Sunday, May 25, 2008

Up to Maine

Google Maps said our 499-mile drive up to Bar Harbor, Maine, would take 8 hours, 49 minutes. We left the house just before 9 a.m., topped off the gas tank -- worried about what kind of prices we'd find in New England -- and got on the road in earnest at 9:01 a.m. After a smooth ride across the Tappan Zee, up the Merritt, through Massachusetts and up the Maine Turnpike, we exited to more local roads at Bangor and headed for the coast. We skirted the northeast side of Mt. Desert Island and pulled into the Bar Harbor Manor Inn at 5:50 p.m.

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That's 8 hours, 49 minutes for those of you keeping score at home. And that map up there is the route from the police station in our town, which is close enough.

In an effort to conserve fuel, I stayed close to the speed limit and we were fortunate to remain at a comfortable cruising speed throughout the drive -- no traffic hiccups whatsoever -- and after filling up in Freeport, I had Casey do the quick math: We got 32 miles per gallon on the first 350 miles or thereabouts, a great number for my eight-year-old Grand Am.

I could do the drive without maps, even though it's been a few years since I'd been to Maine. Every August for 10 or 15 years, we'd spend a week to 10 days at my uncle's. Our trips would be a mix of the familiar and the new -- every year, without fail, we'd have the checklist of places we had to get to before the visit was up. Damariscotta Lake, Pemaquid Point, Wiscassett, Freeport, Elmer's Barn. Dad would get up early in the mornings and go fishing, and I'd try to get a ride in on the tractor (I think my aunt and uncle liked having someone else mow the expansive lawn for them) and we'd swim in the river. And each year, we'd add a new side trip or an every-other year destination to mix things up. Camden/Lincolnville, a county fair, Augusta, Portland, Boothbay Harbor, Acadia National Park.

This trip was to be a lot of the new and a touch of the familiar. Casey and I started with two nights in Bar Harbor, a chance to see the town and explore Acadia at a more leisurely pace (instead of the harried day trips sandwiched between a 2 1/2 or 3-hour drive from my uncle's and back). From there it would be on to Whitefield for a night with the family, then down to Portland for two more nights before moving on to the Massachusetts countryside for a wedding.

By lunchtime -- that is, the time we were hungry enough for lunch -- we were in Massachusetts (turkey chortle), so I suggested another old DC family favorite: Skip's Diner in Chelmsford. (And we stopped having no idea that it's been sold and will be gone before the end of the year.) Casey had a hot turkey sandwich with gravy and mashed potatoes and I deviated from my childhood standby -- grilled cheese and french fries -- for baked manicotti. Still damn good. And even with a 30-45-minute lunch break, we still made it to Bar Harbor in Google Maps' predicted time.

Casey drove after lunch, so I slept for a little, but I was awake as we crossed the Piscataqua River and entered Maine. Rolling north, I scanned the roadside for yet another landmark I recalled from those childhood summers: a small cluster of gravestones seemingly in the middle of nowhere, other than a few dozen feet from the Maine Turnpike macadam. I had my camera ready in case I anticipated it correctly so that I could capture it, but it wouldn't have mattered.

As I wrote in my road trip journal:

The small cemetery along the Turnpike in Maine is two miles before the Kennebunk service area, or just befor emile marker 24. It's much closer to the highway than I remember and, well, cleaner. Not as colonial and rustic as I'd pictured. It sits directly on the other side of the guardrail, its markers a brilliant white and a flag or bouquet or two. In my mind, it sat back from the road, among the trees, its stones grimy and gray, the grass high, no flowers or flags to bring a shot of color to the grays, greens and browns around it.

After the Freeport fill-up, I got back behind the wheel because I simply love driving the hills and curves of Maine and we made it to Bar Harbor before 6 p.m., passing Pirate's Cove miniature golf on the way. After checking in, that's right where we headed to spend an hour not sitting. And we weren't hungry for dinner, yet. On the way, my new Maine playlist for the trip was fortuitously timed right to play Howie Day as we left Bangor, his hometown.

Bar Harbor Manor is in a great location on the edge of town near Acadia, close enough to walk into the heart of the village and drink to our hearts' content. Which we did at the Thirsty Whale after mini-golf. But after a long day of driving behind us and a long day of exploring ahead of us, we didn't stay much past one post-dinner beer. We headed back to the Manor satisfied and eager for the start of our vacation in earnest.

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