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If you’ve ever seen the show “The Biggest Loser,” you have a little window into what my day was like yesterday. The show features overweight contestants who want to lose the most weight and win a monetary prize at the end of the competition. By way of entertainment for the viewing audience, a team of personal trainers do evil things to the participants to help them lose weight, pushing them to their physical limits to do more exercise in a day than these people have done in several years. The trainers run them up and down steps, accelerate tread mills, bark orders at them, and we, from the comfort of our sofas, chuckle at their suffering. In the privacy of a confessional and out of ear shot of the trainers, the contestants who want to lose weight, but are not enjoying the process, call the trainers a variety of names, all of them synonymous with “shepherd of the devil.”

This is essentially very similar to how I felt yesterday. Somehow I had the mistaken notion that a bike ride along the carriage ways in Acadia would be pleasant. I conjured up images of feet resting on pedals, coasting past the scenic lakes far below. I imagined a smile on my face. In reality, there was no coasting. No feet resting on pedals. What there was was a lot of huffing and puffing, panting, sighs, rests, changing gears, drifting ever so slowly to stops and leaning over handlebars whilst awaiting breath to return to lungs, and burning thighs. John D. Rockefeller was a genius. The man deserved his wealth. How anyone could construct a path that is uphill both ways defies imagination, but he did it. He may have also been a sadist in between those philanthropic impulses.

I fear my husband may be too (a sadist). Maybe he’s trying to return to his super secret former MI-5 or MI-7, or whatever it is, ability, or maybe he’s trying to cash in on a life insurance policy in my name. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the five hour bike ride, the burn and ache in my legs and occasional swooning feeling of dizziness, chest pains, and black spots. It was very beautiful and no one needs the exercise more than I. I’m just making sure to get a t-shirt that says, “Survivor of Stuart’s Vacation Bootcamp 2008.”

We finished the day watching a sunset through the most magnificent fog (the one time fog can be good) at the top of Cadillac Mountain. All suffering was forgotten as I creaked my way from the car to the rock top and we stood admiring the view together. I am so very lucky to be married to this wonderful man.

Today, it is raining (surprise, surprise), so it looks like the itinerary will be a slow one instead of the one “Bootcamp Stuart” planned, which was hiking up a rock face to the top of Cadillac Mountain. If, to make up for it, in the middle of shopping, he turns to me and barks, “GET DOWN AND GIVE ME TWENTY PRIVATE!” I swear I won’t be a bit surprised.

Here are some pictures from the bike ride, sunset, and the last couple of days of adventures.

Fog is becoming a new “f” word for us. Each time we feel hopeful that we’ll have a day of sun, in comes the fog. It’s the only place I’ve been where the fog behaves in this bizarre manner. In most places that are subject to fog, the fog penetrates the morning sky and burns off by mid-morning or afternoon. Here, the fog is unpredictable and varies hour by hour. The morning may be sunny, but by noon, the island, or one part of the island is enshrouded in fog.

On this, our second attempt to hike to Sand Beach and continue to the Great Head Trail, once the fog rolled in, I thought, “What’s the point? We’ve done this hike once in the fog, why do it twice?” My husband had more faith, “Why don’t we sit down for a few minutes and see what happens?” So we did. And, out of nowhere, the wind shifted and blew away the fog, returning to us the gorgeous view of colorful cliffs against blue ocean.

What we learned was that fog does serve a purpose. I doubt we would have been nearly as appreciative of the view were it not such a rare gift given so whimsically. When the fog finally leaves and uncovers what was hidden in its grayness, it’s just like when the rainbow comes after the rain, a delicious treat that you want to savor while you have the chance. The fog reminds us of the gratitude we should feel every day for the beauty that surrounds us and the vision we have to see it. As Thich Nhat Hanh said, it is all a miracle. We are not only blessed to be a part of it, but we are changed by it. Maybe too briefly changed, because we forget too quickly, take for granted too easily. However, when we remember the gift, we are better for it, more peaceful and happier. Appreciating nature breeds gratitude, who we are at our best.

Here are some of the pictures from our perfect day.

People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle. But I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air, but to walk on earth. Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don’t even recognize: a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black, curious eyes of a child — our own two eyes. All is a miracle. ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

If you want the rainbow, you gotta put up with the rain. ~ Dolly Parton

A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions. ~ Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

Today’s adventures summoned to mind all of the above quotes, but let me not get ahead of myself.

By the time we left the hotel, there was a break in the clouds. We greeted the blue skies and warming sunshine with cheer. At last, a chance for beautiful views and a pleasant hike! (Thank you to everyone who participated in our Sun Dance (and I apologize for writing the previous post before having at least one cup of coffee).

We stopped for a quick breakfast before setting off on a hike. I ordered a red snapper omelet, a combination I never considered making myself, but it was so good that it will become part of my breakfast repertoire. Paired with a homemade biscuit and sweet cinnamon butter, it was a delicious start to the day.

We arrived at the Acadia deciding to repeat our beach hike of the other day, since this time with blue skies, we hoped to have better photographs. The weather was just the perfect temperature, what the British might call “red hot.” (That was for my sweet mother-in-law’s benefit, a dear woman who actually keeps up with all my blogging.) Thinking we had all the time in the world to capture the scenery, we took our time meandering off the path, snapping photos at our whim.

Perhaps you have anticipated this next sentence. Twenty minutes into the hike, bright clear skies began ceding to fog, all encompassing, gray, depressing fog, rolling in faster than we could walk.

I’m being rushed out of the room, so I’ll for now, I’ll leave you with a cliff hanger: we learned that fog serves a purpose.

A forced day of relaxation. Click the album below to view the pictures. They explain everything.

2008.08.12-Rain

I fear it may never warm up here. If it’s this cold in August, I cannot and do not want to imagine what winter is like.

One more thought, a twist on “My Fair Lady” or, what one does when stuck inside all day:
The rain in Maine is mainly a pain.
It rains and rains and creates quite a strain…
There is too much to go down the drain, so it accumulates everywhere on the lanes.
Someone please explain, will the rain thus remain?
Oh conductor, show me the way to the train.
I want to go to the plain where it is warm and there is no rain.

Today’s one and only activity, besides eating, consisted of a hike around Lower Lake Hadlock. We intended to hike both the upper and lower Hadlock, but somehow wore ourselves out after our leisurely pace around just the one. It’s the slowest hike we’ve taken since I can remember.

The trail is lined with a variety of wild mushrooms of all colors and shapes that captured our attention and diverted us from our normal purposeful stride. Kneeling in the wet soil and contorting ourselves at different angles to find the right lighting and framing for our camera, our hike became about enjoying the scenery instead of achieving a certain mileage. Imagine!

By some odd twist of fate, the rest of our day has been spent relaxing. Even my husband thinks the weather is cold and encouraged me to turn on the heat in the hotel room! Fear the end. It is nigh!

If you are interested in pictures of mushrooms, there are plenty to be found here.

The adventures of Saturday and Sunday…

We arrived Saturday morning on the island of Mount Desert (pronounced oddly enough, “Dessert”), twenty minutes north of Bar Harbor at the motel my wonderful husband chose for the next four days. It’s not a fancy place, but it is clean, has a comfortable bed, Internet access (albeit spotty), and a hot, sometimes scalding shower. At $58 per night, it’s unbeatable.

Cost will be a recurring theme throughout the remainder of my posts during this vacation…as will be the cold, which, it being summer, is becoming rather a obstacle in enjoying oneself whilst outside.

For a brief few hours on Saturday, we had the pleasure of bright sunshine. After an overpriced and bad lunch, but good blueberry beer at a brewery, we proceeded to Acadia National Park (I am now one park closer to fulfilling the “Visit all national parks” item on my Life List). We intended to take the free park bus to get our first view of Acadia, but since we had just missed it and the next bus wouldn’t be for half an hour, we decided to tour the Visitor’s Center, where we watched a film about Mount Desert’s history. The film was very good. What I saw of it anyway, because I fell asleep, as I am prone to do when in any dark place for more than five minutes. When the film was over, we realized that we had just missed the last bus, so gave in, and toured the park by auto. One of the best things about Acadia is that it is not an auto-centric park. According to the film, the generous John D. Rockefeller financed and assisted in building “Carriage Ways.” He wanted to create specialized paths for touring the park that were to be used by carriage, bicycle, and foot, but most definitely not by “motor cars.” Rockefeller left a legacy of miles of extensive trails where pedestrians and cyclists can travel safely. Acadia is also unique in that it is the first park created entirely from donated land.

The film in the visitor’s center stated that Acadia is not a place that is described by superlatives. It is, instead, a place that gradually draws you into its beauty. But the statement misleads, because Acadia is beautiful. There is Cadillac Mountain, the highest peak at 1,532 feet on the North Atlantic seaboard, and the first place where the sun rises in the United States. Cadillac Mountain overlooks the town of Bar Harbor and provides a magnificent 360-degree view of all of Mount Desert and the ocean below. Then there is Sand Beach, one end of a hike that gradually ascends to Otter Point, a watch your footing, dramatic rocky precipice that stands dangerously high above the water. In between are beaches made of enormous boulders and “Thunder Hole” where waves crash into a hole carved out of the rock with a dramatic “thundering” sound.

Acadia is beautiful, and perhaps best compared to Big Sur, a Big Sur of the East.

Because we arrived late, Saturday’s blue skies only revealed a little bit of the gorgeous view of the scenery that Acadia affords. Yesterday was a different story. As we entered the park, we were gripped by the view of fog rolling over, bubbling over, the tops of the nearby islands. In no time, the fog had rolled in so thoroughly that instead of breathtaking photos capturing the scenic ocean and cliffs, I have photos with a scenic thick gray background. Even a hike to the top of Mount Gorham (I’ll grant it was only a height of 523 feet) wasn’t high enough to get us above the clouds and fog.

In addition to the fog, there is also cold. Cold, cold, cold. Yesterday, like a fool, I trusted that summer warmth would find its way here, and made an ill-informed choice to wear shorts. Even while hiking, I was cold. In fact, while hiking, I soon became consumed with the fantasy of sitting in front of the car air vents blowing heat on the highest fan setting. (That, and eating blueberry pie, which I still haven’t had.) Dinner was a quick sprint into a restaurant, and a quick sprint back to the car, limiting my time outside as much as possible.

The food here hasn’t been anything to brag about or really get your mouth watering. Everything seems expensive. Maybe it’s because we’re eating out so much and are obligated to order at least one local brew at every meal. Today, finally, we found our favorite restaurant, the Tan Turtle. The menu is four pages of options of fresh, locally grown food. For lunch we shared a delicious seafood chowder, along with an equally delicious and reasonably priced entrée. We plan to visit often. And we weren’t the only ones: our neighbors at the next table were having their second meal at the Tan Turtle and planned to eat there again.

In the next post, observations about the locals and a discussion on blueberries.

Until then, may your own daily travels be comfortably warm with flavorful meals.

Resources:
Our Pictures
Acadia Park website
Acadia on Wikipedia

You know how I said that it didn’t matter what the weather was because it was vacation? Well that was a big fat lie. It is so cold here! I am really missing some summer heat and blue skies!

Yesterday, we spent touring coastal towns on our way to Bar Harbor. We started by visiting three light houses in Portland. The biggest one, Portland Head at Fort Williams was a full park and had a beautiful landscaped picnic area that would have been quite nice for a romantic lunch by the sea. The problem was that it was pouring rain and I am only equipped with a rain jacket that has lost it’s waterproofing and no umbrella. We walked around the lighthouse anyway, for about fifteen minutes, and by the time we were done, I was soaked through to my knickers, which I was annoyed to find didn’t dry for most of the day.

Our next stop was the LL Bean store in Freeport, about a half hour drive away. With the aid of the car air vents, I managed to dry my pants legs enough to not drip on the floor, or generate curious stares as I shopped. There wasn’t really all that much to see, and if you ask me, the prices are too high. At least I can say I’ve been there.

We spent the rest of the day working our way up the coast, stopping in the charming little coastal towns along the way. Walking down their Main streets, one feels as if one has stepped back in time. The streets are lined with unique shops that have character. The town looks unaltered since the fifties, with quaint street lamps and brick sidewalks, and no trace of the genericization that has plagued most of America. Each town has it’s own personality and here in Maine, there are still rural areas in between.

This sight-seeing was all very wonderful. It’s just that it was raining. And cold. After a few hours of this, I was getting annoyed. “It’s cold and raining. Why do I have to get out of the car?” I thought to myself. By the last town, someone among us complained, “I’m not British!” and someone among us, being British, would never see cold and rain as a deterrent to exploring. So we spent another half hour walking in the rain, but at least part of that time was inside a coffee shop, watching the rain drip into the pond outside.

Fortunately, soon after, the sun set making it unnecessary to make any further stops.

So far the vacation is off to a perfect start. The weather is cold, specifically, forty degrees cooler than when we left Charlotte, and overcast with occasional sprinkles. But there could be a blizzard and I would still be happy. It’s vacation after all!

Last night, when we arrived in the Portland airport, I knew immediately that I would like the city. In the baggage claim area, there was a woman donned in full hippie attire, with a flower, literally, in her hair. We were off to a good start.

Our rental car company didn’t have a car for us, but assured us one would be ready by this morning. That was fine by me because it meant that I would get a relaxing morning. Otherwise, my husband is sighing, pacing around the room, and otherwise rushing me, usually by offering helpful suggestions like, “You can do that later,” until I’m slightly annoyed by the time we leave the hotel room. Vacations are for relaxing, but that’s not something that seems to get scheduled into our days. Not that I’m complaining. We always have a great time. It’s just that sometimes, one is grateful for the forced slow start.

Sometime after breakfast, at a perfectly reasonable hour, we procured our car and headed for downtown Portland where we spent the entire day. I liked it instantly when I discovered that we were following an Utz truck. A whole truck of Utz. Here! I foresee a recurrent theme during the rest of our vacation.

Once parked, we walked several miles (or what seemed like it) through the Historic and Arts districts. Characterized by brick sidewalks and privately-owned shops with quaint store signs, the area is tourist heaven. Numerous Irish pubs, clothing shops, interesting knickknacks, restaurants, a Life is Good (and way expensive, Dude!), bookstores, and a tasteful sex shop provide amusement for hours. There wasn’t a single chain store apart from Starbucks. For entertainment during rest stops for weary feet and old, aching backs, there’s plenty of people-watching. In addition to the tourists, the streets are lined with hippies, and sadly a few homeless people, making for interesting street scenes.

The first thing you notice about Portland, with gladdened heart, is the hippies. Then, the second thing you notice, is the smell of the salty ocean air. Portland is a peninsula, surrounded by water on three sides. While there isn’t a waterfront walkway or park, there are a few piers that afford a view of the very unaffordable parked yachts. It’s mind-boggling the amount of money some people have for recreation that the rest of us don’t have for our primary residence. And what I want to know is why I am not related to any of those people. Believe me, I’ve done a comprehensive genealogical search to verify this disappointing fact.

My favorite part of any vacation is the people I meet. Everyone here is friendlier than I think anywhere else I have ever visited. Case in point, today, utterly disgusted with my hair, I stopped in an Aveda hair salon and desperately asked if I could be fit in for a conditioning treatment. I don’t usually frequent fancy hair salons, especially on vacation. I’m a cheap, simple haircut kind of gal. The few times I have visited a fancy salon, I found the personnel to be snotty and regretted spending my money or time there. Today, though, was the best salon experience I have ever had, which is to say that it was downright enjoyable. My stylist Thomas was a hair genius. Not only did he fix my sad hair, but, a really good and kind person, he provided the most interesting conversation for the hour and a half that I was there. I loved him. Loved him. He refused my offer to accompany me home and straighten my hair every day, but nevertheless, I still loved him. I actually hugged him before I left the salon. I have never once been so overcome with a salon experience that I felt such an uncontrollable urge to hug my stylist. But there you go. That’s Portland for you. The other personnel at the salon were just as huggable, but I showed some self-restraint. I can, you know, on occasion.

We rounded out the day by enjoying a free “Live at Five” concert in a city square, and then split some fish and chips and a lobster roll. Now, we’re warm and cozy back in the hotel, resting aching knees and sore tootsies.

I’ll end with this tidbit of information. My husband checked the forecast, “We’re in the coldest place in the country right now.” There was unmistakable pride in his voice. There will be also an unmistakable charge on the credit card tomorrow when I need to buy a new sweatshirt.

Despite the cold, we’re loving it here and rate it two thumbs up each.

See pictures of this excursion here.

We’re in the Charlotte airport and are experiencing a bit of delay. We’re on the new terminal, a beautiful one, completed last year, yet still somehow there aren’t enough gates. At our last gate, a different flight was boarding to Austin, but the digital display read, “Portland, ME.” While making the boarding announcements, the gate attendant omitted the flight destination, so several people destined for Portland embarked on the Austin flight. The attendant seemed unaware that the digital display above the gate door read anything other than “Austin” so made a rather irate announcement, “This flight is boarding for Austin. Austin only! I just had someone from Portland board my plane. If you are on the Portland flight, please go sit down.” She pointed up at the sign again to indicate that only the Austin flight was boarding. It was all rather comical.

Eventually we were moved to a different gate, where we sit patiently now waiting while yet a different flight, this one to Jackson, Mississippi, boards. For a change, I’m not in any particular hurry. It’s just vacation and since I’m not headed to Cooperstown, I don’t have to worry about missing any Cal Ripken events. A few minutes ago I found my Orioles bucket hat in my backpack. I thought I had forgotten to pack it, so now, everything is good and the vacation is officially underway. I’m rather enjoying the people watching, one of my favorite hobbies, especially when I see things that challenge my assumptions.

Standing at our first gate was a young thirty-something, bald man with tattoos on his arms that extended passed his short-sleeve shirt. He looked like a real tough guy. I couldn’t quite make out the tattoo pattern, but they resembled flames. I’m thinking it was something of a “devil” or “hell” theme. He was leaning against a rail intently reading a book. I recognized the cover instantly, “The Seven Principles for a Happy Marriage.” A couple of times, he flipped back a few pages, reread them, and then flipped forward again. As he approached the gate to board (he was on the Austin flight), standing close enough to other people that they might be able to read the title, he opened a different book of substantial size with a brown leather cover (maybe a bible) and tucked Gottman’s book in the middle, squeezing the outer book closed around the Gottman book. A classic case of never judge a book by its cover. “Mr. Tough Guy” was making an effort to protect his marriage that many a clean-cut, less “threatening” looking man would and do refuse to do.

We’re boarding now so I’ll have to save any other musings and observations for a different time.

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