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You Can’t Always Get What You Want

August 13, 2013

How hard can it be to see a moose?

We saw lighthouses and lobsters and L.L. Bean. We saw sea dogs. We ate blueberries. We were pretty thorough with Maine. But the one thing Maine is known for that we didn’t see is moose. Well, we saw that chocolate one last week, but Maine has the biggest population of moose in the U.S. (around 25,000 of them), so we figured we’d bump into one or two of them sooner or later. The only problem is that the part of Maine where the moose generally hang out is in the north, and that would be pretty far out of the way for us. But since we had some time to spare, the Hamster and I decided Monday night to drive out to Moose Town and see if we could find a few of its biggest residents.

Moose Town, incidentally, is not the name of an actual place. It’s just what we started calling the region known to harbor moose. Anyway, from the Maine/Canada border to Moose Town was about a four-hour drive, partly because of the distance but also because there are no real highways that go to Moose Town. The best time to see moose is at around sunset, and the original plan for the Bay of Fundy would’ve gotten us to Moose Town at right around sunset. But once we decided to schlep out to Hopewell Cape for the flowerpot rocks, that schedule got pushed off significantly.

So the plan was to drive for about three hours Monday night, find a place to stay about an hour outside of Moose Town, and then search for moose first thing Tuesday morning. However, it quickly became clear as we were driving that there’s no place to stay on the way to Moose Town, because there’s nothing there. And there are no street lights either, or stores, or gas stations. It was an eerily dark drive through nothingness that became unnerving as we got further and further and the barren landscape stayed the same. It was getting later and later, I had already driven 500 miles that day all over New Brunswick and rural Maine (after having driven 300 miles the day before), I was exhausted, and so many bugs were hitting the windshield that eventually I could barely see through it to the nothingness that surrounded us. At one point the road we were on was closed for construction, and all the other options were dirt roads. I didn’t let on to Sam, but I was terrified. I’m sure it would’ve been considerably less unnerving in the daylight, but it was so dark I didn’t think daylight would ever come. It felt like I was in the first 15 minutes of a horror movie, and the plot was about to really get going.

Desperate, we called Sarah for help. She’s been working as our travel agent/logistics team, finding us places to stay, booking us rooms, being a sounding board for last-minute changes to the itinerary, and taking care of everything at home while we’re off exploring the world. She couldn’t find anywhere for us to stay. It was either schmancy B&Bs along Moosehead Lake, or it was random motels with names like the Wolf’s Tooth Inn or the Bear’s Head Lodge. I wasn’t looking for a particularly nice place, but after our bad motel experience in Saint John, I had little stomach for a crappy, rundown motel and I just wanted a national chain where at least I had a pretty good idea of what I’d be getting. No such luck. The closest chain motels were in Bangor, hours out of the way. I was getting increasingly unnerved, but still trying to be brave for Sam. Finally Sarah found a trailer park called Abbot Trailside Lodging that supposedly had four rooms available in one little building on the property. Also, there was no front desk, just electronic keypad locks on the doors so that when you booked a room they’d give you the code to get in. It sounded way beyond sketchy, but the pictures of the rooms on the place’s website looked impossibly nice, and it was almost 11 p.m. and I was desperate.

Of course the place turned out to be wonderful. One of the nicest places we’ve stayed all month. The outside was nothing to look at, but our room was spacious and spotless and gorgeous.

We slept well and we woke up just a few miles from Moose Town refreshed and ready to see some moose. It was pretty overcast and chilly, which I figured would work to our advantage because moose don’t do much wandering around in the heat of the day. So we drove, and we drove, and we drove. Soon we started seeing road signs warning us to be on the lookout for moose.

Moose next 19 miles  Brake for moose

Moose collisions

We were on the lookout. No moose. We drove a little further. A little slower. No moose. We drove almost completely around Moosehead Lake, which is absolutely beautiful but today was visited by no moose. We even stopped in at a state park and asked a ranger where we could see some moose. She told us to drive another 10 miles north to Kokadjo, which is known locally for its moose and its scenery and … its small population.

Kokadjo

We went there. No moose. We stopped a couple of joggers and asked them. They told us to go where we had already been, and that at sunset they’re all over the place. Grrr.

I would’ve happily waited around until sunset but then we would’ve missed out on our next activity, which was driving to the top of the tallest mountain in the northeast. The road to the top of Mt. Washington closes at 6 p.m., and it’s four hours away from Moose Town. So we gave up on the moose and headed for the mountain.

We were disappointed but we knew seeing moose was hit or miss, and we were still running on leftover excitement from the Hopewell Rocks. Then as we were leaving Moose Town, top down and wind in our hair (OK, Sam’s hair and my scalp) Kelly Clarkson’s “Stronger” came up on my iPod and we both immediately started dancing and singing along, and any lingering frustration over the lack of moose melted away. (Hey, don’t judge me. You know that song is on your iPod too, and you know you sing along whenever it comes on.)

One of the weird things about this road trip is that, until this week, we’d barely had any long drives. An hour here, 45 minutes there … everything in New England is so close to everything else that there hasn’t been much road on this trip. We’ve made up for it in spades this week. We drove a little over 1,300 miles the first two weeks of the trip, and we’ve driven almost 1,200 in the last three days. And today it rained off and on for most of the day, which didn’t help.

Anyway, before we got to Mt. Washington, which is in New Hampshire, we had one more stop to make on the way out of Maine: the tiny town of Bryant Pond. As you may have discerned by now, I’m a big fan of quirky roadside attractions, but only if they’re not too far out of our way. You should see some of the oddities that made my original list but ended up on the cutting room floor because they were far enough off our route as to not be worthwhile. A giant chair, a locomotive painted to look like Thomas, a 1/4-scale replica of New Hampshire’s Man in the Mountain, and much more. Paul Bunyan and the giant blueberry were literally directly in our path, so they made the team. Bryant Pond’s claim to fame is that it was the last town in America to switch over from the old candlestick phones to the dial system (in 1981!), and to commemorate this they put up a 14-foot candlestick phone on Main Street outside the post office. And Bryant Pond was only about 10 minutes out of our way, and a good excuse to stretch my legs, so we made the stop. We saw, we photographed, we moved on.

Bryant Pond Telephone

An hour later we were pulling up to the booth at the entrance to the Mt. Washington Auto Road. Between the moose hunt and the distance to New Hampshire I had been driving for roughly the past six and a half hours, but I was still excited to make the half-hour winding drive to the 14,000-foot peak of the mountain. A nice man came out of the booth to collect our fee and … wait … he wasn’t there to collect our fee after all. He was there to tell us that the mountain was closed. Yeah. Closed.

Apparently it had rained so much on the mountain overnight that the gravel was soft and loose, so they closed the mountain for the day. My heart sunk. I had driven hundreds of miles to go nowhere. I felt like Clark Griswold when he gets to Wally World.


Today we were going to see moose and climb a mountain. We did neither. I knew the moose were a crap shoot but I figured the mountain was a sure thing. And now I still had to drive another 2.5 hours to Montpelier, VT, where we’d be spending the night. And it was raining. And I had to pee.

I set the GPS to the Econo Lodge Montpelier, and off we went. Sam and I had been yapping all day about all sorts of things–music, license plates, his upcoming birthday, the food we have left for the last few days of our road trip, the folly that was Ghostbusters II, the probability that he’ll be allowed to get a pet cow–but we were very quiet for the next half hour or so.

Then, as we progressed toward Vermont, something occurred to me. We had been planning to take a tour of the Ben & Jerry’s factory in Waterbury, VT, on Wednesday, but now we’d be getting to Vermont a couple of hours earlier than we had expected. They give tours until 8 p.m. If we hurried, and we didn’t stop along the way to make dinner, we could probably make it there in time for the last tour, or maybe even an earlier one. Maybe the whole day wouldn’t be a washout after all. I reset the GPS for Waterbury.

We made great time, and got to Ben & Jerry’s just in time to get into the 7 p.m. tour. The tour was fun, they gave us a free taste of a test flavor called Milk & Cookies (it was so good), and we didn’t even argue in the gift shop. It was exactly what we needed.

By this time it was close to 8:00, and we still hadn’t had dinner. We were planning to find a place to grill burgers, but it was getting dark and it was still drizzling, and Vermont is so small that there are not a lot of rest stops along the highways. I had an idea. I took Sam to the Ben & Jerry’s ice cream stand that’s right next to the entrance to the factory tours, and suggested that we each get a big cone and call it dinner. He agreed. I had a scoop of Late Night Snack topped with a scoop of Chunky Monkey, and Sam had a scoop of Chocolate Therapy topped with a scoop of Chocolate Fudge Chunk.

Dinner!

Dinner!

The ice cream was filling in every way we needed it to be. Fifteen minutes later we checked into the Econo Lodge Montpelier, which turned out to be nicer than we expected. I’m not going to pretend that it all made up for the hours and hours of driving and all the disappointment over missing out on the moose and on Mt. Washington. But the day did show us one important thing: You can’t always get what you want. But if you try sometimes, you mind find you get what you need.

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