The Ultimate Road Trip: THE SILVER SNAIL : A solo woman's full-time RV adventure
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Downeast Maine

Having completed The First Trip in October 2009, I returned to Maine and reaquainted myself with the life I had left behind. I rented a seasonal cottage and hibernated for the winter. I loved having a real house with acreage and having friends close by. Harley had a chance to chase squirrels, be free and meet new dog-friends and people-friends. He loved it. And Peyote got to hang out on the outside porch and sunbathe under the flightpath of local songbirds. But when my winter rental was over, I wanted to hit the road again. There was magic on the road and I wanted more of it. So this time, with the very generous help of my good friend Mike, I neatly packed away all of my stuff into a 5x10' climate-controlled storage unit. If/When I decide to settle somewhere in a real home, it will be easy for movers to get it and bring it to me. I became a Florida resident and made improvements to the rig. The winter had given Harley and I time to get to know and trust each other, so we were ready to go.

Snowy airstream trailer

Having the trailer in the back yard made it very convenient to winterize it. I pumped gallons of RV anti-freeze in it and left it plugged in with the batteries still connected. Every now and then in the dead of winter, I kicked on the heat and spent time in it. In the spring, I flushed out the anti-freeze and sanitized the plumbing system. I was worried that I made a mistake in the winterizing process, even though I went through every step very carefully - twice. I systematically checked all systems and appliances and was relieved (and proud) to see that almost everything was fine - even the batteries! ...but not the inside shower. Water flowed out of the bottom pan near the dump valves when I turned it on. That was a bummer, but no big deal really because I could use campground showers. I inspected the trailer to see if I could find the source, but I had no idea how to get in there to access the plumbing. So I just decided not to use the shower and began a list of things to be repaired when I found myself near Jackson Center, Ohio (where the factory is).

It was a little sad leaving that beautiful waterfront home, but also comforting to be back in my own space. I went straight to Mount Desert Island (MDI), with a quick overnight in Bangor to visit Mike, Sandy, Paul and the clan - and to give Harley another opportunity to play with his girlfriend Molly. On MDI, I stayed on the west side, which is known as "The Quiet Side" of the island because most tourists choose to stay around Bar Harbor, which gives that northeast side something of a crowded carnivalesque feel. The pace of Southwest Harbor is much more my style and I loved it.

I had been here before, but only for day trips, so I was thrilled to have more time to discover how awesome Acadia National Park really is. The carriage roads are particularly unique and noteworthy - 57 miles of intertwining gravel roads through the woods, over streams, around mountains and no cars are allowed. You can enjoy them by walking, biking, skijoring in the winter, and even horse-driven carriage. As if the roads themselves weren't beautiful enough, there are also a number of stone bridges that make for a very fairy-tale-like experience in the woods. John D Rockefeller Jr. built them between 1913 and 1940, and now the park, with the help of very generous benefactors, maintains them. They really make Acadia a very special place. Of course, the view from the top of Cadillac Mountain is gorgeous and the Park Road is also worth taking your time to drive, park, and walk around a bit.

Acadia Carriage Road and Harley

Acadia National Park - Cadillac Mountain

Acadia National Park

Acadia National Park

Harley and I spent time in Bar Harbor so that he could get more practice walking on crowded sidewalks. He did very well, except for the occassional lunge at a passing dog, but he's learning fast. There's a great shoreline trail that loops around into town that makes for a particularly pleasant walk.

A few days before I was scheduled to leave, Nancy and Matthew with their dogs Toby and Kinsey, parked next to me. Like me, they are not retired, and decided to hit the road while they are young and still working. Nancy maintains an IT business and Matthew maintains their blog and other things - even helping neighbors in airstreams fix their broken medicine cabinet latch. It takes the mind of a mechanical engineer to come up with the simple solution: cut a small piece from a plastic soda bottle and stick it behind the latch. Thanks Matthew. They call their 5th wheel The Whale, and their dualie truck Gigantor. Check out their blog.

I only had two weeks here, and was busy with a big job, but I had enough time to decide that Mount Desert Island, with Southwest Harbor and Acadia National Park, is in my top five places I'd like to live. I think I would especially like it in the winter, when the crowds are gone and things slow down, and Harley and I could skijor on the carriage roads.

Peak season on MDI starts around July 4, and the campground prices go up, so I went further downeast to Harrington, where prices were lower and the campground (Sunset Point) was gorgeous. It gave me a chance to scout out this more remote (and therefore more affordable) coastline of Maine and consider whether I could live here. I can't. It's certainly very beautiful, but just too remote for me. It was over an hour's drive to Acadia, which is where I would really like to spend my time, and that's just too far to drive on a regular basis. However, being in Harrington put Cutler, Lubec, Eastport and Campobello Island within day trips as well. This part of Maine is not the most popular of tourist destinations, and that's a draw for me - it's the the real deal. While they certainly appreciate tourists and their dollars, it hasn't been commercialized.

Lubec Maine West Quoddy Light

In Steuben, there's the Petit Manan National Wildlife Refuge with a great one-mile loop trail. This was the best nearby trail for hiking with Harley. It also has a beautiful beach around the mid-point, where I figured I could let Harley run off-leash. I threw the frisbee a couple times and everything was going great until he caught sight of a small animal in the marsh (or is it a bog?) and bolted after it, into the peaty, watery, scraggly bushes and tall grasses. He was determined to catch his prey and ran/swam out of sight despite my attempts to call him back. I couldn't chase after him and I had no idea what he was chasing - was it dangerous? Could it bite or poison him? He had his harness on, which could easily get caught on the network of branches sticking out of the water that made passage difficult. I knew Harley was capable of tunnel-vision-chasing and it scared the crap out of me thinking he would get hurt, lost or stuck out there. I yelled and called for him until my voice was hoarse and I was almost in tears. I tried every tactic I knew to make him think I had something better than whatever he was chasing. It was when I said "okay, then - see you later" and started walking away that he came bounding back with a big smile on his face, full of joy and enthusiasm. I gave him a big hug, told him what a good dog he was and quickly got the leash on him. Harley, my young dog, I'm so glad you had such a good time - just don't ever do that again.

After Harrington, it was to Portland for a few nights in my friend Kathy's driveway. We work together on Flavor & the Menu magazine (she's the senior editor, I'm the art director). We got some work done and I had my last hurrahs in Portland at Sonny's (awesome strawbery-chipotle margaritas), Grace, and Local 188. Harley got to run free at Hinckley Park (our favorite off-leash park in Portland), Peyote got to explore Kathy's house and I got my first smartphone - Verizon's new Droid X. Thanks for the driveway Kathy! We had a great time there.

Then it was off to the New Hampshire White Mountains with my friend Steph. Her friend Doug had space for the trailer in his yard, so it was two days and nights of swimming in the local swimming hole (think cold, clean mountain water-awesome!), enjoying life on the granch porch of the Mt. Washington Hotel, and cooking out in Doug's treetop hideaway. Thanks Doug! Awesome place. Awesome mountains. The White Mountains are also in my top five favorite places I might want to live.

Mount Washington Hotel

As I was hitching up and had the trailer jacked up in the front, my spirits sank as I saw a waterfall flowing out from the gray tank pan. Another leak? WTH? I had't been using the shower, but I had been using water from my fresh water tank for a good week now. I couldn't tell if the two problems were related, but I emptied the tank, called Airstream to get an appointment ASAP, and made sure I had enough bottled water to get me by. That night at the next campground I would empty the gray and black tanks too, just to be sure. Unfortunately, I would have to live without plumbing for the next two weeks, when Airstream could get me in their service center.

I took a slow rambling route to Cleveland, through the Vermont Green Mountains, down into the Hudson River Valley, through the Catskills and Pennsylvania. I did not get on a highway at all and enjoyed the meandering back roads instead. So much better than the all-day marathon drives I used to do from Maine to Ohio. But I made the mistake of getting on New York's Taconic Parkway, which apparently has a 5500 lb limit. The nice trooper informed me about the $1000 fine while I was pulled over at a rest stop deciding my route. He suggested I get off at the next exit before another trooper saw me there. Thank you, Mr. Trooper-man.

Catskill Mountains
CATSKILL MOUNTAINS: Peaceful Valley Campground


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All images and words © Sharon Pieniak
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