Monday, October 10, 2016

How to Travel in Bar Harbor, Maine

"There is a way that nature speaks, that land speaks. Most of the time, we are simply not patient enough, not quiet enough to pay attention to the story." ~ Unknown

Destination: Bar Harbor, Maine

1. Take a Road Trip 

The Clam Shack in Kennebunkport

The best way to get to your final destination is to meander your way there, with a few planned (or unplanned) stops along the way. You'll discover a hidden gem of a town, a quirky antique mall, or the best damn lobster roll you've ever had. As we headed into seafood country, we challenged ourselves to eat as much lobster as physically possible without getting gout. 

So. Much. Lobster.

The Clam Shack Seafood Market in Kennebunkport and Reds in Wiscasset were both so good, we couldn't bear to choose between them. Red's Eats does get extra points for handing out shots of their wild blueberry Frappuccino while we stood in line for 40 minutes in the hot sun. Yes, one of us succumbed to the irresistible lure of the wild main blueberry blended coffee delight. He shall remain nameless. 

We found that places that go heavy on the mayo are doing the lobster a disservice! A ton of mayo is fine for a lobster caught in 2015 but a juicy, freshly caught lobster doesn't need much to enhance its already robust, sweet flavor. Your best bet is to either get it lightly buttered with just a tiny bit of mayo on the bun or just go for gusto and dip that sucker in a bucket of melted, gooey butter.

2. Take a Hike (or a lot of hikes) in Acadia National Park

Jordan Pond

There is no better way to get the feel of a place than by losing yourself in nature's awe. And you don't have to be an experienced hiker to enjoy the allure of Acadia National Park. For an amateur just looking to get the lay of the land, try walking the quiet, rambling course around Jordan Pond. It's a nice, easy 3.5 mile trail and has a section that looks like you've stumbled into the Shire. I swear I heard Merry and Pippin arguing over second breakfast as we disappeared into the canopy of trees.

If you long for a hike that's more strenuous, try the South Bubble Rock Summit trail. The satisfying rock scramble up the mountain will make the tourists who chose the easier path up to the summit look at you like you are demented for lifting your body up and over those rocks without the benefit of a guardrail.  It also extends the route to about 5.75 miles and you get this incredible view as a reward:

The Beehive Trail is only 1.6 miles and not for the faint of heart. I'm a little (okay, a lot) afraid of heights and the several giant "WARNING DEATH" signs somehow didn't deter me.  I was so nervous pulling myself up those iron bars hammered into the rock face that I didn't realize I was muttering incoherently to myself out loud until I glanced at the Russians behind me, who looked horrified to see an American woman sweating and speaking in tongues ahead of them. The gap between us got much bigger after that. 

My boyfriend climbed confidently ahead of me, encouraging me with positivity and compliments like "You're doing great" and "These rocks have been here for thousands of years and haven't fallen down; you can do this!". To which my rational response, of course, was "I AM GOING TO DIE. I AM GOING TO DIE. TELL MY SISTER SHE GETS MY HOUSE." 

Once we reached the peak, however, all nerves fell away and I pumped my fists, Rocky style, up in the air in victory. Still riding your adrenaline high, you can extend the hike for a few more miles by following the Gorham Mountain Summit and ambling your way back down to the Cadillac Cliff Trail to the coast where the ocean views are astounding. If you are so inclined, there are plenty of perfect picnic spots near Thunder Hole to have a sandwich and watch the mermaids sunbathe on the rocks. Okay, maybe not mermaids. But if it's hot enough, definitely a tourist without a shirt on.

Come on, I can't be the only one who sees Ariel on this rock formation, can I?

Want a secluded hike with a sprawling, lush green forest, a few rock scrambles, and several challenging peaks? We took the advice of a friendly ranger and tried his favorite hike over Sargent Mountain, which included about 4 interlocking trails for a total of about 7.5-8 miles.

Brooks and small waterfalls cackled at us as we clambered slowly up the giant stone steps carved into the ridge. As you get closer to where the trail meets the service road, an intricately carved stone bridge is shaded just so by the towering trees that it allows beautiful, dappled sunlight to shine down on the rock stream below. 

P.S.  It's also where the hobbits hid from the ring wraiths during their escape from The Shire. Peter Jackson claims he filmed entirely in New Zealand but I think there is a good chance he sits upon a throne of lies and most of his exterior shots were of Acadia. 

Once you pass the end of the tree-line, you are greeted by brushstrokes of pink and grey granite, whimsical cairn trail markers and a stunning panorama of the spruce clad islands of the Maine archipelago. You won't run into too many people on this hike, which allows you to really revel in the quiet intensity of this beautiful park.

This hike guarantees to leave you sweaty, dirty, and starving so be sure to have the popovers lathered with strawberry jam at Jordan Pond House. I gobbled up mine in about 12 seconds, garnering withering stares from the people having a civilized spot of tea at the table next to us. 

3. Take a Tour from a Grizzled Maine Sea Captain. Particularly Captain Shaw

There are a lot of boat tours in and around Bar Harbor, including a few whale watching tours that are often packed with tourists. If you want something completely unique, book a private tour from Captain Shaw. He looks exactly how he should: weathered and tan of an indeterminate age with a burnt orange beard that is splashed with white. Having spent two decades guiding tourists through Maine waters, he is an experienced seaman but also knows intimate details about the small towns and islands scattered along the coast. 

Not only is he a bald eagle conservationist but he was an ice climber, a raiser of horses, a photo journalist, a writer, a race car driver, and a sea kayaker. He ferried the crew from the movie Shutter Island back and forth to a nearby island, and he once took David Rockefeller on a tour around the Porcupine islands. He is a collector of stories and will entertain you for hours with things that sound like they come straight from Paul Bunion's book of tall tales. The best part about booking with him? You control your tour. Tell him what you are interested in and what you want to see and he'll make sure it's perfect for you whether you are a naturalist, a light house enthusiast, a geologist, or a history buff. Since there were no additional people in our boat to offend, my boyfriend and I enjoyed bantering back and forth with him about local politics, nature, and celebrity sightings. 

4. Take a Trip to a Lighthouse

There are a hundred lighthouses to choose from in Maine, each more beautiful than the next. It's hard to pick a favorite because each has its own story, but if you only have time to see one check out Bass Harbor Head Light House. The most photographed lighthouse in the country, it was built in 1858 and has a keeper's house attached almost untouched from its original structure that also currently houses a US coastguard family.

There is a small trail around the side of the property that brings you down the cliffside to the ocean. Rocks jut magnificently out from the coast and I had a tremendous amount of fun hopping over tide-pools until I almost knocked a french lady into the ocean in my frenzy. My boyfriend was content to patiently snap pictures of Bass Harbor and ignore me. 

Trip Summary: Go, go, go to Bar Harbor, Maine. Its beauty, its warm, nature-loving locals, and its exceptional fresh seafood is sure to impress the most discerning of visitors. Unless you happen to be a foreigner trailing me on the Beehive. Or you're at the table next to me, trying to quietly enjoy tea while I noisily stuff popovers in my mouth. Actually, just avoid me in Bar Harbor.