No Lobster for You

I awoke this frosty morning and rolled out of the truck, then had breakfast at my picnic table while soaking up the sunshine and getting warmed up, feeling a bit like a lizard or other similar cold-blooded reptile.  My campsite was just a few feet from Cobscook Bay, which was at low tide, but the protected waters here are so gentle that there was hardly a ripple.  I spent a good half-hour climbing over the rocks, polished smooth by the glaciers thousands of years ago and mostly covered with kelp, scrambling along the rocky shoreline and savoring the amazing vistas.  The campground at Cobscook Bay State Park is a phenomenal place to camp, with all sorts of interesting places to poke around, and I highly recommend it.

Above:  From Cobscook Bay State Park, I continued south on U.S. Highway 1, in the "Down East" area of Maine.  I reached Acadia National Park that afternoon, then continued south and camped at Camden Hills State Park, near the historic seaport of Camden.

My goal for that day was somewhere on the central Maine coast, which was a fair bit of a drive considering all the “poking around” I was hoping to do, but I had to be at my brother Don’s house in southern Connecticut the next day.  I left the park around 10 a.m. and got back on Highway 1, then continued south – or actually, west.  The Maine coast generally extends east-west instead of north-south and becomes more developed the farther west – closer to Portland and Boston – that you travel.  The area I was currently traveling through, known as Down East, is the classic rugged, rocky Maine coast that you’ve seen pictures of.  The other side of the coast (Up West?), where I was heading and near Portland, is a lot more commercial and touristy.

After a few hours on Highway 1, I pulled into Acadia National Park, which I’ve visited several times before, though admittedly not within the last 20 years.  I’d always visited the area around Bar Harbor, which is the most popular part of the park, so this time I decided to see a more remote section of Acadia, called the Schoodic peninsula, located on the coast about 10 miles east of the main park area.  With its glacier-smoothened slabs of granite plunging into the ocean, the Schoodic peninsula was quite impressive and after a few hours of being impressed, at around 4:30, I drove into the main section of Acadia National Park because I was hoping to camp there that evening.  I’ve camped here at Acadia in the summer months so I didn’t think I’d have any trouble finding a campsite, this being nearly October.

I didn’t consider, however, that this was a Friday afternoon, so lots of folks were flooding into Acadia for the weekend.  Also, this being the fall, lots of folks were here wanting to see the fall colors – in fact, the park ranger at the Visitor Center told me that fall is generally the busiest time of year at Acadia, not summer like in so many other National Parks.  The friendly ranger also told me that the largest campground in the park was unfortunately closed for repairs that season.  So due to those three factors, every campsite in the park was filled – and had been for quite a while. 

Darn it, I was really hoping to camp at Acadia and get a lobster dinner at the lobster pound on the wharf at Southwest Harbor, which I’d done many years ago – a single, simple dining experience which has stuck with me all this time.  And quite a delicious-yet-no-frills dinner it was, as I ate a large lobster tail that was cooked fresh from a seafood shack on the wharf, served on a red plastic cafeteria tray and with a little plastic bowl of hot, melted butter on the side, while sitting on a creaking picnic table at the wharf and watching the sunset.  That was back in 1995, mind you, and yet the thought of that dinner still makes me smack my lips.  I was really looking forward to another lobster dinner on the wharf, but now with no place to camp at Acadia, it looked like dinner was going to be the remainder of my cold, easternmost chicken from the night before.  

With that dreary news, and my dreams of a boiled lobster fading away, I left the park while facing an onslaught of car-after-car heading the opposite direction, going into Acadia.  The bumper-to-bumper traffic through the gateway town of Ellsworth was crazy, too, and something I wasn’t used to, having spent so much time this past week in rural New England and far from the madding crowds.

It was now about 5:30 and I continued south on Highway 1 in search of a campsite, and an hour later I pulled into Camden Hills State Park outside of the historic seaport of Camden, Maine.  The campground was filling fast but I got a nice site, and just as it started to get dark.  I opened the cooler and had to satisfy myself with what was left of my easternmost chicken.  Oh sure, I could’ve driven into Camden and gotten a lobster, but it was late, I was tired, and it was getting dark.  It wasn’t fresh lobster, mind you, but it worked.  My dreams would have to wait.

Down East, Maine

The Other Portland

I left Camden Hills State Park around 9 a.m. on this Saturday morning and got back on U.S. Highway 1, continuing south – well, more like west in this part of Maine – and reached Portland an hour later.  That’s Portland, Maine, of course, not the other Portland, the one where I’m from out in Oregon, which is about 10 times larger.  Portland, Oregon was named after Portland, Maine, not surprisingly – and as the result of a coin flip.  Back in the 1840s, two founders of that new town in Oregon, with just a few hundred inhabitants, each wanted to name it after their home town back east:  one was from Boston, Massachusetts and the other from Portland, Maine.  Well, Francis Pettygrove won the coin flip (it was two-out-of-three) and he named the new town “Portland.”  So even though I’m from the opposite coast, I’ve always felt a kinship with this “other” Portland, the one here in Maine.

Above:  I continued south on Highway 1 and arrived in Portland, Maine around mid-day, where I spent an hour visiting the waterfront.  I continued south until I reached my brother Don's house in New London, Connecticut just before dinner.

I parked in downtown Portland on a drizzly afternoon and put 45 minutes worth of quarters in the meter, so I knew I had exactly 45 minutes to check out the waterfront – and that’s what I did.  This being a weekend, there were lots of folks milling about, browsing the bookstores and munching down pizza.  The waterfront area of Portland is replete with a panoply of charming (possibly the first time I’ve used the word “charming” in this website) red brick buildings and cobblestone lanes, giving it an historic and old-time atmosphere.  I could easily imagine that the waterfront looked very similar a hundred years ago, or maybe even two hundred.  Being from the west, where there aren't many old brick buildings – partly because everything is much newer and partly because of earthquakes, which can do a number on brick buildings – I thought downtown Portland was very cool.  Even charming.

I got back to my truck with two minutes left on the meter and resumed my southward trek, this time on Interstate 95.  A short while later I crossed into New Hampshire and then Massachusetts, which was State #31 on this trip.  It was the first time I’d been in the Bay State since my 2001 around-the-country trip, which I described in, and it was nice to be back.  I skirted around the western periphery of Boston, then crossed into Connecticut on I-395 as the drizzle continued. 

An hour later I reached my brother Don's house outside of New London and rang the doorbell, and I was greeted by Don and his wife Debbie.  And gee, as it turned out I was just in time for dinner.  And better still, my niece Sarah had decided to drive up that weekend from New Jersey, so I got to see her for the first time in 14 years and got to meet her husband, John.  I spent a nice weekend with the four of them catching up and getting to know John. 

After driving over 8,000 miles this past month since leaving Colorado – yes, 8,000 miles in a single month, which was about 8,000 miles more than I drove during the three years I lived in Qatar – I was pretty worn out, my hands were callused, and I was tired of watching everything rush past my windshield at 60 miles an hour.  I wanted to spend time with Don and Debbie, who were extremely hospitable and who encouraged me to stay for a while, so given all that, their pleasant house in Connecticut seemed like a good place to put on the brakes for a while.

From Maine to Connecticut



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