Monday, October 7, 2013

Time and Acadia

The last time Bill and I went to Acadia National Park in Maine was 30 years ago.  We were definitely overdue for a return visit.

(Bass Harbor Light)

Way back in 1983 we had wondered what it would be like to bike the park's reknowned carriage paths. Now, when we bike whenever possible at home instead of using the car, the idea had even greater appeal. In addition, we both have bikes with hybrid tires, perfect for the paths' surface.

Acadia has 45 miles of carriage roads designed, constructed, and paid for by John D. Rockefeller Jr. in the early 20th century.  Rockefeller knew that the "horseless carriage" was here to stay and set these roads aside for quiet travel with horses, bicycles, or on foot.  Even today, there is a horse stable in the park. 

(Jordan Pond and the Bubbles)

Although aware of the three decades since our last trip, we did not give the differences between our 26 year-old selves in 1983 and our current selves much thought until we arrived on Mount Desert Island, walked through Bar Harbor, and drove through Acadia National Park.  Then, our time lapse hit us at every turn. Our first day was full of reminiscence.

(Thomas just after eating his first French fry)

In 1983, we had been married for four years and had an 8-month old.  We were just on the cusp of our version of the American Dream that would include a son, a daughter, and a house of our own.  Now, we've lived in the same house for 30 years, our children are grown up, live away, and are competent professionals.  A mind boggling passage of time!

(Bill checks the Carriage Path map with Thomas in the Snugli, 1983)

As I walked toward the harbor park in the village of Bar Harbor, Bill said, "I know where you're going.  You want to see where Thomas ate his first French fry."  I nodded sheepishly.  Bill added, "he really liked it, too."

On that long-ago afternoon in the park, not only did we expand Thomas's food preferences, but I also knelt in the grass, playing with Thomas who giggled and squealed.  A photographer came over and asked if he could take pictures of us for the local newspaper, a few shots of tourists enjoying a nice day. 

(Virginia on top of Cadillac Mountain at Acadia as Thomas checks out her ears with his razor-sharp fingernails!)

Now as we discussed biking the carriage paths, we remembered our walk on a path with Thomas as a baby. A sudden storm had come up and we hurried back to the car, Thomas crying the whole way.  Inside the car, I changed him into dry clothes and he promptly fell asleep, as the rain stopped and a rainbow appeared.

We didn't say to each other, "where did the time go?"  We knew where it went.  It had passed into the intensity of life that raising and supporting a family brings. Looking back brought us an odd sensation of life as blocks of time set apart in stages.  The stages pass almost imperceptibly but suddenly they stand there, framed and finite. We felt fortunate to have shared these life passages then and to be here now.

(Bar Harbor has a modern waterfront, as seen from Bar Island)

We noticed some changes in town too.  Waterfront development has reached this harbor town, and huge cruise ships dock in the bay.  Water taxis carry passengers of every nationality from the ships to the shops and restaurants.  Although the cottages that we had stayed in in 1983 still exist, they are high-end and expensive now.

Nevertheless, the essence and charm of Bar Harbor remains behind the glitter of the new luxurious hotels. It didn't take us long to begin frequenting a little cafe on a side street. 

For this trip, we found a comfortable motel just two miles from the park entrance and 4 miles from town.  With an efficiency kitchen, we ate our breakfasts in and packed a "trail lunch" each day. In the evenings, we plotted the following day's bike route.

(Some things haven't changed at all--Bill checks the Carriage Path map, 2013)

We set out on our first bike ride, knowing that showers were in the forecast along with cold temperatures hovering around 45 degrees. We hoped the rain would hold off, but shortly into our ride, it started to sprinkle and then began to rain in earnest.  This time, no one cried.  We cycled back to the car, loaded the bikes, and headed a few miles farther into the park to take refuge at the Jordan Pond House.

(Rockefeller also paid for the construction of 17 stone bridges along the carriage roads)

Warmth and the aroma of baking hit us as we stepped into the Jordan Pond House.  A few people stood in front of the wood-burning fireplace, trying to steam dry their wet jackets.  

Known for popovers and tea, the Jordan Pond House has huge windows.  A late-summer garden flourished on the other side of the glass and two hummingbirds went from flower to flower despite the downpour. We were seated at a table near the window, where we could enjoy the view across the pond, and to the mountains, in the restaurant's warmth.

We lingered over our snack, the rain let up, and we ventured back outside.

This time we chose a different set of paths, near Jordan Pond.  To our surprise, these offered far greater challenges.  Cranking up hills in our lowest gears, and surely burning up those popovers, we climbed to open views of the ocean, while steep descents made us pull hard on our brakes as we entered the dense woods along Jordan Brook.

It didn't take us long to realize that we weren't going to ride all of the paths in the few days that we would be here.  Besides, we also wanted to explore the rest of Mount Desert Island with its quaint coves and harbors. I decided that we should make a priority of those paths that went by lakes, ponds, or marshes.

The many fresh-water bodies on this island in the Atlantic Ocean, and glacial rock-faced mountains that reach right to the sea, make this area a unique part of the New England coast.  Views from the carriage paths alongside the water would accentuate many natural features.

Unlike the paths near Jordan Pond, these had long gradual inclines for a mile or more, and then long gradual descents.  With the road surface in excellent condition, we could enjoy looking at the scenery, rather than watching for pot holes or ditches that might throw a bike.  I also stopped frequently to take pictures, and now-and-then we spent time sitting on a rock in front of a pond under some early-fall colored leaves.

Occasionally, we saw a few people walking or a family biking.  Once we saw two people on horseback, but often we were alone on the paths.

(Virginia is glad she has 21 speeds for the steeper hills)

As we checked off some of our "must do" bike rides, we decided to add short hikes to our days. Hiking opportunities abound at Acadia.  Trails of every length and level of difficulty criss-cross the island. My friend, Rachel, who had worked in this National Park in the '90s, had recommended hiking the South Bubble and The Beehive.

The trail to the South Bubble, one of two small mountains at the end of Jordan Pond, was only a half-mile long.  In the Adirondacks, a half-mile would barely get you out of the starting gate, but here, we reached a bare summit with fabulous views in no time.  This little mountain is known for Bubble Rock, a glacial boulder that has hung precariously on the edge of the summit for tens of thousands of years.

(Jordan Pond from the South Bubble)

The next time we hiked, we chose The Beehive.  Although The Beehive is famous for its cliff with rungs bolted into it so that people can climb straight up, we took the longer trail, although still very short at only a mile, that reached the summit from the other side. The Beehive offers an amazing 360-degree view.

We realized that these mountains, at only about 800 feet, feel very high because their base is almost at sea level.  The highest point in Acadia National Park is Cadillac Mountain, 1500 feet above sea level and the highest point along the North Atlantic seaboard.

(View of Sand Beach and the ocean from The Beehive)

On our last full day, we biked the carriage path where we had been rained out the first day.  The sun lit up the brilliant fall foliage as our biking experience came full circle.

Once in a while, we still reminisced about our 1983 trip, but we had become much more consumed by our current daily options, as we absorbed the beauty of Acadia's placid lakes and rugged coast. Our wonder at and attempts to understand the circles of life had passed.  We had hiked and biked, driven the island in the car, checked out a few shops, and we had eaten lobster rolls, chowder, fried clams, blueberry soda, blueberry beer, blueberry tea, wild blueberry pie, wild blueberry fruit salad, and the list goes on.

Maybe we'll get back here before another 30 years goes by, or maybe not. Right now, this 2013 return felt just right.

(Virginia and Bill at Acadia National Park, 2013)