Salem: Beyond the Witches

Salem, Massachusetts is a mid-size town along coastal New England. It’s famous for a tiny 17th Century misunderstanding that resulted in the stoning, burning and murder of 20 residents. No big deal, right? If you grew up in MA/NH/ME area of New England chances are you spent an entire month in school studying this NBD, also known as the Salem Witch Trials.

In summary, the reality of post-war, puritan New England set in with this deeply religious community. In addition, controversy bubbled up behind the ordaining of Reverend Samuel Parris. Locals disliked his ways and greed.

In 1692, Rev. Parris’ daughter and niece began having “fits.”  (fits: screaming, throwing things, uttering weird sounds and contorting their bodies in strange, unusual positions.) Presumably at a loss, a local physician blamed … THE SUPERNATURAL!

Under pressure from local magistrates, the girls blamed three women for afflicting them: Tituba, the Parris’ slave, Sarah Good, a homeless beggar and Sarah Osborne, an elderly impoverished woman. The woman were brought to trial, two proclaiming their innocence, the salve confessing “the devil came and bid me to do it.” The spark that would ignite paranoia was lit and the rest is history. (For the record, I remembered about 60% of the above from school. I had to look the rest up. Yet again, thank goodness for the internet.)

By today’s standards, the Witch Trials resemble Tina Fey’s biting (and accurate) Mean Girls but on steroids. But for whatever reason, people love the story and the idea that Salem is home to a lot of witches and witchcraft. They love it so much that the other “gems” of Salem, in my opinion, get overlooked.

What exactly are these gems? Thank you for asking…

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I loved the “pop” the turquoise door makes against the black frame of this house. It’s so un-colonial while pretending it is.
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The Flying Saucer pizza has great pizza and craft beer. Have no fear, Trekkies are welcome and they have memorabilia that will appeal to you as well.
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Harrison’s Comics & Pop Culture is *the* place for relics of days gone by (like this one) as well as TONS of Walking Dead and other more current stuff.
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Literary wonks will know interested to know this is The House of Seven Gables, that inspired Nathaniel Hawethorne to write the novel. (It’s also the oldest wooden mansion in New England.)

Other Salem gems not photographed but worth your time: Gulu-Gulu Cafe for lunch, Sea Level Oyster Bar (upstairs) for drinks and Captain Dusty’s Homemade Ice Cream for your sweet tooth.

If you are in New England, don’t wait until Halloween to visit this lovely community. It’s a great day trip from Boston (and not nearly as crowded) and Portsmouth, NH.

For visitors with a car, Salem is located off I-95 in Massachusetts. Parking was pretty easy since we were visiting a friend. Without that perk, you may want to Google “parking in Salem” to find a lot closest to your destination. Plan to pay $10-$15 for a day. You can also access Salem via MBTA Train.

Diving into Local History: USS Albacore

If you’ve ever wondered if you are claustrophobic, I’ve got a great way for you to find out. Visit the U.S.S. Albacore submarine in Portsmouth, NH.

The Albacore
The Albacore

I don’t recall having issues with closed spaces as a child. I know that over the past decade, a no-big-deal MRI resulted in full on panic attack. I was fine. And then the physician asked how I was doing. Right on que, my heart started racing. I got hot, then I got cold. My heart kept pounding. Deep breaths were completely useless. Then I was like, “GET ME THE HELL OUT OF HERE.” That test was done.

But this was all a distant memory when Mr. Os announced he wanted to visit the Albacore during a recent trip to New England. In the 20+ years growing up in the area, I’d never actually done this and happily agreed to a mini-adventure.

There are a few things you should know about visiting the submarine, if you aren’t from the Portsmouth/Seacoast area. The Albacore is a submarine with significant historical significance for the United States and our Navy. From the USS Albacore’s website:

“Albacore served as a sea-going test platform from 1953 to 1972. Albacore’s teardrop-shaped hull was the prototype for the Navy’s nuclear powered submarine force and was the first boat built specifically to operate underwater. Prior to Albacore, submarines had been characterized as surface vessels that could submerge.”

And, it’s also the stuff of (local) legends. You see, and the park kinda glosses over this, the Albacore wasn’t actually in New Hampshire when a local elected official came up with the idea of a park. As I recall it was years of negotiating, bickering and fund raising before the sub was moved to the area. Even moving the Albacore to it’s permanent home wasn’t easy. After months of planning, a quick change in tides resulted in the sub being grounded in the Piscataqua River for several hours.

This happened pre-Internet, making it tough to search out the nitty-gritty gossip in today’s world. (Hint: pay close attention to the briefing introductory video before touring the submarine. A few bits about this are buried in the piece.)

A tour of the Albacore is self-guided. Outside the welcome center, you’ll see standing grey boxes with red buttons offering commentary about where you are and quotes from now retired crew. Inside the sub, look for large red buttons.

These are the audio boxes outside of the submarine. Personally, I thought they were set up backwards. Don't you want people on the footpath, not on the grass?
These are the audio boxes outside of the submarine. Personally, I thought they were set up backwards. Don’t you want people on the footpath, not on the grass?

Visitors enter the sub in the forward area, right next to the crew’s bunk beds. I stepped in and looked around. Then Mr Os stepped in. And, again right as he was opening his mouth to ask how I was feeling, my heart starting racing and my vision started to shrink. I shoved him onto a bunk bed, declaring “I gotta get outta here.”

You might be claustrophobic if looking at these offices quarters is making you queasy.
You might be claustrophobic if looking at these officers quarters is making you queasy.

Thankfully, I didn’t pass out or flip my noodle completely. The entire tour, for me, was one heart-pounding step after another. I could barely look at the shower facilities because they were so tiny and cramped. To think service men and women live like this for days on end. Wow, I salute you.

As for me, I've never been so happy to see an exit sign. Seriously.
As for me, I’ve never been so happy to see an exit sign. Seriously.

I enjoyed our little excursion, but overall, I found the submarine under-whelming. Given that my hometown is Washington DC, my family immediately labeled me a museum snob. I’m not sure I agree but they are entitled to their opinion.

Here a few things about the Albacore that bummed me out.

1. The audio tour, part one. I’m normally a fan of audio tours. I enjoyed the crew member commentary but it was almost always inconsistent with what we were looking at. I’d like to see the Albacore Park reedit or redo the audio component of the tour so the commentary aligns better with the tour. The crewman’s voices and stories are history, I really felt the tour doesn’t do enough with these testimonials. Better yet, reach out to the crewman and do a StoryCorp.

2. The audio tour, part two. Outside the submarine, the audio element of the tour is housed in grey steel boxes. The audio feed faces away from guests so they have to stand on the grass to hear the commentary. This disrupts foot traffic and is also killing your grass.

3. Non personalized tours. The volunteers we encountered were ridiculously welcoming. I don’t understand why they are only manning the museum and check-in. I’d like to see them giving a once/daily tour. As veterans, their first hand perspective is invaluable. In fact, as this Greatest Generation passes on, it’s literally an opportunity that is dying right before your eyes.

4. Introductory video. I like the introductory video but it’s too long to hold visitors attention. I’d like to see this edited into smaller segments so people will be more likely to listen to it. In an ideal world, tour guides (see above) could stream short segments while giving once daily tours.

If you are history buff, you’ll enjoy visiting the Albacore. Like I said the staff at the entrance is retired Navy and incredibly welcoming. Even if you read everything on the submarine, it’s a brief tour. But all in all, I’d like to see the Park’s Staff do some fund raising to up their game.

Never give up

Never give up
On the surface, there is nothing spectacular or interesting about this image. Yet, it’s incredibly symbolic to me. While i was hiking the Inca Trial, there was a moment on the way up Dead Woman’s pass where i thought, ‘i can’t go any further.’ For some reason, i snapped a photo. After the trip, that pictures meaning skyrocketed. Whenever i felt like i couldn’t go any further, or i couldn’t do any more, i looked back at the image. On my recent ride, this was the moment, 8 miles from the finish, when i was ready to throttle my Dad and throw down my bike from exhaustion. And so one more time, i took a photo to be forever reminded to never give up. Photo taken outside of Belfast, ME circa June 2013.

How Was It?

Immediately after the Trek, everyone asked me “how was it”? I mean EVERYONE asked me. I know that most people were asking with the best intentions, like ‘how was it, did you have fun or was it torture?’ Others were asking because they get that riding 180 miles with your Dad could be an amazing lifetime memory. Or, it could turn into a disaster.

The truth is, the ride was fine. I’m sorry that i’m not more enthusiastic or forthcoming with details. I don’t mean to be off-putting. I mean, it wasn’t on my own personal bucket list to do the ride. Despite my mediocre training, i always knew i would finish. The ride is my Dad’s thing. Because i’ve heard about it for the past 10 years, I have a hard time articulating how it was in my own words but i’ll give it a shot.

It is hard to sit on a bike for 70 miles a day. Your butt hurts when you start the second morning. But you soon move from pain to numbness. Stretching at every rest stop is so incredibly important and while you are at it, you wonder why they don’t have beer and cocktails at each rest stop. (Okay, i completely understand *why* but there were many times when i just wanted a drink. End of story). At night, you crash by 9:00 so you can get up and do it all over again.

You pray you don’t get a flat (i did) or that your chain won’t fall off (mine did). Inevitably, it will happen and when it does you pray you, as a novice cyclist, can figure out how to fix it. I could, well, the chain at least.

As you ride you try to pay attention to scenery. It’s gorgeous. You acknowledge people having a conversation with you. As an asthmatic, it’s hard to engage in too much conversation. My Dad can attest to this after we nearly came to blows at my unwillingness to expend precious oxygen on much more than a grunt.

And you just sort of take it all in. There is your Dad, in all his glory. Having fun, doing what he loves, having fun. I know i said that twice but that’s how much fun he was having.

So, the ride was fine. I enjoyed myself and enjoyed challenging myself physically. I was humbled to have the ability to do the ride, even i only did “okay” by my own standards. I was grateful to work for a company that grants me enough vacation that i could enjoy this time with my Dad and still have my own vacation later this year. And i am blessed that my Dad is still with me, physically more fit than i am, and showing me how important it is to have fun in life.

So how was it? It was pretty good.

Results. I got them.

Aside from having to walk up a hill during the Trek Across Maine because i didn’t train enough, my biggest fear was not meeting my fundraising commitment. This is perhaps an irrational fear and yet, that was my concern.

It’s hard to explain where this came from. Like most people, i tend to approach the subject of money with extreme caution. I watched a few friends go through extremely difficult times during the recession and i believe that things are still tenuous at best for others. During the same time frame, we tightened our house hold expenses and continue to try to run a tight ship. As a result, and with a heavy heart, i often don’t help charities or friends with similar fundraising. Who could blame someone for not supporting me when i didn’t help them? And of course, we all remember finding out that the Red Cross used the vast majority of post September 11th Terrorist Attack donations to upgrade their infrastructure…WTF. I’m always leery that my pet cause will suffer the same fate. I’m sure a psychologist would have some label for this, maybe rationalizing my failure in advance?

Turns out that fundraising was an eye-opening experience for me. Friends who i had not spoken to recently generously opened their wallets. Even co-workers were kind enough to donate. With a lot of social media, email blasts and behind-the-scenes help from my Dad*, i managed to exceed my goals.

The result (selfishly), i was entered in the prestigious Trek winners circle. The circle is a very generous way to thank participants who raised $1,000 or more for the American Lung Association. When you check-in for the ride, you are ushered to a special room, greeted with significant fanfare: massive cheers from the volunteers and CEO, and thank you gifts from Trek sponsors. The room is decorated with balloons and all winners circles names and fundraising achievements are posted. Before i forget, thank you LL Bean for that gift card! You have no idea how badly i need a new suitcase!!

Look at the Kennedy family on the Trek2013 winners circle wall
Look at the Kennedy family on the Trek2013 winners circle wall

The result (bigger picture), is that research to eradicate lung disease and continue healthy air efforts (read: lobbying) will be supported for another year. That’s really the point of the ride and it hits home when you arrive in Bethel. Individuals and team members ride in memory of friends and loved ones. You see lots of jersey’s and buttons honoring people who died after battling lung disease. It’s incredibly moving.

An example of some of the moving team tributes you'll see at the Trek Across Maine
An example of some of the moving team tributes you’ll see at the Trek Across Maine

I think, the opportunity to honor a friend or loved one is really what motivates people to participate in the Trek. I mean, it’s not easy to cycle 180 miles, nor is it easy to prepare yourself emotionally for this ride. That’s probably even more true if you are riding in memory of someone. I’m sure some participate because they are training for bigger, longer rides. Others participate for fun or because someone asked them to (duh, me) and that’s fine. What brings people back is the opportunity help and honor someone. And that’s probably the biggest result and most significant result for the Trek.

*Another writers note. Turns out my Dad was absolutely, positively committed to getting me in the winners circle with him. Once he met his fundraising goal, he gently suggested family member’s contribute to my fundraising efforts. That was really sweet because i refused to ask family to support me. I didn’t want anyone to think we were “double dipping.” 

Trek Across Maine: 3 Days of Father/Daughter Bonding

Sunday River welcome sign for Trek Across Maine cyclists
Sunday River welcome sign for Trek Across Maine cyclists

The title of this entry probably makes my Trek Across Maine sound a lot more dire than it was. (That must be my flair for the dramatic.) I decided to participate in this 180 mile bike ride across Maine as part of my 2013 goals, one of which was to travel more.

Admittedly, my Dad begged me for years to join him but the idea really came to life when i forced myself to write down a few simple goals for the year. Although i grew up in Maine, there are a lot of places i never saw or even rode a bike through. This always sounds funny to people outside of New England. It’s a big state, people! Maybe not Texas big but it’s big and spread out.

Now that you’ve been acquainted to Maine geography, let me also add a few fundamentals that are important to know about this adventure.

  1. The Trek Across Maine (Trek), starts in Bethel, Maine and goes across the state to Belfast, Maine. The ride is 180 miles over about 2.5/3 days (depending on how fast you cycle).
  2. It’s a ride not a race. This is according to my Dad.
  3. The Trek is a fundraiser for the American Lung Association’s NorthEast Chapter. You have to raise a minimum of $500 to participate.
  4. I hate asking people for money.
  5. Days typically start between 6:00-7:00 a.m. And I was on vacation.
  6. Depending on what lodging you selected, after riding you are camping out or sleeping in a dorm room.
  7. The first day of the ride is longest; the day of the ride is all hills.
  8. If my Father ever says “it’s all down hill from here” to me again, i will probably clobber him.

I threw number six in to make sure nobody thought we were staying at the Four Seasons. I enjoy hiking and have certainly “roughed it” during other adventures so the concept of the Trek and camping/dorming did not bother me. The one thing that probably bothered me was how over-the-top, Gung-ho my Dad was about this.

Since you don’t know my Dad, let me tell you he takes being passionate about something to an entirely new level. The man is not just passionate about cycling, he has multiple bikes hanging up in the basement for different types of terrain and cycling distances. (I am confident his bike collection is worth more than my shoe collection.) He lobby’s for cyclists rights, he teaches people safe cycling habits and techniques. And he likes to ride fast.

And this is where we get to what bothered me. At one point during my training, my Dad let it slip/joked/stated in a matter of fact way, that he would meet me at the finish line since he was confident i couldn’t keep up with him*. After nearly reaching through the phone to throttle him, i calmed down. And then i got competitive. Like, nobody-puts-baby-in-the-corner competitive. Picture me: “oh really, i can’t keep up with you? i’ll show you.” Looking back on my childhood and this conversation, i’ve come to realize this is my Dad’s way of supporting and motivating me.

And that actually did motivate me. I repeated that exchange before every spin class and distance ride for four months. And i did it right up until the last six weeks before the ride when i was traveling non-stop for work and got violently ill the week before i had to ride. Oops.

Despite needing some major meds, i did the ride and i did okay. Yeah, yeah, my goal was pretty low: don’t walk up any hills and cross the finish line before or ahead of my Dad.

I’m undecided if i’ll do it again next year but not because i didn’t enjoy hanging out with my Dad and seeing him in his glory. The training just takes so much time. As a trekker with asthma, i actually should have trained a lot more than i did. If i had put in some longer rides, i bet my lungs would have been a lot happier with me. The thing is, i just don’t know how you balance working full-time, a house/chores and needing to ride a minimum of five hours every weekend. Also, it’s a looooooong haul from DC to Bethel, Maine. In fact, at one point i jokingly asked my Dad if we were going to do any cycling since all i had done for two days was sit in a car.

And yet, when i look at this picture of me and my Dad, i realize its probably predetermined that i’ll be back next year. My Dad is a pretty happy guy, but i can’t remember the last time i saw him smile this much (even after he witnessed just how bad i am in the morning)!

Me and Dad at the Trek Across Maine staging area, two miles before the finish line.
Me and Dad at the Trek Across Maine staging area, two miles before the finish line.

*writers note: i am confident that at some point my Dad will read my blog and this post. Therefore, i acknowledge this is not his quote verbatim. This is what i heard from our conversation.

Training for the Trek

It’s been a little over a month since i officially signed up for the Trek Across Maine. The weather is still pretty cold, even by DC standards, so a lot of my training has been done at the gym, spinning. I’ve graduated to 2.5 hours of straight spinning on Saturday mornings. Talk about a workout. This morning i decided weather be damned, it was time get some outside training in.

After a warm up loop through DuPont Circle, i came back to the Logan Circle area with the goal of getting up the hill on 13th Street twice. It’s not much of hill in a car. I wasn’t sure what it would be like on a bike. Turns out it is hard in cold weather and riding against the wind. While my lungs burned, i made it twice. And on my second pass a construction worker gave me the high-five. I think i could have done it three times which makes me feel pretty good about my training thus far.

As for fundraising, i’ve raised a little over $300 dollars in the past month just asking friends to support my Trek. I feel like family is off-limits since my Dad always asks them to support his ride. A few people have committed to help but haven’t “pulled the trigger” just yet. I understand money is tough, i just hope they were sincere when they said they would contribute. I wouldn’t be offended if people can’t or don’t. I would be upset if someone said they would and then didn’t. Maybe that’s just me.

I’ve had two challenges to date. The first is trying to decide what type of gear i really need versus what people just want to sell you. Since i’m not 100% sure this will evolve to a lifetime hobby i have been pretty frugal to date with gear and equipment. I hate spending money on things that i won’t be used much. One thing that is a HUGE necessity, even if ugly beyond belief, are cycling shorts. What a difference those make. After this mornings ride, i think a pair of proper long-legged cycling pants are in order. Not sure yet so stay tuned.

The other is figuring out the best foods to power long training rides. I really, really wish i paid more attention in those high school nutrition classes. I am a picking eater with a lot of food texture issues. The foods i tend to eat –toast– don’t necessarily give me enough fuel for Saturday rides. So, i’m  having some adventures trying work more protein into my diet. Tofu smoothies with fruit have been a blessing. I’m also trying to cut out bread and go for more fruits or lean proteins. Mind you, i don’t eat dairy so this really is a work in progress with a lot of complete failures along the way.

I’m still interested in finding a riding buddy to expand my weekend training. My Dad gave me some suggestions so i’ll have to look into that.

And there you have it. My first stage of training. I’ll be sure to update everyone in a month.