Thursday, 22 September 2011

USA Today (3) – Portland to Camden (WC’s, Water, Walmart & Waitresses)

Tris knows that the way to get me up in the morning is to bring me breakfast. Sleeping in a tent was no different. Off he drove in the car to the local store to bring me French Vanilla coffee and a Danish pastry in a packet. We sat at our very own lake front picnic table in the early morning sunshine and enjoyed? a multi-coloured cereal chaser.

Yummy - and so healthy.

Whizzing our bits off on a cocktail of sugar and e-numbers, jet lag was banished as we dismantled the tent and gathered up our belongings. 

<Rant of the day>

Why is it that Americans can’t call a toilet, a toilet? Don’t they go to the toilet? Or is it just too crude a thought? Do I want a bath? Do I want a rest? No I don’t! 

And why don’t the toilet doors go all the way to the floor? Do I want to see people’s feet while they are settled on the bog?

And finally (for the moment), what’s with the self flushing toilets? I want to flush when I’m ready. I promise I won’t forget. What if I get up and then have second thoughts and sit back down again for round two. I don’t fancy having my colon sucked out. Would that be covered on my travel insurance? Self flushing toilets frighten me!

Once the tent was safely stowed, we drove round to the side of the lake and parked up. I sat in the Life Guards chair while Tris went for a swim. It was sunny and beautiful. Shoals of small shimmering green fish jumped out of the water while frisky dragonflies buzzed us and settled on pedalos moored at the water’s edge. 

The ‘No Diving, Jumping or Horseplay’ sign put the mockers on my plans for a touch of informal dressage. Other than that I felt calm and contented. I was excited for what lay ahead but was reluctant to leave. It was a winning combination....

Spoil sports.

......Until the peace was shattered by another low flying plane, so we put our next destination into Shaun the Sat Nav, drove past the ‘Children must be supervised signs’ (judging by the clientele that could apply to anyone under 50 yrs) and headed northwards.

Trucking along the freeway, with the sun roof open and Black Sabbath blaring from the radio, we soon rolled into Freeport for our compulsory visit to LL Bean Outdoor Emporium and its giant boot – apparently the biggest tourist attraction in Maine. We had a few essential camping items to procure before leaving civilization.


The ratio of assistants to customers in LL Bean was significant – resplendent in their Ray Mears outfits, they were mostly called ‘Mike’. Despite having an impressive selection of check shirts, day packs and fleecy sweaters, they didn’t stock citronella candles, picnic blankets or the right kind of gas. It was clearly a shop for people who wanted to look like they went camping, but actually preferred hotels. ‘Cock-campers’ as I like to call them. 

If LL Bean was the biggest tourist attraction in Maine, it didn’t reflect well on Maine – or tourists!

Instead we decided we’d probably have more success in Walmart and set about trying to locate one. 

God will not be interrupted.

You might think that finding a Walmart would be easy. Not so – we got very lost in Brunswick. Tired and hungry we happened upon the 'Sea Dog Brewing Company' which cheered us up enormously. The brewery was located on a massive weir which following the hurricane and subsequent heavy rains was churning out a deluge of brown frothy water. It was too hot to sit outside, so we sheltered inside for a spot of lunch and tennis (on the TV – we didn’t actually get our raquets out). 

While I had an excellent salad, Tris had his first clam chowder of the trip. ‘Does it come with bread?’ he asked. ‘Oyster crackers’ replied the waiter. To me, that meant small crouton like crackers to put in your chowder. Tris’ understanding however, was that his meal was going to come with a pair of nut crackers and he’d have to fish out and open the clams himself. No wonder he looked surprised when he was presented with a small packet of salty biscuits.

<<Road kill today>>
Skunk – and we think – a beaver!

Walmart – sells everything in the world, apart from what you want. And milk – too much choice! We just wanted milk! Ordinary semi skimmed milk! The selection was overwhelming with extra vitamins, extra calcium, extra omega. We selected what we thought was the nearest thing to semi-skimmed and chose something called ‘half and half’. When we poured it on our cereals the next day, we realised it was half milk, half cream. It’s a mistake we wouldn’t be making again.

In search of citronella candles, I passed a bunch of people I think you could describe as ‘Red Necks’ buying guns and camouflage clothing which was conveniently located next to the Justin Bieber dolls and a mirror that told you, you were beautiful, when you passed it. I lingered a while!

One of the good things I’ve found on previous trips to the states, is that America makes me feel really thin. While in ‘buff’ Boston I still felt like a lard bucket, I’m pleased to report that in Maine it was business as usual. In Walmart that day, there were people – young people – so obese that the only way they could get around was by spilling over the sides of a mobility scooter. Hardly surprising when you over hear conversations like ‘When he was young, of course all he’d eat was pepperoni pizzas and chicken nuggets’!

I always find it interesting to nose into other people’s shopping carts. What does it tell us about the shopper? Well the woman in front of us had 10 packets of spot cream, a bird feeder and a pineapple. I can’t even begin to imagine that scenario.

North of Walmart and on Highway 1 to Camden, the scenery started to look a whole lot more like the Maine on the post cards. Red and white clapboard houses, bridges over huge marine inlets and Moose FM on the radio.

The campsite at Camden Hills was amazing. Our secluded plot in the forest was huge and dwarfed our little tent. We were however miles from the toilets. I resigned myself weeing behind a tree if taken short during the night.

Camden Hills campers.

As we put up our tent, we were showered with nut shells discarded by squirrels gorging themselves in the trees and cautiously observed by a nosey woodpecker. This was proper backwoods camping which called for a beer – Sea Dog Wild Blueberry (blueberries are a big thing in New England). Picture it – it was awesome.

Fruit based beer - excellent.

That evening, we went to explore Camden, booking a windjammer trip on the way for the next morning with Capt. Jack and First Mate Barb. When I told them we were on our honeymoon Capt. Jack told us it was a ‘Fine institution’ and that he’d been with his First Mate for 47 yrs.

I’d managed to time our arrival in Camden, a beautiful fishing harbour, to co-inside with the annual Windjammer Festival The programme of activity promised great things including a lobster crate race, sea dog show, a chowder challenge and even better - pirates. Our plan was to be on the water when the windjammer fleet arrived in Camden from all points along the east coast.

Beautiful Camden

For dinner we chose a restaurant overlooking the harbour. The menu looked amazing, and despite the fact that our gushing waitress Hayley couldn’t remember the specials, we chose lime swordfish with butternut squash mash and zucchini (Tris) and house salad (me). There was a fabulous selection of salads to which you could add chicken, shrimp, crab or lobster. I chose to add crab to my salad. 

Despite appearances he was enjoying his dinner.

The food was really good, but when the bill came, I noticed that we’d been charged twice for the crab. When I questioned the bill – our waitress went from nice Hayley to evil Hayley. She got right in my face and said ‘Neuwooooo, you asked for extra crab.’ 

Controversial salad.

Puzzled, I said ‘Yes, because the house salad doesn’t come with crab, so I ordered it as extra’.

‘Neuwooooooo, you asked for extra crab!’ she said again.

Did I look like a woman who needs a lot of crab?

‘Why would I order two lots of crab when I’ve never been here before and don’t know what one portion looks like?’ I asked.

She grabbed the bill back off our table and stomped off muttering ‘I’ll take it off then’.

‘Have I done something wrong? Have we had a cultural misunderstanding?’ I asked Tris. ‘I thought the customer was always right – she’s not getting a bloody tip after this’.

Hayley practically threw our revised bill at us and stomped off again. Clearly she was destined for better things and waiting tables was well beneath her. Apparently there is only one thing more insulting than not leaving a tip, and that’s leaving a small tip. On a $60 meal we left a tip of $2, which in my opinion was generous.

On the way back to the car we looked at what the weekend’s activities held in store. Tris was keen to enter the clam bake off and we were interested to read the rules of the dog competition which requested that dogs respected the personal space of the other participants.

It was pitch black when we got back to the campsite, so we lit a candle, drank more blueberry beer and watched first a ladybird and then a moth throw themselves in to the flame and die a terrible death in the hot wax. Rock ‘n’ roll baby.

On our way to the bath house, we took a wrong turn at some pink plastic flamingos and ended up lost in the forest with only a head torch to guide us. Every shadow looked like a skunk as I followed Tris, tripping over fallen trees and treading on god knows what. To make matters worse, I was in Fit Flops. On the way back to the tent, along the proper track this time, we stepped over a squashed snake. Great!

Fire to keep snakes away.

With snakes in our immediate vicinity, I really didn’t want to have to get up and go for a wee in the night. So what happens? The more you try not to think about it, the more you need one. 

Eventually I couldn’t hold out any longer so got up at about 3am. There was no way I was going to trek to the bath house again so I decided to find a tree. Now it’s a long time since I wee-ed al-fresco and I was a bit out of practice. Not only did I wee on my feet, I wee-ed all over my pyjama leg. So now I needed to get changed, but my spare clothes were in the car. In the pitch black I managed to set the car alarm off and in the process of stripping off, got severely bitten on the bottom by a swarm of mosquitoes. 

How I love camping!


  1. I love the pictures you took, specially the one that shows Cadmen! Lovely place!

  2. You do write a cracking story. I remember the letters you wrote to me after I broke my leg following an attempt at skiing! There beganeth the talent...