Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Acadia National Park, ME: Wilted Travelers

We entered the boundaries of Acadia National Park from the north, accessing the less visited Schoodic Peninsula. We camped at Ocean Woods, a private campground unlike any private campground we have stayed in -- secluded sites, quiet, clean, near the ocean, low-key managers. Unfortunately it is in its last year of operation, and may be replaced by a resort or some other less rustic development. It was an oasis for us, following a long hot and humid ride to get there.

We are still operating on Atlantic time, which is one hour ahead of Eastern time. It gives us the advantage in the morning -- we are up before dawn, pack and eat, and on the road just as the rest of the world is awakening and the temperatures are still cool. There is a one-way road that follows the coast along the peninsula, and we were able to cycle it in the magical morning light, seemingly the only ones there.

Cadillac Mountain, the highest point on the Atlantic Coast and located on Mt Desert Island and where the masses go to visit Acadia, is the hump in the distance across the bay.

Polished granite defines the boundary with the brilliant blue ocean.

Later that day we crossed the bay to Mt Desert Island by ferry, saving ourselves a day of cycling and busy access to this part of the park. We disembarked into Bar Harbor, assaulted by the shock of swarming tourists, heat, and humidity.

We pedalled as fast as we could to the National Park campground, getting there just in time to get one of the last two campsites available. We planned to stay a couple of days, and in order to secure campsites for those nights, we had to get in line at each day at 6 am to get a site if available. Most of our neighbors did reservations, but the timing of our arrival was uncertain, so we had to play the lottery. Living on Atlantic time has it advantages, so the early queueing was not a major inconvenience.

The Eastern US was in the midst of a major heat wave, but one thing we were intent on doing was to climb Cadillac Mountain. And the first part of the hike starting from the campground was not too bad. A canopy of trees shielded us from the sun, although we were soaked with sweat. By the time we reached the stunted trees near the summit, we both had drank nearly two quarts of water each. My tank top was soaked, and I took it off and hiked in my sports bra, belly fat be damned. It was sweltering.

Arrival at the summit is not a solitary experience. Since a paved road leads to thee top, most people drive up in their air-conditioned vehicles. You can tell the ones who hiked by the sweat stains. Fortunately, there were drinking fountains at the top, and we refilled our bottles and crawled under one of those stunted trees to cool down and eat lunch before the descent.

The high humidity made for a hazy view of the islands offshore.

Acadia, the second most visited National Park, has an excellent shuttle system. We took our dehydrated bodies and rode the buses to see other sights on the island. Although not air conditioned, a moving bus can provide just enough breeze through the windows to keep one conscious. By 2 pm, at the peak heat of the day, everyone getting on and off the bus were like wilted zombies, moving just fast enough to keep from overheating.

On our second day, after waiting in line for a camp site, we took our bikes out for a ride on the many carriage roads that are the legacy of John D. Rockefeller. The classic rocky shore view was our reward for an early start before the humid haze of the afternoon settled in.

Restricted to hikers, bikers, and a few horse-drawn carriages, many of the roads are moderate grades under beautiful canopies of trees.

The bridges along the way are historic testimonies to the park's past.

We were able to load our bikes and ride back to the campground on the shuttle bus, all of which were equipped with bike racks, saving us a hot slog back to camp. By evening it cooled down enough for us to venture to the shore to see the evening sun on the distant rocks.

Acadia is a busy place, a destination for much of New England. And it is another place, like Cape Breton, where preserved land intertwines with civilization. We wished we had more time to explore it, that it was not so hot, that we had a kayak to explore the waters. But that will need to be another time -- this journey is just a sampling of a very narrow corridor that we can reach by bicycle, a taste of the landscapes we pass through.
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