Having more fun with the alphabet than I ever had playing crossword puzzles
Sometimes you have those days that are pretty wide open: no long list of chores, no big plans, maybe you’re on vacation with a light itinerary for the day. We found ourselves with such a day recently when we were on vacation, and weren’t sure how to spend it. So, just like my friends and I would do as kids, we invented a game, complete with rules and everything.
The rules were simple: do whatever we wanted, but find letters that the activities correspond to. The goal was to do stuff that touched on every letter of the alphabet. Intimidating? Nope. This didn’t require doing 26 different things, just doing stuff that involved words starting with all those letters. That meant one activity could score more than one letter. Ready, set, go!
This had the potential to be a stressful challenge that could leave us feeling over-programmed. But we started with a couple of things we definitely wanted to do, a possibility or two, and an assumption we’d find other stuff along the way. We opened up a new Note on my iPhone and marked down letters and words as we went along. If things were duplicates, we didn’t worry in the moment. We figured we’d sort stuff out later in the day and see what was left to tackle.
We wound up having a blast. It was a way to frame our day. It also led us to observe things we might have otherwise missed. And it also provided its own unique laughs. For example, when we went to visit a historical society and they didn’t show up to open their building, we declared we’d been “A… abandoned!” (Sigh.)
Conversely, when we went to a local brewery to have lunch and assess what we’d accomplished and what we had left to do, we proudly realized we could declare a trifecta, as we were drinking an “I-P-A”. We spontaneously hit a flea market, and I wound up with a $2 book by one of my favorite authors, eventually needing his N for Novel. And when we thought we wouldn’t come up with an X word, we thought about using Q for Quit. However, we’d learned earlier from a tour guide about the sappy pine trees that were pervasive in our area, and discovered that Xylem is like a tree’s artery, moving the sap through the tree. That became the final letter that gave us the win.
While we played this on a vacation day, and could start the day off before dawn watching a sunrise at the beach, it can be done anywhere. If your summer trips are over and you’re out of ideas for the kids while awaiting the start of the new school year, you can go at it the same way. If you’re a couple staying home for the weekend, it might be a way to discover some new things in your neck of the woods. Our longest activities were about an hour, from our sunrise at the ocean to a tour at an historical society (not the one that didn’t open on time). By contrast, the shortest was about five minutes as we snagged some seltzer water at the Eastham Superette.
It doesn’t really matter if you finish, just as long as you have fun in the attempt. Here are our final results, to give you an idea of how random the letters were. Start to finish, we were gone for about nine hours, making it a full day but still fine.
Jay Bell, temporarily trading a beach and a bathing suit for a bike and a beer
Often, when people head to beach towns on summer vacation, they may have expectations of sitting by the ocean and digging their toes into the sand. But for those who enjoy being more active, sometimes there’s a craving to indulge in something physical to offset the downtime and daiquiris. Cape Cod’s Old Colony Rail Trail (OCRT) offers a chance not just for exercise, but also an opportunity to better explore the area in a way not possible by car or walking.
The Cape Cod Rail Trail is the most well-known bike path on the Cape, now stretching from Yarmouth to Wellfleet. But if you’re not an avid cyclist, the roughly-fifty mile trip is too far if you want to traverse the whole distance. The OCRT, running from Yarmouth to Chatham, is roughly half the mileage, offering a legit but shorter route.
For the OCRT, the Cape is already tourism-centric and filled with small businesses, so it’s in a good position to incorporate such an effort into its broad array of activities. It has a number of highlights along its fairly flat route, from cranberry bogs to ponds and lakes, and wooded areas to quaint parts of towns. The street crossings and pedestrians out walking with strollers or pets on leash are grounds for caution, but the crossings are well marked and the path is wide enough for multiple users. The minimal climbs also make this route less demanding, which allows more people to ride and more riders to focus on the views instead of the cranks of the pedals.
The OCRT initially is on the same route as the Cape Cod Rail Trail to Wellfleet before branching off. Along with the views, you can stop at Devil’s Purse Brewery in Dennis, First Crush Winery in Harwich, Short ‘n’ Sweet Ice Cream in South Chatham, and the Chatham airport and its Hangar B café.
At the halfway point, and before heading back, you can also lock your bikes up and stroll Chatham’s downtown, one of the better ones on the Cape. In addition to its varied stores, you can enjoy lunch at the Squire, its well-known dive bar. Or, you can grab a cold drink and a sandwich at Chatham Cookware and then sit outside on a bench and watch the crowds strolling along Main Stream. Alternatively, you can pop into Snowy Owl, tucked behind a Lily Pulitzer store along Main Street, for some small batch coffee to enjoy under the shade of a tree.
For those inclined to give this a try, the trail was recently extended westward to Station Avenue in Yarmouth. But starting at the parking area on Route 134 in Dennis is easiest. You may choose to simplify, as you have the option to rent bikes from a bike shop adjacent to that same parking lot.
Devil’s Purse Brewery is close to the parking lot and is maybe a quarter-mile off the rail trail, making it a perfect spot for near-apres ride refreshment; cyclists regularly unclip and stroll in for a flight of these varied and excellent craft beers before finishing the last five minutes of riding.
Whatever your pit stops, and however long you choose to ride or shop or people-watch, the Old Colony Rail Trail allows you to cover a lot of ground. But, you can do so casually, without sitting in traffic, and seeing some parts of the Cape you might not otherwise run across, all at a more casual pace. There’s still plenty of opportunity for downtime at the beach in the morning or afternoon. But for those who also need to burn off the prior night’s mudslides or clam chowder, or for those who are just wired to often be on the go, the Old Colony Rail Trail is a hidden gem of Cape Cod.
Wondering if this will be a source of inspiration for my own family...
Sometimes, birthdays and bigger events like Father’s Day can seem more focused on the people organizing the event, or about objects, versus something more experience-based that also caters to the person being celebrated. In general, guys tend to be happy doing stuff outdoors, playing games, and maybe having a beer or some other drink. They also will never object to a group of people telling them how wonderful they are. This can often work far better than a tie or a new grill or having to get dressed up for a fancy lunch.
So, for Father’s Day, if you were to play to the Dad of Honor, you might consider starting off with something outside. Perhaps it’s golf, which tons of guys like this. And it doesn’t have to be Pebble Beach. It can be anything from playing 18 holes as a foursome to mini golf with littler ones, or something in between (such as an “executive par 3” which is a pristine-looking golf course that isn’t as long so it can be quicker to play). Courses can also be played as nine holes instead of the full 18. Kids can enjoy driving the cart, too, and you can often rent clubs. Plus, you can always play a "best ball" format or just pick it up if need be. It's not about the score!
Some examples of places that don’t get too packed or may not even require reservations include Pirate’s Cove mini golf with locations around the region and beyond; or the executive courses at the Berlin Country Club (no reservations) or King's Way on the Cape. Or the full-sized but not too hard Ellinwood Country Club in Athol (western Massachusetts) and Waterville Valley Golf Course in the heart of the White Mountains.
Or experience a more natural version of the outdoors, with a milder day hike or renting canoes. These can be casual, but can offer great views. Mount Monadnock in Southern New Hampshire and Skinner State Park both have killer views but reasonable hikes.
Even if the special dad in your life isn’t outdoorsy, the premise still applies. He would probably get a kick out of a group hatchet throwing event, or driving souped up go karts.
As noted with Vermont Canoe & Kayak, you can take the activity to a next-level experience by pairing it with something else, such as a family-friendly opportunity for a craft drink. In some cases, “family-friendly” may mean you can bring your kids, while in others it means you’re an adult bringing your older father. So, predictably, you’d just want to double check to ensure this fits with your family.
For example, Vermont’s Boyden Valley Winery and Smuggler’s Notch Distillery are more adult-oriented. But if you finished at King's Way, Hog Island is an awesome brewery, with food, lots of games, and a great atmosphere for all ages (including teens). Or the Nashoba Valley Winery, featuring a huge orchard, and wine, beer, and spirits, is extremely accommodating of all versions of a family, making it the perfect spot if you were at the Berlin Country Club; the nearby Battle Road brewery also has games, outdoor seating, and great BBQ at a renovated mill. Sunday River Brewing has a full service restaurant and often has live music, which pairs well with a couple of hours spent on the Androscoggin River.
Lastly, don’t feel restricted to a Sunday event. Sure, it’s the official day so you’d need to at least do a little something. But it could be really minor. If Saturday allowed a day without work the next day hanging over his head, or a chance to venture farther afield on a road trip, the dad in your life would understand. If it makes for a better experience with family, then the day that it occurs isn’t nearly as important.
The point of all of this is that, as a father, I can attest that experiences mean more than material gifts, and experiences that show an understanding of what I enjoy doing are more meaningful as well. These don’t have to be elaborately constructed or expensive; they don’t require reservations made months in advance. They only require thinking about what I like, who I love, and how to combine all of those things. Those simple guidelines are all it takes to create a lasting memory.
Best of luck to you and the dad in your life!
Finding new ways to keep things fresh.
Often, when you think of Cape Cod, you think of sandy beaches, vibrant restaurants, and other fun attractions, often filled with enthusiastic vacationers. While these are a lot of fun, they often come at a price that can add up, from $20 or more just to park at the beach, to admission to museums, to a pricy meal at a romantic restaurant or for a family. But that doesn’t have to be the case.
As fun as those activities are, we recently challenged ourselves with a goal of an inexpensive day trip on the Cape. The rules were simple: we each start with $25. Gas doesn’t count, nor do groceries, since we’d consume those even if sitting on our couch. Everything else comes out of that piggy bank. With only minimal research, we quickly found far more activities than we could squeeze into an action-packed day.
After leaving the other customers to continue admiring the display cases, we headed on to the Coast Guard Station in Eastham, one of the areas at the Cape Cod National Seashore. With an ever-rotating series of events, today celebrated Guglielmo Marconi, a Nobel-prize-winning inventor renowned for his work on wireless radio, including his transmission to Europe a century ago. On this International Marconi Day, wireless operators from around the world seek to establish as many connections with each other as possible. Coast Guard Station’s original transmission back in 1901 and the scarcity of people transmitting from this spot on the international grid makes this location highly sought after.
I’d worried that this might be boring, but discovered a niche activity with a passionate crowd and a long history. In this age of iPhones and amazing technology, it provided an interesting contrast to see how much more dependable this century-old system is. Instead of listening to a tedious presentation, we found ourselves enjoying the activity and spontaneously helping keep track of contacts from all corners of the globe. All this was at a cost of… nothing. $0 parking, $0 admission. Total cost so far: $1.
We decided to spend with reckless abandon, stopping at Orleans’ Hog Island Brewery, near the elbow of the Cape. This family-friendly brewery features indoor and outdoor games and seating, with cornhole sets outside, and ping pong tables, foosball, and other games inside. Hog Island also features guest beers in addition to its own creations, and offers a menu, which not all breweries do. We each grabbed a cold, craft beer and a gourmet hot dog to enjoy, as we processed our day’s events and watched families and friends playing all around us. After an hour, we settled up, which came to a whopping $12 after tax and tip, leaving us at $19 total.
Since we still had daylight left on a fantastic spring day, and with so many seasonal places reopening, we added one last stop where our day started: Dennis village. A couple buildings down from the Underground Bakery is Smuggler’s Ice Cream, offering delicious homemade ice cream. Indoor and outdoor seating makes it easy to linger, and to either cool off in the air conditioning or take in the atmosphere if outside. Either way, you’ll find yourself surrounded by smiling customers of all ages. After tip, this $5 treat brought our day to an end at $24.
Sadly, our day was done. But as we returned home, we realized this was an eye-opener. This challenge forced us to try new things. In doing so, we found so much more going on, from the passionate people to the varied activities. This was despite running out of time for some things we’d earmarked: whale sighting and education at another point on the National Seashore; a guided nature walk; and an earth day event featuring local artists and writers, just to name a few.
Oftentimes, we think of our community as a single, common group of neighbors. As this day showed, we live amidst a series of communities, all layered on top of each other. This creates an extremely vibrant and ever-evolving region that offers boundless opportunities to discover – and rediscover – ways to make the most of our days here… regardless of the budget you may have.
Extremely Helpful Links:
Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce: https://www.capecodchamber.org/events
Cape Cod Online: http://capecodonline.com/things-to-do/
Purveyor of Road Trips
Every year Nantucket bursts into life on the last weekend in April. The annual Daffodil Festival celebrates the arrival of Spring and awakening of an island largely dormant for the prior six months. With a wide array of activities, the biggest challenge is probably deciding what to do.
A fast ferry rounds the daffodil-wreathed Brant Point Lighthouse at Nantucket’s harbor entrance.
We’ve now been several times: with and without kids, and as day trips and a weekend-long stay, and all have been great experiences. Ferry tickets can book up, so we’ve made a point of reserving early. We also find the fast ferry to be a great option, especially for the return trip, since it isn’t very expensive and reduces the trip to less than half the time of the slow ferry. The one mandate is to wear yellow!
Saturday is the focal point of the festival, with a parade of antique cars decked out with daffodils and some people picking their own unique theme. The procession is lined up in the cobblestone downtown beforehand, where onlookers can inspect cars up close, chat with the parade participants, and capture some entertaining photographs. But that parade is by no means the only event of note.
Other theme-oriented processions and events center around dogs, hats, and storefront windows, all of which are decked out appropriately. All can be fun to join or just to check out. But these events are just scratching the surface of this weekend-long celebration that starts on Friday.
A variety of tours are available to choose from, including historical walks around the downtown area, to van tours of the island for island newbies and photographers, to ghost walks. Options also include nature areas, lighthouses, and spectacular sunsets. Some of the walks can be brisk, and others require reservations, so some planning is important.
There are also other types of events: flower and photography classes; historical society special events around whaling, founding families, and the Nantucket Whaling Museum’s interesting mix of exhibits and artifacts. For families with younger children, the family beach picnic is a great choice after the parade. Wine tastings can
be fun for grown-ups. Artistic movies, live music, and other events can also be fun to check out.
Many of the restaurants open at least briefly, as a way to dust off the cobwebs before May begins to see the uptick in tourists in advance of Memorial Weekend. Many stores also reopen, offering sales and a great mix of merchandise to browse. Cisco Brewers, on the far side of the island, also offers a familyfriendly atmosphere along with its beers, wine, and spirits, and live music in a great location; the shuttle running from downtown makes this easy and inexpensive to get to.
We found that staying over for the weekend allowed an opportunity to really immerse ourselves in the experience. One day can be a blast, and also exhausting by the time we’re on the return ferry. Staying near downtown provided easier access to many events, and allowed us to briefly return to our room when desired. While Nantucket can be expensive, we found reasonably priced rooms to choose from. Choosing one with a small kitchen further defrayed our costs while giving us more food options.
Aside of the official events, we also enjoyed simply strolling around downtown in the early morning fog, going for a run, sitting at a small park with an afternoon coffee as we watched a unicyclist successfully navigate the cobblestone street, and meandering through historic sites such as a cemetery where many of the island’s founding fathers are buried.
The whole island is celebratory, and after a winter of seclusion, fate seems to typically want to reward it with surprisingly good weather. However, it’s not as busy as it becomes a month later, so this is often a
good time to visit without having to fight the masses to get a table for dinner. We’ve not needed a car, which can be a real challenge anyways, opting for taxis for the limited times they’re needed.
Nantucket’s rich history, easily navigated island, and mix of events have given us some of our favorite memories each of the last few years. Its online event listing is updated up until right before the event, which also helps us map out the key activities we want to enjoy. This, along with the great vibe, make Nantucket’s Daffodil Festival a must-do springtime event to check out!
Good adventures start as dreams. Enthusiasm turns them into great memories.
New England adventures can accommodate any season, any timeframe, any type of group, and any budget.