Friday, July 25, 2014

A More Remote Part of Mid-Coast Maine: South Cushing and South Bristol

As we've previously mentioned, the inspiration for this summer's 9-cottage adventure was our 2012 visit to Maine, when we had 3 week-long cottage stays.  One of them was on Carver's Point in South Cushing, and it was so terrific we started thinking about a return visit as soon as we left.  It was now Cottage #2 for this year's adventure.   We wrote quite a bit about it in the second half of this blog entry back in 2012:  We encourage you to visit or revisit that posting, if only to check out the photos of this pretty part of Maine.  We'll try to focus on some new things in today's entry.

The Carver's Point cottage is quite remote.  Owner Betsy picked up $65 worth of groceries ahead of time for us two years ago, and volunteered to do so again.  On arrival this time, there was $130 worth of heavy and bulky items from our shopping list waiting for us in the fridge, such as a gallon of milk, heads of cabbage and cauliflower, two dozen eggs, and much, much more.  Since the only reasonably large supermarket is 16 hilly miles away (where we picked up another 20 pounds of fresh items on the way in) Betsy's help was oh sooooo appreciated.

Of course, some things never change, and the tide is one of them.  The night we arrived was full moon, so the tide range was higher than in the middle of the lunar cycle: about 10 feet from low to high.  Here are a few pairs of photos taken from our dock, first to the neighbors to the right, then of our own dock, then to the left.  Needless to say, all our trips avoided take-offs and landings two hours either side of low tide!

We discovered Wallace's General Store in the town of Friendship, Maine at the end of our 2012 stay.  Thus time we paddled over to it (3 miles each way)  twice and biked to it once (6 1/2 miles each way).  Thanks to Wallace's and to that initial shopping spree Betsy did for us, we didn't have to do a 32-mile r/t grocery run on the bike.

Wallace's is as close to the ideal for a general store in today's world as you could hope to get.  In the square footage of two small 7-11's it had very reasonable prices and a remarkably wide range of products, including fresh veggies and fresh meat, plus a deli counter that made us a terrific lobster roll one day and fresh slices of pizza another, and (most important of all) the most personable of owners.  Both husband and wife took time to chat with us, interrupting every minute or two for a quick "Oh, hi, Sam!" Or "Good Morning, Margo!"  These folks certainly made the Town of Friendship, Maine a very friendly place.

As we noted two years ago, this is a lobstering town, almost always in the top 4 or 5 Maine ports for pounds of lobsters landed.  A typical haul is over 4 million pounds per year.  Besides the lobster trap chairs at Wallace's, there are plenty of other signs of lobstering in the port area as well, including one lobsterman getting ready to set out with his traps, and another checking his traps on the edge of the harbor.

Carver's Point has a nice 17' Grumann aluminum canoe, and we got out in it every day.  One windy day we only did a mile and a half in some calmer waters nearby, but two other trips were 12-mile jaunts out to the edge of the open ocean.  Each day we took a picnic lunch, pulled up for lunch on a pocket beach if we could, on some rocks if we had to, and thoroughly enjoyed the scenery and the exercise.

One new activity this time at Carver's Point was hiking.  We walked a mile down the road to the Pleasant Point Nature Preserve and then did its two loop trails, about a mile each.  One of the loops went through a pine-spruce forest that was so thick with needles on the forest floor, it felt like walking on a matress.  OK, a very lumpy and sometimes steeply inclined matress -- you can't have it all.  The preserve was created by 25 nearby property owners who pitched in money and effort to buy the land and lay out the trails six years ago, and our walk there was a good counterbalance to our focus on saltwater the rest of the week -- different muscles and a different color palette, among other things.

On that one windy day, we also balanced the canoeing with a bike ride to fully explore the nearby areas.  In Friendship we ran into Bill, who runs a B&B and a kayak touring company.  He spent a good bit of time chatting with us and admiring Little Red, our tandem.  Next day, who do we see out on the water but Bill, leading a half dozen kayakers.  As we paddle by, Bill calls out to his group, "Oh, check out these folks in the canoe.  When they're not boating they're riding a tandem bike.  They've ridden their tandem 65,000 miles and they're not divorced!!!"

We haven't actually been riding the tandem a lot lately, but every Saturday we are definitely on that bike, as we change from cottage to cottage.  From Carver's Point in South Cushing to our next cottage on McFarland's Point in South Bristol we rode 40 very hilly miles, from one remote location to another.  The owner of our next cottage was able to pick up a gallon of milk and some eggs for us, but she had no trips planned to the big supermarket 13 miles away while she was down there getting it ready for our arrival (we were apparently the first rental of the season).  So we stopped at the supermarket and put Little Red to a big test -- the most weight ever.  We moved all our clothing to the rear panniers, now stuffed to the gills, then bought as much food as we thought we could jam into the front panniers, a backpack, and three other bags that we attached around the rack trunk at the rear of the bike.  Here we are, ready for take-off with about 75-80 pounds of gear and groceries.  And did we mention, it continued to be hilly . . . ?  Big Red stood up to the task and handled well with all that weight.  We were exhausted, but we made it there safely.

Like Carver's Point, our place at McFarland's Point did not come with wifi.  This was particularly unfortunate, as son Brian and daughter-in-law Ardy were expecting baby #2 (grandkid #5 for us) any moment.  Luckily we did have cell phone coverage from Verizon, and after Draelen was born on Sunday, neighbors invited us on Monday to use a picnic table next to their cottage, where we picked up their wifi signal and were able to Skype on our iPad with ABCD (Ardy, Brian, our grandson Cedro and of course Draelen).  While we were admiring little Draelen, Ardy's parents arrived with Cedro and we captured a screen shot of the moment, thanks to Skype, of Cedro meeting his new sister for the second time.  We appear to be pretty excited too, it seems.

The South Bristol cottage was a learning experience for us.  In the future, we learned, we need to emphasize the importance of canoeing when we first contact the owners of a cottage we're thinking of renting.  This one advertised a canoe, but it was a minimalist Coleman that had seen better days, and that was the very least of its problems. The big issue was where it was located -- on the shore of a mudflat.  Yes, twice a day the shore for some 150-200 yards out is mud, thick mud.  Close to shore you only sink in 1-3 inches, such as when you launch the canoe, say, 4 hours after low tide.  Any closer than that and you're goin' down, down, down into the muck.  

There was one possible work-around -- launch within 2 hours of high tide and paddle 3 miles around McFarland's Point from the so-called Back Cove to the Front Cove, aka McFarlands's Cove.  Almost every neighbor is a first cousin of the owner of the cabin we were renting, since the land was bought in the 1930s from a fellow named, surprise, surprise, McFarland by their common ancestors.  Marianne, the cousin who let us use her wifi, also said we were welcome to bring "our" canoe up on her beach if we brought it around the point.

Twice we tried, and twice we had to turn back and limit our canoeing to the Back Cove.  Each time we came out into the St. John's River, as the tidal estuary in this area is called, the wind, chop and ocean swell were too much for us.  All we had to show for it were a few nice shots of the rocky shore.  Then we had two rainy days. Finally it was Thursday.  The wind forecast was calm, so we said we were going out, no matter what.  But it was now low tide.  Uggggghhhh.

The first 10 yards from shore were sloppy but OK, sort of.  Then our shoes started going in deeper, and deeper, and deeper into the silty wet clay.  50 yards from shore, with at least 100 yards to go, we were going into the mud so far our crew length socks were disappearing.  Then Louise almost lost her shoe 8 inches down, as the muck tried to pull it off her foot.  Jeff's shoes were more tightly laced, so Louise sat on the back of the canoe and Jeff pulled canoe and passenger with a rope tied to the front of the boat, an image from the expedition of Lewis and Clark or a novel by Jack London.  80 yards to go  .  .  .  60 yards  .  .  .  35 yards  .  .  .  plop. Down on all fours.  OK, scrape off a little mud, we're almost there.   You could see our less than direct route still etched in the mud two low tides later.  Somehow we reached a point where the canoe was sort of floating and Jeff could climb, or rather slither, in.  He was not a happy camper.

But for the launch, it was a great canoe trip.  We paddled down to Witch Island for lunch, and a kayaker who paddled over with her young daughter led us to the tree where an eagle had been resident for the past few years, though not this one.  We passed an amusing channel marker put up by local lobstermen on a shoal that had probably dented a few of their boats over the years before they did something about it.  We stopped at Osier's store and selected two lobsters, which they steamed for our supper, while other lobstermen arrived at the pier behind our canoe to deliver yet more fresh lobsters for the market.  We admired Lil' Toot, and Marianne's house on the shore behind it.  And yes, we left the boat on her lawn overnight so we could launch on the nice gravel beach of the Front Cove the next morning, even at low tide.

Before closing with a few shots from our equally successful canoe trip the next day, we'd like to take you back to those two rainy days.  The first one was actually only intermittently drizzly, and we found a three hour window of dryness to walk a mile to the small public library.  There was a book sale on, and for ten cents we picked up a 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle, plus a map to a local nature preserve that had a trail from the library parallel to the busy highway we had walked along to get there.  Much safer and more interesting.  We even went past the Thompson Ice House, where a fellow named Thompson dammed a small creek to create a pond that he then cut up into large cubes of ice each winter.  You can see the ice house across the pond, with a ramp that was used to haul the ice up during the cutting season.  It was stored in hay for insulation, and sold to ship captains wanting refrigeration for their catches of fish headed to Boston or points south.

The next day was truly a stinker, rain all day, and by (a slightly extended) bedtime, it was done.  All 1,000 pieces.  Now we can check that off the summer bucket list, for what would  a summer vacation be without at least one jigsaw puzzle?  Also breaking up the wet day was a pleasant surprise -- Marianne came by and asked if we'd like to join her for dinner in a seaside restaurant a few miles away.  Would we ever!  What a nice antidote to cabin fever!  Turns out she was also interested in Holland, so we showed her our "Going Dutch With Your Bike" presentation that we gave at the REI store in Seattle and also to the Evergreen Tandem Club that we belong to in Seattle.  For an audience of one, the iPad screen worked out just fine.

As noted, our final day featured another good canoe trip.  We paddled past the good ship Louise and through "The Gut," the name of a narrow passage crossed by the third-busiest bridge in Maine.  It's currently a swing bridge, but not for much longer.  Soon, perhaps this Fall, the State will finally commence work on a new drawbridge.

After an hour's paddle on the wide Damariscotta River we came back through the Gut and headed back to Witch Island.  It's named for Hetty Green, a wily investor who became known as the "Witch of Wall Street."  She was possibly the wealthiest woman in the world when she died in 1916.  She bought the island and lived on it at one time, though now it is yet another nature preserve.  We pulled our canoe up on the island's one beach, about 1 1/2 canoe lengths, and sat nearby for lunch.  Luckily we were done in 55 minutes, for at 60 minutes the canoe would have been floating away on its own on the rising tide.

Our next cottage features something special  --  another couple!  Good friends Louise and Masaharu are driving up from Washington DC to join us in Georgetown, Maine for a week.  We hope you will too when we get that next blog post written.  Check back in a few weeks!

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