Maine, the opposite of Florida

Maine has been high on our list of places to go since we bought our first van in 2017. To a Floridian, Maine is the yin to our yang. The north to our south. The cold to our hot. The cliffs to our sand. The whoopie pie to our Cuban sandwich. The moose to our alligator. Where does Maine’s most famous resident live when he isn’t writing classic horror? Stephen King lives in Sarasota. Maine is the anti-Florida.

Friends, we almost got stuck in Maine. And I don’t mean flat tire on the tide of the road or murdered by a crazed fan of our blog. Maine had us living in the first act of a King novel… walking up a long dirt driveway to get a good look at a neglected cabin for sale, where we could raise the kids in the wilderness and a man “could get a lot of writing done.” Monica could start canning jams while I tapped away feverishly at my laptop. It would all be so beautiful—until a peculiar neighbor started peering at us from through the dense forest. And then the second act of the Stephen King novel is where things start to get really scary.

No, we didn’t buy the cabin. Something about he phrase, “Ready to be winterized,” brought us caution. Heating source: “Wood.” There were other hints that Mt. Desert Island might not be a place for Floridian’s to settle. We arrived in June, yet some restaurants and lodges hadn’t yet opened for their season. Sure, I get that winter is rough, but people don’t even want to visit Maine in May.

But we were completely charmed. A few nights at Acadia turned into an extra week in Bar Harbor. And a single night down the coast in Camden turned into three. We couldn’t get out of Maine. I had to buy a jacket!

We even met a nice family from Ohio with two kids on a journey similar to ours. I first noticed them at a trailhead when I was admiring their impressive Overlander RV—extended cab, winter insulation, diesel, grizzly bear-proof. Then, like stalkers, we kept running into them—once nearly running them over. When they ended up being just a few campsites away, we plopped ourselves in front of their campfire and shared our marshmallows. But it turns out, we weren’t just crazy interlopers trying to pawn our kids off with some playmates. We arranged to meet up with them again in New Hampshire. If we were stalkers, they totally would have given us a fake phone number and hidden from us. And they totally didn’t!

Maine is everything Florida isn’t. Rocky, cool, rural and vaccinated. It still has its tourist traps, but they’re trying to sell you syrup instead of timeshares. Leaving Bar Harbor, we spent the better part of a day winding down the coast, hardly getting out of sight of Cadillac Mountain, meeting interesting people and finding towns so forgotten, they may not have ever been remembered.

I took over 500 pictures in Maine. Here are a few highlights:

Before getting to Maine, we did a night in Salem, Massachusetts. Our goal was to learn about the Salem Witch Trials, which is truly fascinating, but the highlight was the House of Seven Gables, inspiration for the Nathaniel Hawthorne novel. The place has been “restored” to it’s fictional state, complete with secret passages and furnishings consistent with the book. Our first night in Maine was actually spent in a Lowes/Walmart parking lot. I was quite impressed with the wide selection of durable work clothing and gloves. In Florida it’s just flip flops and alligator repellant.

One of the great things about traveling with a long-distance runner is that upon arrival in a new location, Monica disappears to run a dozen miles and comes back with a complete lay-of-the-land. Day 1 in Acadia National Park she led us to a quintessential coastal rock where the kids explored tide pools and we took in a view that never gets old. We also chose this point in the trip to teach the kids how to play poker using the only currency our daughter really understands: candy.

Acadia has an extensive set of “carriage trails” build by John D. Rockefeller because he wanted to zip around the area in his horse-drawn carriage. Today they are horse, hiking and bike trails. When Monica sees “bike trail” she imagines a leisurely pedal. However, in Maine this means “mountain bikes.” Let’s just say we were the only ones on “beach cruisers.” I had to snap a pic of all the fancy mountain bikes parked at the cafe, famous for its “popovers.” In fact, half the people we saw had electric bikes, which is totally cheating. I’m not allowed to let my heart rate get too high, so on the carriage roads of Acadia I invented the up-and-coming sport of hicycling—hiking combined with bicycling. I’m going sell regular bikes, rebranded as Hicycles(™), and charge double. Find me on Kickstarter soon.

When I was about 12 years old, my dad and I hiked an insane trail in Acadia called Precipice Rock. In my memory, it seemed like the stupidest thing a father and son with no experience, little water and no snacks, could undertake. Upon returning to Acadia, I sort of expected to find that trail to be something tame. But my memory was correct. We had no business being on that trail. The Precipice Trail wasn’t open because of breeding hawks, but it was also NOT at all recommended for mere mortals. The great thing is that you don’t need a difficult trail to be rewarded with an amazing view.

In Boston I almost got our RV stuck due to low clearance. I didn’t make that mistake with some of the low bridges in Acadia. But in an effort to save myself 30 seconds of “work” I did something dumb. Returning to our site from an excursion, I tried to park our RV on the leveling blocks without moving them. In doing so, I ran over one of my wooden boards in such a way that it jutted up and ripped apart my running-board. It was one of those things that I couldn’t do again if I tried 100 times. Luckily, I’m as amazing as I am lazy, so I had it fixed (almost) as good as new in a matter of minutes.

The original plan was to make a couple of quick day-trips into Bar Harbor. But Maine’s cool weather and the fact that the season was just starting, so it wasn’t yet crowded, we decided to stay an extra week. It was an opportunity to try lobster in all of its forms. Monica ordered a big fat lobster on the verandah of the swankiest hotel in town. The server was kind enough to offer some tips on getting at the meat. Down the road we found that we weren’t huge fans of cold lobster rolls, but luckily there was so much meat that I repurposed the leftovers in butter and pasta.

During one evening walk we stumbled upon a For Sale sign at the end of a long driveway. Curious, we found a reasonably priced cabin on several acres of thick woods. Idyllic. Unfortunately, our Florida sensibilities meant that it was probably too cold to live in this cabin in June, much less February. We’ll be back.

Proving Florida doesn’t have a monopoly on “crazy” we stumbled upon a strange burial ground/outdoor museum which also featured a two-sided exhibit displaying detailed data on radioactivity of crops after the Chernobyl accident. Obviously, walking through the woods in Maine, the cell signal is lousy so this is really the only way to know how much radio active cesium was in Turkish dried figs and Egyptian fennel seeds in the 1980s. Florida Crazy isn’t nearly so academic.

We spent an entire day winding down the Maine coast and didn’t even lose sight of Cadillac Mountain, where we started. We made a stop at a town with not much more than a rare candy shop. Beyond having an array of Monica’s favorite Cold War confections, the owner, a Manhattan ex-pat named Blossom, may or may not have been the inspiration for the name of the famous TV character, as her father was friends with one of the show’s creators. This is one of those cases where we don’t need evidence. We met the real Blossom.

You’re enjoying the FOURTH summer trip of “Don’t Make Me Turn This Van Around.” This blog is written by Jonathan Kile, and approved by Monica Kile. In 2016, after series of major medical issues, Jon was diagnosed with a serious genetic condition called Vascular Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. With life completely altered, they developed a road-trip habit. Reach Jon at jkilewrites@gmail.com. Monica is a non-profit consultant, grant writer, marathoner, baker, tour guide, and prolific bath taker. Also, don’t forget to follow our Instagram feed for stuff that doesn’t make the blog.

Passing through a little hamlet, we were powerless against the charms of Camden, Maine. We doubled back and found Camden Hills State Park. Not even the scourge of poisonous moths could keep us from dropping anchor for three nights. The view from the peak above the town was incredible. Camden looked like the set of a Hollywood movie. There’s a diner with a coffee shop above it (that I was afraid might collapse through the floor) where the white-bearded bookseller’s “desk” was in a closet papered in photos of Bob Dylan.

Hard as it was to leave, we had a date to stalk our new friends across state lines in New Hampshire.

You’re enjoying the FOURTH summer trip of “Don’t Make Me Turn This Van Around.” This blog is written by Jonathan Kile, and approved by Monica Kile. In 2016, after series of major medical issues, Jon was diagnosed with a serious genetic condition called Vascular Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. With life completely altered, they developed a road-trip habit. Reach Jon at jkilewrites@gmail.com. Monica is a non-profit consultant, grant writer, marathoner, baker, tour guide, and prolific bath taker. Also, don’t forget to follow our Instagram feed for stuff that doesn’t make the blog.


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