I suggested to John that since we were in Maine, we should drive to the coast and eat lobster. Because that’s what you do in Maine. He agreed, so I suggested Bar Harbor. I knew nothing about Bar Harbor, but the name was in my mind as a famous tourist destination on the coast of Maine, and we set out. Bar Harbor is next to Acadia National Park; earlier on I had hoped we could spend a couple days in Acadia relaxing from our big hike, but with the federal government shutdown I knew that we would not be able to visit the park – how disappointing!
We camped at Bar Harbor Campground, where we opted for a site with a waterfront view over the more private, wooded sites. Usually we choose the most private available site, but we had spent a lot of time in the woods at this point and thought it was time for a change of scenery.
When we checked in, the man working at the front desk gave us lots of helpful information. He told us where to park downtown, where to eat, and most importantly, about what was going on at Acadia. All motorized vehicles were barred from entering, but “they can’t keep me or you from going in”. So he showed us on the map where people were parking to walk in. I asked about bicycles, and he said they could go in to, but we didn’t want to enter at the main entrance, located 2.4 miles from the campground, because it was “many miles” to get to the attractions. I determined that the furthest attraction was 10.7 miles from the campground, just a mile more than I used to commute to work, so we decided to bike to the park the next day.
The ride along a shoulderless highway for the first 2.4 miles was harrowing, but we made it. Riding in the park was amazing – a two lane, completely smooth road, free of cars. We saw several other cyclists, and everyone was chatty and greeted each other as they passed. I think it was because the park was officially closed; the visitors present were brought closer together by our defiance of the closure. Most people I talked to were from the west – one couple from Colorado, a couple from Portland riding a rented tandem bike who asked about our folding bikes, and a couple from Seattle who convinced us to hike a particular trail we were checking out.
We pulled over into every parking lot and overlook along the Park Loop Road to check out the sights. We had parked our bikes in a parking lot and were reading the informational kiosk about a trail when a woman proclaimed that the trail was a lot of fun, and we should climb it. It was lunchtime, and we figured hiking 0.9 miles to the top of a mountain would lead us to a good lunch spot, so we locked the bikes and followed the couple up. And when I say up, I mean UP. Straight up.
The Precipice Trail climbs the side of a cliff face to reach the summit of Champlain Mountain. This is by far the most frightening hike I have ever been on. I am fine with rock scrambling, and I did pretty well my one time rock climbing, on a route high enough to require multiple pitches, but I did not trust the iron bars anchored in the rocks up this cliff face. These iron bars, which John described as looking like someone had taken a giant staple gun to the side of the mountain, formed necessary handholds and ladders to ascend the cliff. They held up, or I would not be here to write about it, but the whole time I was terrified that those anchors would not hold, or that the rusty bar would break. Broken remnants of past bars did not help. One bar was actually broken, and re-anchored with a separate piece. After encountering this bar, I hurried the rest of the way just trying to get the experience over with. One bar gave a little when I pulled on it – there were enough others around it that I just avoided it, and warned John below me. He reported that one side was loose, and had been wedged back into the rock with a standard household nail!
Halfway up the cliff, we ran into the couple from the bottom taking a break. This is when I learned that they are from Seattle, and have been coming to Acadia annually for several years, so they are very familiar with the park. Most importantly, they had a map! I had not picked up a trail map because I had thought we would not visiting the park. By this point in the hike, I was beginning to think we would not want to go down the same way (and further along on the hike, decided I definitely did not want to return the same way). [ John here: On one of the signs at the beginning of this trail it read: This trail should not be taken back down and alternatives should be used. At the time I was thinking how strange…a one way trail! About 1/4 of the way through I knew why. The ‘trail’ was nuts. I can’t imagine going DOWN it, especially in bad weather! ]. The man showed me the map and recommended an alternate way down, and the woman assured us that the next part was even more fun. She loves this trail, and thinks the iron ladders are fun. What a different perspective from mine, fun vs. pure terror!
After this hike, we had to turn around to head back to the campground. We had come to this town to eat lobster, and planned to go that evening. So we headed back and prepared for date night. We ate at the Trenton Bridge Lobster Pound, recommended both by the man running the J&P Farm Market where we picked up veggies and the man at the campground’s front desk.We returned to Acadia the following day, this time parking at the southern end, closer to the attractions. We stopped by Otter Cliffs, Thunder Hole [ John again: My dad and his brother visited Bar Harbor some 30+ years ago on motorcycles. He described Thunder Hole and said I needed to check it out. It was exactly as described and I’m so glad we had the opportunity to see such an interesting site. While there I thought about how much, or more likely how little, the formation has changed since my dad saw it. ] and Sand Beach before cycling toward Cadillac Mountain.
On our way to Cadillac Mountain, we spotted ranger cars in the road. Nervous, we turned around, disappointed at not making our destination. We stopped and talked with a couple walking a dog to see if they knew whether the rangers were kicking people out. They stopped a cyclist coming from the direction of the ranger blockade to ask on our behalf – the cyclist said he rode by with no problem. So we turned around to continue toward Cadillac Mountain. The only thing the ranger said is that we should be careful, since we were riding “against traffic”. There was no traffic to speak of, but we were riding the wrong way on the one-way park road.
Cycling up the mountain was quite a feat! Several cyclists on racing bikes were pedaling up to speed down, but we were on folding bikes! It was a workout, but I had a fine time with it, riding in my lowest gear. John doesn’t have a gear as low as mine and really pushed himself to get up. But it was worth it! [ John here: It was indeed very worth it! The view from the top was spectacular! My bike has a 3 speed hub. Our bikes have 16 inch tires. Going up this mountain on our bikes was nuts, and the looks some of the spandex clad cyclists powering up the hill gave us proved it. When I purchased the bike 5+ years ago I didn’t think I’d be living in a camper van, having only this 3-speed Brompton to climb mountains with. I’m not complaining…just sayin’ it was quite the feat 😛 ] It was really an amazing opportunity, to be able to bicycle on carless roads through the national park. I think we had a better time exploring the park because it was closed.
It was getting late by the time we were off the mountain heading back to the van. We hurried to make it out of the park before the sun set, but we didn’t quite make it. Even in the hurry, we couldn’t help but stop and marvel at the colors in the evening sky.
That night we had hoped to stay where we had parked for the day. While I was washing dishes after dinner, though, a ranger came knocking “just to make sure we were not planning on staying the night”. I assured him we would move on once I finished cleaning up from dinner. Once everything was put away and secured, we drove off and parked in an area along the highway for the night.
We spent our last day on Mount Desert Island in Bar Harbor. First we walked across a sandbar only exposed during low tide to get to Bar Island. Bar Island is only accessible via this sandbar, which is covered by water most of the day, so you must pay attention to the tides or risk being stranded on the island until the tide goes out again!
After hiking on Bar Island, we walked around looking at the tourist shops of Bar Harbor and ate clam chowder at a diner before moving on, back toward New Hampshire. We had such an amazing time in Maine, it was sad to leave, but we must start running from the freezing temperatures of winter.