Maine: Lobster, Lighthouses and Government Letdown

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Flag of United States  , Maine
Monday, October 7, 2013

A trip to the Maine coast would not be complete without seeing a lighthouse. To insure we could properly answer the question, "Have you seen a Maine lighthouse yet?", we saw our first lighthouse 10 miles after crossing the New Hampshire/Maine border; the Cape Neddick lighthouse. Not to be upstaged, the next stop on our Southern Maine Coastal journey took us past the Bush Compound at Walker's Point in Kennebunkport. Feeling sheepish, we figured we would just drive past to say we had been there. But we were surprised to find that we were not the only ones to have this idea. A view of their house had become such a tourist destination that a parking lot was built across the cove from their Peninsular Estate. We may or may not have gotten a picture of Barbara getting out of her car, but feeling its to early to begin my career as a tabloid photographer, those pictures will remain offline.

Because of the government shutdown, we now had no real destination in mind, so we took our time heading up the coast and made pitstops to see the Portland Head Lighthouse, St. Anthony's Franciscan Monastery, Lenny the 1,700 lb chocolate moose, and the L.L. Bean headquarters. Completed in 1791, the Portland Head Lighthouse is the oldest standing lighthouse in the state of Maine. It has become as a huge tourist destination and we were blown away by how many people were there. I overheard one of the shop owners saying that they were expecting five tour buses of people from two different cruises later in the day. It also heard a rumor that it is the most photographed lighthouse in the nation (but I have a feeling this may offend any our West Coast/Oregonian friends, so disregard this comment if you fall into this category). 

Wanting to give Lenny some credit, here are some facts about how he came to exist (by habit here is my source: these stats have been taken from the Len Libby website found at www.lenlibby.com) :

-Lenny is made of 1,700 pounds of the finest milk chocolate
-Lenny was sculpted on-site in approximately four weeks
-Lenny’s pond is white chocolate tinted with food coloring
-Lenny was unveiled on July 1, 1997 and continues to delight visitors today!

All that I have to say about the L.L. Bean Flagship store is "WOW!". Having just visited the Orvis Flagship store and having visited the Flagship REI many times in Seattle, I hadn't properly set my expectations. While the REI in Seattle is massive, the L.L. Bean headquarters is gargantuan. Apparently there used to be only one building, but over the past few decades they have grown to 5 buildings on site and an outlet across the street. The most impressive thing about L.L. Bean is that it sit in the middle of the otherwise unassuming town of Freeport, Maine. Without the draw of L.L. Bean, Freeport would have just blended in as another charming town on the way up the Maine Coast.

Reflecting upon our trip up the Maine coast I find myself trying to rush my writing as to more quickly arrive to our Northernmost destination of Acadia National Park. Ironically this was the same mentality we caught ourselves having on our supposed "relaxing, no-plans, slowly spontaneous" segment of our journey since learning of the government shut-down of the national parks. Having once again found a campground through my new favorite App "Allstays Camp & RV", we set up camp and started a campfire. As I stated in a previous blog entry, a campfire had become a luxury and we intended to treat it as such. Wendy and I collaboratively came up with the idea of making quinoa, rice, black bean, feta cheese, and tomato stuffed bell peppers to be cooked with campfire coals. This was our intentional attempt at slowing ourselves down and enjoying the moment.
Waking up the next morning we still had a bit of lingering intentionality to Carpe the Diem. On the way to brush my teeth our neighbor campers invited us to come say hello before we departed. Normally we would have brushed this offer off as an inconvenient roadblock slowing our progress onward towards our destination of the day. But thanks to those stuffed peppers and change in our state of mind, we took them up on our offer. Leading the way into their campsite and taking in my surrounding I mentally inventoried: a school bus that had been painted blue, a picnic table full of jars of soaking flower buds, and a wandering cat. Through quick deductive reasoning, I came to many simultaneous conclusions and preconceptions, all of which turned out to be false.
 
For the next 4 hours we had the great pleasure of conversing with and learning the story of Leslie, Ian, Bettie the Bus and Kobra the Kitty. For the past year and a half Leslie and Ian have been traveling around the United States educating people about alternative energy and sustainable living. As they put it on their Facebook page their mission finds them in the point "Where Advocacy meets Action!". Wanting to practice what they preached, Leslie and Ian decided to set out on an adventure. They found an old school bus, painted it blue and modified it to run off of waste vegetable oil and hit the road. Both of them had found success while working on cutting edge technology in the field of alternative fuels and decided to take this knowledge and put it to use on their trip. Bettie the Bus has traveled around to many different schools, communities, and gathering teaching about sustainable living. We were able to share the story of our travels and bounce ideas and funny stories back and forth. 

After learning about the blue bus, I was still curious about the jars of flower buds and the wandering cat. We learned that Ian was an herbalist and the jars of flower buds were incredible homemade teas that we sampled. To make this great morning even better, Ian was in the midst of cooking up a batch of Gluten Free pancakes when we arrived that he served us with local honey. And just to settle my final observation we learned that Kobra the Kat had been adopted on their travels and had become their fearless guard-cat. We were sad to leave, but took with us a renewed sense of encouragement that we were not alone on our wanderings.

With not much time left in the day we decided to make it a short day and set up camp early. Luck seemed to be on our side. For the first time on our trip we had camp set up, dinner cooked, eaten, and cleaned up before nightfall. On a normal day we would have viewed this as a waste of the day, but as soon as we had cleaned our last dish, the rain started to fall. As night fell the rain fell harder and harder and we decided it was the perfect night to break out of our routine, drag our backup battery into the tent and watch a movie on my laptop. I can't remember ever enjoying watching a movie as much as enjoyed this one.
 
The next morning brought a slight break in the rain and the prospect of finally reaching Acadia National Park. With rain in the forecast for the evening, we were relieved to arrive to our campsite before the storms set in for the night. Being on the Maine coast we had decided that we were going to splurge one night and go out for a Lobster Dinner. Still wet and cold from the night before and seeing rain in the forecast for the evening, we decided tonight was the night. We drove in to Bar Harbor and feasted on our first ever whole Lobsters on the waters edge of the Maine Coast. Being a crab fanatic, I was quite overwhelmed by the intricacy of eating a whole Lobster. For those of you who have not tried it, I would highly suggest it!

 
With bellies full of Lobster we hardly heard the torrential rain and gusting winds throughout the night and awoke to clear skies. We decided it was finally time to go check out what this government shutdown was all about and how much of the park was closed. We had heard rumors that people were getting past the closed gates into the park. As we drove past the first entrance to the park we started laughing out loud. To our great delight and relief there were 50+ cars lining the road on either side of the "closed" entrance. Apparently the rumors were true and people were not letting the small fact that the park was closed stop them from enjoying their vacations. We thought the closure was going to ruin our trip, but ended up only adding to the experience. Being a smaller National Park, most people spend most of their time driving around the perimeter of Acadia. Instead of fighting traffic and spending the day worried about finding a parking spot people were forced out of their cars and given a topic of mutual distaste to bond and converse about. On a hike to the peak of Acadia Mountain, we joined forces with a guy from New Jersey. We spent the hike laughing about the fact that thousands of people were simultaneously breaking a Federal Mandate by entering the closed park. We learned that there were only 5 park rangers tasked with managing all of the people who had decided to enter Acadia.

Feeling empowered and energized we decided to wake up the next morning and catch the sunrise. Being from the West I had grown up visiting my grandparents in Southern California and enjoying the beautiful sunsets over the Pacific Ocean. Now being on the East Coast the sun set over land and only showed in its true brilliance over the Atlantic in the early AM. We also learned that early in the morning in Bar Harbor a pathway was accessible at low tide to an island just off the coast.

To cap off the midpoint and furtherest North/East part of our trip, we decided to splurge again and do round 2 of Maine Lobster. When we where checking in to our campground at the beginning of the week we saw a brochure for a hot and ready Lobster dinner for 2.  The meal came with two whole Maine Lobsters, 8 crab claws, and two pieces of corn for $30. While these were all well and good, it wasn't quite worth it in our minds. That was until we read the bottom of the brochure. As a guest of the Hadley's Point Campground, we were given the option of free delivery directly to our campsite. Having graduated from college I have had my fair share of delivered meals.  But I can't say that I have ever had dinner delivered to the picnic table at my campsite, let along a hot Lobster and Crab dinner! We capped the night off with some Jiffy Pop popcorn over our second campfire of the week and marked it down as a successful, if not unorthodox, visit to the coast of Maine.
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