Maybe it’s the water. Perhaps it’s the wine. Either way I have seen that smile for over 40 years. Jan’s water smile. The first time was at Lake of the Ozarks with her parents. Since then I’ve seen it in Florida. I’ve seen it in Mexico. I’ve seen it in Costa Rica. And now here it is again, this time shining in the sun on the shores of Saranac Lake in the Adirondacks. I love that smile.
We had just finished a Brewer and Shipley east coast tour. Michael had returned to Missouri and we pointed our car north. I didn’t have another way of putting it. We were free. Jan had just retired, the tour was over and we had nothing ahead of us but open road. We did have a general idea of where we wanted to go and what we wanted to see but that was it. Jan had scoured the online sites and arranged for rooms along the way but we have never been the “All Inclusive” resort types. Our best times have always been the rent a car or Jeep and head out to see what we can see kind of adventures. And boy have we seen things. From the lakes of Alaska’s Misty Fjords National Park to the local crocodiles of Costa Rica’s Carribean rainforests. Life is for living!
I guess we learned long ago that The Ritz was not our cup of tea. We tend to prefer the little mom and pop places. As long as they are clean and the beds not lumpy. The occasional mouse or critter scampering across the floor never really bothers us. We live in the woods so we are used to that. In fact the occasional mouse makes it feel a bit like home. And we end up meeting a lot of real characters…like ourselves. Such was the case at Saranac Lake, the first stop on our adventure north. Our neighbors, a couple of Brits, being a perfect example.
Have you ever been in a strange town where people spoke with unusual accents? Ask a simple question about where this or that is and something usually gets lost in the translation. That’s where the comedy begins. By this time we were in Jackson, New Hampshire near the foot of Mt. Washington. Jan had booked a room at the Wildcat Inn…it sounded like our kind of place…and we did what we often do. We headed straight for the bar.
The lady behind the bar did her best to help. As always, we had plenty of time to kill. On this day were looking for a place to do some hiking while they were getting the room ready. “Just head back down the hill a little way,” the lady said. “There is a waterfall where you can hike and just past that is a nice place to get a drink.” Sounded like our favorite kind of directions so off we went. We read every sign we came upon and, several miles down the road, came across a hiking trail with a sign reading “Winniwet Falls Trail 1 mile”. Finally we thought. There was a small creek to cross and then came the hike…or should I say climb. After a mile of hiking, climbing, and pulling ourselves up the muddy sections by the roots of trees we heard it. The sound of water boiling over rock. After a mile of climbing, hiking, and slithering through mud we had arrived. The waterfall.
Back down the hill. Not that we were in a hurry to find the place the lady had told us we could find a drink but we shot down the hill like Bigfoot was on our tail. We reach the car and headed out in search of the rumored bar. Nothing. Exhausted and thirsty we headed back toward the Wildcat. We knew there was a bar there. We had almost arrived when we saw it. The waterfall. I’m sure the bar lady was trying to help but she obviously misunderstood our mission and this waterfall wasn’t it.
I guess this was what she thought we were looking for. It was a waterfall alright but I guess she missed with wilderess part. No foul. In fact a real blessing. If we had seen this as we headed out we would have missed an incredibly beautiful hike up one of the foothills of Mr. Washington while shedding a few pounds to boot.
Ok…where was this cool little place up the hill where we could get a drink? We found that as well. Not as described but they had drinks for us. It was not a funky little local pub where we could sit and relax. It was the clubhouse of a sprawling country club set among the pines and little creeks. I have no idea what the residents and staff though about these two muddy “Wildings” from the woods but they were more than happy to serve us.
A high class ending to a wooly bully kind of day. Perfect.
Now on to Main where I could give Jan what she told me what she wanted for her birthday/retirement present. Lobsters and Lighthouses.
Jan had booked a cool and inexpensive place a mile or so out of Bar Harbour. That turned out to be a blessing. The town was packed so we decided to head straight to Acadia National Park to get our first view of the North Atlantic and the rocky coast of Main. We hiked to the top of Cadillac Mountain in the park and watched the waves crash against the rocks below. The wind howled like a banshee as we made our way up the giant boulders that made up the mountain top. “What must this be like in a bad storm?” I thought to myself.
In our search for the perfect lobster we checked out every restaurant and pub we could find in Bar Harbor. We found over priced lobster rolls, drinks that would make an airport bar seem cheap, and extra loud patrons we wanted to get away from. However, we had seen a cool, old looking out of the way, bar/restaurant just down the road from our room. It was a dock where the lobstermen brought in the day’s catch with a funky restaurant on one side. And a full lobster dinner literally fresh from the sea for $21.00. To top it off, they were lady lobsters. They had just molted so there was no need for a jackhammer to get to the meat which meant no “lobster bib” to keep us from being a mess. The best meal I had ever had? I believe so.
One down, one left to go. There were lobsters everywhere but lighthouses were another matter. The coast of Main is about as rocky a place as I have ever been and the lighthouses were at the very tips of the long, rocky points that stuck out into the north atlantic. A beautiful sight to see but pain to get close to.
Finally, as we neared Portland and our final room, we found the lighthouse we had been looking for. I had just about given up on finding the perfect one when, on the horizon there it stood. Old and magnificent as a Main lighthouse should be.
And there we were. Two thousand miles, more mountains that we could ever count, enough great meals whose memories still make my mouth water. What a way to conclude a two week search for a lobster and a lighthouse.
And there it was again. Jan’s water smile.
I love that smile.
What a beautiful inspiring yarn. Thanks again. I’ve walked a few paths similarly.
Sandi Myers Soendker
Romance lives! Nice to take those roads not traveled as much as others. Funky places, interesting faces.
Fabulous story Tom, sounds like a wonderful vacation 🍷
Martha in KS
I’m an “old” fan from the Vanguard days. I enjoy reading your stories – you’re such a great storyteller, and your love for your wife is heart-warming. Merry Christmas to you & your family.
I love the lighthouse at Portland Maine. Found cheap wonder lobsters at East and West Hampton in New hampshire, then drove the Green Mountians of Vermont where my Bowe clan hailed from, the scenery was fabulous…but I keep thinking about floating he Gasconade…anyone got a boat livery like Kenny L.did on the River yet? Hope you get ot Wisconsin some time. We settled in the rolling hills where my paretn were from. Love the scenry compared to flatlands of Minnestoa.