Road trip to Maine in the age of Corona

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MARC Rider

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NOTE: Yes, there's some reference to rail here. Just be patient, please.

In the Age of Corona, it looks like no long-distance train trips for a while, but the family was getting so hot sitting under the Heat Dome in Baltimore that we decided to drive up to Maine to my Dad's cabin on the lake. OK, so Maine is also sitting under the Heat Dome, too, but daytime highs of 80 sure beat daytime highs of 95-100, especially when there's a lake in the front yard that you can run into whenever you want.

The cabin is about 650 miles from Baltimore in the Rangeley Lakes region of northwestern Maine. You can drive it in a day if you want to spend 14 hours (at least) on the road. I did that a few times when I was in my 30s and 40s, but no way anymore. Besides, I'd face a family mutiny if I even suggested such a thing, the last time we did it was such an unpleasant grind. Thus, we were going to have to spend a night on the road traveling through states that have some sort of visitor quarantines in effect. As it turns out, these were not at all onerous, and a lot of it was based on the honor system.

The shortest route to the cabin involves I-95 straight through to New haven, then I-91 to St. Johnsbury Vermont, then a mix of US 2, US 3, New Hampshire routes 110, 110A, and 16 right into Maine. We haven't taken I-95 past New York in decades. The traffic on the Cross Bronx Expressway is horrible, and the Connecticut Turnpike isn't much better. In fact, a lot of times, we take I-81/84 past Scranton to avoid New York City altogether, though it does add an hour to the drive. The last few years, we have been driving across the George Washington Bridge to visit the last great kosher deli in the Bronx in order to enjoy a great pastrami sandwich and stock up on pastrami, corned beef, Jewish Rye bread, etc. for our time in the remote North Woods. Then we head up the Henry Hudson Parkway and Saw Mill Parkway to the Taconic Parkway, which we ride to the end, right before the toll road, and then follow various state highways to Bennington Vermont, cross the Green Mountains, and connect to I-91 in Brattleboro. It takes a little longer, but it's a much more scenic ride.

This year, however, with the Coronavirus, we weren't sure about the dining situation, and there's really no place outside to eat takeout in Riverdale, the Bronx, and it's hot as hell anyway, so we decided to just drive the NY Thruway up the west side of the Hudson, cross over in Troy, and drive directly to Bennington and thence to Brattleboro, where we were to spend the night. On the return trip, we reserved a room right off the Thruway in suburban Albany.

As far as the quarantine rules, things were a little fuzzy as to how they worked. Maryland was not on the list of exempted states for either Maine or Vermont. While we were in Maine, New York also decided that perhaps quarantine was necessary for us diseased riffraff from the Old Line State. We all got swabbed for the COVID test and came up negative.

We packed up the cooler with a pile of kosher meat and headed out on a Saturday morning that wasn't hot until the sun came up over the horizon. We had packed up out trusty 2017 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid (shown below at a rest stop on the Garden State Parkway), and hit the road.

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First stop was breakfast. Due to minor brain malfunction, I decided we'd just eat at the on-highway service plaza, despite lots of better alternatives just off the exits. And no, we couldn't stop at Maryland House, where they at least have a Dunkin Donuts that everybody likes and outside tables in the shade, we had to stop at Chesapeake House, which had a Peets that was out of breakfast food and a large well-known fast food chain that will remain nameless that had breakfast sandwiches but also has the most disorganized help I've ever seen. Plus the coffee was weak and not really very hot. At least they had some outside tables in the shade. Mask compliance inside was excellent, at more or less 100%

We motored our way up 95, across Delaware, across the Memorial Bridge to the New Jersey Turnpike, and up the Turnpike with one restroom break. Good mask compliance at the service plaza. Then up the Garden State Parkway into New York, passing the crossing of the NJT Morristown line at East Orange. If you look carefully, you can see the end of the platform canopies of the East Orange Station as you drive by. (Of course, if you're driving, you really should be looking at the road, right? :) ) Then, on to the NY Thruway at the end of the Parkway, and a stop at the Sloatsburg service plaza, as it was getting to be time for lunch (plus needed to use the restroom.) This one has a nice 2-decker parking garage, so we were able to park in the shade on a brutally hot sunny day. Good mask compliance inside, but only one fast food outlet was open, and the lines were a bit too long for out taste. So off we went.

Up to this point, we had experience no traffic slowdowns, however, some intermittent construction of this stretch of the Thruway cause a couple of backups between Sloatsburg and I-84. It is a scenic stretch of the highway, passing through the Ramapo Mountains. We also got to chase a NJT/Metro North Hoboken to Port Jervis train for a while. While a commute into New York from Port Jervis might be too much of a grind for even a former extreme commuter like me, it would sure be a scenic ride!

Finally, I got sick of the intermittent traffic jams and suggested to my party that we bail off the Thruway at I-84 and drive over to the Taconic Parkway. They agreed, and we decided to pull off in Newburgh to get some takeout lunch. Some of the party will only eat fish sandwiches from takeaway places, so we made the choice of one of the two fast food chains that provides them. We even passed a great diner we have stopped in, as we are really not ready for indoor dining yet. We picked up our orders and headed out, as the parking lot of the fast food joint wasn't my idea of a great picnic spot. Over the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge (toll was only $1.50, and boy do I love EZPass, never had to deal with traffic backups to pay tolls on the whole trip.)

A little way up the Taconic Parkway, we decided to stop at James Baird State Park to find a picnic ground. That we did, and though the day was hot, we found a table under a shade tree that was tolerable. However, even though the park was open, and we weren't the only picnickers, the restrooms were closed. I can't quite understand the logic of opening the park and closing the restrooms. We have the same problem at some of the local parks in the Baltimore area, too. We were able to deal with that by driving back south on the Parkway 2 miles to the "Taste of New York" rest stop that sells fancy local products and had restrooms we could use. Good mask compliance there, but if the state of New York could keep this place and the restrooms open, why did they need to close them in the park?

We returned to the car and headed north. Soon I was regretting my choice of fast food entree, as the fries and burger started sitting heavy in my stomach. Then it seemed like it was more than I had too much to eat, but never got so bad that I needed to stop the car and get sick by the side of the highway. Nevertheless, it will be a while before I patronize that particular fast food outlet again. What was worse was that this stretch of road, the northern end of the Taconic Parkway and a series of state highways in the New York rump of the Berkshires, did not have a lot of places with public restrooms. Fortunately on NY 22 near Stephentown, NY, we found a newly built Cumberland Farms convenience store that had restrooms. (I know in some parts of the country almost all convenience stores have restrooms. That's not always true in the Northeast, so you have to know the brands that have them.)

We crossed the very scenic Vermont Highway 9 with my tummy churning all the way, and finally ended up in Brattleboro. I know the secret back route using the steep hill on Union St. to avoid the downtown traffic lights, and we soon found ourselves parking at the Latchis Hotel. This is a nice historic downtown hotel withing walking distance from the Amtrak Station. If you want to take a Vermont trip using Amtrak, you can ride here, and walk to the hotel, spend the night and pick up a rental car in the morning. (This can also be done at White River Junction, using the Hotel Coolidge.)

more to come

more to come ..
 
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MARC Rider

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Here's a view of the train station from our hotel room. Alas, the fancy upper part of the building is no longer a train station, it's the Brattleboro Museum and Art Center. The Amtrak Station is around back in the basement:

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It's interesting to note that in the station area, weeds grow profusely between the tracks, whereas a bit further down the line, the tracks appear to be perfectly clear. This scene is looking south, but the situation is similar looking north, too. Why can't the railroad keep the tracks clear in the station?

As I mentioned before, when we checked in all three of us had to fill out contact tracing cards, and I had to sign the Certificate of Compliance for lodging establishments. This is entirely self-certification and is pretty much an honor system. I'm not sure exactly how effective this is, but perhaps it scares off enough people that the risk of a contagious person spreading the virus locally is reduced. Checking out dinner options, I also noted that if you wanted to dine in, you had to fill out a contact tracing card. That's something I've not seen anywhere else. In any event, we decided to do carryout from a well-rated Italian restaurant across the street. While I was very happy with the veal marsala, one of our party wanted vegetarian, and the only option was a pasta in olive oil. This place sees itself as an Italian Italian Restaurant, which means that the pasta was appetizer sized. When I suggested that the price was a bit high for such a small portion, I was informed that this was locally hand-made pasta. Oh well, what can you do, not worth making too much of a big stink about it, but they should redo their menu to let people know that this isn't some Italian-American spaghetti joint in the North End, but a place that attempts to replicate the dining experience of Italy.

The night passed relatively peacefully except for a short period when motorcycles were driven very loudly up and down the main street.

Normally, the Latchis provides a free "continental" breakfast, which is roughly similar to your basic Amtrak flex dining without the hot food. However, in the Age of Corona, they stopped doing that and gave us each a $5 coupon for a nearby cafe. The Works is a local chain that provides some very nice breakfast sandwiches, New York style bagels that are the equal of anything made in the Big Apple, and coffee that was a heck of a lot better than the swill we were served at the service plaza the day before. But all this good had a price. Even with the $15 worth of coupons from the hotel, we ended up forking over $12. Very good mask compliance, but we had to end up eating inside because all of the shady outdoor tables were taken. We weren't too worried, because the place was pretty empty inside.

After a stop at the supermarket to stock up on groceries, we were soon driving up I-91. A quick stop in West Lebanon so my daughter could find a new pair of water shoes. It was a success -- The LL Bean store had some for $40, but she found a pair at Eastern Mountain Sports for $10. Good mask compliance there.

Next, a lunch stop at the notorious Bradford Rest area. We found a shady picnic table and ate some leftovers we had in the cooler. The actual rest stop was closed, so we had to use the port-o-potties provided that were in unspeakable condition. After another hour, we were in Errol, NH, and it was time to get some cheap gas and use the restroom again. Errol is way up in New Hampshire's "God's country," and there's a strong stubborn streak about health and safety recommendations from effete urban types. Thus, except for us, there was only one other person wearing masks, and that included the sales clerks (though I believe they did work behind a Plexiglas shield. Another 30 miles through the woods beyond that (including a moose sighting along the road), and we finally turned into the driveway and saw the cabin and the lake.

More to come
 

MARC Rider

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Just a few pics of the lake and some other stuff that we did while at the cabin.

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Here's the lake. Wish I was back up there, but I've looked up a few local beaches that aren't too far of a drive.

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Here's the cabin. Yeah, I really like heading up to Maine in July to cool off! :)

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A view of the lake from the logging road behind the cabin. Saddleback Mountain (el. 4110 ft) in the distance.

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Ready for fishing at the world-famous landlocked salmon hotspot, Upper Dam Pool. No, I didn't catch anything, but flycasting is a nice meditative way to clear the mind and enjoy the outdoors. If you want to eat fish, they sell it at the fish market.

Basically, we just spent the week in the cabin. However, the evening we arrived, the weather was hot (86 F) and humid, just like a Maryland summer. The cabin soon was in the same state. We had one little window fan that didn't really provide enough cross-flow to improve things, even after we opened all the windows. So the next morning, we drove about 40 miles south to Rumford, where there is a Wal Mart, and, among other things, bought a nice big box fan the set up a very nice breeze through the whole house. This was the first day that Wal mart started the "mandatory" mask policy. Mask compliance was very good, there was just one joker in the aisles who was asserting his "freedom," and it was pretty easy to avoid him.

Other than that, we only went into town to pick up fresh produce, and one day, we took a circular drive up through Kingfield and Phillips to see the countryside. We stopped for lunch in Kingfield at Longfellows Restuarant, our usual stop when passing through. While they were doing inside dining, they had an outdoor patio set up, and that's where we ate.

It cooled off during the week, and we had only one partly rainy day, so we were pleased. One night was so clear we got a good view of the night sky, which is great up there with no city lights to interfere. All too soo, though, it was time to leave.

more to come
 
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Bob Dylan

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Nice pics Joe! And since you're retired, why couldn't yall stay longer, looks like Paradise to me!:cool:
 

MARC Rider

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Nice pics Joe! And since you're retired, why couldn't yall stay longer, looks like Paradise to me!:cool:
My daughter had to get back to work, and there were other family members coming up to use it. This year we didn't want to overlap family members who aren't living together, and we want to clean the cabin and let it sit for a week before the next party uses it. So we couldn't stay as long was we wanted to.
 

railiner

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little way up the Taconic Parkway, we decided to stop at James Baird State Park to find a picnic ground. That we did, and though the day was hot, we found a table under a shade tree that was tolerable. However, even though the park was open, and we weren't the only picnickers, the restrooms were closed. I can't quite understand the logic of opening the park and closing the restrooms. We have the same problem at some of the local parks in the Baltimore area, too. We were able to deal with that by driving back south on the Parkway 2 miles to the "Taste of New York" rest stop that sells fancy local products and had restrooms we could use. Good mask compliance there, but if the state of New York could keep this place and the restrooms open, why did they need to close them in the park?
Short answer? $$$... One place generates revenue, other doesn't....
 

jiml

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Great report! Some very helpful tips as well. Travelling vicariously with you and longing to be able to start road-tripping again.
 

Palmetto

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My aunt and uncle used to have a second home on Rangely when they were alive. I always remember how damn cold the water was, even in high summer.
 

Bob Dylan

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My aunt and uncle used to have a second home on Rangely when they were alive. I always remember how damn cold the water was, even in high summer.
Yep, I still remember my first time in Maine, and thought they had the Coldest Water in the US till I tried to swim in Lake Superior!😉😄
 

MARC Rider

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My aunt and uncle used to have a second home on Rangely when they were alive. I always remember how damn cold the water was, even in high summer.
You must live near the Gulf Stream. The lake water is about 70 degrees and is refreshing. A little cool when plunging in, but swim around, and it feels great.

One thing I forgot to mention is our extended family tradition of something called "early morning dip," a nice swim out to the raft, and then laps to and from the mooring buoy until you get bored. Then a nice hot shower, after tat, breakfast.
 

MARC Rider

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Yep, I still remember my first time in Maine, and thought they had the Coldest Water in the US till I tried to swim in Lake Superior!😉😄
You must be thinking of the water down along the coast. The ocean water up there is really cold, except for this year when the 68 degree isotherm has extended up through the midcoast. Of course, that warmer water brings great white sharks, who like to hunt for the numerous seals and might mistake a swimmer for a seal. There has already been one fatal shark attack at a Maine beach this summer, and folks are pretty nervous. One nice thing about being at the lake is that there are no sharks. Also, no snapping turtles, no cottonmouths, no 'gators, either.
 

Bob Dylan

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You must be thinking of the water down along the coast. The ocean water up there is really cold, except for this year when the 68 degree isotherm has extended up through the midcoast. Of course, that warmer water brings great white sharks, who like to hunt for the numerous seals and might mistake a swimmer for a seal. There has already been one fatal shark attack at a Maine beach this summer, and folks are pretty nervous. One nice thing about being at the lake is that there are no sharks. Also, no snapping turtles, no cottonmouths, no 'gators, either.
Yep, I read that! Jaws was predictive 45 years ago!!!
 

anumberone

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Damn, I enjoyed your road trip to a fantastic place. Is it always that warm in that area at this time of year. Sure looks like a fun place to spend some time. 70f water sounds doable after the initial jolt. Nice boat, fishing. Wow!
 
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