Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Hogs and Sea-dogs

Land Rover Expedition Time: Early - Mid May 1998

As Cape Cod shrank in our rear vision mirror, I couldn’t help wishing we had longer there. But, we had made it our goal to get up to Maine during this trip and we still had some distance to go.

It was perhaps unwise to have taken on such an ambitious goal, especially as we wanted to also visit our friends in Canada. We had been through considerable stress over the last few months and probably we should have taken it easy and built-in few more two-night stops. But, that’s the trap with travel. Although we hoped to return to this area one day, there is no certainty that time or money would be available in the future to do so. So, we pushed ourselves in the time we had now. And, of course, roaring along in a modern rental car, with no camping to worry about, we were seduced by the freedom.

Being constantly on the road, we had also got out of synch with the week days/weekend regime of working people. It had been easy to find cheap and pleasant accommodation over the past few days, and we had grown complacent. It was a Friday evening. As we headed for Plymouth looking for accommodation, we didn’t know that thousands of Americans would be pouring off planes at that moment in Boston and other major centres nearby, looking forward to some well-earned and pre-booked R & R in the Plymouth/Cape Cod area.

We drove around the main tourist area of Plymouth but there were no motel vacancies. We headed north and still had no luck. Rather than drive further into the unknown, we drove back to Plymouth and found an old motel that had one unit left. It was expensive. And yes, of course, it smelled of stale cigarette smoke. It was 8 pm and, as there were no other vacancies, we had no choice.

It was late, we were tired and hungry and we were stuck with sub-standard accommodation. This had happened all too often in the past and TH and I had quite a scrap. We each blamed the other for the predicament we were in. Eventually it was resolved by having some dinner. My personal motto is: “On a full stomach anything is possible.” I always view the world in a better light if I am not hungry. We agreed over dinner that we had become “mileage junkies” and we had both been responsible for breaking our previous rule of finding accommodation by 5 pm. We also decided on a two-night stop as soon as we reached Maine.

Back at the motel I tried to ring my friend Robyn, who was home in New Zealand. It would have been about 2pm the next day over there and her University graduation ceremony was scheduled for that evening. There was no reply from her 'phone and I realised she must have already left home was probably enjoying a splendid lunch. How I wished I was there, instead of in this grotty motel.

We perked up considerably the next day when we successfully navigated our way through what was listed in our guidebooks as the notoriously difficult streets of Boston. The weather was drizzly, so we decided on a tour of the USS Constitution – the oldest commissioned navy ship still in existence and nicknamed “Old Ironsides” due to its solid construction. In a gob-smacking stroke of luck, the USS Constitution Museum was having a special promotion - the museum, the parking outside and the guided tour of the ship was all free. “Hooray”, we said, “let’s stay all day”. Well, we couldn’t because the parking was only for four hours, but it proved to be just the right amount of time.

A young navy seaman had been press-ganged from his other duties to give a tour of the ship. He was a bit nervous, constantly shifting from one foot to another. Eventually he got into his stride and became more confident.

The USS Constitution was built in the 1790’s and was named after America’s founding document (The U.S. Constitution), which had been adopted in 1787. Built using the resilient timber of 2,000 oak trees, USS Constitution’s planks were up to seven inches (178 mm) thick. As a pig fancier, I was fascinated to hear that the ship's unique diagonal, cross-bracing hull design also prevented “hogging”. Hogging turned out to be a nautical term used to describe the bending upwards of a ship’s hull (or keel) when under stress in big waves. Too much hogging and the hull could snap, sinking the ship. I guess everyone would then have to swim to save their own bacon.

Photo credit:

One of our guide’s fellow seamen had crept up to our tour group when our guide was distracted and suggested we sing “Happy Birthday” to him, adding that it would make him feel better about working on his birthday. The compliant crowd was happy to co-operate and the poor sod looked at first completely amazed, and then sheepish, trying to hide his blushing face.

I asked him later when his real birthday was. He asked how I knew it wasn’t today. Well, the guilty blush was one big clue. However, I told him he had instinctively looked behind him, looking for the birthday person, when we started singing.

While the drizzle had held off during the open deck part of the tour, the rain set in once we had finished. It was too wet for a walking tour of the waterfront area, that we had hoped for, and the forecast was predicting more rain for tomorrow. We decided to get back on the road and aim for Maine. Sometimes you have to accept that you can’t do it all. There’s always the hope that we might get back to this beautiful city one day and, probably, there will still be walking tours on offer then.

We bounded over the State line to New Hampshire, noting the official nickname hewn out in a large slab of stone "The Granite State". We also noticed that many of the number plates (license plates) on vehicles had the State motto: "Live Free or Die".

True to our renewed promise, we started looking for a motel at 5 pm in Hampton. I spotted a nice looking one when I was peering down a side street. We took a few wrong turns to get back there and ended up trundling through what looked like a deserted old car yard.

We took it slow, as there was a lot of glass and old bits of car scattered about. Suddenly the door flew open of an old shack on the grounds. A woman, who was surprisingly well dressed, strode out into the squalor and started hurling abuse at us. We were on HER private property and she thought that we were also driving too fast. She was worried about the safety of her dogs. I noticed some yappy, hairy, four-legged things milling about her feet. We tried to explain that we had simply made a mistake and had taken a wrong turning. She wasn’t having any of that and screamed more abuse. She blocked our path forward and so TH had to do a three-point turn in a really tight area to get out of there, using the same "road" that we had came into the car yard on. The dogs, upset by their owner’s behaviour, yapped frantically and skittishly raced around our wheels. Thankfully, we didn’t squish any.

We laughed with relief when we got out of there. If she’d kept the mutts inside, instead of letting them out when she launched her tirade, they would have been much safer. I suppose she was letting them "live free or die" while also clearly demonstrating what New Hampshire prides itself on - being rock hard and self-sufficient. It was a big change to how we had been treated in the Land Rover everywhere else in USA. But, I guess we were now just common tourists, taking one wrong-turn too many and upsetting the locals.

Fortunately, the motel had vacancies and we settled in. I telephoned Robyn. Her graduation had been fabulous and, yes, she’d been having a long, happy lunch when I had called and left my message the day before.

Relaxing on the bed, I continued reading my Henry Beston book. I thought of him in his Outermost House, which was a scarce 20 feet above the high water mark. I was surprised it had taken as long as 50 years before the sea claimed the house.

In the middle of my gypsy existence, I envied Henry his year of stasis. Even with the sea growling at his front door, it must have been wonderful to just stay on one place each night.

© Eventful Woman, 2008

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