were amazing and mighty in front of us, and we couldn’t stop laughing--I’m really glad we decided to experience that.

After our boat ride we decided to check out the main street, which we didn’t expect to look like a mini Vegas (or Wildwood, NJ). Every store and restaurant had flashing lights, a big gaudy statue outside and music blasting--luckily none of this was really seen or heard from the falls. We walked until it went from flashy stores to sketchy souvenir shops and buffets. We stopped at a place called Smokes Poutinerie and got Philly Cheesesteak Poutine (which obviously was awesome), and sat there for a while figuring out our next move. We walked around the area--well, we got lost a little--and went back to the falls for a final look and farewell.

The drive to our next WalMart was a few hours away--we wanted to get close to the border and drive into Michigan the next morning. Our surrounding scenery quickly became flat and filled with vineyards, and soon turned to total darkness. It was the longest feeling drive we had so far in the van driving almost 4 hours with a top speed of 55 in total darkness--we couldn’t wait to just get there and go to bed. We didn’t arrive until about 9:30, the town being around 15 minutes from the border. We were ready, already, to be back in the United States.
 

VT --> ADK

We woke up in Vermont on September 23rd in a WalMart parking lot. We got ourselves ready and set off through some fields and mountains towards Burlington, which is where the University of Vermont is located. We've been enjoying our unintentional college tour of the United States, as college towns are usually more our "scene"--probably because we grew up in one! Burlington was such a pleasant surprise! It's right up against Lake Champlain, and really seems to have a lot to offer. They have great little stores, a cute bookshop and a lot of interesting restaurants--on top of that there are also stores like Patagonia, Gap and what not. The main street is for pedestrians only, with market lights and benches lining the street, and just a few blocks away is the beautiful Lake Champlain.

Our day was spent walking in and out of stores, sitting on the couch in the bookstore reading and sitting in a coffee shop called Muddy Waters--which looks like an old saloon or something inside. We walked down to the lake where they built a nice boardwalk along the water, with swings and benches all along the side. We sat on one of the swings for a while looking at one of the most picturesque scenes--the Adirondack mountains towering over a calm, blue, expansive lake. We decided to get going after taking some pictures (and getting a snack at August First Bakery--August first is our anniversary, so we obviously had to get something...), and headed towards the Green Mountain National Forest!

After driving a couple of hours we reached a small town, and turned on a little street with houses on it--just beyond the houses was the entrance of the Green Mountains, and at the entrance was a small bridge. Just beyond that it turned into a dirt road which we drove down for a few miles--our cell service coming in and out, and our campsite choices limited. It is free to camp in the National Forest, but there are no amenities whatsoever. You basically have a small site with a fire pit, which means no bathrooms, no lights, no water, nothing. The campsites are pretty far apart, so even if other people were there you wouldn’t really feel like it..and with the bears and moose that are known to be around there, I’m glad we had our van to camp in. We turned onto an even more secluded path and when we reached a little bridge we decided to turn around and find our campsite because it was getting darker by the minute. We stopped at the bridge first, to fill our solar shower at the stream, and then headed back towards a few of the sites we had seen earlier. I think we found the prime spot in the GMNF--it was a horseshoe shaped site with a large rock in the middle of it that people before us had made into a fire pit, so we had some privacy and a neat fire spot.

We parked Penny next to the rock and started gathering sticks for a fire, and after a while we went to sleep. The next day John woke up and started the fire because it was pretty cold out--he ended up spending the better part of his day chopping up fallen trees and gathering sticks to keep the fire going. We thought maybe we would do some exploring that day, but we ended up just enjoying ourselves in our little campsite. I wrote in my journal, we played UNO, we made breakfast, lunch and dinner, and got to take (freezing cold) showers--before we even knew it, it was getting dark out! Because we were there off season, there was literally no one around--every couple hours a car would drive by, but no one was walking around or camping near us. There apparently are moose and bear around (although we haven’t seen one after spending almost a whole month in Maine, Vermont, Canada, upstate New York combined), so when it’s pitch black and there’s no sounds but the crunching of leaves in the woods and you have to pee at 10 o’clock at night...not cool.

The next morning we woke up and got ourselves ready to go to the Adirondacks in New York. It was so nice to spend a little bit of time in the woods after being in WalMart parking lots for over a week, and now we were ready to be in a real house! My aunt Sue and uncle Don have a cabin in Speculator, NY, which is where my whole Mom’s side of the family has gone in the summer since I was in pre-school. After my phase of “why don’t we go on real vacations to the bahama’s like everyone elssseeeuh,” I’ve come to crave going to the mountains and living on the lake in a podunk town like Speculator.

My aunt and uncle’s cabin is right on the water, and we were excited to be in a comfortable place that we could catch up on the work we needed to do! When we got there we unpacked our stuff and ate snacks with aunt Sue and filled her in on our trip so far, and when she made dinner I FaceTimed my mom. We were both bummed that she wasn’t able to meet us up there for a few days (it’s only about 7 hours away from home), but it was nice to stay with my aunt for a few days.

Although we were in the heart of the beautiful adirondacks--I’m not kidding--we barely left the cabin! We spent most of the week next to the fire, John getting caught up and ahead with his leather work, and I finishing my thank you notes from our wedding (finally!!!!) and getting a few blog posts written. It’s pretty hard to stay on top of things when you don’t have consistent WiFi or a power source, so it was amazing to have literally nothing on our plate for a week other than getting things done! We were also fortunate because the weather was in the 30’s and 40’s most of the week and it torrentially downpoured for 2 days straight, so having a warm bed and an actual house to be in, rather than being stuck in the van for that time.

On Monday was the blood moon, so we made a fire and sat outside watching it--the moon was right above the lake and the sky was perfectly clear. The next couple days were spent hiding from the rain, making soup, playing Scrabble, rekindling our (my) love of Netflix, tending to the fire and catching up. After the rain stopped on Wednesday, we tried to leave to go to the Post Office--their cabin has no official driveway and we were parked in the grass, so of course we got totally stuck in their yard! Penny left 5 inch deep tracks in the grass from the skidding and sliding she was doing..we (I) eventually pushed her out, and we quickly went back and tried to repair the damage to the lawn. Sorry uncle Don, we did our best! Uncle Don and aunt Sue came back up to the cabin Thursday evening and we spent the night eating hamburgers and playing Bananagrams.

On Friday John and I went to Auger Falls, which is a very short hike a few miles from the cabin. We went last summer and (kinda) took some “engagement pictures” there, and spent hours looking at the mushrooms and moss growing on the forest floor. A lot of the greenery and mushrooms along the way were gone for the season, but the falls made up for it with their power. Because of the amount of rain we had gotten that week the falls were coming with such force--we sat on a rock and watched the water rush through the rock beds. (John here >) I don't know why, but something about this place is magical to me. The smells, sounds, roots, moss, really everything about this place is perfect. Other people seem to not quite share my enthusiasm... Thats fine, when I build a little cabin behind a rock here, I won't have to worry about too many people coming by. 

The next day we went to the World’s Largest Garage Sale in Warrensburg, NY with my aunt and uncle, and uncle Don’s brother and his girlfriend (who had come up the night before). The whole main street of the town was covered with tents with individuals and vendors selling everything you could possibly imagine! It’s kind of nice to be stuck in a van, because we literally can’t buy anything big since we have no room for it! We were there for literally 6 hours and we still didn’t see a lot of it! We left with a coyote’s face, a small Penny, a CocaCola pin, a small Jesus statue and a few old souvenir post card envelopes. We went back to the cabin and stopped at a few pretty spots to take pictures along the way.

The next morning we were setting off for Niagara Falls, so we ate a big breakfast and started gathering our things to put back in the van. Aunt Sue and uncle Don came to take a picture of us in front of Lake Pleasant, we said our goodbyes, and left--kind of bummed out that we had to leave the comfort of the cabin, and a little nervous to begin van life again. Although we didn’t technically do much that week it was still perfect..we were able to get everything done that we wanted to and more, and we had a chance to sleep in a comfortable bed, relax, cook in a real kitchen (standing up), spend a little time across the room from each other, I got to binge watch Grey’s Anatomy, and we got to wake up with a lake right outside of our window with beautiful color changing trees surrounding it. It was exactly what we needed before the next leg of our trip, and I don’t think we could have thanked my aunt and uncle enough for letting us stay there. We can’t wait to (hopefully) come back in the summer with our family, it can’t come soon enough!

Here are some extra photos from around the Adirondacks, a local farmers market, the lake, and Johns leatherwork that he got done!



Canada!

Pulling up to the Canadian border at 8:30 at night was kinda scary--we were literally the only ones there..two young Americans rumbling through in our big brown van--I knew we would probably have some trouble. When we pulled up to the window we handed the officer our Passport cards and sat there looking innocent as can be as he asked us why we’re going there, how long we’re going to be there, what we do for a living, blahblah. And, of course, because we were the only ones there in our suspicious looking van, he told us to park and come inside. When we got inside we put on our friendly smiles and yet again, answered a slew of questions, this time including how much money we have to our names and if we’ve ever gotten a DUI. Even though I know John and I don’t have any sort of record, I found myself still incredibly nervous that they would find something to get us for! They told us we could go on our way and we started off into CANADA through another big stretch of forests and farmland. At one point we pulled over to stand in the road and squeal with happiness, and to look at the expansive sky and the stars that were above us. The air smelled like Christmas trees and we were so thrilled that Penny had gotten us to a whole other country!

We got to the nearest town and were pointing out all of the French signs, and anything that we also had in America--”Oh look, Subway!” Hah! After about 15 minutes of excitedly looking at every sign and reading them out loud we found our WalMart for the night, or as Canada calls it, Accès Pharma chez Walmart. We decided that we needed to celebrate getting to Canada, so we went back out to find ice cream! We found a little place and went inside, and were greeted by labels, prices and signs in French and a friendly, “Bonjour!” from the girl behind the counter. Oh..great..”Hi?” “Oh! English! Hello!” Phew! This is how it was our entire stay in Canada--almost everyone we talked to spoke fluent English with almost no accent whatsoever! We got some ice cream and sat listening to the people around us speaking French and then moseyed our way back to WalMart for the night.

We woke up bright and early and began our trip to Quebec City. It was a nice drive through a lot of farmland and a lot of confusing signs--thank God I got a Global Plan through Verizon and we were able to use my phone’s GPS to get us around (since our Garmin doesn’t have Canadian maps)--otherwise we would have been totally lost!

After a few hours of driving we arrived in Quebec City and spent the beginning of our day in the lower part of the city. Quebec City is surrounded by ramparts, which are the only remaining city walls in North America, and is separated into the lower and upper cities. The lower city has so much character!--the cars don’t really drive through the streets, they have market lights all around, a little park with swings and a bunch of quaint little restaurants with outdoor seating. We spent our first day really taking it all in! We strolled in and out of galleries--which were more like mini museums with the quality of the artwork. We went in almost every souvenir shop to find our sticker for the roof box, we sat on benches and watched the bustling people and the tour groups passing through. We found a coffee shop called La Maison Smith and sat for a while enjoying the ambiance and the yummy sandwich we were splitting. We walked up to the upper part of the city, which is within the ramparts, and is kind of centered around the famous Fairmont Le Château Frontenac! There was a beautiful church called Cathedral-Basilica of Notre Dame de Quebec that had been rebuilt after several fires since 1647--the last rebuild being in 1922, and it was absolutely breathtaking. After walking through the streets, briefly visiting the Chateau Frontenac, watching some street performers and looking at the buildings we decided to go back to the lower part of the city.

There was a little park in the middle of one of the main streets that was nestled between 2 restaurants and had bench swings and adirondack chairs. We sat on the swing for a while listening to the street musicians, watching the streets grow dark and trying to act like we didn’t want to go out to dinner. Finally we convinced ourselves that we would only be in Canada once (YOCO?) and we were going to splurge for our first real night in Quebec City! We went to one of the restaurants next to the park called Le Lapin Saute and got a great little table outside along the street. We got rabbit poutine (poutine is french fries with gravy and cheese curds--sounds and looks yucky, tastes delicious), rabbit pot pie and a cheese fondue. It was all amazing. We went back to our new home for the week--WalMart, and went to sleep.

This was the first time that we felt comfortable enough to put the top up to sleep--every other time we had stayed at a WalMart we didn't want to make a scene, so we slept on the bottom. We stayed at the same one for about 5 days, and in that time there were at least 4 other huge RV's that were there every night with us! And the quality of the stores in Canada is completely different than in the US--it's very clean, the people are pleasant and there's free WiFi--now I understand why Target didn't do well in Canada, because there was no need for it with such nice WalMarts! In the same shopping center was a KrispyKreme which opened at 6:30am and closed at 10pm, so that became our go-to for bathroom stops, coffee and computer charging… and an occasional donut...every day.

The next day we unfortunately started to have van issues--Penny’s reverse started to grind, at first just occasionally, but soon was every time. Then, after the van was warmed up, first gear got hard to get in to at idle. We stopped at a tiny little laundromat to do laundry and figure out what to do--of course with the plan I paid for through Verizon, our phones still couldn’t make phone calls so we couldn’t call a mechanic. After sitting in the laundromat for an hour with a loud, drunk guy yelling in French at everyone who came in the door, we had decided to drive to a mechanic a few minutes up the road just to see what he would say. When we got there he told us we would need a new clutch and he was 100% positive about that--there was a language barrier, he spoke very little English and could understand you only if you spoke slowly, but we trusted him. We really had no other choice, there weren't really any other VW shops in Quebec who were available, and we had read some good things about him from other Vanagon owners. He told us he wouldn’t be able to help until Monday (it was Friday), so we told him we’d come back and left for the city.

We found a different area that was a little more hip--it reminded me of parts of South Street in Philly. We spent a couple hours in a coffee shop called Cantook, feeling a little downtrodden, until we felt as if we overstayed our welcome. We went to a few stores and wandered down to an area next to one of the gates of the ramparts. There was a large theater there and outside of it was a big screen with chairs in front of it and all these signs that said something about a festival. We looked it up and found out that they would be playing a free movie there later that night, so we went back to Penny and made some sandwiches for dinner, and went back down to get a good seat. After a half hour or so of the same 4 commercials playing on a loop, they started to play Back to the Future! In French! These people were
so excited for it, it was pretty funny actually. There was a guy dressed up as Michael J. Fox who was getting the crowd excited, and they had a bunch of dancers and old cars. It was kind of hard to watch the movie because there were no subtitles and neither of us had seen the movie before (I know, sorry..), so after an hour we decided to go back to WalMart to sleep.

On Saturday, since we didn't want to drive Penny around too much, we decided to find a campground to hang out at for the day. We found a place nearby called Camping Juneau which only charged 2 dollars each for a day pass. We parked Penny near the front and went for a walk to see the grounds. It was a pretty small place along a lake that seemed like people stayed there for the entire summer in their RV's and mobile homes; it wasn't necessarily a nice place, but it suited our needs for the day! There was a small pavilion near where we parked so John unloaded his leather stuff and worked for a few hours on wallets and belts. I read my book, doodled, cleaned up Penny and listened to a podcast with John and made a little dinner--we also got to use their showers, which was really nice. After we left we stopped at a sports bar called La Cage Aux Sports to watch the Bellator fights and went back "home" to sleep. When we pulled in to WalMart there was another brown Vanagon there! We got so excited, and when we woke up the next morning we said hello to an older couple who had just gotten the van a few days before! Theirs was an '86 weekender--which means they had the bed and a table, but no stove or sink.

We went to church on Sunday at the Cathedral-Basilica of Notre Dame de Quebec, which was a mass in total French--it was really traditional which is exactly what I wanted from a church like that. We spent the day walking all around Quebec City and sitting on our swing until we decided to turn in early and go back to WalMart so we could get a few things done.

The next morning we had a date with the mechanic at 8am, and when we got there we moved all of our stuff from the back into the middle of the van (the engine is in the back) and we handed our keys over. We stood across the street and watched one of the mechanics get in Penny and pull her into the shop, and as the door came down behind her we both looked at each other with frowny faces. It was pretty sad, actually and we suddenly felt very vulnerable and homeless without our van. I could have cried. We had 9 hours to kill so we started walking towards the city, which was 3.2 miles away. When we got there we spent some time exploring the ramparts which had been covered in bad graffiti. We decided to have breakfast since we were sad, so we went to Casse-Crepe Breton and got a window seat. We took our time eating and watched the people in the window walking by, knowing that another day would be spent walking through the city and going in and out of stores. We went back to La Maison Smith, and spent a while there writing and editing pictures, and around 3:30 we decided to head back to the shop.

When we got there he told us that the problem was indeed the clutch, and because you have to drop the whole transmission in the van it was a lot more expensive than a normal car. Of course when you have to fix something in a 30 year old van, other problems can come up..so our first problem was that getting into reverse and first gear was difficult and they were grinding pretty bad. Our NEW problem (after the clutch was fixed, which fixed the grinding) was that we literally couldn't get into second gear! In some cars you can just go from first to third no problem, but in our heavy, slow van second gear is crucial for getting up hills. The mechanic had no idea what the problem was, and really didn't know what to do to fix it. He said it shouldn't have anything to do with anything that he had touched, and it might be due to the trans shaft, which had a little more play in it than it should. After a little talking and thinking, we had to just pay him for the work that he had done and drive away confused and upset that we had just spent all that money and had a brand new problem. We had decided that we needed to get to Montreal--there were VW shops everywhere there, and we knew someone would be able to help us out. We just needed to make the 150 mile drive with no second gear… So we went to sleep with plans to wake up early and try to get to Montreal.

Quebec City was certainly one of my favorite places we'd been so far, and it was so nice to just be there for so long, rather than spending a day or two doing strictly tourist things. By the time we left Quebec City I felt like I could have been giving tours of the place, and it felt very familiar and comfortable.

(Here are some extra photos from Quebec)

In the morning we decided on a shop that we thought would be our best bet, and make the drive there, which wasn't really as bad as we thought it could be. Of course when we got there, there was a sign with buses and bugs on it, but no signs of a running business. We walked around the place and a lady came out from a house next door and started speaking French to me really fast. I clearly didn't know what she was saying, and she seemed to realise that and suddenly seemed a little less mad. "What are you doing here?" She asked. I told her we were looking for the mechanic and she said they had moved a few miles down the road. We thanked her and turned around, hoping we’d come across their new location. We found it a little down the road and went inside--the receptionist didn't speak English and she shoo'd us into the owner's office. Luckily he spoke perfect English, and when we told him our problem he smiled and said, "I know what is wrong..give me a half hour and I'll get it back to you." Ten minutes later he was pulling Penny into the shop and five minutes after that he drove her out and down the road with what seemed like no problem! When he brought her back we went out to meet him and he got out with a smirk and said “all done”. There are apparently two ways to put the shifter in, the right way and the wrong way--the other guy put it back the wrong way! We asked how much we owed him and he said, "I go to Washington, DC on my motorcycle every Memorial Day to support the troops--I know what it is like to get help from strangers when I have a problem..No charge!" What a relief! What we thought was potentially another huge problem was really nothing, and a free fix!

We pulled out of the shop problem free and drove to Montreal, which is much more like an American city than Quebec City. Pulling in to Montreal isn't nearly as cute as Quebec--it’s a little dirtier, a little smellier, and it was highlighted by a semi having a blowout literally right next to Johns open window, which sounded and looked like someone shot a cannon at us! The first place we went to was the Notre Dame Basilica, which had a 5 dollar entrance fee, so we decided it must be worth it--and it was. Never have I been in a church that was so ornate... and dramatic, and opulent and magical! The colors were very Indian-inspired with deep purples, turquoise and gold, and every surface had patterns, carvings, or a statue. We spent a very long time there, and when we finally left we went to Saint Patrick's Basilica, which was also very beautiful, but a lot less opulent. We walked around a bit, with no real sense of where we should go. I kind of wish we had time to make some sort of a game plan, because we definitely don't feel like we got a good taste of what the city has to offer. If we go back we’ll go with at least some plan! We found a place called Montreal Poutine for a last hoorah and split their smoked meat poutine, and it was delicious. We had been told that Montreal bagels will change your life, so before we left, we drove to a more Jewish section of the city and grabbed some fresh bagels at St-Viateur's. We got sesame seed and cinnamon raisin straight from the oven, and they were delicious.

We got out of the city and after about an hour and a half we got to border patrol again and went through another slew of scary questions, and before we knew it we had arrived in Vermont! We have officially been in all of the North Eastern states!

Spending so much time in Quebec City was such a great experience--it was the first time we've been to a city on this trip and left actually feeling like I knew the city. Everything from the quaintness of the lower city, the kindness of the people, the European feeling, the French-speaking, the peace of sitting on a swing and watching life go by--it was a really nice place to spend a week, and I would 100% recommend it to anyone.



Baxter State Park

After we left Tir na nOg, we decided to visit the city of Bangor--which, a lot of people had told us wasn’t all that exciting, but we wanted to give it a shot. I guess it is because it was a Sunday, but it seemed as if the whole “city” was dead..there was barely anyone around and all the stores were closing or had been closed. We went to a little antique store and decided to move on. We found a little marketplace with a cafe in it so we could sit down and figure out our next move. Because we weren’t going to Baxter until the next day, we needed to find a place to sleep. It was getting late fast, and it had been 2 weeks since we had to live in the van. We were feeling a little discouraged and decided to just find a WalMart and go to bed early.

The next morning we woke up and it was pouring rain, but we still decided to get going early. We stopped at Dunkin Donuts (and got pumpkin coffee--which I was totally sick of last year, but now I have rediscovered my love for it) and set off! We pretty much had decided that we wouldn’t be able to climb Katahdin that day because the rain was too bad, so we knew we’d have to stay 2 nights. I didn’t want to originally because the campsites were $30.00 a night, and I’m trying to keep us on a budget of sorts--but John pointed out that some things, like the relief of knowing we had somewhere to stay, the comfort of staying in a campsite, and the convenience of staying in the park are worth the money. We stopped at a little Trading Post that advertised “last wifi” and since we already hadn’t had service for the last half hour, we used that time to post a picture to Instagram and text our families saying where we were and that we wouldn’t have service for a few days.

We drove into the park, through fog and rain, hoping that we could just reserve a campsite right when we got to the entrance post. Baxter is a very popular place--it’s a great park for people who want to really get out into true wilderness. the park is centered around Mount Katahdin, the highest point in Maine at 5,270 feet. Katahdin is also the finishing point for the Appalachian Trail. Because it was a Monday in the beginning of September we got lucky and were able to get ourselves a campsite for 2 nights! From the entrance, it took us about a half hour down a dirt road to get to our campsite. It was really nice because they gave us a handicapped spot, so we had a lot of room to park Penny sideways and spread out. When we first got there it was really rainy and cold out, so we made some breakfast, played UNO for a little bit and relaxed, knowing we had 2 full days to enjoy.

The weather started to clear up so we went up to the park ranger’s office where there was a trail that lead to Sandy Stream Pond, which was supposed to have a great view of the mountain. The trail was made up of narrow logs (to preserve the ground cover below) and they would veer off occasionally to show you different “view points” of the mountain around the pond. We took the first trail that branched off towards the water and were led to a beautiful pond lined with rocky shores and huge, wind-bent trees. The mountain is shaped like a horseshoe, so you’re down in a sort of valley, with the mountain spanning across the whole lake. On the other side of the pond, layers of trees faded out into the clouds, which were covering most of the mountain when we got there. The whole place just had a great feel. At the moment, it was exactly what we had hoped to find on this trip. We hung out for a little bit, took some photos, and then moved on to the other outlooks along the pond. The second path led out to a huge rock and the third was a small opening overlooking the mouth of a stream running off the pond.

We continued down the trail, through intermediate periods of rain, to a sign pointing to the peak of another mountain in the park. We started walking in that direction just to see what it was, and before we knew it we were hiking the mountain. We got about a mile into the 2 miles hike to the peak before we realized that we were being silly--neither of us had proper shoes on, and we had no food or water bottles--plus it was getting later and we knew we didn’t want to get caught in the dark on our way back. We remembered that we had our Sawyer Mini water filter, so we walked back down to a stream that we had just passed, and used our Sawyer for the first time! It was a bit of a weird feeling at first--we grew up never even thinking about just drinking out of a water source like that. Honestly, this water was crystal clear and probably perfectly safe to drink with no filter, but there’s no reason to risk it unless it’s totally necessary. John put the straw on the filter, bent down, and had a good drink of water. I tried it too--it was cold and delicious, and besides a little bit of initial resistance from the filter, you would never guess that you weren’t just drinking out of a straight straw. We made our way back down the base of the mountain, and walked the mile or so back to the pond, which was on the way back to the campsite. The clouds had risen a bit at that point, and the mountain was much more visible, so we stopped to get some photos for a bit before heading back to the van.

We went back to our campsite and put up our attachable awning (the first time we’ve actually gotten to use it) and pulled the picnic table underneath. We made dinner with the fresh vegetables we had gotten from the Farmer’s Market--eggplant and spaghetti with garlic bread. After dinner John wanted to run back up the trail to see the mountain at sunset. We grabbed our headlamps (just in case) and his camera and speed walked up the slippery log trail to the first viewpoint. It was pretty, but there really wasn’t a sunset and it was getting dark very fast, so we turned around and went back. I think this is one of the first lessons anyone learns when being in the wilderness, but it literally went from “we should head back now before it gets too dark” to “it’s way too dark” in what felt like three minutes. In the woods it was already almost pitch black--we had about a 15 minute walk ahead of us, the logs were slippery and no one was around us at all. We had our headlamps, but it was so quiet we were both getting creeped out. Neither of us wanted to look anywhere but at the ground, because if there were any red eyes staring at us, we didn't want to know about it! It was so quiet, and so dark and so creepy that--and I’m not even kidding you--we started singing a medly of Usher songs to get our minds off of it (and to keeps bears away, they hate Usher songs). I don’t know how that even started, but we were literally speeding through this spooky forest singing “U Got it Bad,” “My Boo” and “Burn” on a loop. After singing as much Usher as we knew, we finally got back to our cozy, safe campsite and made a fire--I read my book and John started working on leather until it was time for bed.

We woke up at 6:30, ate a quick breakfast, packed our bags and got going on our hike. We had decided that we would try Katahdin, but were both willing to turn around as soon as we felt like it was too much. We were at Roaring Brook campground which was the start of a 3.2 mile trail called Chimney Pond that lead to the base of Katahdin, and from the end of that trail to the peak was another 2 miles. We thought that Chimney Pond was going to be a fairly flat, easy trail that then led to the ridiculously steep and rocky hike to Baxter Peak. Chimney Pond, however, was a steady incline of large boulders, turning into short spurts of almost 45 degree angles of hiking. I will honestly say that I am not an athletic person--I never have been--and I do pretty well with standard hiking, and I can walk for days, but climbing at an incline like that was not my thing. As the hike went on my leg started to bother me and the more bursts of high incline rock climbing we had to do, the more it hurt. We aren’t hikers, and we didn’t stretch (dumb, dumb) so we had already accepted that we might not make it to the top..but that didn’t mean that I wasn’t going to try. There were a couple great viewpoints along the way that I guess were at the right altitude to get service, so we were able to facetime our families and show them the view. Our favorite one was Basin Pond, which had a couple large rocks to sit on and was off the beaten path enough that no one was there. There was a great view of Katahdin and we just sat there for a while taking it all in. This was similar to Sandy Stream Pond in that you’re within the horseshoe of Katahdin, but here we were much closer, and really got to look up and see details in the mountain. The coolest part was standing there in the silence and then hearing wind coming. It would start faint and then get louder and louder as the gust rushed through the trees--and then it would hit you and honestly almost knock you over if you didn't have a good footing. I had never experienced anything like that!

We got going again after a little rest and continued on. After what felt like a very long time, we saw a sign ahead and thought for sure that we had gotten to Chimney Pond campground, but to our dismay just learned that we had another mile to go. That meant that in that whole time we had only climbed 2.2 miles and we still had at least 3 much tougher miles to go! There was another arrow that pointed us to the 2nd highest peak on Katahdin, Hamlin Peak, which was just 2.2 miles from where we were, so we made the decision to change our plans and head to that one instead. The climbs were a lot more steep and a lot more frequent this time, and I was losing stamina fast--I really wanted to get close to the top..I had accepted that it probably wouldn’t happen, but I really wanted to prove myself wrong. After a long time and a lot of false hopes that we were nearing the top of the treeline, and a lot of stubborn tears from me, we decided to turn around. We were running out of time to get back, my leg was starting to really bother me, and we were bear, but we had done our best.

We stopped back at Basin Pond to eat sandwiches and to enjoy the view of the mountain that defeated us, and after about an hour we went on our way. The hike down was a lot easier, but we were letting our disappointment in not reaching the top smother the joy in the beautiful weather we had, the views of the mountain we got to see, the chance to facetime our families and a day spent outside together. By the time we got back to our campsite, we had sucked it up and were happy with what we had done that day--there’s always next time! We went upstairs in Penny and accidentally took a nap for a few hours. John got out our solar shower (something we hadn’t used yet) and our privacy tent and filled the shower in the stream nearby. The way it works is that you fill it up and put it in the sun, and the black interior of the bag is supposed to absorb the heat and warm the water. Well, due to the fact that it was later in the day and our campsite was surrounded by trees, there was no chance of that icy cold stream water getting warm. The showers were cold and short, but well worth it to feel refreshed and clean after a day of hiking! For dinner we made grilled ham and cheese sandwiches and a cold cucumber and tomato salad--and for dessert we made grilled peaches on toasted blueberry lemonade bread (leftovers from the farm). Can you say YUM? That was one of my favorite meals yet. We sat by the fire, went to bed early and got a great sleep.

The next morning we made home fries with regular fingerling potatoes and these awesome black ones that had a purple center (we had gotten them from Ron at the market) and toast with butter and jam! We started packing everything back into Penny and got out by 11:30. We stopped at that Trading Post again to figure out what our next move would be--we were only about 5 hours from the Canadian border, which is farther than we like to drive Penny in one day, cause she’s an old lady.

Anywhere outside of Baxter is in the middle of nowhere so we knew our only choice was to get to Canada that day. There was a road that went directly towards the border crossing that we needed to get to, but the map seemed a little off. John went inside to ask their opinion and learned that would be about 100 miles of dirt road before you hit pavement again. I don’t think so… So we had to swing back down and around the woods to get to some main roads. We drove through nowheresville Maine until we found a little tiny town called Dover-Foxcroft and spent an hour in a surprisingly legitimate coffee shop there called Center Coffee House. We also found a post office and got to send a bunch of John’s mason jar sleeves to Philter in Kennett Square, as well as a belt for Chris, the owner, and two leather bracelets for his little boys! We probably stayed at that coffee shop a little longer than we should have, and probably stopped to stare at a few too many lakes, because it got a bit later than we had planned and the sun was starting to set with us still a couple hours from the border. As the sun was setting I think both of us were bummin’ a little that we’d be getting to Canada in the dark, but we had been without service for hours and knew we couldn’t just pull over and try to sleep there. The drive through Maine was stunning at times. We had to stop at a few ponds and lakes as we drove by, to take in the view and try to capture at least a little of what we were seeing in a photograph. The sunset quickly turned to pitch black. Driving through those winding Maine roads at a beautiful 55 mph soon turned into a slightly scary 40 mph, led by 30 year old headlights that aren't exactly lighting the world on fire. It wasn’t until around 7:30 that we started seeing signs for Canada, and a half hour later we had arrived at the border. A lot of people might have thought this old van would break down a few days into our trip, but instead she had gotten us to a whole new country!

Tir na nOg

So it’s been a while! We stayed at Tir na nOg for about 16 days and had an amazing experience! This was one of the first farms we found through WWOOF and before we even knew we could go there, we found ourselves planning our trip around the possibility of being there. Something about their profile--the Scottish Highland Cattle pictures, that they like playing board games in their free time and that we could help them at the Farmer’s Market--it all seemed like something we wanted to be a part of.

Tir na nOg is run by Holly and Sue--two awesome ladies who have boundless information to share and a love for what they’re doing. When we first arrived on August 28th, they had another WWOOFer there named William, and they were finishing up bagging chickens they had just gotten back from the butcher. They gave us a quick tour--showed us their cute little farm house and the bunk house where we would be sleeping. This was a dream for us because at the other farm we had a small room in their basement, and here we got to have a whole separate building to ourselves! There was a loft with a mattress on the floor where we slept, and it was incredibly comfortable and really cozy.

The day here starts at 6am with morning chores--feeding and watering their 5 Highland Cattle, letting out the free-range chickens, collecting their eggs and feeding them, moving the meat birds and feeding them and feeding and watering the baby guinea hens. After morning chores we would sit down for breakfast, usually lovingly made by Holly and ALWAYS delicious. We had a couple great french toast days, some toad’s in the hole, yogurt and granola, muffins and buckwheat pancakes. Breakfast was usually not a rushed meal, and the food kept on coming as you ate!

After breakfast we would head over to their sister farm, The Upper Farm, where they have a greenhouse, some apple trees, and a few gardens with potatoes, beans, radishes, corn and dahlias. They also had 9 piggies there that we would feed, and whenever we would drive towards them you would see a little herd of pigs coming up over the hill--then they would race us to the feeding spot! It was really cute. We gave them tons of bread, leftover food from some of the local restaurants and sometimes, but not always, grain. The Upper Farm is run by Greg and Nicole, and they had a WWOOFer named Sarah who was there during our stay. They have 38 alpacas, all of which have completely unique names and they know them all.

Saturday 8/29: We helped to get ready for the Farmer’s Market that morning which means picking massive amounts of delicious tomatoes, flowers and filling coolers with grass fed beef and chicken. We filled the car with their tent and tables, signs, coolers and products and went on our way. The Farmer’s Market is held on Saturdays and Wednesdays, and usually has the same venders, but are in 2 different locations--Cumberland and Falmouth. We usually had a spot next to Ron of Cranberry Rock Farm. He had a huge array of vegetables, fresh cookies and muffins made by his wife, homemade granola and chicken--we usually ended up getting a cookie from him at the market..and a muffin. One of the staple guys there is Gene, who often rolls in late, has all of his stuff in tupperware containers, has a large fan club and you can often find him wandering around doing whatever he pleases (aka talking to himself). Another staple farm there is Jilson’s --a non-organic farm with baskets and bushels overflowing with brightly colored produce, showing up everyone around him. Market’s became one of our favorite things to do at Tir na nOg--we did 5 of them in our stay--and it really gave us a great opportunity to know what it’s like on the selling side of the table, we got some great ideas for what we could sell, and we had time to fantasize about what our little booth would look like one day.

That night us and William went to Freeport to get bread from When Pigs Fly bakery for the piggies. And this is no ordinary bread--ridiculously amazing artisan breads from sourdough to chocolate to blueberry lemonade (my favorite). They throw all of their leftover bread into big trash bags and we proceeded to go through it all and eat fistfulls of bread. Which we ended up doing at least 3 other times. We didn't want them seeing us eat it, so we would drive away a bit and then pull into a parking lot and rummage through the trash bags… So embarrassing..but not really, it’s worth it. In the summer L.L.Bean has free concerts on Saturdays, so we went with William and saw a folk/rock band! It was jam packed with people and we just sat on the grass and talked--it was really nice!

Sunday 8/30: We went to see our friend Geoff preach at his church in Windham. We spent a little bit of time with his family afterwards and then headed back to the farm. On our way back we kept seeing old cars and realized there was a car show nearby, so we went there and ended up talking to a guy who was from Pennsylvania that has a ‘77 green bus just like we wanted! We talked to him for a while about it, about Penny and how camping works for him with his kids in the van and then went on our way. When we got back, because Sunday is a slower day at the farm, we popped Penny’s top and I worked on blogging while John edited pictures and did some tinkering around the van. For dinner we made a campfire to celebrate William’s last day with us. Greg, Nicole and Sarah came over too and we made hot dogs over the fire, laughed and watched the stars come out. 

Monday 8/31: Holly wanted to show us how to slaughter a chicken--which honestly, I wasn’t worried about whatsoever. She had a plastic cone nailed to a tree, caught the chicken and put it upside down on the tree with its head coming out of the end of the cone. The best part of this process is that Holly was very respectful the whole time--using it as a way to thank the chicken for its life and the food it was going to be for us, and as a teaching experience for us. Hanging the chicken upside down makes them sleepy, so they’re less aware of what’s going on. Holly made a quick slit in the neck of the chicken and we watched it bleed out and after all the nerves had finished seizing she put it in boiling water which allowed her to take off all of the feathers easily. At that point it literally looked like a grocery store chicken--it was very bizarre, but interesting, and it was a good experience because of how gentle and kind Holly was. We then got a call from Greg at the Upper Farm that he needed help, so we went over there and helped them bale hay into a tractor trailer. It was about 90 degrees and the hay was really dusty, so it was pretty hard and allergy-inducing work. We had dinner and then played Settlers of Catan (which we had never played before, and ended up challenging Sue and Holly to it many times after).

Tuesday 9/1: William said goodbye after breakfast, and we headed to the Upper Farm to try and save their back garden that has been ignored for a little while. There is a few different varieties of beans, potatoes and radishes, all being choked by weeds--we worked for a few hours in the heat and the sun to try and save the garden. Because of the heat we didn’t get to finish that day, and because of the time of year and she shape of that garden, Sue decided that she was just going to till it up when we left the farm. After lunch we helped build a little house for their Guinea Hens. They had 17 quickly growing birds all stuck in a little cage, so it was crunch time to get it finished by the time we left. William had helped Sue start it earlier in August, but only the frame and the floor had really been finished. This day we got to put the roof on!