|The view of the Atlantic, a short walk from our campsite|
Alert readers of last year’s cross country trip blog may recall that we had almost freakishly good weather. Honestly, over the whole five weeks I’m not sure if we ever took our raincoats out of the car. Almost like someone had made a deal with the devil or something.
Well, apparently the time has come to pay the piper.
As we were driving northward on Wednesday evening, heading toward our campground in Acadia National Park, squinting through the torrential downpour and watching water from the semi-flooded highway fly up to window height in our heavily-laden van, Bob and I were quietly talking about plan B. What sort of hotels might there be in Bangor, ME? Soon, though, the downpour slowed to a drizzle and so we pressed onward.
At Blackwoods Campground, everything was dripping. Especially the large number of trees that hovered over our campsite. So while it wasn’t actually raining, every time a breeze blew splatters of water fell on our heads. Nevertheless, we managed to set up the tent, eventually get a fire going and even cook some chicken and rice, and later s’mores, over it. The girls and I walked down the shore path to see the ocean at night, roaring away far below the rocky coastline.
We were awakened multiple times by heavy rains beating on the tent, but by morning we were back to just the tree-drizzle, so we counted ourselves lucky. (At this point we were also counting ourselves foolish for not having packed more warm clothing. Will we never learn?) We warded off the chill with a fire, bacon and eggs, and hot tea, then started planning our day.
Acadia is rather large, like many national parks, but unlike most of them has only one visitor center, up near Bar Harbor by the entrance to Mount Desert Island. We didn’t really want to spend the morning retracing our steps in the car, but we did want to get some park information and a good weather forecast (as well as — of course — the Junior Ranger program books). We’d planned to do some bike-riding on Acadia’s famous network of carriage roads, and we saw that we could get to the visitor center on them, so we decided to kill two birds with one stone. The visitor center looked to be about 15 miles away, but we did not let that daunt us. “Your friends the Brookses do that kind of mileage before breakfast,” is what we told the children. Also, we packed a couple of Hershey bars.
|Bob’s bike seat was soaked
from the car ride. This was
his elegant solution.
|Hauling our bikes up the stairs to the
It’s good that no one told us in advance how hilly this place is. Even before we got to the carriage roads, we had to do a couple of mostly uphill miles on the Park Loop Road, rapidly causing the girls to start stripping off raincoats and fleeces. When we got on to the carriage roads (which we had to access via a set of stairs — what kind of joke is that for roads that are largely meant for cyclists?), the hill continued.
I should say here that I had by far the best of this deal. Bob and I have decent road bikes but not mountain bikes, so I was riding on a bike borrowed from our friend Craig Haskell, which was miles better than our old rattletrap that Bob was riding. In addition, Bob had the “tagalong” (one of those third-wheel things that kind of makes a bike into a tandem) hooked on so Lanie could ride behind. The weight of this whole contraption was such that if Bob stopped on a hill, there was no getting started again.
|Another wonderful thing about the carriage
roads was the excellent signage at every
Lanie was the most cheerful of the lot. She sat there with a smile, occasionally pedaling, sometimes attempting to give Bob an aneurysm by making statements like, “I like pedaling backward better than pedaling forward — it’s much easier!” or “If I drag my foot against the wheel, the wheel tries to take my foot with it!” Sometimes she would stand up to pedal, her whole body listing to one side then the other, which I know from experience makes the bike teeter terrifyingly.
Luckily, the carriage roads were beautiful — car-free and uncrowded. In our ride we passed through gorgeous views of ocean and lakes and ponds and woodlands. We had a picnic (good old peanut butter again!) on the shores of Eagle Lake, and thanks to our excellent map didn’t get lost even once. (I should add here more praise for this map. I find that I enjoy a trip like this more if I know exactly where I am, and what the name of that body of water that I’m passing is, and how far it is until the next turning. Also, Acadia has such interesting and poetic names. Breakneck Pond. The Bubbles. Witch Hole. Aunt Betty’s Pond. I wish I had a history on where they came from.)
|Our lunch spot on Eagle Lake.|
Eventually, we did make it to the visitor center. And all those miles and miles of uphill travel were undone in an instant, as we made a sharp and steep descent to the parking lot. I didn’t ruin the children’s fun by reminding them that we would need to go back the same way.
Wishing to avoid a mutiny, Bob and I decided to alter our homeward journey a bit. While our new route would be a little longer, it had the immense benefit of passing by the Jordan Pond House, a beautiful place where you can sit on the lawn overlooking the pond and gorge yourself on their famous popovers. With visions of popover sundaes in their heads, the girls were able to keep on moving.
Unfortunately we didn’t have a topographical map, so we again didn’t realize that our new route would be even more uphill than the last. Really unrelentingly uphill. But apart from an incident where my chain came off and got stuck and I had to be rescued by a passing Good Samaritan with pliers (luckily, since Bob was way ahead of me up the path and there was no way he was going to ride that thing back down the hill again — I could have died back there and he wouldn’t have known) we had a pretty successful ride. And the popover sundaes were worth every minute of it. Seriously, their homemade ice cream was the best ice cream I’ve ever had. Maybe the best thing I’ve ever had, period. (Bob thinks that my opinion may have been skewed by low blood sugar but I’m sticking to it.)
After sitting outside in the cold mist for a while, and eating ice cream, we were all freezing. Fortunately, a few minutes on our bikes had solved that problem. The ride home was a bit tricky because the Park Loop Road is one-way, so we couldn’t retrace our steps entirely. We ended up going back on the regular roads, which were not nearly so pleasant and were STILL very hilly. Luckily it was only a few miles or we would have had a mutiny on our hands.
Despite the huge popover sundaes, we were all famished by the time we got dinner ready. Sausages cooked over the fire had never tasted so good.
Nadia started a game last summer that goes like this: whenever you see a license plate from a new and unusual place — let’s say Guam — you say in a funny Nadia voice “Guuuaaaam license plate” and try to tickle someone near you. There was a lot of tickling and funny Nadia voices around on this trip. Acadia packs ’em in from all over — Tennessee, Texas, Maryland, Florida, Colorado, Virginia, we saw them all. The van next to us in the campground was from California.
So you can feel proud, fellow New Englanders, that we have a gem here in Acadia, and it draws folks from all around. I’d say roughly 73 percent were there at least partly for the popovers. We saw the most diversified array of car tags in the parking lot of the Jordan Pond House.
And let me tell you, it was nice leaning the gray beater and tagalong against a tree* and walking past all the Massachusetts and Connecticut cars waiting to find a parking space. Bike riding has many advantages. Another one is that you can eat ice cream and chocolate sauce with impunity — especially if you’ve ridden a good portion of the park’s carriage road system. I figure we must’ve covered about half of the 45 miles they have.
Seeing the old US Park Service arrowhead and all the people in ranger hats brought me back to last summer. So did our camp plates and our fold-up cooking utensils. One nice surprise was that we did a good job putting things away last year. Just about everything we needed was waiting of us in the two Tupperware bins that hold our camping gear– even a tarp and bungee cords, which I forgot we had and bought a whole other set. A few things we do need to add are: a hatchet for turning camp wood into kindling, some dish soap, and a larger water vessel. Another box of matches would be good, too. The people in the van across the road gave us a box that was about 1/8th full because matches was another thing we forgot to put into the camp boxes.
* No one is likely to want to abscond with my bike, and even if someone tried, they would expire on the first hill unless they had my thunder thighs or a five year old who knew how to pedal. The bike lock we brought was saved for Craig’s bike.