Maine: Closed for the Season?

a closed sign on a road

On the Maine Road

In April this year, I took a trip to the USA. I took two completely different routes: the Fast Lane and the Maine Road.  Three weeks in New York, a city that’s always open and humming, book-ended a five day road trip to Maine, which I discovered, was mostly “closed-for-the-season”.

My plan for Maine was to take in few hikes in Acadia National Park,  do some serious lighthouse spotting and sample authentic lobster rolls in their natural setting. I knew it would be a bit chilly but that didn’t matter after all, spring had sprung!

It should have twigged as I was tried to book accommodation. Most of the AirBnB listings said they were unavailable for the dates I was trying to book. I naively thought they must be just be very busy. I kept scrolling until I found someone taking bookings.  I ignored the small print; “We re-open on April 14th”  I would be there from April 7 – April 11th. A few days shouldn’t make that much difference? Should it?

some peeblesin the foreground and a small lighthouse in the background
Kittery Point – Whaleback Light

Being from the mild subtropics, I didn’t understand how comprehensively closed everything in Maine would be. The larger cities of Portsmouth and Portland were business as usual, but the small beach-side towns in between, were in fact, “closed” except for the local grocers and a few cafes. In the end, this only added to the appeal of an impossibly “Pinterest” worthy coastline which I enjoyed without crowds. My loves for quiet hiking, quaint architecture and lighthouses were well served.  The iconic lobster roll, on the other hand, was well and truly off the menu as a summer only delicacy.

Day 1: New York, New York to Kittery, Maine. (454 km)

Picking up the rental car from Laguardia Airport on a Saturday morning was a good idea. I missed the weekday traffic heading out of the city and I got a better deal compared to getting it in Manhattan. I caught the M60 bus  bus from Harlem and then the free shuttle bus from the airport concourse to the rental car office.

Once on the road, it was a compromise between the scenic coastal route and getting to Kittery before dark.  I headed east through Connecticut and Rhode Island, turned North on the I395 at New London up to Worcester, Massachusetts, then through New Hampshire and finally Kittery, Maine.

Six states in less than a day! Trying doing that in Australia!

My first attempt to photograph a lighthouse was foiled by a gated estate! I could see the Old Saybrook Breakwater Lighthouse on the headland, but couldn’t figure out how to get to it as it was surrounded by private homes and a large golf course with big warning signs!

Old Saybrook
Old Saybrook

The tiny town of Kittery, on the New Hampshire-Maine border is the oldest town in Maine. Already around 5 pm by the time I arrived, I just managed to snag photos of the sun setting behind a bridge that looked just like the Sydney Harbour Bridge (the Piscataqua River Bridge).  My accommodation for the night, a  stylish AirBnB was right on the banks of the Piscataqua River.  I chose to stay on the Kittery side because it was considerably cheaper than the Portsmouth side. An easy stroll across the Memorial Bridge took me into the commercial heart of Portsmouth within a few minutes so no harm done by saving money. I wandered around the quiet streets, looking for food and settled on Fat Belly’s Bar and Grill because it looked friendly and cosy. Turns out they make a mean veggie burger and serve nice cold wheat beer!

Day 2: Kittery to Mt Desert (360 km)

The next morning I headed out for the Whaleback Lighthouse on Kittery Point and  discovered it must be the chicken’s day off!

4 turkeys crossing a road
Chickens Day off?
Slow sign
Good advice – Kittery

My first attempt at a lobster roll was at Lobster Cove, York.

“No, honey” the waitress said, “NOT at this time of year!” Eyes rolling as if I should have known better. No lobster in Lobster Cove?

Empty car parks with massive capacity and tourist shops with boarded windows made it obvious that this town was used to big crowds. I was one of the few who braved the weak spring sunshine and the stiff wind that held squawking gulls in one spot, despite their flapping wings.

Meh…I am not much into shopping and the scenery was still open, so I was happy!

The Nubble Lighthouse at Cape Neddick was resplendent and Ogunquit quaint beyond belief with adirondack chairs chained to scenic spots. The main inconvenience? Closed shops = closed public toilets!

2 blue adirondack chairs near the ocean
Nice view!
a small white cottage and lighthouse
Nubble Light -Cape Neddick

As I headed further north the piles of deep snow became more frequent and I kept my jacket-gloves-scarf-hat combo at the ready.

Old Orchard Beach reminded me of an aging, overblown gigolo with its fairground, ferris wheel and tall-legged wooden pier. The temperature reminded me of Antarctica!

Once again – no lobster roll.

“No Ma’am” pffffft… “only in the summer!”

I made good with half a sandwich and soup. I’d been in America long enough to know a ½ sandwich would be enough!

I picked up groceries for my two night stay on Mt Desert Island and settled in for a frosty night in a old colonial cabin right on the edge of the Acadia National Park.

Day 3: Acadia National Park and Bar Harbor.

Another early start had  me crunching along the snow covered carriageway, past logs dripping in icicles and the rustling of turkeys hidden somewhere in the scrub. Acadia National Park had been described to me as one of the most beautiful parks in America but it was here that my (wilful) ignorance of the seasonal closures proved to be  the most inconvenient.

The Park has a loop road, the majority of  which was closed. I was restricted to a few limited sections. This did not deter me from a long walk around Eagle Lake after jumping a low fence. I had a lingering guilt  that I had not paid the entrance fee suspecting I should have, to someone,  somewhere, even though the booths were closed. I half expected to find my wheels clamped when I got back to the car.

It was sunny and  -6ºC. I was well dressed with thermals, fleecy hiking pants, a merino wool jumper, goose down jacket, woolly socks, two pairs of gloves, scarf, balaclava and beanie.

A woman in thick winter clothing sitting on a fence surrounded by snow
Rugged up in Acadia National Park

This Aussie knew there was no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes! I picked my way through the snow like the Michelin Man,  feeling a tad overdressed when some locals walked past in three less layers than me. After three hours walking around Eagle Lake, I headed into the town of Bar Harbor for lunch. This time I was determined to find the now elusive lobster roll. Haven’t they heard of a freezer up here? Five cafes and another hour later, I settled for – you guessed it – soup and ½ a sandwich.

Day Four: Bar Harbor to Portland. (260 km)

Today was the day for “THE lighthouse”. The Bass Point Light which perches on craggy, often snow covered rocks with frozen waterfalls bedecking the plinth on which it sits. On attempt No 1 I found the carpark alright, but couldn’t find a path down to the rocks below. I figured that you could only reach it by boat. The boat tours, were of course, “closed for the season”. Never mind, I thought,  next time I’m in Maine! I headed off to a nearby town for a warming coffee at Sips Cafe. I told the cafe owner about my predicament and she kindly explained where the path was:

“From the car park, look to your left.  Find the dirt path hidden behind the toilets and follow it down as far as you can go.”

At attempt No 2, THE lighthouse mission was accomplished. Tick!  Another photography subject off the bucket list!

a small light house high up on a rocky ledge
Bass Point Lighthouse

Next, another hike took me around Wonderland followed by the Jordan Pond Shore Trail (Acadia NP) before hightailing it back to Portland for the sunset. Low clouds and a pink sky gave a perfect backdrop for the Portland Head Light at Cape Elizabeth

a white lighthouse on a stony headland with pink sky
The Portland Head Light

My night’s lodging, an AirBnB in Preble Street, was a large, rambling early 20thC  Eastlake and Stick style home, with six bedrooms, several bathrooms,  a pool room, a music room, a huge kitchen and at least three cats. The owner had texted me from Mexico, with the code to open the door and insisted I make myself at home. So I did; by having  a good (but respectful) poke around looking at all the art and artifacts which covered nearly every surface. After a busy day walking and driving I was happy to snuggle up and read a book I had found on the shelf  eating Italian take away with one of the super friendly cats on my lap.   By this time, I had abandoned the idea of lobster entirely and was extolling the virtues of AirBnB via Facebook to my friends back in Oz.

Day 5: Portland to New York.

With a late flight out, I had all day to take in Portland and started off with a self-guided architectural walking tour around the Weston Boulevard neighbourhood before heading downtown to check out the Art Gallery.

Portland, Maine is a town full of beards and while apparently not as Hipster (with a capital H) as Portland, Oregon it certainly had a small h hipster feel to it. The Sisters Gourmet Deli, a case in point. Fabulous food with modern (retro) styling.

Three more lighthouses, the Bug Lighthouse, the Spring Point Ledge Lighthouse and the Ram Island Ledge Light finished things off nicely before I headed out to the airport for my flight back to New York.

You’ll be pleased to know, I finally got a lobster roll.  A mini one; as part of High Tea at the Plaza Hotel in New York. It was OK but I’m kinda glad it was only mini sized!

Over-rated; lobster, if you ask me…

As it turns out, the “season” re-opens mid-April, so perhaps it would have been better if I had gone a week later when the Park was fully open. But then I would have missed the ice and snow and the beaches which I shared with those squawking, stationary gulls.  

A large red carved wooden model of a lobster holds an ice cream
Closest I got to eating lobster – Bar Harbor

Five out of six ain’t bad.

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From the “collectors” exhibition – Vancouver Museum
My eyes snapped open from a deep, deep dreamless sleep. After the 27-hour haul from Sydney to Vancouver via Seoul[1] and then nearly 15 km of walking through the streets of Vancouver, I think I had been as close to a coma as I could be and still be breathing.

 

 

 

Was that someone calling my name? I lay there with my eyes open, my breath held in anticipation, listening in the semi-dark, unfamiliar room…

3 seconds…nothing  ….5 seconds…nothing except the noise of the distant traffic.

I must have been dreaming. Who knows me here anyway that they would be calling out my name? Go back to sleep, you silly old chook! I rolled over, snuggled down into the doona and headed back into sleep.

Thud. Thud. Thud. Heavy thumps shook the frame of the house.  A loud clatter on the roof. Tink, tink against the window. Was that someone throwing pebbles?  Somebody giggling?

Where were my hosts and why weren’t they sorting this out? It wasn’t my place to investigate!

“Robyn – ROBYN! It’s Jeff”

This time I know I am not dreaming and peeking out from behind the blind – I see Jeff trying the hoist himself onto the slate roof.

“Oh! Thank god!” Jeff shouts as he nearly falls off the rickety ladder with laughter! “We locked ourselves out, we were trying to break the window!”

There on the back lawn of the AirBnB were Jeff and Kathy, wearing wobbly boots and beer goggles, trying to muster some decorum.  I let them in through the front door and we stood chatting. It was Jeff’s birthday and they had celebrated exuberantly.

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Everywhere you go in Canada you’ll find these little ‘peace towers’ – Inuksuk. This one in English Bay Beach, Vancouver
This was my first experience with AirBnB and while it may not have been five star, the

Charming… cozy room on the second floor of [the] renovated home … equipped with wireless, fluffy towels, robes and Aveda products…only a 15-min. walk to the best in Vancouver and close to all transportation,

was indeed cosy and the hosts, great ambassadors for the city. I was impressed. This sure was better than a cold, impersonal, [boring] hotel. I was sold!  Disruptive innovative marketing practices seemed a great way to connect with real people when you travel.

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Kathy and Jeff’s home in Strathcona. These charming century old buildings were in danger of being torn down and replaced by multistory developments but thanks to the work of local residents in the 1970’s they are now part of a vibrant community (and command high prices!)
As long as you connect.

Canada proc-311A few days later and only 153 km down the road, I had already filled one SD card with more than 1000 images of mountains and mushrooms and was pushing it to get into Pemberton before dark. The red cedar clad homestead looked just like the profile photo. The Coast Mountains rising majestically behind it; a light mist rising from the straggly grass.  I clapped my hands in excitement!

A pushbike lent up against one of the posts and a big, old Cadillac was in the drive. No lights; no noise and no smoke rising from any of the chimneys despite the cold air that was beginning to settle. I should have been on the alert.

“Hello! Rob? Anyone home?”

Asleep perhaps? Out in the paddocks? I pulled down the beanie to cover my ears and wrapped the scarf tighter around my neck and knocked on the front door again with more force.

The sound of children playing drifted from across the road as they threw a football. I hugged my arms around me and slapped my sides and knocked again.

I peeked gingerly through the windows into the darkness. What I saw shocked me to the core.

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There was no furniture. The house was empty. Completely empty; except for a few unfolded packing boxes.

The little guy on my left shoulder – the pessimist – gloated! “See I told you you should have booked a PROPER hotel!”

“Shut up!” right shoulder guy yelled back “I must be at the wrong place. I will go ask across the road.”

It was nearly dark, the football kids just about to run inside.

“Excuse me boys! Are mum or dad home?”

Mum came down the stairs.

“G’day!” in my broadest Australian “I was supposed to be staying at the AirBnB across the road? It’s empty?”

“Oh… he moved out about 2 months ago. He and his wife split up.”

Left shoulder guy was triumphant. It was now dark and I had nowhere to sleep. The dad came down and mum filled him in on my predicament.

“Hang on – I know someone who has a guesthouse, I’ll give them a call.”

His friend was booked out but they knew someone who knew someone else who had another place. So, three phone calls later, Kevin arranged for me to meet Miriam in the supermarket car park after vouching for my bona fides

“She’s a nice single lady all the way from Australia and she was supposed to be staying at Rob’s.”

I ended up with a six bedroom, three-bathroom chalet all to myself. Three times the price mind you, but I had a bed. Miriam had stoked up the fire and I toasted my toes as I sat on hold to AirBnB customer service for over an hour before giving up.

Right shoulder guy was vindicated by the random acts of kindness of strangers.

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Looking on the bright side..if Rob had of been home I would not have taken this photo. One of my favourites!

I stayed in four more AirBnB’s after that as I worked my way towards Calgary. Mick and his wife had a lovely family home in Kamloops.  I sat with them watching TV and patting their huge black cat as he snuggled on my knee. They made me dinner, shared their wine and cooked me a full breakfast.

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Can you hear that water splashing?
Rowena’s 23-foot caravan in Clearwater was an interesting option. She did my washing and I shared a family BBQ and sat up drinking and comparing travel stories with her son and his girlfriend after my full day of hiking and horse riding through the Wells Grey Provincial Park. Rowena, a Park Ranger and was keen to hear all about Wollongong and our beaches.

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I didn’t meet Sandy in Jasper, well not until just as I was leaving her very luxurious apartment. This place was a standout in terms of its appointments and style but without the welcome, I felt a bit like an interloper.

 

 

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I had dinner and a beer here with one of Krissy other guests, an Australian doctor now living in New Zealand.
Krissy in Canmore, was described by her reviews as being “a super-friendly and helpful host” and she certainly was. Her bohemian home was decorated with her own paintings and photographs.

 

One of the other guests took advantage of her offer to provide some weed but I declined. After a bit of Google stalking it turns out she is reasonably well known in the Canadian art scene.

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Near Blue River
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The aptly named Velvet Hills just outside Kamloops
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On the Icefields Parkway.
As a first time AirBnB user, I was pleased I had decided to book most of my accommodation using their website. Except for Sandra in Jasper[2], all the hosts were friendly, helpful people who looked at it as an opportunity to meet travellers as much as it was a way to make a bit of cash.

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Some advice: don’t pick a place solely on price, read the reviews carefully and with a critical eye and be prepared to mingle. Make sure you confirm your bookings close to the arrival time[3]. I don’t think it saved me much money but it did give me some interesting memories. One point though, only three out of the six places I stayed at provided breakfast – the others were just AirB’s.

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My first hike – near Squamish

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] It’s the long way around I know but it’s all in the pursuit of frequent flyer points

[2] Sandra wasn’t unfriendly she just wasn’t home.

[3] AirBnB eventually gave me a refund and removed the listing.

Looking on the Bright side…

Bright Autumn--6Last year I took a road trip to a town called Bright in Victoria. It is just over 600km from home. My goal was to join up for an Instameet at the Bright Autumn Festival. I took a very scenic route and passed through the towns of Nerriga, Berridale, Thredbo, Corryong Beechworth and Yackandandah. Oh! Australia has some fun place names!!

 

Australia’s native trees are not deciduous so we don’t get the showy colour changes you see in the Northern Hemisphere, unless there is a deliberate planting of exotic species. Bright has exactly the right climate for bringing out the spectacular foliage and its Autumn Festival is designed to take advantage of it.

Bright Autumn--19

 

The instameet was a great experience. I meet lots of terrific people and  made new friends! All the while taking photos in the spirit of collegiality.

 

 

 

Brendan, the organiser, went out of his way to take us to some really great locations.  You can find him at @brightmystic on Instagram.

You can get information about 2018’s festival here. 

 

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Beechworth Gaol.

The moose and the birch trees

A photographer on a road trip needs two things: a trigger brake foot and the courage to pull over even if the verge is tiny and there is a line of cars behind you. Forget the “Baby on Board” sign. Warning: Photographer – Frequent Stopping is what’s required.  In flashing lights!

I had been driving along Bow Valley Parkway, in Banff National Park, Alberta, for only a short time when another photo-worthy vista caught my eye.

Craggy mountains covered in a punctured shroud of mist that allowed the black and white striations typical of the Rockies to be just visible in the background and stark, nearly naked birch trees standing in tall rows in the mid-distance and then the patchy white snow interrupted by straggly grass in the foreground.

It had caught my eye because of the high key contrasts. The white trunks with black lesions where branches emerged echoing the black and white of the peaks behind.  All the trees were about the same height and girth and all had a black tide mark about 2 metres up the trunk.

I began to wonder why they would all have this blackened trunk to the same height? Was it the result of a fire? I discounted that idea – the whole trunk would be black; the lower limbs would be burnt. Hypothesis #2 – snow? Maybe this was how deep last winter’s snow fall had been. Perhaps being encased in snow sends the white bark black? This seemed like a reasonable explanation to me so, inner scientist satisfied, I began to snap away all the while imagining how this contrasting collage would look after I had “Snapseeded” it. The white snow, the black footed trees, white trunks against the black and white striped slopes in HDR and high structure – this was a winning shot for sure!

After a few minutes zooming in and out, changing my point of view and switching angles, another car pulled up next to mine. I looked without looking. Maybe they were just swapping drivers. Maybe they needed to get something from the back of the car. My photographer’s territorial hackles began to rise.

This was my frame!

Get yourself your own shot!

My personal space, already violated by the car, was further assaulted when a guy got out with a bigger camera – a longer lens –  a man with a Canon!

This guy was a shot-parasite! The type who sees someone else taking a photo and thinks “Oh I wonder what they are taking?  I will cash in on their scouting ability and steal their shot with my f2.8 ultra-fast bit of glass!”

Hummph! I thought patting my Lumix tenderly, “It’s not how big it is buster! It’s what you do with it that counts!

His travelling companion stayed in the car; a bored look on her face. My original displeasure vanished and turned to smugness. As a photographer travelling solo, I didn’t have to worry about apologising for the constant stops to take yet another picture of another snow-covered tree that looked exactly same as the last five snow-covered trees. Trying to explain “good light” to those who can’t imagine through the lens is close to impossible – they never understand.

We clicked away taking a few shots; me feeling a little uneasy. I had done the hard yards to get to this black and white frenzy of contrasts! I had already had a short hike along a trail to the Johnson Canyon Lower Falls, slipping and sliding along a treacherous board walk dizzyingly close to a deep ravine! I had already risked my life and limb on a slippy-slidey road! This girl from Oz was not used to snow and I spent an hour or so driving through slush thinking I was going to die, wondering should I have chains on my wheels and trying to remember what that driving instructor had told me to do 40 years ago if I ever got into a skid.

My inner adult triumphed. I relaxed and smiled. Mr Canon and I began to talk. He agreed the contrast was great. We enjoyed the quiet beauty of the Rocky Mountains.

I quipped “all we need now is a great big moose with huge antlers to emerge from between the trees and stand majestically before us while bellowing a warning”. He like that idea. “Did you see a moose already?”  he asked; hopefully. I contemplated saying yes. We laughed and then we waited…as if thinking it would make it happen. We stopped shooting. Would the moose come? An elk would do. Heck! A little deer would be enough! I looked one way standing on my tippy toes searching for a tell-tale rustling of grass. He scanned the short horizon intent on finding something – anything.

A small noise distracted us both.  I am sure I heard breaking glass. Perhaps it was the cold air shattering. The woman in the car had finally gotten out to hurry the man along. I had forgotten about her. The disturbance ended our waiting – that shared moment of magic vanished. I got back into my car and drove on. I stopped a kilometre down the road at another impossibly emerald lake where the snow was still lying on the ground making it look like a scrap of old carpet – threadbare and patchy. I wondered if he had stayed and waited for the moose.

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In the end, I was disappointed with the shot. I guess after the interaction with Mr Canon I expected it to be different. Bigger. Grander. It was one of those times when the camera cannot see what the eye feels. It does not see the stillness, it does not smell the crisp, pine scent. It does not hear the crunch of the snow under your boots. It does not feel the cold air filling your lungs and it does not share a brief moment with a stranger waiting for a moose to appear.