Here’s the setup. I had vacation time I needed to take (and there’s more where that came from). So did my friend Bob from North Carolina. Neither of us wanted to spend much money, but he had a plan.
If we went on vacation to Maine, he could do some work for a radio station that carries his syndicated morning show, and we could visit Maine on the cheap. Anyway, he loves Maine and is very attached to the radio station in Bangor where he’s been heard for 10 years.
We made our plans, such as they were.
We’d drive up to Maine on Sunday and stay until Wednesday. I needed to be back in time to hand off the camera, “Clicky,” to Helaine and Stef who were going to a concert.
In return for Bob’s on-air visit, the station would arrange a place for us to stay. This was the first in what would be a string of incredible luck and good fortune that marked our trip.
Bob flew up from Charlotte, and we left midday Sunday. Though my car’s a convertible, you can’t drop the top when the trunk’s full – and it was full. That’s OK. Our 415 mile, six hour fifteen minute, trip was a little long for that much wind noise. And, as it turned out, once we got to Maine, the top stayed down!
We drove through Connecticut, into Massachusetts and then onto the Mass Pike. We exited near Worcester and then headed northeast into the Merrimack Valley and New Hampshire. From there, we paralleled the coast, without seeing it, on I-95.
Maine is a big state. Once you’re north of Portland, there is little but trees to see. We watched for moose!
Off the Interstate, we drove east toward Mt. Desert Island. It sounds foolish when you first say it, but it’s pronounced “deh-ZERT.”
The topography of Mt. Desert Island was set into motion as the Earth’s tectonic plates collided to form mountains. It’s only in the last tens of thousands of years that the true lay of the land was set by the advance and retreat of glaciers.
It’s an island – you expect to see water. There’s more than you expect! The island was scoured by glaciers, which formed lots of lakes, harbors and Eastern United States’ only fjord!
Our home was in the town of Southwest Harbor. More succinctly, it was on Southwest Harbor.
Because of the shape of the harbor, it has wide tide swings. High and low tide can sometimes be separated by 10-15 feet! For the tidally deprived, that’s a difference in depth. The actual water’s edge can, and does, retreat by hundreds of feet.
Our landlord/hosts were Mary Jo and Rhonda. They own the house we were in, one next door and another home well inland. They could not have been friendlier or more gracious.
Let me stop here and say, everyone was friendly and gracious. This wasn’t because I’m TV-boy, or because Bob has been on the radio for a decade. People on Mt. Desert Island and everywhere else we were in Maine were just nice.
The perfect example came later in the trip. We were on a tiny island – only 75 full time residents. I was in the general store looking for Chapstick. No luck. As I was about to walk out, a woman approached me, handed me one, and said it was in her purse, unopened.
I offered to pay for it, but she said (and this is an exact quote), “It’s my good deed for the day.” To me, that one sentence typified Mainers.
Our house was interesting, in that it was bigger inside than out. Built like a boat, it had slightly low ceilings and no wasted space.Upstairs there were three bedrooms. The two Bob and I used each had large picture windows that opened onto the harbor.
The bathroom was compact as well. I wouldn’t have mentioned it, but I’ve never been in a shower so small you had to be under the water at all times.
After unpacking, we headed to Cadillac Mountain. Cadillac is inside Acadia National Park, and at 1,500 feet above sea level, offers an amazing view in all directions.
While we waited for the Sun to set, we looked around. The air was clear and clean and richly blue. Below us were Bar Harbor and a number of coastal islands. Holland America’s Amsterdam was leaving port, continuing its New England/Canada itinerary.
We left the mountain and drove into Bar Harbor. With only 5,000 or so permanent residents, it is definitely a tourist town. However, don’t think honky tonk.
This is Mt. Desert Island. There are no 7-Eleven’s, McDonald’s, Starbucks or any other franchise or (shudder) big box stores. It is 1950s America as depicted on sitcoms – all white (97.88%), all Christian, all industriously hearty.
We had to get up early (for me) on Monday. Bob was going on the radio from a natural foods supermarket over 50 miles away. This would be the beginning of the “Fatiguing of Geoff.”
Getting up early is no problem. It’s the getting to bed early part I can’t hack. Day-by-day that took its toll.
The appearance was Bob’s. I was just an appendage. Still, I was impressed with how he handled himself and the genuine affection of the listeners who came by.
On Sunday’s arrival I had discovered my laptop’s PC card slot was no longer functioning. That meant no Internet! There was, however, an Internet Cafe in the market. This would be my only time online during the vacation.
It’s tough to remember each and every thing we did, and in the proper order, but we visited nearly every inch of the island and its three main towns: Bar Harbor, Southwest Harbor and Northeast Harbor.
We also ate lobster. I’m not talking one meal here. We ate lobster twice each day – lunch and dinner.
Lunch was a lobster roll. Think chicken salad on a hot dog bun, but substitute lobster for the chicken! Dinner was boiled lobster.
It doesn’t take long to understand lobster is a major employer on Mt. Desert Island. It’s not some ‘photo op’ touristy thing. You see men, and at least one woman I saw, scurrying about on stubby lobster boats nearly every time you see water.
Lobster buoys, the makings of the prototypical Downeast Maine photo, are everywhere. Yes, they’re hung on walls and piled on docks, but any stretch of water deep enough for lobsters has hundreds, sometimes thousands of traps marked with buoys.
Though surrounded by water, Mt. Desert Island is not a bather’s paradise. The water is too damned cold, even during the height of the season, when it’s in the low 50°s!
Even if the water was warmer, there is only one sandy beach – Sandy Beach! The rest of the coast is speckled with large rock outcroppings, and crashing surf.
We spent part of one afternoon at Sandy Beach and Thunder Hole – both are in Acadia National Park. Thunder Hole is a natural rock formation which, when conditions are right, produces 30-40 foot tall columns of sea spray accompanied by thunderous booms.
Though Hurricane Florence was passing off to the east, and we came before and stayed through high tide, Thunder Hole was silent.
On Wednesday, our last day, we took the mail boat past the Bear Island Lighthouse to Islesford on Little Cranberry Island. This tiny community has a permanent population of 75.
At first, I thought it was neat to be an interloper in their little society. Then I thought, do they feel as if they’re zoo animals on display? Wherever reality lies, I felt welcome and I loved the island!
It is small enough to transverse on foot. Bob and I followed an unmarked road to a lonely stretch of rocky beach. We turned around and walked, cross island, to an art gallery.
It didn’t take long to figure out there was something strange about the island’s vehicles. Most homes had a car or truck parked outside – a very old car or truck.
When the island’s tiny, your car’s engine will never wear out. However, the exterior is another story. Exposed to salt air 24/7/365, the finish dims and sometimes rust pokes through.
This was a great trip with a great friend – a guy I met my first day as a professional broadcaster, over 35 years ago.
The trip itself was better than the sum of its parts. Yes, Maine is spectacularly beautiful – possibly the most beautiful place I’ve ever been.
It was more beautiful because the Sun was strong each day, the temperatures mild, the stars very bright. I might not have enjoyed it as much if it hadn’t cooperated with me. Still, that’s an outcome I didn’t have to worry about.
I shot over 1,000 photos on this trip. Some of them illustrate this entry. There are nearly 180 more in my online photo gallery. I hope you get a chance to take a peek.