Wishing I could note my occupation as "cowboy" in the next census
Franconia Notch is a beautiful, rugged part of New Hampshire. The notch itself is lined with views and natural attractions, and Cannon Mountain and its ski trails loom large on the north end of it. But if visitors are willing to venture down some back roads, there’s more to be found. Franconia Notch Stables is one such place that, while off the beaten path, offers a chance to explore the area and enjoy the scenery in a different way.
Franconia Notch Stables, part of the Franconia Inn, is behind Cannon Mountain. It’s only a few minutes’ drive off of the highway. But it becomes quickly apparent that you’re in a more remote area. The Franconia Inn and adjacent stables are nestled in a little valley, surrounded by woods, mountains, and adjacent to a grass airfield. Everything has a more casual feel than the pleasant but more business-like places we sometimes run across in more hectic locales. This set things off on the right foot, as we prepared for our ride.
We’d lined up an hour-long trail ride at Franconia Notch Stables and were joining four other people. While we observed all of the horses to be well trained, each is still unique with its own personality. Accordingly, horses were matched with riders based on personalities, skills, and experience. However, prior riding experience isn’t necessary, and some riders had never been in the saddle. Also, these rides only proceed at a walking pace; no galloping to worry about for the newbie!
Setting out from the barn, the trails traversed fields, rivers, and woods. At times we were nestled in amongst the pines, and other points afforded us views of the surrounding mountains. The trails often include switchbacks, allowing the guide to easily observe the group and to offer helpful pointers.
Our guide, Abbott, was perfect for the ride. He was conversational and casual, but always observant and clearly experienced. His demeanor, obvious enjoyment of his work, and his watchful eye put some nervous riders at ease, while his conversation engaged the group.
The ride was also a great chance to allow all of us to fully engage with nature. Traveling at a slow pace, being in the woods on narrow trails, and seeing the world from atop a horse instead of in a car allowed people to see things differently. After settling into the ride, some began asking questions while others conversed with strangers, bonding over the ride. Sometimes people seemed alone with their thoughts while other times we were locked in on the task at hand, such as a river crossing. It seemed as if people’s work stress or any broader themes in their lives melted away and they could lose themselves in the trail ride, atop these beautiful animals, either proud in overcoming their nerves or happy in the purity of that moment.
We were sorry to see the ride end. But after taking a little extra time to walk through the Franconia Inn, we realized there’s plenty to enjoy with this property without having to leave: in addition to the horseback riding, there are tennis courts, a pool, Jacuzzi, restaurant, airplane rides, inviting chairs on the front porch, and in the winter the trails can be used for cross-country skiing. We resolved to come back and turn it into a weekend getaway, and are excited to have discovered a new place to explore further.
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.
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!
Adding water to "dirt therapy" and seeing what happens.
Mud Season: that time of year when you can’t ski, when you want to get outdoors, but when the world hasn’t quite sprung to life yet. It’s a final tease from the weather gods, but there are a few ways you can embrace this dirtiness and actually take advantage of it that might be tough to do during the rest of the year
1. Early-season mountain biking and hiking
Listen, these are dirty sports anyway, so why not go all in? I mean, really embrace that reality? Bombing through a mud puddle and feeling the splatter on your legs, then on your back from your rear wheel can play to your inner eight-year-old. You can eye muddy spots and guess how deep they are before recklessly charging ahead to find out. “Too deep” is a totally acceptable answer! Or, some shorter hikes can help rebuild your hiking legs, and the slipperiness is sort of like a full-body workout, as you fight to stay upright. Of course, any time you do fall, it’s important to get on your feet as quickly as possible and exclaim to whomever you’re with (or no one in particular), “I’m OK! Nothing to see here!”
(Note: in this case, please be mindful and skip muddy areas if they’ll create erosion as a result. Puddles that reform instead of washing away are the ones to look for.)
2. Brush burn
It’s really the world’s best home improvement project. You have a big fire going all day long, but half the time you’re sitting in a camp chair with a beer in your hand while you improve your property’s value a smidge. Easy-peasy! Plus, there’s something entertaining about having a marginally out-of-control fire that you allegedly can control with a metal rake and a garden hose. You can make the most of it by cooking over that fire – hot dogs or s’mores, anyone? Or order pizza and tell them to look for the flames rising several feet in the air. Tip: if you can get several friends over to help, just grab a log, periodically move around, but don’t work too hard. Friends won’t realize you’re not actually doing anything and they’ll do all the hard work!
3. Volunteering for trail clean-up
cause. Sometimes, there are also planned efforts to expand trails. While the organizations may provide the clean-up tools and may also give you some snacks and hydration, it’s good to check beforehand. Town conservation departments or your favorite nonprofits may have details on their websites. NEMBA, a regional mountain biking nonprofit, often enjoys going to a pub afterwards. Whichever the case, it’s a good way to pay back for the trails you may spend the upcoming months enjoying.
4. Puddle hunting
face? No kid can, and I bet any grown-up giving this a shot can’t, either. Impossible!
(Again, a reminder to avoid puddles that will wash away and cause erosion.)
be honest, if you’re on the highway and some vehicle is nearby caked in mud, you’ll notice and probably admire it a little bit and wonder what fun they were having. Here’s your chance to be the one caked in mud.
Whatever the case, mud season is short and will pass. But rather than lamenting it, just embrace it and see what adventures and stories might spring from that. Enjoy!
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.