Vacation to Acadia National Park

In case you hadn't already noticed, there was no blog activity last week, and the events list might have been a little more erroneous than usual. The reason was that Ali and I left on July 18 and headed to my parents' house in Schenectady, my friends Jan and Shannon in New Hampshire, Acadia National Park (State Highway 3 and Paradise Hill Rd., Bar Harbor, ME) for 3 days, Ali's friend in Boston, a brief stop at my parents' again, and back home on the 25th.

Naturally, when we got to Schenectady, we got a late lunch/early dinner at Jumpin' Jack's Drive-In (5 Schonowee Ave., Scotia) for their highly prized fast food. Afterward, we took a drive out to Frosty Acres (150 Skyline Dr., Schenectady) which is a local campground that I've seen signs for since I was a kid. By the time we left, we dubbed it "Shady Acres" — not only was the site that was recommended for us to check out a mud pile (and $25 per night), the clientèle was a mix of people residing there and/or passing through with no other living options. In essence: a bit of a rough crowd. Topping it off was the strict, literal enforcement of the 51⁄2 mile-per-hour speed limit. We ended up staying on the land in back of my parents' house, giving us a chance to fully test the tent and its set-up and take-down.

On Sunday we left for New Hampshire; this time taking the Turnpike through Massachusetts and forgoing the scenic, slower, and shorter trip through Vermont and New Hampshire. We hung out with Jan and Shannon, and my friends John and Michelle visited from Boston as well. We stayed through Tuesday before heading out to Maine.

Despite the rain, we decided to continue with the plan of following scenic Route 1. We got off Route 95 (which I guess now is 295 as 95 is now the toll road once known as 495 … thanks, Maine) at Freeport. We stopped at Classic Custard (150 Lower Main St., Freeport, ME) and had a hearty snack before continuing into town to visit L. L. Bean (10 Depot St., Freeport, ME) … I mean, how can you not, especially on a camping trip? I can only assume that L. L. Bean was there first and the shopping nightmare of "outlet" stores cropped up sometime later, but at least their store was competent … in my opinion, not worth a trip out of your way, but if you're a fan, it's worth it to at least stop.

Anyway, travel was excruciatingly slow and Route 1 is not nearly as scenic as it implies. That said, it's far more interesting a drive than Rt. 95, but the time cost is pretty high. We arrived at Acadia National Park (State Highway 3 and Paradise Hill Rd., Bar Harbor, ME) around 8 p.m. in steady rain. We decided to sleep in the Roadmaster after putting the coolers outside. Ali also wanted to get some dinner more substantial than the snacks we had; she settled for cheese and wine. We also got a chance to check out a Ranger lecture on the geology of the area at the park's outdoor amphitheater, giving us a taste of just how engaging the park really is. The rain kept the crowd light and most of us joined the Ranger on the covered stage. The rain got heavier as we left and we were confined to the car for the night.

Wednesday proved to be much better. We got the tent set up and had breakfast at camp. We took the "free" [paid for by our $20 car fee and L. L. Bean; once again] shuttle from the campground to nearby Bar Harbor. We signed up to go to Baker Island on Friday through The Bar Harbor Whale Watch Co. (1 West St., Bar Harbor, ME) — apparently a family of 12 lived on the remote island some considerable distance from shore during the 1800's. We stopped by Alone Moose (78 West St., Bar Harbor, ME) and chatted with the owner Sherry, stopping at the gallery upstairs, The Gallery Upstairs (78 West St., Bar Harbor, ME) to check out works by J. Stan Mason that greatly appealed to me.

Sherry recommended The West Street Cafe (76 West St., Bar Harbor, ME) which was excellent — and refreshingly inexpensive. I had the Cafe Special which was lobster and shrimp tossed with mushrooms over linguine; Ali had the lobster special which included a 1 pound lobster, clam chowder, and a slice of blueberry pie which we shared á la mode. Everything was excellent, and with 2 local beers, we barely cracked $50.

We headed back to our campsite then walked to Sand Beach — pretty much the only substantial traditional beach in Acadia, and a place where you can go swimming. The water temperature is claimed to be around 50°F, and I believe most adults (like Ali and I) experience pain from cold by letting the water wash over our feet. However, I couldn't resist playing in the ocean as it's so rare that we get there, so I used the technique the Ranger from last night suggested: run at full speed into the water. It turned out to be not as bad as first expected, and I stayed in for the better part of an hour; my body apparently adjusted much better to total immersion.

We used the park shuttle once more to get back to camp. I couldn't get much of a fire started, but neither could anybody as everything was so damp. We ended up eating what we could cook on the camp stove instead. I stayed up for a while trying, but I never could get the wood to stop boiling off water enough to ignite.

Thursday was also a nice day. We hiked up Beehive: one of the small mountains in the area, although much of the climb is quite steep. So much so, in fact, that iron rungs were installed to assist along the trail when it went vertical. The climb isn't all that high — only 500 feet or so — but it does yield a dramatic view of the coastline. There's also an easier trail that leads through the woods past Bowl Lake which was startlingly serene.

The park shuttles transfer at Bar Harbor's town square, so we spent some time once again there. We had another good meal at The Thirsty Whale Tavern (40 Cottage St., Bar Harbor, ME): I with a fish fry club sandwich (fried haddock, bacon, lettuce, tomato), and Ali with a lobster roll (big pieces of lobster held together with a bit of mayonnaise). We shopped for souvenirs and provisions: particularly, fire-starting sticks such that I might be able to get a fire going that would be capable of cooking something.

We decided to get ice cream and Ali joked that was going to get lobster ice cream so I said if they had it, she'd have to get it. As it turned out, Ben and Bills Chocolate Emporium (66 Main St., Bar Harbor, ME) had lobster ice cream and it wasn't all bad, although I let her off the hook and just forced her to taste it. We also stopped by The Bar Harbor Brewing Company (8 Mount Desert St., Bar Harbor, ME) which we'd had at the West Street Cafe and picked up a sampling of brews.

We got back later than we wanted, but still with plenty of daylight. I set to getting the fire started which went much better with the fire-starting sticks, but the wood was still too wet to yield good coals to cook over. We used it anyway, and had steak tips and corn for dinner along with some beer. We decided also to take down the tent as it was supposed to rain that night into Friday. And it did: starting around 2 a.m., waking us with its drumming on the roof of the car.

Friday was the day of the cruise to Baker Island, and we had set alarms to get up on time. No shuttles run that early, so we drove to Bar Harbor around 7 a.m., leaving the waterproof items behind for the time-being. We had a mediocre breakfast at Jordan's Restaurant (80 Cottage St., Bar Harbor, ME), forgetting that in most areas, diners are a "theme" restaurant and as such, expensive. Ali couldn't get over the fact that an unassuming vegetable-and-cheese omelette ran $11 … I almost had to take away her placemat menu! Further, the ship to the island was cancelled due to dangerously rough seas.

Instead, we decided to drive around the park loop. We drove up Cadillac Mountain — the highest peak on the Atlantic Coast north of Brazil — although it was essentially a steep grade in a blanket of fog and rain yielding a view of the sides, tops, and bottoms of clouds. We got back to camp and the rain had subsided as much as it was that day so we packed up and headed out.

We had our eyes out for those famous Maine blueberries. We stopped at a farm stand but the berries in the area were still too tart. Nonetheless, the guy also baked pies and had a blueberry one in the oven right then. Ali wanted it but I didn't want to wait for it to cool. After much disagreement, we finally decided to get it: as it turned out, it would cool fine in the car even if it wasn't perfectly level (it wasn't going to slop out as I thought). We made our way through Maine on I-95 (the new one, including the toll part) and hit Boston right at 5 p.m. The remaining 10 miles to Ali's friend's place took another hour and a half, but we ended up having a really nice time.

Saturday we got up and hit the road, stopping one last time to visit the ocean. We got to Schenectady by 4 p.m. and arrived at Ali's parent's at 8 p.m. to pick up our dog, Lucy. By 10 p.m. or so, we were all done and ready to take some time off to recuperate.

I was kind of expecting Acadia National Park to be like Stony Brook State Park (10820 State Route 36, Dansville), but alas, it's more like Yellowstone National Park (Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho) — only smaller in size. It would probably take a month to hike all the trails, attend all the Ranger discussions, and otherwise sample the whole place; much longer to savor it; and much longer than that to know it. I greatly enjoyed the "fractal effect" — that you could look at a grand-scaled wonder, then at the lay of the land and its geological history, then at the vegetation and stones nearby, then at the individual plants and the details in the individual pieces of stone, then at the lichens and mosses and their diversity — each time, there is something interesting to catch your eye.

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Bad News, Good News For Fans of Paola's

Ali and I stopped by Paola's Burrito Place (1921 South Ave., formerly Big Dog's Hots) for dinner. There's only two weeks left before they close to move back home for personal reasons. The good news, though, is that the owners plan to return to Rochester and open a new restaurant by next year. The new place will have a slightly different theme and — hopefully — more hired staff so they don't have to spend every waking hour doing all the work.

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Ali, Lucy, and I Visit Chimney Bluffs

Ali and I took the 50-mile drive to Chimney Bluffs State Park (7700 Garner Rd., Wolcott) for the afternoon with our dog, Lucy. The park is really nice and interesting: a moderately challenging [and, at this time, incredibly muddy], 1-mile trail that climbs to the top of alien-looking "earthen spires". It's a peculiar treasure around here: I have yet to mention it to someone who already knew about it.

On the way back, we stopped for dinner at Orbaker's Drive-In (4793 State Route 104, Williamson) which is this great burger joint that's been there forever. Ali knew of it — being an aficionado of sauce-laden burgers — and rates it very highly. While not quite worth a trip from anywhere, it's not that far if you're already out 104 on the east side.

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Getting to See Deleted Scenes, Autumn In Halifax, Oliver/Reeg, and Colonel Parmisan

I headed out to [LOCATION REDACTED] to see a show with some bands. Up first was Colonel ParmisanMySpace link who did some slick looping noise and feedback. Oliver/Reeg was next in a more electronic form (which I guess is called "AC-DC") and they played a sort-of experimental-alternative rock instrumental kind of thing. Next was Autumn In HalifaxMySpace link who are still a strong favorite of mine … the poetic lyrics over equally-interesting electrically-modified acoustic is just the ticket. Finally was out-of-towners Deleted ScenesMySpace link who also put on a good show with their experimental-alternative rock.

Unfortunately, I can't really talk about where I was because it's a secret. See there's that fairly new law that the City has been using to shut down non-commercial music events — as opposed to out-of-control house parties as it was "intended". As such, the shows are quietly announced through word-of-mouth, and only friends get told where to go.

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Dude, Where's My America?

So now it's July 1, 2009 — just short of 233 years since the United States of America declared its independence from England. And, you know, I don't believe in it anymore.

I was raised with the notion that America was a place where the smart and the hard-working were rewarded. Taught that we control our government, not the other way around. [In Soviet Russia, government controls you!] That anyone can step forward and change the country for the better.

But what I've found is that none of that is true.

There was a confluence of several things that got me here.

The "Cash for Clunkers" law is the poster child for everything that's wrong with the legislature today. The goal set before them was to set America on a path to reduce pollution and consume less oil. What they did was to create a law that caused more consumption: building a new car consumes more energy and creates more pollution than keeping an old one on the road. And all because the actual problem won't fit in a sound-byte. Plus, the law reinforces the new American model of mass consumerism.

Then there was a discussion I had about class reunions. It's rare that you get a truly random sample of America, but people who came from the place you did is a pretty good random sample. I mean, just because our parents chose to live in the same place doesn't mean we're anything alike. Anyway, when I think about my reunion, I realize that — unlike my self-selected group of friends — that in fact, only about 5% of people even remotely believe in the same ideals as I do. Most are thrilled that America is at war all the time and that we do things bigger than other countries.

Finally, there's the curious case that American's, by-and-large, don't hold mass protests, and certainly don't get violent (police excluded). When you watch other countries people deal with things they disagree with in the government, it's friggin' serious. But here, it's just a bunch of jobless hippies who protest. The reason is that we have a superior government where you can simply write to your representatives and they get the same message. If you don't like what they do, just vote them out. The truth of the matter is that our representatives do whatever they please, and it's good marketing (with lots of money) that gets them reelected.

So the illusion is over. America is what it is. Have a good birthday, old man.

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