2021 Maine – Autumn on the Atlantic (Part 1)

The brutal heat of the Missouri summer is finally winding down, replaced with cooler nights, earlier sunsets, and yellowing leaves! My pumpkin and cider candles have already been lit as David and I prepare for our favorite season! Autumn seems to be arriving a bit sooner than usual this year, and that only adds fuel to our excitement for our next big adventure…a road trip to the northeast coast! (Which, ironically, was first mentioned while we were exploring the southwestern desert!)

If you have read our blog up to this point, then you know that our first two trips occurred before this blog was created, so they have been recapped in the previous articles. Now, you’re up to date! As I write this intro, we leave for the northeast first thing tomorrow morning, and I plan to record this trip day by day! We have spent all summer planning it, and are eager to try out our new strategy. In Colorado, we had our entire week planned and scheduled to the minute. In the Southwest, we decided to wing the whole trip entirely! Both methods have their pros and cons.

The trick with this vacation was to plan enough of it that we aren’t constantly stressed about where we are going to sleep and if we can afford it, while keeping the lofty freedom of no time restraint. So, we compromised. This trip will be heavily focused on Acadia National Park in Maine. We know we need about a full week to properly appreciate the beauty of a national park, so we went ahead and booked a cabin for those six nights, all paid beforehand. Then, we were able to book our reservations for the other attractions we want to do within the park or the nearby town, Bar Harbor. Having half of the trip pre-planned and paid for is doing wonders for my peace of mind!

The days it takes to get there and back, we have left completely open. Nothing is planned but a vague direction, allowing us Ready to Road Trip!to maintain the feeling of freedom while on the road! We have taken enough time off from work to keep a leisurely pace, and have factored in average prices for hotels, food, and gasoline. We went back and forth about whether we would rent a car or risk one of ours again. I was afraid to push my car a second time and we really wanted to avoid the price and time frame of a rental car, so in a last-minute decision, David volunteered his Fiat and we will just pray that its tiny little engine can make it! It is now loaded, fueled up, and sitting in the driveway, ready for the morning!

The tickets are printed. Our Covid vaccination cards are in my purse (just in case they are asked for). And David has mapped out our possible routes, to be decided on a whim once we get to them! We shall see how well this strategy works for alleviating stress…but the important part, as always, is that we have as much fun as we can!

Will I get to see a whale on our ocean cruise? Will David get to scale the cliffs of the precarious Precipice Trail? And how much lobster can we eat before we get sick? Grab some road snacks, buckle up, and make sure you’ve got your camera, because you can find out right along with us as we begin a spectacular adventure through the northeastern states as the autumn colors spread through the trees!

September 17th – Headed East!

Our morning was fairly mellow. There is always a bit of pre-trip stress the morning of because I often have to fret over last-minute details and packing while David is chomping at the bit to get on the road. But it all worked out and we were headed out of town by 5:30am. We grabbed our traditional McDonalds breakfast (I have already vowed that this trip will not be like the Southwest…I will control my McGriddle desires. But the first one is a freebie…) and then we were setting off into the darkness of the early dawn. We witnessed a gorgeous sunrise as we passed through the rolling hills and foggy fields of the Mark Twain National Forest, and it was time to start up the playlist. Our band of choosing for this trip was Hollow Coves whose soft, quiet tones provided the perfect vibe. They sang of wistful memories and nostalgia for the road, which really fueled our excitement for adventure!

We skimmed along the edge of St. Louis and got a few quick pictures of the Arch as we passed it, but traffic kept us preoccupied. Navigation through here went fairly smoothly, aside from one wrong turn and some very rough roads. But we were crossing the Mississippi River shortly enough and found ourselves in Illinois, the Land of Lincoln! The color palette there was mostly green and yellow. We shot straight across the state and saw nothing more than corn fields and meadows of wildflowers. There were lots of homesteads scattered throughout, built in the very traditional plantation-style: big, white houses with columns and minimal windows. Each one had a big, beautiful barn with at least one grain silo, if not three or four!

We also noticed that Illinois apparently doesn’t have much in the way of natural attractions, as it’s all farmland…so they make their own. We passed lots of “attraction” signs leading to whole fields of The World’s Largest (Insert Random Object Here), including the world’s largest rocking chair, golf tee, and mailbox, just to name a few! I personally began nicknaming the state the Land of the Largest. We would have stopped for a bit of quirky fun, but we were making great time and had just enough scattered rainstorms falling on us that we didn’t feel like risking getting wet.

It was a peaceful drive overall in every way except the road itself! We stayed on I-70 the whole way in an attempt to escape the Midwest as quick as possible, but it appears that routine road maintenance ended in Missouri. We ran into an awful lot of “road work” areas for the roads to be as bad as they were. And, although we complained about St. Louis and Illinois, it was nothing compared to Indiana! We ran into the most unreasonable amount of road work, yet never saw anyone actually doing anything. We have no idea where the tax dollars for these states are going, but it is certainly not to highway upkeep.

Still, we tried to focus more on the “adventure” part of it all. There was definitely a lot more yellow here, making for some truly beautiful meadow shots. And the woods seemed thicker somehow, like there was a mix of trees we weren’t familiar with, but we couldn’t quite pick out which ones were different…

As we drove, I came to the realization that I had actually crossed these states multiple times before on one school trip or another, but I could never recall what they had looked like. All my life I have only been focused on the destination, not so much the journey, and I have missed out on lots of memories. So, this time, I was determined to pay attention and really take in every state we went through…the good and the bad.

It all worked out, because it was like I was exploring the states anew alongside David, who had never been through any of these before! The one and only time he has ever gone east was a flight to Portsmouth, NH for a few days. I at least have roadtripped as far as Pittsburg, PA once before, but again…memories are foggy.

We munched on road snacks and cooler food as our day slowed into a sleepy afternoon. It stayed that way until we hit Indianapolis. Here, I-70 was shut down for more “road work”, but the detour they were rerouting all traffic too was backed up because of two separate car crashes. And it did nothing to stop people from driving fast and reckless! It was incredibly tense and stressful for me as we passed through this madness, but David, who thankfully was driving at the time, was as calm and cool as always. After about a 45-minute delay, we were finally sailing along smoothly on the other side of the city and, before long, we were able to put the state of Indiana in our rear view mirror. Gotta say, I was pretty thankful for that.

We were clipping through states pretty quickly, it felt like! (Of course, that is in comparison to states such as Texas and New Mexico that took us twelve hours or more…) Now we were cruising straight east across Ohio. There still wasn’t much of a scenery change though. Maybe we had gotten spoiled to the rapid landscape changes we have seen on our previous two trips, but on this one, it felt like it was taking a long time to escape the Midwest. Of course, I’m not sure what we really expected when crossing through the agricultural center of the United States. Maybe that’s why none of these states every stood out in my memory…they all look too much like home, in northern Missouri, where I was born and raised.

Late afternoon was starting to fade into evening when we made it to Springfield, OH, which was originally our stopping point for the night. We were starving so, after fueling up the car real quick, we ate at a BBQ place called Rudy’s Smokehouse. There was a long wait, but it was good food! While we ate, I thought we should go ahead and get a room booked, so I started calling all the cheap motels here in town…but they were all booked! I tried about 4 of them with no luck. All the other hotels were over $120 and getting an expensive room on the very first night wasn’t the ideal way to start our budgeted trip.

After some discussion, we decided to push on to Columbus, about another 40 minutes down the road, and try our luck there. That’s the city where we will be switching interstates to head north, so we thought it might be good to get a little closer than we had expected to. By the time we got there, we were both stressed and tired. David doesn’t like driving at night. I don’t like driving in cities. So, the two of us navigating cities at night is never fun. Because of that, we stayed on the western edge, just minutes past the city limit and away from the heart of the big city. Our first attempt at a Super 8 was met with the same despair…all booked. I begged the receptionist for a suggestion, so she sent us down the road to the next one.

I was now realizing another con of winging your road trip, but this was not an issue we had encountered in the Southwest, so it hadn’t crossed my mind! Exhausted and desperate, our poor, tired Fiat limped into the parking lot of a Rodeway Inn at around 9pm. Thankfully, they had rooms! And they were only $80! So now, I sit in bed recounting our day from our long-sought-after room. The room is dated for sure, but it’s clean, cheap, and available, so I don’t plan to complain. And this bed is actually pretty comfortable!

All in all, today has been a long haul without a whole lot in the way of scenery, but it’s been three brand new states for David and lots of road trip vibes! Now we are fed, comfy, and ready to get some rest before doing it all again tomorrow!

September 18th – Goodbye, Midwest…Finally

As is our road-tripping rule, we sought out a local coffee joint to start off our morning and found Colin’s Coffee, just up the road from us. The shop was very laid back and cute, and we met Colin himself! A musician with a rock band who retired to run a coffee shop…how cool is that? And he was very intrigued when we told him about our road trip and wished us luck! It’s cool people like Colin that make you realize the world is full of awesome stories. The best part about living a life of adventure is getting out there to hear them all! If you’re ever in Columbus, OH, check out Colin’s Coffee before heading to some boring company outlet.

After this, I took the wheel for the day as we were making our way out of Columbus by about 8:30am. It wasn’t terribly busy yet, so it was an easy drive as we made the short trip north to the next big city, Cleveland. Shockingly, Cleveland wasn’t that bad either and I drove through it with minimal stress! We made a quick pit stop in the residential area for some pictures of the Christmas Story House, as David’s mother is a huge fan of the movie. It’s a bit of a tourist attraction for those who want to get out and explore it, but we personally are rather indifferent to the movie, so some quick photos of the outside were good enough.

Then we were on our way out of the city, and as we cut along the northern edge, we started to catch glimpses of Lake Erie through the trees! The sneak peaks we got were very impressive, but the I-90 curved away from the lake for a while and we were back among the trees. We had finally left the farmland behind and were passing through forests that looked very different from home. There were lots of willows, and a few spruces and fir, as well as multiple kinds of tall, skinny trees and ferns that we did not recognize at all.

We stopped for some gas and fast food before passing through the northern hook of Pennsylvania. Very soon, we were crossing into New York. At this point, we were sick to death of the traffic and roadwork on the interstate. Since we were making good time, we detoured along Highway 5, which ran alongside I-90, but several miles further north, alongside Lake Erie. We drove through lots of quiet neighborhoods with gorgeous houses and well-kept yards. There were grape vineyards everywhere we looked, and Lake Erie got closer and closer, a rather intimidating sight with how vast it really was!

We found a short outlet to the lake at Barcelona Beach, complete with its own little lighthouse! We needed to stretch our legs, so we went to explore! It was a gray, lonely beach when we first arrived, but the sun quickly made an appearance and…wow! My mind was blown at the size of Lake Erie. You couldn’t see the other bank, it was so huge. It was so easy to believe that we had already reached the ocean! We also had some great birdwatching opportunities for ring-billed gulls, herring gulls, black-backed gulls (only saw one of those), and Caspian terns! We got some pretty cool pictures along the sandy shore, and I made sure I got close enough to touch the softly lapping waves of Lake Erie!

Then we were back in the car, ready to make the final five-hour stretch to Albany. At this point, we made our way back to the interstate to provide the quickest route. This was the first state that required tolls to use the interstate, however New York has electronic tolls, which was a different experience for us. It was nice in that you could keep driving and not have to stop to dig for cash, because there were a LOT of them. However, there are no signs telling you exactly how much the tolls are, and you have to remember to go onto the website and pay them after they have posted, which can take a week. So, that part is stupid, and you can get in a lot of trouble if you forget, which I think is unfair. But I digress.

We have learned from our mistakes yesterday and decided to call and book a hotel ahead of time. I was also craving some Red Lobster because that’s who I am as a person. We were lucky enough to find one right beside a Best Western Sure Stay with available rooms for only $90! So, with that minor stress handled, we continued our drive in peace. The rest of the afternoon blurs together a bit. I know we passed through some smoggy little valley towns, shrouded with mist. We made our way through Buffalo with surprising ease, and saw signs for Niagara Falls and Canada, which was pretty cool! We thought about making another pit stop here, maybe even on the way back, but we’d really like to have our passports first so we can experience the falls from both the US and Canada. (We have applied for our passports…but they hadn’t arrived in time before we left.) I also added a few state parks and refuges to our list of places to visit one day.

The unfamiliar forests were beginning to roll with steep hills. The vineyards were being replaced with quaint classic barns and silos, straight from a postcard or a puzzle. The fall colors were teasing us, the trees just on the verge of changing. We had started to get drowsy throughout the afternoon and had to play some trivia and riddle games to stay awake! It worked pretty well, because as evening fell, we were alert again as a second wave of energy swept over us. We saw lots of deer grazing peacefully beside the road and the golden hour here was gorgeous! The trees glowed in a whole new way and the valleys were dark with shadows. The sky was blue and pink, and the clouds looked exactly like cotton candy! Everything was beautiful and dreamy.

Once darkness fell, the drive became more difficult. Not physical, but mentally. I was driving at this time, but we both agree that today felt much longer than yesterday, despite them both being 12-hour drives. We had killed some time with more trivia games, but we could only read from a phone screen for so long before we were car sick. I wish we had stopped a bit sooner, maybe Syracuse, but we liked the idea of covering as much ground as possible so tomorrow will be a short, easy drive. Plus, we had already paid for the hotel room (grrr, the pros and cons of pre-booking are constantly at war!) So, we pressed on into the night, but just outside of Albany the traffic got stupid busy and I was getting furious with the dangerously reckless and pushy truck drivers. Had we been in something larger than a Fiat, I might have just rammed into them for being such jerks as one of them even tried to run me out of the exit lane! It didn’t help that I was incredibly tired and hangry.

I was on the verge of a breakdown when we finally rolled into the outskirts of Albany, but thankfully all was calm after that. We got checked in and dropped off our bags (how is it only 8:45?? It’s surely midnight by now…) and ran down the street for that hardy seafood meal we both deserved. (Our excuse for eating here was that we needed to compare chain-restaurant lobster to the real thing, since we were so close to trying it!) Finally, we were fully fed and relieved to have a room waiting for us. I took a very long shower and am now curled up in bed to write the events of our day. It’s about 11:30 now, so not as terribly late as it feels. We are eager to get some sleep, find a local coffee shop in the morning, and get back on the road. Maine, here we come!

September 19th – Cruising to the Coast

We were on the road early this morning, about 7:30am (our circadian rhythms are a bit thrown off from our intense schedule, as well as the change in time zone). David started off behind the wheel this morning as we grabbed coffee from Professor Java’s just down the street. Cute place, and the coffee was alright. Then we made a last-minute decision as we prepared to leave town…we turned away from the interstate, which we had been planning to take, in favor of some quieter, more scenic drives along Highway 7, which became Highway 9. We are done with the boring sights and hectic traffic flow. It’s time to really immerse ourselves into the beauty of the northeast!

So, we took off across southern Vermont under beautiful blue skies and a steady temperature of 71! We were instantly ensnared by the magic of this state! We passed through quirky little towns and rolling ranges of round-topped mountains. The forests were thick and dark, the leaves popping with the brightest autumn colors we have seen so far! Everything here seemed vibrantly alive, yet it all stayed laid back and relaxed. As we entered the Green Mountain National Forest, Highway 9 became full of twists and turns, rising and falling with the hills through this beautiful, strange land of meadow and forest.

We also saw plenty of signs warning us to watch for moose. Of course, we were already doing that, as that is one thing we really hope to see this trip! Somewhere along this road, I think I might have seen one already! We took a bridge over a lake and, at the last minute, I saw a large, shaggy brown animal standing belly-deep in lake water. I mistook it for a horse at first glance before realizing that no riderless horse had any reason to be standing in a lake…but the moment was already gone before I could confirm my sighting.

We reached the town of Wilmington and pulled over beside a picturesque little bridge over a small creek. The area was called Reardon’s Crossing, and it connected to a small trail system that would be fun to come back and explore one day. For now though, we settled for the cute pictures we got on the bridge! There were multiple places all along this road that I wanted to pull over for pictures of the morning sunlight gleaming on the water, as the creek ran alongside the road for quite some time, and it was all so beautiful!

Just outside of town, we rounded a corner and stumbled upon a scenic overlook and gift shop on the edge of a sprawling valley below. The area was called Hogback Mountain. Naturally, we stopped to take a peek and WOW was it gorgeous! Blue mountains and fiery red maple trees for miles and miles, stretching far across a valley interlaced with hiking trails. Since we had to use the restroom, we decided to check out the gift shop while we were there. And we are so glad we did! The whole place had a warm, homey, magical feel to it. It was full of knickknacks, souvenirs, and a variety of food products. Pretty much everything in there was made locally. We also discovered there was a museum down below for only $5, but we decided to try to hit it on the way back, as we were eager to reach our destination.

We shopped in here for about half an hour, stocking up on a variety of Vermont souvenirs and perusing the vast amount of maple syrup options! David found lots of syrup, including a tiny jug perfect for taking shots of straight syrup while on the road! Meanwhile, I happily snacked on some locally made cheese (which I guiltily ate all of before we even left the state…) and had a couple freshly-baked apple cider donuts which were the best donuts I have ever had in my entire life! (Of course, I don’t usually like or eat donuts at all, these just smelled really good…)

Then we were headed back down the mountain, stopping only to get some pictures of the first covered bridge we had seen so far, just off the highway. Shortly after, we crossed over the Connecticut River into New Hampshire. There weren’t as many maple trees here, so the colors weren’t as vibrant, but it was still an enjoyable ride as we snacked on cooler food and made our way towards Portsmouth. Our tourist destination within this city was a bit more of a personal one.

As I mentioned before, David has flown to Portsmouth once before with his father, searching for some family history. Among the quiet residential streets, there sits the Weeks Brick House, one of the oldest brick buildings in the country and possibly the first with bricks fired on site. Samuel Weeks, a humble fisherman, left Somerset, England in the late 1700s for America and built this house upon his settlement, where it later became a historical landmark. That very same Samuel Weeks turned out to be David’s ancestor! So, it was important to him to stop by and show me this brief glimpse of history regarding his family name. Being that the house is currently habited, entry is done by appointment, which we did not take the time to do this trip. But maybe next time!

We made a pit stop in the downtown area to a coffee shop called Kaffe Vonsolln, which David had discovered his first time here. It is known for its Dark Matter Coffee, made from activated charcoal which makes the beverage almost black in color. Although I went with a more basic option, I did try a sip of David’s Dark Matter coffee. It was a bit bitter for my liking, but there were some smooth notes of coconut that weren’t bad! The downtown area itself was beautiful and looked like the perfect place to go walk around and shop for the afternoon…but driving through it was quite stressful. Even though the Fiat could navigate the narrow streets easier than most cars, I was still relieved to escape the traffic when we crossed over the Piscataqua River Bridge into Maine!

I was behind the wheel at this point as we fueled up and snacked on our road food, trying to keep hunger at bay. We were back to paying tolls, both throughout New Hampshire as well as into the western half of Maine. But these at least were the traditional tolls that we were familiar with from our southwest trip. We had brought cash along just for this! We switched onto scenic highways whenever we had a chance to avoid as many of these tolls as we could, but in some places, there was just no avoiding the interstate, unfortunately.

We stayed on Highway 3 for a while, heading north. We were able to catch glimpses of the Atlantic Ocean now, but there were so many islands scattered across the horizon, it just looked like another lake to me! (My first glimpses of Lake Erie and the Atlantic Ocean were complete opposites of each other!) Hwy 3 passed through lots of charming, old-fashioned villages that resembled the nautical and colonial themes that were the foundation of their history. And the woods here were so dense, no sunlight penetrated. Some of my favorite poets have origins in the northeast, and they would often describe the forests as “dark and deep” in their poetry. Now, I truly understand what they mean!

We made a few more twists and turns and then we were finally crossing the bridge to Mt. Desert Island! Golden hour had settled over the land as we pointed out an excessive amount of cute antique shops and lobster stands that we were eager to try! Although we were tired, our excitement was peaking, as this was the moment we had been waiting for! When we had first started planning this trip, we knew we wanted to get accommodations booked for our week in Acadia very first thing to eliminate that stress as early as possible. We had spent the summer researching and had originally booked a cabin in the midst of the Cranberry Isles. However, we had soon discovered that ferries were the only way out there, and those fees stack up quickly if you plan to leave your cabin at all. (Maybe we will revisit this option if we go on vacation with no plans to leave the island…) So, we had moved on to our new choice…the Acadia Getaway Cabin!

This cabin came at a weekly figure only, about $700, which was the best price we had seen. Having it booked and paid for months ago meant that our home away from home for the week is entirely stress-free! The driveway for it is incredibly easy to miss as it is a narrow gravel path just barely wide enough for the Fiat that disappears into the woods. There is a Getaway House on the property as well and, my first thought was that both the House and the highway were much closer to the Cabin than I had expected…but that would really be my only complaint.

Inside, the cabin is adorably rustic and simple. Some areas are a little tight, but it has all the amenities we need, including a full kitchen (with miniature appliances!) It lacks central heating and cooling, but since it is supposed to be mild temperatures all week, we are hoping this won’t affect us too much. There are heaters and a fan if needed. It smells of pine and cedar and it’s almost glowing with cleanliness and comfort! My favorite part is either the red plaid bed against the warm glow of the lamps, or the fire stove in the corner of the living room, the walls around it being glass doors that offer a sweeping view of the dense, dark conifer forest all around us.

We unloaded and unpacked our bags as if we were moving in! We finally have the appliances to bake some of the frozen food we have tucked away in the bottom of the cooler, so supper is covered! (After running into the shockingly high prices of

groceries both in Colorado, as well as the Southwest, we planned ahead this time and brought extra groceries from home.) Now it’s time for a nice, relaxing evening. Some hot showers, some Switch games, and maybe some pre-planning on our week’s agenda. We are only minutes from both Acadia National Park and Bar Harbor, so the location couldn’t be more perfect for the plans we have in store! But the first thing we are gonna do…figure out how to work the heater. It got colder in here than we expected!

September 20th- The Beauty of Acadia

Today, we let ourselves wake up slowly to a quiet, peaceful morning. Gray dawn light fell through the windows as we shuffled about in slippers, making coffee and stepping onto the back porch to breathe in the fresh smell of the deep woods. We also listened for birds, recognizing some familiar calls, and having to look up a few new ones! We even had some turkeys calling nearby! Unfortunately, the closeness of the highway—and how busy it was—made it a little difficult to hear over the sound of traffic. That part is a bummer…but it was shaping up to be a beautiful day, nonetheless, so we whipped up a quick breakfast and prepared for a day exploring Acadia!

The park entrance is just a few minutes down the road, and we followed the signs to the Visitor’s Center. There are still severe capacity limits in place, so we waited our turn to go inside and did a quick lap around the gift shop. It was very small, but we still found a few souvenirs as well as a much-needed hiking map (a recommended buy as it gives you details about the trails).

Then we set off onto Park Loop Road, which started right there at the Center. We discovered this park is very easy to navigate! Not only is there plenty of signage, but the layout is also very straightforward. Almost all the “must-see” attractions are along this road and there are a lot of parking spots (however, this does not mean parking is easy!) There are also many exits all along the road that loop you back around to Bar Harbor, so there is always a quick way to leave park without completing the Loop.

For our first time exploring the Loop Road, we decided to take in the sights and maybe stop at a couple of the big ones, as parking became available. Several spots were busy enough that we passed them by, making notes of which ones to come back and explore later this week. But everything we saw was gorgeous! Marshy fields huddle in the shadows of the steep

cliffs. The forest is so dark and thick with conifers, there is no undergrowth except the moss and ferns, as sunlight never touches this soil.

And of course, there’s the ocean itself. At first, it offered only glimpses through the trees, but as the road curved to follow along the coastline, we were given lots of opportunities to pull off at overlooks or just take videos as we cruised along beside it! It was just jaw-dropping for us land-locked folks of the Midwest. Tasting the salt in the air and hearing the waves crash against the cliff face far below us…it all shifted and sparkled beneath the sunlight like it was made of glitter. It disappeared into the east, going on and on until it hit another country days away…

Our first stopping point was at Sand Beach since we wanted to get closer to the ocean. Finding a parking spot was difficult, and this isn’t even the busy season! But we finally managed to squeeze into a spot (yay, tiny car!) and took a short hike along the paved Oceanside Trail. This trail followed the Park Loop Road all along this edge of the park, so you could hike its length if you wanted to. It reminded me of the South Rim Trail at the Grand Canyon. However, I like to save my hiking for trails off the beaten path. If I can drive it, I probably will! So, we didn’t stay on this trail long, just enough to dart off to some rock outcroppings to climb around on for a bit for pictures.

We shortly made our way down to Sand Beach itself, which is apparently a geological oddity for this area, as sand is more of a west coast thing. However, the shape of the cove and the placement of the islands created just the right movement of wind and water to make a nice, sandy beach! It was absolutely pristine here! Beautiful rocky coastline and pine trees stretching right down to the crashing waves, seagulls screaming in the air…it was like a scene from a movie or a postcard!

I took off my socks and shoes to feel the cold Atlantic waves wash over my feet. It was quite lovely…until one large wave swept past me and tried to take my shoes back to sea with it! We took our time here, enjoying the peace. David, opting to stay dry, took a ton of photos while I frolicked through the sand and water. Once I had had my fill, I dried my feet and we started back to the car. We went down the road a little way and stopped again at Thunder Hole. After a quick peek into the gift shop, we went to play on the rocks and explore. The tide was out, so we didn’t quite get to experience the signature attraction, which is the thundering sound the high waves make when they crash into the seaside cave (hence the name). But we still had tons of fun enjoying the sun-warmed rocks and the salty spray of sea foam as it crashed onto the shore around us!

We moved on down the road, enjoying the vast scenery provided by Otter Point (although it was busy enough, we didn’t stop for pictures yet) and looped on around to Jordan Pond on the back side of park, away from the ocean. We made several laps looking for a parking spot, but there were rangers helping control the traffic and the paths were wide enough that it wasn’t terribly stressful. We eventually got parked and took a short hike down to the beautiful, peaceful pond nestled in the valley, surrounded by the rolling mountains. We would love to come back and hike the loop trail that surrounds this pond!

However, at this point we were starving and knew it was time to break for lunch. We finished the Loop Road, taking note of the entrance to Cadillac Mountain as we passed it, as we will need to know that location for Wednesday! Then we made the short drive back to our cabin for some sandwiches and dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets. As we ate, we planned out the rest of our afternoon. We had several options, but ultimately decided to do some exploring at the famous Bar Harbor, after hearing so much about it.

Just for fun, we put the GPS away and navigated by paper map as we piddled along the streets. It is definitely an adorable little seaside town, albeit a busy one! One you get close to the actual harbor, you gotta watch out for pedestrians, because apparently no one believes in crosswalks. And vehicles are pulling out from every direction! But the streets were easy to navigate at least. There were lots of quirky little shops and pub-style restaurants, including LOTS of lobster pounds! We also found the dock where we will be boarding tomorrow for our whale watching cruise.

As we cruised along Main Street, we lucked upon an open parking spot and put a couple hours on the meter, although we didn’t end up using it all. (Parking meters are $2 per hour! With a maximum of 4 hours. That’s pretty steep for a meter, in our limited experience.) We strolled along and did some window shopping, letting ourselves get caught up in the lively atmosphere. There are hotels, restaurants, and shops of all styles and architecture types, all mingled together and it makes for some very cute and interesting scenery. We eventually ended up at a coffee shop called Choco-Latte, where I was bold enough to try the signature house drink. It was a bit chalky, but good! We poked around in a shop or two, then said goodbye to the charming little harbor town for today. We will have plenty more time to explore!

We wanted to head back to Acadia and hit up some of the spots we had skipped the first time. So, in the golden, late-afternoon light, we made our way back to Park Loop Road and quickly pulled off at a place called the Great Meadow, according to the map. It had caught my attention the first time, but had been pretty busy. Now though, we basically had this pull-off to ourselves. It was a gorgeous yellow, marshy meadow, bordered with bright red maples against a backdrop of dark green, pine-covered mountains! It was a perfect fall photo!

Then we rounded the corner to a small area called the Wild Gardens of Acadia. We were the only ones there at this time of evening, with was perfect for us! It was a pretty small area on the map, but we were thankful we had stopped. The Garden was a fenced in area of dirt trail that wove around hundreds of native plant species, all of them labeled. It was nice to finally learn the names of the many ferns, asters, and conifers we had been seeing everywhere!

After that, we looped back to the trail sign that pointed to Jesup Trail, just behind the Gardens. Jesup Trail was a boardwalk, and I love boardwalks, so I wanted to check it out. The moment we saw it, we were instantly struck by its beauty. It was a narrow, perfectly straight boardwalk that cut through the heart of dark green marsh, interspersed with areas of bright white birches and maples in the height of their color.

Birds sang from the trees and leaves spiraled down slowly as we walked through patches of bright warm sunshine that shifted back into tunnels of darkness as the tree species changed. There was lots of birdwatching to do here and the pictures we got on this trail are among my favorite so far! We both agree the silent beauty of this trail was one of the most magical experiences we had ever had. When the boardwalk ended, we took the remainder of the trail through a pretty meadow glowing in evening light, then looped around through a tunnel of birch trees, ending up back at the boardwalk. There were other trails that could get us back to the car, but we decided to take Jesup again so we could experience the colors a second time. Of all the research we did on hiking trails before we came, no one ever mentioned this one! It may not have ocean views or a thrilling climb, but the beauty and magic here should not be missed!

We spent so much time exploring this area that we didn’t have time to go anywhere else without getting caught in the dark. And we were hungry. So, we happily made our way back to Bar Harbor, deciding we had earned a hearty seafood meal. We took one of the exits into town and, since we somewhat knew the layout now, we tried to recall all the lobster places we had seen that might have parking available. Thankfully, before we had to go downtown, I saw the Bar Harbor Lobster Company, a very nautical-themed building with strands of lights illuminating the outdoor seating. This looked like a winner, so after making a few loops around the block, we finally found somewhere to park. It took us a few minutes to figure out how to work the automated kiosk that served as a parking meter, as we were both very worried about getting towed because we misunderstood a rule.

We finally got it figured out and headed for the restaurant where they were able to seat us immediately. David got a traditional lobster dinner, while I tried the lobster mac & cheese. Mine came out looking very fancy and it was so good, I basically licked the bowl clean! I sampled some of David’s freshly caught lobster to sate my curiosity…and thought it tasted a bit like an aquarium smells. I thought I would like it better than that. Hm.

I was in the mood for ice cream afterwards, but did not want to go through the stress of navigating Bar Harbor at night. However, it just so happened that we had parked right beside the Bar Harbor Cheesecake Company (and Wine Tasting) which I hadn’t noticed before. I like cheesecake, so we took a peek at their to-go options. They had an impressive list of flavors, all in cute little eight-inch containers. We grabbed a Chocolate Maine “Moose” and headed back to the cabin to let it thaw.

The darkness caught up to us and we did get a bit lost, but we eventually found our way after making a U-turn (you can only get so lost on an island). We ate some sweets and took our showers for the night, wrapping it all up with a pine log in the wood stove. It’s warm and cozy in here now as we snuggle on the couch, the smell of pine smoke settling in the air. It’s been a long day and we look forward to a good night’s sleep in preparation for tomorrow!

September 21st – Out to Sea!

We were up and ready to go by 7:30 this morning. We quickly brewed some coffee (and realized we already used up the all the creamer we brought ☹) and headed for Bar Harbor. We wanted to get there in plenty of time to get a good parking spot, as there are only a few that allow for a time frame exceeding 4 hours. As our whale-watching tour can be 5-6 hours long, we HAD to have one of these. Thankfully, we got there so early, we got a spot right in front of the building! But that also meant an extra couple of hours we have to pay for as well. We can already tell that the parking meter fee is gonna break us before this week is done.

But we tried not to think about that and focused on enjoying our morning. We went for breakfast at the Sunrise Café, a popular restaurant right there on the same dock we would be boarding from. David got an English Muffin Sandwich, and I tried my very first breakfast crepe of sausage, egg, and cheese. It was so delicious! Like a McGriddle, but fancier! We still had some time to kill, so we strolled down West Street, which follows the edge of the harbor. It was a pretty walk with quaint houses and charming streetlights. We walked several blocks until we reached the Bar Island Path. We would like to take this path out to Bar Island sometime, but you have to time it just right as you can only cross during low tide. And you better be back before high tide comes in again, or you’ll be stuck out there for about nine hours!

The tide was already in when we were there, and that wasn’t on the agenda for today, so we started back towards the dock. We stopped in the Black Fly Coffee Company on our way (why does every business refer to themselves as a “company” here?) to try some local caffeine because why not? So far, Black Fly has been my favorite coffee I’ve tried within the state of Maine! Then we made our way back to the dock for a restroom break with 45 minutes to spare. We thought that would be plenty of time to get a good place in line…but no. The line for the tour was already very long and we were near the back.

Our spot in line was irrelevant for the check-in process, which went quite smoothly, but boarding the boat was madness. Everyone was practically running for the seats on the top level, which provided the best views. If not there, then they were filling the benches all along the deck both on the second and first floors. We tried squeezing into the outdoor seating in multiple places, but they were already all filled up. The only seats left were in the galley, which was an indoor portion on the main deck, where the snack bar was. We grabbed a little corner table all to ourselves with comfy seats and windows that were plenty wide enough to see out…but I was still pretty bummed that we had missed out on what we thought were prime seats.

But I tried not to let it bother me, as just being on the boat was something new for me. I have been looking forward to the whale-watching cruise, almost more than anything else! I have never seen a live whale, nor have I ever been on the ocean before. Before my frolicking at Sand Beach yesterday, my experience of the ocean had been a 15-minute stop at Daytona Beach in Florida back in high school. And it had been a cold, rainy day. And as for boats, I had never been out on anything larger than a fishing boat (aside from the Branson Belle at Table Rock Lake, but I’m not sure that one counts). Basically, this whole experience meant a lot to me, and it was also something new for David! And when they announced that we would be allowed to get up and walk around once we were out of the harbor, I felt very relieved. Maybe we wouldn’t miss out on anything after all!

Once we got away from the harbor, our boat picked up speed fast! We were clicking along at 30 knots, according to the captain, which is about 35mph. It was a surreal experience, watching the land fall away into the haze. At first, everything was gray, with no distinction between sky and water. But as we got further from land, the fog began to lift, and we suddenly had clear blue skies and bright sunshine sparkling on the waves! It was gorgeous shades of blue for as far as they eye could see. It was also somewhat of a daunting feeling, looking around on all sides and seeing nothing but water…I suddenly felt very, very small.

Our onboard naturalist kept up a steady narration of information and history about the area and the wildlife we were already seeing, including seabirds and porpoises! And I was taking advantage of our ability to get up and walk. I continually ran outside onto the main deck to lean over the railing and really get a taste of ocean travel! David followed a few times, but I don’t think he trusted his balance well enough. And it’s true, I certainly was lacking my sea-legs, but in all my stumbling about, I never fell! The exhilaration of it all left me breathless…the warm sun, the cold wind, the salty spray on my face, the boat rocking forward as we cut quickly through the whitecaps. With the wind in my hair and salt on my lips, all I was missing was the ghostly flute music from the Titanic soundtrack!

However, after about an hour, I was starting to get a bit queasy, and the air temperature had dropped quite a bit (they warn you of this beforehand). At this point, I was very grateful for our indoor seats! The galley was warm and comfortable and, now that we were 25 miles away from shore and still clicking along through the cold wind, many of the people outside were regretting their wet, windy choice of seats on hard benches, and were trying to find room in the galley now.

Once we had been on the ocean for about two and half hours, they announced we were now 50 miles from the coast! The boat slowed considerably, as we were in prime whale territory now. David and I returned to the outer deck when the first spotting was announced…the large, dark fins of Fin Whales! There were about half a dozen or so about a quarter mile away. Our boat continually looped around them so everyone on both sides got a good look. I ran back and forth multiple times from one side to the other, trying to keep them in sight!

Once the Fin Whales had moved on, our boat moved out a bit further to where our naturalist had seen some Humpbacks surfacing! (Along the way, David and I were some of few that saw a surprised seal dive out of the way of the boat!) We stayed beside the humpback pair for quite a while, watching them gently crest over the waves, blow a spout of water, then slink back under again. One got so close that when it blew the air from its spout, we were able to smell its breath…and it was horrid. Once they were finished with their small dives (used for oxygen intake) they would make larger dives to return to the depths for a bit before coming up again. When they made these larger dives, they would arch their bodies, exposing a lot of their bodies to us, and then would lift their tail flukes over the water to power themselves down. It was the coolest thing to see, as you only ever see that kind of thing in documentaries! Our naturalist was also teaching us how scientists can identify whales by their flukes, because they all have different patterns!

The whales did not seem to mind the boat’s presence, but after about half an hour of showing off for us, they made a final dive, heading down deep to hunt for a while. It was the most incredible experience ever! After that, our boat turned back towards the mainland, and I was ready to get out of the cold. So was everyone else that tried to squeeze in behind me! I grabbed some nachos from the galley and settled in for a nap as we sped towards land for the next two hours.

By the time we got back to the land, I was a bit nauseous again and my legs were very shaky from the constant swaying of the boat. I was thrilled to finally be on solid ground! Although I loved every moment of our cruise and will never regret a whale-watching experience…I don’t think I am meant to be an ocean person.

We grabbed the car and rolled down the road to the local supermarket, Hannaford. (These are basically the northeast version of Walmart, but smaller and more expensive.) We needed some last-minute groceries, including creamer, and while we were there, I was entranced by their beautiful and well-stocked display of seafood in the deli section! Obviously, we have nothing like this in the Midwest, so I couldn’t help but get a little something and picked out a thick slab of bourbon-marinated salmon! That’s what I have heating up in the toaster oven right now as I write down the events of today. We are settled in for the night with plans to turn in pretty early because we have to be up well before the sun tomorrow!

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