Sunday, June 30, 2013

It's Summer! Adventuring and You.

Amber waves of grain, and all that.

OK, so it's summer now, officially. And we're all bohemians here...some of my readers may have big vacations coming up, but many of us can't afford that trip to Albania or the bicycling voyage through Mozambique, or that tour of the art galleries of Bolivia. I know I can't.

So rather than languishing at home watching reruns and waiting for History Detectives to come back on PBS, it's a good excuse to pick a lazy weekend and head out of town for a day.

But where to start? Where to go?

Most of us are curious folks and we have spots we've always wanted to go that we've heard of. Or maybe we need something new. You could always pick up a map and look it over. Maybe there's a park you've never been to, or perhaps a town you've never visited. Perhaps you have some interest you can chase somewhere, like gathering shells or fossils or flowers, or browsing flea markets, antique malls, and bookstores. Maybe there's a good restaurant you've heard of, or a museum you've read about. Or perhaps you want some good subjects for photographing or sketching. Or it's just hot in the city and you want to catch some cool breezes from the shore, or up in the mountains, or just simply out in the country.

So why not? Gas up the car, plot a course, and go!

Pick a couple of spots, like a park, an interesting town, a museum, or something else, all in fairly easy reach of each other. Track a course; maybe something not too direct. Give yourself room to ramble a side road or two. Give yourself time and room to improvise. Feel free to stop at anything that catches your fancy, like:

  • an old cemetery
  • a historic church
  • an eerie, ramshackle house
  • a farmer's market
  • a great view
  • yard sales and flea markets
  • an interesting ruin
Even an old railroad bridge can be worth a stop.

Keep a cooler in the trunk for any culinary purchases you may make. Take your camera, your sketchbook, binoculars, and anything else you find appropriate for adventure. As always, take a book or two; I rarely go far without my Kindle, and no adventure is complete without my volume of Robert Herrick's poetry to dip into during a relaxing moment in some charming spot. Also, old travel books are fun, as you can compare what's described in the book with what exists now. (I've had some entertaining times with an old book I found...)

Issues to decide on...

Alone or with friends? That can depend on your mood and availability. There are advantages to both; a lone ramble allows you to do what you want when you want it, but can feel lonely. Friends are great to share an adventure with, until they start demanding stops here and there or pressuring you to go somewhere you don't want to go. (Of course, good friends will discuss these things beforehand.)

Picnic or eating out? A meal at a fun restaurant can be great, if you know of one where you'll be going. Sampling local specialties at a local spot is a great adventure. But so is a picnic; eating outdoors in a nice park or other pretty spot can make for a memorable part of your day. And depending on your tastes and friends, you can do anything from the usual sandwiches or fried chicken, to something more elaborate. What about cold poached salmon and a cucumber salad, with a melon or some plums you bought at that farm stand? A grand compromise for a full-day trip is a picnic lunch and dinner out, either at a pre-selected restaurant or at some place spotted by chance. And a stop at a small-town market for a soda or a popsicle can be fun too. (It's summer, you gotta have popsicles.)

Some restaurants are destinations in themselves, like The Hutte, a Swiss restaurant in the remote West Virginia mountain town of Helvetia. I visited there last summer.

 What to do? Activities planned can depend on the interests of those going. When I'm on a ramble by myself, my plans usually revolve around historic sites and natural attractions, with occasional forays for antiquing and used books. But friends may want side trips to gather shells or pick flowers or whatever; that depends on your patience. If you're a good friend, you'll be at least tolerant of that!

So, let's say you've planned a trip; you're driving, with James, Viola, and Laura along for the fun. You've met for a quick breakfast and headed off on a rural ramble. Bright conversation flows, and you stop at a farmstand for a cantaloupe, some plums, and a bag of cookies. You planned for a stop at a historic house museum, a waterside park, and at an old town so you can walk around and explore. There's always a couple of pauses; James likes to take photos, Laura gathering flowers and plants to press and keep in her herbarium, and Viola loves old cemeteries and antique stores. But you're all in synch and all on the same page. The group picnics at the park, in a lovely spot by the water; a cold roast chicken, homemade bread, hard-boiled eggs, cheese, and a green bean salad, followed by plums and cookies, all very satisfying. You make it to the town after some more unexpected stops, like that old church that dates from the Revolution, and leave the car to explore, and after visiting an antique store and used book store, you all have an armload of souvenirs. After a cone from the ice-cream parlor, you take off to another park that you'd spotted signs for, and go down a side road that takes you through some villages and farm communities that you stop to take in for a bit. As the sun sets, the group is tearing into shrimp and crabcakes at a small waterside place you'd been told about at the ice-cream parlor, glad you were open to suggestions. A quick pause in the parking lot to scan the maps for the most direct way home, and you're back to the city after a long, full day.

Sounds nice? It could happen to you. Take time and do it.

Print Resources:
Check out the "Local Interest" section of your local bookstore; you may be surprised at the number of guidebooks for local history, gardens, natural sites, ghost stories, hiking trails, and other adventure fodder. Also pounce on local tourist information places and see what obscure spot catches your interest. Check out the local used book emporia; you may find something good that's only a few years old and not horribly outdated. Or something a few decades old that will provide some contrast.
Outside Lies Magic by John R. Stilgoe is a great book that raises awareness of the built landscape around us, and encourages exploration of small towns.
Simple Foods by James Beard is a good work on cooking for beginners with several chapter discussing picnics ranging from the simplest to the luxurious.
And for really luxurious picnics, The Impressionists' Table by Alexandra Leaf (out of print but used copies available cheaply) has menus and recipes for a series of meals, including picnics inspired by Impressionist paintings and 19th-century French cuisine.

Online Resources:
Weird U.S. is a nationwide directory of strange stories and places.
Roadside America is chock full of oddball sites, muffler men, giant chairs, oddly shaped buildings, and all sorts of other stuff, and is a must.
Roadfood is an essential guide to the best places for regional eats. It may not direct to the prettiest places but you can usually depend on a good meal.
Nerdy Day Trips is a crowdsourced site where people submit their own interesting spots; I've put in quite a few in Maryland and DC. It can range anywhere from high-toned museums to wildlife sanctuaries.
The U.S. National Park Service is a great resources for adventure material.
Your state's Department of Natural Resources website should have a list of state parks and natural areas; you can also dig for local history websites.

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