Maine’s Ragged Coast

5 Nov

It depends on how you measure it: from Kittery to Eastport the coast of Maine is either 228 miles long or 3,478.  I’d just pounded up the “New England Riviera” from Kittery to Portland in 98-degree heat and Sunday traffic.  The first 67 miles of my journey was now behind me.

From Portland to Bar Harbor the topography of the land is one of deep, narrow inlets and long, thin peninsulas.  I call it the Ragged Coast and someone once calculated that all the navies of the world could simultaneously anchor in its sheltered harbors and coves. Although it’s considered to be a coastal highway, U.S. Route 1 actually cuts across the top of these peninsulas, touching the northern ends of bays and inlets while spanning rivers that feed into them. 

Located where U.S. Route 1 crosses beneath I-295 (Latitude 43°48.491′ North, Longitude 70°09.844′ West) is Eartha, the largest rotating globe on . . .well, Earth.  Three stories high it’s encased in a glass atrium attached to the headquarters of DeLorme and the entrance to the Map Store. However, this company doesn’t have a monopoly on printed cartography and directional information: the Maine State Information Center is located almost directly across the road. Image

Freeport can be Hell for motorcyclists when forced to contend with confused motorists desperately seeking parking and pedestrians spilling over curbs like lemmings. This is home to L.L. Bean whose flagship store has no locks on their doors since they’re open 24/7/365. If you need camping supplies or have room in your saddlebags for clothing deals this is the place to shop and some 3.5 million people a year do so.

Cutting through downtown Brunswick via Pleasant St., I turn right onto Rt. 24/Maine St., then right onto Route 123 by Bowdoin College to ride down the Harpswell Peninsula.  Only the salt tang to the air provides a clue that I’m not riding through the rural interior of the state, even after turning onto Mountain Road–a misnomer–and crossing Ewing Narrows to rejoin Route 24. A short bridge puts me onto Orr’s Island where elevation changes provide a bit of excitement and some fine views of ocean inlets no wider than rivers.

The world’s only cribstone bridge takes me over Wills Gut and I pull into the Bailey Island Motel for the night.  Cook’s Lobster House Restaurant is situated next to the fishing dock and the cedar-shingled restaurant in front of the motel is quite busy, but I go down to BIGS (Bailey Island General Store) where the owner makes me a BLT and I pick up a couple of bottles of Lobster Ale.  The island is almost paradise, especially with a cold beer and magnificent sunset.Image

Monday morning has me riding north on Route 24 and back onto U.S. Route 1 east.  My first destination is Bath, the City of Ships.

Located on the Kennebec River miles from the sea this city was famous for its shipyards during the Age of Sail.  Bath Iron Works (BIW) herald the coming of iron ships and steam and acquired fame by producing more naval destroyers during WWII than all the shipyards of Japan combined.  It still makes ships for the U.S. Navy, although now they are guided missile frigates. The Maine Maritime Museum is just down the street, the last surviving 19th century shipyard where wooden ships were constructed. Image

Exploring all the peninsulas of the Mid-Coast Region would take a month of Sundays, so I must pick and chose.  Route 27 takes leads south to Boothbay Harbor.  Heeding local advice plans get changed and instead of continuing to Newagen I follow Rt. 96 to Ocean Point.  Shore Rd. turns out to be a narrow, unpainted, twisty strip of asphalt that offers ocean views so fine that people have simply set up folding chairs on the road so they can sit and admire it!

I turn east on country Club Road and become delightfully “lost” before finding River Road (I should have continued north on Rt. 27 and turned right at the White Anchor Inn).  Despite its name this local highway going north to Newcastle runs through shaded forest along a ridge and never approaches the miles-long Damariscotta River estuary.

Briefly rejoining U.S. Rt. 1 to cross the river at Damariscotta I turn onto Routes 129/130 and once again ride south. Pemaquid Harbor was an early English fishing settlement and in 1622 the food they sent to Plymouth kept the Pilgrims alive during their second winter—a little point omitted from our school history textbooks. There was a succession of forts built here between 1625 and 1730, but the existing Fort William Henry is a reconstruction erected in 1908.  On the point, the Pemaquid Light is readily accessible for a small fee ($5) and for a bit more a person can rent the light keeper’s house for a week.  I turn onto Rt. 32 in New Harbor.  Shaw’s Fish & Lobster Wharf Restaurant doesn’t look terribly inviting, but it’s one of the best seafood restaurants on the coast. Image

Ignoring Friendship –the peninsula, not camaraderie—I continue to Thomaston and stop at the Maine Prison Showroom.  I’m not shopping for a one-room condo, but checking out one of the most unique retail shops in New England.  The wooden objects made by the inmates in the Prison Industries Program are almost famous.

The turn onto Rt. 131 is marked by General Henry Knox’s gleaming white mansion—or at least the 1927 reconstruction of it.  Reaching the end of the road in the fishing village of Port Clyde and checking out the Marshall Point Lighthouse I cruise back up the peninsula to one of my favorite places: the Owls Head Transportation Museum.

The museum’s engine room is dominated by a giant Corliss steam engine, but this doesn’t diminish the importance of other early internal combustion engines on display.  Exact replicas of Sylvester Roper’s steam-powered motorcycle and an 1885 Benz lead to exotic originals like Andrew Ricker’s electric “Torpedo” racer, James Scripps-Booth’s experimental Bi-Autogo, a Stout Scarab, and an Eliot Cricket. James Clark’s Ornithopter is another historic original that resides here. The best time to visit is during Labor Day weekend when thousands of riders arrive on motorcycles old and new.Image

There are 63 lighthouses in Maine, but only ten of them are accessible by motorcycle. The Owl’s Head Light was built in 1852 and the fourth-order Fresnel lens installed in 1856 is still in use, although it’s now illuminated by electricity instead of whale oil.

The Maine Lighthouse Museum and the Farnsworth Art Museum in downtown Rockland will have to wait for another trip. Rockport and Camden harbors are the best places to see wooden sailing ships, what have been coined as “windjammers.” Sometimes there can be so many wooden sloops, schooners, and tall ships in these two harbors that contemporary photos look like they were taken in the 19th century. Camden’s is less known by the casual tourist, yet it’s less than a block from U.S. Rt. 1 in downtown Camden and has public restrooms, motorcycle parking, an information center, and a food shack that sells incredible French fries. Image

I meet up with Jim LeClair and his wife Patti who own and operate the Maine Coast Welcome Center on Rt. 1 in Belfast.  It was Jim who took on the responsibility of planning my itinerary and making lodging arrangements for this trip and I have much to thank him for.

I’ve waited for the rain to stop before leaving the Comfort Inn Ocean’s Edge.  I expect to make fewer stops today, but the stunning Penobscot Narrows Bridge warrants a photo or two.  This cradle-system bridge is 2,120 feet long and one of the suspension towers is the tallest public bridge observatory in the world.

Miles of rough, poorly patched pavement on Rt. 175 have slowed me down and I decide not to go to Castine, but continue directly to Deer Isle.  After crossing the Eggemoggin Reach onto Little Deer Isle and along the winding causeway to Deer Isle, I pull onto a sandy beach alongside the road. Did John Steinbeck stop at this very beach during his “Travels with Charley?” Although this is my first visit I’ve seen Deer Isle before: granite from its quarries was used to build the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Smithsonian Institution, U.S. Naval Academy, Manhattan Bridge, and President John F. Kennedy’s tomb.  Route 15 ends at the wharf in Stonington, a quintessential Maine fishing village and tourist destination.  There’s an opera house, small boutiques, and a couple of hotels along the narrow shore road that doubles as the transportation route for the daily catch and the local tourist promenade.Image

Riding across the Blue Hill Peninsula on Route 172 is anti-climatic.  Perhaps my expectations are too high or haven ridden so many different parts of Maine I’ve become jaded.  It might simply be the record-breaking heat wave that has lasted for days is finally wearing me down.  I’m actually relieved to reach Ellsworth, even though it’s only to head south on Route 3 to Mount Desert Island.

Mount Desert Island is the sixth-largest island in the contiguous United States, but the short bridge from the mainland goes by almost unnoticed. Lodging options stretch from Ellsworth to Bar Harbor, but Jim has me booked at the Castlemaine Inn where I’m immediately made to feel right at home. The town of Bar Harbor is biker-friendly and has over 70 restaurants so making a choice proves to be difficult.Image

Acadia is one of the most popular national parks in the U.S. and I’m on the famous Park Loop Road by 6 AM.  The early morning light is perfect, the pavement flawless, and the views sublime.  I climb to the summit of Cadillac Mountain, the first place in the U.S. to see the sunrise and the highest point on the Atlantic seaboard.  Needless to say, the view is exquisite. Image

Beyond the park I find myself on Sargent Drive along east shore of Somes Sound, the only fjord in the eastern U.S.  Beautiful scenery just keeps unfolding as I enter the “West Side” and onto Route 102.

Stopping “only for a moment” at the Seal Cove Auto Museum I discover a treasure trove of motorcycles, especially a completely original 1906 Indian twin.  With so many rare cars and motorcycles to admire it’s mid afternoon before I can extricate myself.Image

People are waiting their turn to have their photos taken in front of the Bass Harbor Lighthouse. Motorcycles from Michigan, Illinois, New Hampshire, and Vermont are in the parking lot and the ratio of cars to bikes is only 2:1.  There’s no doubt that Maine is one of the most popular motorcycle touring destinations in the eastern U.S.Image

A big storm is moving in and it becomes a race to reach the Seawall Motel before it breaks.  The end of the heat wave has arrived: the wind is cold, and the rain heavy. Portland to Bar Harbor is only 162 miles, but my route covered over twice that distance and required more than two days. Tomorrow I’ll head inland: my journey along the Ragged Coast has ended—for this year.Image


2 Responses to “Maine’s Ragged Coast”

  1. Sandra O'Brien November 6, 2012 at 1:50 am #

    I love this article concise with so much historical and local business information. I’ve been to Maine hundreds of times but this article gives me new places to journey!! Lovely written

  2. beach cove February 27, 2014 at 10:37 am #

    Yeah Sandra totally agree with your view what you said mate.This place had much historical ,which i personally feel that high point of this place.Looking forward to discover these with my

    Boothbay Harbor Lodging

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