taken from one of albuquerque’s many bike paths, this one traversing the rio grande alongside I-40. the sandia mountains can be seen in the distance.
technically, i suppose that the endless roadtrip began with our departure from florence, ma. poetically, however, our westward trek did truly not begin until we had reached the eastern limit of the continent and said our farewell to the great atlantic ocean. this happened in late march of 2009, when we traveled the coast of maine for a few absolutely frigid days, stopping here, here, and here, before turning our eyes towards the mighty pacific. who could have guessed that it would be just over 1.5 years until we would find ourselves on the shores of the atlantic once again.
when i lived in western massachusetts, acadia national park seemed so very far away. prohibitively so. it was only after a few months spent driving the spectacular distances that mark the american west that i realized how erroneous that perception was. the drive from northampton, ma to bar harbor, me takes approximately seven hours and passes through at least 3 states: massachusetts, new hampshire, and maine. try and make it through three of the western states and it’ll take you at least twice that. hell, i’ve driven for 14 hours straight without making it out of texas!
so thanks to our time out west, when we finally returned to new england, the modest drive from keene to acadia was hardly daunting. however, also thanks to our time out west, my expectations for acadia were quite low. after all, we had spent the last half of 2009 visiting some of the most gorgeous and overwhelming landscapes that our country has to offer: rocky mountain national park, glacier-waterton international peace park, the cascades, crater lake, bryce canyon, the gila national forest, death valley. after the stunning displays provided by these entries in our national park service, what could tiny, well-trampled acadia offer? after the remote wonders of the canyonlands, what magic could a national park that hosts the voracious tourism of 2-4 cruise ships per day possibly hold?
so as we drove towards mt. desert island (it’s pronounced dessert, just so you know), i was prepared for pretty, but i was not prepared for amazing. and once again, my perceptions were proven to be hopelessly incorrect. for although acadia is well traveled and cruise ships do disgorge hundreds of clueless tourists into its wilds on a daily basis, it is also one of the jewels of our national park system. if you live in new england and you haven’t been yet, you should stop with the excuses and go. it’s worth it.
(caveat: we visited acadia in late september/early october, at the very tail end of the tourist season. if we had visited during the height of the summer season, i might have a very different take on the whole place. even as things stood, we did our best to stay out of bar harbor and away from the most visited sights on the island.)
originally, we had intended to camp for 4-5 days at the acadia’s seawall campground, just about as far away as you could get from the hubbub of bar harbor. but with the end of the tourist season, seawall was closing down for the year and we were forced to stay at a nearby private campground in the tiny town of bass harbor. it cost about the same amount as the campsites within the national park, plus it had the added bonuses of a) hot showers and b) free wifi. these bonuses barely made up for the industrial site (possibly the town recycling center/dump) somewhere within earshot. just about every morning, tim and i were greeted not with chirping birds or the gentle tap of deer hooves on moss-covered rocks, but with the echoing booms of dumpsters being tossed around like dice and the pernicious beep-beep-beep of a big truck in reverse.
the weather forecast for our time in acadia was pretty bleak. rain followed by more rain, followed by intense periods of rain, followed by the possibility of flooding, followed by partly cloudy skies and then a cold front and then some more rain. we put up a tarp over our picnic table and swore to make the best of a rough situation. the above video, shot on the network of carriage roads that criss-cross the non-quiet side of the island, reveals the rather bleak and inhospitable weather that greeted us. the few tourists that crossed our paths offered such cheery and upbeat sentiments as, “pretty miserable day for a bike ride!” and “i thought there were supposed to be some beautiful views out here!” and while it was not the picture postcard “ideal,” the low rolling clouds and creeping banks of fog gave the landscape a dark majesty that i found completely compelling. we spent the entire afternoon on our bikes, pumping our way up mountainsides and then enjoying the long, winding downhills that waited on the other side. i’m pretty sure that despite the bad weather, tim and i were sporting cheesy grins for the entire day.
for one stand-out day, the weather broke and gave us a perfect, sun-strewn day at acadia. tim and i made the most of it by taking mazy on a truly magnificent hike: along the shore of long pond, up the granite steps of the perpendicular trail (tim believes it must have been built by the ccc), traversing the peaks of both mount mansell and bernard mountain as well as the sheltered hollow of the great notch, before completing the loop that would bring us back to our starting point at gilley field.
the sheer range of terrain — from stairs hewn out of a rock face to mountaintop wetlands, from fern forests to granite outcroppings overlooking the ocean– made this hike memorable. we crossed paths with just four people during our hike. three were locals who made sure to tell us that we had found the best hike on the whole island. we didn’t hike many other trails on the island, but i’m fairly confident that they were telling the truth. mazy, who is at least 12 years old, was as spry as a young pup, despite the very challenging terrain. the only time she slowed was when she realized we were heading back to the truck. i have a very distinct memory of a look she gave me that could have been interpreted by a 10-year old: “we’re done already? oh, man you guys are sooooo lame!”
for all of our desire to stay on the so-called “quiet side” of the island, we did dip our toe into bar harbor long enough to join a group of folks on a guided kayaking trip. beginning in western bay, we followed the northwestern shore of the island, threading our way between islands and shallows, seaweed beds and seal colonies. in all honesty, i could have done without the new yorkers chattering endlessly about the price of real estate and making ridiculous comparisons between their second/third homes in upstate new york and the isolated estates that dot mt. desert island. but the cloudy afternoon gave way to a glorious sunset, and the chorus of water, light, and sound managed to still even these tightly wound souls. we paddled along, listening to the calls of osprey and catching a fleeting glimpse of a pair of harbor porpoises bounding towards some unknowable destination.
when we returned to the campsite that night, we were exhausted and satisfied, as content as we had been in a long time. we slept an unbroken, happy sleep; a sleep that stretched across an entire continent, connecting oceans.
the music used in the above videos:
in hiking with mazy: shipping out with sunrise, by the messenger & day of the weird beginning, by b6
“Shipping Out with Sunrise” (mp3)
from “The Best of Night Drive Music Vol. 3”
(Night Drive Music)
FOOD PARTY OR DIE!
one of the dangers of the endless road trip is that whenever we visit friends and/or family, folks are inclined to show us a good time by making us a delicious meal or taking us to their favorite restaurant. this can lead to a non-stop food party. and while i surely enjoy all of the wonderful, tasty, satisfying food, there have definitely been times — just a few, mind you — when i have been inclined to over indulge. damn you herrell’s!
after coming off of our latest vermont food party, some physical activity was definitely in order. there are only so many blocks of grafton extra-sharp cheddar cheese seconds one can down without beginning to feel a bit lactose intolerant. so. we headed from quechee, vt to the northern end of the white mountains of new hampshire for a few days of camping. the cold temperatures helped us burn through some calories, but really, we had a lot of making up to do. first up, an exhilarating and bracing 14-mile bike ride (7 miles uphill; 7 miles down) along the franconia notch bike trail. we stopped and paid our tributes to the old man of the mountain and watched a group of school kids swim (in 50 degree temperature mind you!) in echo lake. crazy kids and their crazy music!
next, a 7-mile hike to and from the zealand falls hut. if that’s not cardiovascular exercise, i don’t know what is. and happily, my 39-year old body leapt to both challenges with nary a complaint. not that i should be overly proud of my accomplishment. mazy’s 84 years old in human years and she did the hike naked and without shoes!
so now that that’s all over with, i say bring on the next food party!