Dan Bikes the Carriage Roads of Acadia National Park with his UNH Amigo

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.

CR UNH

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.

CR NB mapThat 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.

Eagle Lake at Acadia National Park

Eagle Lake at Acadia National Park

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.

CR CR map of roads

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.

CR 1A CR sign

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.

Carriage Road on east side of Jordan Pond

Carriage Road

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.

Witch Pond

Witch Pond

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.

Bill on the Carriage Road with the irregular coping stones for a guardrail

Bill on the Carriage Road with the irregular coping stones for a guardrail

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.

Billy Boy at Eagle Lake

Billy Boy at Eagle Lake

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).

Ithaca Bomber at Bubble Pond

Ithaca Bomber at Bubble Pond

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.

Bubble Pond

Bubble Pond

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.

Bill after an afternoon biking the Carriage Roads of Acadia

Bill after an afternoon biking the Carriage Roads of Acadia

Welcome to the best set of relaxed, conversation-inducing, motor-free byways in America.  Add the Carriage Roads of Acadia to your bucket list.

 

 

Dan Hikes the Mountains of Acadia National Park with the Canadian

Bill Buggie and I go way back. Having met in 1983 at the University of New Hampshire’s Summer Writing Program, we are kindred spirits grateful to my Mountain Rushmore of the teaching of writing (Don Graves, Don Murray, Jane Hansen, and Tom Newkirk).  Kids find their voice in their writing by choosing their own topics.  When kids learn to develop a voice in their writing, they are more likely to develop a voice in their lives.

Bill is a veteran of the pilgrimage trail, the Camino de Santiago in northern Spain. Since each of us lives roughly four hours driving time from Bar Harbor, Maine, we choose Acadia National Park (ANP) as our hiking destination de jour.

Map of ANPUnder skies of intermittent light rain, my solo ride north from York is uneventful, which from a car break down point of view is a good thing.  After 175 miles of highway driving to Bangor, I head East on Route 1A for the coast. It’s all very simple in May. As an aside, I do recommend traveling the coastal roads of Maine during May’s even more beautiful sister months, September and October.  Still warm, fewer touristos.

Sar1 Acadia signMeeting Bill at the Best Western Acadia Park Inn, we are a mere two miles from the Hull’s Cove Visitor Center at the southern end of the ANP.  Parking anywhere we choose on this preseason May Monday, we have the good fortune to be taken care of by Ranger Linda Morrison. As a hiker herself, she recommends buying a detailed map of the park trails for $5. We do and live to celebrate the modest purchase.

Recommending the Sargent Mountain and Penobscot Mountain Trail Loop, she takes out her yellow highlighter and talks us through the hike. In case of rain, she suggests that we hike five bridges in five miles along the Carriage Roads near Jordan Pond; this is an ideal alternative since hiking in precipitation on the rocky mountain granite can be a risky proposition.

Sar4A rocky bald view of inlets

With no rain falling, we choose the 5.2 mile Sargent/Penobscot Mountain Loop with 1300 feet of elevation gain. What would be crowded with vehicles in the summer, the Park Loop Road is basically car-free as we head north from the Visitor Center to Jordan Pond. Packing our rain gear in Bill’s backpack, we venture out ready for the windy mountain summit in a tee shirt beneath a long sleeve shirt and sweatshirt.

Walking easily in conversation for two miles along the Carriage Road skirting Jordan Pond, we do step around fallen trees on the trail due to the winter of Snowmaggedon 2015.  We walk below the more precipitous parallel Jordan Cliffs Trail, which is closed this time of year due to nesting peregrine falcons.

Sar1B D on CR

Along the Carriage Road near Jordan Pond

The gently graded Carriage Trails allow us to loosen our sitting-in-the-car-all-morning muscles and warm up for the steep climb to Sargent Mountain. Conversation with Bill is an easy back and forth. As an old friend, he is both interesting and interested; we each have a voice in our friendship.

Rockefeller's Teeth on the edge of the Carriage Road

Rockefeller’s Teeth on the edge of the Carriage Road

John D. Rockefeller, Jr. made the 50+ miles of Carriage Roads happen during the early 20th century. We pass the cut granite stones placed here on the Carriage Road edges, which act as guard rails. Known as “coping stones” to help visitors cope with the steep edges, they are also referred to as “Rockefeller’s teeth.”

After forty minutes on the Carriage Road, I see stone steps to our right; but there is no sign for the Deer Brook Trail to the Sargent Mountain summit; so we amble on. Fifteen minutes later, I wonder where the hell the trail is. When all else fails, I check the map and realize we’ve gone too far and double back. Though there is no sign to this trail (during a fall 2015 trip to Acadia  Bill and I see that a sign has now been placed at the start of the trail), we’ve made a cardinal mistake of not being attentive to geographical features on the trail map (i.e., lakes and streams) that would have shown us the trail.

Bill leading the way up the East Cliffs Trail

Bill leading the way up, the dare I say, “R as in rocky” East Cliffs Trail

No matter, an extra 25 minutes hiking on the Carriage Road is no sacrifice. Once on the East Cliffs Trail to Sargent Mountain, we find it steep and rocky. Amazingly, more than half of the trail through a hardwood and conifer forest is granite steps placed by trail workers in years past. It’s an accessible Adirondack switchback trail (straight up the mountain); and just the vigorous workout we are ready for after our mellow Carriage Road walking.

One of many sets of rock steps to Sargent Mountain

One of many sets of rock steps to Sargent Mountain

Throughout our hike the trails are well-marked with blue blazes or cairns (piled rocks on the bare rocky stretches of trail). Thirty minutes later after rock scrambling up the mountain, we come out of the forest having climbed maybe half a mile, to the treeless, open rocky sections near the summit. With still 15 minutes to the mountaintop we hike easily over smooth massive rock formations.

Atop Sargent Mountain

Atop Sargent Mountain

With a chilly and windy Sargent mountaintop (at 1373’ it’s the second highest peak to Cadillac Mountain in ANP), we put our sweatshirts back on. With all the rock climbing we have just done, we are again reminded that this is no hike in any sort of precipitation, even mist. We have been handholding the rock in places and pulling ourselves up over steeper sections. Nothing perilous, but the strenuous rating of the trail is richly deserved. Atop Mount Sargent, we check out the 360 degree views of Eagle Lake, Frenchman Bay of Bar Harbor, and out to the Atlantic Ocean.

The cairns to guide us along the massive stone ridge line

The cairns to guide us along the bare stone ridge line

With the wind up, we do not linger and take to the Sargent South Ridge Trail along the ridge line of this mountain bald (no trees).  Prior to Penobscot Mountain, we dip into the col (gap or valley) between the mountains; but the hiking is easy going now that we have summited.  We soon are atop Penobscot Mountain with a view to the south of Maine’s coastal islands and a glorious view of Jordan Pond to the north.

Jordan Pond from Penobscot Mountain

Jordan Pond from Penobscot Mountain

For another mile we continue on the Penobscot Mountain Trail on the bare mountain ridge. With no leaves on the trees, even in this mid-May, we have clear views to the lakes and ocean of Acadia.

More of the beautiful granite steps

More of the beautiful granite steps down the Spring Trail

After a mile, we take the Spring Trail down the steep descent of the mountain. Though we hand hold the granite as we descend, the ever present granite steps make the descent manageable and not dangerous at all.   As we finish our nearly four hours of hiking, we return to the shoreline of Jordan Pond.

You don’t need to be a macho man or woman to enjoy the Sargent/Penobscot Loop Trail.   This is a “go to” hike for the experienced hiker among us. Don’t miss it.