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 nine

“Drive to Newry and receive your next clue,” was the message we received midday yesterday and so as soon as my guy closed his store and sent in an order for more merchandise, we hopped into the truck and began our journey north. In Newry, just beyond Bethel, we found out we were to continue on to Rangeley and patronize the local businesses.

1-Moose and snow

First, however, we had to get there. Darkness enveloped us and flurries confused my vision as I drove with caution through Grafton Notch to Errol, New Hampshire, and then back into Maine toward our destination. Our wildlife sightings: two raccoons, a snowshoe hare still brown in color, a couple of deer and a cow moose and the bull moose you might see to the left of the first telephone pole. We were excited to say the least. And, I had proof that my slower speed was apropos–cuze my guy was teasing me.

3-the place to ourselves

It was almost 8:00pm when we pulled into town and stopped at Parkside and Main for a burger. The restaurant closed at 8, but owner Kash Haley was gracious and told us to relax. So between plays in the football game, and bites of our burgers, we oohed and  aahed as one of the waitresses shared photos of her grandchildren with us.

2-hanging out at Parkside and Main

And then once all the patrons and staff had left, we sat for a bit longer at Kash’s insistence and enjoyed the game and each others company while he cashed out and sanitized the kitchen.

4-blue sunrise, blue sky in morning, snowflakes are forming

This morning found us rising to a blue sky over Rangeley Lake. Doesn’t the saying go like this: Blue sky in the morning, snowflakes in the offing? For they were and we knew we had to dress appropriately for a day outdoors. But first, we had a few more local businesses to visit, the first being Keep’s Corner Cafe for breakfast and then we grabbed sandwiches from Woody’s Deli at Loony Bin Variety. And with the check came our next clue: “Rangeley–equator to pole, it’s all the same.” Huh?

5-halfway between equator and north pole

But, we did our research and sure enough, the western Maine town of Rangeley is located precisely between the Equator and the North Pole. How cool is that? And it was at that sign that another clue appeared. “Choose one: Either explore Orgonon or Find your way to the giant AT sign and seek the piazza.” Several years ago we’d snowshoed the trails at the Wilhelm Reich Museum, aka Orgonon, so we chose the latter for today’s challenge. The AT we understood to be the Appalachian Trail, but a piazza on the trail? Would there be a hut with a porch? Perhaps a fancy porch?

6-AT

A few miles south we found the giant AT. And across from the parking lot on Route 4 we spied the opening to the part of the trail we thought we should follow.

7-red fox scat

And so we ventured forth, stopping moments later for a couple of deposits of red fox scat. Another critter to add to our 24-hour menagerie.

8-sluice

We crossed a sluice way of the Sandy River, and imagined the history stored in the rocks.

9-snowflakes gathering

As we hiked, snowflakes decorated the variety of maple leaves.

10-snow on trail

And we began to notice that our journey would pass through a variety of natural communities and over various obstacles including roots,

11-boardwalks

boardwalks,

12-rocks and roots

and rocks mixed with roots.

16-Piazza Rock

My guy was in the lead, though he commented throughout that I wasn’t far behind, trailing only by a few footsteps. But when he reached a certain point, I’d been looking down for careful foot placement and so I didn’t know what he was exclaiming about–until I looked up. At. Piazza. Rock.

From Maine Trailfinder we discovered this tidbit: “According to the geological notes about this area, ‘The granite of Saddleback is jointed into huge building blocks. An unusually large one has slid out of its place in the mountain side and, instead of breaking and skating down the slope like the others, has balanced across another block to create one-half of a cantilever bridge, forming Piazza Rock.'” Oh, did I mention that we were hiking up Saddleback Mountain?

17-contemplating climb up Piazza Rock

Perspective isn’t gained until one actually stands under the building block. The clue said that one of us must climb atop the structure and the other view it all from below. Thankfully, despite his fear of heights, my chivalrous guy chose the upper path.

18-and then onto the Piazza

He made it seem so simple as he crawled up the rock and then contemplated the platform before him. For a second, he wasn’t sure he’d be able to go further. But, that could mean the loss of points for us. I didn’t say anything to encourage or discourage because I was standing on safe ground below.

19-under piazza rock

My job was to appreciate the boulder from its underside. And certainly I did as I looked up at the stone diving board planted for a giant’s leap.

20-My guy on top of Piazza Rock

And bravely making his way toward the tip–my guy!

21-My guy atop the turtle head of Piazza Rock

I looked up to where he stood–atop a turtle head, for after all, we stood on turtle rock.

23-looking down at me from Piazza Rock

And he looked down . . .

Later he told me that his father always said as he stepped onto a porch, “I’m going out to the piazza.” Indeed.

28-climbing onward

Interestingly, both of our fathers accompanied us on this leg of the race for apparently as my guy thought of his dad, I spent some time thinking about my father and how much he would have loved exploring trails such as this one with us.

13-temperature

But, we were in a race and so though we reveled in memories of our fathers, we had to move back to the trail signs and check for our next clue, which was again a choice: “Make the next move or Channel your best bat.”  What?

21-Piazza Rock Hut

We followed the trail, crossed one of many streams and located the Piazza Rock Campsite–all set for the next temporary residents who would leave no trace behind.

22-Privy

It was right behind the hut that we noticed the privy–and location for any who chose to make a move . . .

23-cribbage board in two seater privy

In the game of cribbage that is for a game board sits between the two-seater. My guy might have chosen this for he knew he could beat me, but he was once again chivalrous and suggested we channel our best bats. Team Pink did stop at the privy and we never saw them after that so we wondered if they gave up on their card game and moved on to Orgonon.

25-onto the caves

We, however, continued on and reached “The Caves.” One after the other, we shimmied through, hardly as graceful as a bat might fly.

27-the caves

It wasn’t easy, but we moved in and out and reached our next clue: Locate lunch rock with an aquatic view.

28-Ethel Pond?

Onward we climbed, reaching Ethel Pond first, where the ice at the edge was thin and my guy reminded me that I should approach with care.

29-another wetland

About a half mile up the trail we spotted another wetland. Really, we expected to see a moose in each, but when one expects to see a moose or any other form of wildlife, it doesn’t happen. And it’s truly more enjoyable when the offering is a surprise.

29-ice formations

Speaking of surprises were the first ice formations of the year.

30-crossing to lunch rock

Periodically, we crossed water, but the ice formed best at our last crossing, where lunch rock awaited. We’d made it to the stream that flowed from Moose and Deer Pond, a place we couldn’t necessarily visit, but could appreciate for the wildness it offered its wildlife residents.

Lunch rock stood in front of my guy and it was there that we enjoyed the chicken salad sandwiches we’d ordered from Woody’s Deli at the Lonny Bin.

32-squirrel midden

As we looked about, we discovered that we weren’t the only ones to dine in that vicinity, for the balsam fir scales and cone cobs indicated that the resident red squirrels were also frequent diners.

32a-junco joule=foe of a different feather

And, it appeared, another had also consumed a meal for Junco feathers were plentiful. A foe of a different feather had gained a few joules of energy.

33-back to the sluice

Our lunch spot became our turn-around point and with great speed we made our way back to the sluice in now time at all,  completing our eight mile hike with side trips in 5.5 hours, sorry that we couldn’t summit Saddleback Mountain because we were told to return to our truck by 3:30pm. We actually reached the truck by 3:10. In our minds, another day will find us returning and summiting Saddleback as we really like the trail and were eager to discover what else it had to offer.

34-reaching the mat at Puzzle Mtn Bakery

As we drove toward Errol on our return trip, we spotted Team Mustang stopping just below Orgonon and wondered what they questioned when they stepped out of their car.

We continued on to the starting point in Newry, ready to step on the mat and end this leg of the race, only to discover that we’d made a mistake.

How could that be?

We thought that lunch rock was our turn-around point, but we should have continued about 50 more feet where a spur trail would have led us to Eddy Pond. Oh, we could see the pond, but not get close to it. If only . . . we’d paid closer attention to the map.

As it was, when we arrived at the mat beside Puzzle Mountain Bakery in Newry, we had to sit for a half an hour and wait. No one arrived. Thankfully. And then we had to answer one important question:  How many streetlights are there in Upton? Eight. Check.

25-the prize

We finished third but got the streetlight question right and so we received a blueberry raspberry pie. YUM.

The Amazing Race–Our Style: episode nine . . . and the fun continues; we’re still in. Phew.