North Conway, 2008

Cris and I try to go away each year on President's Day weekend, in February. This year, his job called him away to California and our trip had to be postponed into March. I'd worried that we wouldn't get to do any skiing, as Boston was finally bare of snow, but I needn't have worried. Pictures.

Fri Mar 14/08

We packed up the car and then Cris drove me to work, where I dropped my skis in my office. I showed him my new digs, and then we went back down to the car and found a parking lot near my work - I could see the car from W.'s office. He continued on to work by T and I was at my desk by 8am. I'd worked extra hours that week so I could take off the afternoon, but Cris had a meeting that was scheduled for the afternoon and he was going to call me once it was done and he was ready to go. I kept waiting for the call, but he ended up delayed until 4, at which point I'd put in a full day and didn't need to use up any of my accumulated hours. I picked up the car from the lot across the street and was able to make my way downtown to where he was waiting with only regular Boston driving hassles. I swapped the driver's seat for the passenger seat, though, and let him drive us from there. We were fine until we hit traffic on the highway, but it kept moving if slowly and we made our way up to NH and to 16 with no major delays. We listened to a couple of mix cds that Cris got from friends.

The directions to Stonehurst were pretty simple, it was on 16 just past North Conway, so I started keeping an eye open for it once familiar features started to appear (the happy pig on the BBQ billboard!). We pulled up at around 7pm, and checked in, taking one load of stuff up to the room. They didn't allow skis in the lodge, though there was some confusion, the sign outside said no, the woman said I could look at the stairs and try, but then she said no when we came down for dinner - it's not really set up as an active base hotel, they have cross country ski trails, but don't rent equipment, and don't have anywhere to store skis if you brought them. I was a bit nervous about my skis sitting in the car overnight, they didn't fit in the trunk and so were just in the back seat, but they were fine.

We'd bought a package that included breakfast and dinner along with the room, and so I did a quick change out of my work and travelling clothes into a skirt and nice sweater before we came down to eat. The menu was nicely varied, and the cocktail menu heavy on the old fashioned recipes. I ordered a grapefruit and gin based drink to celebrate finally getting to our vacation time (Highland Rose: Hendrick's Gin, Pama Pomegranate Liqueur, pineapple juice & a Grand Marnier floater), and ordered the scallops paparadelle. I was *so* tired from over work the whole week that I almost fell asleep in my pasta, and I barely had an appetite, just picking out the scallops and a few strands of pasta and asking for the rest to be packed up. I put it out in the car for the night (no fridge in the room) and brought in my favourite pillow and all the non sports gear before heading up to the room and running water into the big jacuzzi bath. That was bliss, and I barely made it to the bed before falling asleep - I made it a bit too hot, oops, but I had lots of tension to get rid of. And rid of it I was, falling asleep by 10pm or so.

Sat Mar 15/08

The smell of bacon wafting up from the restaurant downstairs woke me up, and lured me downstairs. I tucked into a substantial plate of french toast (made with thick cut raisin bread). We went back upstairs and changed into active clothes, ready for a day of potential skiing. But first, we had to figure out something to do with my exiled skis. We went to EMS first, so Cris could get a new winter jacket that was less bulky than his parka, and I picked up a touque to keep my ears warm, going for the horizontal striped black/grey/white one as it was warmer than the knit black one. I tried to find a pair of base layer tights, but all the ones available were either XL or XS. They didn't have any ski rack parts that would match the roof rack Cris already had, so they directed us across the street to Joe's. Walking out of EMS, I spotted a poster advertising dog sledding, with only a phone number, no address, but with cheapish evening rides. Cris offered to call and see if any spots were available that night, and we moved onto the porch. He got a talkative guy on the line, turned out that the evening rides were booked up, but they had a space for the longer trail ride that afternoon. It was only about 11am, and we did a spur of the moment booking for 1:30, getting verbal directions to a place just across the border in Maine. We were going dog sledding. :)

At Joe's I found just what I wanted for a ski rack, the simple model that will hold up to 4 skis or snow boards. I put it behind the counter and tried on some ski pants, but the whole low rise thing is still going on and I couldn't find anything comfy. Installing it was easy peasy, but it ended up being impossible to swap the locks from the bike rack onto the ski rack, due to the old style lock cams. Cris made a brilliant suggestion and I dug out my cable style ski lock and used that to secure the skis to the locked uprights. We still had some time before we had to head up to Maine, so we stopped in at Katrina's Organic Market, across from Stonehurst, to get stuff to go with our leftovers from last night's dinner. Unfortunately they didn't have any bread for Cris to make a sandwich, but they did have a small smoothie bar, so I got them to make me one, and we grabbed forks. We went back to our room to eat, and then headed out, north up 16. We went through the White Mountains National Forest, past the AMC lodge at Pinkham notch.

I was a bit dubious about the directions, to go to the end of the last road, where the plowing stopped, and especially dubious as we passed a sign as we turned on to it: This road not maintained for winter driving. Turned out that they literally didn't plow it past a certain point, there was a 4 foot snow bank leading up onto a snowy trail, with some cars and two trucks parked there, with dogs chained up. Paul was there to greet us, and gave us a primer on now to get in and out of the sled, what to expect from the ride, and introduced us to some of the dogs. Soon, the previous ride's participants came barrelling down the road/trail, and they helped Steve unhook the dogs and water them. We got to help hooking up our dogs to the same sled, the first one I grabbed by the collar was pulling hard, and I had to, as directed, pull his front legs off the ground so that I wouldn't get pulled over. The second was less enthusiastic, and the third was nice and calm, he was leading me but not pulling. Cris got in first, I nestled in front of him, we were zipped in and we were off. :) The dogs go from zero to I'M RUNNING! in about 1 second, I had to brace myself so I'd not crack against Cris's head. The unadvertised part of the adventure was that the dogs would void their bowels soon after starting to run, without stopping. One was so good at pooping on the run that he'd be running (and keeping up!) just on his front legs. Luckily none of them caught stuff with their back feet, so it was just the smell we had to deal with. Lots of snow mobilers were out, Steve wasn't happy about how they'd gun their engines while passing us. We had a train of about 12 dogs, but they were all real professionals, working dogs to the core, and would go "on by" without a glance at the other trails nor noisy people movers. After a bit, Steve asked if one of us wanted to help drive, and Cris hopped out and onto the runners. It was neat riding by myself for a while, but then I volunteered to drive as well. Man, it's a workout! I had to balance on one side while pushing with the other foot, then switch to both feet on and hauling the whole frame to the side. Steve was with both of us as we drove, but at one point, he had to stop the sled to untangle the dogs. As he finished, way up the line, he told me to let off the foot brake. So, for a brief period, I was driving by myself, and then he hopped on. Awesome. :) I had to hop off as we got to the turn around point, as it was clogged with snow mobiles (it was a look out point) and Steve had to guide the dogs precisely. He gave them a snack and I pet some of them while they were waiting for the bag of meat to get to them. Some of the dogs took a break, lying down or rolling a bit, but soon they were straining at the harness, ready to run back. I got to drive a bit longer, but it was mostly down hill and that required some finesse, so a while later, I got back into the sled with Cris. There were some moments of quiet, just the dogs panting and running and the snow gliding past underneath, that were just magic. We pulled back up to the end, where the road reappeared under the snow pack, said our goodbyes to Steve (Paul had packed up some of the other dogs in the truck mounted kennels and moved them out) and got back in the car. I was glad I'd taken an allergy pill, I was half covered in dog hair. Steve definitely gave the impression that he loved dogs more than people (in fact I think he said so more than once :) ), and I'm very glad that our spur of the moment decision resulted in such a fun afternoon. We were out for about 2.5 hours, and it just flew by.

Back to the hotel, and I took a quick shower to get the dog hair out of my eyes, hair, etc, and changed my clothes from the skin out. Putting on a nice top and skirt after grubbing about with dogs most of the day was nice. :) I was feeling more awake, and hungrier, at dinner that night, so I started off with a 20th Century Cocktail (Plymouth Gin, Lillet white wine, creme de cacao & lemon... ). I had the turkey soup to start, very yummy, and the plank baked salmon for my main course, and it was some of the best salmon I've had. For dessert we were torn over the tira misu and the molten chocolate cake, so we each ordered one and then swapped half way through. I *loved* the molten chocolate cake, the tira misu was light on the rum, and more custardy than I prefer. After dinner it was time for a proper hot tub soaking, and some reading before nodding off.

Sun Mar 16/08

Breakfast was a substantial Belgian waffle for me, and some brochure browsing, as I'd spotted the rack of ski resort hand outs on the other side of the stairs. Cris was willing to give Wildcat a try, despite their lower ratio of beginner hills, especially because they had a sweet deal on Sunday afternoon lift tickets: ski 12-4pm for $20. We decided to fill up the morning by snow tubing. The mountain in downtown North Conway, Cranmore, offered 2 hour passes for $18, so we were off. We got there right at nine, just in front of a big group of young boys with a semi annoying coach (the local ski team, I think). I was a bit disappointed to find that it wasn't as big as advertised - there were only three lanes and one lift, I think the other four lanes and one lift were ... gone? missing? hard to find? I asked one girl about it, but she didn't know where they were. So, it was like tubing on the bottom half of the place I went to in Utah. Still fun, but by the end of 2 hours, we were more than done. There was a super excited 2 or 3 year old boy tubing with his dad, they started off in a single tube, and the toddler would scream and laugh the whole way down. After a while, he got his own tube, and they went down in pairs (Cranmore limits it to 4 tubes at a time, no huge trains here), with the toddler screaming at his dad to let go. :) The older boys were, of course, having snow ball fights, and some of the staff built a jump at the bottom of the middle ramp, without really warning anyone. I almost got whiplash going over it, and avoided it until it got flattened. Cris and I raced a couple of times, that was fun. :) After a couple of joint descents, I agreed to try spinning, man those teenagers can impart some wicked spin to the tubes! It was super fun after all, and I didn't get motion sick, so spinning it was from then on, unless we were racing. :) The snow was falling lazily down in big flakes, and the temp was just about freezing, a perfect day for tubing. More families with kids started at 10, most of the toddlers then would go down with really worried looks in their faces, just peeking out from their parents' arms. At 11, we spun our tubes into the pit and took off to get some lunch, going back to the Stair Way Cafe on the main drag. We just beat the lunch rush, getting in around 11:30, and wolfing down our brunch foods. I sprang for the lobster benedict and it was very good.

Then we hit the road, north on Rt 16, following the drive we took the day before, but stopping at Wildcat (woot! you can ski free on your birthday! too bad they don't open in September..). Cris went in first to get his rental equipment, and I kitted up at the car. I waited for him by the lifts and we went over to the mid mountain lift that let out onto a nice long green. We skied the first run together, and then he went off to the other beginner lift, and I went up to the top. Good snow at the top, and then ice in the middle, and soft spring snow at the bottom. It had been foggy that morning, it was good that we were there just for the afternoon. I had some good runs, but my quads were surprisingly tired from dog sledding the day before, and I took off to find Cris. No sign of him on the shortest lift green, so I went back up, and down the first run we tried. I spotted him down slope and sped up a bit to catch up. And then sped up some more. And then bombed down the slope, finally catching up when he stumbled a bit. I was impressed! He decided to call it a day at that point, but I wanted one more run, so I went up to the top, and then got side tracked across the mountain, going all the way across the long way, and coming back down to see him all back in street clothes and sipping his hot chocolate. Back to the car, left the skis unlocked and got back into my winter boots, and we headed south, back toward the hotel.

We ended up doubling back a bit on Rt 16 to visit the AMC lodge we'd passed on the way up, to browse their store, get some info on the trails, and see about snow shoe rental. Nice comfy place there. We stopped briefly at the grocery store on the way back, picking up some snacks for hiking the next day. I had time before dinner to take a nice (luke warm!) soak with my muscle ache reducing bath salts, and *didn't* fall asleep in the tub. Last night of getting dressed for dinner, and we went with wine instead of cocktails. I tried a local white that I quite liked: Jewell Towne Riesling, from South Hampton, NH. I went with the house salad as a starter this time, and had the Baked Haddock with Lobster Cream Sauce as my entree. It was a bit disappointing, still good, but not up to the standards that the previous night's meals had set. The cheesecake with sugar cookie crust was way too heavy for me, I only had about a quarter of it. I read for a little in the room, then it was time for a hot bath. :)

Mon Mar 17/08

I couldn't resist the stuffed french toast any longer, but it ended up being two pieces of french toast with berries sandwiched between them. Good but not up to my memories of stuffed french toast in Vancouver. We packed up and checked out and headed back out to Pinkham Notch in the White Mountains National Forest to go hiking. The wind was *cruel* in the parking lot, I was getting worried, but as soon as we rounded the lodge, it was cut off. We asked about renting snow shoes, but the woman at the counter said that if we were going to do the trail up to Crystal Cascade and beyond, it was perfectly walkable with just boots. Okay, then, off we went. And it was easy, it was like walking on the road we'd dog sledded on a couple days before. Except going up. Way up. The walk to the Crystal Cascade was short, and it was beautiful, though we almost missed it: it was up a steep snow bank over my head, a group of kitted out hikers were picking their way down and said that it was worth the climb. It was, water falling out from behind ice. I noticed as I was trying to get a picture that I was standing about a foot *above* the metal guard rail, on packed snow. Boston was bare of snow after heavy rains, somehow I don't think they got the thaw cycles we did further south. That part of the trail was easy enough we set out up the rest of the Tuckerman's Ravine trail, but it was a constant upward grade, winding up the side of the mountain toward a hut and then a trail to the top of Mt. Washington. I tend to bike everywhere rather than walk, so I had to take fairly frequent breaks to catch my breath. Then I started to worry about my knees on the way down, so Cris hiked up a bit further to look around the next corner while I took some pictures (the B&W ones mostly in the link at the top). Nope, still climbing, so we descended. We ran into an Aussie mom and son on the first bridge and took pictures of each other in pairs. We were out for about an hour, hour and a half, and I was running low on calories despite snacking on the fig newtons we picked up yesterday. So we put in our orders at the cafeteria in the lodge and settled into the bright airy room with a few other groups to fuel up.

After lunch, we decided to try the Old Jackson Road trail, as it was supposed to be packed and a bit less challenging than the Tuckerman Ravine trail in terms of elevation gain. But I'd noticed this side spur to Lila's Ledge that looked shorter and interesting. The only problem was that the trail wasn't packed. Well, it was, but under about a foot of snow. And it was only about a foot wide, and we didn't go back to rent snow shoes. But we tried it anyway. Three stream crossings on ice bridges, some hands and knees scrambling up steep slopes, and we found the sign pointing to Lila's Ledge. But no sign of an actual trail going there. Cris tried a few ways, but had to give up due to the stupidly deep snow, he kept sinking in to his thighs. We decided to loop around back to Old Jackson Road, following Liebskind's Loop. We lost the trail and found it again, lost it and backtracked, lost it and couldn't pick it up again near Brad's Bluff. I broke through up to my hips at one point, and my weight was positioned such that my knee scraped along some hidden ice (or maybe a buried tree branch) and I severely bruised my left leg. I was worried that it was bleeding, but didn't want to undo all my layers to check. In the end it looked like a scrape, no bleeding (though it would have cut if I didn't have the waterproof and polar fleece pants on), but as time wore on a palm sized bruise blossomed. I was now really worried about getting back, I rested a bit as Cris tried to find the trail, but the blazes were just gone (there were a lot of birch trees shedding their bark, we wondered if some bozo painted a shed piece). I basically forced us to go back, there was no way I was going to risk another minor injury on top of the bruise, we were over two miles out from the lodge with a technical trail to get there, and I didn't fancy waiting for Cris to go and get help if something else happened to me. Plus, it was getting close to 3pm, our unofficial start the drive home time. Luckily, following our back trail was super easy, no wind was hitting the ground and no new snow was falling. It was still a bit dicey getting down some of the slopes though, having to kick into the snow, and hoping you didn't hit ice, to get foot holds. Finally, Old Jackson Road came back into view, and the bridge where we'd forked off onto Crew Cut. From that angle, I could see just how deep the snow was. I made Cris stand on the bridge, on the packed snow of Old Jackson Road and took a picture, the snow was probably shoulder deep on him, and that's not even the off trail depth! We were really lucky, we should have had snow shoes with us, as well as a more detailed map than what we picked up in the AMC lodge. We walked back into the lodge, and through to the car to get a change of clothes - my base layer was sweaty, I'd worn one too many fleeces to keep a good temperature (note to self: remember to zip up the arm pit zippers before you wear that jacket again!). Warm and dry, we started off south, leaving behind the snow covered wilderness for next year, but making plans to come back and hike (and bike) in the summer.

We stopped on the way through Conway at the Army Barracks, where I picked up some pieces that I was missing for an event in a couple of weeks (finally found a leather aviator's cap for a decent price, and some cheap buff gaitors and a top). Next door was a fine pastry shop, River Stones, so, since lunch was long worn off, and fig newtons only go so far, we stopped in to fuel up on sugar. I got the amaretto chocolate cake slice, and only ate about a quarter before filling up, it was huge. Warm tea to take the cold off, and we were off. We stopped at the NH liquor store, I found a bottle of the Zen Tea Liqueur and picked up a bottle of Plymouth gin to use when my current gin ran out. Quick drive to Portsmouth, where we stopped at the Portsmouth Brewing Company (as usual) for supper. We had serious hat head and were feeling a bit haggard, but still got carded, sweet. :) I had the coconut noodles, which were good. We got home at around 8pm, I think, and I just had enough energy to throw everything from my suitcase into my laundry basket, shower, and head to bed.

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