We woke up the next morning with a renewed energy. It was the last day of the trip—a time to celebrate yet be a little sad about the end of this cross-country adventure. We packed the car early and let the kids run around the room to burn off some energy before we left. It was also the shortest day of the trip, and we decided that this would be the day to do some sightseeing along the way.
As soon as we piled into the car, our little bundles of joy yelled “Dora!” in unison. There is a lot of giving and taking when you have kids; so having to listen to the same DVD hundreds of times as you travel across America seems like a small one in the end.
Three hours into our drive, I saw a road sign for Niagara Falls. “Oh, we need to go there,” I said with excitement while shaking Marc’s shoulder. He’s always up for an adventure, but when it comes to long road trips he prefers the adventures to stay small.
After some begging, and I mean real begging, he gave in and agreed. We pulled off the exit and followed the signs leading us to the famous Falls. I hadn’t been in nearly 25 years, and Marc had never been at all.
At first it felt like we had arrived in a ghost town, as it was the end of the tourist season and locals appeared to be closing up shop. Even the parking lot had just a minimal amount of vehicles. It didn’t seem to be a good sign, but the park ranger assured us that we would experience the full effect and beauty of the Falls.
Tickets for the boat tours were still available, but Marc was being a bit of a sour puss and insisted we stand on the observation deck and look at them from there. I didn’t have the chance to do this excursion the last time I was here, because my mother is afraid of water, so there was no way I was going to miss out on the Falls up-close and personal again.
After we bought the tickets, we hurried to the boat as fast as we could, because it was leaving within a few minutes. It was also the moment we finally saw the Falls, though somehow it wasn’t what I had remembered—they seemed smaller. Maybe they had had the opposite affect on me when I was here as a child. I could read Marc’s face, and he didn’t appear overwhelmed by them, either.
We received a briefing about the boat and emergency procedures, and then each of us were handed a thin, bright-blue, plastic poncho. Marc looked at me and asked: “Why do we need these?”
“I guess we might get a little wet?” I responded with a little snarkiness in my tone.
Along the way to the front of the boat, we noticed “splash zone” warnings on the floor, but I didn’t think much of it—maybe we were going to be sprayed by some sprinkles or a drizzling here and there.
The boat’s captain gave a little history about the Falls over the loud speaker, which was nearly impossible to hear much less understand, and I offered to watch both of the kids while Marc took some pictures. Well, let’s be realistic, I really had no choice.
We passed another boat with a Canadian flag going the other way and, of course, we all waved to each other, regardless of being complete strangers, and some yelled out hello. It’s funny how no one would never do this when driving on city streets, but standing on a boat wearing silly ponchos is totally normal.
When I looked closer at the people, I noticed how wet they were and saw that we were headed directly into the Falls themselves—we were going to get soaked! I picked up the kids and leaned my body against the railing for support. Marc happened to turn my way and waved, seeming happy after all. Silly man, I should have warned him of the impending doom ahead, but I thought otherwise. Let him find it on his own. After all, he likes adventures.
We entered the Falls, and at first it was like a gentle rain, then a thunderstorm and finally a hurricane. I watched Marc get pounded by the water while he looked for something to hold onto, and I braced myself as Boots, Button and I became drenched in the cascade. Surprisingly, Button was a champ and maintained a sense of calm, while Boots spent the entire time crying and screaming as if he were being drowned—poor guy. I would have gone inside away from the water if I could have, but once the show starts you can do nothing but wait it out.
It ended as suddenly as it had started, and we were all back in the dry under sunshine. Boots ultimately relaxed enough so that I could put him down on the deck. Everyone began cheering like they had just survived a trip on Noah’s Ark, and it honestly felt as if we had.
Marc came stumbling over to me, and I wasn’t sure if he was going to hug me or yell at me for insisting on taking this boat ride. He leaned over and gave me a kiss. “Thank you for insisting—that was incredible!” I guess love does conquer all.
On our way back, we saw some people in the same blue ponchos climbing up some rocks and being pelted by the Falls. I turned to him with a look of “lets do it,” but his eyes and said “no.” It was time to get off the boat, say goodbye to the Falls and continue on our way.
Before we knew it, we landed in Vermont and were less than an hour from our destination. We stopped to get something to eat in a small town that looked more like a tourist spot than a place people lived. It was the kind you’d see on postcards, with a main street, town hall, city library and covered bridge.
Believe it or not this town of 2,000 actually had parking meters: one dollar an hour with a two-hour limit.
It made no sense. There were only a few mom and pop stores and restaurants, but who was I to judge.
People appeared out of nowhere once we got out of the car, and I swear they began to circle around us—it was a bit creepy. “Colorado, huh?” one man said in a Perry Mason tone, pointing to our license plates. “You’re a long way from home.”
Someone knew his geography. “Oh, we’re relocating,” I said with a smile.
He held out his hand to Marc and with a big smile said: “Well, then, welcome.” Marc took his hand, and I could see the look of relief in his eyes. The local man waved to the others, who disappeared as fast as they had come, and suggested we try the coffee shop for lunch and have “one of the best cookies ever.”
The whole event seemed strange at the time, but I can say that after having lived in the northeast and visited hundreds of small towns like this one, it is actually the norm. They are a careful group of people, everyone knows everyone, and everyone looks out for each other.
We went into the coffee shop, which was in a narrowly built, historic home decked in vintage décor, and it was clear we couldn’t go in with the kids in their stroller. Marc stayed outside with Boots, while I took Button in with me. There was only one person ahead of me at the counter, and I thought it would be like any other coffee shop—take your order and move on. But we were in a small town, and the two were chatting like hens—clearly this was going to take a while. I picked up the small menu and opened it to a short and very expensive selection. At the bottom of the page it stated that “all items made with organic, home grown, GMO-free, vegan products.” It sounded healthy but bland. My kids weren’t going to go for this—Marc maybe.
I know it’s bad that my kids like junk food, but it’s the price we pay for traveling so much on the road with them. You don’t always buy what’s healthiest, but it’s the easiest to give them when arriving in strange places. I surveyed my options and selected the potato soup and a couple of cookies.
I placed my order when it was finally my turn, but the woman behind the counter sighed and said: “I’m all out of home-made soup—everyone here loves it.” I looked at the menu again and asked for two coconut macaroons, two chocolate chip cookies, a large black coffee and milk for the kids.
She put my order together and rang me up: “That’ll be $25 dollars.”
What? What was in those cookies? And was Juan Valdez in the back brewing coffee? I tried not to look stunned as I handed her my credit card, but I still added up the items in my head to make sure she wasn’t cheating me for being from out of town. “The first refill is free,” she chirped and placed my coffee on the counter.
I should certainly hope so. In the end, eating healthy isn’t cheap. When I stepped outside, I handed the bag of goodies to Marc and wondered how this was going to go down with him. He looked inside, shook it a little, as if something more would magically appear, and asked: “Is the real food on its way?”
“Nope, that’s it—bon appétit!” I held out the receipt to him, too, and I thought he was going to fall over. Marc isn’t really a fan of sweets; so handing him a pricey bag of cookies was a bit of an insult.
We sat on a small patch of grass and watched the kids run around happily eating their cookies, which I have to admit they were really delicious. After the sugar-high had kicked, we strolled past a few stores, which were more like art galleries, and decided not to go in with the little ones.
We looked at the time and realized our meter had expired. We rushed to the car and my heart skipped a beat at the sight of a cop standing nearby. If the cookies and coffee were $25, then a parking fine would break the bank.
Marc looked for a slip of paper on the windshield and was surprised when he didn’t see one. “Hold on, what day is it, Friday?”
“I think its Saturday,” I replied.
“Nope, it’s Sunday,” the cop chimed in. “Parking is free today.”
That has to be one of the hardest parts about traveling: you almost always know the time, but you quickly lose track of what day it is. We just waved at the friendly cop, bowed our heads in embarrassment and left the expensive, little town.
After traveling 4,000 miles in four days, we finally arrived in our destination of Lancaster, New Hampshire. When we opened the door to our new home, we fond out that there was no power, no cable TV, not even running water. Too tired to deal with it then, we unpacked our few small possessions, ordered a pizza from one of the few places in town and fell asleep in one bed. It would be home with a crazy neighbor and a ghost for the next seven months, but that’s another story in and of itself.
This was one of the many long road trips we’ve experienced with our kids, and you’d think it would get easier with each one—it doesn’t. There’s always something that will test our nerves, or the one little hiccup that will send a well, thought-out plan into a fiery tailspin destined for catastrophe—you live and learn.
It may not have been a road trip for you, but it has made for a good story to tell.
* THE END *