Mancation #7 was this past week in Mexico City. This destination should be way higher on everyone’s list.
So there is this “thing” called the California Cheese Trail. I imagined it as a sort of cheddar brick road leading to a wizard who can instantly age Gouda. It isn’t. It is much more like the string of California Missions that the Spanish set up, except instead of Catholic churches and priests, it is herds and artisans. I should note that both are beautiful and have use for tasteless wafers.
It was raining when we arrived at Harley Farms outside Pescadero. We had never heard of Pescadero either. The rain was fortunate for us as it served to scare away all the people with sense and other places to be, so we had the place all to ourselves. If you want the place all to yourself you may have to plan ahead. Like a year in advance. The place is all booked from now till forever.
There is a reason why.
The first reason is that these animals make great cheese. It is the kind of cheese that inspires a bunch of poor planning lunks to quickly buy a Styrofoam gas station cooler to try to preserve this beautiful food through a long weekend. The goat cheese/chocolate cheesecake did not go in the cooler. We ate it before we left the parking lot.
The second reason to go is the dining. The party wasn’t for us and they wouldn’t tell us what they were serving that night. In fact, they never tell anyone what they will be serving. The surprise is part of the experience. It is a new menu every night (which is hard to fact check if they never tell you in advance what they are serving) and if the food is only half as good as the fromage, it will be worth it.
But again, the place is booked from now till forever so good luck.
There were some more adventurous than us who followed the trail down into the bottom of the bowl. Looking at them work their way down the trail it looked not so much adventurous than strenuous. Teddy and his principles to live by would have been so disappointed with us. We were perfectly comfortable with that.
It looked like the sort of fools errand that is easy in the beginning but then bites you hard with regret in the end. We chose to enjoy the vista without eventually resenting it.
In such a place and time one’s choice in company really matters. We were well matched. We both appreciated our surroundings, content to talk or not, to walk or not, and preferring being here deciding whether or not to do less, than being at home on the couching having decided to do nothing.
My weather app told me to expect a low of 30 degrees at night in Death Valley. We figured we could handle that. Of course once we got there my app stopped working. No, that’s not true, I had no cell reception and consequentially I had an actual vacation with no app interruptions.
The national park had just reopened after severe flooding and the sign on the road up to our camp warned that the area was closed. I loved that sign and the fact that it dissuaded the crowds from taking that road. There are in fact crowds in Death Valley in December.
The crowds show up in December because 30 degrees is much easier to deal with than 130. The crowds are much easier to deal with when you ignore the closed sign and go down that road toward Scotty’s Castle. The Castle was closed but not the camp ground.
The first sign of trouble was that strange whine the aluminum table made when we fired up the propane stove. We weren’t exactly sure what it was or why but thought it was perhaps just some sort of cold metal hot metal sort of resonance. Whatever… we had fresh carne asada to cook so we got to work. After about 15 minutes of the skillet sitting on an open flame it was still cold to the touch. Huh? I guess 30 degrees is a little colder than we thought. I attributed it to the wind chill.
Downing a whole tea pot full of anything right before bed is not the best idea but it was hot and I was cold. I am currently researching the effects of cold weather on the brain’s ability to process forward thinking. This is a direct follow up to the study I did that night of whether or not I really believe that mummy bags are intended for the sleeper to wear less clothes rather than more, in order to enjoy reflected body heat. I tested both theories that night along with an exercise in multiple midnight runs to the bushes.
Moral of the story is that I am not a genius and have been away from the camping world for far too long.
Also… upon our return we found that the expected 30 was overconfident. The thermometer registered 16.
Remind me next time to tell you about how the campers next to us weren’t cold at all since they were in a palatial motor home the size of a tour bus. But of course what else would you expect Stanley Tucci to camp in?
We drove down America’s Cup Avenue looking out at the marina and the rows of shops. We went down Bellevue past the Breakers, Elms, and the Marble house. We took the road till it ended and looked for a place to park. There are no places to park. We parked anyways.
Newport is salty aired luxury. Money with a splash of sea-foam. It is beautiful. Gilded, but beautiful. We climbed over the rocks with waves in front of us and mansions behind us, and we did… nothing.
Kaleo and I sat in this metaphor, adventure before us, wealth, responsibility and stability behind us, and we waver in between with no parking. This is what we do. We flirt with risk, dip our feet in the water, but cannot abandon the safety of the shore. We cannot inhabit the mansion, we not only can’t afford it but we have no idea who owns it. So we scamper about the lawn peaking in windows and talking to the grounds crew. We will likely never gain entry, and I think in some way we are fine with that. Envy is so much easier than ambition and we have convinced ourselves that the salt of the earth tends to lose its savor when placed on the top shelf.
But not Preston. Preston scampered over rocks like he had a plan. He has always had a plan and in so doing he will soon not need a parking space because he will have a garage. Kaleo and I will one day trespass his property and he will allow it. We will all be fine with this.
We had forgotten breakfast. It was our last day and we had still not finished off our cooler full of bacon. We set up shop by the old fort, cooking bacon while the holiday crowd launched their boats. Kaleo and I sat, eating greasy things, looking stoic. We are good at looking stoic. This fog of thought and sleep was interrupted by a pasty streak that came shooting from behind the car, over the rocks, and into the water with a splash.
Preston’s head came back up for air, and quickly the rest of him clamored over to hug a rock. His chest was bright red and he gasped with only marginal success for air. “C… huuuh… O.. huuuu… L…. huuuu… D!
Kaleo and I watched him soggily gasp for air, looked at each other, and we both sighed in disappointment.
I did not feel like swimming. I am a grown man who makes his own decisions. No one was telling me to do anything. No one had spoken a single syllable and here I was, Kaleo too, grumpily digging our trunks out of our bags. We are those special kinds of idiots called men. Preston knew what he was doing when he dove in the water. He threw down the gauntlet without warning and we had no choice.
Cold water challenges are great for the soul. We were all happy as we attempted to dry off and clean up the scraps of our breakfast. Nothing kills happiness like a ten year old.
“So have you guys been swimming?” the pudgy little guy asked as he walked past us, snorkel and mask in hand.
“We jumped in. It’s cold but we are manly.”
“I don’t mind cold. If you want something even mannisher… manner… manliest, there is a hole in the middle of the bay that no one has found the bottom of. My dad dove in it. That’s our boat over there.”
With that our manliness was trumped by a ten year old with a yacht.
Smelling a bit like a salty camp fire we sat in the car and drove south. Back toward the Bronx, the turnpike, and on to home. The conversation was mostly exhausted, we were tired, but mostly we were happy.
Above all else, happy.
Pulling up to the Ben & Jerry’s headquarters looks a bit like a woodsy Disneyland; crowds of excited people and well lit plastic. Standing in a crowd of people waiting to push and shove their way through a tour we were confronted with a sign that telling us this tour was about to cost way too much, and right beneath that was another bit of information telling us they don’t actually make any ice cream on Saturdays. We turned and swam like salmon against the stream of people and left.
The blurb said come see maple syrup being made. It turned out to be a gift shop with some sort of stil set up in the back.
There once was a time, back before cowboys and Indians, when it was French and Indians. We drove through the real world that James Fennimore Cooper wrote into fantasy. The land of the Mahican, Iroquois, and the Seven Years’ War. Before we could get to Ticonderoga, and before the British of the 1730’s could get to the same place, we all had to pass Crown Point.
Here once stood a French fort, an English stronghold, and three wandering mancationers. Today there is very little there, yet what remains constitutes much more than the American collective memory of the place. Grass has grown over the walls and chimneys are all that remain of the barracks. We lingered till, like the British before us, we pressed on for Ticonderoga.
Once we got to Ticonderoga, we found ourselves unable to enter. Unlike General Abercrombie who was beat back by French forces, and bad PR, we were repelled by a steep admission price. So, learning from General Burgoyne who came before us, and playing on the word steep, we headed for Mt. Defiance.
Burgoyne hauled cannon to the top of Mt. Defiance to capture Ticonderoga, we only hauled our own behinds to the summit and nearly collapsed from exhaustion in the process. I use the word “we” a little loosely. What I should say is a little old lady smiled at us nicely as she strolled past us on her way down, and while Kaleo and I huffed and puffed trying to stay alive, Preston was standing on a ridge shouting “I defy you!” off into the universe as loud as he could.
Just like the British defeat at Ticonderoga and the American desertion of the same place, our departure lacked drama.
The sun was setting and we were headed for Sharon Vermont.
When we met up with Eric he came bounding through the rain to the car and with his ever present grin asked, “you guys are sure you want me to bring the boat?”
He shrugged in agreement, grinned, and bounded back to his car. That is what Eric does. He grins and bounds, and on this occasion he towed his boat to Lake Carmi on our behalf.
This was all Eric’s doing, The lake, the lean-to, the boat, and the grin. The rain was not his doing.
As is required in any camp, a fire is the first order. I’m not sure why. We didn’t need it to cook, we would not freeze without it, and it was raining. None the less we held a tarp over the fire pit, built a log cabin, and Eric handed me a box of matches reminding me that as an eagle scout I only get one match. It took me two.
Kaleo lit the propane stove with one match.
From our store he pulled five pounds of butcher cut tri-tip, a roll of fresh mozzarella, and a bag of apples. I produced a bottle of home brewed mint-lime soda. Soaking wet, smelling like camp fire, we ate like kings.
Maritime adventurers, professional fisherman, and fools will all launch a boat in a downpour. After a good breakfast of bacon and eggs, we honored our position as fools. We land lubbers marveled as Eric bounded from shore to dock and from dock to boat. Following his lead we lubbed from shore to dock and stumbled from dock to boat.
We zoomed about a bit, played around a little, then decided on a spot to settle and cut the engine. Mr. were-bear and I set up shop in the back and broke out the bottle of craft soda, Eric and Preston prepared to fish. We of course failed to pack fishing gear, but Eric and his grin were prepared to provide. He pulled from the deck a rod for himself, and ever the gentleman, handed a Lightning McQueen children’s fishing pole to Preston. The good Dr. Preston caught Eric’s grin like the flu, and cast his hook into the deep.
Grins were all they caught.
Without fish but with frozen fingers, we eventually loaded the boat back on the trailer. Camp was broken and the four of us looked at each other blankly. “Now what?”
Ben & Jerry’s? Maple syrup farm? Apple cider factory? We were unsure and decided to first go drop off the boat at Eric’s house then just pick a road and figure it out.
We unhooked the trailer and Eric stuck his head in the door as a curtesy to his wife and kids. As is the eternal law of fathers seeking adventure, as soon as Eric poked his head in the house, one of his three children threw up on the floor. His wife encouraged him to get in the car with the mancation crew, but as is the eternal law of GOOD fathers, Eric just grinned, looked over at us, and sent us on our way without him.
The three of us back in the car again, looked at a clock for the first time that day.
Kaleo took control of the GPS and started barking out directions. The man now had purpose. We had a destination.
We parked in a dirt lot and walked a gravel path and into a manicured collection of cabin like buildings.
The place appeared well cared for but deserted. The door was open but the lights were off. We went into a gallery filled with wooden works of art and started nosing around. It did not take long before a well dressed woman to welcome us and inquire as to our intentions.
Kaleo dropped two names and she pretty much handed us the keys to place.
Again, well done were-bear.
We wandered in and out of workshops and class rooms. Chairs half made and projects half done were littered about. Students and craftsmen nodded hello as we made our inspection. We stopped and chatted with some.
Kaleo studied furniture design at a similar school in Tasmania. These folks here in Maine knew his folks over in Australia. Small furniture world I guess. So small that our unplanned arrival caused us to just miss one of Kaleo’s old instructors. He had just dropped off a new piece for an upcoming show. A piece that had not yet been revealed to the public.
When we finished our rounds the well dressed woman fetched a set of keys and led us to the back of the main building. She opened the cellar and led us underground for a sneak peek. Under a blanket in a basement that looks very much like my own (messy), she pulled a blanket off a wood crafted octopus/spider that doubles as a desk.
Kaleo touched the tentacles, pulled out the drawers, inspected the joints. Preston and I just watched Kaleo as he looked.
Sufficiently impressed we remounted our ride and readied for the next locale. “How long doe sit take to get to Eric’s over in Vermont?”
“We better get going.”
A must see.
Portland Maine is a nice town, even in the rain. Having realized that we hardy campers failed to pack a tent, the early evening was spent wandering the cobble stone streets, happily wasting time. We had no tent but we did have time. And Portland has plenty of pubs and eateries. Our kind of pubs.
As the night wore on, we wore out, and the rain persisted. We found a rest stop a few miles north of town and considered the last parking spot, the one farthest from the street light, our camp. As I turned off the ignition Dr. Chadwick happily said, “Well. I forgot to bring a rain jacket, but I remembered my ear plugs.” After which he promptly curled up on the back seat and slept. I looked over at the were-bear as he reclined the passenger seat, not yet knowing his nocturnal secret. I would soon find out. It must have been a full moon because not long after that seat laid back I was amazed as this docile furniture designer transformed into an aggressively grunting and snorting beast.
At about 7am the next morning, on the shore of a foggy inlet, the beast was quickly forgiven. Were-bears are apparently great hunters because this one produced 2 lbs of butcher cut apple smoked bacon. Good bear. We ate, I sipped mate and watched fog roll across the water, and by 8am we were back in the car looking blankly at each other.
Around 9:30, with no destination, not really knowing where we were, Kaleo’s face hit the window like a kid spotting Disney world and ordered us to pull over. Fortunate happenstance, serendipity, or maybe fate. We happened upon Lie-Nielson Tool Works.
In 1981 Thomas Lie-Nielson left his job at a NY based company that made hand tools, moved to Maine, and started making hand planes himself. What was once a small one man shop, is now a 13,000 square foot world renowned producer of woodworking tools. So much so that when three wanderers arrived in the middle of no where and wanted to take a tour, they were not just prepared for us, but were obviously used to visitors.
Wandering through the warehouse, watching people toil at machines, I half expected everyone to break out into a seven dwarves sort of song and dance number. These were laborers, craftsmen and women, one with a tattoo of a spider on his bald head, and they looked as if they -wait for it- liked their jobs.
Whether that is true or not, people love their tools.
North some more.