Saturday marks the 1-year anniversary of our last actual vacation. (This claim has an asterisk: we spent Columbus Day weekend last October in DC, but as no actual work days were missed, I figure this is exempt from qualifying as "vacation time." Basically: if my employer doesn't know about it, it never happened.)
A year is a long time to go between vacations. True, my wife has been away from work since the end of June, but somehow I don't get the impression she'd define 'maternity leave with newborn twins' as a vacation. Although I welcome you to suggest it. (Please let me know in advance, so that I can be sure to sit a safe distance away.)
But a solid year of work without a break... it's a bit of a grind. Hell: because of crazy deadlines, pressures and stresses at my still-kind-of-a-startup-company, I could only take three days off when our twins were born. What this means is that a) I'm starting to grow roots here at my desk (or not, as the combination of fluourescent lighting and humidity probably make me more of a fungus than an actual plant); and b) our own vacation last Aug/Sep is so distant and yet so magically remembered that it now seems almost dreamlike in recollection. Who were those people out there in the sunlight, smiling and happy?
(People like that suck, I reply instinctively.)
We spent the week up in Acadia with the Hurricane. Acadia National Park, I feel compelled to explain, is the only national park in the northeast -- it comprises a big chunk of Mt. Desert Island on the Maine coast, about 5 hours north of Boston (maybe 2/3 of the way to New Brunswick). Remember a buncha years back, when Alka Seltzer was introducing some kind of cold remedy and they used an old, hearty Maine fisherman as a testimonial spokesperson? "Beat this Bar Harbor winter cold, Alka Seltzer did" he intoned. (Or something like that. Forgive me for not remembering exactly, but the ad aired a long time ago and I've had a lot of beers and kids since then.) Anyhow: Bar Harbor is on Mt. Desert Island, and is one of the towns bordering Acadia.
In fact, we rented a place in Bar Harbor itself for the duration. I realize that when a lot of people head off to a week in a national park, they like to camp out & spend their nights under the stars. I respect this decision. I've camped myself a few times, and understand the allure. However, my wife and I have long since decided that we prefer vacations where we can blend the wonders of the natural world with the conveniences of modern culture. All of which makes Acadia the perfect destination for us: we can spend all day hiking mountains, biking along carriage trails or sea kayaking. Then, when we're done, we take a nice hot shower, go out for a big dinner with a nice bottle of red or a few select microbrews, and then retire to the comfort of a clean queen bed.
The Hurricane, of course, had never been out in the wilds before. And I'm sure he won't recall any of the trip in years to come. But let it be said: travelling with a 17-month old certainly lends a different dynamic to a vacation.
As I mentioned, the drive up to Acadia is approximately 5 hours long (directions: follow I-95 north to Bangor, then turn right. Follow the road until you hit the ocean.) (Secondary recollection: here's an opportunity to tell my favorite Maine joke, which was told to me by a guy who actually grew up in Bangor. Ready? "Bangor? Hardly know 'er." The joke makes more sense when you tell it in a thick Maine accent.). We'd done the drive many times in the past, and had always celebrated our arrival with a nice dinner out in Bar Harbor. Naturally, we decided to follow suit on this trip... walking around town, we found this cool new (to us, at least) Cubano restaurant called "Havana" which offered a great-looking menu, stylish decor and a nice wine list. "We've got a winner," we thought to ourselves, and made a reservation for that evening.
We're kinda stupid sometimes.
What we had failed to take into consideration, of course, was the possibility that our 17-month old - who had just spent 5 hours trapped in his car seat - might not take warmly to the idea of a quiet, calm dinner in a nice restaurant. Sure, he was usually not a problem when it came to hanging out in a high chair while we scarfed down food... but the 5-hours of previous confinement were a new experience for him, and as we quickly learned it made for a... uh... nonconducive experience.
Meaning: he started screaming as soon as we walked into the restaurant that evening. And didn't stop when we sat down. And didn't stop when we ordered. And didn't stop until - less than 15 minutes later (thank God we were there for an early dinner, before most other people had arrived) - my wife walked out the door with him and took him back to our rental place. And me? I finished up my nice glass of wine, then proceeded to spend something like $90 for a takeout dinner. (The people at Havana were incredibly nice and polite about the entire experience, I must add, and I sincerely hope they are being rewarded with riches and success even now. And I gotta say: even as reheated takeout, the food was delicious.) Lesson learned: avoid upscale restaurants with toddlers after long drives. Check.
Anyhow, that was the low point. Things proceeded to get much better from there. We tailored our choices to more Hurricane-friendly environs, including several kickass dinners out at the Lompoc Cafe. (http://www.lompoccafe.com - excuse my lack of hotlinks, but I'm working on a Mac in System9, which means TypePad doesn't allow me to make hotlinks the way other folks do. Sniff.) God, I miss the Lompoc. I'm not sure if they have a formal relationship with the Atlantic Brewing Company, or if they just happen to feature their beers, but the place is heaven for a microbrew fan like me. Phenomenal, tasty, local beer on tap... great, eclectic food... low-key, friendly atmosphere and service... hell, they've even got a bocce court. I've had their cookbook for years, and swear by it. And did I mention that we had our wedding rehearsal dinner here? True story.
Anyhow (again): the Lompoc was perfectly fun & kid-friendly, and more importantly the Hurricane seemed just as happy to be there (and to scarf down hot pitas) as we were. God bless you for that, Hurricane. (I hope the little guy won't be scarred by a childhood spent in brewpubs, because that's the direction his life is currently headed.)
Of course, in-town attractions were just the beginning. My wife and I had been up-and-down the mountains around Acadia many times, had been biking all over the place, had gone sea kayaking all around the island... but with the Hurricane in tow, we wondered if it'd be a less-fun experience. Answer: nope. We borrowed one of those toddler-hauling Kielty backpack things, tossed him in, and off we went... every day we'd take on a different mountain (admittedly we stuck to the smaller, shorter hikes... maybe 4ish miles and less than 600 feet of vertical climb). I gotta say: hiking with 35ish pounds of squirming toddler and shifting equipment on your back is a different animal than climbing on your own. Especially on descents, when you're trying to pick your way down along a steep, treacherous path of loose till and granite blocks. Inevitably, it's at the moments when you need your balance most that the toddler in question will choose to pass out -- collapsing face-first into the back of your head and giving you a solid SHOVE forward at precisely the wrong time. Wheeee!
But that's nitpicking. It felt SO good to get out in the mountains and fresh air. And every time we summitted on these minor mountains, we'd pull the Hurricane out of the backpack and let him run around a bit... watching him - only 5 months after learning to walk - trying to carefully make his way up and down little granite outcroppings, creating his own little "hikes." The smile on his face - the visible pride - when he made his way up for the first time without falling... man. That's the kind of mental image you keep with you forever. A good one.
Then we'd head back down, drive into town, shower, and have the rest of the day to explore the "civilized" outer ring of the island. We'd make a pilgrimage to the Atlantic Brewing Company's actual brewery in the town of Mount Desert, the Hurricane happily playing with some toy by my feet while I discussed the merits of their Coal Porter with the tasting guy (his quote: "It's the best thing I've ever put into my body."). Or we'd wander around gorgeous Southwest Harbor (where they filmed the Stephen King miniseries "The Storm of the Century," if you remember that one), my wife meandering through the boutiques while I helped the Hurricane master the intricacies of stepping up into a store... and then stepping out again... and then back up and in... and then down and out (repeat 700x to get full effect). Or we'd stop by the Bar Harbor Brewing Company -- basically a shack hidden behind a couple's house on the outskirts of Bar Harbor proper, and home to one of the finer stouts (mmm... Cadillac Mtn. Stout) I've had. Or we'd swing out to the Jordan Pond House, and do the classic thing and enjoy some popovers while we gazed at the mountains and water. Or we'd...
Hell. We'd do a thousand different things. Because it was a vacation, and all the time we had was OUR time. We were a million miles from home, and exactly where we wanted to be.
(That's nice. Now get back to work.)