American Road Trip: New England

I woke up in a very nasty motel room with a growing sense of panic.  Funnily enough that wasn’t because a crazy person in the room next door had spent the best part of the night trashing her room whilst screaming at either her boyfriend or her pimp on the phone.  I was worried because I should have been heading west already.  I was supposed to have reached the Canadian border in Maine several days before yet I was in Newark, Delaware with a lot of driving ahead of me before I reached my northern signpost to turn left.

I had spent the night in Newark because I really wanted to drive down through Chesapeake Bay and over the incredible Chesapeake Bay Bridge.  I’d heard it was a pretty amazing ride on a good day but pretty much a waste of time in rain or fog.  The annoying thing was that I’d been only an hour from it several days earlier but I woke up to a foggy morning and knew it would be pointless so headed for the Virginia Piedmont & Gettysburg instead.

So with some lingering doubts and regrets I headed north with the intention of getting through New Jersey and New York to Connecticut.  Luckily a good friend of mine lived in Toms River, New Jersey so a minor detour enabled her to cheer me up with a Taylor Ham, egg & cheese sandwich for breakfast, apparently soon to be made the State Sandwich of New Jersey.  After that I was ready to brave what I knew would be a fairly awful drive up the New Jersey Turnpike, over the George Washington Bridge into the Bronx then on to Connecticut.  And it was pretty much as awful as I’d imagined.

The only thing remotely positive I have to say about it is that driving this route through New York enables you to experience what it is like to drive on third world roads without having to actually leave the USA.  The roads really are in a shocking state and this is made even more annoying by the fact that you have to pay to drive on them.  Avoiding toll roads was going to have me arrive in the New Haven, Connecticut area at 8.30pm instead of 2.30pm, so in that respect it was worth it but at times I wondered if my tires would survive the epic potholes in the pavement.  $25 in tolls later, I made it to the charming town of Old Saybrook, Connecticut and gratefully checked into a motel for the night, comfortable in the knowledge that probably the worst driving off this whole trip (South Florida & New York) was behind me.

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I wasn’t really sure what route to take toward Maine the next morning but decided that I should probably explore Cape Cod on the way.  I took coast roads and the interstate to get there on what was a fairly quick drive on a gloomy morning.  After crossing through the tiny state of Rhode Island I made for Hyannis and managed get onto a scenic route that took me through the endless townships of Cape Cod all the way to Provincetown and Herring Cove Beach which is effectively the end of the road.  The townships were pretty but from the road you don’t see the coast at all until getting to the area around Provincetown where I drove around the sandy peninsula then through the extremely picturequse yet very crowded town itself before heading back to the start of US 6A, a road that eventually ends up in Bishop, California some 3,198 miles away, but for that day would take me out to the Interstate then around Boston and into New Hampshire.

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I can see that Cape Cod would be an awesome place to visit for people from places like Boston who want some sun and sand.  I was a little underwhelmed as I expected it to be more scenic, and it probably is if you have a nice house overlooking the ocean.  I’m afraid I don’t rate it very highly as a scenic drive yet I do think it would be great as a beach or boating destination.

This loop around Cape Cod took most of the day so it was mid-afternoon when I hit the Boston area.  I love Boston but man was the traffic awful.  It took me 90-minutes to get around the city thanks to a couple of accidents and road construction, however the drivers were courteous and safe for the most part so it wasn’t too painful.   Eventually I made it to Bow, New Hampshire that I chose in an attempt to see some inland areas of that beautiful State, having visited the coast on earlier trips.  All in all it was a bit of a trying day with not a lot of payoff scenery wise until New Hampshire.

But there was a high point.  Somewhere around Boston’s Logan Airport a lovely big Virgin Atlantic plane from Heathrow flew over me as I was stuck in an epic traffic jam.  I posted about it on Facebook and later that night found out that one of my close friends who is cabin crew for Virgin Atlantic was on board. She had been on standby in London so had no time to tell me she was heading in that direction otherwise we would have met up.   But the coincidence is quite stunning.  Of all the flights landing at Logan that day and of all the cars in that spot on the Freeway, and all the circumstances that had to line up for her to be called off standby onto that flight and for me to be driving around Boston on that day let alone at that moment, what were the chances of her flying right over me?  It still makes me shake my head in wonder.

The next day I decided to take a north-easterly route into Maine staying on backroads as much as possible.  The weather remained gloomy but I loved driving the heavily wooded and narrow New Hampshire roads before eventually hitting US Route 1 in Maine just north of Portland.  This route is also known as the Coastal Road and I hadn’t been on US1 much since Florida so I was pleased to see it again so far north.

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From here the drive got really nice, passing through a multitude of quaint seaside towns and pretty countryside.  I got tired of driving as I approached the beautiful Camden State Forest area and chose a fabulous little motel in Lincolnville Beach, only the third motel on this trip so far to make my list of ‘Best Accommodation Finds’.

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I said a sad goodbye to my cosy little cabin the next morning and decided that come hell or high water, I was going to make my final East Coast goal that day then strike west.  That goal was West Quaddy Head Light, a picturesque lighthouse at the easternmost point of the United States and very close to the Canadian border.  US1 got noticeably quieter and the landscapes wilder the further north I got. One thing I really loved about this portion of the Atlantic Coast was that nobody was preciously guarding the scenic viewpoints with restaurant parking lots or blocking the coastline with ugly mansions.  If you wanted to pull over to enjoy a particular spot then you could.  There was room to and nobody looked at you funny.

This was a working area of the coast where people mostly earn their livelihood through fishing or forestry.  It was too far from the main centres for the pleasure seeking tourists to bother with all that much.  There were seemingly endless expanses of forest wilderness, a much more rugged coastline and blissfully quiet roads.  I loved this part of Maine.

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I got to the lighthouse and spent some time saying goodbye to the Atlantic Ocean.  The next time I would see it would be on my flight from Copenhagen to Greenland about 6 weeks later at the end of July.  It was slightly overwhelming to think that apart from two flights from San Francisco to Vladivostok that would get me across the Pacific Ocean, I was going to be traveling overland across two huge continents before I once again saw it.  Not only that but Greenland is just short hop from the East Coast of Canada that was probably only a few days drive from where I was at that moment.  It was mind blowing.    What the hell had I gotten myself into?

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Feeling slightly surreal and in awe of my own audacity, I got back in the car and finally made my may west to Route 9 which in that region is a wonderfully wide and quiet highway through fairly remote wilderness and a roughly north/south thoroughfare between the Canadian border and New Hampshire.  The sun came out and the day warmed up so I put the windows down and blasted out some music which was wonderful until I realised I was driving through a region covered in commercial beehives.  The windows just wouldn’t come up quickly enough.

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I wound up in Bangor, Maine for the night and struck inland the next morning for a beautiful yet extremely soggy day of driving through Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont.  The small glimpses I got through the clouds and torrential rain gave a tantalising taste of the fabulous landscape I was missing out on.  This was the first full day of rain I experienced on the trip so far so I could hardly complain, but it would have been much more convenient if it had happened during an ugly stretch of road as to opposed to one of the most charming parts of the United States.

I mulled over my bad luck at the motel in Burlington, Vermont that night and when the morning dawned fairly sunny I decided that I had to do some backtracking.  I wasn’t willing to go all the way back to New Hampshire but I managed to map out a scenic drive that took me south through Vermont then across Lake Champlain (that I kept accidentally referring to as Lake Champagne) into New York State.  It was a worthwhile diversion that only cost me a few hours of driving.

This is an incredibly stunning drive and turned out to be one of the most scenic days of my trip so far.  Steep forested hills surrounded incredibly picturesque farms dotted with traditional barns with the odd horse or cow in sight. In the wooded areas I saw mountain streams rushing through rocky riverbeds, slightly swollen from the previous day’s rain yet still crystal clear.  There was even the odd small yet beautiful roadside waterfall.  In the distance were lovely yet fairly low mountains that signalled my approach to the Adirondacks in New York State.

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After traveling through the Green Mountain Range National Forest in Vermont I found myself in a fairly open and wide fertile farm valley where I successfully avoided some baby ducks before crossing the Lake Champlain Bridge at Chimney Point into New York where the wonderful scenery continued.  The road took me through a few cute towns before I was winding through the Adirondack wilderness region where I helped a local rescue a turtle from the road before climbing through stunning rocky and forested hills to Lake Placid.

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I didn’t dally long in the town as it was full of trendy athletic types shoehorned into Lycra and zipped up in North Face anoraks in various shades pink, orange and blue.  I assumed the preference for fluorescent colours is so the search and rescue teams could find them easily if they got lost on the way to the nearest juice bar.   They hadn’t spent the last 5 weeks sitting on their ass in a car wearing the same two sets of trousers and tops so I felt a little out of place.

The road from there was easy to drive but a little less impressive with the region being a lot flatter.  The last part of the afternoon seemed to go on forever in this unchanging landscape before I finally made it to Watertown, New York.   As I drove into the area I thought to myself that this looked like the kind of place a serial killer would operate.  Later that night I looked up the town on Wikipedia and was not at all surprised to find that this region was once home to the Genesee Valley Killer.  On a more positive note Watertown also claims to be the birthplace of the safety pin and is where my Great Lakes journey would begin.

Highlights:  Basically all of New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine  |  West Quoddy Head Light  |  The Adirondacks

Best Accommodation Find:  The Lincolnville Motel – cosy cabins, lovely décor, creative amenities in a forest location offering views down to the ocean.  And it is cheap.  I could have happily based myself here for a week whilst exploring the surrounding region or just chilling out.

Something I didn’t know last week:  Lubec, Maine is the easternmost town in the United States and the first place in the US to see the sunrise.  West Quaddy Light is located just past the town. It is so close to the border that you need to be careful when searching for accommodation options online as most of the results bring up hotels in Canada.

Suggested New England Road Trip:  I thought my drive turned out to be pretty much perfect once I got past Portland so click here  for a suggested trip map that will take in some beautiful scenery and get you a little off the beaten path.  You could spend anything between 3 and 10 days doing this depending on how much time you want to spend exploring side roads, taking hikes and so on.  A lot also depends on how much driving you are willing to do each day.  There are lots of cute inns, motels and cabins along with plenty of great restaurants, bars, museums and galleries to stop at along the way. It would also be really easy to tag on the Adirondacks and other areas of New England.

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2 thoughts on “American Road Trip: New England

  1. Pingback: American Road Trip: The Great Lakes – The Wandering Wincer

  2. Pingback: Goodbye Russia. Hello Helsinki – The Wandering Wincer

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