Acadia National Park (Maine)
Steven and I spent a couple of days making our way up the East coast from North Carolina to Maine. I believe that it gets more beautiful the farther you drive up. When we were planning our itinerary in Acadia, we were met with the presence of Labor Day weekend (unknown to us as we are calendar blind right now) and found that there were no campsites available within miles of the park. To our advantage, we were given some valuable tips by our friends that we made in Tennessee. They told us about Hip Camp, an app similar to air bnb, that allows you to stay on people’s land that they set up as a campsite. It literally saved us. We would have been living out of a Walmart parking lot set up, which is great for an overnight stay to get you through a driving expenditure, not so great when you need to clean up, cook food, or hangout.
Our Hip Camp was on a couple’s land near the water of a private pond that hung between the border of tall, skinny trees and was packed with impressive wild flowers. We had to drive on unpaved roads for about 20 minutes, driving 15mph, because the roads were only big enough for one-way access in some parts. Once we pulled up to our destination, there was a long driveway filled with trees on each side, that turned into a mowed lawn with a dome shaped house on it. There was huge piles of wood laying in front of the house and an organic garden with a greenhouse found in the backyard that lay in front of the water’s edge. Our campsite was hidden from the house in the trees and it had a fire ring, a bench, some tiki torches (which were super helpful with the bugs) and a cute little tent outhouse. It was about 45 minutes away from Acadia, but the drive was absolutely stunning. We were met with a multitude of winding roads, peaks of banks trapped by water and trees dipping their branches in the edge of the water. The water was so still that it reflected the beaming sun and plump clouds off its’ surface. The trees were just beginning to change color and there was a noticeable difference in temperature at night as it was beginning to get chillier in the evenings and the sun was coming down quicker. We had to start planning for earlier mornings. The first day that we awoke to enter into Acadia it was pouring down rain. We decided to drive to bar harbor, a small town that serves as the gateway into Acadia. It lays along Maine’s Frenchman Bay and is filled with local restaurants, lobster shacks, gift shops and tourists!
We spent some time hanging out under an awning at a local coffee shop with our dogs. We met some other travelers who had spent more time in the park and got some recommendations from them. We also met a local who recommended that we eat at a local lobster and bbq shack a little way out of bar harbor. As the weather cleared up, we made our way into Acadia and were met with stunning views of the coastal line. The ocean ran on for miles and eventually blended into the sky, the water was rolling in and crashing into the rocks. The trees encapsulated the edges of the land, with rocks topped in green moss filling in the gaps of the green wonderland. Near the water, there were piles of boulders laying on top of one another. Our first stop was sand beach which was composed of mostly broken seashells and is found between the mountains and rocky shores of the east side of the park. From there, we used the park loop trail and walked along the coastal line, taking in the sublime views of the ocean, pondering the vast and natural beauty before us.
We decided on Mt. Champlain as our first hike on the east side of the park with views of the Atlantic Ocean. This trail was dog friendly so we were able to make it up to the top with them. Having our dogs with us in nature is one of the most grounding and primal experiences that I have encountered. Suddenly there is a silence that falls in the “pack” and we come into a mindful presence as we take in all that surrounds us. There was natural water flowing through the rocks from the rain as we made our way up. The excitement and admiration for the beauty of the land filled our hearts. As we made our way through the rocks and up to the summit, we could see over the hills of trees that lay on the mountains and the ponds that snaked their way into the valleys. Our view of the ocean was enhanced and we could now see the other islands that inhabited the coastal line. My first comment to Steven was “wow, this reminds me of my time in Tasmania and definitely gives Australia a run for its money.” Not much longer after we had reached the top and were taking in the views, we were met with a sharp, big, black line of clouds rolling in. We had to get down pretty quickly so we could get to our car before the rain started again. We made it to our car in just the knick of time before the rain started pouring down.
Our next day in Acadia we decided to begin our morning with a hike up the most popular summit in the park—Cadillac Mountain. We arose early in the morning to prepare for a long day of hiking. We were able to bring the dogs with us up the trail, it was about a 2-mile incline with an elevation gain of 1,530 feet. It is highest point on the U.S. East coast and from fall to spring is one of the first places to see sunlight in the U.S. As we were preparing for the trail, an older couple got out of their car and asked if I knew where the trail was to hike up Cadillac Mountain. It was hard to tell where the hiking trails were in some areas due to the beginning of the trailhead being a mere wooden sign posted on the side of the road with no parking lots. Once I pointed out the direction of the trail, they were on their way. We finished getting our stuff packed up and were about 10 minutes behind the older couple. We spent the first part of the hike in silence, gathering in the subtle tones of the sunrise and watching it bounce off the water in between the crevices of the trees. Since it was our first hike of the day, we were zooming through the trail and met up with the older couple again. They were friendly and from New York with heavy Boston accents. I forgot their names, but I was impressed at their motivation to hike up the mountain at the ripe age of 65, since Cadillac Mountain is the only peak in the park that you can actually drive up with your car and catch the spectacular views. We engaged in casual conversation, getting to know them as they decided to keep up with us. We slightly encouraged the wife to keep on going, since we were only about a half mile up from the summit, generally the hardest part of any climb. Like most things in life, you must endure the pain before you reap the rewards.
Cadillac Mountain was a special day for us because it held a deeply spiritual and symbolic meaning of some pretty special people in our life. One of our dear friends and mentors, Bob Durgan, grew up in Maine and had explored the impressive landscapes that Acadia has to offer. Bob has faced many trials and tribulations with his health and there have been multiple moments that all of his friends and family were white knuckling the seat of their pants, holding on to hope and praying that he would make it through. When Steven and I decided to embark on this journey we went and visited Bob and Terri prior to our departure. They gifted us a complete guide to Acadia National Park and recommended us multiple sites that they had held near and dear to their heart. Bob had mentioned to us that when he was in the hospital, in some of the most excruciating pain of his life, he would drift off into a place in his head where he would imagine the landscapes that are found in Maine. When we asked where in Acadia was his favorite spot, he told us that Cadillac Mountain was probably the most special place to him. Bob ended up gifting Steven a ring with a bear claw on it from a Native American tribe and asked him to wear it as he hiked up to the summit of Cadillac Mountain.
As we reached the summit, we were met with a bird’s eye view of all that Mount Desert Island has to offer. We could see the pristine lakes, the rows of islands that split from the mainland, and a 360-view of the ocean encapsulating the land. It is a crazy thought to think of how old that land is and how much change it has seen. Once we took in the sights from all angles, we made our way back down the mountain. This time, we took the road so that we could see other parts of the park. We were able to see Sgt. Mountain once the road curved around the peak and then were met with stunning views of Jordan Pond—a beautiful lake that lay between the two highest peaks in the park. Once we made our way down, we stopped to cook some food and then decided on Precipice trail. Precipice trail is found on the east side of the park right before the entrance into Acadia (which is cool because you don’t need a national park pass to hike up it). The trail is a straight climb up and is one of the hardest and most fun climbs that I have ever experienced. There is some slight scrambling as you make your way to the top, but mostly you have to trust yourself and just don’t look down (haha). There were points that I was pretty terrified as I am gripping onto the monkey bars climbing up the side of a steep mountain with a thin edged drop off. Once we made our way about halfway up, I found a couple of kids with their father. They were probably no older than 13 and were making their way up with ease. I was impressed!
This was such a cool hike because you spent the entire time capturing even better sights of the coastal line with fabulous views of the land that lay at the bottom of the mountain. We had managed to pick the perfect time to go up the trail, because there wasn’t a lot of traffic and the sun was just beginning to set. We decided that making our way down the same way that we came up would be hard and be more time consuming. So, we decided to go ahead and find a different trail to come back down. Little did we know, we chose an even longer route than we had expected. As we had made it about a quarter of the way down, we saw the heavy, black clouds, rolling in. The wind started to whistle and the leaves began to shake and at that point we knew that it was only a matter of time before the rain would be pouring down. We hustled as fast as we could and had made it almost three quarters of the way down when the cold rain began to come down. I started to get really nervous because the rocks were slick and we were descending which makes it easier to slip and fall. Also, we had just come upon the part where you have to scramble through the rocks, which is even harder when you’re making your way down. I had to take a few deep breaths, let go of the aversion to the rain and embrace the adventure. We made it back to our car safely and our pups were happy to see us!
The following day, we prepared ourselves for a multi-summit thru hike. We hadn’t yet explored the west side of the park and were eager to take in some new scenery. There was no rain in the forecast, but there was an overcast with a lot of fog. In some places, especially near the water, it appeared as if there were clouds hovering over it. We began at the Bald Peak trailhead and started our way up the mountain. With the overcast, the forest was accentuated due to the green moss covering the rocks and trees. There was an eerie and magical feeling to the fog mixed with vibrant colors bouncing off of one another. Our trail consisted of beautiful, geometric roots laying on top of the dirt mixed with rocks scattered in between. The trail was moderately hard with about a thousand-foot incline. Luckily, we were able to capture the Somes Sound strait that lay between Northeast Harbor and the Southwest Harbor and the Upper Hadlock Pond from our elevation gain before the fog became too heavy for our visual field to reach any length. Despite our inability to capture the summit views for the rest of the day due to the fog, we had an awesome time spending the day in nature and testing our endurance. We were able to summit Parkman Mountain, Sgt. Mountain, and Penebscot Mountain. Sgt. Mountain is known for it’s strenuous incline and hefty climb, hence the name. Penebscot is famous for it’s views of Jordan Pond and Cadillac Mountain. We hiked 10 miles that day with our dogs and came out of it tired, irritable and proud.
Steven and I are traveling on a budget and rarely spend our money eating out at restaurants. Plus, we love to cook! However, we had been waiting our entire trip and carefully planning and taking suggestions from others on where to score some awesome lobster. Neither of us are used to eating freshwater seafood since we were both born and raised in Kansas, which is totally land locked FOR MILES. So, the following day we woke up and took our dogs on a walk before grabbing our bikes and trying out the carriage trails that are scattered throughout Acadia. We decided to enter into Acadia on our bikes from a similar location that we had hiked the day before. Our legs were toast from all the hiking that we had done the previous day, so we biked about 10 miles before calling it quits. We had worked up the perfect appetite and decided on going to an epic seaside lobster shack that specialized in bbq. We ordered about as much food as a family of four would eat because we wanted to treat ourselves, we were hungry, and of course we had to try EVERYTHING. We got a half a rack of ribs, a pulled pork sandwich, a lobster roll, and a lobster dinner that came with a pound of mussels, some coleslaw and baked beans. We ate every last bit of it and loved every second of it. The place we went to was not anything close to fine dining, in fact, it was very much a hole in the wall. But, all of the flavors and love and freshness were there!
There has been so much that I learned about myself and our world in the short time that I spent near Acadia. In some parts of Maine, they have a no single use plastic policy. Meaning, they do not provide plastic bags at groceries stores. You must either bring your own or pay for a paper bag. They are also big on local agriculture and sustainability. This gave me hope for our future and motivates me to be even more conscious about how I source the products that I need in my life. There was a cute little town near Lamoine State Park where we attended their farmer’s market and local health foods store. I love that sustainability also provides community, but I don’t like that it doesn’t feel entirely inclusive. The prices for healthy foods is not accessible for most Americans and does not appeal to our fast, cheap and easy modern lifestyles. As someone who values spending more money on the health of my body, it is hard to pay for a whole frozen chicken that is $24 or a super large sweet potato that ends up at $9. So, where do we draw the line between affordable and healthy?
Despite the seemingly spectacular, unique and adventurous experiences that Steven and I had while we were in Acadia, we also faced our fair share of lessons and moments of despair. I believe that we cannot have the good without the bad. We lack depth and our ability to appreciate and experience the divine is softened when we are not faced with tests and strife. On one of our last days in Acadia we noticed that we were missing our taillight to the trailer. When I got to thinking about where it could have fallen off, I remembered driving home in the dark one of the days and missing my turn so I had to back the trailer up. Due to my inexperience and my lack of visibility, I backed into a light pole. When I got out to check and make sure everything was okay that evening, everything appeared normal. I guess I didn’t notice the taillight because it had perfectly broken off from the metal hook it was bolted to. To our surprise, we found the broken taillight in the ditch where I had hit the pole, but it was not in good enough shape to put it back on.
Another challenge that we faced was the rain, so we had to tap into our adventurous spirits and let go of the comfort of being dry most of the days that we spent in Acadia. Our raw emotions were becoming more apparent and our ability to communicate with each other seemed difficult at times. Having a partner requires an immense amount of compromise and understanding. Each person has their own comforts, routines, ideas and moods that provide them with their state of being in each moment. When those two ways of beings collide, then it can put more demands on the relationship to effectively communicate and work through emotions. Especially when there is little to no space or distractions present whilst traveling. Additionally, as someone who thrives on routine, seeks comfort in spending time alone, and who has trouble with regulating emotions in the face of change. There were times where I was overwhelmed, anxious, frustrated, irritable, and upset. During our time in Acadia, and all the moments in between, I learned to not be afraid to make “mistakes.” Instead, I chose to become more aware of why they were showing up, what they were trying to tell me, and learning how to communicate about them, integrate them, and move through them.
I always wondered why I would have the toughest time—emotionally--acclimating to vacations when they are supposed to be a time of fun and relaxation. In many ways, I was having fun and taking space from “the real world.” But, I was also becoming more aware of my unhealed tendencies, navigating my shadow, and having a harder time distracting myself from my emotions. I suppose that when we are faced with down time and really have the space to examine how we feel, we are able to see more clearly that which is in dissonance with our life. Steven decided that it would be a good idea for us to practice relationship gratitude so that we could focus on the positive things that we like about one another as a way to move through some of the tension that we had been experiencing throughout the trip. I found this particularly helpful and noticed that it helped us lift our moods immensely. It is easy to get caught in all the things that your partner is doing wrong, but what about all the things that they are doing right?
Through this journey I have been able to appreciate how far I have come on my fitness journey. I am breaking stereotypes that I had placed myself into from societal norms. I am learning how to take up more space, to appreciate my body for all that it can do for me, and setting goals that terrify me or that I know will take a long time to complete. I have come to know the limiting beliefs that I have held about my height, my weight, my arms, and my ability to accomplish anything that I set my mind to. I realized that I want to develop more upper body strength so that I can lift, pull and push my body weight easier. One day I want to be able to do a handstand, a pull-up, do the splits in every direction, and run a marathon. I am also discovering more about the rhythms of my body and the ways in which it is asking me to nourish it, despite how different that may look for other people. I am encouraging myself to rest more, reflect more, discover more, and love more. I am learning how to show up for myself and love myself unconditionally, no matter what circumstances that I find myself in or what anyone says about me. My hope is that… you will too.
If you made it this far, thank you from the bottom of my heart. For listening, or should I say reading, my journey. I hope you found some glimpses of YOU in there. Sending you so much love and light.