Normally throughout the summer, Hannah and I play pickleball on Tuesdays. But today is not a normal Tuesday. We are feeling something different. Despite our love of whacking wiffle balls with paddles, we are looking to break from a routine that we love. Today that would be some coastal Maine hiking.
Thanks to our friend and favorite Maine writer, Molly Hogan, a former student of mine at the University of New England, we have learned of the Bates-Morse Mountain Conservation Area 90 miles north of our home in York. (Click here for Molly’s blog – Nix the comfort zone.) The four-mile round-trip hike to Morse Mountain/Seawall Beach will take us through coastal forest and marshland on our way to the Atlantic Ocean.
Accompanied by our free spirits, we take the Maine Turnpike north on the coast. Turning towards the ocean on route 209 in Bath, we pass the large houses of seafaring captains of yore as well as the preppy Hyde School behind its “stay out” spiked metal eight-foot fence protecting its pristine lawns.
After driving a simple twenty miles down one of the many peninsulas along the coast of Maine on route 209, we take route 216 rather than continue on to Popham Beach State Park. Eight tenths of a mile later, we turn left on the Morse Mountain Road for the Conservation Area trailhead parking.
Two hundred yards up the gently rising gravelly road, we meet Jack, a student at Bates College in Lewiston, Maine, who is all at once the gate keeper, parking lot attendant, and biology major. With limited parking for at most 40 cars, we pull into one of the few remaining spaces at noon this late August Tuesday.
If you are thinking that if the lot is full, you can park along route 216, think again, my friend. The road has no shoulder as the bushes, trees, and brambles come right to the road’s edge. The good news is that since the trail to the beach is only two miles, there is lots of turnover in the parking lot.
Cooperating with the Nature Conservancy and the Maine Audubon Society to preserve nesting sites for piping plovers, rare and fragile plants, the Conservation Area covers 600 acres from the Sprague River to the Morse River out to Seawall Beach. The St. John Family leases the entire area to Bates College for one dollar.
The two-mile trail to the beach climbs initially through the forest of pines and hardwoods. Molly has warned us of mosquitos, but with the midday sun shining through the trees, we see nary a mosquito, Zika or otherwise. The fire road, once paved but now with just vestiges of macadam, is wide enough for a pickup; the St. John Family has access to its houses along the trail. For the rest of us, we walk. Which we are so damn lucky to do!
It’s a simple climb along the fire road to Morse Mountain. Saving a trip to the actual summit of Morse Mountain for our return, we head east to the beach, first in forested area, then to the wetlands of the bay.
At a leisurely pace, it takes us no more than 40 minutes to wind up at the expansive sandy beach. Along the way we pass other couples, mostly seniors, and families out for this last taste of days without routine before the school year begins. With no public facilities, toilets, picnic tables, or lifeguards, this is shoreline heaven for all who like their beaches un-ly, unsullied and uncrowded.
On this late August summer day with the temps near 80F and full sunshine, we have a mile of sandy beach before us to make our four miles of hiking into six. For most people, beach-going is living the dream. Hannah and I are just not such people. Lying in the sun “collecting rays” is not our idea of a good time. And I find walking in the dry sand of the beach frustrating and worthy of #$*&!# name-calling.
But today Seawall Beach delivers in an unexpected way. Since it is low tide, we have firm wet sand by the shoreline to maintain a steady pace without us wading through and sinking in the dry sand.
Families are building sand castles, some like the Geico guy and some like Geico’s competition. Click here to see the 30 second Geico ad at the beach that is played on ESPN morning, noon, and night.
Twenty minutes later we arrive at the Morse River with Popham Beach State Park across the waterway. Truly, cares and routines get left behind.
Leaving the beach on the trail back to the parking area, we soon take to the spur of no more than a few hundred yards to the top of the very modest Morse Mountain. There we see a vision of ourselves in four years. Let me explain.
For there, on the slightly angled large boulder with views to the Atlantic Ocean, we meet grandparents Mike and Molly who have brought their grandsons, Landon and Spencer, to hike the trail; out for an adventure, they say.
You see, “an adventure” is just we call our regular excursions with our grandsons, Owen (4) and Max (2).
Why the following day we will have such a “24 hours of Owen and Max” adventure. We will take them to race around the indoor track at the Kittery Community Center, play with the trains at the York Public Library, chuck water balloons from our upstairs deck, and then celebrate it all with popcorn, before baths in our kitchen sink.
We mark our 2020 calendar to hike to Seawall Beach for an adventure with the then eight-year-old Owen and his six-year-old brother Max.