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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Breakfast at Blue Horizon and Driving the Wrong Way on 390

Ali and I had a late breakfast at The Blue Horizon Restaurant (1174 Brooks Ave.) As diners go, this is one of the best: of late my number one qualification is that my coffee stays full — and not only did it not get empty, it barely hit the halfway mark. The food is good diner-grade food and the prices are low diner-grade prices.

We left around 1 or so and on the way home I thought, "I should just take Brooks Avenue" but I got on 390 anyway. As I was getting on the ramp, I saw that traffic was at a standstill. We got in line anyway, figuring it would clear up. However, a steady stream of emergency vehicles kept coming. Some cars behind us rushed ahead to get to the second lane, but we were in no hurry and didn't mind being one of the last ones through. State Police closed 390 at Brooks behind us and were directing all traffic off the highway. A State Police officer started having cars entering at the exit turn around and drive the wrong way up 390 then turn off on the exit. We followed suit. It's the only time I've ever driven the wrong way on the highway. It was wild — it made me feel all sophisticated like I was driving on The M1 or something.

We decided to see what happened so we got back on at Mt. Hope but traffic ground to a halt around Scottsville Rd. Police were directing all traffic off the highway at that point as well, but we could see a multiple-car pileup — rubbernecking, we saw at least 6 cars involved. The hill formed by the new tunnel under the runway for the Scottsville Road access road had caused drifting snow to form a whiteout and had coated the road with snow. As it turned out, there were way more than 6 cars involved: 36 in all. As you've probably heard on the news, one young girl got killed and there were about 20 people taken to the hospitals with various degrees of injuries. The accident was apparently caused by a driver who stopped in the middle of the white-out.

People say the "cause" was the driver who stopped, but that was just the final straw. A whiteout totally sucks and there's no ideal solution. Initial wisdom says that if you can't see, stop, but it's also a highway, so you don't stop. Second best is to proceed slowly. In my opinion, that means very slowly compared to highway speeds (i.e. 20-30 miles-per-hour) but judging by the damage to cars, it appears that people scarcely took their foot off the accelerator and instead plowed into whatever was in front of them at full-bore. Then again, it was clear skies and dry roads right up to the bend, so only the properly attentive drivers even had a chance.

I also think it's interesting that nobody faults the airport. If it were a private residence and they had put up a privacy wall, they'd have hell to pay. But because the airport presumably wanted to extend a runway to accommodate larger planes, it's all good — dead girl and all. I'm not so much advocating suing the airport, but I'd like to see a fair assessment. Rather than let it slide with a passive-voiced "the conditions were dangerous," I think it's important to realize that prior to this construction project, this was not an issue. And as such, to determine if there is something that can be done to change the structure of the tunnel to prevent these kind of conditions from forming again.

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Breakfast at the new Flour City Diner

Ali and I headed out to breakfast at Flour City Diner (2500 East Ave., formerly at 35 Chestnut St.) which has moved from their Chestnut Street location to the corner of East Avenue and Penfield Road — the Renaissance Apartments building just off 490. I think it's technically now in Brighton but, like all things suburban around here, it's still named after the city it abandoned.

We've found breakfast at the old location to be hit-or-miss. Generally the food quality was good but frequently the service left a lot to be desired. The new location is more of the same, only farther away [from us, at least, which is all that really matters]. I had the Cowboy Benedict which was eggs Benedict with steak — a good combination although a bit short on Hollandaise sauce.

I asked about credit cards and was told by our server that they are now accepted (they didn't used to be) but that cash is encouraged. I debated whether to go one way or another — I don't tend to carry much cash around, relying instead on moving money through plastic. I decided that if I got my coffee cup filled 3 times I would pay with cash.

Now what ever happened to that? Coffee refills, that is. I've noticed that Mount Hope Diner (1511 Mt. Hope Ave.) is particularly good about it, but other area diners seem to think that two cups is all you need. Well no, ma'am: keep it coming. Ideally, servers should have a coffee pot holster and be at-the-ready at any given moment to "warm up" a cup.

So I did get my 3rd refill, albeit long after we were done and from a different server. I ended up paying cash, but more because our server was so dreadfully slow that I was afraid we'd be there for another half-hour. And, you know — call me old fashioned [again] — but is it really too much to ask to be addressed and to have eye-contact when being spoken to? Our server seemed to always be telling us things while walking away.

So, to be honest, it's not all that different from when they were downtown. There are more seats (but apparently the same number of glasses and ketchup containers). Definitely a better-than-average diner, but I'm not sure if it's worth the trip.

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