The Portland of the East

Writers Note:  This is the sixth part and final part in a multi-part series detailing a 3 day trip to Mt. Washington, Acadia National Park, and Portland, Maine.  If you want the rest, here’s Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5.

Slow, steady rain.  The kind that evokes no emotion or panic, it’s just there.  A well-worn pooch naps peacefully on the porch as the calm, beaten down crow of Bog Seger’s “Down on Main Street” completes the grey, somber scene.  Draped in dirty hiking pants and ensconced in an unmistakable post-camping stench, I wander into Gilbert’s Chowder House hoping to get a taste of the revered chowder and quickly hit the road.

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Bob Seger puts me to sleep too

I wait, still a bit on the impatient side for this sleepy section of the Coast, and eventually am greeted by a haggard, old waitress.  “What can I get for you, honey?”.  She insists on hovering close to my smelly beard and face, even slightly brushing my hand.  I scramble to pick something, the pressure mounts.  Her close physical proximity and labored breathing is not entirely unlike those inquisitive animals sniffing my tent the night before.  I settle on a clam chowder bread bowl.  Not the most original choice but a litmus test for seafood quality, no doubt.

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A nap would be kind of nice right about now

My appetite grows.  I take a quick panoramic view.  Weathered, old wooden buildings on my left.  To my center, a sleepy harbor, the source of boat horns periodically piercing the damp, coastal fog.  To my right, two short-haired lesbians casually chat as their attentive terrier stares longingly at their juicy, fried platter.  All of this complemented by the distinctive aroma of seaweed and salt emanating from the bay.

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The mural says it all

Finally, the moment arrives.  A steaming pool of clam chowder wrapped in a soft, sourdough bread bowl.  The food is no disappointment.  I eagerly devour the soup and most of the bread bowl, ready to get back on the road.  I pay and head out the swinging doors, fully intending to get in my car and drive south to Hartford.

To my right, I spot rusting railroad tracks leading through a cluster of industrial, red-brick buildings.  Wanderlust takes hold, even still I promise myself that I will walk for a few minutes then turn back.

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We’ll just walk for a few minutes, right?

A few minutes turns into a few hours as I stumble upon an eclectic yet predictable cluster of shops and restaurants.  Hipster vibes abound as I walk through shops with everything from wood-carved Buddha statues to organic hemp sweaters.  Indian food, Mexi-Cali food.  Everything so uniformly different.  Grey-bearded old men and tattooed young free-spirits dot the cobble-stoned streets.  I leave entirely confused.  Portland, Maine has every bit as many hippies per capita1as Portland, Oregon.  Add to the mix that Portland, Oregon was actually named for Portland, Maine and we now have a legitimate debate.  Who should carry the flag of righteous separation from societal conventions, man?

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There’s no Waldo but I do spot a “Freak Street Smoke Shop”

1  Every blogger has to include at least one completely unsubstantiated statistic, right?

Acadia- Day 2

Writers Note:  This is the fifth part of a multi-part series detailing a 3 day trip to Mt. Washington, Acadia National Park, and Portland, Maine.  In case you missed it, here’s Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.

The Still of Morning

After a less than restful night, I was the first to Acadia’s Sand Beach in the morning.  The gentle rush of waves, the funky organic smell of seaweed, and those inescapable rocks of Maine made it hard to believe this was just another Tuesday morning.  I could feel the warmth of the sun rising through my body.  Moments of solitude like these make morning my favorite time of day.

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The still of morning

 The cool Atlantic breeze reminded me of how far the wind must travel.  Somewhere on another continent a stranger was enjoying the later stages of evening and listening to the same ocean growl and purr.  Physically being in nature has a way of connecting humanity.  Our world and its basic elements transcend the most ingrained world cultures.  We all know the stir of a calm breeze, the persistent lap of salty, foamy water, and the comfort of a cool rock on our behind.  Universally understandable, even to a child.

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This bird is ready on a Tuesday morning

A Mystical, Grey Cloud

The clear beach sunrise eventually gave way to a dense, consuming fog.  Long-distance visibility was almost completely compromised.  Instead of obscuring the brilliant scenes from the day before, the fog highlighted the natural beauty of Acadia that much more.  The jagged rocks, green pines, and conifers were accentuated in ways unimaginable just a day before.  The whole island was enshrouded in a mystical, grey cloud.  Places like the spectacular Jordan Pond were unrecognizable.  The biggest treat came on the ascent to Cadillac Mountain.  It was pure magic to be able to see the fog clouds slowly clearing the bay.  Time, along with the clouds, seemed to be moving at a faster clip.  After a couple of hours of hiking and sightseeing, I began the journey back home.  The only planned stop was a quick search for quality chowder in Portland, Maine.

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If this isn’t spiritual, I don’t know what is

Photo Gallery:  The Best of the Rest

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A Rude Awakening

Writers Note:  This is the fourth part of a multi-part series detailing a 3 day trip to Mt. Washington, Acadia National Park, and Portland, Maine.  If you’re interested, here’s Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

2:18 AM.  I can hear a faint sniffling.  I don’t have a cold.  I listen harder.  Several twigs break.  Heavy animal breathing, another sniff.  It sounds just like the family dog, a Rhodesian Ridgeback named Wallace.  Except it’s not.  I’m alone in Lamoine State Park, Maine and protected only by the thin veil of a tent.

Immediately I rack my brain for potential slip-ups.  I must have left some bread crumbs in my backpack.  I did make that PB&J using my thighs as a table-top earlier.  I’m rapidly blaming myself for the disastrous hypothetical situation furiously brewing in my head.  A motley crew of mountain lions, black bears, and uncharacteristically aggressive white-tailed deer have undoubtedly surrounded my tent, I thought with all seriousness.  I sat upright, more still than I’d ever been.  I hear footsteps, heavy enough to be a human.

I sit rigid, stomach shaking.  (Side-note: camping alone in fear of wild animal packs is a phenomenal ab workout).  I stare at my phone every ten minutes, counting down until the sunrise that’s scheduled for 5:27 AM.  It’s amazing how precise your memory gets when paralyzed with fear.  After hearing a couple more footsteps and some more measured sniffing, silence arrives at 4:14 AM.  Still uneasy, I lay down until sunrise finally arrives.

Sunset in Maine

Writers Note:  This is the third part of a multi-part series detailing a 3 day trip to Mt. Washington, Acadia National Park, and Portland, Maine. Here’s Part 1 and Part 2 in case you missed it.

A sunset is more than a picture.  It’s the closing remark of a day rich with thoughts and experiences.  Not yet fully aware of this, I snapped a few pictures of the sunset converging on the lake near my campsite.  I felt far way from home in Texas.  Far away from my closest friends and family.  Yet, this sunset inspired a feeling of exhaustion and accomplishment that made it all worth it.

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In conclusion….

I quickly sent a few picture messages of what I perceived to be awe-inspiring.  Mixed reviews.  Why?  Because you can’t transport a feeling and you sure as hell can’t share a moment with someone through a picture message.  Traveling alone is liberating but it is truly impossible to fully share the experience with others through pictures, phone calls, even writing.  Sometimes you just have to be there.

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You can’t transport a feeling

Acadia National Park, Maine- Day 1

Writers Note:  This is the second part of a multi-part series detailing a 3 day trip to Mt. Washington, Acadia National Park, and Portland, Maine.  For Part 1, click here.

Arrival in Acadia

Upon arrival in Acadia National Park, I was immediately astounded by the eco-diversity.  Everything from low-lying bays to rocky mountaintops were on display.  The one constant was variety.  I hopped on the park loop in search of a hiking trail.  Eventually, I made the ascent by car to the summit of Cadillac Mountain.  There I was granted a view of everything the park had to offer.  Oceans, mountains, and endless forests of Conifer trees.  I eagerly headed down the Cadillac Mountain South Ridge Trail.

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Awww yeah

“My Mecca”

I became transfixed by the well-shaded, winding, stone path.  Transfixed enough that I decided to take a detour over to Jordan Pond.  I met a friendly old man from Buffalo, NY who had visited the park nearly 30 times.  “This is my mecca”, he summarized concisely.  After taking a lap around the pond, I began to understand his sentiment.  I saw a pond filled with some of the most clear water I’ve seen, all encapsulated by a bowl-like stadium of rocks.  The contrast in colors was spectacular.  Deep blue water, brilliant green tree leaves, accented by rough patches of rock.

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Jordan Pond

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This ain’t Galveston

The Climb

After my lap around the pond, I decided to make my way back up Cadillac Mountain.  Following some trouble finding my way back to the original trail, I consulted a friendly-looking middle-aged couple with a map.  Surprise, surprise.  They were foreign.  After utilizing several crude iterations of English, I deciphered that I could take the Precipice Trail to the North Ridge Trail and still end at the top of Cadillac.

The way up was much steeper and considerably more rocky than the way down.  Several stretches of the trail were no more than steep, slippery, rock walls.  Earlier this summer, I had attended a New Britain Rock Cats minor league baseball game and caught myself wondering why on earth they would name themselves after such an obscure mammal.  After grappling with slippery New England rock-wall for a few hours, I completely understood the need for a cat with entirely different capabilities to evolve.  Finally, I made it back to the top where I started.  Satisfied with another tiring day of hiking, I headed towards my camp site in Lamoine State Park, Maine.

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Climb another one of these, really?

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I made a few friends along the way

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Explore. Dream. Discover.

Part 1: Mount Washington

Writers note:  This is the first part of a multi-part series detailing a 3 day trip to Mt. Washington, Acadia National Park, and Portland, Maine.

The Drive

With ambitions of scaling the highest peak east of the Mississippi River, I woke up at 3:45 AM and headed for Mt. Washington, New Hampshire.  Once darkness passed, I was greeted with a pleasant New Hampshire sunrise.  Eventually, I took a back road for about 15 minutes in search of a gas station.  The hunt was well worth it.  I ended up in the picturesque town of Milton, NH.  The service station was sitting alongside a quiet lake.  A mist was visibly rising from the water.  I spotted a lone fisherman, undoubtedly enjoying the quiet of morning just as I was.

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Just enjoying the good life

I continued through to the White Mountains.  It was one of those drives where you have to resist the urge to stop at every scenic vantage point.  Most likely your destination will be just as beautiful, if not more beautiful, as these stops along the way.  The small towns of New Hampshire appeared just as I’d imagined the Northeast.  Old cottages, bed and breakfast inns, beautifully adorned brick facades beckoning you to stay.  Out my windows I was surrounded by rolling hills with periodic views of the rugged White Mountains, the northern section of the more well-known Appalachian Mountains.

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Even still, I couldn’t resist

The Climb

I arrived for what I thought would be a relatively easy 9 mile roundtrip hike to the summit and back down.  Everything started as expected with a well-formed, albeit a bit rocky, path.  Verdant low-lands, the sound of water rushing down through glistening streams.  This easier portion of the climb allowed me to take in more cultural aspects of the park.  I heard a number of foreign languages.  German, French, Chinese.  I haven’t yet decided if the propensity to see so many foreigners in national parks is an indicator of nature’s power as a great unifier or a sign that foreigners spend entirely more time outside than the notoriously sedentary American population.

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The gentle rush of flowing water

The luscious low-lands transitioned into a steeper climb, made much more difficult by rocks covered in wet moss.  Thankfully the path was equipped with wooden ladders to aid with some of the more impassable terrain.  I kept moving and eventually eclipsed the tree-line, catching a glimpse of what was ahead.  I stared up at a quarter mile of a highly inclined jumble of rocks with no clearly marked path.  This daunting task conjured up a scene from the movie “300”, where Leonidas meets Ephors.  An unrealistic and greatly exaggerated analogy that made complete sense at the time.  For a refresher, take a look at the clip through the 1 minute mark.

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What up clouds?

After scaling infinite rocks and successfully conquering Ephors, I made it to the summit.  At the summit, the weather was flipped upon its head.  The temperature was in the low 40s with a rippling wind of around 30 miles per hour.  The entire area was quite literally in the clouds and visibility was reduced to almost nothing.  I hid behind a sturdy rock and devoured my gourmet lunch of PB&J, trail mix, and water.  The stifling clouds combined with the strong winds created an eerie celestial atmosphere.   Kind of like if you got to heaven and there was no God or any visible change in lifestyle.  Just a hang-out spot draped in a white cloud.

It was windy, here's proof.

It was windy, here’s proof.

 The Descent

After a few more hours of hiking, I made it down around 4 pm.  The 7 hour hike had me exhausted so I decided to make some progress towards the ultimate prize, Acadia National Park in Maine.  I drove for a few hours and settled on resting my head for the night in Augusta, ME.  For dinner, I chose gluttony and devoured a whole pizza in my hotel room, passing out before 9 pm.

Photo Gallery: The Best of the Rest

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Life lessons from Bear Mountain, CT

“So you’re sort of going through a mid-life crisis too, huh?”  I paused for a second, peering out over the picturesque Connecticut Valley from my perch atop Bear Mountain, and casually responded, “Yep, ahead of schedule too.”  Sarah had gotten divorced four years earlier, spurring a “mid-life crisis” that took her to the summit of 5, count em 5, 14 thousand foot peaks in Colorado and the entire Connecticut section of the Appalachian Trail (53 miles) in a day.  Quite literally, a monumental life-shift had taken her to heights she’d never seen before.

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A weighty chance encounter at the peak of Bear Mountain, CT

This epic chance encounter, happening so metaphorically on a rock overlooking the whole state, had me thinking the entire way down.  The term “mid-life crisis” had been thrown my way more than a few times.  Typically, I would dismiss it or lay out the painstaking logic that led me from accountant in Houston to teacher in Hartford.  Similar to a modern-day scarlet letter, admitting to such a thing would be tantamount to agreeing that my recent life decisions were a result of immaturity or,even worse, insecurity.  The sight of this fit, ambitious 30-something helped me realize that mid-life crisis is an overly broad term.  How could a balding, disgruntled businessman buying red sports cars he can’t afford be equivalent to this woman fiercely dedicated to a mission of personal growth and exploration?

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Not all highs are created equal

Mid-life crisis, used in the traditional sense, implies a rapid, unsustainable euphoric high followed by a slow and steady descent down to the lowlands from which you came.  But what do we call a successful reassessment of what matters in life?  A period of sustainable personal growth?  The present use of the term, through the use of the undeniably negative word “crisis”, implies a lack of control and a negative outcome.  “Mid-life opportunity” more positively and accurately frames the situation.  It assumes neither success nor failure while still acknowledging an important juncture in an adult’s life.  Shiny red sports cars and marital infidelity or an empowering burst of personal growth, the choice is ours.

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Back to the lowlands or to previously unseen heights?