Misreading Maps, Irking Tweens, and Avoiding the Night Stalker

In many coming of age films, there is a scene where a teen thrusts their head out the window and screams into the wind to emphasize the freedom they feel in that moment. I had a similar experience—minus my head sticking out the window—last week as I began my five-day exploration of Maine.

The solo trip was inspired by an unforgettable trek to Canada where I unplugged for a weekend while sightseeing. During that trip, I barely used my phone and found the lack of communication with the outside world to be immensely refreshing. Wanting to replicate the freedom I felt then, I made plans to spend a few days swimming in the ocean and hiking through the mountains of Maine. The trip felt even more necessary after months spent quarantining at home, so to truly unplug, I created a few ground rules. They provided a backbone to my adventure, and it was thanks to them that my trip was so memorable.

Rule #1: Camp in My Car

When people hear that I sometimes turn my car into a mobile home, they react in one of two ways 1) “Woah dude…you’re like a #vanlife influencer!” 2) “Wait, what? You are going to sleep in your car?” To be honest, I’ve never heard the first response, but I have certainly gotten the “you must be lying and actually sleep in a hotel” reaction. Regardless of how people viewed the decision to sleep in my car, I was excited by the prospect of saving money while giving myself the ability to travel wherever I wanted without being anchored to pre-booked accommodations.

Most memorable moment? Awakening at 1 a.m. to see a car standing at the entrance of the utterly isolated camping spot I’d secured on state land at the base of Saddleback Mountain. It felt like something from a Stephen King novel—fitting since I was in his home state—and I thought I was going to die. Thankfully, the car moved along after a few terrifying moments, and I never had to learn what would have happened if its driver had decided to pay me a visit.

Rule #2: Avoid Chain Restaurants

As someone who loves nothing more than to eat food from Taco Bell’s value menu, I knew I needed to set a rule that would prompt me to seek out local food. Also, let’s face it, it’s nearly impossible to create an aesthetically pleasing Instagram Story using photos taken between the dumpster and menu board that somehow characterize every fast food drive-thru.

I found myself stopping along the route to indulge in cuisine that included freshly made croissants, a savory avocado BLT, and a lobster roll drenched in butter. An unexpected bonus was that each detour allowed me to meet interesting people who ran the establishments where I was sampling the local flavors. The overall experience was positively mouth-watering, and I know that wouldn’t have been the case if my food tour had been populated by Dunkin’ Donuts and Popeyes.

Most memorable moment? Trying to order the aforementioned lobster roll—something I’d never done before—from an aggressive 12-year-old manning the food truck that his family apparently owned. Having the notion that a lobster roll was essentially sushi, I was subjected to a chillingly judgmental stare by the child when I asked if it came rolled up or on bread. Based on his perturbed expression, you’d think I’d asked him if he thought that L.L. Bean was overrated. I breathed a sigh of relief when he arduously suppressed his northeastern rage and allowed me to order a “lob-staah” roll which turned out to be my favorite food of the entire trip.

Rule #3: Only Use my Phone for Photos

As someone who tends to cling to their phone with the ferocity of a Kardashian during a scandal, I initially struggled with the concept of completely unplugging. However, after some time spent soaking in my surroundings rather than staring at a screen, I soon became accustomed to the new normal. I began to look forward to scanning radio stations for songs I’d never heard (my favorite discovery being You’re the Inspiration by Chicago) and reading the stack of books I’d brought along without pausing to check my phone.

Most memorable moment? Feeling extra adventurous, I’d borrowed my grandparents’ atlas to replace Google Maps. The only issue is that my ability to read maps is akin to my knowledge of football which caused me to spend over four hours blissfully driving in the wrong direction on the second day of the trip. I don’t know if it was because I was too busy singing along with whatever backcountry radio station my car picked up, but I failed to grasp the fact that I was driving south instead of east. It wasn’t until I’d stopped to take some photos by a river that I realized I was in Connecticut and would soon reach the Long Island Sound if I didn’t turn around. It was frustrating at the time, but I did my best to view the detour positively since it allowed me to explore a state I hadn’t originally planned on visiting.

There were many more unforgettable moments that came during my time in Maine—like when a group of fifteen Baywatch-level attractive lifeguards interrupted my morning beach read of The New Yorker to exercise right behind my lawn chair—but I’ll leave those stories for another day. And just like a self-righteous travel blogger, I’ll end this by reiterating how transformative and freeing the trip was, and I’ll make sure to emphasize how you must try to do something similar if you can. I promise the memories you make will be worth the repulsive appearance that comes from sleeping in your car.

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