Summer vacation on lake Winnipesauke, August, 2004

This year, according to the Chinese calendar, is the Year of the Frisbee. (Those ancient Chinese – how did they know?!) The girls will not be separated from their Frisbee – they carry it everywhere they go, they toss it constantly, they even sleep with it. The good news is that they need each other to satisfy their Frisbee obsession, so that it has become much more important to them both that they get along with each other. The bad news is that Frisbees are now constantly landing in the soup.

This year’s Monkeynut summer vacation took place on the shores of Lake Winnipesauke, in New Hampshire. It is a truly fabulous spot – a huge lake just to the south of New Hampshire’s White Mountains, featuring many little bays and inlets. We stayed in Weirs Beach, which is at the mouth of Paugus Bay, on the south edge of the lake. Our house was on the water, with its own dock, small but nicely appointed, with two double bedrooms downstairs and an attic upstairs, to which Madeleine staked her claim. The décor was all knotty pine and there was a deck on the north (lake) side, with patio furniture and a gas grill.

The lake from our deck Our deck

One of the fascinating things about this area is that it seems to attract an extremely diverse mixture of people who come here to enjoy the lake. Unsurprisingly, given the staggering beauty of the area, there is a goodly turnout from the Upper Crust. Governor’s Island is accessible by bridge, but the houses are accessible only by dint of possessing huge amounts of wealth. We cruised around the island by boat and admired the homes on the beach. I doubt that anyone lives there all the time, other than the necessary armies of servants to keep everything in trim, so I suppose that these are second homes that are just visited occasionally by their owners. But they are not much like your standard-issue second home – they looked much more like your basic 16-20 bedroom mansions. Huge boats bob on the waves at lovely docks below elegantly manicured lawns. While I didn’t actually ask the owners the market values of the properties, I have to assume that some of them are in the tens of millions.

Most numerous, however, are the middle-class tourists like us who rent houses on the water, often (like ours) with docks for the boat. Some of these tourists doubtless own modest second homes here and drive up from places like Boston on the weekend.

Serving us middle-class tourists are the towns of Meredith and Wolfeboro, with friendly tourist shops selling ice cream, jolly T-shirts, and trinkets. (Some of the trinkets proved actually to be pretty nice.) The restaurant scene was just OK, though we didn’t look for or find anything really good.

As noted above, we stayed in Weirs Beach, which is the ‘fun’ town. The commercial center is definitely a step down in the social ladder from Meredith and Wolfeboro. There are arcades, shooting galleries, taffy shops, very cheap T-shirt shops (‘Get 3 for $10!’) and bar/restaurants heavy with the smell of tobacco smoke and sporting signs out front saying ‘Bikers welcome’. What is going on here? I thought that bikers were manifestations of the devil: cruising through town, making incredible amounts of noise, careless about the rights of others and interested mostly in drinking and fighting, anathema to all good tourists everywhere. Either the local bikers have metamorphosed into good citizens, capable of mixing harmoniously with middle-class tourists, or they have carved out their own enclave in Weirs Beach, much like 19th century Tombstone, Arizona, where there is no law but Darwin’s and where no God-fearing citizen would dare to tread. If the latter explanation is correct, we have made a dreadful mistake and need to stop off at the local gun shop to arm ourselves.

However, as far as we could tell, the bikers seemed to be fine upstanding citizens. Were they false bikers, then – Wall Street executives who, on the weekend, like to pin on a false pony-tail, don their expensive leathers and play a little biker make-believe? I don’t think so – those tattoos certainly looked genuine, and I haven’t seen any of those in the trading room.

Apparently, bikers are a constant fact of life around the lake. In June, there is Bike Week, during which house rental rates soar and it is almost impossible to find a place to stay. Bikers come from all over to participate in various rallies around the lake. Perhaps the live-free-or-die spirit is responsible for this – guys who would in other states buy an old sports car prefer in New Hampshire to get a Harley and tattoos.

Ancient tribal carving Weirs Beach

Laconia is the largest all-year town around the lake, just to the south of Weirs Beach. It is a failed mill town and has a decayed feel to it. We checked out the library to see if we could look at our e-mail – this actually turned out to be a beautiful building with soaring colored brick ceilings and had ample computers to give us access to our e-mail. But the commercial area seemed drab and there was not much activity in it.

Biker Boop In memory of Mom

One center of commercial activity turned out to be the local flea market. The girls in particular were fascinated by the range of merchandise and the rock-bottom prices. I decided to be a big spender, so I laid out $2, which bought me a long heavy-duty extension cord that we needed at the house to hook up the fan, plus three novels by Eric Ambler (used). The girls mostly bought books. In fact, books played almost as great a part in our vacation as the Frisbee – while we were driving up, we stopped for lunch at the Travelers Book Restaurant, near exit 1 on I-84. On entering the restaurant, we saw that it was a cross between a restaurant and a used bookstore, the walls covered with bookshelves. But the remarkable thing was that the books were largely free – each diner could help him/herself to any three books from the shelves. While there was a fair amount of crap (a lot of Readers Digest Condensed Books), it was possible to find some quite reasonable trash, perfect for vacation reading.

After reading my Eric Amblers, I somehow felt compelled to order a Campari and soda at a bar in Wolfeboro, to the confusion of the staff. After much searching, however, they were able to come up with a bottle. I felt suave and worldly as I tried to sip my drink without grimacing too obviously.

The center of activity, unsurprisingly, is the lake itself. The main tools for enjoying the lake are powerboats and jet-skis, although there are also beaches for swimming and sunbathing (including Weirs Beach, one of the best). There are almost no sailboats, although I imagine it could be fantastic sailing around the lake. Accordingly, we rented a small powerboat for a week. One problem presented itself – New Hampshire is known as the Granite State, and much of that granite seems to be lurking just under the water near the shore. It proved essential to navigate with great care to avoid banging the propeller on said rock and either disabling the boat or, at a minimum, necessitating an expensive repair. On our first little excursion, we had not quite got the hang of this careful navigation and so we chewed up the propeller sufficiently in Paugus Bay so it had to be replaced.

Once we had our boat, we could do a variety of things with it. One obvious one was simply to use it as a relaxing means of transportation. On one of first trips, we exited Paugus Bay into the main lake and went down Meredith Bay into Meredith. Meredith has a municipal dock where you can tie up and walk around the town. We felt immensely cool stepping off our boat, adjusting our shades and heading for Ben and Jerry’s. We also hung out on the boat – motored out to a pleasant spot where we put down the anchor and swam or played aquatic Frisbee, an invention of the girls so that they would not have to part with the Frisbee even in the water.

Girls at Ben and Jerry's Louise enjoying the tube

Another major activity is tubing – towing a sacrificial victim around the lake in an inflated tube. This provides excitement without requiring a great deal of skill, so it was a big hit. At 40 mph, it is quite hard to hold on while you are bumping around in the wake but the penalty for falling off is quite pleasant. Both girls enjoyed it a lot, although Louise declined to sacrifice herself to the tube gods, except to paddle around in it while the boat was at rest.

Maddi tubing Toni tubing
Louise in boat Peter in tube

The other sport we were prepared for was water skiing, although Toni was the only one who actually gave it a try. She was able to get up after a few tries, although I had trouble getting the boat to accelerate smoothly and she would generally get thrown as the boat’s speed suddenly increased. Kudos to her for giving it a shot.

Toni prepares to ski Coming up A blur of speed

Since we were close to the White Mountains, we also had an opportunity to do some mountain climbing. I first organized a very modest hike up Mount Locke, which is near the lakeside and barely 1,000 feet high. But to my delight, it went very well, with the girls mostly hiking together in front of us so that they could toss the Frisbee all the way up. Drunk with success, I decided to up the ante a bit with a hike up Mount Cardigan, which is quite a respectable mountain. It has a bald rocky summit with spectacular views of the big mountains to the north but it may be climbed quite easily in about 1-½ hours from the west. This was a disaster, with everyone getting mad at everyone else and Louise and me having a screaming match near the summit. After we got down, it took several hours before we were all back on speaking terms. ‘Never again!’ I was heard to mutter repeatedly to myself.

The girls on Mount Locke The lake from Mount Locke

But overall I have to say that the vacation was quite enjoyable, and the water sports were a particular hit. We were reasonably lucky with the weather, although the journey back home featured stop-and-go driving and more-or-less continuous non-stop rain.

Driving home

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