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03 July 2005

Live Free or Die!

dianas_bath_adj_2_bestDiana's Bath

While binary oppositions as such usually make me cringe, today we chose to "live free" and head for the hills, er, I mean the mountains. The White Mountains, to be specific. I awoke early and downloaded a bunch of information on cool trails to hike during the day, and then on a whim, I called my aunt in Somerset who has a vacation place outside of North Conway, about a 1/2 hour from where we were going. My plan was this: if she didn't answer in Somerset, maybe they were there for the holiday weekend, and we'd drop in and say hi. However, she was in Massachusetts. Before hanging up, though, she gave us a great idea: go to Diana's Bath.

Aha! I had forgotten about this gem of a hike that I took with my cousins last November. We will, we will, I promised, and boy, did we ever. I wish we still had a digital camera so I could post all the cool stuff we saw.

The drive up was terrific. You see, we live off Forest Ave in Portland, which is Rt. 302. Rt. 302 takes us directly to my aunt's place in NH, so it's a nifty trip - 65 miles on the same road. After the initial 10 minutes it takes to get out of Portland, the drive is lovely. We pass right by Sebago Lake, then a lovely town called Naples, which is on Long Lake, then Bridgton, where Rt. 302 crosses Moose Pound with a mile long bridge, then Fryeburg, and then we're officially in White Mountain area. All of these old little towns have been around since the 18th century, and they have loads of old little cemeteries right on the road, and every time we pass one, Raf yells "Indian Killers!" (She's not sure she wants that published on the blog because she's worried maybe my Yankee family will disapprove, but I applaud her. While not all the dead we passed were killers of America's indigienous people, enough were. I mean, where are the Indians? I've seen NONE since I moved to Maine). The White Mountain National Forest spreads across the Maine-NH border. Once we cross the border, we're only 5 minutes out of North Conway where the Baths are located.

We started out with a hearty pre-hike lunch at a place called Scarecrow's, and with directions from Helen, our waitress, we quickly head for the Baths.

I read on a website that Diana's Bath used to be called Oonahgemessuk weegeet (Home of the Water Fairies) by the Penobscot people (used to be - don't forget the Indian killers), and the name certainly fits as the place is absolutely magical. The trail winds through an old growth forest, and then opens up at the baths, which are a series of short drops creating many pools for swimming. Did I mention it was in the 80s today? The Baths were packed, and there were about four thousand yellow labs running around off leash, so we decided to hike first and then swim later. We decided on the Red Ridge trail, so we started the gentle ascent to the trailhead up and away from the Baths. This is part of the Moat Mountain trail system. Almost a mile later, we reached the trailhead, but some mountain bikers coming from that direction said it was a bit boggy today, so we opted to follow Lucy Brook along on the Attitash trail instead (which Raf insists on pronouncing atashi for some reason, though it sounds more like some type of sushi or a bad pronunciation of the French attache than the Abenaki word for blueberry). At this juncture, we needed to cross the brook, and a large tree trunk laid over the riverbed, about 4.5 feet off the ground. Gamma and Seamus stood still while I held their leashes, looking at me as if I was crazy. Raf crossed first, and as soon as they saw her go, they followed immediately, with me in the rear. Good dogs!

tree frog

While Gamma's main menu choice yesterday was toad, today both she and Seamus were all about the frog legs (and frog arms, heads, torsos, etc.). We saw tons of rana sylvestris (tree frogs) today. Very cool.

After a while, we decided to turn back so we would still have time to swim. Back at the Baths, those crazy labs were still running around much to our chagrin, but this time we only saw two, and though off leash, their owners had them under good voice control, so we decided it was safe to stay. Big problem, though. Gamma and Seamus don't like the water. To be more specific, they are a little bit afraid of the water. And they are plenty afraid of the thundrous sound of the waterfalls! However, these dogs will follow us anywhere, so we just head out to the ledges in the middle of the baths, and they followed suit. Gamma did this by leaping along from rock to rock like a little red mountain goat, trying (unsuccessfully, I must add) not to get wet. Once in the middle, we enjoyed the views and soaked some sun. The water was colder than I like it, but I swam nevertheless. Raf did, too. We tied the dogs to a tree and they cheerfully guarded our island. We hung out for about an hour, and then around 5, we head to the car because we still wanted to explore North Conway a bit.

Before we reached town, we stopped at the strawberry fields to pick our own berries. It was fun. Less than five bucks got us 3 1/2 lbs of succulent fruit. We then made our way to the town center, where we explored the tourist traps. My favorite is an old-fashioned candy store my cousins showed me last Thanksgiving called Zeb's General Store. I walked out with some cherry string licorice and a raspberry lime rickey soda and 1 postcard (for my mother? or Raf's? was the subject of a brisk discussion in the car. Germany 1, US 0 - Sorry, Mum!), and R nabbed 2 sweet 'n' sour lollipops and a bag of kettle corn. We were going to camp, but everywhere we checked was booked because of the holiday weekend, so we zoomed back to Portland, where we just finished feasting on our strawberries (Hannaford was out of shortcake, so we substituted pound cake, and it was even better!).

We had such a great time, and we're planning to return to NH next weekend for a night or two. In fact, we've decided that the White Mountains are going to be our weekend adventure place for the rest of the summer. There's so much more we want to see, and it's so easy to get there, too. Hiking is also a free activity, so that's an added bonus.

To top it off, the dogs had SO MUCH FUN. They were super-well behaved (although a few frogs might disagree), and everyone we met stopped and complimented Seamus on his gorgeous blue eyes and Gamma on her overall majesty. While they aren't exactly terrific around other dogs, they love people, and they especially love people who pay them compliments.

Gamma Ray is curled up at my feet as I type, and Seamus is passed out on his sheep skin rug. The combo of hiking and the excitement of a roadtrip tires the dogs out (something rare in our household), and we feel REALLY good about that.

Raf has about 8 hikes planned already on the NH side, and I have the same amount on the Maine side (more than we can do this summer), and either way, we can always end the day at the Baths.

Plus, we'll never get lost. The White Mountains are on the same road we live on!

Tomorrow? I think we'll have a normal Maine day: tennis, beach, hike at Mackworth Island.

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