Northern exposure

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Glacier Bay National Park  (Photos by Addison Ore)

Alaska is big. Alaskans make fun of Texas for thinking that it’s big because you could fit Texas into Alaska two times. In fact, Alaska is bigger than Texas, California and Montana combined. Are you getting the big picture?

I got to experience just how big, bold and beautiful Alaska is earlier this summer when my wife and I spent two weeks there on vacation. Disclaimer: This trip was not my idea and I grumbled about it more than a few times but our 49th state has long been on my wife’s bucket list. (More on the concept of the bucket list later.) I didn’t have anything against Alaska, it just wasn’t ever high on my travel radar.

For the record, I was stupid. Now, I’m just mad about Alaska.

We did a land and sea package and while I usually balk about a group tour (Are you sensing a pattern here?), this is really the ideal way to see a lot of Alaska. Also, you never have to carry your own luggage. Best idea ever.

Our trip began in Fairbanks, the most northern part of our journey and we were fully immersed in the Land of the Midnight Sun. Wow. This is a really weird thing to adjust to. On our first full day in Fairbanks, sunrise was at 3:09 AM and sunset was at, wait for it, 12:28 AM. And the few hours between the two were never really actually dark – more like grey.

I kept hearing “Sunglasses at Night” – that Corey Hart song from the 80’s in my head. One evening after dinner we were having a “nightcap” sitting on a bench overlooking the Chena River and I asked my wife, “Should we be wearing sunscreen now?” We slept with hand towels over our eyes because even with the curtains drawn, we felt like we were taking a nap in the middle of the day.

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Goodnight Sun.

Remember when you were a kid and you would stay outside on summer nights until your mom would come to the back door and call for you to come in? I wondered how long Alaskan mothers wait to make that call. Kids? What kids?

And let’s talk about the produce. Freaky. We’re talking 65 pound cantaloupes! The growing season is short but because of the extended exposure to the sun, anybody can have a green thumb in Alaska. We passed some fields of cabbages that looked like something out of a sci fi movie.

The natives make the most of summer in Alaska and it seemed as if everyone we met had at least two jobs. Our tour director, Scott, is a middle school science teacher and spends his summers working for Trafalgar, our tour company. We did a riverboat cruise our first full day in Fairbanks that was narrated by a personable guy with a great voice wearing a nautical looking coat. The next morning, we turned on the TV and saw our “Captain” reading the news. Turns out he’s a longtime local radio and TV personality.

The next day we headed out for Denali National Park. Scott had warned us that only one out of three visitors ever see the mountain known as “The Great One” because of cloud cover. He was smart to undersell us because as we approached the park and saw the highest peak in North America in all its glory, we were all giddy. It’s pretty funny to see 50 people snapping the same shot. We just used our iPhones but at the end of the day, something that massively magnificent cannot be truly captured by any lens. At least that’s what I told myself that evening when I deleted about 37 photos of something that looked like a white blob.

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Objects in distance are a gazillion times bigger than they appear.

Denali National Park and Preserve encompasses more than six million acres. Yes, million, and only one ribbon of road bisects the wild land. One of the most popular excursions in the park is the Tundra Wilderness Tour – a 62 mile, 8 hour bus ride that gives you up close and personal views of wildlife and more intimate views of Denali.

My brother and his wife did this tour last summer and I think it may have been the low point of their 35 year marriage. He was not happy. Granted, this is a man who usually flies first class and was probably 15 the last time he rode on a school bus. Alaska was on his wife’s bucket list (seriously, more later), too. Go figure. Anyway, his review of the bus tour that would not end was enough to convince us to spend the day in Denali on our own and I think it was probably my most favorite day in a fortnight of favorite days.

It was a spectacular morning drenched in brilliant sunshine and we set out on a hike along the Nenana River. We passed a park ranger leading a group back from this trail and he reported no bear sightings. This is a real and present concern while in Denali and we were briefed to not run if we encountered a bear. I liken this to the instruction the flight attendant gives you if your oxygen mask is ever deployed : “Place the mask over your nose and mouth and breathe normally.” Sure.

So if you encounter a bear, you are supposed to stand your ground, wave your hands a bit and say things like, “Hey, Bear.” Apparently they really are not interested in humans unless we run and then they think we are lunch.

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We ain’t afraid of no bears.

The only wildlife we encountered on our hike was some moose poop and we were able to differentiate it from bear poop because we paid attention to the poop display at the Visitor’s Center. We had our National Park swagger on after that.

Our trail led down to the rocky bank of the rushing river and we just sat for a few hours and breathed it all in. This has been a challenging year for me and my wife. I lost a job that I really loved in January in a perfect storm of misinformation and misguided decisions and it has been a painful and slow healing process.

I’m not a good enough writer to adequately describe our view that day and it was more than just what we saw – the sounds were almost reverent. The whooshing flow of the river, the echoes of birds in the trees, the breeze. I felt as close to God as I did in St. Peter’s Basilica and I felt more peace than I had felt in months. I sucked it in like it was that oxygen mask. I can smell that day right now – crisp and piney.

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This day…

And I intend to hold tight to that day for as long as I can.

We ran into a few of our tour mates later that evening as they staggered off their buses in search of some dinner. Their reviews were mixed but we knew we had made the right decision for us. We were outside all day – beginning with breakfast on the deck and ending when we finally returned to our room for the night (which wasn’t dark, of course). I felt like a kid again and I’m sure I smelled like one, too. It was rather exhilarating to be that dirty from just knocking around outside all day.

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Future Iditarod champions. We saw puppies!

Anyone that’s been on a tour to Alaska knows that wildlife viewing can be a competitive sport with bragging rights for the best find. It was like a game of wildlife poker when you ran into folks at breakfast the next morning after everyone’s day of adventures. “We saw two moose, three eagles and a bear,” said one of the women from New Zealand. Not to be outdone, a man from Canada said, “We saw a mama moose and two babies, three reindeer and four Dall sheep.” The ante got even bigger when we moved on to the cruise portion of our trip and whale sightings became the equivalent of a royal flush.

One of the best things about a tour is meeting folks from literally all round the world. I love hearing different accents and learning about places I haven’t been – which finally brings me to the subject of the bucket list. Don’t get me wrong, I understand the concept of the bucket list. I just think it should have a better name than that. “Bucket” seems like such a utilitarian and unglamorous descriptor for something you deeply want to do. I also don’t like the idea of being motivated to do something before you die. It just feels a bit morose to me.

My blog mate and bestie  Carla and I had a discussion about this before I left on my trip. She agreed with me (she’s sweet like that) and suggested we change it to “dream” list or “wish” list. And yet, I was fascinated with the driving force of the bucket list so I got in the habit of asking people I met  on our trip why they chose to tour Alaska. I bet I asked 30 people and I think about 28 of them lit up and said, “Oh, Alaska has always been on my bucket list.” There you have it.

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A note on display at the Denali Visitor Center.

Call it what you want but I have to admit that there’s something quite special about sharing a dream/wish/bucket list trip with a large group of strangers. You immediately have an unspoken bond and the excitement and joy emanating from everyone is almost palpable. It’s like you’re all on the same team, cheering for the same things – sunny days, multiple orca sightings and extra drink tickets at the group dinners.

We made our way on to Anchorage, the largest city in Alaska, via train on the Alaskan Railroad. I had an ear worm of one of my favorite songs playing over and over – “Anchorage” by Michelle Shocked. It’s about an exchange of letters from two old friends, one writes to the other in Dallas and the return letter comes from Anchorage.

Hey Shell, you know it’s kind of funny

Texas always seemed so big

But you know you’re in the largest state in the union

When you’re anchored down in Anchorage 

I love this song even more now that I’ve been there and my dear wife was so sweet to put up with me singing it (badly) every day.

Anchorage is a thoroughly modern city but one of the most interesting things we did there was visit the Alaska Native Heritage Center, a cultural center and museum designed to expand the understanding of Alaska’s Indigenous people. Many of the guides here were young people – high school age – and I was so moved by their reverence for their past.

These kids may have gone back to their iPads when they were done with their presentations of Alaska Native dance and games but they gave us such a rich and thoughtful narrative of their history. There was no eye-rolling or rote recitation. They spoke from their hearts and made us feel their deep connection to their beautiful land.

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From an exhibit at the Alaska Native Heritage Center.

 

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Alaskans revere their heritage. (On display at the Native Alaska Heritage Center.)

One of our young guides apologized that some of the staff were missing that day and explained that it was the start of salmon fishing season and they were fishing – not for sport but for food for the winter. You get the sense that Alaskans are not careless with their resources. I don’t think you can be a weenie and survive there.

The only bad weather that we encountered coincided with our whale watching tour on the last day of the land portion of our trip. Scott gave us all fair warning that the seas would be rough and that the faint of heart should probably find a nice bar and wait for the group to get back. My lovely wife is prone to motion sickness but she had double dosed on Dramamine and Bonine and was game. I love that about her. She’s fond of saying, “I signed up for the full experience.” Little did she know.

Our whale watching outing started off well enough with an almost immediate sighting of a humpback whale but soon turned into an episode of The Deadliest Catch as we left the bay and headed into the choppy ocean and some very big waves. I think about a third of the folks on our boat got sick. It wasn’t pretty and I’ll just say once again that my wife is a real trouper. Oh, and we will never go on a whale watching outing again.

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Lambs to the slaughter.

After returning to land for about 30 minutes, we had to board our cruise. Yeah, the timing wasn’t great on that but this was my first cruise so I was pretty excited and the color was beginning to return to my wife’s face. We got through the embarkation process quickly with an alarming warning of a “slight” outbreak of the norovirus on the ship. Disclaimer: The crew of our ship did a great job containing the germs and only a few people were sick. That said, I think I have a permanent layer of Purell on my hands from over applying several times a day for a week.

The cruise ship experience was really fun. We loved breakfast room service and elegant dining at night but our most favorite thing was our verandah – cruise ship speak for balcony. It was so amazing to just sit and watch Mother Nature’s floor show as we sailed through Southeast Alaska, much of which can only be accessed by plane or boat.

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Her heart will go on. Just not on any more whale watches.

No question the highlight of the cruise was our day in Glacier Bay National Park which happened to fall on the summer solstice. Forgive me if I pile on the clichés like breathtaking and amazing. We stood on the deck of the ship in absolute awe as watched – and heard – Margerie Glacier, one of the most active glaciers in Glacier Bay, calving. You heard what sounds a little like distant thunder and then a loud cracking and then chunks of ice breaking off the glacier and splashing into the water. It’s absolutely thrilling.

Later that evening after dinner, we returned to our cabin and I went out on the verandah. I first thought I was looking at the sunset and then I remembered that I was in Alaska. There was a beautiful band of light and unusual color in the horizon and then it dawned on me – I was looking at the Northern Lights. I screamed – really, I did – for my wife to come outside and we just stood in rapt amazement. It is extremely rare to see the Northern Lights in summer so we felt like we had won the Alaska Lottery. And it was a stunning exclamation point on the longest day of the year.

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The Northern Lights

One of the other things I really loved about cruising was waking up in a different place every day. It was like Christmas every morning when I pulled open the curtains. Ta da! Here’s … Juneau! Imagine how exciting  our real lives would be if we woke up to a change of scenery every day. And then someone knocks gently on your door and delivers your breakfast. I felt like Lady Mary only less entitled and without the 23 inch waist. Whatever. I’m nicer.

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Father Brown’s Cross overlooking Gastineau Bay in Juneau.

Our re-entry to the mainland of reality was painful – cancelled and delayed flights and 90 degree temperatures when we finally arrived home but we never got grouchy about any of it. My wife is pretty much incapable of being grouchy but I consider myself to be an advanced practitioner. I was on a post-Alaska high and nothing could melt my iceberg.

We’ve been back a couple of weeks now and Alaska feels a little further away each day and that makes me sad. I miss my unobstructed view of nature in all its glory. My time in Alaska was healing for me in ways I had not anticipated. I felt renewed and strong, cleansed from some of my burdens. The famous naturalist John Muir often wrote about these infinite powers of nature.

“Nature is always lovely, invincible, glad, whatever is done and suffered by her creatures. All scars she heals, whether in rocks or water or sky or hearts.”

That’s big. That’s Alaska.

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Alaska makes everything look tiny, especially your worries.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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10 reasons (and more) to visit Maine

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(Photo by Carla Kucinski)

I’ve dreamed of going to Maine for years.

When my husband and I were first dating, we’d lay on the couch, fingers interlaced, fantasizing about the places we’d live together. Maine always came up. The fantasy goes like this. Andrew and I would live in a cottage (grey with a colorful door – maybe red or yellow) by the rocky Maine coast, and I would write books from my study overlooking the Atlantic, while Andrew would chop wood in the yard with our black Lab, Molly, at his side. There may be another dog or two in the picture. I would wear a lot of wool socks and oversize sweaters and mill about the house clutching warm cups of tea. And after a morning of writing, I’d make something like blueberry jam or a stockpot of hearty stew. Andrew would wear lots of flannel and thermal undershirts, jeans and rugged boots. He’d have a salt and pepper burly beard. When he wasn’t chopping wood, he’d read books in our library lined with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. Molly would chase seagulls.

I’ve only known Maine through artwork and photographs, “Olive Kitteridge” and “Murder She Wrote.” The landscape has always drawn me in. The evergreens, the lighthouses, the choppy ocean slamming into the cliffs. It’s been a dream of mine to hike Acadia National Park and breathe in the smell of pine, stand on top of a mountain overlooking the Atlantic.

In May, I finally stopped fantasizing about Maine and made it a reality. It’s been a rough half of the year so far, and my husband and I needed a change of scenery, a place where we could hit the reset button on our lives and just be together. One night, I suggested Maine, and presented my research on flight times and cost. (I’m in PR; data is important when you’re delivering an idea.) Three weeks later, we were on a plane to New England.

Maine is one of the most – if not the most – memorable vacation we’ve taken together. I remember on our way home, sitting in the Bangor airport waiting to board our flight, and I scanned the large photo canvases hanging on the walls around us. Each one captured a beautiful Maine nature scene. I smiled recognizing some of the places we have visited. Jordan Pond. Bass Harbor Light House. Cadillac Mountain. “Look, we were there!” As we waited for our flight, we flipped through the endless stream of photos on our phones – us on our first hike at Acadia overlooking the ocean; us at sunrise at Cadillac Mountain awash in golden and pink light; us about to eat the best meal of our lives in Portland. A sadness came over me as we swiped through the photos. We hadn’t even boarded the plane yet and I was already missing Maine. I didn’t want to leave this beautiful state.

When friends ask us how our trip was, I always respond with one word: memorable. Here’s 12 reasons why — in the order in which they happened.

1. Family.

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So yeah, NH isn’t Maine, but that’s where my sister and her family live and I haven’t seen them in a year-and-a-half (shameful). So we made a slight detour and spent two nights hanging out with this adorable stripes and plaid crew. Our itinerary consisted of: Eating the best carnitas ever (prepared with love by my sis and bro-in-law); blowing bubbles in the front yard with the boys; a riveting game of bocce ball; homemade ice cream on a 95 degree day (Yep, that’s right 9-5.); choreography lesson and dance party in the living room with the boys; a late-night heart-to-heart with my big sis; Sunday morning pancake breakfast and a living-room cello concert from my oldest nephew. Oh yeah, and the best group selfie ever taken by my bro-in-law.

2. The Breakers Inn

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After leaving 95-degree NH the next day, we traveled two hours north to Scarborough, Maine, where it was overcast, windy and just barely 50 degrees. This was the Maine I was hoping to experience. It required layers and scarves for this NC girl. This was the view from our room at The Breakers Inn. I was in awe gazing out the window and seeing the landscape just as I had imagined it in this non-commercialized town.

I’ve been wanting to come to the Breakers Inn ever since I first heard about it 15 years ago from a couple I lived with in Connecticut while I was interning at The Hartford Courant; they had been going for 30 years. I couldn’t believe I was finally here and it was as beautiful and quaint as I thought it would be. The rooms are cozy, quiet and comfortable and offer spectacular views. And Rodney, one of the innkeepers, makes a homemade oatmeal in the morning that’s to die for. Their homemade blueberry, raspberry and strawberry jams are equally amazing. I can see us coming back here year after year. It’s a special place.

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If you need me, I’ll be here, staring out the window. (Photo by Carla Kucinski)

3. The Best Lobster Roll Evah!

This right here. One of the top three best things I’ve ever eaten. Hands down. And that root beer? Nothing else like it. It didn’t matter that it was extremely windy and cold nor that I could barely feel my fingers. I had my root beer and my juicy, meaty lobster making me happy. Bite into Maine is a little food truck that cranks out these lobster rolls at the Portland Head Light at Fort Williams Park.

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It was disappointing that the lighthouse was wrapped in scaffolding, but this lobster roll pretty much made up for it. (Photo by Carla Kucinski)

 

4. David’s 388

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This is us before we were about to eat the best meal of our lives. 

David’s 388 in South Portland was recommended to us by a trusted friend who knows good food. The earliest reservation we could get was 8 p.m., so we opted for what they described as the “chef’s table,” a bar that seats four people and overlooks the kitchen. For someone like me who loves food and even more so loves watching food be made, this was a dream come true. To start, I ordered a grilled romaine salad just because I saw one being made right in front of me that looked amazing. And it was. But when I saw the steamed pork bun leave the kitchen, I felt a small ping of regret. After the waitress told me how good they are, I expressed to her my inner torture of trying to decide between the salad and the pork bun. “Screw the romaine!” I said balling my fist in the air. The head chef overheard me and laughed. A few minutes later, he placed a small plate with a pork bun in front of us, and with a smile said, “On the house.” I looked up from my entree in disbelief, and then thanked him profusely. (I devoured it in seconds. There is no photo of the pork bun.) David’s 388 was the best seafood either of us has ever experienced. Everything was fresh and local and damn delicious.

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Pistachio crusted scallops. (Photo credit Carla Kucinski)

 

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Hake (a traditional Maine white fish) with lobster, asparagus, corn and the creamiest mashed potatoes that melted in your mouth. 

5. Portland

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Portland has a little bit of grit to it, but mostly, it’s just darn cute. Lots of quaint little shops. Beautiful architecture. Loads of book stores and coffee shops. Cobblestone streets. (Photos by Carla Kucinski)

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It used to be wherever I traveled, I would be on a quest for the best cupcake. I’ve since shifted my focus to donuts. 

This is The Holy Donut. These donuts are unlike any donut I’ve encountered. They’re made of potatoes. So that makes them healthy — or something. I wasn’t a huge fan of the vanilla. (It tasted like a doughy funnel cake.) But this chocolate dream below rocked my world. I guess they call it Holy Donut because eating them feels like a religious experience.

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Chocolate sea salt donut. Yeah, that’s right.

You may have begun to notice that so far my most memorable moments revolved around food. (This is a common theme in my life.) The food we ate in Maine was truly exceptional. And The Honey Paw was no exception. We actually stumbled upon this place, after putting our name on an hour-long waiting list at a seafood restaurant next door. After looking at the menu, we canceled our table next door and sidled up to the bar at Honey Paw, a fusion of American and Asian cuisines. I ordered this beauty: Korean fried chicken with kimchi and daikon (hold the American cheese) and a side of ramp chips. I moaned and groaned with every bite I took. (I can be annoying like that.) To top off the experience, a kind older couple, who are Honey Paw regulars, were seated next to us and shared their dessert with us. Some kind of blueberry cake with cream filling. Can I have some more please? I learned later that they were written up in the New York Times travel section the day we we dined there.

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One of the best sandwiches of my life. I’m in love. (Photos by Carla Kucinski)

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People in Maine like to share their food with me.

6. Mr. Mo

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Our first night in Bar Harbor, I met this sweet pup, Mr. Mo. He used to be a champion show dog in Chicago; now he lives in Maine with his owner, who is blind. They’ve been together for less than a year and they’ve already built a bond. Mr. Mo still needs to work on his seeing-eye-dog techniques, but he’s pretty much mastered hanging out at the local bar and receiving pets from dog lovers. He is the sweetest little thing. (Photo by Andrew Brown)

7. Ocean Path Trail – Acadia National Park

This was our introduction to Acadia National Park. Stunning views from every angle. Ocean Path is one of the most popular trails at Acadia. It hugs the coastline and meanders through forests and rocks and cliffs and towering evergreens. What struck me most was the beautiful emerald-green hue of the ocean. The entire trail was surreal for me. I wanted to come here for so long, and now I was actually here, and I was so overwhelmed by the beauty around us. I just kept thinking, “I can’t believe I’m here!”

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(Photos by Carla Kucinski)

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8. Sunrise at Cadillac Mountain – Acadia National Park

Seeing the sunrise from Cadillac Mountain landed on my “dreams list” earlier this year when I was watching a segment on Acadia National Park on the CBS Sunday Morning show. The reporter mentioned how this is the first place the sun rises on the east coast in the U.S. My husband was reluctant to get up at 3:45 a.m. to make the 30-minute drive up the mountain and wait for this glorious once-in-a-lifetime moment to happen. I couldn’t imagine NOT doing it. So did the 200 or so other people who joined us on the top of the mountain that morning. The sun rises wicked early there. (That morning it rose at 4:50 a.m.) But wow, it was so worth it. The view was magnificent and truly unforgettable. The best part was the moment after everyone had hopped in the cars and driven back down the mountain and we were left alone with a peaceful stillness. Afterwards, we had a plateful of delicious wild blueberry pancakes with real maple syrup at Jordan’s Restaurant. It was a pretty perfect morning, and the day was just beginning. (Tip: It’s much colder and windier at the top of Cadillac. I had on multiple layers, but I wish I had brought a blanket or sleeping bag like some of the folks around us. A pair of gloves would have helped, too.)

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(Photos by Carla Kucinski)

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What we look like after waking up at 3:45 a.m.

 

9. Jordan Pond – Acadia National Park

Jordan Pond wasn’t on our list of hiking trails at Acadia; we kind of just came upon it and decided to check it out because frankly we were lost. I wasn’t sure what to expect other than the ponds that I’m used to seeing — brown, murky and mosquito-infested. Apparently ponds look much different in Maine; they’re a little slice of heaven. I couldn’t believe how clear and blue the water is. (Tip: Be sure to follow the short walk to the Jordan Pond House, where there’s a full-service restaurant that bakes warm, fluffy popovers.)

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(Photo by Carla Kucinski)

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(Photo by Carla Kucinski)

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(Photo by Carla Kucinski)

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(Photo by Andrew Brown)

 

10. Facing my fear of heights

I realized I was deathly afraid of heights when I went on a ferris wheel for the first time at a carnival in the 5th grade. I screamed the entire time and couldn’t wait to be on solid ground again. I love hiking. But hiking often requires inclines and overlooks and all that scary stuff. Sometimes, in hiking, you’re forced to face your fears. Such was the case when a friendly female park ranger suggested we hike Emery Path at Sieur de Monts in Acadia. It’s a beautiful hike, great views and lots of granite steps, she told us. We were intrigued, so we gave it a whirl. I did not anticipate just how beautiful the views would be. Absolutely breathtaking. I also didn’t anticipate that I would hike so high up without hyperventilating, crying or passing out. That’s not to say that I didn’t have the occasional narrative in my head which went something like, “If I slip and fall here, I wouldn’t fall that far down.” But honestly, I was so overtaken by the views that I didn’t have time to be scared; I only had time to pause and take in the beauty.

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Look it’s me! Way up high! (Photo by Andrew Brown)

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Hundreds of granite steps comprise most of Emery Path. Once you reach what you think is the top, another sign points one mile onward to Dorr Mountain. We decided to turn right on Homans Path and head back down the mountain, which I’m glad we did. I’ve seen pictures of the rest of the trail, and it looks a little frightening. (Photo by Carla Kucinski)

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Even though I’m afraid of heights, for most of this trail, I felt fairly contained by the steps and walls of the mountain. That gave me comfort. (Photo by Andrew Brown)

11. More food

Some final thoughts on food.

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The Thirsty Whale became our favorite lunch spot in Bar Harbor. The food was great and the bar was dark and cozy. Do try the haddock sandwich. It was the perfect meal after hours of hiking.

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I also recommend the fried clams at Thirsty Whale. Yowza. Best clams I ever had. I was happy that this plate of yumminess was my last meal in Bar Harbor.

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I highly recommend the blueberry basil margarita at Side Street Cafe. Refreshing and served in a mason jar glass. Super cute.

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The lobster mac and cheese at Side Street Cafe is also a winner. This is a half order. I can’t imagine what a full order looks like. It was pretty spectacular. After, we walked to Ben & Bill’s Chocolate Emporium, where I had the best ice cream in my life – traditional chocolate and vanilla with peanut butter.  

12. Bass Harbor Head Light

We spent our last few hours in Bar Harbor driving to the southern part of Mount Desert Island — beautiful drive with a mixture of wilderness and views of the ocean. As we drove around the island with no particular destination in mind, we saw signs for Bass Harbor Head Light and decided to check it out. A trip to Maine is not complete until you’ve seen a lighthouse, and this one was pretty amazing. It’s nestled into the side of a cliff right on the ocean. A set of wooden steps descend among the pine trees to huge rocks that you can climb to get a more picturesque view of the lighthouse. It was truly beautiful.

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(Photo by Carla Kucinski)

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(Photo by Carla Kucinski)

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(Photo by Andrew Brown)

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(Photo by Andrew Brown)

Mountain musings

  
The last morning of vacation always makes me sad. I’m never ready to go home. This is how I feel this morning sitting on the back porch, swaying back in forth in the wooden swing on our deck, spending the morning watching the fog and smokey-grey clouds drift and separate across the Blue Ridge Mountains. I want to wake up every morning like this. 
  
We are tucked away in the woods at an elevation of 4,000 feet. To get here we took a series of paved and gravel roads that seemed like they were leading to nowhere. I’ve never been this remote, so removed from the rest of the world. We’ve immersed ourselves in solitude and quiet, the only sounds being the wind moving the leaves of the trees, and the occasional woodpecker that swoops in and taps on a nearby tree. We turned on the television last night for about an hour and even the sound of it irritated me and disrupted my mountain vacation zen. We turned it off to walk down the gravel road to an open field where we watched the sunset.  

I wonder if I could get used to living somewhere like this with the nearest grocery store 45 minutes away. I guess I’d be trading convenience for peace and a spectacular view. It seems worth it to me. Yesterday I picked wildflowers along the side of our road and baked chocolate chip cookies while listening to a Mozart CD I found in the house. These are not things I normally do in my spare time back home. 
  
I’ve had fantasies here of becoming a novelist and spending my days going for walks in the woods and returning to my cabin to write a few pages. How awesome would that be? 

I feel grounded in the mountains; they’ve always had that effect on me. Maybe it’s because they remind me of home and why when I’m in their presence I feel a sense of longing. For what? Peace? Living somewhere that I truly love? Having that connection to place, nature, the land? Perhaps it’s all of those things.
  

Change of plans

Cinnamon toast

I’ve been home all week sick with a nasty virus that feels like the flu but isn’t. It’s been a rough couple of days, but hopefully I turned a corner today. I finally took a shower this afternoon. Progress.

What sucks the most about this unfortunate turn of events is that my husband and I had to cancel our vacation Monday night when he came home from work to find me  shivering under the covers  with a 100F degree fever, and we realized there was no way I could get on a plane the next morning or even a few days from now. I was heartbroken and cried — did I mention I get weepy when I’m sick?

Our original plan was to fly to Arizona for a few days where I was going to attend a conference for work while Andrew caught up with an old friend from college. Then, we were going to drive to California to visit my parents for the remainder of our trip and celebrate my birthday a few days early. My mom was heartbroken too when I told her there’s been a change of plans. She too cried. It runs in the family.

I know we can’t always prevent ourselves from getting sick — things happen, right? But I can’t help from blaming myself this time. The week leading up to our trip, I worked. Too much. I had a long list of items to check off my list so that I could leave for two weeks with peace of mind. It was a very stressful week and I worked all day Saturday and Sunday to meet my self-inflicted deadlines. But it came with a cost. My health. Continue reading