Monday, July 31, 2017

Exploring Downeast Maine 1/3

Downeast is the part of Maine extending from Acadia National Park all the way to the Canadian border. While the park gets thousands of visitors, especially during summer, Downeast remains relatively quiet and empty. I visited this area already twice in prior years, but never by bike. This time, I wanted to stay away from main roads as much as possible and explore some places I haven't seen before. Traveling by bicycle made it certainly possible.

I encountered a few problems when planning this trip. The main one was time - I only had 6 days available and since distances in Maine might be significant, I had to stay on schedule and skip some places in favor of others. That's why I decided not to go to Mt Desert Island in Acadia NP - it's packed with tourists this time of year anyway. I also had to pass on visiting Eastport. The only way of getting there is around Cobscook Bay as ferries from Lubec and Campobello Island were shut down a couple of years ago. But it turned out that even with these restrictions the whole trip was a week of fun.

Day 1 - Wiscasset to Bucksport (140km or 87mi)

Similarly to my last year's trip to Vermont, I decided to drive to a Park & Ride facility in Wiscasset and leave my car there. You can leave your vehicle in those marked places legally up to 7 days for free, which I think is a perfect way to start any bike tour in New England. For a moment, I considered taking Amtrak Downeaster train from Boston North Station to Brunswick in Maine, but I would need more time for it, I would be restricted by Amtrak's timetable and it would actually cost more. It simply didn't make much sense.

I arrived in Wiscasset at 9AM, left the car and quickly hopped on the bike. The little, cute town was still quiet and sleepy when I made my way up north. I stopped briefly at the Wiscasset, Waterville and Farmington Railway Museum, where and old steam engine was being prepared for the show.
I continued northeast towards Belfast and this entire section seemed a bit boring at first, but then I got to the muddy forest road (Pine Plains Rd), where I was too busy fighting swarms of deer flies, to think how boring the first miles were.
Few miles later down the road I found the second railway museum of the day - Belfast And Moosehead Lake Railroad, from where I took the rail trail into the town.
Railcycles - now you can be a choo-choo too!

I arrived in Belfast for a late lunch and resupplied at the Co-Op (likely my favorite grocery store in Maine). Even though I passed through Belfast in previous years, I've never had a chance to visit the waterfront before.

There was still plenty of daylight left in the day so I continued east along the coast. I thought about peeking into the Moose Point State Park but it was heavily guarded by rangers demanding a $4 fee. I figured it wasn't worth it, as I would stay there for no longer than 5min. and turned around.
Instead, I decided to visit Fort Point State Park and lighthouse. It's a pretty place but unfortunately, camping is not allowed there, which I assume is a measure to avoid a horde of RVs and motorhomes in the park. It's too bad tent camping for hikers and cyclists is not allowed though. Their ecological impact would be much smaller than of any motorized tourist.
Next, I briefly visited Sandy Point Beach Park and it was time to look for a place for the night. To be honest, since there are no campgrounds in the area, I was pretty much convinced I had to find a quiet spot somewhere and stealth-camp, not exactly legally, on someone's property. But then I noticed a motel down the road and thought - why the hell not?

Huge mistake.

Rocky Ridge Motel turned out to be a trashy, ran-down place with no hot water in the shower. What was worse - the room smelled like cigarettes and was certainly not worth $60/night. At least my clothes didn't absorb any of that smell so I could quickly forget about this miserable experience next day.

Day 2 - Bucksport to Millbridge (145km or 90mi)

Next morning, I didn't have to pack my tent so I left early after 6AM and headed to Bucksport, crossing Penobscot Narrows Bridge first.
I stopped quickly at Hannaford supermarket to resupply and snack a small breakfast. The day was cloudy but warm and as it turned out later, I wasn't going to see much sun on that day anyway. Good for riding - bad for pictures.

There is no good alternative to the busy Route 1 from Bucksport to Ellsworth but fortunately, the road has a wide shoulder that can be safely used by cyclists. I arrived in Ellsworth at 9:30AM for a good breakfast at Riverside Cafe, then continued east towards Schoodic Peninsula.
Riding on Route 1 became a boring after a while, so I decided to detour by following the Old Pond Rail Trail in Hancock. That turned out to be a bad decision. The place is actually nice - secluded, quiet and with some nice views from the old railway bridge. It's just not a place for cyclists. The trail runs in place of the old railway and while tracks are gone, the wooden railway sleepers aren't. There's simply no way you can ride a bike on this thing - no matter whether it's a road or a fat bike. I spent the next hour walking my bike along the bumpy path and let's just say I didn't enjoy it.
Back on Route 1, I made my way to Winter Harbor and then to Schoodic Point. I remember this place from my previous family vacation to this area and I really wanted to see it again. Unfortunately, it started to rain. Not heavily, but it was still quite annoying. I didn't spend much time at Schoodic Point and started riding north to Gouldsboro.
The light rain stopped briefly only to come back at Millbridge. At this point I started to think about some place to camp for the night and I found out that there is a campground nearby in McClellan Park. It was in the opposite direction that I should've been going but it was worth a try. Being all wet from rain, I really wanted to find a place with a hot shower.
The campground turned out to be pretty nice actually. For only $10/night, I had the empty campground for myself (not counting mosquitoes), a really hot shower (although very rudimentary) and some nice views from nearby rocky coast. Most importantly, this place is for tents only, which would explain its low popularity. No RVs are allowed in the park. Finally!

I fell asleep to sounds of rain and ocean waves.

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