Amazing Race–Our Style: The Grand Finale

At last–the day we’d anxiously anticipated for the past month. Actually, for the past year.

I was sure the post-it note we found attached to the door would instruct us to drive to Lincoln, New Hampshire for a visit to the ice castle. My guy thought we’d find ourselves on a dogsled journey.

But no . . . either of those would have been too easy I suppose. Instead, we had to end this race in the same manner we had begun. Aboard a snowmobile. Egads! My least favorite mode of transportation.

To top it off, my guy’s two-seater is headed to the shop for some engine work. But his brother came through and lent us a machine so we were able to stay in the race. Our task was five-fold. 1. Ride through Sweden, Waterford, Lovell, Fryeburg and Bridgton; 2. Identify an interesting natural wonder; 3. Frame a picture; 4. Conquer the moguls; and 5. Pull the entire Amazing Race–our style together in a coherent order.

We started in the frigid morning air and no one else was about so we had Highland Lake and Stearns Pond to ourselves. Our journey took us whizzing across lakes and ponds, along open trails such as ITS 80 and 89, and through some narrow connecting pathways–or so they seemed to this untrained eye. I’d brought along my Trackards and the tracks were many, but all remained a blur.

You have to realize by now that for the two of us riding a snowmobile is like the tortoise meeting the hare–my desire to move slowly through the world met his need for speed. In the end, I did OK, and he went as slow as was safely possible, and even slower than that when he felt my knees nudge his back. But really, my teeth did chatter. Oh, maybe that was because of the temperature.

In Lovell, we got in line to gas up.

Funny things can happen when you’re standing around waiting for your turn at the pump. A nature moment presented itself in the form of a willow gall. Now I can’t wait to return to look at the willow blossoms in the spring.

From there, we made our way across to the Kezar River Reserve for the roadway had been groomed. Alas, at the kiosk, for some unknown reason, the groomer had backed up and headed out to Route 5, so we had to do the same. That wasn’t our only roadblock. We found our way onto a road that had previously served as the trail for a short bit, only to discover where road should have rejoined trail a house had been built. Again, we had to backtrack. Yikes. How would these affect our time?

We also noted historic sites as we cruised along, including the old Evan Homestead in Sweden, the Brick Church in Lovell, and Hemlock Covered Bridge in Fryeburg, which served as our lunch stop at 2pm.

It was there that I found the photo to frame for challenge three–the mixed forest reflected in the Old Course of the Saco as taken through a bridge window.

And then, after the bridge, we meet our fourth challenge: the moguls. For at least two miles, maybe more, between Hemlock Bridge Road and Knights Hill Road, we bounced up and down as if we were riding a bucking Bronco. Truly, I spent more time in the air than on the seat and each time I landed, it was with a thump. I was certain I’d fall off or at least my body would be flying behind the sled while I’d still be attached–via the vice grip I had on the backseat handlebars. Talk about white knuckles. Oh wait, maybe that was from being cold.

Somehow, we survived . . . and so did our relationship.

As for the other contestants, we weren’t sure where they were because as it turned out there were many riders out there and they all looked the same! Well, maybe they had their idiosyncrasies and I wasn’t paying attention to the little details of jacket and helmet color and design, but I’d much rather look at tree bark, mammal tracks, and winter weeds this time of year than people apparel.

Soon after the moguls, it was time for the last task. We encountered a display of twelve photographs; each represented a moment of wonder we’d encountered during the race and one of us had to place them in order from start to finish.

My guy had done all the driving and maneuvered us successfully through the mogul course (I didn’t fall off, remember) so it was my turn to complete this final challenge.

Episode one: The elephant face we discovered along the Narrow Gauge Trail.

Episode two: A rainbow in the Harpswell sea mist.

Episode three: The exotic kissing pigeons with heart-shaped white cere on their bills.

Episode four: The gallery of midnight artists at the Battery on Peaks Island.

Episode five: A Crimson-ringed Whiteface Dragonfly beside Shingle Pond on the Weeks Brook Trail.

Episode six: A sand collar in Clinton, Connecticut. While it felt like sand paper above and was smooth below, it was actually a mass of snail eggs.

Episode seven: After climbing Table Rock, a couple paid for our pie at this roadside stand and so we did the same for the next vehicle that pulled up.

Episode eight: The 1930 122 ft. steel-hulled yacht Atlantide, that served in WWII and was featured in Dunkirk.

Episode nine: (possibly one of our favorites) The cribbage board in the two seater below Piazza Rock on Saddleback Mountain.

Episode ten: An alpaca at America’s Stonehedge in Salem, New Hampshire.

Episode eleven: Finding an H to represent us while looking for decorated trees in the Maine Christmas Tree Scavenger Hunt.

Episode twelve: The final episode and another framed photo of the Old Course of the Saco from Hemlock Bridge.

Phew. I was pretty certain I had them all correct. And so on to the mat we drove, arriving at 3:36pm. And then as we stepped off the sled we discovered that we’d lost our backpack somewhere on the trail. The only item of any value in it was my cell phone.

We were concerned about that, but also found out that without the pack we couldn’t cross the finish line. So, we made a quick decision because we needed to be done by 5pm. I hopped off the sled and my guy took off in a spray of snow to search. We were sure it had fallen off near the moguls. Apparently, along the way he questioned people and learned that someone (thank you whomever you are) had hung the pack on a tree. Over the moguls he went, but to no avail. He was in a dip on his way back to the covered bridge when he spied it. Wowza.

At 4:41pm he pulled up to the mat.

And we crossed it together–As. The. Winners. YES, we WON!

But, of course, we won. For if you have followed us from the start then you’ll remember that in episode one I wrote: I created a Valentine’s gift for my guy–our very own Amazing Race. My rationale was that we enjoy the show, but know that while there are certain stunts one or both of us could handle with ease, there are others that would certainly cause us to be last to the mat–and lose. So, why not create an Amazing Race that we have a 99.9% chance of winning. If we lose, we’re in big trouble.

I do feel bad that I fibbed to some of you, but you got caught up in the challenge and I didn’t want to let you down. Some of you asked me about it and I have a terrible poker face so I was sure you’d figure it out. In the spirit of it all, I was glad that you didn’t. That added to our fun.

And all of the characters–they were real people we met along the way. Team Budz in episode six was my sister and brother-in-law. Team Purple was a hearing-impaired woman full of moxie we met during episode eight in Camden. She hiked in sandals and had spent the previous month camping solo. The others we named for their attitudes, hometowns or some other attribute. I don’t know if you noticed, but we began the journey as Team Wonder, which I probably only mentioned once, but by episode eleven I’d forgotten that and called us Team Hazy–thus the H to represent us. Ahhhh.

Of course, my mom always washed my mouth out with soap when I fibbed, so if you want to do the same, I can’t say I blame you.

Thank you all for following us on this adventure. We’ve had fun looking forward to and participating in a variety of adventures. Though I’d given my guy a list of locales for each month, I didn’t know what the various additional challenges would be until they presented themselves.

Today’s activity was supposed to be a dogsled ride in January. But, the weather gods and price gods weren’t on our side and when the weather didn’t cooperate on his days off we chose not to spend the money. An alternative was the ice castle, but we’ve done that before and were too late in trying to purchase tickets this year, so . . . why not end as we began. On a snowmobile journey. The third of my lifetime and longest one yet. We spent over five hours on the sled. Well, my guy spent even one more hour. And now we’re snug at home and sipping some Bailey’s Irish Creme before we tune in to British comedies and fall asleep on the couch.

The Amazing Race–Our Style has come to an end. Thanks for tuning in. We had fun and hope you did too.

Amazing Race–Our Style: episode eleven

The second to last episode of the Amazing Race–Our Style was upon us and we hoped it wouldn’t be the final one for us. 

Today’s clue was a bit different than most. It gave us four specific locations–and much to our delight, all were within 20 minutes of home! How could we be so fortunate? 

We were also given a time frame and a few other instructions. We were to arrive at our first destination at 10:30am. From that starting time, we had until 5pm to finish our tasks and send four photos to a certain website. The sooner we completed all of the tasks, except for sending the photos, the better our chances of hanging in for the final episode. The pressure was on. 

One of the biggest challenges was that the photos we needed to send were selfies. We aren’t selfie fans, unless you count photos of our footwear! 

Our overall mission today: to locate the four trees that had been decorated by homeschooled children and/or local land trusts. Since there were four teams left and four different properties, we were each given a different location in which to begin. 

Our starting point on this very foggy morning was Western Foothill Land Trust’s Roberts Farm Preserve in Norway, Maine. As instructed, we arrived at 10:30 and made sure to stay on the snowshoe trails only, for there is also a network of groomed ski trails. The trail was long and sometimes wet, while other times icy, but we didn’t notice too much as our eyes were focused on the trees. Of course, we were occasionally distracted, such as when a downy woodpecker flew into sight. 

My guy was certain he knew where the tree would be located, but . . . it wasn’t, at least as far as we could tell in the fog. 

We did spy a spider web embellished with beads of water and I remembered a story based on a legend about a poor family who had no decorations for their Christmas tree. As the tale goes, while the children slept, spiders spun webs of silver around the tree’s branches. The next morning, the family awoke to a Christmas tree sparkling with silver webs. Today’s webs were such and though we hadn’t found the decorated tree I was already richer for the experience of looking.

And then . . . my guy walked right by it. I was surprised I didn’t, for we both expected a different evergreen species to be adorned. 

Most of the ornaments were meant to feed the critters and we saw deer tracks in the snow. 

Among the mix was a tree cookie with a wood-burned sketch–perhaps of Roberts Farm? 

While my guy picked up fallen treats to rehang on the tree, I practiced my selfie skills. I was feeling confident that we could pull this off. 

And when I told him that we’d have to send the photos to mainechristmastreehunt.com, he was eager to pose–and I was shocked. We tried to make sure that the tree was visible in the background. 

We checked off that tree, hopped into the truck and headed to Lovell. 

OK, so we knew when the clue arrived that we had a bit of an advantage for we’d been invited to join the Fairs, Farms, and Fun 4-H Group that decorated the tree at the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s Chip Stockford Reserve on Ladies Delight Road in Lovell a few weeks ago, and I’d just co-led a walk on the trail this past Saturday where other adults had fun looking for it. And redecorating it.

Oh well. Other teams had had different advantages during different episodes, so it was our turn. 

But, the most curious thing–when we arrived . . . there were no tracks made by any of the other teams. Team Purple was supposed to begin at this point. Had she gotten lost? 

Because we knew right where to go, our journey was quick and we easily relocated the tree on the one mile loop with a spur. And . . . discovered that the birds and deer had once again dined on the bird seed ornaments. 

When it comes time to remove the decorations after Chrismas, the task will be super easy. 

Thankfully, the subtle birch bark hearts continued to add a festive note. 

And so we posed. 

We did discover a new clue at the kiosk on our way in–we were to find something in the woods that represented our team. We found an H for Team Hazy. 

Within the clue package, we were also told to take time to eat–at a place locals frequent. We chose Quinn’s Jockey Cap Country Store in Fryeburg and somehow managed to resist the sweet treats while we ordered sandwiches. 

And then it was on to the Mountain Division Trail on Route 113 in Fryeburg to look for Upper Saco Valley Land Trust’s Andrews Preserve. There are no signs or trails at that preserve, but our adventure on Saturday had included a visit there. That’s why I couldn’t believe that this was the intended challenge for today’s episode, but all had been decided almost a year ago and it just worked out that I knew where we needed to go today. That being said, I let my guy lead. 

He had a bit of help as one or two others had been that way–leaving their tracks in the snow. 

And . . . he did a super job, quickly spying the tree. What I love about this scavenger hunt is that each tree has a different theme and flavor. The USVLT tree was decorated by a teen and her mom, and the teen didn’t want the animals to eat all the ornaments. Understood. 

They created a pipecleaner garland and added glittery bulbs. It’s a bright spot in the middle of a thickly wooded site. 

And so we posed again. 

Our final destination was to Lake Environmental Association’s Pinehaven Trail at the Maine Lake Science Center on Willet Road in Bridgton. This is a place we know well for it’s practically in our backyard, but we didn’t know which tree would be decorated. And so we began our hunt, pausing briefly to remember the fun we’d had on the low elements challenge course that dots the trail. We’d actually completed that challenge one rainy day and were thankful (and surprised) we didn’t have to attempt it in the snow. 

Suddenly, the decorated tree jumped out with its brightly colored garland and we rejoiced for we’d found all four trees. And still had plenty of time. 

The laminated garland featured words related to LEA’s mission and activities. And so did the tree cookies, much to our liking. 

And so we posed for one final time. We still aren’t great in the selfie department, but it would have to do. 

Our next task before sending off the selfie photos to the website, was to create a scavenger hunt for others. You already know the four properties and their locations. Plus for each organization, I’ve included a link to their websites. 

Your task, should you choose to complete it while you look for the decorated trees, is to also locate these finds. 

#1: Phoebe nest protected from the weather.

#2: Shiny chrome in the forest

#3: Home for flying salamanders

#4: Wet wetland

#5: Fairy castle with many spires and towers

And finally, #6: Snowshoe snowflake! 

The numbers: 

4 trees: √

4 selfies: √

Photo to represent our team: √

Scavenger hunt for others: √

Total time to complete race: 5 hours

We finished this leg of the Amazing Race–Our Style by 3:30pm, uploaded the selfies, sent them to Maine Christmas Tree Hunt, and found out that we took first place today! Yippee. (We were sad to learn that Team Purple made some wrong turns and got delayed.)

One more leg to go in January. Who will be the winners of the Amazing Race–Our Style? Stay tuned. 

The Amazing Race–Our Style, episode six

The clue was rather vague as clues go: Drive five hours south to the second dot to the right in Harbor View. And so we did.

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The map provided helped–sorta.

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And just before dark we located the spot that included not only a view of the outer harbor, but also the back side of Hammonassett Beach State Park on Long Island Sound in Connecticut. It was like we knew exactly where we were going.

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As it turned out, we were joined by another couple with whom we’d formed an alliance for the race and so we decided to spend the weekend completing the challenges together. Funny thing–I think we felt so comfortable with them because she looked very much like my sister and he reminded us of my brother-in-law. With them was a young man who is about to celebrate his 24th birthday (in two more days) and so we all celebrated with him–but even his presence was part of the challenge. And so Team Budz (the alliance couple) and Team Wonder (us), shared the responsibility of his presence. They picked him up at the train station. We provided the cake, which he decorated himself. We also offered the musical accompaniment, much to his dismay. And together, presents, much to his delight.

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Refreshed after a good night’s sleep in that delightfully salty air, we faced new challenges, such as sighting three mammals. Together, Team Budz and Wonder spied cottontail rabbits, which were probably the eastern species that was introduced into New England in the late 1800s/early 1900s and have expanded in range ever since, rather than the native New England Cottontail. Both feature large hind feet, long ears, and a short, fluffy tail that resembles its namesake–a cotton ball. Suffice it to say: it was a cottontail. We also saw a red fox that looked a bit mangy and was too close to home, poking up as it did on the rocks in front of our accommodation, and a momma raccoon that, sadly, had been struck by a car–ever so gently struck.

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Challenge number two found us seeking two sea birds. We found adult Osprey standing guard,

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and scanning the water for a fishy meal.

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Meanwhile, their young patiently awaited breakfast in the nest built of sticks upon man-made platforms that were installed at least thirty years ago. And actually, while we watched them, we noted something disturbing–tangled fishline dangling from the construction site. That led us to send out a word of caution–dispose of your tangled fishline so the birds and other aquatic species with whom we share this Earth don’t get wrapped up to the point of no escape, aka death.

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We did note that while some of the young Osprey stretched their wings to capture the sun’s warmth and waited for mom and pop to return with a meal, a couple of smaller birds used the nest structure as a great place to pause below and contemplate the surrounding world. Osprey eat fish and perhaps the smaller birds knew that? Or they just made the right decision.

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The Great Egret was the second bird we were assigned to watch . . . as it watched.

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And preened.

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And exclaimed its beauty.

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And watched some more.

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And focused.

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And then . . . the splash.

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And success.

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A meal.

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To pull in.

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And swallow.

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And swallow some more.

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Suddenly, in a flash of time, for so it seemed, Team Wonder needed to hold up its end of the alliance bargain and get this guy back to the train.

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But–we needed directions to the railroad station, for we wanted to make sure that he made his connection in New Haven.

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We were told to look to the sky for a message–and it was there that we found an advertisement unfolding in what struck us as a strange place, but perhaps it wasn’t so strange after all, for it was above some train tracks. Another Happy Birthday Message?

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Whatever, it turned out to be the right one. First, the Shoreline East to New Haven and then the Metro North to Grand Central. And off he went–to his home of the past year and his career in the film editing industry (and his 24th birthday in two more days).

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Meanwhile, back at the ranch, aka Alliance Inn, the tide was slowly coming in, but we headed out, two teams as we were, ready to take on the next adventure.

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My guy and Mr. Budz led the way through the shallow water the outer harbor has long been famous for.

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It’s a tradition of the neighborhood–this gathering place at low tide.

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Team Wonder did get a wee bit worried when Team Budz paired up ahead–where they going to ditch us at the channel?

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But they didn’t. Instead, they paused with us to look at one of the wonders we needed to find by the sandbars–what was it?

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A sand collar–which felt like sand paper above and was smooth below. It was actually a mass of snail eggs. A rather amazing form.

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On the sandbars and in the water, Spider Crabs appeared fierce, but were really quite nonchalant. Note the round and spiny carapace, with small spines running down its back. The crab is known to attach bits of algae, mud, and seaweed to many sticky hairs all over its bodies for camouflage, thus giving it a frightening look, but don’t take it seriously. It moves quite slowly and won’t pinch your toes like some of its relatives.

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And then we saw the wicked cool Lady’s Slipper of the Sound. Slipper shells they may be, but their natural history is amazing. The following is from the University of Rhode Island: This shell is shaped like an egg or oval that has been cut in half with the top of the shell turned sharply to one side. Looking at the underside of the shell, it is easy to see how it got its name. Underneath the shell is a ledge to support the internal organs; this ledge extends about half the length of the animal. Different slipper shell species are characterized by different shell textures, including rough, smooth, ribbed, corrugated, and flat. Although they have a foot for locomotion, by the time they reach maturity they anchor themselves to a hard substrate and remain stationary.

And there’s more: All common slipper shells start their lives as males, but some change to females as they grow older. A waterborne hormone regulates the female characteristics. Once they change into females, they remain females. They often stack up on top of each other for convenient reproduction. The larger females are on the bottom, the smaller males are on the top, and the hermaphrodites are between the two. If the ratio of males to females gets too high, the male reproductive organs will degenerate and the animal will become female. Eggs are laid in thin-walled capsules that the female broods under her foot.

Common slipper shells also form stacked aggregations when there is no hard substrate on which to attach. They attach to objects in large numbers and can sometimes suffocate the animal on which they are attached.

Who knew? I just thought they were common slipper shells.

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We’d finished the sandbar challenge and had no idea how the other teams might be doing, though we did wonder if some of them were thrown off for we spotted a sign that said “sanbars” instead of “sandbars” and we could only hope that they’d gone off in search of the former–to no avail.

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Alliance Inn beckoned, as did the incoming tide, and so we headed back toward the shore.

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And the next challenge–completing the Sunday crossword puzzle. My guy read the clues and told us how many letters and the four of us shouted out answers–whether they fit or not. I silently kept score (sorta) and was sure that Team Wonder was in the lead, but didn’t want to make a big deal out of it, for we had agreed on an alliance after all. At least for this weekend.

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At last the sun set on the day. And the outer harbor.

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And we celebrated the day’s discoveries with a bottle of The Cottage for it seemed apropos. I think we were all in agreement, however, that the bottle was much better  looking than the flavor and we aren’t exactly wine connoisseurs.

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And then this morning dawned with another bird ID challenge. First up–who had taken up housekeeping in the apartment building meant for the Purple Martins? House Sparrows.

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And we wondered if they might have some young in Apartment D for come and go did the male and female, both attentive to whomever hung out within.

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Overlooking it all, a Purple Martin–though he never defended his territory.

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And immature Starlings . . .

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as invasive as ever . . .

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stood ever so ready to move in to Apartment B.

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Who stood on the right-hand jetty? A Greater Yellowlegs Sandpiper, its bill longer than its head.

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And on another jetty to the south–a Cormorant gathered warmth in its wings, first turning to the right.

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Then to the left.

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And finally slipping back into the water and cruising by.

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At last, much to our dismay, our time with Team Budz drew to an end, quite like the way a day lily such as those my mom so loved and planted everywhere, shared their pollen and then closed up. Who knows what the next episodes will bring. Will we continue to join forces with Team Budz to complete the next challenges? Will they pull ahead of us? Or we ahead of them? We’re only halfway through the Race and as we all know–anything can happen.

But–as we lived in the moment, we certainly loved this episode’s opportunity to celebrate a certain young man’s 24th birthday, ID birds we hadn’t paid attention to since we were kids, explore the sandbar once again, and enjoy the camaraderie of this couple we’ve grown quite fond of. As we go forward, may the best team win . . . and if it can’t be Team Wonder, then we sure hope it’s Team Budz.