I’ve had this blog up for over three years now, and out of all my weekend trips, I can’t think of one that more truly encapsulates the spirit of the “Weekend Roady” name better than the one I took this past weekend.
I often talk about maximizing one’s weekend and squeezing as much as you can out of the precious few hours we get every week outside of our working lives. For the road trip warrior, this means targeting a spot on the map, making sure you can get there and back in the allotted time, and then using whatever extra time to “capture” other interesting locations along the way that you wouldn’t necessarily have made a prime day-trip/weekend-trip target.
For me, that usually means eyeing the 401 National Park Service units scattered throughout the country as a I feverishly work on adding to my passport stamp collection. Fortunately, this past weekend provided ample opportunity for driving by some sites in areas I don’t often get up to. So where was I headed?
The summit of Mount Washington – the “top” of the Northeast U.S. At 6,288 feet it is the highest point in the New England states and one of the highest peaks east of the Mississippi (slightly larger mountains are located in Tennessee and North Carolina). It’s been on my radar since I found out about it a couple years ago, and my buddy Sean (who had been to the famous Cog Railway station – but never taken to the top) was more than down with going up with me.
Thing is, I was working Columbus Day, so there was very little wiggle room to get this done. Living near D.C. put me at nearly ten hours away from Mount Washington. Add to that the fact that Sean lives in the heart of Manhattan, necessitating that I drive into the wild and woolly roads of New York City on each day of the trip.
So, without further ado, here is a general rundown on how this all went down…
Saturday, 3:50 AM — ALARM!
Saturday, 4:00 AM — Start the car (don’t worry, I had showered up late the prior night and had everything packed in the car and ready to go).
Saturday, 8:15 AM — Arrive at the doorstep of Sean’s NYC apartment.
Saturday, 8:40 AM — Finally find parking on 96th street, grab breakfast at a nearby diner.
Saturday, 11:00 AM-ish — NATIONAL PARK NUMERO UNO! I FINALLY grab the Weir Farm for my passport and patch collection. This is – in my mind – one of the quirkier national park sites, being that it’s the only one related to painters (in this case, J. Alden Weir and other artists who came to paint at the farm). It’s also the only park unit in Connecticut. I had my eyes on it for awhile, but at 5+ hours away, it always seemed out of reach. The rain was coming down steady, so we stayed for all of 25 minutes, but it was enough to take in the grounds and a couple buildings. I purchased a book to read later. I was satisfied.
Saturday, Noon — Lunch in Sandy Hook, CT. Being close to the Weir Farm, I decided to drive on into the Newtown/Sandy Hook area. What a beautiful New England town! Lunch at the Foundry Tavern was amazing and, if you ever go, order up the yucca fries. Smooth and potato-y, but not a potato at all. We did find a monument to the horrible tragedy at the Elementary school, but I felt it would be entirely disrespectful to drive anywhere near the school.
Saturday, 1:30 PM-ish — NATIONAL PARK NUMBER TWO! The Springfield Armory in Springfield, MA. There are actually quite a few park units in Massachusetts, but I rarely get to this state, and when I do, I’m not there very long (one of the few states I haven’t spent a night in). The Armory is now part of a community college, but was once a massive arsenal of weaponry for the U.S. government. It’s collection of American armaments is the world’s largest. Best of all, it’s FREE!
Saturday, 4:00 PM – Check into hotel in Nashua, NH
Saturday, 5:00 PM — Head into Pelham, NH (the southernmost town in New Hampshire!) to check out the Pinball Wizard Arcade, one of the few stand-alone arcades remaining in the U.S. Donkey Kong anyone?
Saturday, 8:00 PM — PIZZA!
Saturday, 10:00 PM – Sunday, 6:00 AM — SLEEP
Sunday, 6:45 AM — Head for Mount Washington!!
Sunday, 9:00 AM — Arrive at the Mount Washington Cog Railway station
Now, excuse me while I interrupt this timeline…
We originally planned to drive up to the top of Mount Washington (see: Auto Road), but I developed concerns over icy conditions on the road delaying us as well as not being entirely comfortable with taking a rental car on the journey (which requires some very heavy braking on the ride down). So I decided to purchase Cog Railway tickets instead.
For those that don’t know, the Cog Railway at Mount Washington is the oldest in the world of its kind (one built entirely for scaling a mountain). This and Pike’s Peak are the two most famous in the U.S. (there is a newer one in Hancock, Michigan – it goes to a mining shaft). This is truly the old school method of getting up the mountain (sans actually climbing it).
Now that I’ve been to the top, I wouldn’t recommend any other time to go other than October. There is an otherworldly vibe once you pass the treeline. This may be the east coast of the U.S., but nothing in the east coast looks like this. This could be a base station in Antarctica during the summer. Nearly everything is frozen over in rime ice (essentially frozen fog). Some of the worst documented weather in the world exists here (including winds upward to 230+ mph!). We had it lucky, we got to experience the frozen nature of the summit while enjoying temperatures in the mid-20s and a relative lack of wind. We had clear views to the north and a heavenly cloud cover to the south. Despite the bevy of tourists, it was also relatively peaceful.
Our ride up was at 10:30 AM and we arrived around 11:15, with one hour to take in the sights before heading down at 12:15. At 1 PM, we raced back to the car, for I had more park unit to track down before sundown!
Sunday, 3:15 PM — NATIONAL PARK NUMBER THREEEEE! Arrive in Woodstock, VT at the Billings Farm, part of the Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historic Site. Like the Weir Farm, this little curio is the only park unit in Vermont. It’s also important to me, I spent 1985-2011 in Billings, MT (i.e., all of my childhood and young adult life). The town was named after Frederick Billings, a noted conservationist (and President of the Northern Pacific Railway). The old library I used to work at, the Parmly Billings Library (since demolished and replaced with a beautiful new library) was named after his son, Parmly Billings. The fact that we had to cross a covered bridge to get here made it doubly worth it!
Sunday, 9:15 PM — Drop Sean off at his NYC apartment. I curse my GPS as it routes me through Broadway en route to the Lincoln Tunnel.
Monday, 1:45 AM — Arrive, just in time to catch a few hours of sleep before a late morning start at work.