Category: vacation

Adventures at Flagstaff

Sorry for the lack of posts for the past few days. I’m entering a busy stretch here. I’m off to Utah tomorrow, and then I’m heading to Machias a week from today, and I was up at Flagstaff Lake camping for the past three days. So the good news is that this hasn’t been a stressful busy stretch, but it’s going to busy nonetheless. (And seriously: I am so out of practice flying. The anxiety I get around it seems to have gone up a few notches over COVID.)

But camping was lovely. Flagstaff Lake is about an hour north of where I live. It’s famous for having been a site of controversy back in the 40s or 50s. There was a town by a much smaller lake at the time, and the government decided they needed to dam the lake for reasons that aren’t quite clear to me. When they dammed the lake, it submerged the town completely, so some of the time you’re boating around, you can actually see asphalt roads beneath you, as well as (potentially) buildings. That’s kind of creepy to me, and I’m sure I could have made it into a wicked scary ghost story one night, but I held myself back.

Creepy drowned city aside, the place is absolutely lovely. We saw bald eagles and loons and tons of frogs (which made Daniela very happy). We went fishing (caught yellow perch, but that was it) and canoed all over the lake, going swimming and just generally having a blast. The weather was about as ideal as you can get (unless you prefer really hot weather for swimming). Mid 70s and breezy during the day, 50s at night. It was mostly clear, though we did have a bit of intermittent very light drizzle. It cleared out enough at night for some star gazing, and that’s always fun as well.

I loved the fact that our site felt very remote, even though it was easy to get to: just a half mile canoe paddle. The site itself was huge. We had five tents scattered around the area, and it could have held many more if it needed to. Just one picnic table though. There were some boats out on the water passing by now and then, but other than that (and a random guy who walked through our site once to go swimming with his dog), the place felt empty.

Camping is definitely something I don’t do a lot, and in some ways I came back home well-rested, and in other ways I’m just plain exhausted. I know when I got back yesterday afternoon, I didn’t want to do anything other than lie there like a slug. Every time I closed my eyes, it felt like I was back on a canoe. But on the other hand, it was so different from everything else I do that it felt like I could approach what was waiting for me from a better position.

The kids all had a great time, and I’m chalking the trip up as a big success.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Sea Glass Hunting on Monhegan Island

It’s interesting that sometimes it takes someone coming from hours away to get you to do the touristy things people do when they come to your state. Denisa and I have lived here for 14 years now, and we had yet to venture to any of the islands off the coast of Maine, despite the fact that many people come here to do just that. For the first while, it was because of the expense ($38 for a ferry ticket?), and then it was because we had kids of ages that didn’t really line up right to do the outing, and then it was because we were busy, and then . . .

There comes a point when you begin to convince yourself that if you haven’t done something all this time, then there must be a good reason you haven’t done it, and you stop even considering doing it anymore.

Thankfully, a friend from high school came up to visit for the weekend, and one of the things he was planning on doing was taking the ferry out to Monhegan Island, famous for its artist colony and beautiful landscape. If that had been all it was, maybe I might not have decided to go, but he also likes to go looking for sea glass, and that’s been something I’ve been curious about enough that I decided it would be fun to tag along and see how it was done. Denisa and MC came on the journey as well. (Tomas had to work, and Daniela had drama camp.)

To get out to the island, we first had to get to the ferry. We took the one out of Port Clyde, which was about a two hour drive for us. Once we arrived, I was surprised to see the range of car license plates arrayed on the dock: Georgia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and more. People were coming from all around to go to this place I’d just ignored the whole time. It took an hour to get out to the island on the ferry, though the company did fill some of that time talking about the history of the island and the surrounding area, and the lobster industry. The ride was choppy enough that by the time we arrived, my stomach was very glad we were about to get off. I had expected a large ferry without too many people on it. Instead, it was a small ferry that was pretty packed, leading me to wonder just how busy the island would be.

Monhegan is only 1.75 miles long and .75 miles wide. In my head, this was a place we’d pretty much be able to completely explore in a couple of hours. No cars are allowed over onto the island, though some of the people there do have trucks they use for transportation. There’s a small village there, with quite a few houses, though many of them seemed like they were probably rentals for people coming out to stay. Cell coverage was spotty, but existent. Restaurants were few and far between, and prices were what you’d expect on a remote island. If you’re looking to come and check out stores, this is not the place to go.

However, the island is criss-crossed with plenty of hiking trails. We set off right away into the middle of the island. I had been expecting wide trails with plenty of visibility, like most of Maine’s hiking. These trails were very narrow, and the forest in places was incredibly thick. It reminded us more of the rain forest at times than of most of the other places we’ve explored in Maine. The trails were generally easy to see, though markings were few and far between. In most places, the trail was maybe a foot wide. Some mud, because it had just rained, but the real obstacles were tree roots and rocks. It wasn’t easy hiking, by any means, but it was absolutely gorgeous.

In our three hour hike around the island, we probably saw about 5 other groups total. It was a much bigger place than I expected, and it generally felt like we were alone. If you want peaceful, secluded beauty, this is definitely a good place to go.

The sea glass hunting was less than overwhelming. We headed to Pebble Beach, which we’d heard had the best offerings on the island. We got there as the tide was coming in, which wasn’t ideal, so perhaps there was better hunting farther out, but where we were, to find any sea glass took an awful lot of combing through the boulders and pebbles. The pieces we did find were generally small: tinier than the tip of my pinky. On the other hand, we had a great time doing it. MC loved the sense of exploration, and it was fun to have something to do together. The beach was nothing like a place where I’d want to go swim. Far too rocky. (And it was only 65 degrees that day, anyway.)

(We did try one other spot I’d heard had sea glass: Fish Beach. It was very small, but it had quite a lot more glass. Unfortunately, almost all of it was pretty new. New enough that it was another place I don’t think I’d want to swim, even though it was sandier. There was just too much glass. Go figure.)

We had lunch at a small cafe. Nothing extravagant: some pizza ($3.50/slice) and wraps ($8.00/each). The food was fine. We might have gone to some of the other restaurants, but finding out where they were was a struggle. (Remember: bad internet), and the prices seemed like more than we were really up for at the moment. One of the best things I bought the whole time was the $1 map of the island that included all the hiking trails. We used that a ton, and I’m sure we would have gotten hopelessly lost without it. (We’d also considered bringing Ferris on the trip, but I’m very glad we didn’t. He would have been far too hyper on the ferry, and he would have gone crazy on the island. We’d tried taking him on a short hike a few days before. It was sensory overload for the puppers.)

In the end, we stayed five hours, and I think that was about right. I’d considered coming out to stay with the family on the island at some point, but I don’t know that I will, having been there. I loved the outing, but I think I’d likely get bored if I were there for too long. (Though maybe some boredom and internet-free time would be just the thing. I’ll keep thinking about that.) I’m sure it would have gorgeous night skies if we were to stay over, though it was foggy and overcast the entire time we were there. (Luck of the draw.)

Overall, it was a terrific outing, and a great change of pace. If you haven’t been, I’d definitely recommend it, and it’s got me thinking about other outings we might do in the future . . .

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

What to Do in Amish Country

Down in Pennsylvania right now, visiting my parents at long last while also working remotely at the same time. (I attended two different Zoom meetings yesterday while sitting in different parking lots in Lancaster County. It all went swimmingly, except for the one time when it seemed for a moment like I’d found a pocket of internetlessness, which I suddenly realized I should have seen coming. But thankfully I found a stronger cell signal soon after that, and all was right with the world.)

The kids are also Zooming school during the day, and then we’re heading out trying to do fun things in the afternoons and evenings. So yesterday’s activity was “what can we do fun in an afternoon in Lancaster County?” This wasn’t my first buggy ride (well, actually it would have been, had we ridden in a buggy), so I had some idea of some good places to check out, but it still required a fair bit of planning. (Figuring out what everyone wanted to do, what times we had what meetings, and how to piece everything together as best as possible.) In the end, this is the agenda I came up with:

  1. Stop by Immergut Pretzels in Intercourse: (The Amish in Lancaster are a fountain of interesting town names. Intercourse. Paradise. Bird-in-Hand. Blue Ball, etc.) I’ve visited several different pretzel places in Lancaster over the years, but this is by far my personal favorite. They’re soft pretzels (which I like much more than the hard variety), and they come in different flavors and toppings. Think of this place like an upscale Auntie Anne’s, and you’re about right. Delicious.
  2. Head over to Mr. Sticky’s for some sticky buns. (It’s not just interesting town names, folks.) This doesn’t look like much: it’s basically a small shack next to a “Welcome to Lancaster” tourism center. But they make some wonderful sticky buns and cinnamon rolls. (The ones I got yesterday had peanut butter cream cheese frosting. Sublime.) Yes, I suppose you could just order them online and have the shipped to you anywhere in the country, but there’s something about buying them fresh, you know?
  3. Check out the wares at Riehl’s Quilts and Crafts. There are a ton of quilt stores in Amish country. I don’t pretend to be a connoisseur of the art, but I do know that prices vary widely. (Case in point: Denisa was looking for a new corn broom. She found one at Riehl’s that was handmade and only about $15. She bought it. She found the same broom almost everywhere else we went. Sometimes for $20. Sometimes for $26.) Riehl’s has a great selection and very good prices. Quilts and all manner of handmade things. It’s hard to find (I have no idea how I would have found it without a GPS), but I think they cater to tour buses to keep them in business.
  4. Get some baked goods at Bird-in-Hand Bakeshop. I assume you’re seeing the theme here. A lot of why I go to Amish country is food-based. Again, this is a very nice bakery with a wide variety of cookies and pies and treats. We picked up a shoofly pie and some molasses cookies. Mmmmm . . . Shoofly pie.
  5. Head to a restaurant for some Amish food. I’m most familiar with three: Miller’s, Hershey Farm, and Good ‘n Plenty. Miller’s and Hershey are both buffets, and of the two, I’m more partial to Miller’s. (Better selection, though Hershey is great too.) Good ‘n Plenty serve their food family style at your table, meaning they bring out dishes and you pass the dishes to each other, just like at home. I love their food, but I don’t really dig family style, mainly because (pre-COVID) they sat you with other families at your table. I’d rather just eat with my own, thanks very much. But thanks to COVID precautions, they were seating everyone separately. (Plus, Millers was closed.) So we got to go to Good ‘n Plenty instead. (I had only actually eaten a pretzel up until this point, for the record. Everything else was bagged to eat for later. Like, say, today . . .) I ate far too much food, but that’s kind of the point.
  6. Walk off some of those calories by heading to the outlet stores at Tanger. This wasn’t really high on my to do list, but it was for Daniela and others, so we finished here. Shopping isn’t typically my thing, but I get that our home town doesn’t have much in the way of shopping, so when you can actually find stores, you strike while the iron’s hot.

All-in-all, it was a fun afternoon, and a great time to spend with the fam. If you’re in the Lancaster area, or even passing through, I highly recommend it.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Puerto Rico: Scuba Diving

Coming in to the tail end of my Puerto Rico trip now. The last day’s main event was an intro to scuba diving lesson right in San Juan. This was actually at the same spot where I’d been considering going snorkeling, so it’s nice to be able to have some firsthand experience with the area to evaluate whether it would have been better to snorkel there instead of in Vieques.

The simple answer? Definitely snorkel in Vieques.

The San Juan area is basically just a little spot along the edge of a park in the city. It’s beautiful, but there are a lot of people there the whole time. (Denisa and I were in the area for about 3-4 hours.) There are multiple different companies running snorkeling and diving operations there, so you get into an area that feels fairly full of other people and groups. Beyond that, the water wasn’t nearly as clear, and the diversity of wildlife (that I saw that day at least) was much less. No turtles. No shark. No sting rays. Maybe I was unlucky, but our dive instructor also said Vieques would have been much better.

The big perk about the scuba lesson was that it was a much smaller group. It was Denisa and I and one other couple for a roughly 2 hour lesson. That 2 hours wasn’t diving the whole time: we had to get set up with the equipment, put it on, and figure out how to use it, plus go over safety measures. For scuba diving, this area was perfect. It was right on the beach and easy to get to. No need to pay money to go get a basic scuba lesson somewhere exotic. You aren’t going to be doing that much scuba diving anyway.

I had a blast doing it. I had a short lesson in a pool back when I was in . . . 7th grade? Something like that. This was (obviously) way better than that. I felt comfortable diving right away, though the amount of pressure you felt underwater took some getting used to. We were in the water for about 45 minutes, and I thought it was more like 5. They didn’t have goggles with prescription lenses, but the bottom wasn’t that far off, and since I could actually dive down, I didn’t struggle to see the things there too much. (It was also murkier, which meant I couldn’t see things farther away anyway.)

It was a fair bit more expensive than snorkeling, but the instruction was much more personalized, and after doing it, I now feel much better prepared to go snorkeling as well. I loved both, and I would happily do either again the next time I can. (Honestly, I would consider getting scuba certified even. Yes, it might be expensive, but it was just so much fun. I think Denisa’s more on the fence with it. I suppose it depends how often we end up traveling places where we could put the certification to use.)

For reference, we used the tryscubadiving San Juan outfit. They were essentially operating out of a minivan, but it all worked out, and I would use them again.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Puerto Rico: Snorkeling

Keeping going with the various activities we did on our vacation. We spent an entire day going snorkeling, and it was a blast. That said, there are definitely some things I learned in the process that would likely help other people if they’re interested in doing the same thing on a trip to PR.

First off was trying to decide where exactly to go snorkeling. There are a ton of different options when you start poking around. For a long while, I was set on snorkeling right in San Juan. There’s a bay just off the beach in the heart of the touristy area that was supposed to have great snorkeling. No transportation needed (other than an Uber), and the price wasn’t too bad. (About $60/person). On the other hand, most of the articles I was reading about snorkeling down there said you’d be much better set to go out to one of the larger islands: Vieques or Culebra. The biggest trick with those is that they’re quite far away from San Juan. About a 45 minute drive at least. You can get an Uber over there for around $75 or so (one way, though that was just the one time I checked. I don’t know if that was cheap for the time or not), but that still seemed steep.

I did find some companies that said they’d offer transportation over to their launch site. They didn’t list the price, but in the end I decided to go with that. Pure Adventure was the company we went with. For $85/person, you got a boat ride to a beach on Vieques, another ride to the snorkeling site, photographs of the experience, trained divers to help you get started, and snacks. Seemed like a great deal. In many ways it was.

Overall, I’m very happy we went to Vieques, but there are a few ways it could have gone very wrong. First and foremost was the question of transportation. Two days before the excursion, I got an email that said transportation was just a request and not guaranteed. Perhaps I missed that in the advertising, but I had checked it pretty carefully. Suddenly it seemed like there was a chance I might have to pay a ton extra to get us over there. I had quite a few messages out to the company, and they weren’t returning any of them. That was unsettling to say the least. At last they did message us to confirm transportation would be happening. It cost $75 total (round trip), which wasn’t terrible. However, I did see some reviews of the company by people who hadn’t gotten transportation on their trip, and they were very justifiably upset. I would approach that with caution.

That said, the trip itself was fantastic. The boat was big enough for our group of around 25. It was about a half hour ride out to the beach, which was empty except for us, and very picturesque. We were, indeed, provided with snorkeling gear, though the “instruction” was basically, “Make sure it works. If you have any questions, ask us.” On the other hand, I had worried that I wouldn’t be able to see anything if my glasses didn’t fit in the gear. Spoiler alert: glasses will never fit in the gear. They interfere with the seal. By a huge stroke of luck, the company had one pair of goggles with prescription lenses, and those lenses happened to work perfectly for me. However, if I were to do this again, I would likely get my own goggles ahead of time and bring those. Or wear contacts.

The snacks they made us were much more like “lunch” than a simple snack. Nothing extravagant, but good wraps (veggie options were available) and fruit and soda and nuts. We ate after the beach, then headed to the snorkeling area. It wasn’t what I had expected, though I’ve only been snorkeling one time before: in the Red Sea right by a coral reef. This wasn’t like that. The creatures we were looking at were spread out below us about 20 feet, but there were a lot of them. I saw multiple sea turtles, sting rays, tons of fish, and even a shark that was about 5 feet long. (I heard after the fact that seeing a shark there is rare. The dive guides certainly seemed excited about it at the time.)

One thing I wasn’t a huge fan of was that we were all basically going everywhere in a big clumped group. I would have liked to have been more on our own, or better spread out. If I were to do it again, I think I would stay more away from the clump. That said, I was also struggling with my mask. I was getting a bunch of water up my nose, which made it so I had to keep pausing to adjust it every few minutes. After I got back to the hotel, I searched the problem some and discovered that it was happening because of my beard. (Hard to get a good seal with a beard.) Easy to overcome–you just breathe out through your nose instead of your mouth when you want to clear the mask of any bits of water. (That tidbit of information would have been nice for our “dive instructors” to tell me about . . .)

So. All told, it was gorgeous, and fun, and it all worked out, but next time I go, I know more about how to handle things and what to expect. As always, if you have any questions, just ask.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

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