“One day we should…” – this little phrase seems to follow me around every where I go. Or maybe I’m the one following, collecting little bits of inspiration scattered along the trail of not enough time. In a sense, our entire upcoming trip is all about the ‘one day we shoulds’ and trying to ensure that the pages off our story are filled with what we’ve done and few regrets. And what better way to start off this chapter than with some much overdue family time? After spending a week in Cleveland with Shelby’s parents it was off to Connecticut to see my family, have some fun and cross a few of these ‘one day we should’ items off of our Connecticut list.
Trips back East since Shelby has come into my life have always taken place under the guise of a holiday or quick weekend trip. Each trip routinely includes me ranting about some sweet hiking spot or adventure that I wished we had time for. This trip would be different. For the first time together, we drove through the scenic back roads of southern Massachusetts, arriving in Connecticut with no real commitments. Ready to take advantage ample chill time and the hot, humid summer weather that’s never around over the holidays.
Pulling into my parent’s driveway, it struck me that this was the first time in nearly a decade that I had driven ‘home’. Almost ten years have passed since I left 52 Blue Ridge Drive as a shaggy haired, naive, twenty-two year old. I was headed west, ready to explore the United States and ready to find a new home. Now, having found that new home and the love of my life, it felt oddly fitting to return – just days away from setting off once again, from this same driveway, on a new adventure.
Aside from our unorthodox means of arrival, our stop at my parent’s house started just as every trip to my parent’s house starts – with food. Very little in life can compare to a hot pizza and a cold beer – especially after a solid nine hours in the car – and that’s exactly what my Mom had waiting for us. Food usually takes center stage when we visit our families and this trip already looked to be no exception (all you can eat crab legs with Shelby’s parents had set the bar pretty high).
Our love for Colorado runs deep but one draw back that comes with living in a land locked state is that fresh seafood, specifically shellfish, is hard to come by. We’ve done a good job at keeping an annual lobster boil on the list of traditions back in Denver but the lobsters we scrounge for at the Chinese market can’t compete with what you find in Connecticut.
Day two started off strong with my Mom’s suggestion that we find some lobsters for dinner. An idea so brilliant that it could only be met with a resounding ‘hell yea’ from everyone. Shelby, in particularly, had been looking forward to a good ol’ New England lobster ever since missing out on the last lobster feast I had with my parents a few years back. No way would we be leaving Connecticut this time without cracking a few claws.
An added bonuses of being in a place with an abundance of lobster is that you can usually find a market that will let you pick up your lobsters, already steamed and ready to go. Much easier than dealing with the fifteen gallon pot of boiling water. So my Dad and I headed over to a local market to pick up dinner. That night we feasted on lobster and enough melted butter to float a small boat. I can feel my arteries thanking me already.
Every time we make it back East I always have the best intentions of seeing old friends but more often than not, this never happens. Our third day in Connecticut allowed us to cross off a ‘one day we should’ item that had been lingering for years.
Hayes and Michelle are two of my best friends from college and as crazy as it seems to me – or anyone that knows them from college – they now have a real, live child. After a few years of saying we’d carve out the time to see them and meet their son, Evan, we finally did. We headed down to a Mexican restaurant on the Long Island Sound for a few beers. It was awesome to finally meet Evan and to spend some quality time catching up.
We high tailed it back to my parents house for a barbecue that my Mom was putting together. Marcie and Randy – some of my parents oldest friends who I consider to be like family – were also coming over to see us and get down on the steaks my Mom was grilling up.
Of all of the elder folk we have in our life, Randy has been particular supportive of our plans to go travel. He’s made it a point to hammer on the fact that life is short and the ‘path’ that most people blindly follow should be questioned more often. He’s told us a number of times that, in retrospect, he wished he had done what we’re doing. Words of encouragement are always welcome when you’re about to stray from the heard and head half way across the world. It was awesome to see them and the steaks were also top notch.
Connecticut at this time of year is usually pretty hot and steamy. This week was no exception with temperatures well into the nineties. Regardless, there was one hike around my childhood hometown that needed to be crushed. After telling Shelby about the Hublien Tower and the Talcott Mountain trail for years, it was finally time to take her there.
As a kid, Talcott Mountain was the closest thing I knew to a mountain and one of the first hikes I remember doing. The mountain itself – which is more of a large hill relative to what we have back in Colorado – overlooks most of my home town and is one of the first things you see heading east out of my parents driveway.
The trail leading up to the top is pretty short but once you reach the ‘summit’ theres an old tower built in the early 1900’s. The Heublein Tower as it’s known, was once owned by food tycoon Gilbert Heublein who we can thank for introducing America to A1 Steak Sauce and Smirnoff Vodka. The living room on the ground floor of the tower is also where Dwight Eisenhower was asked to run for president. The tower itself is nothing special but you can see it from nearly everywhere in town which makes the experience quintessential to any hiker that’s spent even just a few days in Simsbury.
We tried rounding up some company for our hike but both my Mom and Sister seemed more focused on the possiblity of melting in the heat as opposed the prospect of going on a sweet hike with us. Slightly disappointed that we were on on own – and to discover that in nearly thirty years of living in Simsbury my Mom had never actually done the hike – we set off for the trail head. The heat wasn’t much of factor since the dense foliage of the Connecticut woods acted as shade. We saw a few frogs on the way up and made pretty good time getting to the tower.
The tower was open so we were able to take the stairs up to the top where there’s a sweet observation station. You can see for at least a hundred miles in any direction on a clear day. On that day it was slightly overcast but the view was still awesome.
While we certainly love sampling local restaurants whenever we’re traveling, nothing quite beats a home cooked meal from your Mom. When we got back from our hike, my Mom cooked up some salmon filets and a few side dishes that could certainly rival any local eatery. Considering that our next quality home cooked meal might be a year away, this meal was much appreciated.
In between all of the food and small daytime adventures, our time in Connecticut was mainly spent running around taking care of last minute errands. Random odds and ends that needed to be wrapped up kept us on the move so it was really awesome to find out that my Aunt Amy and Uncle Rich, along with my Cousin Lauren and her Boyfriend Alex, were headed up from New Jersey to spend the weekend with us.
When they arrived Friday evening, my Mom put together some hors d’oeuvre for everyone to snack on including my favorite – her clam dip. After we polished off the appetizers and a few drinks, we all headed over to a local restaurant for an epic late night happy hour. Everything on the menu was half priced. Get at me lobster mac n’ cheese. This dish was loaded with full on lobster claws. You’re doing alright any time you have lobster twice in one week.
No trip to my parents house would be complete without a typical Berke style brunch. I’m pretty sure it was at one of these brunches that Shelby was first introduced to the glorious combination of lox, bagels and cream cheese. Now, I doubt that she loves lox – the bacon of the sea – quite as much as I do, but there’s no escaping it when you get my family together.
To add to the momentous occasion of brunch, my Grandmother – despite not having much of a clue who any of us were – was able to make an appearance. It was awesome to have her there, but damn, Alzheimers is one hell of a disease.
Before leaving Colorado, Shelby and I had gotten back into the swing of things and started making an appearance on the tennis court. Our tennis racquets came along on the road trip and we had been on the look out for a tennis court since arriving in Cleveland. No such luck so far. Imagine our surprise when we found out that Lauren and Alex also like a good volley from time to time. On top of that, Alex also happens to drive around with a tennis racquet in his trunk. Game on.
The top-seeded Berke’s took home court advantage at my old high school trying to complete a dominating week against the soon-to-be Lieberman’s in straight sets. Shelby came out strong, chasing down shots and placing her own with pinpoint accuracy. We took an early 3-0 lead but the visiting team rallied, breaking back to go up 6-5 eventually winning the set 7-6. They’re from Jersey so I’m just going to assume there had to be some cheating going on.
My sister, Emalie, showed up while we were playing but by the end of our first set everyone was about ready to melt into puddles on the court. Running low on water and high on perspiration, I called an audible and herded everyone into the car with promises of a sweet swimming hole.
We drove about fifteen minutes to a spot that had become a favorite of mine as a teenage – Enders Falls. I had told Shelby about this spot many times in the past but it had always been too cold to go. I would have been excited to finally show it to just her but now I had a real crew along for the ride. I’m not saying that I had planned to get everyone to the point of near heat exhaustion and follow it up with swimming under a waterfall but if I had, the plan was working.
My guess is that everyone was a little skeptical when we pulled off the side of the road and into a small dirt parking lot that looked a lot like a trail head and very little like a place to go swimming. I could tell that people were starting to get a little grumbly – the combination of heat and hunger was starting to take it’s toll – but I insisted and we took off into the woods. Barely twenty feet in and we started to see people in bathing suites emerge from just beyond the tree line. We were close.
Another fifty feet down the trail and there it was – water fall after glorious water fall, cascading into deep swimming pools. Even though it looked sweet, no one decided to take the plunge down the natural rock slide that emerged from one of the falls. For Shelby and I, having no health insurance makes hurling yourself off a twenty foot waterfall slide seem a bit risky but we all enjoyed a good swim. Leaving Enders Falls feeling refreshed, we headed home for some pizza. There’s no such thing as too much pizza.
After grabbing some brunch with one of my best friends, Kevin, and his girlfriend Eileen, we spent the following day paring down our gear into it’s final configuration. Deciding what goes in a forty liter bag for the next year of your life certainly sparks a twinge of anxiety. But, after months of searching and far too many hours spent at REI, we were feeling semi confident that we had all our bases covered gear wise.
When Monday morning came around we said our goodbyes’ to my family and headed down to New Jersey. Our flight to Taiwan left first thing the next morning out of Newark airport so it made sense to meet up with my Aunt and Uncle once again and spend the night at their house. As we tried to fall asleep and get a few hours of rest that night, I all I could think was that this leg of the trip seemed to fly by.
All to often, spending quality time with family remains on the ‘one day we should’ list. Holidays are always awesome but they usually include a strong element of chaos and never enough time to relax and really enjoy just being together. If anything, these stops to see Shelby’s parents and my family reinforce the notion that the moments we’ll look back at and really remember will be these moments. Not the forty plus hours a week spent at the office or the hours watching tv each night. Sure, prioritizing these moments in life means making the time and often that comes at the sacrifice of the all mighty dollar or the seemingly important responsibilities we’ve burned ourselves with. But it’s moments like these that you would trade all of the money in the world for as you take your last breath. If I can take anything away from the start of this journey, it’s that each breath should be treated like currency and one should spend them wisely.