Category Archives: Maine

Rhymes with pain

Oh, Maine, with your winding country roads, pebbly beaches and charmingly spaced out bistros.  You’re killing us.

Not very rapidly, but palpably all the same.  To be sure, we probably would have made it as far as Portland or even Freeport before any of our body parts actually started falling off or became ground down to actual nubs.  Depending on the shuttle service.

Anyone observing the way we limped into Biddeford, though, would have wondered why we were walking away from the Southern Maine Medical Center and not directly to the emergency room.

I'm wearing size 10 ladies flip flops and multiple bandages.

I’m wearing size 10 ladies flip flops and multiple bandages.

I had multiple blisters and abrasions on both my feet.  My beloved Keens sandals, which carried me through so much of Central America, were not up to 10-plus miles of hiking a day, particularly in a sandy environment.  Tighten up, leave them loose. It didn’t matter.  I ducked into a pharmacy on Rt. 1 north of Kennebunk and bought a pair of flip flops, just to give the sore parts of my feet a little break.  The best they had were ladies size 10.  They helped moderately.  I didn’t really get relief until we decided to bungle around in circles in a large grassy park in Old Orchard Beach.  But I had to put my shoes back on eventually.

IMG_8626Jen was amazingly brave and resilient in the face of a smattering of pains, the most acute focusing on her right knee.  It was difficult for her to bend the knee so when she walked she kind of had to swing it around.  It wasn’t quite Ministry of Funny Walks, but it didn’t look very comfortable, either.  Add to the top of this the general soreness that comes from walking, and it’s plain to see why we were both grimacing for much of the last few days — especially when standing up again after a brief rest.

You may have noticed that we stopped at a few bars and beer halls along the way.  We were self-medicating.

Actually, each morning of the trip we got up with good energy and positive attitudes.  We’d leave our lodgings feeling better than we did when we booked in the evening before. This, Jen says, is why we’re not hiking the Appalachian Trail.  To walk even the relatively short distance we were covering (AT-wise), and then have to sit down on a rock and cook our own food, and then try to sleep on the ground?  Too much, even for us.

Even as it was blazing our trail in Maine, we would hobble into our next evening retreat feeling a little worse than we did the evening before.   The walking didn’t really get more difficult.  The first day was the worst, with winding Rt. 103 in the morning and the afternoon slog to find accommodations.  After that, I think we were clever in learning from our mistakes.  We booked a room in advance in Ogunquit and found car-free conveyance for good stretches of walking on the next two days.  (Dodging cars takes a lot out of you, trust me.)

Next stop: Adagio Salon, Spa & Wellness Center

Next stop: Adagio Salon, Spa & Wellness Center

But these little maladies accumulate, and we weren’t taking any days off to allow ourselves to heal.  By the time we made it to Saco, we had no trouble making the decision to let Sha-zoom! cover the last five miles of the coast for us.  (We had taken shuttles before during this trip, but mostly it was east-west travel.  The Kennebunk trolleys didn’t really save us much walking,  they just set us up to walk on better trails.)  Once in OOB,  even with the soothing grass of the big park, it didn’t take too much to nudge us into calling it a day.  To be sure, it was evident that the available lodgings we saw would be neither comfortable nor, based on their proximity to the beach, inexpensive.  Also, there were grey skies that evening and predictions of only moderate temperatures the next day (not encouraging for beach time).

Jen’s idea, once we had purchased our train tickets, was to take the money we would have spent on a hotel room on by the beach and get ourselves massages the next day in New Hampshire.

The two miles from the Durham train station and our house were among the most comfortable to walk of the whole trip.

End of the road

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Entering the Eastern Trail.

Last night, snug in our top-floor aerie at our B&B in Kennebunkport, we listened to rain pattering on the roof and watched lightning flash out the windows.  This morning, we awoke to a gray drizzle.  But happily, by the time we finished our enormous breakfast and packed up our stuff, the sun was shining again.

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Biddeford seems OK so far.

We debated a few different options for the day.  Heading all the way to Biddeford/Saco via the coastal route was a bit daunting at 15+ miles, especially since my knee had been giving me trouble since the previous day.  Going straight there was a more manageable 10 miles, but on not-very-appealing roads.  Finally, we settled on a third option — making another use of the handy shuttle bus to go back to Kennebunk, then walk to Biddeford on a route that was largely an off-road rails-to-trails bike path (the Eastern Path).  It was about the same distance, but seemed like it would be a much more pleasant walk.  (Google identified this path for us, so I was confident that it was in fact a real path unlike yesterday’s situation.)

Unimpressed with downtown Biddeford.

Unimpressed with downtown Biddeford.

All went well and we made good time, despite frequent stops for me to ice my knee with a bag of ice that I’d brought from the inn.  We rolled into Biddeford around 3pm, without a firm plan for the evening.

Our usual M.O. in these situations is to find a place to have a drink and/or snack and use the free wifi to figure out our next move.  This proved to be more of a challenge than expected.  No offense to any Biddeford readers out there, but Biddeford is kind of a hellhole.  We wandered, dispirited, through downtown, unable to find a cafe or non-sketchy-looking bar in the whole place.  The skies were darkening ominously.  We came upon a brewery with a tasting room but it was closed.  So we developed a single-minded mission: Get the Hell Out of Biddeford (GTHOOB).  With that in mind, we headed toward the train station, located across the river in Saco.

We had a wish to get out of Biddeford.  And then, Sh-Zoom! all our transit wishes came true!

We had a wish to get out of Biddeford. And then, Sh-Zoom! Our transit wishes came true!

Fortunately, Saco proved a substantial step up, greeting us immediately with the Run of the Mill brewpub, which provided us with excellent beer, snacks, and free wifi.  We used the latter to determine that we could GTHOOB by catching a shuttle right down the road at the train station and take a shortcut to our final destination, Old Orchard Beach.  (We also learned that in fact we could have taken the shuttle from right where the Eastern Trail ended, thus allowing ourselves to GTHOOB a few miles sooner and avoid all the strip malls and disreputable businesses.)

Triumphant arrival in OOB.

Triumphant arrival in OOB.

Old Orchard Beach provided its own challenge, that of finding a hotel room.  We put on a lot of steps wandering back and forth.  The train goes through right along the beach, which is convenient for those of us relying on public transportation — but inconvenient for those who just want to walk to the beach and are blocked by train tracks that require large detours to get over.  The skies were also still threatening, although we’d miraculously avoided getting rained on thus far.

Threatening skies

Threatening skies

In the end, rather than pay a fortune for a sketchy-looking hotel, we decided to hop on the 7:30pm train home.  This gave us time for a walk on the beach and a margarita, which was about all we needed from Old Orchard Beach.  And the two-mile walk home from the Durham train station felt like nothing at all.  (As walking connoisseurs, we saw it through new eyes, and looked approvingly upon its wide, comfortable sidewalks, finely manicured lawns, and attractive buildings.)

Total miles walked today: approx. 14

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Why walk?

We are not out to convince people that this is a vacation for everyone, but in light of some feedback we’ve received since announcing our intentions, we need to point out a few reasons why walking the southern Maine coast would be a good idea for some people.  Here are some of the joys of our trip so far; you can decide how much they appeal to you:

Take that, motorize vehicles!

Take that, motor driven vehicles!

We can go where we want.   I know automobiles are seen as a great liberator but it shouldn’t take too much of an imagination to see that they come with their restrictions.  This is particularly true in coastal New England, where the towns were well established before the first Model A came to town.  There is only so much they can widen the roads in Ogunquit.  There is only so much parking space they can build at Short Sands.  When we hobble into town now, it is a very comforting feeling to know that we don’t have to wait in traffic (motorized progress always stalls coming into these towns in the summer), hunt for a parking space (they are always scarce and often require parallel parking skills that for me are itinerant at best), worry about citations, and decide what can or can’t be left in the car.  We don’t have to look for appropriate spots to make u-turns (though, unfortunately, we’ve had to turn around an retrace our steps a few times so far).  I’m not fumbling with my key (or worrying about losing them) every time I look for something in my pocket. We’re not searching for gas stations or trying to decipher directions on the fly.  Correction, we’re often deciphering directions on the fly, but we’re not in danger of running anyone over while we’re doing it.

The beach was our highway yesterday.

The beach was our highway yesterday.

We can walk on the beach as far as we want.  Anyone who says she likes to walk on the beach should have been with us today.  Of our first seven miles or so, between five and six were on firm-packed sand.  Our feet were in the water for much of it.  We went on without care.  We didn’t have to go back and get our car.

The rising tide did make it difficult to follow the beach in some places.

Though the rising tide did make it difficult to follow the beach in some places.

There was no meter to feed. When the opportunity arose to change our route a bit by taking the trolley inland to Kennebunk (yes, it’s true, we did not walk the whole distance from Ogunquit to Kennebunkport) we were able to jump on it and not worry about having to come back and get our car.  We were un-tethered.

There are fewer distractions.  With car travel, there are more options, which seems like it would make people happy.  Today we did not have to worry about what we would crank through the radio, whether we would use A/C or open windows, who would drive and who would navigate.  Did we want to try for street parking or should we go to the $25 lot?  Maybe we could find a $10 lot and walk a little?  Should I drop you off with the stuff or find a place to park first?

Sure, we had a lot of other decisions to make, but they were interesting, thought-provoking decisions — Coastal route or straight path?  Stop for lunch or press on? Do you think they’d mind if we walked down their driveway?  Can this possibly be North? How far do we think can we go in one day before our bodies give out?  These are all distracting questions, I guess; or maybe you’d call them engaging, because for some of them it really makes a difference which way we decide.

Ready to leave our inn in Ogunquit, with everything I need on my back.

Ready to leave our inn in Ogunquit, with everything I need on my back.

There are fewer things to carry.  I know this also seems like an illogical defense of walking.  You can carry many more things in a car.  That’s why we have cars.  Having to carry everything on our backs makes it easy to decide what to bring.  We may not have everything we want at the beach, like a folding chair and big blanket, but we have everything we need.  We have found all we really need is a towel to sit on, some sunscreen, a water bottle or two, something to read, maybe a change of clothes eventually.  These things and more are all waiting for us in our backpacks, just like they will be in our B&B room tonight and the place we eat lunch tomorrow.

Also, we’re not tempted to buy stuff.  We usually aren’t great consumers, but now it’s not even a considerations because we don’t want to carry anything more.

There are more things to notice.  Billboards on highways are really big so you can’t miss them as you speed by.  Walking people can notice much smaller things; they notice even more than people moving at bike speed.  Back in Kittery a cyclist managed to blurt out, “Great blue back there,” as he rolled by in his speedy bike outfit.  A few dozen feet up the road, we saw the heron that had caught the cyclist’s attention, and then we saw the heron gracefully pulse its wings, raise itself out of the marsh and fly away.  Jen noted how amazing it was that herons can fly so well while moving their wings so slowly.  The biker didn’t get to see that.

IMG_8608This time of year, the best thing we get to notice is berries.  If anyone out there decides to recreate this journey or attempt a similar trek through the same landscape — and no one may ever do this; there are many reasons why someone would not want to attempt this walk, which we’ll surely get to in a future post if not before — we might share the secret location of a blueberry patch off Shore Road in Cape Neddick or try to explain the difference between huckleberries and the ones that look like huckleberries but are probably poisonous.  Future trekkers might want to know this before taking on the Kennebunk Bridle Path, which features each these, plus several other kind of berries.

These places seem more exotic because it’s taken a while to get here.  Kittery, York and Ogunquit are not unfamiliar territory for us.  I visited my family on vacation just north of Short Sands immediately after having my first date with Jen.  (She was kind of a detour on my way north.)  We walked right past the church we got married in the and reception hall driveway.  This time around, though, everything feels more exotic and new.

Trailblazing

Trailblazing

 

We get to blaze a trail.  This is not something people get to do that much anymore.   This adventure certainly isn’t on the scale of what earlier pioneers and explorers used to endure, but we’re still not entirely sure if it can be done, or if it can be done in a way that is somewhat pleasurable, interesting, and generally fulfilling without landing us in the hospital or prison. (Though we have considered prison as an inexpensive way to spend the night and extradition to New Hampshire as an easier way to get home than walking.)  We think it can be done, and we start out each morning with that intention, but we’re not at all sure it’ll all work out.

Staying and swimming some more at Wells was an option.

Staying and swimming some more at Wells was an option.

For instance, today we set out not know if we could make it all the way to Kennebunkport, which would be our goal, or if we would have to stop in Wells.  Wells would be a much shorter walk and would allow us to heal a little after two days of longer treks than we envisioned (particularly the first day when we stumbled around for a while before finding a place to stay).  Stopping in Wells would basically wreck our plans of hiking all the way to Old Orchard Beach. It would leave too many long walks across areas where resting opportunities would be scarce.  Even if we made it to Kennebunkport, tomorrow’s walk to Biddeford would be stretching our endurance.  We now know what 14+ miles can do to us.

Then, we stumbled on an opportunity when we arrived at Wells Beach, after pleasant morning of walking almost entirely on beaches:  There is a system of trolleys that connect York to Kennebunkport.  The trolleys pick up people at various hotels and parking lots on Route 1 and ferries them and their folding chairs to the string of beaches nearby.  This cuts down on the traffic; it gives people a chance to stay in one place and experience multiple recreation centers; and, perhaps more importantly, it only costs $1 for a one-way trip.

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On board the Shoreline Explorer

 

Sure, we told people we were going to walk to OOB, but really our goal was to get there without a car.  Shaving off a few miles — particularly miles on four-lane, commercial Route 1 — would not really taint the intention of our trip, particularly if it allowed us to get to Kennebunkport and keep us on track for our goal.  Also, the trolley line is called “Shoreline Explorer,” which is kind of how we view ourselves, as explorers; so it seemed like a good fit.

By cross-referencing her downloadable map of Maine with the Seacoast Explorers’ route map, we saw that we had a few options.  We could have taken the blue line going north from Wells to the Maine Diner on Route 1, turned off onto Route 9, which eventually intersects with a hiking trail in the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge that looked to lead right into Kennebunkport.  Or, we could have taken the blue line right into downtown Kennebunk and walked about half a mile to something on the map labeled Bridle Path, which also stretched on the computer map right to our destination.

Coffee in Kennebunk

Coffee in Kennebunk

We chose option two, which promised to cut about two miles off our original walking-only path to Kennebunkport, and also remove the specter of another afternoon navigating a winding Maine back road.  We were immediately happy with the results.  Motorized transportation, after all, is pretty easy on the feet.  There. was a nice little cafe in Kennebunk where we got a coffee drink to share, used the wifi to book a room, and changed out of clothes still damp from a plunge in the Atlantic just before we left our beach walking for the day. (Jen also took the opportunity to throw away a pair of bathing suit bottoms that nearly malfunctioned spectacularly in the waves, thanks to a waistband that had relaxed with age.)

Resting along the Bridle Path.

Resting along the Bridle Path.

We enjoyed a brief walk through town and found the Bridle Path without much problem.  The entry to the path was near a school parking lot, and there were multiple signs dedicated to explaining the trail and keeping cars and motorcycles out.  The trail actually extends from the Kennebunk railway station to downtown Kennebunkport.  It used to be a spur railroad line allowing tourists to travel the four miles from Kennebunk to the port without much time and effort.  It was a fantastic place to walk — not crowded, not buggy, no cars to contend with.  The path is shaded and peppered with historical markers and berry bushes.  It offers great views of the Mousam River.  After crossing Route 9, it turns into the wildlife refuge trail we considered aiming for.  Spaces in trees allowed for ocean and marsh views.  The blueberries in particular were plentiful.

Then we crossed another road and the trail disappeared.

No warning, no sign.  Just a golf course where the trail should have been.  Jen’s downloadable map did show the grey and white line skirting along the edge of a golf course, then going right through the middle.  It didn’t seem entirely right; but, then again, there were no signs on the golf course that said we couldn’t walk through.  The golf-cart path did seem to go right along the edge of the course and follow the path that the railway might have taken.  Taking any other route at this point, according to the map, would mean walking on winding Maine backroads.

Jen slinks away from the golf course.  Note the open gate across the street.

Jen summons stealth to slink away from the golf course. Note the open gate across the street.

So we crashed the golf party — and there were plenty of golfers to witness it as they knocked around their shots in the late afternoon sunshine.  No one seemed to notice us.  Not even when the path we were taking appeared to be wiped out by a raised tee box.  Skirting that, we found a green in the way, then a row of hedges.  We walked around in cirlces, first trying re-capture the path, and then just trying to get off the darned golf course.  There were houses all around it and hedges and fences.  There’s probably a series of security videos showing us stumbling blindly around the course.  At some point they’ll speed it up a little, set it to the Benny Hill music, and play it at the country club Christmas party for laughs.

Finally, following the cart path all the way around a green off into a direction that  would have brought us clear into a major golfing thoroughfare, we recognized what appeard to be the foundation of an old bridge, possibly a railway bridge.  It crossed a small culvert and ended right in someone’s driveway.  We slinked across the bridge and down the driveway away from the golfers.

And we found what looked like the Bridle Path, across the street from the driveway, behind a gate that was almost closed but not completely.  Again, no signs encouraging or discouraging progress.  Beyond the gate, the trail was mowed and appeared to continue through a copse on the edge of the salt marsh.

Strange? Yes.  Inviting? Not entirely.  But eventually irresistible.  This path promised to drop us off right in the center of Kennebunkport.  No cars or narrow shoulders or anything.  We triple and quadruple-checked the map.  It sure looked right.  Even the salt marsh was there, and a bridge that would carry the trains over the salt marsh.  Just a small span across a narrow place in the marsh.  Surely the bridge would still be there.

We made it through the copse.  We bungled across an open area that appeared to be part of several houses’ back yards.  Not a single sign.  No one theere to ask us what the heck we were doing.

Wading in

Wading in

We made it to the woods on the other end of the clearing.  The trail was still there, clearly visible through the woods.  Past a few more houses.  The woods started to thin out.  The trail started to narrow.  Then it was strangled in a wall of bushes.  Wait, a path crept off to the right.  Around a bend we saw the bridge — or the granite-blocked foundation of the bridge, still solid and vertical.   And, at its closest point, four feet from shore and in two feet of running water.

Jen was un-deterred.  She took off her sandals, handed me her backpack and waded in.  The made it to the bridge support.  She climbed the bridge support (in a travel skirt and bare feet!).

More trail blazing?

More trail blazing?

Then the dream ended.

The other bridge support was eight feet away from the first and through the gap flowed much deeper water.   We would have swum.  Travel skirts and Amphibian shorts are quick drying.  But backpacks, laptops and kindles aren’t.

Still, it was tough to turn around. We could see the roadbed for the path on the other side of the water.  Plus, when you’re walking 12 miles a day — after this misadventure, 14 miles today —  you don’t want to turn around and retrace any steps.  We also didn’t want to walk through anyone’s yard, but arrest for trespassing, in this instance, was seen as preferable to a half-mile of backtracking.

IMG_8619If any of the residents of Governors Way, Kennebunk, ME, called the cops, we had stumbled out of the vicinity by the time the flashing lights showed up.

So there’s another reason to walk.  A little bit of adventure.  Something to tell the grandkids.  And something to pass along to future trekkers: You can follow the Bridle Trail through the golf course, but don’t take it any farther, unless you bring along a few sturdy planks.

IMG_8624Actually, Kennebunk should fix that bridge and mark the trail.  It’s a great way to get around, and it could only help lessen traffic down in Kennebunkport.  Like most of the other centers we’ve been to on this trip, it was very pretty, but choked with traffic.

We managed to get there, get cleaned up in our B&B, and hit the town for drinks, the a beer sampler and dinner at the famous Federal Jack’s.

IMG_8630Tomorrow, more decisions and, possibly, more adventures.

Stay tuned.

Who knew there were so many people in Maine?

IMG_8507Here’s the thing about the Sea Latch Inn.  There were a couple of places in the vicinity with Vacancy signs, but we chose to go in there because they advertised “Free Hot Breakfast”.  Little did we know that this would be provided at the Lobster Cove, the very restaurant we’d gone to for lunch the day before, three quarters of a mile south of the hotel.  I’m not sure if you all can appreciate the degree to which Bob and I did not want to start walking south in the morning.  But breakfast awaited, so southward we went, and in the end I was halfway to my 10,000 step goal on the fitbit before we even officially set off for the day.

IMG_8523It was a gorgeous morning on Long Sands, but high tide was approaching, which led to the funny sight of a huge stretch of empty beach, with big crowds of people clustered together on the very upper fringe.  (Not much of Long Sands is around at high tide.)  We started our walk down on the beach, and caught a little of a surfing competition as we went by.

Even though it added substantially to our mileage, we set off down the Cape Neddick peninsula in order to see the Nubble Light at the end.  Lots of people here, too, and it gratified us to see that they were having trouble finding parking spaces.

IMG_8528If we thought Long Sands was crowded, that was nothing to Short Sands, on the other side of the peninsula.  It also seems to have a high-tide problem, and every inch of sand seemed to be covered in humanity.  Bob and I were getting pretty warm by this time, so we found a spare bit of rocks on which to put our bags and took a quick dip in the water.  By the time we got out, the tide was threatening that spot, too.

One highlight on Shore Road -- the church where we got married 18 years ago.  We elected not to visit the Cliff House next door, where we had our reception, because of the very long, uphill driveway.

One highlight on Shore Road — the church where we got married 18 years ago. We elected not to visit the Cliff House next door, where we had our reception, because of the very long, uphill driveway.

The water, by the way, is…bracing.  Last time we went to the beach in NH it was surprisingly not-frigid, and checking in at the Sea Latch we heard the woman at the desk tell someone, “The ocean is really warm.  They measured it at 68 this morning!”  (This was not meant for sarcasm.  68 is in fact very warm for the ocean in Maine.)  But alas, by the time we got to the beach, the currents had changed or something and the ocean was back to its usual breathtaking, ankle-numbing temperature.  Still, though it was not entirely pleasant to jump in, it felt very good afterward — and gave us a little chilling that would last well into the walk.

Perkins Cove

Perkins Cove

The walk today was similar to yesterday in that the start was pleasant and fun — some beaches to swim at, a nice restaurant for lunch in Short Sands, lots of beauty around to look at — but then we ended up on a long slog on a rather boring road that was not made for pedestrians.  This time it was Shore Road leading between York and Ogunquit, and for most of its 4.4-mile length it proved to be similar to the dreaded Brave Boat Harbor Road from yesterday.  In this case, we were at least occasionally rewarded with scenic water views.

IMG_8561The end of the walk really shone today, though.  After coming into Ogunquit, we took a side street and footbridge into incredibly scenic (and again, incredibly crowded and hard-to-park-in) Perkins Cove.  We took a break to have drinks at a restaurant overlooking the Atlantic (and oddly, staffed entirely with young Eastern European women.  We would later find this to be the case with many places in Ogunquit.)

IMG_8564The last mile was down the stunning Marginal Way footpath, which winds along the rocky coastline.  And the best part was that we knew exactly where we were going.  After our debacle trying to find a hotel in York, we decided to book ahead in Ogunquit — and through some kind of tripadvisor loophole were able to book the last available room in a B&B that, like almost everywhere, typically has a two-night minimum.  It’s right in the heart of town and is lovely, with a porch swing looking out over a broad lawn and the busy (oh, yes, it’s incredibly crowded here as well) streets (and also a nice lady who gave us Band-aids for our blisters).  We sat there at the end of the day, eating our ice cream, after a pleasant stroll around town and dinner at a gourmet pizza & craft beer restaurant.

Total mileage (not including side trips): 11.2 miles

A happy ending

I was asleep by the time Bob posted last night, so I didn’t get to make any editorial comments.  That being said, I need to officially object to the term “little bit” as used to describe the extra amount we ended up walking yesterday.  Checking our route on google maps, I see that we walked an extra 4.2 miles, not counting some of the extra back and forth to the beach, the restaurant, etc.

IMG_8427And we did it without a lot of breaks, either.  There was a restaurant immediately after Fort McClary State Park, about 3.5 miles into our journey, but we weren’t really hungry yet and we’d just taken a little break at the park, so we passed it by.  (We considered getting lunch to go at the general store next door, which advertised the “world’s best sandwiches” — but then we saw the “Trump 4 President” sign in the window and Just Couldn’t Do It.)

IMG_8474Restaurants — or anything else of interest, really — proved to be pretty thin on the ground after that.  The first part of our walk, through Portsmouth and downtown Kittery, was really lovely, with an active waterfront full of quaint businesses.   (We definitely fail to properly appreciate them since they’re so close to home.)  Kittery Point was lovely, too, with its perfectly maintained New England houses, gorgeous gardens in the front and glimpses of lobster boats and floating buoys in the background.  But once we got past the fort, it was just road and vegetation and the occasional house.

IMG_8446As a result, we didn’t end up stopping to eat until about 3:00 in the afternoon, when we fortified ourselves with beer, crab cakes, and sweet potato fries at the Lobster Cove.  Luckily, this set us up well for our dinner, since the earliest reservation available at Mimmo’s was 8pm.  (It was crucial that we get into Mimmo’s, not because of its great reputation but because everything else would have meant a longer walk.)

Long Sands Beach

Long Sands Beach

And so, despite the fact that the day didn’t turn out quite as planned, it all ended happily.  Our huge and delicious Italian dinner (followed by a brownie sundae at a nearby ice cream stand) was just what we needed.  Afterwards we watched a group of people releasing some kind of candle-powered floating lanterns out over the ocean, with a huge almost-full moon in the background.

Total mileage for the day (not including side trips): 14 miles.

Leg One, Plus a Little Bit

Ready to go in Market Square, about 9:35 am.  Thanks to Charles for the ride into town, and for snapping this photo.

Ready to go in Market Square, about 9:35 am. Thanks to Charles for the ride into town, and for snapping this photo.

Who says you have to go far from home to have an adventure?  Not us. Especially after Jen looked at air fare and decided that we weren’t going to jet anywhere for the girls’ camp weeks.  Instead, we’re self-propelled.

And we’re walking mostly on routes we’ve driven before — in some cases, very often.   One of our working theories is that we’ll see more if we take the time to walk fro m place to place.   We may not see as many places as we would if we were zipping around in the Fit, but we’ll see more of the world around us.

Would we notice the views of the harbor if we drove east along Whipple Road into Kittery Point?  Probably.  But we wouldn’t have noticed the Gundalow saling out with the tide.  Walking, we found a tiny secret beach, got a good view of a submarine at the shipyard, and poked into a funky garden stand near the Kittery/York line (too bad you can’t drink leeks).

Our route brought us past the Portsmouth Post Office, where Jen mailed letters to our campers.

Our route brought us past the Portsmouth Post Office, where Jen mailed letters to our campers.

Also, on a Saturday morning in August, we may have made better time walking through southern Maine than many of the people driving up routes 95 and 1.

Even keeping a steady pace, we ended up needing to propel ourselves a little bit farther than planned because the York Harbor Inn was full (and seems to own all the other inns in its immediate vicinity, and these inns, they told us, were also full).  We walked an extra two miles to Long Sands, saw some hotels with vacancies, inexplicably walked past them, then backtracked to finally secure our lodgings at about 5:30.

It was an adventurous day.

Kittery started here and ended a long time later.

Kittery started here and ended a long time later.

The highlight might have been walking across the Memorial Bridge from Portsmouth into Kittery. After that it seemed like a long time that we were walking in Kittery.  Oh, the joy when we saw a sign that talked about York’s policies towards littering.  We knew we were close to our goal for the day — and also that we were never going to litter in York.

Sometimes the shoulder got a little narrow.

Sometimes the shoulder got a little narrow.

We appreciated the flat, smooth hiking terrain and generally  light traffic. Mostly there was a wide shoulder or at least a flat grassy section to walk on away from the road.  Sometimes there were six inches of pavement between the white line and a cliff.  Sometime there was a whole sidewalk for us.   The weather was nice:  sunny and breezy for most of the day; a bit of clouds while we were stopping for a break at Fort McClary State Park made us wonder what we were going to do if the skies opened up.  The two options we settled on were to wear our raincoats or use them to cover our backpacks, which contain everything else we need for the rest of the trip.    Jen hit her Fitbit goal of 10,000 steps sometime before the noon hour.  We walked on past the Frisbee Market and Cajun Lobster restaurant in Kittery.  Perhaps we should have stopped in for a bite.  There’ s really not much else past there for a while.

The Gundalow and Constitution light as seen from Fort McLary.

The Gundalow and Constitution Light as seen from Fort McLary.

After a long, lonely stretch on Rt. 103, we hit civilization again in York, with the Wiggly Bridge Park (where we had granola bars) and a cool path along the water called the Fisherman’s Walk.  This path led us right to the York Harbor Inn where the clerk said his inn was full and don’t bother asking about any of the other ones on either side of it.  He directed us instead toward York Beach, which is surely what he does to all people who look like they’ve just walked in from Portsmouth.

IMG_8486

Barely starting to get tired at Wiggle Bridge Park.

We made it to the beach and wandered for a time, hopeful that some nice place would take us in.  None did, but the place we’re in is good enough — maybe not good enough for $260 a night, but good enough.  We are right across the street from the beach and not too far up from Mimmo’s Restaurant, which I have wanted to try for a while and can now say is worth the visit.

After securing a room and a reservation at Mimmo’s, we went down to the beach and hopped into the ocean.  Sorry, I did that.  Jen sat down in the shallows and chilled her legs down in the cold Maine waters.  She was not interested in chilling the rest of her body.

Mimmo's deson't sell alcohol (or charge for opening a wine bottle you bring in), but they'll give you a shot of amaretto of Mimmo likes you well enough.

Mimmo’s doesn’t sell alcohol (or charge for opening a wine bottle you bring in), but they’ll give you a shot of amaretto if Mimmo likes you well enough.

Then we went back, hopped on the Internet and reserved a room for tomorrow in Ogunquit.   As shorter walk and a little more security, that’s what the next day should bring.

 

 

On the road again

Well, we’ve been back at home for three months now, and in many ways it feels like we never left.  After jumping back into our usual routine of school, work, and activities, our Central America trip seems like another world.  So, time for a new (mini) adventure!

MEcoastwalkWith the kids all away at camp for two weeks (!), Bob and I had three criteria for what we wanted to do: (1) not too expensive, and (2) fairly close to home in case we needed to do an emergency camp pickup, and (3) something that we couldn’t easily do with the kids along.
My mind immediately jumped to some kind of walking or biking trek.  I’ve always wanted to do one of those European vacations where you walk from village to village, past castles and sheep and cheese shops, and arrive each night at a quaint little inn where your bags are waiting for you.  Though I did briefly toy with this idea, it didn’t meet criterion #2 and a quick look at air prices made #1 right out as well.  I started to look closer to home.  Apart from one possibility in Vermont (which, despite the name “inn to inn tours” seemed to imply that a car was a necessity), I didn’t come up with anything.
So, then I started thinking, we can do this by ourselves, right?  I mean, we could pack really light.  Our bags wouldn’t be very heavy.  (I have yet to confirm this with a test run.  Based on past experience, I’m a bit apprehensive about this assumption.)
Will this get me through five days?  Will it fit in my pack?  Time will tell.

Will this get me through five days? Will it fit in my pack? Time will tell.

And in terms of destination — well, we have one of the most beautiful areas in the country right here.  And a little googling revealed that there are indeed quaint little towns (possibly with cheese shops, though castles and sheep seem unlikely) strung out at convenient 10- to 15-mile intervals along the route.

So, we’ll be walking up the Maine coast, starting in beautiful downtown Portsmouth, NH.  We’ll cross the bridge into Kittery, ME and continue on for five days or so, hopefully ending in Old Orchard Beach.  When we arrive at our final destination, we’ll hop on the Downeaster Amtrak line and cruise right back to Durham.
The plan was to avoid car travel entirely by starting our journey with the COAST bus from Durham (a short walk from our house) to Portsmouth.  Unfortunately, this morning I discovered a little note on the schedule that indicates, “No weekend routes in reduced service season.”  Given that this bus is run by UNH, summer falls squarely into that category.  So we may need to prevail upon a friend for a ride to the starting line.
Along the way we’ll see state parks, lighthouses, cliff walks, arcades, T-shirt shops, and lots and lots of coastline.  First stop: York Harbor, approximately 11 miles (via a coastal route) from Portsmouth.  We’re crossing our fingers on finding a convenient hotel, since it’s a high-season Saturday night and most places have a two-night minimum.  Still, I figure someone will take pity on us if we show up on the doorstep.  (If not, one of you locals might be getting a phone call.)

We fought the rain and the rain won

The weather did not improve overnight.
 
However, we still counted ourselves somewhat lucky, since the torrential downpours that we’d heard pounding on the tent overnight had ceased and we were back to drizzle and tree-rain.  Nadia greeted me in the morning with this: “Mom, there’s a huge puddle of water in the corner…”  Turns out they SPILLED A WATER BOTTLE INSIDE THE TENT.  As if we didn’t have enough water problems.
 
The chill persisted and a hot breakfast and tea were called for.  Bob made a delicious hash and the smell was sufficiently good to pull reluctant girls from their warm sleeping bags.
 
The “summit” on Bar Island
Outdoor activities didn’t seem too promising, so we headed for a touch tank activity being held at the College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor.  Unfortunately upon arriving we discovered that I’d incorrectly remembered the time and the Natural History Museum, where the touch tank was, was not yet open.
 
Theoretically, a beautiful view of Bar Harbor
So, despite half-hearted protests from Nadia and the fact that Lanie had left her raincoat in the tent (also, did I mention that both Zoe and Lanie left their sneakers outside the tent overnight?), we went into Bar Harbor and set off for Bar Island.  At low tide, the island is connected to Bar Harbor by a sandbar, and you can walk across on the sand.  The kids would have had a ball tide-pooling here if they weren’t so cold, but Lanie still managed to find a large number of shells to collect (which I believe are still sitting in my raincoat pocket).  On Bar Island we took a little hike to the summit, and saw what I’m sure would have been a beautiful view across the harbor in less foggy conditions. 
 
Back in Bar Harbor, the rain started in earnest.  We had ducked into a tourist information center and were bleakly thumbing through a newspaper, looking for things to do in the rain, when I came across something exciting.  The local microbrewery, which Bob and I had given longing glances as we passed, had an ad for beer AND SODA tastings.  To me, that said – “Kids welcome!”  So we walked through the pouring rain to the Atlantic Brewing Company, where Bob and I tried four kinds of beer and the kids tried homemade root beer and blueberry soda.
 
By this point the rain had become a deluge, and we realized we were unfortunately a fair way from the car.  By the time we got back we were all drenched.  The kids in their wet sandals were now all far better off than me in my sodden sneakers, which had felt so warm and dry that morning.
 
Rather than enjoying a scenic view, we ate our ragtag lunch in a parking lot, rain pounding on the car all the while.  Luckily it was by now the correct time for the touch tank presentation, and we spent quite a while listening to the ranger and exploring the little museum.  (As with the water bottle inside the tent, Lanie managed to compound our water issues by getting the sleeves of her sweatshirt entirely drenched in the touch tank.)
 
When the rain let up a bit, we set off down the park loop road and stopped at Sand Beach.  The park had been regularly taunting us with pictures and postcards of this beach, drenched in sun, with happy bathing-suited people frolicking about in the water.  The scene was rather different for us — in fact, we had the whole beautiful beach to ourselves.  We didn’t stay too long.
 

At Sand Beach
Since it was not really raining at this point, we set off on a walking trail along the rocks of the coastline, toward Thunder Hole about a half mile away.  It was a LONG half-mile, but the views were gorgeous and Thunder Hole was worth the trip — though it wasn’t actually thundering at that time, Zoe and Nadia loved climbing around on the rocks and splashing through the water.  Lanie at this point (still having no raincoat) was too cold and tired to want to do anything but go back to the car.
 
Yes, as a matter of fact we DID manage
to get Junior Ranger badges!
Bob and I had spent a fair amount of time debating plans during the day.  We kept consulting different weather forecasts and trying to decide whether to hang on or throw in the towel.  Eventually we’d seen that the little Bar Harbor pizza restaurant/movie theater was showing Monsters’ University at 5:30, so we decided to tough it out and head there at dinnertime.  By the time we got back, we could just go to bed and hope for better things the next morning.
 
Unfortunately, when we went back to change into drive clothes before the movie, we discovered that some kind of calamity had befallen our tarp/tent setup and the tent was now half-full of water.  Well, you don’t have to hit us over the head with a hammer — this was the last straw and we were out of there.  Nadia and Lanie were very disappointed — Lanie cried and cried — while Zoe seemed happy enough to go home to a warm house.  (This is the exact opposite of what I would have predicted, by the way.)
 
At Thunder Hole
Nadia and Zoe were great, though — they really rallied to help us break camp in record time.  Within an hour of when we’d discovered the wet tent, we were on the road, heading toward home.  (The car was an utter disaster, with wet clothes and towels and tent parts everywhere, but that couldn’t be helped.)  I couldn’t help but pity the poor saps who were lined up to enter the campground (this being the Friday night before the 4th of July).  And the huge platters of Chinese food that were put before us at the Noodle House in Brewer, Maine did much to raise everyone’s spirits.
 
Lest you worry that the kids were too scarred by this experience, they spent the next night at home — sleeping in the tent in the back yard.

****
From Bob:
We left Acadia with a lot more to see.  Truly.  We spent a lot of time telling the kids things like: “Right out there, where all the fog is, there a beautiful ocean.”  Many sentences started: “On a clear day, you would see…”  Sometimes we said: “If it wasn’t so wet…”  

As a testament to how wet we were, check out the picture of the girls at Sand Beach.  They stayed on the stairs and didn’t even go onto the sand.  Normally, it would have taken the National Guard to keep them from getting knee deep in the water by the time the shutter on the camera closed.  The kids were troopers, but the elements really kept us in check.
I could tell Jen’s optimism was flagging as the day dripped on, as was mine.  The kids, to their great credit, were against leaving.  They wanted to stick it out.  So, when the tent collapsed and provided the final straw, there was some release for the adults and much disappointment from the kids.  Lanie cried the whole time we took the tent down.
It didn’t take long for everyone to make peace with our fate.  It didn’t hurt that our fate included a stop at Noodles and Company.  It might not look like much, but for $50 we got totally filled up with good Chinese food for dinner, and then we got filled up again for lunch the next day.  
We’re definitely swinging through Brewer, ME, on our next trip to Acadia.  
And, we’re definitely going back to Acadia to see all the stuff we didn’t see this time…and maybe pick up a few more popovers in the process.

“The Vacation State”? Ha!

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
carriage road

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
intersection.

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.)

Jordan Pond

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.
***
From Bob:

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.