026: The spirit of Mainely Maine

Growing up in Montreal and well into my twenties, I made frequent summer road trips to coastal towns like Ogunquit, Wells Beach and Old Orchard in Maine and Hampton Beach in New Hampshire. My parents would pack my brother and I in the back of our ’59 Chevrolet Station Wagon, drive all night, such that by morning we’d ‘magically’ wake up in Wildwood Beach or Atlantic City, New Jersey. Similar road trips were later made to the Maritime provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. I’ve always loved the Northeastern Coast… I never minded wading in the cold water of the Atlantic ocean which I found invigorating—kinda whips you into shape! 😊 I ate my first lobster when I was 8 years old and loved it; however, I categorically refused to eat crawfish which my Dad boiled and ate every time he had a chance.

Much like many other beautiful places, Maine’s natural beauty inspires introspective exploration

So, many moons later, I was excited to rediscover the area this time aboard Mr. Bond and “Q” our trusted Jeep toad. First arrival in the Pine Tree State is Scarborough (near Portland), and then Mt. Desert Island (Bar Harbor area) for the whole month of June.

With the tagline signature of “Vacationland” appearing on Maine license plates, it’s no surprise to find the whole state to be a tourist mecca throughout the year, even including winter (I have fond memories of our family March Break ski trips on Sugarloaf Mountain!). That may explain the rather surprising (to us anyway) number of Florida snowbirds up here to chill during the summer months. We saw more license plates from Florida than any other US states!  Our campground in Scarborough was the fine Wild Duck RV Park, a smallish 70-site campground located in the middle of Main Audubon’s Scarborough Marsh, the state’s largest salt water marsh.

The Wild Duck RV Park, listed as one of the best campgrounds in Maine, is also, notably, an adult-only park. As much as I like kids and enjoy watching them sauntering about, I must say that I love the tranquil mood of a 21+ adult setting. Now, my secret wish is to find a campground that is for “adults and large dogs only”, thus eliminating the yappy small dogs from my life!”

Portland

Portland is the largest city in the State of Maine set on a peninsula extending into Casco Bay. The Old Port waterfront features working fishing wharves and converted warehouses peppered with restaurants, breweries, bars and shops. All this bustling activity was just starting as this was the early onset of the summer season; however, in this post-pandemic May 2021, it also corresponded with the removal of most Covid-related restrictions in Maine and elsewhere. Excitement was definitely in the air everywhere we looked. At first, it was a little daunting to walk into shops without a mask (per front door signage, “…provided you are vaccinated…”), but I have to confess that our initial hesitation quickly went away once we got used to the ‘old days’ of mask-less wanderings. Of course at the time of this writing (late July), the Delta variant seems to be winning and we’re back wearing masks inside again in many states.

Of all the many cliff walks we took on coastal Maine, the very first one around Prout’s Neck, just south of Scarborough Beach was our favourite. There was so much to enjoy: cool, sunny weather (late May), beautiful rugged beaches at every turn, lovely traditional (though clearly well-off) properties and wild flower and field gardens to admire, and best of all, we had the place all to ourselves. Priceless!

Down East Maine

In Canada, “Down East” typically refers to the Maritime Provinces. It’s not until we arrived at our campground in Ellsworth that I realized the phrase “Down East” also applies to a region of Maine, specifically the outer east section of the state. Both Maine and Maritime provinces claim an area that closely corresponds to the historical French territory of Acadia. There are many definitions of what is “Down East”, but my favourite quote by far is from Maine author, John Gould: “It is a never-never land always east of where you are.”

Of course, both attract throngs of tourists like us (or flatlanders as Mainers like to call visitors) who come for the roaring coast, the lobster, blueberry pie and those quaint fishing village inlets! 

ACADIA NATIONAL PARK

At 3.5 million visits a year, ANP is one of the top 10 most-visited national parks in the United States. Twenty-seven miles of historic roads, 158 miles of hiking trails along rocky coastlines, and 45 miles of carriage roads traversing graceful stone bridges, Acadia National Park’s natural beauty is simply breath-taking, especially for photographer buffs like us.

And while I’m sure the area is magnificent in the Fall with autumn colours, the wild flowers of Spring wasn’t anything to scoff at… from orange to yellow to pink to purple, shades of tender green…!

One of the many ‘must-do’ activities at the park is to drive (or hike on one of its many trails if you have the energy!) up Cadillac Mountain, especially at sunrise or sundown for the best ‘show’. For the first time this year, in an effort to control ‘traffic’, visitors need to make a reservation to drive atop Cadillac Mountain. Which we did early one morning… it was well worth the early rise! 

Bar Harbor

Bar Harbor, located on Mt. Desert Island, shares borders with Acadia National Park and is a popular home base for those visiting the park.  Predictably, it has plenty of quaint restaurants, quaint galleries and quaint shops… all teeming with tourists. 

We were fortunate to have access to a ‘local’… Rosemary, a Canadian expat who works as a marine mammal research associate at the College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor. Rosie is my brother’s wife’s sister (followed all that?), and while we had come across each other on social media, we had never met. So it was great to finally meet her. May and June are busy months for Rosie and her team as they look after stranded mammals (such as baby seals) on Maine coastline. We were grateful that she made time to get together (including at my birthday dinner!).

Rosie with the birthday girl!

She also recommended cool places inside and outside of Acadia National Park.  We were more than happy to explore the “outside-the-park” locations when Acadia became way too busy. 

Here is a sample gallery of our favourite Down East spots out of the dozen or so nearby villages and simple fishing inlet.

Corea, a small fishing village on beautiful Schoodic Peninsula, where we discovered this low key restaurant overlooking the inlet and serving the best haddock chowder and, at $19/apiece, the most affordable lobster roll! (Going rate seemed to have been $24 elsewhere!)

Belfast, a town located at the mouth of Passagassawakeag River, won our hearts for its less crowded sidewalks, amazing Farmers’ Market and a fascinating look at shipbuilding. (btw, the locals refer to their river as the Passay River, thank goodness for that!)

Stonington, Devil Island wins the prize for the most picturesque fishing village (and that’s saying something as competition is fierce!):

And then…something completely different…

Lebanon, Maine

There are 47 places named Lebanons scattered around the United States. Chances are you may have been to one somewhere! Lebanon, Maine barely shows up on the map; somewhere in “North Lebanon” is Potter’s PlaceCampground, as advertised on their website, “a campground for Adults Only, from honeymooners to retired persons.” As campgrounds go, this one, owned and operated like a tight ship by ex-Marine Tom Potter, was very different from what we’ve experienced so far. The emphasis of the place is on environmental preservation—nothing fancy here—simple conservation of plants and wildlife. The 100 or-so sites are scattered among pines and hardwoods, overlooking a man-made large pond or bordering open fields, offering privacy and tranquility. This privately-owned campground reminded me of basic sites found on National Forest lands (though unlike primitive Bureau of Management lands, Potter’s did have a heated swimming pool that just happened to be next to a small graveyard with headstones marked from the pre-American Revolution era!)

Though a bit more rudimentary that we’re used to (with no internet connection if you please!), even Mark had to admit that it had its charm – and a nice respite from tourist-land Bar Harbor. It also gave us a chance to explore close-by towns in New Hampshire like Dover and Portsmouth.  

We had the opportunity to visit Portsmouth, NH twice since late May, loved it so much that it will be featured in an upcoming Redbirdrv blog…very shortly.

After 6 weeks spent in the Pine Tree State, we flatlanders bid farewell to Maine, though it was nice pretending to be Mainers from Down East for 6-or so weeks! 🙂 !  

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