Thursday, October 15, 2009

Coastal compromise

We are in Massachusetts, our 46th state, parked at the Elks lodge in Newburyport (map). It had not been our plan, but we seem to be doing the all-Elks tour of coastal New England. Last night we rode the scooter in to town for a nice dinner at the River Merrimac Bar & Grille.

I had hoped last night to be as far as Gloucester, a town I remember fondly, and where I had hopes of perhaps having dinner. Unfortunately, it is now a major challenge to find places to stay. The more touristy coastal towns that even have Wal-Marts have banned overnight stays, many state parks are already closed for the season, and ditto even for many commercial parks, where either Columbus Day or October 15th (or in some cases even sooner) seems to be the canonical closing date.

So as it turns out, the only place we could stay near Gloucester is a commercial park that might not even be open, and even if it was, it's not particularly close to town. In fact, after carefully combing through all our guides and directories, it came down to either stopping here, or continuing all the way past our goal to Salem, where there is a Wal-Mart that is apparently not on the no-no list. Slowing down a bit was also in order, since we have a date with friends in Concord on Saturday afternoon, so there is no rush to be in Beantown sooner than that.

We almost stopped even earlier; we passed a state park in New Hampshire that was right on the beach, and adjacent to a little town with plenty of restaurants and a nice beachfront walk. That would be Hampton Beach State park, at the south end of the town of Hampton Beach, just before the bridge over the harbor channel to Seabrook. As nice as that looked, though, we both decided it was too early to stop, and we knew we'd have some more coastal opportunities later on.

Yesterday we drove mostly down US-1A, which runs along the coast rather than the more inland alignment of US-1. The actual route of US-1A in Portsmouth runs right past the turn from the Elks lodge, but little did we know that somewhere east of us there was a sign detouring trucks around this stretch (we arrived at the lodge from a different direction). So we were taken by surprise when we came to a 6-ton bridge about a mile into it. Fortunately, there was a dive shop right there with enough of a parking lot for me to three-point the bus; about half a mile after we again passed the turn for the lodge we saw clear signs for the truck detour, which agreed with the route we had worked out in the dive shop parking lot.

We encountered no further obstructions and had a lovely drive; the speed limit on the coastal route varies between 25 and 35, which is a pleasant pace to enjoy the coast. Now that it is mid-week and off-season, the tourists are mostly gone and we could enjoy all the little seaside towns in a less frenetic manner. It's easy to imagine what a zoo some of these places must be on a nice summer weekend, though. Coastal tourist towns everywhere, in spite of minor architectural differences, share a common theme of endless motels, vacation rentals, restaurants, and beachfront amusements all with kitschy nautically-themed names. We were reminded a lot of the very beginning of our "perimeter loop" of the U.S. five years ago in New Jersey, also "off season."

Today we will continue hugging the coast, passing through Gloucester, Salem, Marblehead, and Lynn, finally turning inland somewhere around Revere to head to Medford and our waiting mail.

Photo by BGLewandowski, used under a Creative Commons license.


  1. I used to live in Lynn and work in Medford. I'm quite familiar with the territory you're journeying through right now. Wished the weather coorperated for you, though. It's a bit gray and cold right now. Very unseasonably cold for this time of year.

  2. Just on the other side of the Miramack river lies Salisbury State Beach that should still be open. It's one of our favorite places to stay.

    Wish you had the opertunity to motor thru the New Hampshire heartland rather than just cutting across the northern part of the state.

    Perhaps we can meet later down the road.

    Robert McHenry
    Concord, NH


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