Glamping Luxury

Chronicles of a Wandering Marshmellow, Essay

Site 31 Palmyra Golf Course and Campground, Palmyra Maine

“I thought that was a suitcase you were towing,” our neighbor, two sites down says as we climb out of the car and begin going about our set up procedures. I hear Erin laugh and say; “We call it Marshmellow.” And then the normal conversation ensues, so cute, I’ve never seen anything like that before, you all fit in there? Our friendly neighbors offer us wood for our campfire but due to the late hour and because it took us four and a half hours to get here rather than three and a half Google first predicted it would take, all we have the energy for is to set up camp make a simple dinner and climb into bed.

We’ve come to this friendly campground just off Route Two in the middle of Maine as a stopover on our way to Cobscook Bay State Park. After a week of dry camping (no electrical or water hookups at a campground) and a week of mountain biking, we need a little downtime, more provisions and a place to wash our aromatic clothes. With laundry facilities, a pool for the boys to swim in, and hook-ups, this is pure luxury. I wonder if we should have found a campground like this for the next leg of the trip? Privately run campgrounds can be hit or miss. They can be like this one–large well-spaced sites, clean restrooms and grounds, and rules that are respected. Or the sites can be shoehorned together, the property messy, and large lights illuminating the grounds at all hours. Erin assures me we’ve made the right choice.

The morning dawn is overcast and cool, and it is nice to sit at the picnic table with a hot cup of coffee and write. An older couple out for their morning walk glance over at Marshmellow.

“If you put a hitch on one of those bikes you could tow that thing,” the husband says to me. We chat for a bit; he is a retired elevator installer and his brother lives in Milton, a town about an hour north of our home. It is a small world.

After breakfast, I get ten dollars’ worth of quarters and start the laundry. I sit out on a bench overlooking the grounds and watch the boys play shuffleboard. I call my mom to fill her in on our journey and she asks if there are just acres of pine trees as she remembers from her trips to Maine as a child. There are, I tell her.

“We used to make up poems to entertain ourselves on the drive and my poem was ‘Trees trees is all I sees.’ I still remember that one because trees were all we saw for miles and miles.”

I send a text of the boys playing shuffleboard to my friend Steve in Montana, another stay-at-home-dad, and the folks we were supposed to be camping with this weekend. “Live it up,” he tells me. 

“Oh, I am”, by doing our laundry.

“I’m vacuuming,” he replies. “We still rock. Lesser men wouldn’t think of doing laundry on a Saturday, much less any day”.

It’s true, I think, and then settle back and watch the boys, now splashing around in the pool.

doughboy

That evening I wander over to Mr. & Mrs. UPS’s (the husband is a driver for UPS) site to take them up on the wood offer and ask if there is a good place to get a local pizza. As I walk over someone asks me if I am Mr. Marshmellow, “I am,” I say. Mr. UPS tells me to take all the wood that I would like and the box of random woodworking scraps he has for kindling. He also invites us over for fried dough, which is Pillsbury pizza dough that you wrap around a stick and roast over hot coals. “We have some,” I say, and go onto explain that we learned about the dough on our last trip to Maine, only those folks called them doughboys and stuffed them with call kinds of chocolates. Mr. UPS offers us his powder sugar and cinnamon and sugar to use along with the wood. Then he goes a step further and invites us over to their campsite to roast our treats. Another neighbor goes off to her camper to get us a menu for the Palmyra Country Store so that we can order a pizza. The pizza is excellent, and it is nice not to have any dishes to wash. Not that I’ve been washing dishes on this trip; that role seems to have fallen to Erin, which is a switch, as I normally do them when we are home.

What-ifs and questions swirl in my mind. Should I be accepting these things from people we do not know? I don’t want to be rude and refusing these kind gestures goes against every fiber of my being. I settle with putting the two shakers on the picnic table and washing my hands. But it does not end there. Later when I go back over to return the menu and ask the best way to roast these treats, they offer me an adult beverage–that’s is easy to say no to as I no longer drink. They also give us larger sticks and their spray butter, and their pizza cutter. The sticks are extras and you can’t have fried dough without butter. The pizza cutter makes cutting the dough easier. They accompany me back to our campsite to give us instructions and we make small talk as the boys stuff marshmallows and chocolate into the doughboys. Oddly, though, we never ask for names. Perhaps it is just not important. What is important is the sense of community that has been established in the last twenty-four hours and Erin and my renewed sense that there are still kind people in the world despite what the news and the talking heads would have you believe. We can learn a lot from Mr. & Mrs. UPS about genuine and unabashed kindness.

That night as we lie in bed I am still worried we messed up and the fear of COVID is threatening to consume my thoughts. I whisper as much to Erin. She assures me that given that we were outside at a safe distance we will be ok. She would know; this blog was originally called Smart Men Mary Doctors.

The next day as we are packing up continue our journey I stop what I am doing.

 “We should have said it’s not a suitcase it’s a backpack,” I say to Erin. I am always quick with a witty retort.

Rouge Rodeo Clowns

Chronicles of a Wandering Marshmellow, Essay

Site 17 Burke Cottages and Campground, West Burke, Vermont

The blue dot on my phone says the trail is right here, but we can’t find it. I turn in a slow circle, stymied. 

The Kingdom Trails Association (KTA) would not be possible without the hundred or so landowners who allow for the nearly one hundred miles of trails to be built on their land–the trails are used not only for biking, but also for hiking, trail running and horseback riding. Last fall KTA lost some large sections of these trails when some land owners revoked access to mountain bikers. I heard it was because while out horseback riding the owners were berated by some mountain bikers. Our society needs to get its act together, and relearn how to be kind and stop thinking that we are so entitled to everything and that we have the right to accost perfect strangers with our points of view, shouting them down and placing the blame on their shoulders. 

Societal rudeness and the loss of kindness is not the point of this essay though, and I told you that story only to say that though we had lost some of our favorite trails there were some that had recently been reopened and thus I found myself turning in circles in the middle of the woods trying to figure out where we were. Because they were recently opened the trails were not on the paper map I was carrying so I was forced to use the app Ondago to navigate.

It’s a good app, I just hate navigating with my phone when we ride, and clearly it is a bit off as we do not see the trail that is on the screen. We continue in the direction we were going, but decide that the family should turn around and wait at the bottom while I climb up to the top of this trail that is clearly made for going down rather than up and try to get my bearings. At the top I speak with a couple resulting only in more confusion. The only option it seems is to backtrack to the last intersection. 

When we get there Erin and Noah disappear down one trail while Luke and I debate which of the three trails to take. We take a different trail, wrongly assuming that the trail Erin took will link up with the one we take. When we reach another intersection Erin and Noah are not there and I realize the trail they took is not on any map. Leaving Luke munching on cashews and M&Ms I ride back to where we split up and ride down the trail they took, eventually coming to another intersection of three trails. Technology got us into this mess but it also gets us out when I call Erin and figure out where they are. Once we are reunited, the boys take us to their bike camp snack spot along the river. While we’re reclining on the smooth warm rocks listening to the river tumble past munching on our snacks, Luke nonchalantly says. “Sasquatch is just a rodeo clown gone rouge.” Then he goes back to eating his snack. 

By the middle of the week the heat comes back with a vengeance but ever the troupers and now astride new bikes that we luckily found at the Village Sports Shop, the boys are ready to ride. We start in town and ride along trails named Ware’s Davis, White School and Upper Pond Loop. As we ride through a field along the road a honey wagon passes us. These are trucks fitted with tanks that are filled with five hundred gallons of liquid manure that the farmers spread on the fields. The smell is noxious and it drifts through the woods as we ride. Noah and I want to try a trail called Nose Dive and another one called Farm Junk, but the heat has gotten to Luke and Erin so they decide to head back to town via a new trail called New School. A trail that is, I mistakenly tell them, all downhill. Nose Dive is ho-hum but Farm Junk is great and aptly named, given the variety of detritus that litters the sides of the trail. Somehow we miss New School but when I pull out my phone to check the map, I learn this is not such a bad thing. A text from Erin reads: New School Sucks! Flat and in the sun the whole way. The manure scent is growing stronger as the trail leads us into a field where at the far end we see the honey wagon rumbling toward us, spaying its dreadful payload in a several-meter-long arch over the field. I fell in a manure pile as a kid, after making the poor choice of believing I could walk across its crusted top to save time. I ended up sinking up to my waist and my mom made me strip and hose off on the back porch. I have no desire to repeat this especially with the extra potent liquid manure. 

“Pedal hard” I yell over the noise of the truck 

Noah puts the hammer down and we race around the edge of the field keeping one eye peeled for the trail back into the woods and the other on the honey wagon. We stop just inside the tree line breathless and manure free as the honey wagon rumbles past on its way to get another load. 

Reunited with Erin and Luke it is time to go swimming, though we can swim in the river right here in town we decide to drive thirty minutes north to Lake Willoughby. Flanked by two sheer cliffs that reach down to the water’s edge near the center, this five-mile-long lake resembles an Alaskan fjord more than the deepest lake within the borders of Vermont. The northern beach is by far the best, at a half mile long it provides plenty of space to spread out and play in the shallow swimming area. The southern beach, which we go to later in the week because I forgot to get gas for the car, is much smaller with pine trees close to the shore that cause the water to be darker and the lake bottom to be soft and mucky from the decaying pine cones and needles. A path at the far end of this beach leads into the trees and we learn later that it eventually takes you to the nude beach. 

“I am sure glad we did not follow the path all the way there.” Noah says. 

It is not illegal to be nude in public in Vermont; however, it is illegal to undress in public. Talking with Gail, the owner of Burke Cottages and Campground, later that evening, she tells us that she had gotten a call that day from someone asking if clothing was optional at the campground. 

“I’ve never gotten that question before, and I had to tell him no. Can you imagine,” she says with a laugh. 

By Thursday the boys tell us they are done camping. Erin and I are worn out too and ready to move on so we decide to pull up stakes a day early and drive halfway to our next destination. We will stop the Palmyra Golf Course and Campground in Palmyra, Maine for a day so that we can restock our provisions, the boys can swim in the pool and we can do a week’s worth of laundry. With both water and electric hook-ups, it will be pure luxury.