Monday, July 11, 2011

Camping in Maine...

 Seriously...  I'm having a blast.

Take a look at the above picture.  Believe it or not, I'm actually enjoying myself.

There were lots of mosquitoes buzzing about, hence the makeshift headdress.  Even when you're wearing a hat, you've got to do what you can to stop them from eating you alive.  I don't mind looking like a terrorist for a few hours to prevent massive blood loss.

But...  the outdoors, a view of Somes Sound on beautiful Mount Desert Island, a good book...  I can't ask for much more than that.

The book in question was "Shit My Dad Says", by Justin Halpern.

I'm aware that there's a TV show by the same name, starring William Shatner.  I've never watched it and probably never will.  The book was a great read, so I'm not sure that there's any point to watching an eighteen-minute sit-com that's been edited to be appropriate for prime time television.

But regardless of what book lay open in my lap at that particular moment, I probably would have enjoyed it just as much.

Every year, my wife and I go up to Mount Desert Campground, near Acadia National Park, and spend a fun-filled week of camping, hiking, biking and running on the carriage roads...  strolling around the rocky coastline...  gorging ourselves on baked, stuffed seafood delicacies at Poor Boy's Gourmet in Bar Harbor.  My favorite is the baked, stuffed scallops, which I typically order at least once during the week.

My sister, brother-in-law, and their two boys have also shown up the same week during the past four years, and sometimes my dad and his wife have tagged along, as well.

If you're not in the 'climbing mood', the nature path around
Jordan Pond is just the ticket.

Our love affair with Mount Desert Campground and Acadia National Park began when I was just a little boy.  Every summer during late July or early August, my parents would herd my sister and I into the car, along with a week's worth of camping supplies, and speed northeast through New England to the Maine coast.

Each year, my dad would always ask us the same question.

     "Where should we go on vacation this summer?"

     "Um, Maine," my sister would say.

     "But kids," Mom chimed in.  "We go there every year.  Wouldn't you like to try somewhere else?"

     "Um...  no," I said, with a tinge of disgust.  "Why would we want to do that?"

     "Alright," my parents relented.  "Maine it is."

Thanks to my parents, my sister and I learned to appreciate nature's simple pleasures at an early age.

Whether it was a breath-taking sunset, a peaceful hike in the woods, the playful cheeps and chirps of the yellow-rumped warblers high in the evergreens...  the crashing of the surf into the rocky, jagged Atlantic coastline...  the spattering and crackling of dying campfire embers.

You can't beat a sunset on Somes Sound at
Mount Desert Campground.

My fondness of nature's beauty continued well into my teen years.  While my friends and their families were busy visiting beaches in Virginia and Florida, sprawling cities on the west coast, and amusement parks with giant, creepy mascots who incessantly stalked toddlers and teens in wheelchairs, my family and I returned to Maine every summer.

Over the years, we gradually established a number of rituals and routines.

One of my favorites is the famous six-mile run on the carriage roads around Eagle Lake.

Any runner who spends a few days on the island will quickly become familiar with this route.  Before I was old enough to run longer distances, I always heard Dad speak of this loop.  After the entire family returned from a day of hiking, Dad would say that we had an hour before dinner...  just enough time to get in a run around Eagle Lake.

Once I began running cross country in high school, I completed my first run around the lake.  And that's when I understood why my dad ran this route at least three times during the week.

Imagine running on a road of cinders and finely-crushed stones that's been painstakingly constructed and carefully laid down, just for you.  A road that winds through beautiful forests of evergreens, meanders along the clear waters of a lake, then rises and falls through the valleys between the rocky mountains and terrain of the island.

The view from the north end of Eagle Lake.

Of course, you will pass other runners, bikers, hikers, and even a few horseback riders.  But you won't see any motorized vehicles.

If you lace up your shoes early enough in the morning, you may be rewarded with the sight of a turtle resting near the edge of the woods, or a herd of white-tailed deer leaping across the road into the forest, just up ahead.  And the chorus of the birds will accompany you all the way around the lake.

There may also be some mosquitoes or deer flies, depending on the time of year.  But if you're biking or running, you'll probably leave them behind.

Another of my favorite rituals is the well-known hike up 'The Precipice'...  the most difficult trail in Acadia, which scales the cliffs and open ledges of Champlain Mountain using a series of iron rungs, ladders, and railings.  The journey is a difficult one, but the view of Frenchman Bay and the Atlantic Ocean is breathtaking, for those willing to make the journey.

I first hiked the Precipice when I was almost fifteen, along with my parents, my sister, and one of her friends who came along for the week.  In September of 2002, I led two of my good friends up the trail during an extended weekend of camping.  And almost six years ago, I led my then-fiance up the cliffs of Champlain Mountain, not even twelve hours after I asked her to marry me.

Before we began, I assured her that I had hiked the trail as a little boy and that she'd do just fine.

At one point, she was almost in tears, but she did, in fact, do just fine...  and she still hasn't forgiven me.

When she told me that she was afraid of heights, I thought she was just kidding.

Silly me.

We haven't hiked the Precipice since then, as we've shifted our travel week from late summer to June.  The trail is usually closed until the middle of August, as a courtesy to the endangered peregrine falcons, who have taken to nesting and raising their young along the open cliffs for spring and most of summer.

The Jordan Cliffs trail is
one of my favorites.
But even when the Precipice is closed, there are plenty of other trails on the island to explore, if you're looking for a three or four-hour adventure.

Every year when we return to the island, the journey seems familiar.  And yet, every year is just a bit different, and we always seem to discover something new...  something that we missed the previous year.

In 2001, Dad and I spent four days on the island in early October to get away, reflect, and begin to heal our souls, just a few days after Mom passed away from a brain tumor.  On our first evening, we discovered Poor Boy's Gourmet.  Almost ten years later, we still haven't found a better restaurant in Bar Harbor.

Even if you forget to make a reservation, their 'Baked Stuffed' seafood dishes (Baked Stuffed Haddock, Stuffed Scallops, Lobster Brandoni) are worth the 2-hour wait.

Yes, we still eat seafood when we go to Maine.

Four years later, my wife and I discovered the Atlantic Brewing Company on the trip that we were engaged.  Every year, we go back to pick up an assortment of delicious microbrews to enjoy during the next few weeks back at home.  We used to get lunch at the adjoining Mainely-Meat BBQ pit, but our meatless diet has closed off that avenue.  However, we might go back and try their veggie-burgers, at some point.

Then, during our honeymoon in 2007, we were enjoying medium coffees in The Trailhead Cafe, when I noticed the brochure for the Mount Desert Island Marathon.

     "A marathon...  RIGHT HERE ON THE ISLAND," I blurted out, spilling my coffee.  "HOW DID I NOT KNOW ABOUT THIS!?"

David Herr of Canaan Vermont has won six of the previous
nine editions of the Mount Desert Island Marathon.

My eyes widened as I snatched up the brochure and began reading...
...point-to-point course from Bar Harbor to Southwest Harbor...  ...race through the beauty of Acadia National Park...  ...peak fall foliage... party...  ...medal for every finisher...

While I wasn't in shape to run the race that year, I vowed to run it someday.

The following year, I ran it for the first time, finishing around three hours and thirty minutes.  Three years later, I'm registered again for the fourth year in a row.

Like many of our other adventures on the island, the Mount Desert Island Marathon has now become an annual tradition, giving us a reason to take an extended weekend every October to enjoy the peak fall foliage, along with a 26.2 mile run from one side of the island to the other.

We've started many wonderful traditions on our annual camping trip to the island.

And even if we're not able to get to everything that we'd planned, we always take comfort knowing that Mount Desert Island will be there for us again, when we return the following year.

(no caption needed...  )

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