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We just returned from another mini-vacation/business trip to Maine – after an unexpected delay – because it all went brilliantly, until it didn’t.

Around noon on Saturday (a week ago), just an hour into the trip home to Central New York, my beloved 12-year-old Honda CR-V‘s engine light turned on. A couple miles later, the engine bucked – we immediately pulled off onto a convenient exit ramp – and then the oil pressure and battery lights flickered on, just before the car completely shut down, with the engine temperature spiked up into the red.

We opened the hood to find everything sprayed with coolant. There wasn’t a drop left inside where it belonged. The radiator was completely dry, and so hot that when we poured in cool water, it boiled up and steamed like we were having Maine lobster for dinner. The car was toast.

My heart raced as panicky scenarios ran through my mind. We were stranded in Nowhere, New Hampshire, but fortunately, rural folks are generally kind – while our hood was up, every single passing motorist asked if we needed help. A burly guy with a ZZ Top-esque beard told us there was a Honda dealer under 15 miles away in Concord, and before long we were en route in a huge flatbed tow truck to see what could be done.

The radiator was split at the bottom due to corrosion; rust from winter road salt has been the primary cause of major repairs for that car. They wouldn’t even be able to tell if anything else was wrong until a new radiator was installed and the system re-pressurized. The soonest it could happen? Monday.

If seeing this sight with the wind ruffling your hair and sun kissing your cheeks doesn't make you feel amazing, you need drugs more than I do.

If conquering mountains doesn’t make you feel like you’re on top of the world, you probably need drugs more than I do.

Thankfully, the shop gave us a free loaner vehicle. So we dined in downtown Concord and spent the night at the local Comfort Inn. The next day, we decided to make some so-called lemonade.

Over our family-style dinner of chicken pot pie at Lonesome Lake Hut on Friday night, a fellow guest had raved on and on about the awesomeness of Mt. Cardigan – which turned out to be just 44 miles away from Concord! The price of a night at theย Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) Cardigan Lodge was only $25 higher than the Comfort Inn, but included a full dinner and breakfast. When you take meals at an AMC facility, it’s your own fault if you leave hungry, so it was a great value proposition. Plus, mountains!

Sunday morning, I called the lodge to ask if they had room for walk-in guests. They said yes, so we checked out of the hotel, hopped into the loaner, zipped over to the dealer to raid our disabled CR-V for our hiking gear, and hit the road. The heavy fog burned off as we arrived to a glorious fall morning. The weather was perfect. The foliage was (figuratively) on fire. The trails were dry. The lodge crew was friendly and helpful. We couldn’t ask for a finer welcome.

We picked up a trail map, made trail lunches in the lodge kitchen, swapped our street clothes for hiking togs, laced up our boots, and launched up the trail. We chose a moderate ascent, climbing up and over Firescrew Mountain (3040′), then down the shoulder and up-up-up to the summit of Mt. Cardigan (3155′). The views were simply breathtaking – bright blue sky over layer after layer of mountains fading off into the distance, and everything painted with red, orange, and gold.

We ate our lunches while sitting on the bald granite mountaintop – everything tastes better on the summit of a mountain – and then wended our way down on one of the easier paths. While steep ascents will strain your muscles to kingdom come, steep descents are dangerously hard on the joints, which are slower to recover. And the last thing you want to do halfway down a New Hampshire mountain is sprain your ankle; trust me, I’ve done it – both ankles, at the same time (that’s another story entirely).

Back at the lodge, we checked into the Pileated Woodpecker room, got cleaned up, and then lollygagged in the common room until dinner time. We were the only guests at the lodge that evening, so we had a romantic dinner for two in a dining room built for 60. After dinner we just relaxed, with Mr. Chickadee catching up on baseball news while I made notes about our hikes in my trail log.

We crashed uncharacteristically early at 9 PM and slept soundly for 10 hours, waking only briefly when a Barred owl announced the arrival of dawn. I never sleep 10 hours unless I’m sick, but the stress of the car breakdown and the exertion of the hike demanded it. We arose thoroughly refreshed on Monday morning; the crew fed us a hearty breakfast (fruit, pancakes, bacon, and home fries) and we hiked an easy woodland trail to work out some of the stiffness from Sunday’s hike.

Then it was back to Concord to wait for our car repair to be completed – the remainder of the story is much less sunny, so it’s “to be continued”…

When faced with a situation that threatened to put a sour finish on an otherwise very pleasant trip, we made some lemonade out of those lemons and had a delightfully good time. Obviously, it might have been ideal to have everything go according to plans, but they didn’t – and I’m actually not sure I’d trade our wonderful day at Mt. Cardigan for the easy ride home.