Tuesday, August 22, 2017

I've Always Wanted to Visit Maine

This weekend I went on one of the best trips I've been on in a long time. A few weeks ago I found out I would have the chance to come to Portsmouth Naval Shipyard for training. About 30 minutes later I decided I would use this opportunity to check off a bucket list item*, visiting Acadia National Park on the Maine coast.

I've always wanted to visit Maine. It always struck me as a kind of place that would agree with me. Turns out I was right. The tourism trade has called it Vacationland and I find that very fitting.

This weekend I drove 680 miles from Friday night to Sunday night. I stopped at the slightest whim and enjoyed two nights in my tent. I hiked for miles, ate a lobster and a popover, and visited a fort from the mid 1800's. It was great.

Friday I rounded up all my stuff after finishing work and headed for the rental office for my car. Of course, I had forgotten my sweater, so my plan of leaving directly from there went out the window, but it didn't set me to far behind. Originally I had planned to drive up US 1, but it was late evening and I was already on schedule to be at the campground at almost 10 pm, so I decided to stick to the interstate. This turned out to be a good choice, since traveling US 1 in the daytime is much better.

For most of the drive up it rained prodigiously. During the day Friday there was times that made me wonder if I wasn't going to sleep in the car for the first night. Of course, after camping year round with the scouts over the past few years, I've become no stranger to a little wetness, so my rule is that I have to actually see the campsite before I will cancel the trip. And in this case, the weather report was showing rain Friday with some Saturday morning then clearing off Saturday. As it happened, I was able to get a little respite that allowed me to get the tent up dry. Once the tent is up, you're basically home free.

I didn't set an alarm and I fell asleep to that sound of rain on your rain fly. Sometimes I listen to the white noise maker on my phone that will give me the same sound, but it's so much better when you can feel the cool air on your face and the warm sleeping bag on your body.

Saturday the fog was thick. I hadn't brought any cooking gear so I had my breakfast of an apple and protein bar, got dressed, and headed out for the park. First stop was the visitor's center to plan and get my all-important magnet and patch. This was helpful becuase I got a map that showed me the locations of the arched stone bridges that were part of the reason I was there. I got a great map of the carraige roads that showed me where the bridges were. Of course, I couldn't reach them all because I was on foot.

My must-sees were some bridges, a gate house, Jordan Pond, and Cadillac Mountain. I got them all but the gate house. Also, Jordan Pond House has these particular baked goods called Popovers that I understood to be integral to an Acadia experience, so that was on the table. Literally and figuratively.

So I parked at Jordan Pond House with the intention to make a circuit of the local carriage roads, including a number of the stone bridges. I had a notion of including a side trip out to the Hadlock area to see a particular gate house, but I decided I didn't have the enough time for that. So after reviewing the maps (while munching on a popover and a salad) I was on my way.

This walk ended up being about six miles, mostly on gravel carriage roads. The fog was beginning to lift a little now and I began to think I might see some blue sky. I followed the carriage roads as they snaked away from Jordan Pond to the west.

Eventually the loop brought me back to Jordan Pond and now the fog had lifted and you could actually see "The Bubbles" across the pond.

Now it was on to Cadillac Mountain. I really wanted to climb it rather than drive to the top like the rest of the park goers. I chose to climb the North Ridge Trail becuase according to the trail descriptions this one wasn't too long and it had great views. The views did not disappoint. It offered great panoramic views to the northeast, including Bar Harbor.

This was a rugged trail. It was nearly free of dirt trail portions. Most of it was scrambling over rocks ranging from a few hundred pounds to massive boulders whose fabulous weight you could only guess at. I had opted not to bring my hiking boots because of their weight and my confidence in my Keen shoes. For the most part the shoes did everything I wanted them to, except for the angry blister they left on my right heel. They are very capable shoes. Due to the rocky landscape the trail was marked by the Bates Cairns and blue paint markers.

Normally when you hike to a summit, you earn yourself some solitude, reflection, and a vista that most others will not see. When they build a road to that same summit all you get is a crowd and a shiny glass tour bus touting "Wi-Fi On Board!" To each his own. On the way down I wished for some Clif Bloks because my legs were going all jelly on me. They are in my camelbak that I left in my garage and totally forgot to pack.

When I got back to the car I was earnestly tired. My watch was telling me I had hiked a total of 11.2 miles and had taken 31,000 steps. Since becoming a father I haven't done a hike that has really challenged me. I'm spending most of my time outdoors trying to teach young legs to love the trail, so for now, they have to be tamer trails. It was a good day, but it was time for a rest.

But not before partaking in the Maine sacrament, the lobster. I'm sure that I demonstrated to the people around me the extent of my newb-ness when it comes to lobster. Really, all you need to know is the outside is hard, the inside is soft, and there's lots of butter.

While at dinner I wrote out postcards that I had resolved to send to my family. I've decided to try a new sort of tradition for work trips where I send postcards to each of my family. With each of these I plan to give support, encouragement, and love in a tangible (and today, rare) mailed card. Who knows how the kids will receive it. It will certainly be more lasting than overpriced t-shirts.

After dinner there were a few errands then it was off to bed. This time I didn't sleep that great because there was no rain to drown out the folks next door who were having an enjoyable evening. It's hard to hold it against them, but it was also hard to sleep.

Early Sunday I got up, packed, and took down the tent. I was out before the office opened. I don't even think I saw the campsite during daylight for more than an hour or so.

Sunday was the big driving day. After departing from the campground, my first stop was Quoddy Head Lighthouse, the easternmost point of the US. I've been to Cape Flattery, which is the westernmost point of the continental US, so I thought it would be neat to have the other one too. I can tell you, it is out there. It was only 93 miles from the campground, but it took more than 2-1/2 hours to get there.

Then it was back to Portsmouth, Hew Hampshire. I could choose to get back on I-95 and speed back on a boring strip of straight highway or I could wind my way down Maine's jagged coast on US 1. The choice is obvious. I left Quoddy Head at about 11:00 am and finally pulled into Portsmouth after 8:00 pm. But I made MANY stops.

The first was at Jo's World Famous Snitzel Wagon. I saw this place on the way in and resolved that if they were open on the return trip, I would eat schnitzel. This worked out very well. The woman (clearly, Jo) spoke English well with a characteristic German accent and told she made the schnitzel exactly how she learned to make it in Germany. I got it with onions. It was delicious.

The next stop, I found out, was the Penobscot Narrows Bridge and Maine's Fort Knox. These are two places I didn't even know I wanted to stop at until I rounded the bend. First I saw the fort across the river, then the next bend showed me I was about to cross the bridge. I gotta pull over for that.

As I pulled into the state park, the sign said that I could also buy admission to someplace called the observatory, whatever that was. The lady in the booth explained that the observatory was at the top of the western tower of the bri--Shut up and take my money!!

This was all-around cool. The observatory was cool. The bridge was cool. The fort was cool. It was all cool. The bridge was new, finished in 2007, and the fort was old, built between 1844 and 1869. The brochure says they stopped working on it, unfinished. The contrast was great. The new bridge replaced an old bridge that had been removed a few years ago, but whose foundations were left in place in the river. The new bridge is beautiful and clever, showing another step in the art of concrete and steel.

The observatory was great. It was no more than 16 feet square and three stories high. It was a big glass box at 42 stories, towering above the neighborhood.

After that it was time for a thorough exploration of the fort. Having spent lots of time in the emplacements of Puget Sound, I couldn't help but make many contrasts between this fort and those. I'll talk most about Fort Worden in Port Townsend. As I said, Fort Knox is older. It's from mid-1800's while Fort Worden is from about 1900. Fort Knox is brick and granite to Worden's concrete. And then there's the gunnery.

The 50 or so years between them saw many meaningful advances in weapons tech. The Knox cannon were muzzle loaders that shot a large ball or shell while the Worden guns were massive breech loaders that shot enormous shells. Just look at the size difference.

Knox Cannon

Fort Casey Gun

Of course, the Worden guns were built in the age of steel plated steam ship and were therefore designed to penetrate steel hulls, not wooden hulls.

Now I'd like to shift over to the construction of the structures. One thing I always thought was strange about Fort Worden's emplacements was that they had flat ceilings. This seemed like a strange choice for a very heavy structure. In order to keep them flat and not sagging, they would have to make them very thick and FILLED with steel reinforcement. On the other hand, it would make them a little easier to build, shapewise.

It kind of struck me as arrogant. Maybe they thought that with this new material (concrete) they could circumvent the rules about vaulted ceilings that mankind had learned centuries ago. Contrast that to the ceilings of Fort Knox.

The displays at Fort Knox made particular mention of the casemate, which is the formation of the domed ceilings that give it immense strength. Also, those domed ceilings look really cool.

After walking around for while it was time to get back on the road. I still had 170 miles or so left.  The rest of the drive was pretty uneventful. Now, I did see a pedestrian suspension bridge which I HAD to get out and see.

Along the way I saw many little towns that would definitely be worth another visit, such as Camden, Rockland, and Ogunquit. I love driving and driving the Maine coast on US 1 is a fantastic road tripping destination.

*Many years ago I had checks with pictures of national parks on them. One of them was Acadia National Park. Prior to that I hadn't heard of it.


Post a Comment

<< Home