(This post departs from the RT’s normal series of Ruminations for something extremely practical.)
(Please note that this post has been updated to correct an egregious error in the chemical notation below, pointed out by the RT’s daughter.)
Let’s say that one day you wake up and say to yourself: “I’d like to go to Maine.”
Whoa, now! You can’t just wake up one day and go to Maine. You have to make plans and travel arrangements and find a place to stay and book tours and find places to eat and buy trinkets. You may ask: “How can I ever plan a delightful Maine getaway if I’ve never been there?” That right there says that you can do this. You’re already asking the right questions. And with the RT’s handy Coastal Maine Travel Guide, you’re already halfway there.
So hang tight and let the RT lead the way.
So Where is Maine?
Maine is located way up yonder in the Northeast, where Yankees come from. It’s officially known as the “Pine Tree State”, though from experience, I can tell you that it could equally be described as the “Let Me Cut In Front Of You State” and “Let Me Show You ALL Of My Tattoos State”.
It’s situated between where those French Canadians live (that’d be Canada for all you folks down South) and Massachusetts, otherwise known as “The Kennedy State”. Now, if the US was a running coyote, Maine would be its head. For what it’s worth, Texas would be the hindquarters and Florida would be the front legs. Now, coyotes don’t have much of one, but in this analogy, California would be its big ol’ rear end. Bet you’ll never look at a US map the same way ever again.
It’s important that you book your trip to Maine on American Airlines through Philadelphia. That way, American Eagle (operated by Wisconsin Air) can get you to your destination three hours late due to a mechanical issue with your aircraft. This will be an issue so trivial that it impacts only the auxiliary power unit (APU), which simply provides power and cooling for the aircraft after it leaves the gate. A properly functioning APU would keep your aircraft from reaching 9000 degrees on the inside, but since yours won’t work, you’ll be able to cleanse your pores and sweat off a few pounds while you wait.
And, if you’re lucky, American may have a “mechanical” on your return trip, as well, causing you a delay of six and a half hours getting home. And your bags could have as much of an adventure as you do, possibly even taking a completely different route to your home airport.
Upon arrival in Portland, Maine (otherwise known as “Portland East” in Merle Haggard’s smash country hit “Roll On Big Mama” from the mid ‘70s) in the late hours of the evening, you’ll discover that the only restaurant open is Denny’s and your traveling companion will balk at the thought of eating there. This will leave you with very limited options for exquisite dining.
You may choose the splendid option of stopping at McDonald’s in Freeport, Maine, home of the LL Bean flagship store and a host of other trendy “shopping outlets”, even one that makes ladies’ purses out of old worn out sailboat sails.
At said McDonald’s, you’ll discover that it sells lobster (or more accurately “lobstah”) rolls. Yep, there’s a picture of one right there on the menu in the drive-through, compete with a red lobster claw on top. Now, I have no idea if the claw is included, or if there is an extra charge for it. All I know is that a piece of the exoskeleton of a saltwater crustacean is what the RT looks for in a good sandwich. Bon appetit!
Astronomy and Other Stuff
After another hour or so, you’ll arrive at your condo in East Boothbay. You will be quite amazed to see something we don’t see much of in the summer in the South … stars. Yes, those flaming balls of gas that fill our universe. (Actually, they’re not flaming, as in burning – it’s a thermonuclear reaction, where four hydrogen atoms fuse to form two helium atoms, releasing a tremendous amount of energy in the process, but we’ll save further discussion of nuclear fusion for a future post.) The Southern atmosphere is too thick with humidity and mosquitos during the summer to see anything other than the sun by day and the moon by night.
The RT actually saw the Milky Way immediately after stepping out of the car, something he hadn’t seen since his college days.
If you were lucky enough to find a place to stay near the water, you might wander down to the pier for a few minutes. Then you’ll want to find a chair near the edge, by the water and …
(Sorry. Zoned out there for a minute.)
You might suddenly realize that the temperature is in the mid-70s with a 20-knot breeze – AND IT’S AUGUST! Which is only slightly different than the 100-degree actual/115 “feels like” temperature you left at home.
But one day, it might reach 80 away from the water and the locals will tell you that it’s “hot” or a “skachah”. Pshaw! I’m happy when the overnight lows at home get that “high”. I wish that the RT could pack up a big ol’ load of 70-degree air and haul it down South for the Summer. Ol’ Man Winter might bring us some come late October.
One day, you may find yourself wandering around Boothbay Harbor, where you might run into someone from, say, Pine Bluff, Arkansas … who knows your sister … and is traveling with a couple that happens to include someone you graduated high school with, but then again, maybe not. But either way, you better mind your manners, because you never know who’s watchin’.
While in Boothbay Harbor, you might enter a candy store, only to be followed in by a ravenous pack of sixth-grade boys with money to spend. If so, please remain calm and look for the nearest exit. White lights on the floor will lead you to red lights, indicating that you have reached an exit. Once there, ask the nearest stranger to help you throw the boys out, one at a time. Problem solved.
Maine is much like the rest of the world in that they have speed limits on their roads and highways. These are clearly posted on signs on the side of the road (though some are obscured by lovely fir and balsam branches). However, there is an easier way to determine the speed limit without having to look up from your text messaging. Simply take the speed that you are driving and subtract 15mph from it to determine the actual speed limit at your current location.
In short, however fast you are going, SLOW DOWN! There’s no need to rush … you’re in Maine, and you can get a lobstah roll anywhere without having to hurry.
And speaking of lobstah rolls, no Maine travel guide would be complete without some mention of them. We’ve already touched on this local delicacy as presented on the Mickey D’s drive-through menu.
To visualize the real thing, one need only imagine a lowly hot dog bun with a huge lump of cold, mayo-slathered crustacean parts slapped unceremoniously inside. It’s really just tuna salad made from very expensive lobstah, but don’t tell any Mainards that. And to the RT, tuna salad is something only served to people that you don’t want to stay at your house very long.
If you ask the RT, it should be made of warm, buttery lobstah on a toasted sourdough bun. But they didn’t ask me; they simply took my $20 and slung the aforementioned glob of sea creature goo at me.
However, the potato chips and Australian-made root beer the RT had with it made the meal tolerable.
If you plan on spending any time in Maine, you’ll need to work on a few vocabulary words. This list will get you started.
Bettah – (adj.) Superior in some way.
Hahbah – (n.) A body of watuh surrounded on three sides by land, often used for the protection of watahborne vehicles.
Heyah – (n.) A location near where the speaker is standing.
Lobstah –(n.) A crustacean found in the cold watahs off the Maine coast. Often mixed with mayonnaise to make high-priced seafood salad.
Kah – (n.) A form of motorized transport for highway use.
Kahnt – (v.) Is unable to.
Pahk – (n.) An area dedicated to frolicking and playing. (v.) To place the kah in a specific location set aside for vehicular storage.
Skachah – (n.) An extraordinarily hot day, above, say, 80 degrees.
Summah – (n.) The season that falls between Spring and Autumn.
Theyah – (n.) A location some distance away from the speaker.
Watuh – (n.) A bi-elemental compound, liquid at room temperature, known as dihydrogen monoxide (chemical symbol: H2O). Covers some 2/3 of the Earth’s surface. (v.) To distribute dihydrogen monoxide over a specified area for the purpose of providing a substance necessary for the successful propagation of foliage. (A future post will deal with the dangers of dihydrogen monoxide exposure)
Wintah – (n.) The season that falls between Autumn and Spring .
Yah Kahnt Get Theyah From Heyah
You may have heard that it can be difficult to get from one place to another in Maine. Well, you heard right. The coast of Maine looks like it was ripped apart into fingers a few million years ago. (Actually it probably was ripped apart by the geological processes that drive plate tectonics, but we’ll save that discussion for a future post.)
The entire coastline consists of slender peninsulas that run generally north-south, each of which is 25-30 miles long. So, for instance, the cottage where the RT stayed in Maine was five miles “as the seagull flies” from the nearby lighthouse at Pemaquid Point. However, it was a drive of fifty-plus miles and an hour and a half to get there – at an average of about 25 miles per hour. OK, so it was really slightly faster than that, but not much.
So, you really can’t get there from here. You have to go someplace else first and then start from there.
If you go to Maine, you will want to enjoy some time out on the water, doing what most Mainians seem to like best: getting wet with freezing ocean water while sailing.
Your Captain, John, will tell you that there is hardly any wind at present and that you may have to motor around the harbor, pretending to sail. That’s just before throws your schooner into a 30-knot breeze, causing her to heel over hard to port, dumping the passengers on the port side into the railing, which is approximately three feet underwater by now. This causes ice cold seawater and assorted crustaceans to flow into your tennies and galvanizes your will to stay alive in spite of the tempest of the sea (the RT’s high-school English teacher would be proud of that last part).
So, remember … nothing says “I’ve been to Maine” better than socks and sneakers soaked with freezing salt water. Unless it’s a lobster salad sandwich … I mean “lobstah roll”.
Acadia National Park
We probably should have mentioned this a bit sooner in this guide, since every photo you’ve ever seen of Maine (except those including live moose) was taken in Acadia National Park. (A Møøse once bit my sister…)
You’ll want to time your arrival at Acadia so that 20,000 of your closest friends and parkmates arrive at the same time you do. This is what makes the Park so enjoyable. You get to watch the stunning scenery go by while dodging parked cars, bicyclists, horses and wandering pedestrians, all the while looking at the park map trying to figure out when the next stunning sight will flash by your car window. (No realli! She was Karving her initials øn the møøse with the sharpened end of an interspace tøøthbrush given her by Svenge – her brother-in-law – an Oslo dentist and star of many Norwegian møvies: “The Høt Hands of an Oslo Dentist”, “Fillings of Passion”, “The Huge Mølars of Horst Nordfink”…)
Now don’t get me wrong. The RT enjoys being near the Maine coast with 30,000 people – just not all at the same time. I’m thinking maybe three a day over a decade or so. (Mynd you, møøse bites Kan be pretty nasti…)
But if competing with 40,000 people for that one fantastic photo spot is your thing, then Acadia is for you. (The RT offers his most sincere apologies to the boys from Monty Python.)
On the way out, you’ll want to drive – or more accurately, crawl – through Bar Harbor, Maine, otherwise known as the City of 50,000 Cars. And after you finally escape Mount Desert Island, where Acadia is located, you will want to stop for ice cream at JJ’s Ice Cream Academy in Trenton (I did not make that up). The RT recommends the Caribou Caramel Crunch (or something like that) – REALLY. JJ’s place doesn’t look like much, but the ice cream is out of this world. Sixty thousand people can’t be wrong!
Pemaquid Point Light
In the RT’s humble opinion, your best sightseeing spot in all of Downeast Maine is the Pemaquid Point Light. The lighthouse sits in a state park at the end of one of those finger-like peninsulas. The scenery is stunning and the lighthouse tour is fascinating.
It’s still an operating lighthouse, maintained by the dedicated folks of the US Coast Guard. You’ll find a fourth-order Fresnel lens in use there (but we’ll save any further discussion of Fresnel lenses for a future post). Fascinating stuff.
You’ll want some comfortable walking (actually climbing) shoes, because the very best views are down a bit from the parking lot. However, the walk is well worth the effort. Just take some time to soak in the view and the fabulous weather.
Bring your camera and a picnic lunch. You’ll not find a better place to take photos and enjoy your lunch. REALLY.
Now, we’ve already talked about “lobstah rolls”, but we’ve neglected to talk about the crustacean itself. Looking much like a crawdad that’s been exposed too often to nuclear radiation, Mainesters go crazy over these things. They trap ‘em, they sell ‘em, they steam ‘em, they eat ‘em and they make lobster salad out of ‘em. Seems like everybody’s got a big pile of lobster traps in their yard or on their boat.
And each and every lobsterman has his own color and shape of buoy tied onto his traps, so he can spot ‘em in the water. Don’t ever be messin’ with a lobster trap that ain’t got your color buoy on it. It’d be like rustlin’ another man’s cattle down in the Republic of Texas. If it ain’t got your brand on it, leave it alone. There are eyes watchin’.
Now, I know what you’re thinkin’: “Don’t the biggest and best blueberries in the world come from the Big Piney Woods of East Texas?” Well, of course. Everything is bigger and better in Texas.
However, Maine makes the best tiny little blueberries. They’re not any bigger than a purple-hull pea, while East Texas blueberries are about the size of a dime. And talk about tasty! Mrs. RT picked up a pint at a roadside stand and we snacked on them all day.
So, while in Maine, buy anything that has blueberries in it: pancakes, muffins, ice cream, lobster salad … anything. You’ll be glad you did … except for the lobster salad part.
There are few things Texans like more than their guns. We like ‘em and we like ‘em a lot. We have a lot of them and we’re proud of it. And we don’t know of many folks who love ‘em as much as we do.
But then there’s Maine. It seems that those Maineicans love guns almost as Texans do. They carry them, both concealed and open. Shoot, you don’t even need a permit to carry in Maine, though they’ll issue them for folks who want to carry in states that have reciprocity with Maine, carry-wise.
So don’t be thinkin’ that Maine is one of them liberal, gun-hatin’ Northeast states. They march to their own beat. Turns out that beat ain’t too far from Texas – at least as far as guns go.
Don’t know. Don’t care. Didn’t ask. The RT has checked out of politics for at least the next four years.
So, there you have it. A complete guide to all things related to the Downeast Maine Coast.
Yah kahnt find a bettah place for a summah visit. Hope to see yah theyah sometime.
Best, The Rambling Texan