Here in New England, we only get a few months of warm, sunny weather each summer. And out of those months, I’m lucky to have a few weekends free to satisfy my own selfish desires. My two favorite pastimes are riding motorcycles and sunning and swimming at the beach. It’s unfortunate, because those two activities don’t go together well, so I usually wind up choosing between them.
On a quest for supreme self-gratification, I took a few glorious days off in July to visit mid-coastal Maine. Despite the close proximity to my home in Connecticut, I’d only been to Maine once, as a teenager, and I remembered only how cold the water was and how little there was for my sister and me to do. We wanted amusement parks, shopping malls, movie theaters, and our friends. My parents, however, wanted to get away from it all, which made for unhappy family vacation memories. I suppose that’s why I never considered Maine a desirable destination. But seeking new two-wheeled adventures within a reasonable distance of home had me rethinking the Pine Tree State’s possibilities.
I was testing the new Honda Gold Wing’s touring capabilities while my wife, Mary, loaded up her Suzuki Bandit 1200S. Setting out on a late Saturday morning, riding a boring 262 interstate miles to Maine’s largest city, Portland, was the easiest way to get out of Dodge quickly. We unloaded at our night’s destination, the Best Western Merry Manor Inn in South Portland. With only one evening to explore the town, we quickly saddled back up and rode to roam the cobblestone streets of Portland’s Old Port area. Local artists galleries, shops, boat docks, pubs, and restaurants were plentiful, and we had a hard time choosing where to eat. With tons of great choices, we were told that we really couldn’t go wrong in a city that’s become known as a culinary destination. After a wonderful sushi dinner followed by a scrumptious, soft-serve gelato topped with two sugary eyeballs at Curly Cones, we decided to call it a night.
One of the reasons we chose to stay at the Best Western is because its Ride Rewards program offers special rates and points that can be applied for even more savings. Plus, some Best Westerns offer complimentary wipe-down towels and special covered parking for motorcycles. The Merry Manor Inn is ideally suited for bikers, since it’s within walking distance of several restaurants. We enjoyed our complimentary breakfast next door at Governor’s restaurant, where a full, hot meal is a perfect way to begin the day.
Our next destination was Acadia National Park. Following the Honda’s GPS, we headed inland north on Interstate 295 and Interstate 95 to Bangor. From there, we turned onto Interstate 395 south to Route 1A then to Route 3, which was busy with late Sunday morning traffic. Riding toward the coast, we were treated to a ridged island mountain vista left by glaciers thousands of years ago. One peak stands out from the others: Cadillac Mountain, at 1,530′, is not only the tallest mountain on Mount Desert Island, but it is the highest peak on the entire US eastern coastline.
We arrived on the island just before noon. Following 3 toward Bar Harbor, we stopped at the Hulls Cove Visitor Center for information and to pay the $20 entrance fee, which is valid for seven days. Salivating over the twisty-turny yellow roads on the park map, I was informed that these roads don’t allow motorized vehicles. I was bummed that I wouldn’t be able to explore the 45 miles of historic carriage roads, which are supposed to be some of the best remaining examples of broken stone roads in the US. Instead, motorists can enjoy a 27-mile Park Loop Road scenic drive that circles Cadillac Mountain clockwise, supplying all the scenic vistas you could possibly take in. There are tons of pull-offs and hiking trails, and in many places you can simply park in the right lane and go explore. Riding along the eastern shore of the island, you’re treated to views of the surrounding bays and small islands. Soon after Otter Cove, the ocean view is replaced with shade from the dense mountain forest. Cadillac Mountain Road has some superb twisties to the summit, but disobeying the speed limit in a national park can have expensive consequences. Reaching the granite mountaintop, you get to bask in an unparalleled panoramic view of Bar Harbor, the Porcupine Islands, and Frenchmen’s Bay. The .3-mile walking trail is dotted with informational exhibits, but you can just roam the smooth granite crest.
After a fair amount of time soaking in the sun-drenched precipice, Mary and I completed the Park Loop, and headed to a friend’s cottage just outside downtown Bar Harbor. We were treated to a fantastic sunset boat ride followed by an evening of great seafood and laughs with new friends that made us feel as if we’d always been a part of this close-knit community.
Reluctant to leave the next morning, we spent time window-shopping and exploring the quaint, upscale shops in downtown Bar Harbor. Vowing again to return another day, we set off on the road again.
Heading back on 3, it joins Route 1 in Ellsworth, where we turned west. Passing lakes, ponds, and inlets along the way, we eventually came to the 2,120′-long Penobscot Narrows Bridge & Observatory in Prospect. Replacing the 1931-built Waldo-Hancock Bridge that sits beside it, the innovative new cable-stayed bridge uses a cradle system between two pylons constructed with local granite, one of which has an observatory at the top. At 420′, it’s the tallest bridge observatory in the world and has won several engineering awards. For just $5, an elevator takes you the 42 stories to the top, where you not only get a stunning view of the Penobscot River and Bay, but also an inside look at the individual cable strands that meet inside the pylon at the cradle. I felt completely safe in the glass-enclosed lookout, though others in the observatory stayed plastered against the interior wall.
Around the corner is the Ft. Knox State Historic Site, the first and largest granite fort in Maine. A tour is included with your observatory ticket price. Designed to protect vulnerable cities such as Bangor from British attack, construction began in May of 1844. Work continued sporadically for 25 years, ending in 1869 with the fort still incomplete. Ft. Knox saw only two periods of military activity. Troops were garrisoned here during the Civil War, but they lived in temporary wooden buildings behind the unfinished fort. Troops also lived at the fort during the Spanish-American War. No enemy ships ever appeared on the Penobscot or threatened any of its towns during these wars. The fort must’ve been a great deterrent. Wink, wink.
Mary and I continued south toward our next destination, where we’d be staying for the rest of our trip: Point Lookout Resort and Conference Center in Northport. Originally designed for business use, it includes 40,000 sq-ft of meeting space, as well as 106 one-, two-, and three-bedroom luxury log cabins on 379 rustic acres. Besides the main office building, the property includes sports fields, hiking trails, an eight-lane bowling alley, game room, fitness center, covered outdoor pavilion, café, and a grand ballroom called The Summit, which is used for catered events. As its name implies, The Summit is situated at the top of a long, windy, private road, and offers fabulous panoramic views of Penobscot Bay. The road to The Summit is worthy of riding over and over again. It even turned out to be the perfect location for shooting pictures of the Honda Gold Wing for my new bike review (November/December).
The driveways and roads throughout the resort are well-marked and maintained. The cabins are situated in such a way that each one maintains some privacy with views of the forest. Each includes a screened-in porch with Adirondack furniture, kitchenettes, living areas with comfortable leather furniture, cable TV, and free WiFi. Mary and I stayed in a 720 sq-ft, two-bedroom, two-bathroom cabin, which was also equipped with a full kitchen and large dining table. The cabin was clean, quiet, and comfortable.
The resort has no pool or hot tub, but offers a stretch of beach across the street for sun and sea worshipers. Walking from the cabin wastes precious sun time, so we slipped our suits on under our gear and rode the Wing down to the grassy parking area. We spent an afternoon listening to the sound of waves crashing and watching a woman tossing a large stick as her giant Dalmatian chased after it into the water. There were only a few of us on the entire sandy beach. We did manage a dip in the water, but it was pretty cold. Not frigid, like I remember from my youth, but cool enough that you wouldn’t want to spend all day in it. The desire to combine my favorite pastimes had been served, and I was quite content.
The towns along the coast of Maine are fairly similar in style. Most have lighthouses, museums, antique shops, and a plethora of seafood restaurants. Based at Point Lookout, we were able to explore a handful of such quaint seaside towns. In many towns we could park the bikes and spend time walking around. Belfast is the first town north, only eight miles away. We enjoyed fresh seafood and chowder at outdoor picnic tables at the Weathervane Restaurant while watching the boats dock.
Six miles north from there, in Searsport, we stopped at BlueJacket Shipcrafters, where the oldest scale model ships in the US are crafted. More than 75 are on display, and workers are busy behind closed doors making and packaging the tiny little pieces included in the kits. The Penobscot Marine Museum features 19th-century maritime art, and is Maine’s oldest maritime museum. We consumed more lobster down the road, at Angler’s Seafood Restaurant. Fresh, delicious, thick chunks of meat, topping a bed of greens was the perfect way to enjoy it without the mess.
Going south from Point Lookout, it’s only 11.5 miles to Camden, where it’s easy to spend an afternoon shopping for hand-made gifts and souvenirs. Cappy’s Chowder House on Main Street is a lively place with excellent chowder in a pub atmosphere. My favorite place in town is a little Italian eatery on Bayview Landing, wedged between art galleries, named Paolina’s Way. If you think you’ve had the world’s best wood-fired pizza somewhere else, think again. Committed to being a green business, growing local organic produce to use in the healthy, wholesome dishes is evident the moment you take a bite. And did I mention how good the pizza is? Afterward, you can walk across the parking lot to board a schooner cruise for the
seaman’s view of the bay.
A couple miles south of Camden is the artist’s community of Rockport. If you are interested in lighthouses, I highly recommend a visit to the Maine Lighthouse Museum, to take in the largest collection of lighthouse artifacts and mementos in the US. If you’re lucky, you can get a tour and history lesson from the daughter of an actual lighthouse keeper, like we did. Afterward, take the mile-long walk on the flat, rocky breakwater to the Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse. Your trip will be well worth it for the view alone, and you’ll get to see those schooners sailing by, as well as the lobstermen setting their traps. The breakwater was built after a series of nor’easters caused considerable damage to Rockland’s coastal buildings and businesses. Construction was completed in 1899 and revised with a 4′ cap two years later. The historic, 25′ brick lighthouse was built in 1902 to prevent ships from hitting the breaker.
The roads inland offer nice views of inlets, farmland, and Maine’s abundance of pine trees. Mary and I were scouting photography locations near Lincolnville when the only rainstorm of the trip blew in. Looking for cover, we followed signs to Cellardoor Winery. Taking the opportunity to get out of the rain, we purchased a tasting and explored the elegant, restored, circa 1790 post-and-beam barn. A deck and big picture windows offer a stunning view of the 5-1/2 acre vineyard with Levenseller Mountain as a backdrop. When the rain subsided and the sun came out, the lush landscape simply sparkled with color.
With plenty to do, see, and taste, the coastline of Maine will be calling me back for sure. RB
Story By Tricia Szulewski
Photos By Mary O’Hare And Tricia Szulewski
Acadia National Park
Angler’s Seafood Restaurant
Best Western Merry Manor Inn
Cappy’s Chowder House
Curly Cones of Maine
Maine Lighthouse Museum
Penobscot Bay Regional Chamber of Commerce
Penobscot Marine Museum
Penobscot Narrows Observatory and Ft. Knox State Historic Site
Point Lookout Resort And Conference Center
Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse
Weathervane Seafood Restaurant