2012 Travel Log- We are heading for a summer season on Mt Desert Island, Maine
Grandson Alex’s birthday today, called, no answer, sang Happy Birthday to the answering machine.
We’ve had lots of doctor and dentist visits over the last months to get things taken care of before leaving for half the year. Disassembled and reassembled, we seem to be ready to go, at least physically. Sue’s knee is injected and will hopefully be ready for the trail, and after an unsettling EKJ and subsequent stress test, my heart is ready for the same!
I visited my favorite doc yesterday, my dermatologist. I lost count after 39 spritzes with liquid nitrogen. My face felt like a pin cushion. For good measure she took 5 additional chunks to biopsy. I am very dedicated to applying sun lotion after every shower and again when I go out for a bike ride or kayak trip. In spite of my diligence there doesn’t seem to be any end in site for this masochism.
After last years trip we pledged to take less where ever we go; there are substantial piles of gear in bedrooms, pantry and garage. It looks as much as last year when we took twice as much as we needed or used.
I get a bit grumpy when faced with all the preparation, but now that it’s mostly behind us, I’m excited to be almost under way. We leave Monday afternoon, immediately after Sue’s last injection of knee lube.
Our planned stops are Valdosta, GA, Knoxville, TN, Manassas, VA, Catskill, NY and finally Mt. Desert, ME.
Monday, April 30, 2012
Well, all the stuff fit into the airstream and Silverado, too much I’m sure, but equally sure that we’ve forgotten some essentials. We got underway at 2:30 p.m., headed north on 1-75 into a strong northeast headwind. My mileage indicator was showing a little over 10 mpg, painfully low at $4.10 a gallon. Eventually the wind abated and our overall average for the 1800 miles was 12 mpg.
We pulled into the Walmart lot in Valdosta around 7 p.m. We went into the store to get permission to park for the night and to buy a roast chicken for dinner. Not that Walmart roast chickens are any different from any other overcooked chicken, but it has become tradition to get one in Valdosta. By the time we eat the chicken and clean up it is dark enough to get some sleep. In bed by 8:30, up at 4 a.m. and on the road by 5. Sleep was marginal, it was close to 90 degrees and we were not hooked up so no AC.
We cruised through Atlanta well before noon and ended our days drive in a very nice campground, Rocky Top, in the Tri-Cities of Johnson City, TN, Bristol VA, and Kingston, TN.
One pleasant discovery en route was the truck stop diesel fuel lanes. The big rigs have 100 gallon tanks, and the “gas” pumps push the fuel out quickly. Not sure why it took me ten years of towing to discover this. I was filling my puny 24 gallon tank in a minute. Our receipts show about $80 per fill up, but the register on the pump after a big rig pulled out showed well over $400. The other advantage of these truck stops is the room we have to maneuver. The pump in front of the convenience store doesn’t allow for much wiggle room, and I’ve had to back out of a few tight spots. We are dwarfed by eighteen wheelers, as we dwarf even large SUV’s.
From Sarasota we followed I-75 to Knoxville, TN, then eastward on I-40 were we joined I-81 following it northward through the Shenandoah Valley. Our views to the east and west bounded first by the Smoky Mountains and then the Blue Ridge Mountains. We’ve probably driven north and south on I-95 thirty or forty times over the last ten years. I feel like I know every bump along the way, it is efficient way but oh so boring. This route is 200 miles longer, but infinitely prettier and more interesting.
Unlike many Floridians and New Yorkers, quite a few southern drivers do not know how to enter a freeway. They slow down at the end of the ramp, take a long slow look and pull out into 70 mph traffic at 40 mph. Lots of swerving, swearing and quaint little hand gestures. Then they roll along at 45 for a while until the car is warmed up, and eventually get up to speed. Other than this very minor irritation this trip north was totally trouble free and probably the easiest ever.
We were fortunate, not one traffic back up caused by an accident, nor were there any road construction slow-downs between Sarasota and Somesville, ME.
The seasons changed as we progressed north. Summer from Sarasota to Harrisburg PA. Then crossing the Allegheny Mountains north of Harrisburg on I-81, we regressed into late spring; the full palette of green exhibited by the new leaves, and lots of blooming trees. It remained the same through the Hudson Valley, but crossing the Berkshires there were lots of trees only in bud, waiting for leaves to appear. Once we got to I-95 in Maine and moved away from the coast only 50% of the trees were leafy. Here on MDI, no leaves yet.
Sunny weather and blue skies from Sarasota to Manassas, VA; cloudy skies to Brimfield, MA, then rain to Mount Desert. Now, twelve hours later I’m still listening to a steady drum of rain on our tin roof. My friend Len and I were joking via emails how if this weather occurred in Sarasota or Osprey where he lives, the Chamber of Commerce would give us a tax rebate for rain lasting more than a few hours.
Coming here to Mt. Desert Campground feels like homecoming to us. It is our 4th season. The entire family that owns and operates the place was on hand as we arrived. We feel more like family than employees. Right now we are the only occupants on the 50 acres of campground land, surrounded by cliffs, pine trees and Somes Sound, the only fjord-like body of water on the USA’s Atlantic coast. Yesterday evening as we crossed the Narrows onto the island we saw the lowest tide we’ve ever seen here, walkable from the town of Trenton on the mainland to the island. Not a pleasant hike across thigh deep mud, acres of slippery seaweed and equally slick rocks, but definitely possible.
A major disappointment is that our wonderful Wilson cell phone amplifier which produced results in the most remote corners of Utah last summer is not doing anything here. I anticipated being able to use the phone, send emails and read the Times all from our Airstream. Zilch, nothing, frustrating.
Cinquo de Mayo May 5, 2012
Day one: Clean and feather the nest: Walmart, Home Depot, Reny’s, Marden’s, Sherman’s ( NYT Sunday paper they will hold for you for one week) and finally Parson’s Lobster Pound which was closed! Talk about broken hearts, I’ve been dreaming about that first lobster of the season since last November when we got home to Florida.
Owen dropped off our new summer transport, it’s mother was a golf cart and father an ATV. Frog green, quiet but zippy gas engine. Built a new kayak condo, got the roof of the Silverado clear of boats and pods.
The best part of the day was re-discovering my wading boots, going down to the narrows between Lamb Rock and Sheep Island and gathering mussels for dinner. The tides are astronomically low now, so no water, only mud to deal with. Sauté garlic and hot pepper, add coconut milk, fresh ginger, grated lemon peel, saffron, chopped tomatoes, salt and pepper, bring to a boil, add several quarts of mussels, simmer for 10 minutes, serve over pasta. Not lobster, but free and delicious.
Owen dropped off the security codes for the wifi, but neither phone nor MacBook could digest the code. So, a pile of emails waiting to go out. We are receiving emails on our phones, but unable to send. We can survive until Monday to get it all straightened out.
We had a sunset, so maybe tomorrow will be nice, if so, a bike ride is in store.
Sunday, May 6
Leisurely morning, went for a reacquaintance walk around the campground. It really is as spectacular as remembered. We visited our favorite spots; some secluded “ honey moon” sites in the woods and perched on rocky prominences along the sound, others right down on the water, almost like replacing your front lawn with the Atlantic. After lunch we did a few miles on our tandem. I frequently comment about the geography of the island; all the steep ascents and descents are in the east-west direction, and the leisurely ups and downs are north to south. In spite of a winter of what I thought was strenuous cycling in Sarasota, it fell far short of the preparation needed to cycle comfortably here on Mount Desert. Fifteen miles and we were fried. The hills are short, steep and close together, no time to recuperate before the next one is in front of you.
Our colleague and friend Robert came for dinner. A retired school principal; charming, handsome, intelligent and talented. I struggle to write a few paragraphs that are interesting and informative. Robert rolls out the prose beautifully, I’ll include a segment of his writing when I post this.
Earlier today we were listening to an NPR program about an almanac kept by a local Mainer, the reading was the entry for May 6, 1812. Two inches of snow fell, and the snow piles along the edges of the meadow were still two feet deep. I took a photo this morning of a group of Maple trees, still no leaves, and very nascent buds. Spring here is still weeks away. We wore long tights, warm jackets, ear bands and gloves for this afternoon’s ride. Rain is forecast until Friday.
Monday May 7, 2012
Cold, 28 degrees, clear and windless. Our first day of work. Like much of the country, Maine’s winter weather was relatively benign. The big storms stayed away. Clean up chores are minimal and very routine, pick up the branches of which there are few, rake the leaves, and leave the place looking as natural as possible. Repeat as needed one hundred and sixty one times. When our backs hurt too much to continue, pull the deck off a platform and replace. This year the re-nail job is almost fun. Owen purchased a pneumatic nailer for us. Since most campsites have electric, just plug it in and start shooting. Best of all we are not on our knees as we are when using a hammer.
The weeks of May slide by quickly, in the normal spring fashion for Maine, lots of fog, rain and cool. The sun made a few appearances on our days off and we made the best of them, two long bike rides, and a paddle around Eagle Lake, MDI’s largest body of fresh water.
One hundred ten years ago, Cadillac Mountain was called Green Mountain, a cog railway led from the shores of Eagle Lake to the summit. The moss encrusted stones of the lakeside station house are still visible through the trees. While the wood ties have rotted and returned to the earth, iron rods that pegged the ties to the ground are still visible as they climb the mountain.
Our unconnectedness is an inconvenience, tolerated, but only just. So we called the local internet provider, Red Zone; told them our situation, and they thought they could connect us. Mike the Red Zone installer came, put a signal sensor on a thirty foot long mast and wandered around our campsite, looking for a signal. Zilch. But his mast was intriguing, if I had one that big I could reach my cell antenna way up there and at least have something. Mike said the parts for his came from Home Depot. Pavel, the guy in the orange apron at Home Depot looked at me like I was nuts when I described what I wanted. I re-explained, his face lit up, “follow me”. First to the paint department where he showed me a yellow ten foot long handle for a paint roller. With several twists of his wrist it was twenty four feet long. I have no idea how anyone could control a paint roller at the end of a 24 foot stick. “Follow me” again, this time to the cleaning department, where the new shaft was silver with blue fittings, matching our Airstream exterior color scheme exactly. The optional fittings for new mast were cobweb catchers, lightbulb changers and various brushes.
Happy as a clam at high tide I rushed home to do the installation and get my AT&T signal. I can tell you that antenna is up there, but the AT&T signal is not. Well, its there sometimes, but unaffected by our amplifier. If we leave our phones on at night, it is loaded with our emails in the morning, and if we compose outgoing mail, it gets sent. One day last week the phone rang! I had a fifteen minute conversation with my friend Harry, while I was inside the Airstream! But for the time being, text messages are the only reliable in and out form of communication from our site. I don’t mean to make it sound like we are on Ellesmere Island here. We do have wifi and full phone signal at the office, a third of a mile away. Its just that we don’t go there in our pajamas.
We now are living less than 5 miles from our Peace Corps friends Abe and Anica. Abe is a Chief Scientist for Acadia NP and Anica works part time and cares for their 2 small boys. While we were there Abe and Anica received a phone call from their Suriname home stay family! Quite a coincidence and lovely to share those special memories 10 years ago this month.
The few days before Memorial Day were crunch time, long rainy days ate into our productivity; lots to do on rainy Thursday and Friday preceding the holiday. We made it, Saturday dawned clear as forecast, and the campers started rolling in. Suddenly we had to share our fifty acre seaside estate with marauding mongols. Footprints on our clean shower house floors, hot water that wouldn’t turn on, or off, all expected and some unexpected startup woes. All quickly solved in some manner.
We started our normal work rotation of three days off and four on. Sunday was gorgeous and we took advantage to do a long very hilly bike ride. I guess the winter in the gym, and our new Bar Harbor YMCA membership is paying off. The hills were much less steep and much shorter than they were two years ago.
Monday we drove to Schoodic, a peninsula four miles east across Frenchman’s Bay, forty miles if you take the road. Schoodic is part of Acadia and the real beginning of Down East. The coastal towns are settlements, and with few exceptions US Route 1 was void of traffic. Except for the Memorial Day parades. Mayors in convertibles, retired soldiers, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, and dozens emergency vehicles with sirens and flashing lights going full force, proceeding right down the middle of the highway. Eat your heart out Boston, New York, Philly, Baltimore, D.C. and Key West!
One purpose of the drive was to visit Bartlett’s Winery in Gouldsboro. A claim to fame is their Blueberry wine that has fooled some experts in a blind tasting into saying it was from Bordeaux, France, but they could not quite place the vineyard. It is truly excellent, but alas for us, because of price, only for special occasions . They were closed for the holiday. We returned when they were open, enjoyed a tasting of various fruit wines, bought a few bottles and enjoyed a beautiful afternoon.
Our work week has been damp, but sunshine yesterday. So nice, how we take it for granted living in Florida. Living in Sarasota you know it will be sunny, only have to look at the weather report to find out how strong and from what direction the wind will be blowing. Shorts, sandals and tee shirts will almost always suffice. Right now there’s a storm coming up the coast, it was in PA and NJ for the last several days, and its due for a three day stop here starting tomorrow. The temperature has dropped to the low 50’s and the treetops are dancing in the wind. Of course, the next three days are our days off.
The Memorial Day crowds have come and gone. The camp ground is virtually empty, maybe 6 sites out of 160 occupied. We went with Cort and Regina for dinner in Southwest Harbor, no reservations, Saturday night, 7:00, walked in, sat down at a table of our choice. Next month there will be a line out the door for three hours.
Yesterday, the first day of our “week” end I helped my old college room mate and friend work on his boat. A few months ago he acquired a 1952 wooden cabin cruiser, 32’ long. A lobster boat style hull, with a nice large cabin. She is stored in an enormous building, well lighted and safe from the elements. And in remarkable good condition for a 60 year old wood boat. Yesterday’s project was to replace short section of plank, port side, amidships at the turn of the bilge. With a limited selection of hand and power tools we did a good job. Most of the sanding of the hull and exterior cabin is done, so one of these days she’ll need some paint, and a lot of varnish. The engine is a huge in-line six cylinder diesel, just slightly disassembled,, and occupying much of all the cockpit. Most of the interior is mahogany cabinetry in excellent condition. Bound and determined to get her in the water this year, Bill’s free time is spoken for.
Today, our second rainy day off will be partially spent in Brewer, visiting a colleague of boater Bill above, Chris Dorr, an endodontist. I’ve been shuttled back and forth between endodontists and periodontists, each claiming that what ever is wrong with my tooth has nothing to do with their specialty. Fortunately I am not in pain and can eat comfortably.
All those spring precautionary visits were for naught. There is an almost invisible crack in the tooth; needs to be removed and a bridge built.
Moss, Maine is mostly green, and after the pine trees comes the moss. Moss because it never stops raining! We are not particularly fond of raking leaves, but here there is frequently a reward under the soggy brown leaves and pine needles, a brilliant emerald bed of moss. Moss is pretty relentless, creeping over rocks, boulders, logs, bare ground, shingled roofs, wherever it can gain purchase.
Shortly after we arrived we installed a bird feed outside our “dining room” window. Filled with sunflower seeds, hung to make it squirrel proof, we waited for the show to begin. Waited and waited. Two weeks, no birds. No squirrels either. Then a couple of days ago our first guests, a pair of what I thought were Blue Winged Warblers, my best guess using Sibley’s Guide to Birds. Sibley must have 50 different kinds of Warblers and many are only subtly different. our Warblers have an interesting way access the feeder; they fly in, turn vertical and land on the rope supporting the feeder, one foot above the other, then down the rope sliding their feet along, when they get to the feeder they hop off onto one of the perches. Wary at first they’d fly away if I pressed my face too close to the window. Now it doesn’t seem to bother them. This morning we went to the Precipice Cliffs on Mt. Champlain to see the Peregrine Falcons. Lots of spotting scopes but no nesting falcons. But the ornithological ranger dealt with my question about my warblers: they are American Goldfinches.
They are regular visitors, no longer guests, and the seed level is dropping steadily in the feeder. This morning our little red squirrel nibbled away at the dropped seeds, and when he left he was replaced by our chipmunk. Last night sitting out at the campfire, I held my hand out to encourage the ‘munk to come closer. He came right up to me, when he learned I had nothing for him, he nibbled on my finger, not breaking the skin. I offered him a peanut which he took gently. Then we no more were proffered, he hopped up on the table and began to help himself. Shooed off, he hung around for a while testing us for a weakness, then left.
We have a big white pine tree about twenty feet behind the Airstream. Halfway up, in the biggest branches the crows have built a nest, now from the noise and and occasional glimpse we have crow-lets. Noisy, but not yet making crow-like sounds. They are very territorial becoming aggressive when the little red squirrel climbs too high in their tree. While the bird book says differently, these northern American Crows seem twice the size of our Sarasota Fish Crows.
The only disadvantage of our site is that we are on the west side of Squantum Point. I’m up early and the sun comes late, hiding behind the cliffs and big White Pines. Most of the windows in our Airstream are on the east facing driver side; two skylights, three celestory windows over the main windows that run from the dinette and then across the room behind the couch. When I’m up reading, writing or downloading photos before six the warming sun would be very welcome. We do get a great dose of afternoon and evening sun, but on the west facing passenger side which has few windows.
As we were pedaling very slowly up Day Mountain this afternoon I thought about my grandfather, Hugo Wester who was also an enthusiastic cyclist. I have a photo of him posing with his bike taken in 1905. In its day it was a high tech bike; shaft drive with two gear ratios, a front fork suspension, toe clips, an odometer, and a pannier that fit into the front triangle.
I was thinking of how I would explain the differences in our bikes to him if we could have that conversation.
He was a tool and die maker so he would have understood immediately the benefits of our 20 speed chain drive bike that we can shift without stopping and getting off the bike. While we don’t have suspension, there’s nothing about a Rock Shox front fork that would be strange to him. Toe clips and step-in pedals are just an evolutionary solution to the very old problem of keeping your feet on the pedals. Our Lycra shorts and shirts might be a problem though! He wore high button shoes, as a child his button hooks we in the bottom of my toy drawer a his house! Velcro is the modern shoe button.
I thought that maybe explaining materials such as carbon fiber which had not been invented yet might be difficult. Perhaps just a new tougher version of the celluloid his collar was made of? I ultimately decided that at least as far as bicycles are concerned the changes have been evolutionary, a cyclist from 100 years ago would be delighted and impressed by the progress that’s been made, but there’s no magic.
The road up Day Mountain is one of JD Rockefeller’s carriage roads, unpaved, modestly gentle grades for his horses, with spectacular views along the way. My thoughts about my grandfather kept me from thinking about how tough the 600’ climb was. Day Mountain is an insignificant hill in Maine, but twice as tall as the tallest in Florida.