Tolls seem to have gone up on this highway,I'm used to the $1 or so at each booth on 93, here it was $2 and $3. They'd given me the car with less than half a tank of gas, so when we hit Maine I pulled off before our exit to fill up for traversing the smaller roads and towns ahead. The gas station turned out to be a 7-11, and the clerk was restocking as I made myself a cup of tea and waved me off without having to pay. We all made use of the facilites and were back on the road quickly, only for me to completely miss the signs to get back on 95 going north - in my defense, after looping back around, they'd used a different name for the highway going north and it was dark and hard to read the signs. We got turned around eventually, and were soon branching off the interstate onto route 26. After spotting a cop lurking by the side of the road, I was happy to tuck in behind a local driver and stay consistently below the speed limit. Amazingly enough, with a group effort, we managed to navigate through Bethel and Newry, onto Sunday River Rd and off the correct turn to find the shared rental house, isolated up a long driveway on a dark cul de sac. The outdoor lights weren't on so it took a minute to find the front door, but soon we were enveloped in hugs and Christian was giving us a tour of the huge place. We had our choice of a single bed in a room with two, two free bedrooms, and a completely unclaimed bunk room. My childhood desire to have a bunk bed took over and I gleefullly claimed a bottom bunk. I brought stuff in from the car, setting out the alcohol bottles to share and putting my cooking supplies on the far end of hte breakfast bar in the upstairs kitchen. Done with drivign for the night, I made myself and a couple of others Aviation cocktails and settled in to hang out in the comfy two storey living room (though the giant moose head overlooking us all was occasionally startling). I'm pretty sure I made another cocktail for Sarah, or maybe it was just for me, and then when we went out to the hot tub, a bottle of Jameson's was being passed around. Despite my trying to take the smallest sips possible, and passing more often than not, I was still pretty tipsy by the time came to get out of the tub. Luckily my room wasn't far away (we'd used the downstairs hottub sine the upper deck one wasn't warming up very fast) and I had a bit more water before falling asleep, somewhere around 3am.
I drove us out and back to 26 and we followed it a bit further north to Grafton Notch State Park, and I recognised the area from where we went last year during another weekend house rental. This time I wanted to do the Grafton Loop trail since I'd seen it recommended in an AMC article. Turns out that the really interesting features are further along the 14+ mile loop than we would get on our afternoon hike, but it was still gorgeous. The forest had zones of colour as the various tree species dominated, yellows, reds and browns with some green splotches holding out for more frost. The ground was pretty dry (for once) and we had a couple of easy stream crossings. Then the trail turned to climb up a series of ridges and got a lot steeper. We encountered the only other two hikers we met along this stretch, they said that it was about 1.5 miles further on to the peak, with a good view ridge before. I was hoping to make it up to that, but had told people we'd be back by 5ish after hitting the grocery store and it was closing on 3pm. We stopped to take pictures fairly often, Chris was hiking with a DLSR and I had my new point and shoot that was beign frustratingly opaque about letting me take the pictures I wanted, time to dig out the manual. Coming back down the trail was pretty easy, though I was happy to have my hiking poles as my knees were getting a bit sore near the end - hadn't realised just how much of a climb we'd done.
We still had some time and daylight left, so I convinced Chris to go just a bit further up the road to Screw Auger Falls since I wanted to see them again. A fair number of families and groups were clambering about, but with a bit of patience I was able to get some water, rock and leaves only pictures. Chris had a neat folding tripod that extended like tent poles, and pairing that with a remote shutter device let him take longer exposures without camera movement artifacts. From there, we went past the Sunday River cut off and into Bethel to hit up the grocery store. I just needed chicken for the dish I was making that night, having brought everything else I needed from home. I also decided to get some tonic and limes so that I could switch to g&ts that night to avoid the strong cocktail pitfalls of the night before (though of course I grabbed a small jug of grapefruit juice for breakfast + Bohemians). On the way back to the house, we passed a wedding party that had taken over one of the numerous covered bridges in the area, and apparently missed seeing the group of our friends that went to the grocery store as we were coming back.
I was starving when I got back to the house and jumped into preparing the chicken and rice right away. After Jess came back and siad that she'd be skipping the dish, I put the red pepper flakes in to give it a bit of bite. While the dish was simmering, I ran downstairs to take a shower, I'd gotten pretty sweaty from hiking as it was warmer than expected. My food was finished first, and I ate a bowl of it then read for a bit while everyone else finished up.
Richard had arrived later the night before and was grilling steaks, Sarah and Kevin cooked for themselves downstairs, Ann made a delicious bean soup, Christian masterminded roasted brussel sprouts and I lost track of the bounty after that. I went back to the table to join people in some soup and brussel sprouts. Chris L proposed that we use our food coma in a productive manner and watch a movie in the huge home theatre room. Richard showed us an episode of Boondocks first and then we watched Inception, which I loved just as much on this second viewing. There was a huge couch of doom, perfect for snuggling or sitting on your own, and my urge to nap/sleep slowly went away as I digested food and got caught up in the movie. From there we went back into the living room and Cards Against Humanity was broken out. I eventually joined in and finally seemed to find a winning strategy and racked up four points, happy with that even though I was well behind the 4 way tie of 8 points. I was being more moderate in my cocktail consumption, mixing in non alcoholic options, but at the end of the game I asked someone to make me something and after I turned down Christian's offer (he makes *strong* drinks), Chris L handed me a bourbon based one (luckily a small serving, since it was delicious and I'd have been in serious trouble with a bigger one). Then it was hot tub time again, since I'd managed to cramp up my calf as I was moving from sitting back to reaching for cards, twice. I think only Jess, Chris and myself ended up in the top tub this time, and the smaller crowd led to a good conversation as we gazed out over the moonlight bathed hills, framed by the changing leaves. I was shocked to find out that it was almost 4am by the time we got out, apparently having successfully time shifted over the course of one late night. :-) A couple more pints of water and it was off to dreamland.
The drive back was fine, Ann providing the music this time and Chris taking shotgun. I called one stop to get a bit more gas, trying to estimate how much to put in so that I'd give the car back with the fuel gauge at the same level - Chris suggested 4 gallons and that worked out well. I got some tea from the Starbucks counter and was a bit surprised when the clerks were so friendly, forgetting that we were still in Maine. :-) The drive along 26 was lovely, and traffic was light most of the way down 95. I stopped at the NH liquor store so we could resupply, and I found a new to me kind of gin that I'm looking forward to trying (Uncle Val's). I'll probably save the bottle too, it's got a neat doubly truncated pyramid shape. Traffic got worse as we hit MA and I was a bit growly by the time we got off the highway in Somerville, only to be hit with detours around Union Square due to yet another street festival. I think we ended up behind a friend's car, as it turned down School St once we reached that intersection. We ended up dropping Chris off as close as we could get to his house and then detouring toward Porter to get around to Central Sq to drop off Ann. By the time I made it back to Union, the detours were gone and I was able to get a parkign spot right in front of my house to unload.
I'd kept the parking pass in the car, so just popped it out and left the
car to sit while I devoured some supper and decompressed from the drive. I
decided that it would be a fabulous idea to jog back from the rental car
place (it was about a mile away), so I did some other exercises then got
my house keys, my driver's license and the car keys and headed back to
McGrath. I left the car in the rental lot, dropped the keys in the box,
and jogged toward home. I was soon on one of my regular routes, and
decided that I wanted to go for longer, so detoured toward a playground
that had monkey bars to try and practice a bit on those. Still struggling,
though I'll drop in again to practice on the lower ones, having my toes
drag a bit got me further than just hanging. Got home, stretched, and
wished that I was still at the house with access to two hot tubs and good
friends around, but was still tired and happy to go to sleep at midnight
to be ready for work the next day.