Sunday, September 14, 2014

THE RETURN OF THE APPALACIAN TRAILER…

It totally sucks when you have truck troubles and nobody can pinpoint exactly what’s wrong.  Dave spouts another DEF warning light… We swing by the dealer and they make an appointment to come in after the weekend and advise us to drive and see if it clears…

Since we’ve pretty much explored everything along the coast we might as well head inland to our previously planned destination before Dave got sick…  We start out early morning headed towards Baxter State Park, the home of Mt. Katahdin the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail.  Just past Bangor we get onto Hwy 95… speed limit 75mph… after some miles the error messages clear… Dave starts to run better… then… a regen… and… no new error messages… WOO HOO…  is this all Dave really needed, a hard and fast blow out of his emissions control system with clean fuel???  Hope springs eternal!

Lake Millinocket
We stop at Katahdin Air to see if we might still be able to fly over Katahdin in the next week… Sure… but it’s still dependent on weather…  Encouraged, we walk across the road to the Big Moose Inn Cabins and Campground on the shore of  Lake Millinocket (We made a 3 night reservation over a month ago, before Dave got sick… and we moved it forward a bunch of times and finally cancelled because we were pretty sure that we would not be able to get there… they have a 30-day cancellation policy and at this point we are out $93 for the three days that we previously booked and cancelled.) Katie at the lodge remembers us. “You finally made it!” she says when we introduce ourselves. She then reactivates and moves our reservation to the next week…  Guess it’s back to plan A!

After the weekend we take Dave back to the dealer.  They run the diagnostics and there are no error messages… So the next morning we pack up and head out to the Big Moose Inn and Baxter State Park. 

The Big Moose Inn has a total of 4 water and electric RV sites.  Since they are all empty we have our pick.  We choose one at the back that seems to meet all of our basic requirements.  The site looks incredibly lumpy but once we pull in and park, it is totally level.  Early the next morning we are awakened with loud bangs and thumps…seems our spot is below a number of pine trees and at this time of year, they are dropping super sap laden pinecones… thump… sticky sap… thump… maybe we need to rethink this…  So we move to the site next door without the sappy pinecone bombs!
 
Katahdin from behind the visitor center
We’re only here for a couple of days to get close to the northern terminus of the AT. We have already decided that climbing Mt. Katahdin is NOT in our immediate or any future, but we are willing and able to hike and explore the area leading up to Katahdin.

At the visitor center we chat with the ranger and indicate that we are interested in some moderate hikes.  We get a map and some hiking recommendations and take a few photos of Katahdin from behind the visitor center. 

Baxter State Park is for hiking and camping, with limited vehicle access, (Dimples is too long and wide to be allowed in the park) no services and unreliable cell coverage.  There is a paved road into the park to a tollbooth.  Here we pay our $14.00 out of state visitor fee for a full day’s use of the park and are given a pass.
 
Sandy pond

Just past the tollbooth the road splits and is no longer paved.  We take the east fork for about eight miles to the end at the Roaring Brook Campground.  From here we hike to Sandy Stream Pond.  The path takes us through forest and over wetlands and along the shore of Sandy Stream Pond with great views of the eastern side of the mountains.  We stop at the Big Rock viewpoint; an aptly named big rock along the shore and a great place to sit and watch for moose.  No moose today, just a couple of ducks out on the pond.
 
view of Katahdin
from the top of
Little Niagara




Next we drive back around to the west fork of the park road to Daicey Pond.  Here we hike along the Appalachian Trail to little and big Niagara Falls.  Both sets of falls are pretty impressive, but there is no access to the bottoms of either falls, so photos are tough.  At Little Niagara there are large stones that extend out at the top of the falls. It’s a bit of a scramble to get out there, but the view up the Nesowadnehunk Stream to Mt. Katahdin is worth it.


As we are hiking here we meet up with a few AT through hikers. (We actually smell them before we see them LOL.)  This is their last few miles before making the ascent of Katahdin and completing their journey. Some seem excited to be finishing and others dazed and exhausted.  We have to admire them for this accomplishment.  They have been hiking for an average of five to seven months, have covered over 2,000 miles and have accomplished something that over seventy percent of hikers who attempt the trail fail.  On our way out of the park we stop to turn in our pass and the ranger asks if we saw any moose, “No” we reply, “Only some chipmunks and a frog.”
 
Baxter Wildlife
On our second day here it rains all day, so we hang out in the lodge using their WIFI until the power goes out. So we go back to Dimples.  When the power comes back on we head back over to the lodge to use the WIFI for a bit before having dinner.  While there, the chef brings out a new roasted beet salad creation for the Inn manager to taste.  We can’t ignore the ohhs and ahhs.  We’ve heard that the food is good here and now we are really looking forward to dinner.

There are two dining options, Fredricka’s for an intimate dining experience and The Loose Moose Bar and Grille for a more social experience.  Both restaurants offer menus created by executive chef Matteo Proctor and diners can order off either menu regardless where they are dining.  We opt to dine in the Grille.  After perusing the menus we ask about the beet salad.  It’s tomorrows special, but the chef will prepare it for us tonight.  We also order a fresh Maine crab cake with roasted corn succotash and spicy sriracha aioli and haddock stew and fresh focaccia bread.  The beet salad is amazing, the haddock stew creamy and full of flavor and the fresh focaccia light and savory.  The crab cake tasted less than fresh and a bit blackened but the corn and aioli were excellent.  They also have a good selection of local beers on tap and a full bar.


We hoped that the weather would cooperate so we could take a flight over Mt. Katahdin, but the day we go hiking, there are no flights over the mountain, the next day it’s raining and the last morning, the winds are too high to fly safely.  So we bid adieu to the Northern Terminus of the AT and start heading southwest.  We do a quick overnight in Skowhegan, Maine at the Two Rivers Campground and then continue on into New Hampshire…

k

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

DOWNEAST ARTS: FINE, FOLK AND INDUSTRIAL

Eastport, ME
Schoodic Sculpture Tour
While we are visiting the Bartlett Winery, Kathe Bartlett tells us about the Schoodic Sculpture Symposium. We’ve seen some of the huge granite sculptures during our travels in eastern Maine so we head over to the Symposium. 

The Schoodic International Sculpture Symposium is a biennial cultural event that brings artists, communities and visitors together to create a public sculpture collection in eastern Maine.  To date they have completed 27 installations from Bangor to Eastport and created the Schoodic Sculpture Tour.  This year is the fifth symposium and possibly the last, unless they can expand the geography of the tour to include other areas of Maine.  Seven sculptors from Maine and around the world are chosen from a field of 190+ applicants.  They come together for six weeks during the northeast summer to saw, chop, chisel, grind and polish massive blocks of granite.  We are awestruck by the scale and complexity of these monuments and the men and women manipulating this medium.  This open-air studio is totally accessible; we can walk around and through the work area and talk to the artists as they work. It’s noisy, dusty, muddy and thoroughly fascinating.


From Left to Right – Top to Bottom:  Bertha Shortis (Switzerland), Matthew Foster (Maine), Kyoung Uk Min (South Korea), Miles Chapin (Maine), Valerian Jikia (Republic of Georgia), Robert Leverich (Washington), Roy Patterson (Maine)

Every time we head east along Highway 1, we pass a huge steel building with CHAINSAW SAWYER ARTIST LIVE SHOW in bold red print and a huge bald eagle grasping two chainsaws in it’s talons painted on the side.  There is also a handmade sign with a list of chainsaw awe inspiring accomplishments.  Try as we might, we can no longer resist the lure of this roadside attraction.  Every evening at 7, for the mere cost of ten dollars per adult Ray Murphy puts on his chainsaw-sawing extravaganza.

We arrive a little before seven and we are the only ones here besides Ray and his assistant.  Ray greets us with a warm handshake and a hug.  He tells us a bit about his history; starting at the age of ten, he picked up his dad’s chainsaw and cut his name into a piece of wood and chainsaw art was invented.  As a teenager, he tried to enter one of his 100% cut by a chainsaw pieces in a carving contest and was rejected because the piece was too crude and the chainsaw was not an appropriate carving tool.  So Ray rejected the term carver and calls himself a Chainsaw Sawyer Artist TM, one who creates art only with a chainsaw. He shows us some of his commissioned work.  His specialties are eagles. President Reagan had one of Ray’s eagles in the white house during his term.  His feats are listed in Ripley’s Believe It or Not and he was a topic in the 1984 version of Trivial Pursuit.  After checking out the gift shop we all head over to the theatre for the show.

The theatre seats 400 but Ray freely admits that he has never had anywhere near that many people to one of his shows. Even though there are only two of us, Ray seems excited to get on with the show.  We take our seats in the front row and Ray enters the sawing booth.  It’s a sound proof, ventilated room with a bulletproof glass front and a camera inside that sends video to a wide screen mounted above the room. 

The house lights dim and the assistant reads about Ray’s history.  Ray comes out and sits with us in the audience; he makes a few adjustments to the sound and then enters the booth.  He starts the saw (we can’t hear or smell it) and proceeds to attack a piece of wood. In a matter of minutes he has created a table, two chairs, a hamburger (top and bottom bun and the patty) a pile of fries and a squirrel. Then he proceeds to saw 50 NUMBERS and THE ALPHABET on a Popsicle stick, my name on a number 2 pencil, Chris’ name on a wooden belt buckle, (while he’s wearing it,) the numbers 1 to 14 on a toothpick and a collection of animals and shape - some sawn with two chainsaws at the same time.  All of the art is given away to the audience (with the exception of the toothpick) and we come out with the squirrel, Popsicle stick, pencil, personalized belt buckle and a crescent moon carving.  (Could have had all of it but that just seems greedy and we have no space for it.)  The show is well worth the price of admission.  Ray is a true entertainer… Just don’t call him a carver.



A fellow visitor to the Schoodic Symposium mentioned that he was headed over to Lunaform to pick up a couple of pots.  A few days later we notice a sign on Hwy 1 – “Lunaform first left after the bridge.”  So we take that first left and follow the signs into the forest to a Japanese Style building.  It’s all very Zen with large urns and planters set artistically around the grounds.  At the studio we are greeted by one of the workers who invites us in, and answers our questions about what they produce and how they do it and hands us a couple of catalogues. (Silly us… we thought it was a pottery studio…) 

Lunaform LLC creates hand-turned, dry-packed concrete garden urns, planters, pots and more ranging from colossal 1,500-pound planters to their small works – 210-pound knee high “Luna” urns, the company’s namesake piece.  Their technique creates seamless works of concrete that are steel reinforced.  All of the pieces are beautifully designed and they are the only ones in the country doing it.  

When we arrive they are in the process of unmolding pieces that cured over the weekend.  Next we are shown the curing room and the paint studio.  The colorist explains her processes and shows us some of the finishes and explains the processes to achieve them.  Then we are encouraged to wander around the buildings to see the wide variety of pieces they produce. During these wanderings we meet one of the owners, Dan.  He shows us an Asian inspired LED light fixture that they are working on. 



Pulling into an RV park and setting out a couple of 1,500 lb. urns around Dimples, instead of some neon whirligigs or plastic pink flamingos… that would be sweet… now… if they only made them in Styrofoam…


Monday, September 8, 2014

BAR HARBOR REDUX PT 2...

BAR HARBOR REDUX PT 2…

Lobster Man of Maine
Our goal now is to run a couple of tanks of clean fuel through Dave to clean out the emissions control systems.  So we do a little research and get advice from some folks and start exploring the area away from Desert Island.  We have also started reading the “The Lobster Gangs of Maine” (1988) by James M. Archeson, an anthropological study of the lobster culture, lifestyle and economy here. 

Our first day out to burn fuel, we head east for Beals Island, an authentic lobster fishing village and alleged source of a great crab roll.  Halfway there the DEF error and check engine lights go back on. (Arghh!) So we turn around and head back to the GMC dealer where they hook Dave up to the diagnostics machine.  There may be lights but there are no error codes…  so now we drive until the lights go off.  

Lobster Pound
It’s back on the road… Crossing the bridge from the fishing village of Jonesport we arrive on Beals Island and are transported to a different time and space.  This is not a gentrified tourist destination; it’s the land of the hard working Downeast lobstermen and women. There are fishing boats in the harbor, more boats on blocks in various stages of repair, wood fences enclose a couple of lobster pounds on either side of the short pier, lobster pots, hundreds if not thousands stacked on the docks and along the shore and the smell of bait, oil, gas, diesel and the sea.

We keep our eyes peeled for the crab rolls… AHHA… We spot the hand painted sign:  Bayview Takeout, Wicked Good Food!!!”   It’s a low, tan with green trim, wood building with a narrow deck, set back behind a gravel parking lot with a couple of picnic tables off to the side. There is a line at the window and only a few available parking spots.  They have a pretty extensive menu with burgers, hotdogs, chicken, and every flavor of seafood rolls.  The prices seem reasonable.    Considering the variety of dishes being ordered by the folks at the front of the line, they must do everything pretty good.  Once we get to the window we order a couple of crab rolls one with onion rings and one with their sweet potato fries.  Since we opt to dine here, we are instructed to take a seat at the picnic tables and our order will be delivered shortly. (Folks ordering to go, get their food delivered to their cars.) 
Crab Roll & Sweet Potato Fries

Our meals arrive and there must be over a half pound of crab on each roll.  The buns are soft with crisp buttery toasted sides.  The lightly seasoned fresh crab is delicate and sweet. The thinly sliced onion rings are sweet and crisp and the sweet potato fries are crunchy without, soft within and seasoned to perfection.  Probably some of the best sweet potato fries ever!  Locals call this place “Frank’s” after the owner. We call it WICKED GOOD FOOD after the sign.


Bayview Takeout on Urbanspoon




A wild blue world
On our way back we stop at the huge blue dome at the corner of Highway 1 and 187.  This is Wild Blueberry World.  It's the place to get everything blueberry.  We watch a short video about the plants and harvesting and then we pick up a wild blueberry spread (better than a jam or jelly) and an assortment of baked goods: scones, muffins and a killer blueberry pie.  We have to wait a bit for the farmer to bring in the fresh berries that are being harvested. Once he arrives we add a couple of pints to our purchases and head back to Bar Harbor. 


Award Winning Spirits
The next day we drive out past Schoodic to the Bartlett Spirits of Maine Distillery and winery.  We arrive, with the opinion that the only thing worth tasting is their award winning (Gold medal at the 2013 San Francisco World Spirits Competition) Rusticator Rum.  However, Kathe Bartlett describes some of their pear and blueberry wines as extremely dry and less fruit forward that some of their grape cousins.  We’re skeptical, (ok REALLY skeptical!) We choose six vintages from the dry end of the tasting menu.  The pear wines are refreshing, light and crisp with a slight pear finish.  The blueberry wines are full bodied and robust. Nothing like the fruity desert wines we’ve tasted elsewhere. Bob and Kathe Bartlett prove that a good fruit wine is not an oxymoron.  Next we try the spirits. The crystal clear double gold medal Pear-Eau-de-vie brandy fills the senses with perfect pear. The Apple American brandy is smooth and warming.  But it’s the Rum we come for and it’s the organic molasses based Rusticator Rum we take home. This is a smooth sipping rum with robust vanilla, toffee and cigar smoke aromas that fade to traces of lime and banana. The taste is a salted vanilla and brown sugar with a long sweet finish.  Six bottles come home with us, two pear and two blueberry wines and two bottles of Rusticator Rum.

Seafood and Recycling


Since this is crab season we stop at Tibbitts Seafood, shack with the hand written sign, the chainsaw art and peeling paint outside, a few coolers inside and a crusty all business proprietress.  Here you can pick up a variety of fresh seafood and recycle your empty bottles and cans. We get a couple of pints of crabmeat and enjoy a variety of crab dishes over the next few days.


Penobscot Narrows Bridge


More driving… we head west… and see Fort Knox
(Not the one with all the gold, we’re not that far west… duh…)

The entrance fee to the Fort Knox State Park covers exploration of the fort and a minimal extra fee allows access to the observation tower of the Penobscot Narrows Bridge.  First we head to the tallest public bridge observatory in the world.  (Why have we never heard of this???)

The elevator shoots up and in just over a minute we are two floors below the 420’ observation deck.  From the deck we have views of the entire surrounding area. 



Inside Ft. Knox
After, we head over to the fort. This granite fort was never fully completed, never saw battle and was eventually declared excess federal government property and sold to the state of Maine. There is a visitor center with a sign indicating that tours are available. We ask the bored docent behind the desk and he points to an equally unenthusiastic docent seated by the door talking to a couple of visitors who are also seated.  We approach & try to make eye contact.  The docent continues to talk and answer questions and never looks at us, even though we are standing directly behind the two other visitors.  We wait patiently and after a bit figure that a) we forgot to take off our invisibility cloaks, b) are being ignored or c) the docent sitting & talking IS the tour.  So we head out and have a great time exploring the fort on our own.  There are lots of tunnels and fun photo ops and the fort is in remarkably good shape with very few restricted areas. 

Ft. Knox
Afterwards we drive across the bridge over to Bucksport to view the fort from across the river and grab a bite at the Harbor View Grille. We get a great table on the deck with unobstructed views of the river and the fort.  One order of the daily special: a pair of Red Hot Dogs stuffed with blue cheese and topped with grilled onions and for a dollar extra a side of Poutine (French fries with gravy and cheese curds.) OK the red dogs are visually weird, but they taste like a regular albeit a good dog. Guess there’s no relationship between color and taste.  The word poutine is French Acadian slang for “mushy mess.”  It’s a simple dish of French fries sprinkled with cheese curds and then drizzled with gravy, the end result is an outstanding junk food taste sensation… so decadent it should be illegal!  Second order is the Crabby Cake, a crab cake burger on a toasted bun with tomato, lettuce, and a well-balanced chipotle aioli with a side of onion rings.  The Crab cake is fresh and light without a lot of filler and slightly crisp around the edges.  The chipotle aioli lends the right amount of zest. Rings are crisp and not greasy.  Service is good, food is good, and today is good!
Harbor View Grille on Urbanspoon

Eagle Lake
After all this driving around we feel like we need to do some hiking and biking.  We head into Acadia and hike along the carriage road from the visitor center to Eagle Lake.  Then we bike along the same road, it’s pretty much all up hill. Chris is enjoying, me not so much… I stop at the beaver pond to explore and take more photos while Chris continues on to Eagle Lake. When he returns we coast back down to the visitor center.  After a rain day of doing nothing, It’s back to the park.  I drop Chris off at the visitor center with his bike and he rides to Jordon Pond. I drive up to Jordan Pond and hike the 3.6-mile perimeter of the pond. 

Chris arrives just as I’m finishing the loop and we partake in a meal at the Jordan Pond House.  A cup of seafood chowder with a couple of their famous pop overs and a BLTT (A nothing special, something you can probably get in any supermarket deli across the nation, Bacon Lettuce Tomato and Turkey Sandwich.) The food is overpriced for the quality and the popovers overrated. (In our opinion a case where the legend and ambiance overly influences the culinary perceptions, Ouch!)
Jordan Pond House Restaurant on Urbanspoon

But wait… there’s more… next the Downeast arts… fine, folk and industrial…