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First RV Vacation in Maine: 'Take Wide Turns'

But first we need provisions. Just north of town, a big-box grocery store welcomes us to its massive bosom. Such ease of parking! Such complementary scale! We stock up for a simple meal: shrimp, pasta, salad greens. You can eat very well from a half-size kitchen, but it’s silly to fuss. I think of the leftover bottle of wedding Champagne chilling in the refrigerator and toss some chocolate into our cart.

It’s dusk when we reach the campground, a cool evening, with the islands and the bay melding in shades of slate and blue. We circle the RV, checklists in hand, slowly hooking up water and power lines. We spend a cozy evening alone, watching DVDs on the center-mounted TV. Halfway through the show, Scott disappears for 15 minutes. When I step out to look for him, he’s standing proudly next to a blazing fire pit, marshmallows in hand. We wash down our s’mores with the rest of the Champagne, toasting the RV life.

Daylight reveals the sort of flinty October day that makes you want to get out and seize the last of the good weather. The bay is framed by flaming-orange trees, and the air is fresh and nippy. Scott makes quick work of the drive to Acadia, and as we pass into the park, it occurs to me that a detailed map might be a good idea. But our plan is so simple: park at the base of Cadillac Mountain and hike up, take in the views of hills and ocean, come back down for lunch. I can even see the mountain from the road.

“Do we know where we’re going?” Scott asks. “Over there,” I say, pointing. “Just look for signs.” Sure enough, a mile or so down the road, I see it: a brown sign with white letters reading “Cadillac Mountain,” and an arrow pointing left. So simple. “Here!” I say. “Go here.” Scott turns and I scan for the parking lot, wanting to give him plenty of time to brake and turn. I scan some more. Must be just around the next bend. Maybe the next bend? The road is gaining elevation, and the turns are getting tighter. The realization hits us simultaneously …

“We’re on the auto road,” Scott says. “We’re on the auto road to the top of a mountain in an RV.”

With every tight, groaning turn, every near-miss of an oncoming car in a blind switchback, I see his jaw clench tighter. There’s nowhere to stop and turn around. Our only choice is to keep crawling to the top.

Scott doesn’t say a word when we reach the summit. But he does slam the door behind him as he stomps off into the woods. Left behind in the thick, adrenalized air of the cabin, I’m beginning to feel sorry for myself — even indignant. Would it have been too much for the park to put up clear signs? I step out and stare miserably at the view. After 10 minutes, Scott returns. Without comment or incident, we make it back down the mountain. I realize that today’s lesson isn’t driving-related, but marital: Sometimes it’s best not to talk about it. Craving lobster rolls, we stop at a shack just outside the park. A cold front has settled in, and the restaurant’s only seating is on a semiheated side porch. We look around, shivering, until we remember our house on wheels. Feeling very smart and cozy, we take our lobster rolls back to our kitchen table and put the day’s fiasco behind us. “I think I’m really getting this RV thing,” Scott says happily.

We make it back to camp in Belfast, hook up in the fading light, and turn on the TV. There’s a Red Sox game to watch and a pizza to eat. But when we scan the channels, all we get is static. A dilemma: Do we unhook and drive to a bar? And then rehook later, in the dark? And so we find ourselves trudging a quarter-mile down Route 1 to the local Comfort Inn, where we expect to find a bar with a TV tuned to the game. Only there is no bar at this hotel, just a semi-fancy restaurant. The desk clerk takes pity on us and lets us into an unused conference room with a TV. “But I should warn you,” he says. “Some firemen have reserved the room for later, so you’re gonna have to leave.”

Two hours later, we’re honorary members of the Woburn, Massachusetts, fire department, adopted by guys named Mikey and Sully who offer us beer, crack jokes, and high-five us when the Sox win. On the cold walk home, ankles damp from the wet grass on the side of the road, I have to admit the obvious: If this were just another inn-to-inn car trip, we might not be having this much fun.

Our final day: Rather than stick to narrow Route 1, we head straight to the interstate; stretching and breathing deeply, we hum down the wide highway. In Freeport, as we pull into a jumbo parking space, we realize we’ve landed in the RV capital of New England. Entire lots just for us. Broad streets, easy-to-spot turns. We can park, walk to the shops, overspend, and have plenty of storage space for our loot.

Flush with success, we embrace the final lesson of our trip: If you’re going to rent a 33-foot RV with no prior big-rig experience, stick to the places where the other RVers go. And be brave. Or, better yet, rent a smaller rig. Which is exactly what we’re planning to do this summer. Only now, we’re going cross-country.

Please Note: This information was accurate at the time of publication. When planning a trip, please confirm details by directly contacting any company or establishment you intend to visit.

Updated Wednesday, August 8th, 2007

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