Tuesday, July 14, 2009

34 and Counting

I'm getting older, as we all are, and birthdays are seeming less important every year, mostly due to the fact that I feel like I stopped aging somewhere around 23 and because, when it comes right down to it, I don't need anything—at least not anything that can be provided in the form of a physical birthday gift. So Liz and I decided on a low-key celebration this year and headed off to the White Mountains for the weekend. We stayed at the Gilman Tavern Inn in Tamworth, NH, which, much to my dismay, did not actually contain a tavern. But it was very affordable and it turned out to be much nicer than the photos on the website had indicated. Tamworth is a cute town that lies at the southern end of the mountains. There's not a whole lot happening there, but folks are friendly and the air is fresh, which was about all we could ask for.

We spent Saturday at Lake Winnipesaukee, NH's largest lake. Liz and I both love to swim and don't get to do it nearly enough, so we were eager to get into the water. However, there was a little something called "swimmer's itch," or cercarial dermatitis, that deterred us. According to the signs posted on the beach and a brief but detailed explanation from the lifeguard, swimmer's itch is a problem that occurs when one comes into contact with the feces of certain waterfowl. Tiny parasites that are passed in their excrement end up in the water and when they come into contact with humans, they burrow into their flesh, causing an unpleasant, itchy rash, much like scabies.

Ummm, YUCK.

The signs made the condition seem like not much of a bother, but my conversation with the lifeguard was enough to keep me reading on the beach. Yet, there were people swimming. Apparently you can avoid swimmer's itch by coating yourself with suntan lotion (the parasites can't get past this surface layer of oil) or by showering off immediately after leaving the water (no time for burrowing). Both of these options seem reasonable, I guess, but neither makes swimming in poop any less disgusting.

Meredith Beach @ Lake Winnipesaukee

Our evening turned out to be a more satisfactory, with our dinner at the Darby Field Inn, which is truly in the middle of nowhere. We had some trouble finding it with our Mapquest directions, but the food was quite tasty and they served the local brew, making the remote location less of a problem. Saturday might have been slightly disappointing, but it did lead to Sunday, which included the absolute highlight of the trip: a drive to the top of Mount Washington (of "This car climbed Mount Washington" bumper sticker fame) via the Auto Road.

I have wanted to visit Mount Washington, home of the world's worst weather and the lowest temperature ever recorded, since I read Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods. Though it dashed my dreams of actually hiking the AT, Bryson's description of his personal journey had me in stitches, with the most memorable part being his Mount Washington experience. If you haven't read this one, do yourself a favor and pick up a copy.

Liz makes her way to the top

The mountain, which is part of NH's Presidential Range, shares its name with the "mountain" (it's more of a hill) that lies directly to the south of Pittsburgh. That Mount Washington was the only one I had known until becoming acquainted with a group of Pittsburghers interested in mountaineering and rock climbing. They spoke of the NH's Mount Washington as if it were the holy grail of climbing—and now I completely understand why. Weather changes quickly on the mountain, even in the summer, providing the extra challenge that climbers often seek. The landscape also changes drastically from bottom to top. It begins in a lush, thick, deciduous forest, passes through a zone of evergreens that shrink in size as altitude increases, and ends in a barren, moss- and lichen-covered wasteland.

Climbing the mountain seemed out of the question for us, but the road up—whew! The Auto Road was completed in 1861, prior to dynamite, modern engineering tools and gas-powered vehicles. It's a skinny, winding, two-lane road with no guardrails. I felt fortunate being the designated driver, especially when Liz began pleading with me to slow down and move over to hug the inside of the curves. She was clearly very nervous about being on the mountain's edge and it did seem, during the few times that I was able to take my eyes off the road to enjoy the view, that it wouldn't take much for us to find ourselves tumbling roof over drivetrain down the slope.

When we arrived at the summit, the weather was cloudy and cold, with the temperature hovering around 40 degrees Fahrenheit (the highest recorded summit temp was 75F, and I'm guessing that that was a complete fluke). It struck me as funny to have come all that way—8 miles up, and 25 minutes in duration—to have a zero-mile view. We headed inside the visitors' center, toured the museum, had a snack and came back outside to find that the fog had cleared. The view was breathtaking, stunning, all of those words that are conjured up when one thinks of being on a mountaintop. Here—see for yourself via this smattering of photos:

Totally foggy one minute

Completely clear the next (literally)


...still clear...

...and here comes the fog again
I'm uncertain whether this was a typical day at Mount Washington, but my gut tells me that we were lucky to have a clear spell and be privy to such gorgeous views.

Driving down—in the lowest gear, just as we had driven up—I mentally explored all of the circumstances that might allow me to repeat the summit experience. Was anyone coming to visit us? Would they want to drive up north? And when were they coming exactly—soon?

My parents are coming for a visit this fall, the perfect time for a trip to Mount Washington! Considering that my dad is a geologist, I doubt it will be difficult to convince them that the 3 hour drive is worth it.

All in all it was a fantastic mini-vacation, ending with a quick lunch in Keene and our arrival home on my birthday. The final celebration came in the form of sampling some Scottish food over in Chester, VT, for dinner, drinking a few beers and laughing together. My sister did send me a gift card for Barnes and Noble—the only customary gift that I received. I plan to buy a copy of Bryson's book.

What more could a girl ask for on her birthday?

1 comment:

  1. I like my Eddie Munster hair in that one photo.