Nothing like being in the right place at the right time. For me it was 1983 and it changed my teaching life forever. Having taught 4th through 7th grade in public schools of California, Arizona, and New Hampshire since 1970, I had many students who seemed to enjoy coming to class; I did like being in charge and running the Show. But I hid the obvious: I really didn’t know what the hell I was doing.
Oh, I used the textbooks as guides, added my creative touch, and hoped my endless well of enthusiasm would carry the day. But what were they learning? Was it real and worth their time? Thirty plus students to a class made me more a manager than a teacher. The kids may have liked it, but I just didn’t know if I was doing anything more than making it fun. I was floundering.
Having moved the year before (1982) from Arizona to Maine with Hannah (34), Molly (2), and Robyn (4 months), I enrolled in the three-week New Hampshire Summer Writing Program at the University of New Hampshire in Durham twenty miles from home. There I learned to teach writing that was real and meaningful to kids. I learned how to run a writing workshop built on individual attention to their specific needs. I had kids experience what writing could do for them – tell their story and see that they had value.
That summer I hung out with Bill Buggie, who had come down from New Brunswick, Canada to take the same course. We stayed in touch over the years, visited each other’s home towns, and found we had similar values, online Lexulous (Scrabble-type game) and loved being active. Now living in Fredericton, New Brunswick, today Bill drives some four hours to Acadia National Park near Bar Harbor, Maine, which happens to be a similar distance for me from York, Maine.
Arriving a little after noon this last Friday of September, we head to the Hulls Cove Visitor Center to prepare for an afternoon of biking on some of the 45 miles of Carriage Roads that John D. Rockefeller had built from 1913 to 1940. Thinking that late September will mean that we will avoid the crowds, we are mistaken. We discover that the season for visiting Acadia lasts well into October.
At the Visitor Center, the ranger gives us a map with distances to the tenth of a mile noting that there is a connecting half mile bike trail hill to the Carriage Road system itself. He cautions to us watch out for bikers careening down the hill at high speeds as we pedal up, for this is the steepest climb we will encounter all day.
Right he was, as we steadily pedal on a gravelly trail at a speed where a plodding runner passes me by. It’s true. I am what I am – a 67 year old bike rider.
Once at the southern part of Carriage Road system, we pedal onto hard-packed gravel with gentle grades as you might expect necessary to handle the horse and carriages of the last century. The road is never mushy and we ride side by side talking easily, catching up after our morning drives to the park.
Passing Witch Pond to our left on this 60 degree afternoon, we appreciate our sweatshirts that ward off the wind chill of riding 8 to 10 miles per hour and 15+ mph on the downhills.
Large blocks of granite, called coping stones and endearingly nicknamed “Rockefeller’s teeth,” line the motor-free roads as guardrails. Numbered rustic wooden signposts keyed to the map that the ranger gave us make the roads easy to explore.
As we approach Eagle Lake, we see many retirees as well as families with school age kids (got to love home schoolers who have come to Acadia on a school day for some excellent beyond the “classroom’s four walls” education).
Passing Eagle Lake with the mountains between us and the Bar Harbor coastline, we leisurely bike on to Jordan Pond. Stopping and taking pictures as I establish that the transition is complete from my VCU loyalty to the Bombers of Ithaca College, where our son works in the athletic department. The Carriage Roads are happily busy on this Friday in late September.
Clouds dominate the sky and by 330P temperatures are dropping on a day when by next morning they will be in the low 40s. With wine and crackers & cheese back at the Best Western awaiting, we pedal on the Carriage Road to the east side of Jordan Pond, which is much less traveled. This video that I take while I bike will give you an idea of the Carriage Road at this point.
Approaching 4P, my fingers are chilled to the point that the warmth of the Best Western Acadia Park Inn looks pretty sweet. Passing cormorants at the Bubble Pond, we pause just briefly for pictures with our 18 miles of leisurely biking in the books.
Welcome to the best set of relaxed, conversation-inducing, motor-free byways in America. Add the Carriage Roads of Acadia to your bucket list.