Do-it-yourself adventure tour
On the coast and on the go: hike and bike, paddle and sail
Having been to Acadia National Park at least a dozen times, I knew that there was no better welcome mat to that glorious mix of forest, mountains, and ocean than atop the short summit of Acadia Mountain. I wanted to arrive by lunch, so I woke the family up by 6 a.m. to hit the road for the five-hour drive from Boston.
The peanut butter and jelly sandwiches were packed, along with peaches, chips, and chocolate bars. It wasn’t until we arrived at the trailhead to start our ascent that I realized I had forgotten the one necessary element of any outdoor activity: water.
After a short delay to find liquids, we made our way over pine needles, twisted roots, and rocky steps. Thirty minutes into our climb, we could see Echo Lake, the coastal town of Blue Hill, and the Camden Hills rising in the south. Another half hour and we were at the peak, taking in the panorama under a cloudless sky. Surrounded on three sides by the Atlantic, we watched schooners sail past those low-lying islands, the Cranberries. Then we dug into our well-earned picnic food and that sublime Swiss chocolate, which always seems to taste better outdoors.
“The Swiss make the best chocolate because they’re mountain climbers, too,’’ said my daughter, Melanie, 11.
I am on the mailing list of outfitters who send me catalog after catalog of their upcoming trips. Companies like Backroads and Butterfield & Robinson,which once offered only inn-to-inn biking trips, are featuring more multisport trips. This has great appeal for children who grow bored of biking day after day. Curious about this trend, but finding the average per person fee of $3,000 to $4,000 too steep, I decided to create my own weeklong, multi sport trip along the Maine coast for my family of four.
The next morning, after an early morning walk on the Shore Path along the rugged coast that hugs Bar Harbor, we drove on Route 233 to the Eagle Lake parking area. This is the start of a bike loop on a former carriage path donated to the park by John D. Rockefeller. The hard-packed gravel trails are best traversed on mountain bike or hybrid tires.
We biked around the lake counterclockwise, under tall pines and past stone walls covered with patches of moss, all the while peering back at the still lake waters ringed by rounded peaks. Then we started a long, uphill climb and Melanie, who would rather shop than do anything outdoors, was not happy.
Her mother preoccupied her by teaching her to count to 30 in Spanish, and soon Melanie was speeding downhill, a smile plastered on her face, breathing in the sweet fragrance of the pines that seemed to supply the energy to propel her forward.
I didn’t want to turn the kids off to the outdoors by doing too many sports, so that afternoon, I booked a boat ride with Diver Ed. During the winter, former harbor master Eddie Monat dives for scallops. For the past decade in the summer months, he’s been leading trips in Frenchman Bay to find the creatures lurking in the deep. He’s a College of the Atlantic-educated naturalist and a highly entertaining performer who had everyone on the boat laughing.
Equipped with a high-def video camcorder, Monat swims along the floor of the bay finding sea cucumbers, rock crabs, sand dollars, and starfish. You watch his every move on a large movie screen on deck, narrated by his wife, Edna Martin, known onboard as Captain Evil. He brings along “Mini Ed,’’ his version of Mr. Bill, who endures the bulk of a lobster’s wrath. When Monat returns to the boat, he brings along the creatures he found, which everyone gets to touch in a large tank.
On our final day in Acadia, we were too tired to hike the steep Precipice Trail, where steel rungs lead climbers on a ladder up the sheer cliff walls. Instead, we parked at Sand Beach on the Park Loop and walked along Ocean Path, a trail that laces the rocky shoreline. We stopped at Thunder Hole, where on days when the waves crash against the bedrock you can hear a deafening boom close to a quarter-mile away. That day, however, the Atlantic was like a sheet of glass. The waves coming into the long inlet barely groaned.
We were hoping to reach Otter Cliff at the end of the peninsula, but we were distracted by a side trail that led to huge boulders piled up along the shore. Jumping from rock to rock, my son, Jake, 13, found the remnants of a crab picked apart by seagulls. Gazing at the terraced stone that lines the water and the bend of the island as it reaches the tall pines of Otter Point, I realized why this patch of stunning scenery is preserved forever as part of a national park. We all stopped, lay down, and stared in awe at the view.
The perfect finale to our time in Acadia was lunch at Jordan Pond House. We grabbed one of the picnic tables on the sloping manicured lawn and reveled in the view of South Bubble and Penobscot Mountain looming over the pond. Then we dug into homemade popovers, seafood chowder, and a cranberry salad topped with curried chicken, washed down with strawberry lemonade. The best part was another popover, this one dripping in warm chocolate sauce and topped with a scoop of mocha ice cream.
From Acadia, our journey continued south along the coast to Camden, where we took a sail on a ship called Appledore II. Melanie and Jake were chosen to hoist the foresails, and soon we were gliding along the water at a good clip. The kids seemed to savor this ride on the 86-foot wooden schooner, which splits its time between Camden and Key West, Fla. Then the wind died, and they were bored.
The sailing was more sightseeing than sport, and I needed to end the trip on an adventurous note. So the next morning we followed Tracy Rescigno in sea kayaks around Rockland Harbor. A masseuse in winter, Rescigno is also a professional Maine Guide and avid paddler. Following her lead in double kayaks, we made our way around the large working harbor, watching tugboats bring in a barge and ferries leaving for the neighboring islands of North Haven and Vinalhaven. We waved to lobstermen as they returned from their morning rounds, and spotted the lighthouse at the end of the breakwater in the distance. We stayed close to shore, eventually reaching the neighboring town of Owls Head, where small cottages sit back from the water.
After spotting an osprey atop a tall tree, we stopped on rocky shores.
“What are we doing here?’’ said Melanie.
“Skipping rocks,’’ said Rescigno, as she bent down to find a good flat one. Ah, yes, I thought, what’s a vacation without skipping rocks? The best sport of all.
Stephen Jermanok can be reached at www.ActiveTravels.com.