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  • Writer's pictureBeverly Stoddart

Staycation: Submarines and Rail-riders

The date is September 6, and it is the last day of our 2021 vacation. I walk outside on this gorgeous end-of-summer day and see a blue sky that reminds me of the line in Carly Simon’s song Let the River Run: “the sky is the color of blue you’ve never even seen in the eyes of your lover.”

My morning glories seem to be sleeping late this morning. The green leaves shake in the slight breeze. They are getting near the end of their life cycle, but I know I will see them again next summer.

We have had a great vacation, albeit a rainy one. On a day like this, I wonder, why would anyone leave New Hampshire in the summer? Out of town tourists pay good money to come here and enjoy what she has to offer.

We do not travel far for a few reasons. First, we have two rescue dogs, and anyone who has rescued a neglected and sometimes abused dog will understand. Second, they love us but other people not so much. Our girl, Amber, is twelve and has been shifted too many times. I promise her no surprises, so staying at a kennel is not an option.

The second reason for staycations for us is we own a gym, Effective Fitness, in Londonderry. My husband works six days a week and goes in on the seventh to finish chores and get in a good workout. He finds taking one extra day off a week is what he needs to refresh rather than cram a vacation into a week or two.

So, from June 7 to today, we have taken every Monday for a vacation day, and this is my “what I did on vacation” story. Food and fun are our goals, and among the trips is a harbor cruise in Portsmouth. We go to Hampton Beach to see the sand sculptures and get a delicious slice of pepperoni pizza. The crust is thin and crispy, and it’s a big slice. Then, we do Boston one rainy day like a real tourist and visit Faneuil Hall, the North End and have lunch at the Union Oyster House where I have clam chowder and fish tacos.

Salem, New Hampshire, has an event location with the Tuscan Village, a 170-acre development at the former Rockingham Park Race Track. We wander around Lake Park, where LL Bean teaches kayaking in the custom-made lake. Finally, we head into the Tuscan Market, where we shop for cheese, bread, and specialty oils. We take a seat and order a Margherita pizza. Upon arrival, it has a beautiful and crispy, bubbly crust, fresh mozzarella, and basil. The aroma alone makes us want to dig in and enjoy.

There is so much to do in New Hampshire. A 45-minute drive can get you to a world of places, people, sites, and sounds. Two trips were brand new to us and a standout opportunity.

USS Albacore and Friendly Toast:

We have passed the USS Albacore Museum countless times going to Portsmouth. However, this year was the first time we decided to put it on the agenda. The website tells us, “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.” The sub was launched on August 1, 1953, and served as a sea-going test platform until 1972.

We arrive at the museum and greet a friendly volunteer who helps us with the self-guided tour and my claustrophobia. He tells me the first thing I should do is simply go in the hatch and just have a seat on the steps, take a look around and get a feel for the space. I follow his advice and immediately feel all is well. We begin our journey back in submarine time, and I am happy I did. The USS Albacore is a fantastic journey into human engineering genius.

Narrow passages lead us from room to room. We enter the wardroom doubling as a workspace for officers and a food-eating space where officers ate the same food as the crew.

Small hatches no more than three and a half feet high by two feet wide take you to different parts of the sub. There are wheels, gauges, knobs, buttons, and pipes everywhere.

In the bow compartment are the enlisted crew’s quarters. There are a staggering 26 bunks in a space too small to believe. We make our way to the ship control area. I take a seat in the Diving Officer’s inboard seat, the one closest to the center of the sub. The outboard seat is for the Helmsman. My husband looks through the periscope in the control room center to the outside view. I imagine captains before him doing this. Next, we pass through the mess deck, where the crew ate their meals on tables with checkers and backgammon boards printed on the tops.

At the end of the journey, we agree it is a one-of-a-kind experience. As we exit, we pass an older man who seems to want to linger a little longer on the way out the aft part of the sub. I get his fascination.

Our vacations always focus on food, and we head to the Friendly Toast. Before it came to Bedford, we had to get our fix at this original location in Portsmouth. The restaurant is busy, and our waitperson gets right down to business. I order avocado toast and iced coffee, and my husband has a burger. Everything is oversized and delicious from this scratch kitchen, especially the homemade bread. The meal is just what we need to continue our day of shopping.

Scenic Railriders:

Scenic Railriders, on Sewall Falls Road in Concord, is tucked in the forest and offers a unique, fun, and easy adventure. We had a beautiful, sunny day to ride the rails on custom-made rail-bikes taking us through woods, farmlands, over bridges, and along the Merrimack River. These easy pedal rail-bikes gave us a relaxing way to get away and enjoy the woods with the clacking of the steel wheels on the old rail tracks and the whirring of the pedals as we pushed our way along.

The amazing LeBlanc family built everything for the business from scratch, including 12-custom-made rail bikes, carving out the parking lot, and creating a one-of-a-kind rail-bike storage system. They were lucky to find and secure abandoned railroad tracks where the tracks hadn’t been taken up. Our two-seater was named Curly, with Moe and Larry nearby.

The day we went, it seemed all the bikes were in use. The ages of the riders ranged from toddlers to seniors. It is something anyone can do and a perfect way to see the interior beauty of this stretch of New Hampshire. A stop on the trip includes a visit to the Hannah Dustin Memorial Statue and a secret I will not reveal here, but you will know it when you pass it. Pedal on folks.

On the last day of our vacation, we made our way to Manchester’s Antiques on Elm, a 10,000 square foot business with over 90 dealers. Parking is free along the bumpy, brick-lined side street, and a sale is in progress. It’s easy to spend an hour or more winding your way through the myriad aisles with something delightful to look at around every corner. I have my eye on some vintage Pyrex bowls reminding me of my mother’s kitchen while Michael looks for anything Harley-Davidson.

It’s a low-key adventure on our last day of vacation with a stop for some afternoon appetizers at La Carreta’s on South Willow. The waitstaff is friendly. The selection of tequilas is staggering. The homemade chips are thin and crispy, and the salsa has just enough heat. Finally, we toast to the last day of vacation and start the countdown for the next one.

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