Back in 2006 I went on a big adventure across the pond to work at a summer camp in New Hampshire. It was a transformative experience that helped shape the adult I was becoming and I built several friendships that have stood the test of both time and (mega) distance – shout out to Katie in Australia!
My last trip to Camp was in 2011, a full eight years ago. Since then many a thing has happened, including the worsening of health challenges, and as a result my confidence with travel has taken a blow… so much so that I turned down a trip to New York last April.
But an old friend passed away this year and his memorial was being held at Camp over a weekend in September. It was time for a visit.
So, this time last month I was busy prepping for my trip to New Hampshire.
I bought a sunflower lanyard, selected a carefully chosen seat on my carefully chosen flight, booked mobility assistance, and packed a myriad of items to get me through both the flight and the week with as little extra pain and stress as possible.
The plan was to land in Boston around 1.30pm on the Thursday afternoon then drive 60 miles to my Airbnb in Manchester, not far from Camp. I’d stay there a few nights, then take another 60 mile drive to Laconia and spend the rest of the week at a motel overlooking Lake Winnipesaukee. I’d catch up with old friends, then write, relax and maybe see a few sights before heading home.
Anxiety was high, not least because of the 7.5 hour flight to Boston – I hadn’t flown that far since 2014, and I hadn’t flown that far alone since 2011. The sciatica and inflammation of my sacroiliac joints are still present, and I was dreading my seat in economy. Also side note: NH is where I contracted Lyme disease so there’s that.
I used to travel a lot but since my health deteriorated in 2016 my confidence has really dwindled.
I declined that invite to NYC in April because I wasn’t confident I could manage my health and fully enjoy myself whilst there. Learning how to pace took time and it’s not something everybody is going to understand. But that’s my number one tip for planning travel with a chronic illness: pace yourself.
My spidey senses had been tingling for weeks leading up to this journey…
Last September Royan and I had our flight home from Barcelona cancelled, cutting our vacation in half, and our plane to Prague in February left without us! We’ve not had the best luck with travel in recent times, and it didn’t help matters when British Airways (dealing with pilot strikes) accidently emailed to say my flight to Boston had been cancelled. The communications faux pas was rather foretelling.
I boarded my flight at 10.15am for an 11.15am departure but we never left the runway. We were sat on the plane for two hours before returning to the gate to disembark. The 11.15am was cancelled due to technical issues and I was put on the 5pm flight, which then didn’t leave till 6pm. By the time I boarded I was a mess of tears and tremors thanks to the incompetence of an employee at mobility assistance who caused me real physical and emotional distress. That’s one of those long stories with several side stories, so I’ll not bore you with it, but I made a complaint that BA have passed on, and they’ve credited my Avios account with 7,500 points as a good gesture, on top of the compensation for my cancelled flight. It was an awful experience, but I’m happy with how the complaint has been handled, and the flight attendants took good care of me. Plus, the compensation for the cancelled flight is almost exactly what my flight and car package cost, so that’s a firm win …and you’ve got to lose some to win some, right?
The best laid plans…
So on top of the flight delay which resulted in me being awake for 24 hours, and the terrible experience with assistance: I had to constantly remind myself to drive on the right hand side of the road almost causing myself a danger on more than one occasion (thanks brain fog), my hair irons broke within five minutes of being plugged in, I got a chip on my windscreen, my GPS stopped working on the drive to Laconia (adding about 45 minutes of “where the heck am I” to my journey), I arrived at my Weirs Beach motel to discover a bike festival with live music taking place, and when that died down I could hear everything going on in the neighbouring room including when they peed, the people opposite held a birthday party till 3am, I sat on my glasses TWICE and of course bent them, and on my first full day I was joined by ants in the kitchen. That second night I was woken every hour by the beer fridge (which I eventually dragged into the kitchen), and on the second day I had a screw in my tyre which caused a flat whilst I was on a six mile stretch of road in the middle of nowhere!
I was exhausted the entire time I was away, but I don’t regret going, not for one second.
My Airbnb had sliding doors that led out to a deck overlooking the river. Just look at these pictures, stunning! If you’re ever travelling to the Manchester area of NH and need a place to stay, you should check this place out on Airbnb.
I got to spend time with good people who I hadn’t seen in years, and was able to say farewell to an old friend. He had a wonderful send-off.
I thought heading back to Camp would be like visiting a past life, but just as I have changed a lot over the years, so has Camp. It was surreal to be there, but not as daunting as I had anticipated it to be once the initial “OMG I’m here” had worn off.
And of course I managed to fit in a few visits to Walmart, Target, and Dunkin Donuts. I might not eat donuts, but I do love a good decaff americano. I also stopped by the Mall of New Hampshire on my way to Laconia. That was a pretty strange experience that I’m going to label as déjàvu-adjacent.
So I eventually got to Weirs Beach and there were a few mishaps with the journey and the motel, as mentioned above, but I was determined to keep on truckin’ and on the Tuesday after a good rest, I made my way to Mount Washington. The scenic views on the drive there were like nothing I’ve ever seen before; I wish I’d had a dash cam so I could share the footage! Turns out, that’s an actual thing on YouTube so here’s a video that shows a little of what I saw – skip to 3m50s, oh and turn up the volume for a Mario Kart vibe.
The Cog Railway – Mount Washington
Ever wanted to take a train ride to the top of a mountain? Well this was a pretty awesome experience. You can visit www.thecog.com/150celebration to learn a little about the fascinating history of this particular railway, which was the first of its kind back in the 1800s.
We travelled slowly to the top, taking in the sights and listening to our guide share a wealth of knowledge about the biodiesal and steam trains, and of course the glorious mountains. Mount Washington is well known for its drastic changes in weather and the closer we got to the top, the lower the temperature dropped. You’re advised to bring layers, which I did, but it was cold enough that I had to buy a pair of gloves from the gift shop! The fog came out of nowhere and visibility was poor, but on a good day you can look out far and wide across five different states.
I might not have got the views I’d hoped for, but I was at the top of a mountain! Not just any mountain; Mount Washington is the highest point in North Eastern USA, a place rich in history, welcoming many determined hikers – some of them making their way along the Appalachian Trail.
I felt emotional as I stepped off the train and got my bearings. This was a triumphant moment for me. When you are sick and stuck indoors for days on end, you can feel like life is passing you by. So to have been there in that moment was no small achievement. I’ll carry that memory with me for life, and I’ll not let it be marred by the flat tyre on my way home! Having a chronic illness teaches you to appreciate things that you might once have not been as appreciative of, and experiences that others may take for granted, are the things that some of us will cherish forever.
So about a mile or two down the road on my way back, my tyre went flat. Panic ensued.
Another addition to my series of unfortunate events, I had little “why me” moment then pulled it together. I wasn’t going to die here! I could change a tyre, it’s not like I have musculoskeletal problems or a neurological disease… oh wait.
I called Royan to talk me through it and as I was taking a look all the different tools, a kind stranger stopped to help me. He had been on the same train as me with his wife and three kids, and this hero changed the tyre in less than ten minutes. I will be forever grateful that he stopped to help me, and even more grateful that the tyre went flat there and not on the interstate!
Also, I was lucky enough to spot a beautiful bear whilst driving back to Weirs. Fun fact: the black bear is the only bear species in NH with population estimates of 4,800 to 5,000 bears statewide.
The following morning I bought a brand new tyre (the cost of which should be reimbursed) and I also had the windscreen chip stabilised so it didn’t crack on my route back to Boston. I then deliberated over whether to take the cruise across Lake Winnipesaukee.
I’d been looking out at the Lake and the cruise ship from my window, it was a two minute walk from my room.
I write about the Lake in my novel, I couldn’t go all that way and not take the cruise, but I was close to burning out.
I called Roy and he convinced me to take it anyway. He often complains that I don’t take his advice, but this time I did and it was grand advice. I had a great time!
I learnt loads about the Lake, I jotted notes down for my novel, and I marvelled at the surroundings. It was windy, but the sun was beautiful and as simple as it sounds, for a short time I just felt happy.
I made it back to the UK fairly unscathed, albeit exhausted, with many a tale to tell.
Another shout out to Roy for picking me up from the airport with a rehydration sachet at the ready! I may have had a more stressful experience than need be, but it was all character building, and I’m already planning my next trip – which I won’t be taking alone! (Travelling with a chronic illness tip number two: make sure you have the necessary support.)
Here’s a few more pics from Weirs Beach…