I should probably start by admitting to you all that my birthday is my second favorite day of the year. My favorite day is Christmas, for the abundance of joy and warm-fuzzies that I get when it snows and everything is decked in reds, greens, and golds. But next to that, my birthday is my favorite day.
Birthdays were always celebrated with gusto in my house growing up. We got to have a birthday dinner of whatever we wanted – one year I asked my mom to make crab legs. She did, because she loves her children fiercely. Over the years my birthDAY has sort of leaked into my birthWEEK – any excuse for a young person to get drunk. Even better if the birthday falls on a Friday or Saturday – possibly a Thursday if you can swing Friday off work (or just call out, if you’re that kind of person). The festivities tend to continue until grownup life resumes, or until the liver begs and pleads for the abuse to stop.
As an adult, my birthdays varied. When I turned 19 I went clubbing with some girlfriends, which was a blast of course. 20 and 21 were the same weekend as the alumni softball tournament in my hometown – which requires an even more elaborate back story – suffice to say that my special day was lost in the alumni craziness. 22 was just a few months before getting married, and I honestly don’t remember what we did, but it clearly wasn’t that remarkable. 23 was almost immediately following the separation from my then-spouse, so I am pretty sure I celebrated in some way, but it was gloomy all the same because of the circumstances. And this year – 24 – was the most epic birthday I have ever had, except for maybe the birthday that we happened to arrive at Disney World on that day.
Anyway, so I subtly hint (read: find a way to work it into every conversation) to my boyfriend, Dave, that my birthday is coming up. He was supposed to be out of town for the summer and I had requested the weekend off to visit him, but plans changed and he is home for the summer (which rocks), but I already had the time off. I wanted to do something really fun and spectacular – less because of my birthday and more because I had four whole days off work (a lot of days if you are a server). He told me he would think of something epic.
Because I am who I am, I tried and tried to figure out what was going on. Hi, meet Kyrston, the Type A personality that feels the need to control everything. I must point out that even though that is at my core, I do an excellent job of suppressing those urges. Being a mellow and easygoing person does not come naturally to me, but I try very hard to be that way and enjoy it. So, for every ten times I wanted to ask what we were doing, I only asked once. Every time I got a vague-ish answer because he didn’t really know. Despite the inner Type A wanting to freak out, it was actually quite refreshing to just go with the flow and see what happens. So many serendipitous moments happen when we aren’t making an itemized schedule of our day.
Finally I find out we are going camping – something I haven’t done since I was a kid and my parents took care of all the details – and I start to get nervous. Sure, I know how to start a fire. With unlimited materials and a warm bed to sleep in if I lose interest. I can also pitch a tent, given enough time to mess around with the damn thing. Truth be told, I know almost nothing about camping except I know it involves weathering the elements and not being clean. Despite my nervousness, I had complete and total faith in Dave’s ability to pull this off more or less by himself. Cause, if we’re being honest, I’m probably not going to be much help.
Dave books the campsite and I immediately ask him if he checked the weather, to which he says no, which is completely Dave’s style. Honestly, what does it matter? This is what camping is all about. Besides, you can’t plan trips around the weather, especially since we all know the most accurate forecast is the one happening right this minute, and even then, sometimes it’s wrong. But of course Type A Kyrston had to check, and of course it was supposed to rain. No problem. Dave has all-weather gear for both of us. I think he might actually survive a zombie apocalypse, if we ever have one.
I was getting pretty excited… naturally all I talked about for two days leading up to Friday (the 26th) was my birthday weekend-vacation-best days of my life. Friday comes, which is my day, and I am too excited to sleep and wake up at six in the morning. That gives me about two hours to take a shower, unpack my bag and repack it (a habit I learned from my dad), and do a 12-point idiot check to make sure I have everything. As far as the rest of the details… he took care of it all. He booked the campsite, he asked me what I wanted to eat and went to every (and I mean EVERY) grocery store in town to find what we needed. He packed the car and picked me up and we were on our way!!
Let’s see… we live in southern NH and drove to Acadia National Park in Maine… about 300 miles but a six hour drive because we took US Rte 1 most of the way… it runs along the coast and is just a lovely drive. The time flew by with listening to all sorts of great music and talking about all the things we wanted to do. Dave had a complex map book thing of the state of Maine which I enjoyed looking through… maps are really cool for navigating. Even though it’s only supposed to be a six hour drive it took us closer to eight. By the time we checked in and got all the campgrounds paperwork and pamphlets of things to do, it was after 5. We arrived at our campsite and that was when I left Type A Kyrston in the car. No place for her outside my comfort zone. Time to put the brave pants on.
I’m sure this all sounds very silly, but when you spend your whole life generally doing things that you feel comfortable doing, it can be scary to try new things. It was pretty easy considering I was with the camping zen master, though. We set everything up and I immediately realized that Dave is just a fantastic person. Not even to me, but just in general. He is so patient and so kind. When you’re trying to help someone who clearly has more skills, sometimes you feel like you’re just getting in the way. I didn’t want to be the girl who just sits while someone else does all the work, so I asked to help and he gave me tasks to do and I asked questions and he gave me answers. My mom told me that you can learn a lot about someone from going camping with them, and she was right. More on that later, but immediately I learned that I can go outside my comfort zone without feeling stupid or him getting exasperated at my lack of inherent camping knowledge.
We got everything set up and it was time for dinner. We had a really hard time getting a fire started. Even though Dave made the fire, I say we because he did everything exactly as I would have done it. I was not sitting watching him wanting to say a word. This is a person that has been camping more times than he can count, and not at a campground. In the real wilderness. If anyone can make a fire, Dave can. Unfortunately, despite all of the proper measures, the damn thing just wouldn’t start. We figured out that it’s because the wood we picked up on the way was not dry wood – it clearly had been split recently and had not sat for a season. Anyone who’s made a fire knows that you start with kindling and work your way up to larger pieces – but for each larger piece of wood the base fire has to be hot enough to light the other pieces. In this case, the base fire had to be hot enough to first DRY the larger pieces and then light them. Have you ever tried to make a fire with wet wood? It sucks. The best thing to do is get something very small and smoldering started and then just blow on it like an hour later and it will go up in flames, once everything has dried out. Anyway, we just decided to go out to dinner instead.
We had a lovely meal in Northeast Harbor and went back to the campsite to settle in for the night. Of course it was raining when we got back to the campsite, and I am fairly sure it rained all night. I woke up several times damp and cold in the middle of the night and did not feel particularly rested when I woke up. My morning routine generally consists of sitting quietly with multiple cups of coffee while my brain gets started. So, in the morning, Dave knew that coffee was priority one. He bought a French Press before we left, so that I could have coffee every day (is this guy sweet or what?!), and he went about getting the fire started. Again I watched him do everything right and the damn thing just wouldn’t light. Finally he got it going and we had some coffee.
As far as learning things about people, you can learn a lot about someone making a fire. It has been my experience that most young men have their testosterone and man cards tied up in their ability to make a fire. To make matters worse, they love to just throw gasoline on wood and think that’ll work. Gasoline is great for a big, hot flame – but it’s brief. The flame doesn’t get hot enough to really get the wood going, which is how a fire is maintained. Layers of heat on layers of heat. So many bonfires typically started with some idiot siphoning gasoline out of a lawn mower or something to douse it on some wood and throw a match on the damn thing. Big shock when it doesn’t work. Meanwhile, I’m sitting patiently thinking about how idiotic they all look, and after twenty minutes I make the fire myself. I don’t even have to mock them, because they know without me saying it how stupid they are. Not to mention the fact that they get all bent out of shape when their methods don’t work – as if it’s the wood that’s the problem. No, dude. User error.
Anyway, none of that happened this weekend. I sat quietly and observed Dave mess around with it for an hour, endlessly patient. He never once appeared the least bit frustrated or impatient. He just kept tending to it and trying different approaches and exerted all this careful effort to make the fire, whereas even I would have kicked a log at that point. It was so interesting to see how he reacted to the circumstances.
Once we had some coffee in us, we set out for the day. Dave was interested in hiking Cadillac Mountain, but I wasn’t really in the mood for hiking all day. The pamphlets the campground gave us talked about so many cool things to do, and we just couldn’t make up our minds. A friend of mine had told me about one particular natural feature, so it was important to me that I check it out. The access to the place was on a road that looped around the entire park – Park Loop Road, of course – so we set out to find an entrance to the park road to drive to the place I wanted to go.
On the way, we stopped at pretty much every cool place we saw. We did some moderate walking through the woods by the shore to get from one place to another, and we saw a bunch of cool stuff. We went to Sand Beach and played in the Ocean. It was hot only because the sun was shining on us, so the water was cool and refreshing. There were some pretty cool waves – some so big they came over your head – and we body surfed. Well, Dave body surfed. I either jumped into them or turned my back while they crashed against me and knocked me over. Because I didn’t wear my bathing suit, I was wearing spandex running pants and a tank top. Turns out that a lot of surf means a lot of sand in the water. Also, it means that sand gets everywhere and it’s kind of impossible to get it out just by being in the sandy water. When we finally got back to the car, I just took my pants off and put Dave’s jeans on instead. Much better.
After the beach we went to Thunder Hole, which was the place my friend told me about. A lot of the Maine coastline is bedrock, it looks sort of like bluffs or cliffs. In some places the rocks aren’t very steep so you can walk around carefully along the coast. But, falling would be pretty dangerous because there really isn’t anything to stop you from falling down the rocks into the ocean. At Thunder Hole, it’s a big hole in the cliffs where the water crashed into it and sprays up and is really loud.
The rocks make a gentle slope down right to the water. Because Dave is the adventurous kind, he wanted to walk down right to the water… right on the wet rocks that the surf kept crashing onto. I declined, but did take some great pictures of him walking about sixty yard to the water just as a huge wave crashed up over the rocks all over him. Then he ran back to me because he was A) soaking wet and B) almost was carried out to sea. Yikes!
When we left Thunder Hole we went to Otter Cliffs. We had a nice walk up to the cliffs and along the way there was another opportunity to climb on some rocks. Dave spotted a cool spot to sit, and I again declined while he made the dangerous trek to the spot. I assumed he was walking to his death.
Once he returned safely, we hiked to the top of the cliffs and walked on the road back to the car. Just to give you a sense of scale, here is a picture from the top of the cliffs looking down to where he was sitting. Now I know I wasn’t being dramatic.
From there, we drove to Cadillac Mountain. We really wanted to reach the summit before sunset, so we were on our way. Driving to the top was cool, because we both agreed that it was nice not to spend the day hiking and got to do so many other cool things instead. When we got to the summit, we spent some time walking on the paved paths and also free-styling our walk on the bedrock around the summit and away from the people. We were trying to get to the west-facing side of the mountain to watch the sun set, without walking on the vegetation (as posted) and without going too far down so the trees obscured our view of the horizon. It was about an hour of walking to find the perfect spot. We found a cool place to sit and enjoyed the view.
We went back to the campground before it got dark because I knew the wood would still be wet and it would take an hour to really get dinner going. We made steak for dinner and then crashed – we were exhausted from a day of so much activity.
Sunday we woke up and it had rained overnight. More messing around with the fuego and we finally got to breakfast around noon. We were still exhausted, and it started raining, so we took a nap until about five. I was back to being cold and wet, so I said screw it – let’s go out to dinner. At this point I was very tired and trying to figure out the best way to ask Dave if we could leave a day early and just go to Portland (we had already planned to leave Monday morning and go to Portland for the day/night, head back home Tuesday morning) because I just really needed a shower and a good night’s rest in a warm, dry place. I was getting pretty snippy as well, just tired and tired of being tired. Once I had some beef stew and a philly cheese steak (because almost every meal/snack had consisted of seafood) I felt my sense of normalcy return. Dave agreed that we should just pack up and go, considering there wasn’t much left to do and the rain would only continue.
We went to the campsite and got everything in the car just as it got too dark to really see and we set out for Portland. It took us a few hours but I was just looking forward to a bed and a shower. By the time we got to his friend’s house it was midnight, too late to shower without waking them, so I just crashed in the guest room and slept until mid-morning Monday.
Whereas my first inclination in the morning is to have a smoke and a cup of coffee, I went straight for the shower. Don’t get me wrong – swimming in the ocean and hiking around and never really having clean hands is not that big of a deal – but there’s nothing like washing your hair after three days of having it in a bun. Dave’s friends were already gone for the day, so I went to the Portland city website to see what there was to do. I came across the Portland Ice Arena, so I immediately told Dave I wanted to go ice skating. I love ice skating, absolutely love it, and haven’t been in a few years. It just so happened that the Portland Ice Arena operates year round with public skating Mondays from 11-1. We had just enough time to get out the door and go.
Even more amazing, when we arrived, there was NO ONE THERE. We were the first ones on the ice! A few people showed up shortly after, but even still, there were fewer than fifteen people there all day. It was lovely to show off my slightly impressive (read: not at all impressive) skills, which mostly consist of not falling down and some minor turns and some awkward backward skating. After an hour or so of that, we went to Old Port.
Old Port is a great place. Lots of boutiques and stuff to wander around and see. I could spend days just wandering the cobblestone streets, but food was a priority. We went to this great restaurant on the water in a three-deck boat. So elaborate and fancy – but the sign on the door said casual dress was okay. Good for us, since we were wearing jeans and flippy floppies.
After lunch, Dave’s friend was home from work so we headed back that way. We went to the park to play Frisbee (read: I chilled on the grass while they played Frisbee) and we had lots of laughs, because Dave has really funny friends. Makes sense, he’s a funny guy.
We grabbed drinks at a local pub then went back to the house to have dinner and played a game of Balderdash. If you haven’t played, I highly recommend it. It’s a game all about making stuff up and everyone trying to guess which definition of the word/person/movie is the real one. Hysterical.
The drive back was pleasant and I just knew I’d be riding my vacation birthday buzz for days. I jokingly say that I’m worried that the happy police are going to come knocking on my door and demand that I cut it out – I’m just too happy. We had such a great time!!
I did learn, also, that I should never be on the show Survivor (a lifelong dream) because I am a big whiny pants and can’t rough it for real. I’m okay with that, though, because I can sort-of rough it for brief periods of time, which is all it takes for a great vacation!