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Sunday, 19 December 2010


-- Sent from my Palm Pre


Which of course means nothing unless you are reading this blog chronologically. But if you see the post below you will notice that this title is a response to that one. We strive for snappiness here on the Magic Bus. Even if I haven't updated it in a worryingly long time. Other Things have got in the way and Harv is tucked up in the drive outside snug in the full sized cover we found in the top box.

But anyway, no that wasn't Harv's last outing because we had another brilliant day trip at the end of  October. This time we headed down the Boston's South Shore through towns with the names of English villages; Hingham, Cohasset and Scituate. It was one of those fall days when the blue sky is almost too bright to look at and a cold wind blows through your bones. At Hingham Harbour we had great lunches at the Stars Diner which is an old fashioned sort of place with a surprisingly varied menu. We opted to go the traditional route and consequently there were fish, and also there were chips ("fries" in American" but "fish and fries" will never, ever sound right).

Tom enjoyed the freezing beach and we all enjoyed getting back into Harv and trundling along the little roads through the old timey landscape. It feels like old Massachusetts despite being as built up as it is. We had half a notion about getting as far as Plymouth but in the end we settled for Duxbury Beach which the guide book had good things to say about. Its at the end of a snaking beach road which gets narrower and ever more sandy at the edges as you curl through holiday houses, sandy dunes and dogwalkers. Unfortunately when we got to the beach itself it was....

It seems a strange thing to close off a beach car park simply because it is off season. Was there perhaps a danger that people would come and be unable to buy things at the souvenir stand? In any case we did what everyone else did and parked along the road instead.
The beach was wonderfully brisk. "Absolutely freezing" is another way to say that.

We stomped about for a good fifteen minutes before beginning to lose feeling in our limbs, at which point we decided it was probably best to head back into Harvey for cups of tea and things to eat. Isn't that just the best thing about a motorhome? Whenever you need a a quick spot of something to get you going, its available.

We never did get to Plymouth. In the end we belted back up the highway to Cambridge as the temperature dropped still further, feeling rosy from the sun and wind. I'm so glad our parents were all able to have a taste of life in our GMC.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Our last day in Harv...?

We've been spoiled by these clear fall mornings. They look so warm and inviting despite the fact that its decidedly crisp once you step outside. Heather and Jeff came to pick us up for a day of walking and outlet shopping and general tourism.

We made for Cathedral Ledge and revelled in the grand view over a brilliant collage of fall foliage. Tom rock climbed and we all got wobbly knees getting too close to the edge.

Its where they filmed some of "The Last of The Mohicans". There is a sequel coming out apparently. Its called "They Found Two More". (Overheard at an overlook).

We had lunch in a plain sort of Lobster Place called "The Lobster Trap" but the food was excellent and not expensive. Lobster rolls all round, even if we did feel a bit sorry for the gloomy creatures in the lobster tank with bands on their claws.

A post-prandial stroll around the shallow waters of Edge Lake and then back to the Conway's own monuments to Consumerism: the outlet villages. To be honest, I think outlet villages are increasingly a way for chain stores to dump their least popular items at prices which are barely lower than the actual stores. We didn't find any real bargains, though Tom is now definitely OK for socks. And so to Harv, where we turned the front seats round and got some drinks out and chatted away the last of the afternoon before dusk, and Heather and Jeff departed for their B and B. One more night in Harv - and perhaps our last, though I hope not. Its been great to sneak in one more getaway with our old friend and very hard to think of Harvey in someone else's hands this time next year. If that really was our last outing though, that was the way to do it, in another wonderful American landscape.

Lake Conway, NH

The fan heater worked a treat overnight and we didn't need to turn on the main heating. I think the aluminised honeycomb blinds really make a difference too, stopping the heat from escaping through those big windows. When we pulled them open we were amazed to discover a large blue lake sparkling through the trees, no more than thirty feet away. We hadn't been aware of it in the dark last night. It was such a pretty morning with the sunlight illuminating the changing leaves; flaming reds, yellows and oranges and every colour in between. The lake looked blue and cold and P and I felt we could quite happily spend the whole day in Harv, mooching about and enjoying the view. But it was too nice a day to waste so we unplugged Harv and made for the office for advice.

The lady there scoffed at any thoughts we might have had about going on the famous scenic drive. "I wouldn't go near it this weekend" she said, as everyone else would be on it too. She recommended a trail to a series of waterfalls - "Diana's Bath" - and drew out the directions on the map. Thus armed, we set off in exactly the wrong direction. In our defense I will only say that the map was somewhat misleading, given that it completely ignored the first junction at which we had to make a decision to turn.

But anyway. It was a long pretty drive past little cobalt lakes ringed with flaming trees, before we could turn around in the parking lot of a closed ski-lift. Traffic heading for the Frieburg fair slowed us to a crawl through North Conway and it was lunchtime before we finally got to our destination.

Diana's Bath was well worth the effort. Its a winding, leafy hike through the woods to a series of shallow waterfalls with plenty of rocks to climb and rivulets to jump; just steep enough to feel slightly dangerous.

We met Heather and Jeff for supper in a nice restaurant with a somewhat distracted waiter who was trying not to appear overwhelmed by what is the busiest weekend of the year in Conway. The roads were clear by the time we left and soon Harv was hooked up and braced for 28 degrees F overnight with the little heater doing its thing again. But there was an unexpected extra. This weekend is the last that the campground is open and it has beome a tradition for the regular campers to go into Halloween mode (three weeks early). There were orange pumpkin-lights stretched between awnings and trees, ghost lanterns, fake cobwebs and lots of trick or treating with kids dressed up. Tom grabbed a bag and joined in - holding the torch under his chin for ghostly effect. Everyone was friendly and ready for a chat. Fires were crackling and the clear sky was sparkling with stars.

Up, up and away....

Outside the Route 104 Diner
Along with the rest of the Boston Metropolitan area we headed north on Columbus Day weekend to admire the fall colours. Mostly they were red, green, amber and back to red again, initially at least. Stop-starting up 93 is a traditional Friday evening pastime in these here parts and at the beginning of a three day weekend it becomes a game for the whole family. We swiped Tom up from school at 2.30 on the button and flung him into Harv but we were not early enough to beat the rush. So, we settled back and relaxed into it, It was fine actually. We kept moving for the most part and after about three hours we pulled off the freeway and into the Route 104 Diner, which by happy chance was located on Route 104.

Its a small old fashioned aluminium and glass diner with a big extension tacked on. Inside, its all fifties memorabilia and capable waitresses. Steak tips for me, fried oysters for her and a cheeseburger for him - complete with one of those paper hats that used to be all de rigeur for diner kitchen staff. The service was terrific, the food was great and the atmosphere was jolly. If you are on Route 104 in Meredith NH, seek it out.

Back in the parking lot a guy climbed out of his pickup and came straight over to us. "That is an AWESOME rig, just AWESOME" he kept saying, walking around it, smiling and shaking his head. I'd forgotten Harv's pulling power...

It was dark by the time we got to the Cove Camping Ground in Conway NH, about 160 miles from Cambridge. The last few miles along narrow, winding, unlit roads with drizzle smearing the windscreen were testing. It was a relief to find our space, adjust the airbags to level off and get cosy for the night. The overnight temperature was forecast to be around freezing this weekend so I brought up a quiet little electric fan heater to cycle on and off and save the propane. Tom got tucked up and P and I assumed the position in the back with books and G and Ts, smiling at the fun of being away again.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

How do you like them apples...?

They were all like this. Honestly, they really were that perfect, although in different colours. Carlson Orchards near Harvard Mass is the biggest operation of its kind in the state and the orchards are planted on a south facing hill that never gets frost. The apples are slightly unreal in their perfection.

It was a bright crisp day and we'd driven out in Harv in the bright sunshine. As soon as we got off the freeway the road began to wind through trees just beginning to change into their fall colours. The orchard was busy but not seething when we arrived and we bought a bag to fill. Some of us sampled quite a few as well. It was really nice to see so many different varieties after the usual fare that tend to do the rounds in the supermarkets; all of which are designed first and formost for their travelling qualities rather than their taste. I liked the Ginger Gold which had a distinctly gingery flavour - delicious.

The event (for Nieman Fellows and families) was arranged by a former Nieman now running an excellent international news site He invited us back to his splendid house for drinks and apple crisp and I was hugely gratified to find so much interest in Harv, parked modestly on the lawn.

Everyone wanted a guided tour and I was only too happy to oblige. Many of the Nieman Fellows are journalists from overseas and I could see their sudden realisation of the potential for embarking on road trips here. I unashamedly promoted the idea of life in a GMC and there was more than one person who was distinctly taken with the idea...

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Oooh shiny!

OK. Time to do some upgrades and some replacements and some general messing about, which of course is the other great joy of these machines. On the top left you see a thirty two year old, non-adjustable airbag valve linkage. Perhaps I should have warned non-aficionados look away now. Too late. Below it is a shiny adjustable replacement which should make it easier to set the ride height. The old ones came off with barely a muffled harrumph. The new ones went on enthusiastically ready for their key role in Harve's future.

And here...BEHOLD the $3 Schrader valve that was supposed to keep the air in the air pump tank, but secretly let it all out very slowly so I wouldn't find out about it and tell it to stop. Well I did find out and took it straight off. Finding a new one was not easy given that I couldn't think how to describe it other than as "that air valve thingy" but Ace hardware online came up trumps and the new one went straight in with an air of no-nonsense authority. The air doesn't sneak past IT let me tell you.

Back on the road (for the weekend)

I'm a little late with this post but after a couple of weeks sitting about in a house with a roof and no wheels we got restless and decided to hit the road again. We struck out north for Cape Anne on a bright Friday afternoon, mixing in with a river of commuters flowing toward the weekend. Cape Anne is only about forty five minutes from Boston and it was great to be back behind Harvey's wheel powering along the highway. We'd missed this easy rhythm of the road and even a short journey was enough to bring back memories of our summer in Harv.

There is really only one campsite on this promontory: the Cape Anne Camp Site. Its hilly and wooded and the sites are secluded. Its nicely old fashioned with a terrific lady on the front desk offering no-nonsense advice ("leave a cloth on the table to mark your spot - I'll get you one") and a brilliant recommendation for supper. "Lobsta Land" was clearly named to drive away those with foodist pretensions and looks fairly unappealing from the outside too but inside it feels fresh and light with a view over the sea marshes and the menu is a modern take on all the usual New England favourites. It was a treat.

We woke up in the woods the next morning with shafts of sunlight through the trees. It amazing how quickly you leave the real world behind when you are in your GMC in the woods with a beach down the road. Wingaersheek beach is really beautiful with the finest white sand, big round boulders to play on and a long stretch of shallows for running very fast in if you are seven. Or even if you aren't.

We had intended to spend an hour, which turned into the morning, and then with a brief intervention of cheese and pickle sandwiches, the whole day. I looked like a stop light by the end of it and was somewhat crispy around the edges.

Jim and Nancy in Manchester-by-the-sea had invited us round for supper and given us GMC space in their driveway so we tore ourselves away from the sea and the sand and the hermit crabs to drive to Manchester. There was fine dining, there was ping pong and much hilarity and a smashing bunch of people who we will make sure we see again. We had a peaceful night in the driveway...

The next day we struck out for Russell Orchard which we had imagined as some kind of bucolic, victorian throwback with be-smocked haywains offering us wooden trugs full of blushing apples. Well there were apples. It was a huge commercial venture and, it has to be said, rather a fine one with everything apple-related that you could imagine.We decided against the wagon-ride and stocked up on various apple-related goods as well as some rather good fresh donuts made in one of those brilliant conveyor deep-fryers (which I have always coveted). Then to another beach - Crane Beach - on Jim's recommendation. It was very different, with rolling dunes and big, wild breakers. Tom was in it up to his waist straight away until a lady warned us about dangerous riptides caused by the hurricane many miles offshore overnight.

It was a good way to end our weekend and we left Harv a little sandier than he was. We came home with salt in our hair and alarmingly red cheeks but feeling relaxed and happy and wishing that this could have been the start of another epic road trip...

Monday, 13 September 2010

And all because of a horseshoe nail.

After two months of hard driving, Harvey has been resting in the driveway and we have been resting in our new house. But its time to get oil under my fingernails again so I have been going at a series of small jobs. First a day with a Rug Doctor to get the carpets back to their usual colour, then an oil and filter change and now I am chasing up a problem that caused the speedo to fail. This is it:

Its the plastic speedo drive gear which is designed to fail if, say, your lower speedo cable is thirty two years old, somewhat twisted, worn through in a couple of places and devoid of any lubrication whatsoever. You can see the chipped gears at the top.

I will get a new one and a new cable and a couple of other bits and pieces including the plastic transmission governor gear which is a cheap and useful spare part if that goes. Its supposed to be an easy job to get it out, but I think my exhaust headers are in the way. Any tips from you GMCers out there...?

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Cambridge, Massachusetts. Mile 4054

That's it. Its taken us 59 days to drive from Washington DC, to Cambridge, Mass. Apparently you can do it in about 8 hours, but where's the fun in that?

At the Megunticook RV Resort this morning we had pancakes and coffee and a bit of tidying up as the sun trickled through the trees. We hit the road and almost immediately a pickup truck flashed its lights and the driver gave me a vigorous thumbs up. It felt like a good omen. The satnav said four hours to Cambridge but that seemed a little pessimistic to me and so it proved. The roads were fast and silky with big sweeping curves. Harv was as smooth and powerful as ever, effortlessly eating up the miles. At 65 mph there is no trace of vibration, and the water temperature hovers just under 180, even at 84 degrees outside, which it was today. Hats off to you GM.

This part of Maine is mix of the old and the new. There are big towns with McDonalds and large commercial districts, and between them, little hamlets with roadside attractions dating back to a different age. One peeling billboard for a "Motor Museum" advertised car rides and "nickelodeons".

At Biddeford we pulled off for lunch thinking that the town may have echoes of its pretty English namesake. Perhaps it does but we never got that far as there was a Tim Horton's in a mini-mall on the way and having had such a good time there on the Canadian border, we though it only appropriate to give them another go. Clearly Mr Horton only recruits intelligent and easy going serving staff because it was just the same experience as the last time and the food was good too. So long Biddeford. Another time perhaps.

Once over the mighty Piscataqua River Bridge we hit New Hampshire, which was no more than a sign and fifteen minutes on the freeway. Then we hit Massachusetts where it seems to be a legal requirement that you talk on your cell phone while driving. Actually, local custom seems to dictate that you also slow down while doing this and weave about a bit in the middle lane. Or, as in the case of one elderly lady we passed, hold your phone in front of your face so you can text while steering for the off ramp, twenty miles an hour slower than everyone behind you. We both have cellphones so we should fit right in. At A and E.

At the Tobin Memorial Bridge we stopped to pay the toll and the young Hispanic guy in the booth gave me a big smile and said "When I grow up I'm gonna be like you man! Get me one of those things and drive all OVER the Northeast." I can recommend it.

The last ten minutes reminded me why we tend to avoid big cities on these trips. Cavernous potholes, hopeless drivers who straddle the lane when they stop, thus cutting you off from the exit you need, temporary road barriers which leave a gap just big enough for a car but narrow enough that one more coat of paint would make our motorhome too wide. It was good to get out of the city centre and into the street where we will spend the next ten months. The house has a GMC sized drive but also a tree at the entrance to it which very nearly did for us. We squeaked past it with less than an inch to spare, thanks to some lads on the street who were kind enough to move a row of trash bins which gave us just enough room to manoever.

Its now just past ten and we are marveling at the extraordinary luxury of a kitchen with several feet of counter space, a washing machine, a dryer and a sink with a seemingly unending supply of water. I'm told that its possible to spend at least twenty minutes in the shower, should you wish. We had supper at a place called the Lord Hobo around the corner and it was stunningly good, with the best range of beers in Boston.

Harv is parked outside; batteries off, cupboards emptied, freezer defrosted. He needs a good clean and there are several things I want to sort out or upgrade over the next few weeks, which I will reproduce in loving detail here no doubt.

What a trip though; from Pennsylvania Dutch countryside to the mountains of New York. From the foreignness of Gaspe with its impenetrable French and fascinating history, to the unspoilt wilderness of Nova Scotia and then the tranquility of Maine. There were whales, moose and bears; a breakdown which became a fun couple of days in Halifax with some terrific people. Some absolutely terrible roads, some absolutely brilliant ones too, sunsets, thunderstorms, crashing waves, smiles from people watching us go by in our funky motorhome - a little boy pointing us out at a campsite and saying "I would have THAT one". So would we.

When we set out on this adventure we didn't really know if it was feasable to buy a thirty two year old motorhome and launch off into the unknown with it. But it really is. It is the most comfortable RV either of us have ever travelled in and its no less economical than the modern ones. It is powerful and easy to drive; light steering with solid brakes which never faded. Everything worked as it was supposed to and when problems arose, they were easily fixable. Best of all though were the smiles it generated wherever we went.

This has been one of the great experiences of our family life. Tom is just a brilliant traveller, able to keep himself entertained for hours at a stretch while we sit up front, but also throwing himself into the wild surroundings we've tried to find; scrambling over rocks, plunging into rivers, lakes and the sea, racing through trees and across beaches. To be able to park under the stars, by the ocean, in a forest, is a special treat. Philippa and I have loved the solitude and the quiet, and the fun of the three of us.

The sad thing is that may be our first and last big trip in our magic bus. There will be weekends and possibly even the odd week or two, but we go back to England next summer and we will have to sell Harv in the spring.

It won't stop me dreaming about other road trips though - up the spine of the country from Texas to Montana, north to Alaska, down the east coast to Florida, or around the Four Corners. There are just so many roads still to do...

Rockport Maine. Mile 3862

It was a perfect morning in Acadia as if the park was mocking us for leaving. Tom's "cooking with eggs" repertoire expanded again with a quick lesson on boiled eggs, which we ate in rough wooden eggcups we'd bought for a dollar fifty each in Bar Harbor.

We'd decided that if it was raining we would scoot up to the freeway and stop somewhere north of Portland, but with the sun streaming through the trees we stuck to the coast and made for Camden. First though we followed the westernmost road in the park, which we had somehow failed to follow yesterday. This is the less traveled part of the island; the scenery is less dramatic, but it is every bit as pretty. It reminded both of us of the Devonshire countryside; narrow lanes winding through fields and woodland with scattered villages and glimpses of the sea.

Around one curve we spotted a familiar shape in the undergrowth and I went back to check it out. Sure enough, it was a GMC with wildflowers up to its wheel wells. It was faded but seemed to be in reasonable shape.

Somehow neither of us noticed the causeway back to the mainland, but soon we were back in a cluttered forest of roadside fast food signs and billboards, mini-malls and car dealerships. But that too came and went to be replaced by handsome little towns like Ellsworth where we stopped for a break. The main street had a tiny art deco cinema and a hodge podge of interesting shops and cafes. The Maine Grind is on the ground floor of a former Masonic Hall and is just about the perfect coffee house. Free wifi (natch), good coffee in cups the right size for a normal human, everything baked fresh on the premises and even a bowl full of hard boiled eggs should you be so inclined. Tom sucked on a mango smoothy made on the spot with a real mango, and P and I settled into leather couches and made arrangements for our impending landing in Cambridge. If this is what civilisation is like, its really not so bad.

There was more to explore in the building which had various arty and crafty type places, one of which had a female manaquin in a black wig standing guard by the stairs. She eyed me coldly when we came in, before dropping a plastic arm on the floor with a crash. We both pretended not to notice.

Caffeinated and happy we rejoined Route 1 heading down the Maine Coast. The road is broad and smooth and there is clearly more money around here. Harvey woofled through prim little villages like Searsport with large, pristine wood frame houses floating on expansive lawns, spouting turrets and widow's walks. Then to Belfast which burned down in 1865 and decided to build its main street from brick thereafter. We bought sandwiches from a red caravan where the rosy faced girl behind the counter told Philippa  "You speak English very well!" almost as if she was addressing a small child. She meant well though and went on to say how difficult she found it to understand someone she'd encountered the day before "He was from England and I couldn't get a word he said. He had to point to the menu in the end." The harbour was breezy and full of toy boats though Tom preferred the big rocks beside it.

Next stop Camden which is pretty but in a rather knowing sort of way with everything painted up just a bit too brightly. Its also somewhere that seems to prefer RV's to park somewhere else. Like Belfast. What parking there is, is clearly aimed at cars and one availale space was signposted "no RVs". We found two spaces on our second pass through and took them. The harbor was busy with pleasure boats, from multimillion dollar luxury cruisers to a tiny little traditional sailboat with a single sail we saw heading out. Someone had carved wonderful faces into the remains of an old jetty, and they stared eerily across the water.

Our campsite was a few miles further on and gave us our last night in Harvey, for a while anyway. We used things up in the fridge in a rather eclectic sort of pasta followed by blueberry pie, which is a Maine staple. Then we had a walk down to the sea at a small overlook. it felt like saying goodbye to this trip in a way. One more family movie on Harv's drop down screen; we all chose Wall-E which is really one of the loveliest things to come out of Hollywood. To the city tomorrow and new lives doing new things, but first, a final day on The Road.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Still in Acadia... Mile 3774

We had big plans for today. We would drive over to the eastern side of the island, cycle in the back country, eat at a hidden-away lodge famous for its "popovers" and do a little hike to take in the splendid views. Unfortunately the weather had other ideas. We woke to mist and rain. The Ranger said it was set to last all day and into tomorrow. We considered treating it as a driving day and heading south, but in the end we decided to take it easy, go to the wifi cafe at the other end of the sea-wall, then head over to the classic car museum and maybe go for a lobster supper somewhere. Somehow we didn't do any of that either. The wifi cafe was closed, though the wifi was still on so we sat outside in Harvey and blogged with the last of the batteries in our laptops. Then we set off for the museum in driving rain and somehow ended up doing a big loop which veered off well before the museum and brought us back to within a mile of our campsite.

Teeth gritted, we pressed on to Bar Harbor and found that just about everyone on the island had done the same and it was seething with moistened tourists. We crawled through town and managed to find a space between all the cars in the RV parking lot. Public information message here: folks, an RV parking lot is for RVs. They are the big caravans with engines. If your car does not look like that, you park somewhere else because you can and we can't. Are we clear..?

We had lunch at a place that was remarkable mainly due to its surly teenage hostess. In fact "surly" credits her with actually having an opinion about those coming in to pay her wages, when in fact she was just so utterly bored that we were like buzzing flies as far as she was concerned. Had it not been pouring with rain outside we would have walked out. But our lip-pierced waiter was a pleasant young chap and wanted to let us know that he too had travelled and enjoyed seeing the world. So all was not lost, but I fear Bar Harbor is heading in that direction.

I'm sure that twenty years ago - maybe less - it was a real place, and it still has a fine harbour and hills rising behind it, but the town seems to have sold its soul to tourism. Souvenir shops line up one after the other selling T shirts and lobster fridge magnets. We bought T-shirts and Tom tried to persuade us to get lobster fridge magnets (we already have some) and we wandered around damply, killing time.

Eventually we walked back through the drizzle and escaped in Harv.

Tom was glued to some new lego as we wound through dark, treelined roads back towards the campsite. We stopped for a cup of tea at the rocky sea wall by the campground to watch the waves crash over the rocks and smell the sea.

On the other side we saw a beaver swim across the pond. That's what Acadia is really about and I'm sorry we haven't had more time to see it. Tomorrow though we will see what the weather is doing and try to find some more wild Maine before heading on to Cambridge and the end of this journey.