The Perfect Storm of 1991!
Hannah and I have lived in New England (Maine) for 32 years, yet we have never driven one hour and change south to the seafaring town of Gloucester, MA. Gloucester is the harbor town from which George Clooney sailed into the Perfect Storm never to return. Like many coastal New Englanders, we remember this Halloween super hurricane as the epic storm of our lives.
Flying home at 8A from RVA (Richmond, Virginia) after visiting our son Will and his soon-to-be fiancee Laurel while Hannah was in Vermont with girlfriends this April morning, I persuade Hannah, who has picked me up at Boston’s Logan Airport, that this Monday is a gift for us to explore the Atlantic coast closer to home.
Driving north on route 60, Hannah and I soon take a sharp right eastward on route 128 to the seacoast town of Gloucester. Having awakened at 445A to leave RVA on Delta Airlines at 630A, I am ready for a down-home breakfast before we hike.
After taking the rotary towards the downtown on Washington Street, we pass George’s Coffee Shop on the main drag. It looks promising. After we park, I approach a mail carrier and ask where do the locals go for breakfast? George’s. We have no idea how lucky we are about to be.
Walking into the welcoming spacious front room with six tables for two or four and a counter of ten barstools, we find a table against the sidewalk windows. And then Deirdre approaches. A twenty-something young woman, who we later learn is of Irish descent, smiles over to us to see if we want coffee or tea. With our Rand McNally atlas spread out on the table for four, she gathers that we are tourists and welcomes us to her hometown.
Asking us where we are from, we respond, We are from just up the road in Maine, not an hour away, and we’ve never been to Gloucester. We are looking for a place to hike in the area.
Deirdre then opens up about her town and the area. Since Deirdre isn’t a name you hear every day, I ask her if she liked her name growing up. She did – until when researching her name for a school project, she found that Deirdre meant sorrowful and broken-hearted maiden. Even so, she seems a most happy young woman who makes our breakfast food taste even better. I wish that kind of person when you breakfast out.
Ordering our traditional two eggs, home fries, and toast for $4.50, we are set for a day of hiking along the Massachusetts coast. The home fries are original and tasty; with my eggs over easy, I have a gooey mix of breakfast love. Deirdre glides from table to table and still has time to chat us up now and again.
And then the guy sitting behind me says, I hear you’re from Maine. So am I. He learns we are from York and we that he is from Bethel, though he grew up here in Gloucester. We get advice for hiking and learn that he has a restaurant, the Funky Red Barn, in Bethel, which is near Andover, ME where we go with good friends. We’ll seek him out this summer.
Then the lady behind Hannah says, I hear you’re from Maine, and begins to mention her Ogunquit, ME (the next town north of York) connection and how we might proceed through the town of Gloucester on our way to the Halibut Point State Park on the Rockport peninsula five miles away.
I’ve got a tip for traveling: Lay out your atlas or road map on the table when you go into the diner/restaurant and you will draw the attention of helpful folks everywhere.
We over tip Deirdre, get her picture with Hannah, and know our lives are richer when we take the time to seek out these hidden breakfast gems.
It’s a simple drive along route 127 through Gloucester and Rockport to the petite Halibut Point State Park. Rockport puts the quint in quintessential New England fishing towns – houses from centuries past with small shops and childhoods of Norman Rockwell.
The winding streets hug the coastline on this April morning; with kids back in school after spring vacation, the town is turned over to us retirees and a few townsfolk heading to the post office. Though we can only imagine how crowded these narrow streets are in the summer, we are resolved to return next April to bike this Cape Ann loop on a day when it is more than 50 degrees!
Arriving at the appropriately miniscule parking lot, we gladly pay the very modest $2 (who charges just $2 for a state park???) and set out for this seaside park with a rich history in granite.
Called Halibut Point, it would make one think that it has something to do with the halibut fish. It, in fact, does not. Sailing vessels and clipper ships in the 1800s would have to “haul about” their sails around the Cape Ann part of this peninsula due to the shifting offshore winds. “Haul about” with a Massachusetts accent morphed into halibut.
The park is small. There are 2.5 miles of trails that are level, easy going, really for walking more than hiking. On this late April chilly morning in this still winter-ish spring we are always just a stone’s throw from the ocean.
Within a quarter of mile we are at the old Babson Farm granite quarry. Do you remember Breaking Away, the 1979 coming-of-age classic where working class local kids (called cutters because of the nearby quarry where the granite was cut) clash with the affluent frat boys at Indiana University? This quarry feels like a scene out of the movie where the cutters would often go to swim to kill time and figure out what to do with their lives. No swimming allowed in this quarry.
Hiking the side trail to the rocky shore beaches, we are glad to have our hiking boots to climb over granite chunks, safely back from the ocean’s waves and forbidding cold.
This rocky granite headland with tidal pools below is a place for grandparents (Dan and Hannah) to take their grandsons (Owen and Max) for a day of exploration; then it’s ice cream cones for all.
As we head for home through Gloucester on the side roads to Ipswich and eventually past Newburyport, we know we are so returning to Gloucester to bike next April. It won’t be 32 more years before we are back.