Thursday, July 12, 2012

Acadia on Two Wheels

July 12, 2012 – Acadia onTwo Wheels

I’m sitting in the Bangor airport, the beginning of my transition from 2 weeks of writing and riding to my “real” life back home. I’ve become accustomed to cool nights and mornings, scented of pine. My routine these past two weeks revolved around a daily ride on my rented “comfort” bike, from a small cottage just a stone’s throw from the rocky Maine coastline, to writing classes on the campus of the 350-student College of the Atlantic, which hosted the Johns Hopkins summer writing program. It was easy to get used to riding on the relaxed streets of a quiet tourist town, with little traffic and congenial, accommodating drivers. I enjoyed the rhythm of grocery shopping, a little at a time, with my one pannier– somewhat precariously attached to the back of the bike.

But the real highlight was having a weekend to explore Acadia National Park by bike. My cottage was just about a mile from the park entrance. The boyfriend flew up for the second half of my school/vacation – so I had a companion to explore the park with.

On Saturday, we focused on Acadia’s some 45 miles of carriage roads – wide gravel paths that are completely off limits to cars. While many areas are relatively flat, there are plenty of hills, and my thighs definitely got a workout! For a photo of these trails, see the NYTimes blog (,which appeared in a post last week that discussed making the national parks more accessible to bikes (yay)! While the weather was hot for Maine (in the 80s during the day) it was a welcome respite from the DC-area’s sweltering 100 degree + heat wave. Still, it was frustrating that most of the park’s glistening lakes, liberally sprinkled throughout the park, prohibited swimming. It’s possible that we breached that rule in some small and inconspicuous ways.

Dense forests shaded most of the paths, and the granite mountains that towered impressively above were a refreshing change of pace from my usual urban environs. The long slog up and out of the park along the western edge of Cadillac Mountain was followed by the reward of an exhilarating long ride down Eagle Lake Road. It’s rare for me to get a really long, brakes-free flight downhill. I crouched forward, attemptingto make my position somewhat more aerodynamic on the “comfort” bike, and was nearly shouting with sheer joy. What a rush!

Sunday we left the cottage at 6 a.m., intending to focus on the 20-mile Park Loop Road. But shortly into our ride, we stopped to hike The Precipice – a challenging and somewhat fear-inducing rock climb about a mile and a half straight up the edge of a mountain, aided by sturdy iron rungs and ladders. We were feeling a bit prideful of our 60-something fitness level, until we saw a man who looked to be in his 80s striding easily up the trail. We resolved to return in 30 years and do it again! Back on the bikes, we made our way to the one sandy beach in the park, where I gleefully dunked myself in the ocean’s chilly northern waters – just long enough to cool off. Staying in my wet bike clothes, we made our way around more of the Loop Road– long slogs up the mountains followed by swift glides down. Another dip in the “Bubbles” lake and a repeat rush down Eagle Lake Road were a happy end to a 10-hour day of outdoor exertions.

Wednesday afternoon we had one last opportunity to visit Acadia, this time focusing on climbing the Beehive – another rock climb, this one much shorter, but with more stretches that skirted the narrow edges overlooking sheer drops, with no iron hand-holds for security. But this time, instead of descending the way we went up, we more reasonably took the alternate path down, an easy hike that ended at The Bowl – a lovely small lake – finally one legally sanctioned for swimming. Our final stop was a hike down from the Schooner Road overlook, where I tried to find the anemone cave I remembered from a childhood visit. The cave is no longer marked – a precaution against too many visitors destroying the fragile setting. We were unable to locate it. Maybe the tide was too high, or maybe we didn’t try hard enough, as we had to get the bikes back to the rental shop before closing.

I’m left with the contrasting images of enduring mountains and fragile wildlife, all surrounded by the oceans, with their ever-changing tides. I tucked a few stones and pinecones into my bag– hoping they will reassure me that the rejuvenating wonders of the wilds are still available. It’s up to me to make time for them.

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