I was half asleep by the time we exited the highway at the I-95 rest stop in Kittery, just after crossing from New Hampshire into Maine (so it’s a good thing I wasn’t driving). It was 1:30am. For the second year in a row, the women’s restrooms were being cleaned when we arrived, so I washed up in the handicapped restroom instead, which was quite posh in comparison.
The rest area lights are piercingly bright (at least in the wee hours) and can be hard to avoid, but this year one towel hanging from a back window was enough to darken the inside of the car so we could sleep. We slept surprisingly well, though the night never became as cold as I was expecting, so I woke sweating around 5:00am and threw off the wool blanket. We both awoke for good about an hour later, sticky and yawning but eager to get back on the road. Could anything possibly delay or distract us? Well, yes, of course — a benchmark. I had known for two years that a tri-station existed somewhere at the rest area, but neither of us had searched for it. This year we decided to take a quick look, even though we had no datasheet. In the damp early morning air we walked behind the welcome center and onto an access road. Walking toward the coordinates, I began to have doubts. The coordinates took us to a spot just a few feet off the side of the road, and no monument was evident. Perhaps it is buried beneath the grass. After a cursory look for nearby reference marks (of which we found none), we decided to give up on our casual search and head back to the highway. We were certain there would be no scarcity of survey marks to find over the next two weeks!
L.L. Bean in Freeport is another traditional stop along the way. I was happy to have earned $75 in “cashback rewards” from Discover Card to spend here, and after much deliberation I selected a blue-green wool sweater, a blue-green long sleeved t-shirt, and a hot coral fleece pullover. Rich found nothing that tickled his fancy this year. We checked out the tents, and we laughed together at the goofy moose items (gummy moose [and lobsters], moose droppings, and moose-embroidered balsam pillows, for example).
After another half hour or so on the road, it was time to stop for some real breakfast. The moose brownie remnants were tasty, but we wanted something heartier … an egg sandwich, perhaps. Well, we reached the McDonalds in Waterville at 11:00am, which is apparently about 30 minutes too late for breakfast. Our first order consisting of a Big Mac, a chipotle snack wrap, and a large coffee somehow ended up on the floor as Rich transported it toward our table, with one-half of the Big Mac being the only survivor. My poor snack wrap, as well as one of the Big Mac patties, drowned in an ocean of coffee. I reordered, and we were pleasantly surprised by both the flavor and the quality of preparation of our food, so the Waterville McDonalds gets a thumbs-up from these mooses. We ate quickly, and laughed together the whole time.
It was after noon, a little later than usual, by the time we crossed the bridge onto Mount Desert Island. Our traditional orientation stop at the Welcome Center afforded us some pamphlets and information on the Isle au Haut ferry, as well as a new map of the island. A few minutes later, we checked in at Bar Harbor Manor and started unpacking. We were staying in Rich’s usual room, number 3.
We napped briefly after getting settled, and then headed off to hike/climb the mcuh anticipated Precipice Trail! I haven’t been able to hike this trail in the past because I have always visited Maine in June, when the trail (and several others) is closed due to nesting peregrine falcons. While I’m not sure the birds would be bothered by anyone’s presence on the cliffs, the park service seems to think they would, and therefore closes the trail from mid-April to mid-August (yes, that’s a very significant portion of the hiking season in this area of the country). I have an affinity for these “non-technical climbing trails,” ones that don’t require ropes but have plenty of difficult rock scrambles and climbs on rock faces with the aid of rungs, ladders, handrails, etc. Many of them require some tricky moves and nerves of steel to overcome the sheer exposures, and I love the challenges whether physical or mental.
The heat and humidity were going to be a problem, I could tell from the start. We both suffer from leg cramps (oh, there is no pain like waking at 2:00am with legs in knots, and if you’ve ever felt them you know exactly what I mean). I was also concerned for Rich’s knees, which have also been troublesome lately. But we climbed slowly, savoring each view over the ocean though the day was hazy, and resting on each ledge that was wide enough for comfortable standing. We checked the marshland below the cliffs for moose, our optimism fading as the afternoon wore on. And no, we never saw our moose, but we did reach the summit of Champlain Mountain! High hooves all around, and of course I wanted to repeat the trail immediately. Hiking down is more difficult, though, and not as much fun. We had planned to hike down the Bear Brook Trail (newly renamed the North Ridge Trail) to the East Face Trail, and after resting a few moments and checking on NEWPORT 1860, that’s exactly what we did.
The Bear Brook trail leads over the smooth, open north face of Champlain Mountain. Rich and I were trapped in a thunderstorm here in 2005, a rather dramatic episode in which we could see the storm powering toward us across the bay but had nowhere to hide. Today, the weather was docile. We checked on another of our old friends — JDR/USA — before turning east to climb down the steep and rocky (but mercifully short) East Face Trail. This took us back to the Park Loop Road, just a five-minute walk from our car.
Supper was cheap, fast, and the number one object of our cravings for the past fifteen months: Rosalie’s Pizza. It’s still as awesome as ever, with a perfectly crispy and flavorful thin crust that bubbles up in spots, a generous amount of simple, tangy tomato sauce, uniform sprinkling of cheese, and my favorite topping: sausage! (I still like it just this much better than the pepperoni, R!!!) We had no trouble claiming a booth, and there’s hardly a better combination than relaxing with my favorite person, a Shipyard Summer Ale, a large Rosalie’s sausage pizza, and 50s music playing in the background. Warm and satisfied, we returned to our room where we fell asleep early and dreamed of discovering some of the secrets this island has saved for us.