After another successful stealth camp on Friday night (sleeping in the parking lot at the AMC lodge), I repeated my morning routine of lodge breakfast and pay shower. Nice to have those amenities basically right outside the van! I could have stayed in the lodge for around $65/night in a four-bunk room, but my SMB provided much nicer and certainly more private accommodations.
Being an absolutely stunning, picture-perfect fall Saturday at near the height of fall foliage, by the time I finished my shower and came out the parking lot was jammed and people were parking up and down the main road and at auxiliary lots.
The White Mountains are only about two hours or so from Boston, so you get a lot of day and weekend trippers. Hiking Mt. Washington is a very popular draw. While getting ready for my own morning hike, I fielded a number of questions from passers-by who were interested in the SMB (I had the top up). Again, it's a great basecamp vehicle. Also admired this sweet old restored Willys Jeep parked nearby.
I hiked up the Tuckerman Ravine trail, probably one of the most-popular hikes in the whole area. Many do the short 10 minute hike up to a nice set of falls, but then the trail kicks up significantly and heads up the flanks of Mt. Washington to Tuckerman's Ravine, basically the headwall for the mountain. In the winter this bowl is popular for backcountry skiing.
For those who haven't hiked in this area, the trails can be brutally steep and rocky and can put the serious hurt on hikers. You westerners probably think "It's only at 2,500 feet, how hard can it be?" But the Appalachians can dish out some punishment, even on day hikes. Between the rocks, the steep grade of the trail, and the recent trailwork that installed deep waterbar ditches every 20 feet or so, it wasn't long before I had broken out in a sweat.
My goal was to get up to the Ravine, a distance of only about 2.5 miles. But, to give you an idea of the trail, the AMC attaches a typical time of a bit over two hours for an average hiker to cover the distance. It's always amazing to see the varying states of preparedness for people hiking this trail, everything from the full-on backpackers, to well prepared day hikers (like me), to people in fresh white polo shirts and white sneakers, not carrying water or anything. Obviously, the herd self-selects the farther up the trail you go, and pretty soon the hordes of people thinned out and I was able to enjoy a bit of quiet here and there.
After my hike I made a quick lunch in the van, and headed back down the pass to North Conway again, as I had a few errands to run. The plan was then to head farther north to New Hampshire's "Great North Woods" region, where purportedly the fall foliage had reached its peak this weekend. I was going to do a loop, heading up to near Canada and then looping back through Vermont and then home on Sunday. I figured I'd find a camping spot when the time came.
Unfortunately, the automotive gods had a different plan for my day. After getting gas in Gorham, in the northern part of the state, the "no start" issue that I dealt with the day before returned. The van was dead, and sitting right in the middle of the gas island. After muttering a few words under my breath, I sucked it up and pushed the van over to an empty area in the parking lot. Thankfully it was a flat surface, but getting an 8,000# van rolling by yourself and trying to steer at the same time is not much fun. Several people watched me do this, but none offered to help. Remember in the old days when people would always jump out and help you push your car off the road or whatever? Oh well.
I sat for 15 minutes or so, occasionally trying to start it (it had been intermittent the day before). I checked my battery terminals, and even popped the ignition switch out of the steering column to see if there was anything obviously wrong with that. Nada. I was just about to call Good Sam roadside assistance (which I literally just had joined the week before), but figured I'd try one last thing and see about a jumpstart. I asked a guy with a big Dodge Hemi pickup if he would help me out. He seemed less than thrilled with the idea, but agreed (I had my own cables). I honestly didn't think this would work, but figured I should rule out the obvious before calling for a tow. Surprisingly, the van started right up with the jump. Whew. (BTW, I've started a separate thread asking for help on troubleshooting this issue; if you have any ideas, please comment at http://sportsmobileforum.com/viewtopic.php?f=39&t=14655
It was now 4:30, and I had to figure out a new strategy. I certainly wasn't going to head nearly up to Canada with a van with starting issues. I have an important meeting at work on Monday that I can't miss, and I didn't want to call my boss and have to explain that I was stuck in Flannelville, NH, with a car issue. The only option that came to me was to cut the trip short by a day and drive 10 hours straight home, by myself, without shutting off the van.
So that was the new plan, and I pointed the van toward home and started the drive. But all was not lost, as I was far enough north that the foliage was in peak, and I had a lot of back roads to drive before I got back to the interstate. So I took my time, stopping to take photos here and there and generally just enjoying the drive. I had to constantly remind myself not to turn the ignition off when I stopped, though. It's second nature to do so when getting out of your vehicle.
A very busy main-street bridge on a Saturday night. The bridge is the NH-VT border.
I cut across to I-91, which runs the length of Vermont, right on the VT/NH border. I've driven roads all over the USA and through Canada and Alaska, but I don't think you'll find a prettier stretch of interstate than I-91 in peak foliage. Forests and farmland stretching to the horizon, and very little traffic. A really nice drive. (I-91 southbound shown below.)
From I-91 I cut across Vermont on VT Rt. 9, which cuts E-W across the bottom part of the state from Brattleboro to Bennington. I was really looking forward to doing this in the daylight because it cuts through some nice country and the southern part of Green Mtn NF, but by the time I got there it was dark. It's a twisty, two-lane road that goes up and down a lot. Thankfully they have upgraded it in recent years and it's a much nicer road than it used to be. On the 40 miles I was on the road, I saw only three other cars going my direction (it was around 8:00 at night). It was actually a pretty fun drive, even in a big old E250 EB van (I was once again thankful for all the suspension upgrades I did last year, including a new front end, Bilstein shocks, and rear swaybar). The van handles as well as my Honda Odyssey minivan around curves.
From Vermont I cut across NY to Troy/Albany, then picked up the NY Thruway for most of the way home. A more direct route would have been to stay on I-91 down through CT and MA, and then pick up I-95, but I hate driving in the that whole NY city megalopolis and will literally go well out of my way to avoid it. The rest of the ride home was uneventful, with the exception of occasional bouts of terror when deer would suddenly appear at the edge of the Thruway, looking like they were ready to commit suicide by stepping in front of my van driving at 65 mph. Having hit a deer in my minivan, I really have no desire to repeat. A raccoon had similar suicidal thoughts, and was actually in the road, but I managed to avoid him.
Home by 3:00 a.m., after about 10 hours in the van. Got home safely and all is well, so a happy ending to the story. Thanks for reading!