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Light at the Crossroads

Source: Personal experience

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I don't like to mix shopping and camping, but it's a good thing there are such places as Foster's Crossroads.

Foster's Crossroads is a large general store in the village of Twin Mountain, Carroll Township, New Hampshire. It sits just about at the intersection of Route 302 and Route 3, but it's on the south side of the Ammonoosuc River, so you might not notice it from Route 302.

They have everything. It's kind of odd. As I've wandered around looking for something or other, I've had the impression that it used to be a neighborhood hardware store that somehow morphed into a camping goods store with a regular convenience store tucked into the main entrance. You can walk down the narrow aisle brimming with chips and crackers and suddenly find yourself surrounded by little bins of nails and screws, with an assortment of hammers and saws and such around the corner. Up the creaky old stairs is a good selection of camping gear, from ponchos to pocket knives.

It has long been my traditional last stop before Crawford Notch State Park on the annual camping trip, and also the last stop before the two-hour drive home. It's the place to pick up a couple of bundles of firewood at the start of a weekend in the outdoors, or to grab a bottle of iced tea for the road after a day hike.

My brother and his son have made Foster's an even bigger part of their camping tradition. Pretty much every year, they spend an hour or so at Foster's picking out souvenirs for that year's family camping trip - matching Sherpa jackets one year, or headlamps another year, and so on.

Me, like I said, I keep shopping to a minimum when I'm on a hiking or camping trip. But it's very convenient to be able to drive down to Foster's if I'm out in the woods and discover that I need to replace the mantles of my lantern or to pick up some other important item that I forgot to bring.

Ah, that lantern. I'm pretty sure it's the oldest piece of camping equipment I own, and it is an integral part of our family camping trips. I can't quite remember when or where I got it. I'm pretty sure I had it in Idaho in 1978. And I had it in Florida in 1977. I vaguely recall using it in Georgia in 1973. Did I have it in Delaware in 1972, or even earlier? Not quite sure, but that old Coleman propane lantern has sat up with me and my family around many, many campfires.

On one of our annual camping trips in the White Mountains, it finally happened. I arrived back home to discover the globe of the old lantern had not survived the trip.

I looked around for a replacement, but there were none to be had. It seems that some time in the last few decades, Coleman changed the design of their lanterns a bit. The current ones had cylindrical glass globes (yes, that sounds absurd, but it's called a "globe" even though it's a cylinder). My old lantern had a tapered globe, wider at the top than at the bottom. Nobody had the tapered globes anymore. I even checked on Coleman's Web site, and you simply can't get the old-style globes.

On the next camping trip, my brother gave me a new Coleman propane lantern - with a cylindrical globe - for my birthday. I think he picked it up at Foster's. Works fine, and fits into our camping tradition perfectly. Well, there are a few little things. The valve that adjusts the brightness is not continuously variable like the one on my old lantern, so you have to be careful when turning it down. One more "click" and the lantern goes out. With the old lantern, I could always tweak it down another gnat's whisker to make the Milky Way a little bit brighter.

Well, one day on a camping trip, I headed down to Foster's for something. Did I need another tarp to keep the firewood dry? Something like that brought me up to the second floor. And as I searched for whatever it was I was looking for, I found something else: A Coleman lantern globe that was wider at the top than at the bottom! Yes, it was exactly what the old lantern needed!

So now I have two Coleman propane lanterns. I only bring the old one on extra-special camping trips. For instance, this coming summer (2009) should be the 25th consecutive Chuck's Birthday Camping Trip, so we'll have the old lantern with us to light the occasion. Otherwise, it remains in retirement in the basement to avoid risking that rare tapered globe.

Yes, it's a good thing there are such places as Foster's Crossroads.

Next time you're in Twin Mountain, stop by Foster's and pick up a bottle of iced tea for the road. And tell them Chuck sent you. They won't have any idea what you're talking about, but tell them anyway. It'll confuse them.

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