Friday, August 17, 2012

A Final Week on the Coast

It's been about 40 days since we biked away from Amtrak's South Station in Boston, following the coast up to Acadia National Park.  We have 9 more nights along the coast before our swing inland.

We left Bar Harbor on a passenger ferry that also takes bikes, passing the lonely Egg Island Light as we crossed Frenchman's Bay to Winter Harbor.  Our destination was also that of a cycling group led by the fellow Louise is chatting with, since Schoodic Point, a remote but bike-friendly part of Acadia National Park, is just south of our landing point.  In this photo from our climb up Cadilac Mt. a few days earlier, Schoodic is the narrow peninsula in the distance.  The second photo is a look back at Cadillac from Schoodic Point.

The rocks were quite impressive, and a sign helped explain the unusual streaks, or "dikes," of darker rock adding drama to the scene.  Also worth looking at is the second sign with a diagram of the Gulf of Maine.  We've both been reading "The Secret Life of Lobsters" this week, a well-written and fascinating look at America's favorite crustacean, and it makes a point that the cold Labrador Current circulating around the Gulf of Maine is the principal reason why Maine is by far the friendliest place on the planet for a lobster.


As sometimes happens, we could not find lodging close to a restaurant.  As often happens when that happens, we were able to pick up food at a grocery along the way and have dinner salads for two at our B&B.  It just so happens that Elsa's Inn in Prospect Harbor ME provided the most scenic setting we've yet found for one of our picnic dinners.  Our dinner plates are flat as sheets of paper when stored, then fold origami-like into these shapes at meal time.  BTW, even though we had just passed a statue to the lobster and another to the lobsterman, that's actually canned crab meat topping tonight's repast.

The map shows Acadia National Park and  why Schoodic gets small crowds --  it's 45 miles by car beyond Bar Harbor.  Our next destination was the most remote part of Acadia, the segment that covers about half of Isle Au Haut (pronounced 'aisle a hoe' by the locals), so named because it is the tallest island in that region.  But en route we stopped for a second time at the Surry Inn, near Ellsworth.  The lodging is pretty basic, but the chef is a master as our duck and scallop plates show.  As scrumptious as those dishes were, Jeff says he has never tasted a better chocolate mousse than the  two he devoured here, one on each of our two stays.

It's 75 miles from Schoodic to Stonington, the jumping off spot for Isle Au Haut, which we divided into 20, 20 and 35 mile segments, the first to get much-needed haircuts along the way, the second to have time for a kayak trip in Blue Hill harbor half-way through the day.  It was bouncier out there than the photos reveal, since Jeff was inclined to keep the camera in the dry bag when the waves and chop were heavy.
We also gave ourselves a rest day at The Lookout, yet another large wooden inn along the shore.  This year the dining room was closed except for Tuesday night lobster bakes, which drew a crowd of 2-3 dozen from the area joining us and the one other couple staying at the inn.  And oh! What a feeding frenzy when the lobsters were in front of all the diners!  Problem was, the feeding frenzy was not by the customers but rather of the customers, as something about the smell of the lobsters woke up all the mosquitos from the entire township.  In retrospect (though not at the time we can assure you) it was a comical scene of hands wet from breaking apart lobster claws and slippery from picking up buttered corn on the cob suddenly slapping arms, legs, hair, clothing . . .  All the while of course sending further plumes of mosquito perfume into the air to summon the backup troops to replace the few who were actually slaughtered by the picnickers.

Little did we know in April when we booked it that our August rest day would be wet and gloomy until late in the day, perfect for catching up on the blog and then going for a walk  out to "the point."  A good day not to be biking.  Seeing that the weather made popping into town for meals a challenge, the innkeeper went out of her way to whip us up a nice lunch and supper.
The walk was a good antidote to a day of sitting, and fascinating in its own way.  There were lots of broken shells, which someone fashioned into a large "M" on the boulder that a tree is using as an anchor.  But that is neither broken shells nor snow that Louise is examining, but rather barnacles.  They are a curious animal that selects a hard surface as home (unfortunately for the boat owner sometimes the hull of a ship), then it opens the trap door and sends tongue-like appendages out to feed on passing plankton.  They can survive out of water so long as they get submerged at high tide with enough water and plankton to make a meal of it.  Further along the barnacles were competing with periwinkles for real estate.  The tip of Jeff's shoe gives some scale.

At last we were on our 35-mile jaunt to Stonington.  The town of Brooklin was little more than a road junction: a cafe and Congregational church looking east; the general store (with a second cafe tucked in on the far side) to the west; and the town library facing the junction.  That's the summer annex out front, and a library patron using its free wifi before the library has opened for the day.


Stonington is at the south end of a large island, Deer Isle, and we worried a bit about how we would do crossing the tall suspension bridge over Eggemoggin Reach.  We paused to take the photo and were about to remount the bike when we heard the distant sound of a motor vehicle from behind us.  OK, let's let it pass.  Good call!  It was a huge semi with a half dozen cars and trucks parading behind it!  When it was totally quiet once again we made a run for it and did fine.  Two cars passed us on the climb up to the high point by going completely into the oncoming lane, and a third had only a brief delay behind us as we crested before seeing a similar clear path around us.  Good thing as there was no place to pull over, and it was steep enough that we had to get into the second-lowest of our 27 gears for the last minute of climbing, doing about 6 mph.  We're happy to say that we had even better luck recrossing it three days later, thanks in part to a 15 mph tail wind!

We loved Stonington.  It has a little bit of tourist town draw, but a lot of local color and authenticity.  It lands more pounds of lobster by far than anywhere else in Maine (and, thus, anywhere else in the world), and we took care of four of them at the Harbor Cafe for the amazing price of $16.99 per person for two lobsters and two side dishes!

The next morning we took the mail boat out to Isle Au Haut, with patches of fog, a passing lobster boat and a lighthouse or two adding additional atmosphere. 

National Park Rangers gave us a quick guide to the trails at the landing and set us free, warning us that the trails were steep and rocky in some places and scenic in many, so we should not expect to cover much above 1 mile per hour of exploring.  And so it was.  We'll just turn off the sound for a few photos and let them tell the story.

Many of the rocky outcroppings have cobble beaches between them where chunks of rock get rounded by the surf, creating a fascinating juxtaposition of jagged and straight next to smooth and round.  As we had our picnic lunch on one such point we would hear a large wave occasionally wash in, followed by a high-pitched cacophony of rocks rolling back down with the retreating surf.  We read that a powerful storm can move rocks the size of a loaf of bread a mile or two.

On the way back to the dock we passed some teen volunteers.  In exchange for four weeks of trail building they were going to be treated to a one week adventure trip.  They certainly seemed to know what they were doing and doing it well.
Our return boat was even smaller, but it treated us to a visit past an island covered in seals!

As we approached Stonington we passed an active granite quarry that provided the stone for the JFK memorial, among others. We also got a good view of Stonington harbor.

Those of you who have followed us for a while have seen our fascination with some of Claude Monet's series of paintings, such as those of haystacks or of the cathedral at Rouen, where he paints the same thing at different times of day to capture the changes in mood.  Som off that rubbed of on us in Stonington of all places, so we offer two pairs of photos, first morning vs. late afternoon of a scenic bend in the road, then evening vs. the next morning for the harbor, both times at low tide.  Monet was onto something, wasn't he?

Our second and last day in Stonington was spent ocean canoeing, starting at Old Quarry Ocean

Adventures.  We did an 8-mile or so loop from the black dot to Bold, Camp and Scott islands, among others.  Each time we crossed the deeper channels in white, we had to look far in each direction for lobster boats and cabin cruisers, since either can cover a lot of ground as we plod across their path, like turtles watching cars approach on a highway.
The weather and wind were perfect as we paddled past one little island with Mt. Cadillac in the distance, another with the detritus of an abandoned granite quarry, a third with a first for us, a colorful flower growing in seawater.  Throw in a picnic lunch on a publicly owned island and it's hard to do better than that.

Back at the canoe shop we ran into Chris and Emily, who had been out in their own inflatable kayak.  They live in a flat in Brooklyn NY so needed something that stored small, and they demonstrated for us just how small it got.  We were so impressed we spent an hour later looking at the Innova website, though whether we ever buy one is debatable.  But we had fun dreaming about owning one some day.

Our actualized dream of a summer on the Coast of Maine was about to end.  We rode 41 miles to Bucksport, our last view of saltwater until NYC a few weeks and a few hundred miles from now.  Along the way we saw canoeists and kayakers running the reversing Bagaduce Falls (at high tide the falls run the opposite direction!), and from our motel room in Bucksport we looked wistfully out at Penobscot Narrows, with Fort Knox off to the right.

We'll be headed southwesterly and inland in our next posting.

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