Outdoors: When it comes to vacations, go with the flow

A view of a river and mountain in Wyoming. (Credit: Microsoft Images)
A view of a river and mountain in Wyoming. (Credit: Microsoft Images)

Why do we go on vacation?

That thought goes through the head of anyone who lives, contented most of the time, anywhere with a lot of outdoor opportunities. We’re not talking “stay-cation” here, i.e. taking a week or two off work to catch up on painting the house, dining locally, and enjoying the bay or Long Island Sound intermittently. No, here we mean truly “getting away” — to the mountains, to distant lands, to an unfamiliar lake or seashore.

The reason for going should be clear as soon as one gets on the road for an hour or as soon as one boards a train or bus. (Airline travel is another story, especially if you have to pass through security on a bad day, removing shoes, being patted down and facing metal detectors.) No more lawns to mow; no shopping lists; no pets. Maybe you park the dogs and cats in a good boarding facility. We do the same with our horses, hauling them to a boarding stable.

In summary, the petty day-to-day routine is suspended and, once the last items are checked off your list, the weight should come off your shoulders! I follow a simple practice with emails and voice mails, checking emails only sporadically and voice mails every couple of days. In remote locations you have a perfect excuse — much of the outdoor world doesn’t have Wi-Fi! As one Amtrak conductor often puts it: “Enjoy the scenery; it’s a lot better than your iPhone or laptop. Never mind the 21st century, think 19th!”

Plan on surprises, some pleasant, others not, and delays. If you’re in the right frame of mind, it won’t matter. So what if a paving crew delays your arrival at the next destination? So what if the fishing is lousy or the mountaintops are wreathed in clouds on the day you want to go to the tops?

On a trip to New Hampshire two weeks ago our most spectacular views didn’t come atop Mount Washington (which is clouded over or simply shut off due to awful conditions about 85 percent of the time, according to our guide) but on a day of pouring rain in Franconia Notch when we had the Flume practically all to ourselves. The best part of a “moose tour” we took one evening in the far north of New Hampshire wasn’t the one lone moose that finally emerged in a swamp after a thunderstorm, but the stories from the guide who drove the tour van.

There are certain activities like fishing, where you shouldn’t expect to find paradise. After all, on the North Fork, for example, you know where and when to find your bass, blues, fluke, whatever; there are few mysteries of time and tide, and you can pick your times to go fishing when fish are actually there. Book a trip to a distant lake or river well ahead and the conditions may stink; frontal systems, floods, warming waters or a poor run of migratory fish may give you no shot at all at getting any action. In such cases, you make the acquaintance of other outdoors persons, befriend guides, learn new techniques with new lures and try to enjoy the new surroundings. Note to middle-aged anglers: this is easy to say, but hard to do when you’ve just blown five grand, aiming for the fish of a lifetime!

At a certain time in our lives, we often vacationed with an eye to finding the perfect spot for permanent retirement, ideally some place that was rural with magnificent outdoor possibilities, a four-season climate, and access to some cultural opportunities if one traveled a bit. We never found it!

The north country has a wicked winter to get used to. The DelMarVa Peninsula has a summer that can be brutally hot and humid. And however tempting the Margaree Valley of Cape Breton seems, it’s just too hard to reach until one settles there for good! The last two places made us realize that the Paumanok of 1920 (Cape Breton?) or even 1950 (the DelMarVa?) at their best can only live once again through time travel. Maybe you just have to admit that. As a philosopher said, one never sets foot in the same river twice.

Returning from a good vacation can be difficult, however. Seems that the number of days it takes to dig out — mail, bills, appointments, etc., — is roughly equal to the time you were away. The letdown on the final day can be tough, especially if you have made the mistake of traveling too far to get home in the big push to squeeze the last things in. Beware of empty refrigerators, misplaced keys, and the evil blinking lights of the answering machine. Hopefully you get a good shower and a good night’s sleep and start digging out in bright sunshine after a decent breakfast. Then you can look back on a week (or on weeks) well spent!