After months of anticipation and planning, the new Escapees Hangouts program finally kicked off in mid-June with a fun-filled week at the New Hampshire Walldogs Festival Hangout in the beautiful Monadnock Valley of southern New Hampshire. 34 members in 17 rigs shared activities that included a challenging mountain hike, a “road rally” scavenger hunt, a tour of a sustainable farm, karaoke, potluck meals, and more.
Why Keene, New Hampshire?
We planned the Hangout around the Keene “Magical History Tour” Walldogs Festival. The Walldogs, an international volunteer group of about 250 professional muralists and commercial sign artists, gather in one American town for four days each summer to transform the walls of the town’s buildings into intricate murals depicting local historical figures or events.
Hangout attendees followed one of Keene’s 16 Walldogs murals especially closely. This breathtaking mural depicted Keene native son Barry Faulkner—himself a famous American muralist, best known for the two monumental murals he created for Washington, D.C.’s National Archives in the 1930s—standing in a trompe l’oeil niche on the wall, mid-way through painting one of those murals, The Declaration of Independence. In other words, it was a mural of a muralist painting a mural!
Leaving Our Mark on Keene
On the first day of the festival, we were treated to a private two-mile walking tour around Keene guided by Faulkner’s grand-nephew, who brought a number of Faulkner’s murals, sketches and other works to life as only someone with first-hand knowledge could.
After lunch and beers at a local brewery, we met with Tom Seibert, our selected mural’s designer and project leader, who described for us his own journey of learning about Faulkner and the National Archives murals as he planned and designed the Keene mural.
But the best was still to come. We didn’t want just to watch the murals being painted—we wanted to become part of the history that was being created.
Under Tom’s careful guidance, every Hangout guest was invited to become a “Wallpup” (a junior Walldog—get it?) by painting a small part of the mural. If you ever get to see this mural in Keene, you’ll know that the can of paint that Faulkner is holding in the left-side “Camofleur WWI” panel was created by Escapees! Our excitement was matched only by Tom’s pleasure at having our group so entranced by his work.
Seeing the Sights, Hangouts-Style
But the Hangout wasn’t just about the Walldogs Festival. On the first full day of the Hangout, everyone participated in a “road rally”– an all-day sightseeing scavenger hunt that required each of the eight teams to decipher clues and solve puzzles that led them to scenic covered bridges, a historic post office, a brewpub straddling the Vermont-New Hampshire state line, a hike through a wooded gorge, and an artisanal cheese shop, a distillery, and a creamery just for fun.
The Hangout also featured an informative private tour of Walpole Valley Farm with one of the farm’s owners, who taught us about the farm’s natural and sustainable practices. You might think that touring a farm wouldn’t be that interesting—but after three hours surrounded by beautiful gardens, a historic barn, and a flock of live egg-laying chickens, we were still left wanting more.
After a potluck dinner and an evening of enthusiastic—if not always pitch-perfect—karaoke, we set off the next morning for Mount Monadnock State Park. There, we split into two groups. 10 of the more daring souls climbed 3,165’ high Mount Monadnock, a hike rated as “moderate” to “hard” with an elevation gain of 1,771’ over a round-trip distance of about 4.5 miles. The rest of the group chose a comparatively level hike of a couple miles, which was still plenty challenging.
Mount Monadnock is one of the most frequently-climbed mountains in the world. But that doesn’t mean it was easy. As Deryn Graieg, who went with the group of climbers, put it:
“To say it was steep is an understatement! Once we were above the tree-line, we had magnificent views of the surrounding area below…but also of the rest of the climb to the top that was still ahead of us. When we finally reached the top, we perched on the rocky summit, congratulated each other, and enjoyed our well-deserved lunches and snacks surrounded by unbelievable views. The trip back down a rocky ravine that passed for a trail was every bit as steep and challenging—but what a sense of accomplishment we felt at the end!”
Our last full day of the Hangout was also the end of the Walldogs Festival. Following a potluck brunch, we toured the 16 finished murals that now graced the walls of downtown Keene. We marveled at the craftsmanship and loving attention to detail before us. These were not mere signs. They were genuine works of historical art that visitors to Keene will enjoy for decades to come.
All too soon, it was time for everyone to go on to their next destinations—although many participants made plans to meet up again down the road or at a future Hangout. Creating those friendships and sharing experiences like this one are what Hangouts are all about.
If you’d like to learn about new Hangouts, including tentative schedules and ticket availability, you can keep an eye on https://escapees.com/community/hangouts/, and sign up for the Hangouts email announcement list while you’re there!
David and Cheryl Goldstein
Cheryl and David Goldstein sold their house and most of their belongings and hit the road as full-time RVers in June 2016. Living in their 40’ fifth wheel, they have so far traveled throughout Alaska and western Canada as well as much of the United States. They are Escapees Lifetime Members and organized and hosted three Convergences for the club as volunteers before joining the club’s national staff as Hangouts Directors in early 2019.
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