Saturday, August 21, 2010

Maine Lighthouse Tour
Day 7

Friday morning finds us heading to Portland Maine. There are four lighthouses here all within short riding distance to each. As we near Portland, I take the lead and monitor the GPS for directions to our first light. Zumo guides me through the busy streets of Portland…right to the ferry landing. What the heck! Not again! This happened in Rockland and Bath too. I’m scratching my head over this as we decide what to do next.

Since I can see the waypoints visible on the screen of the GPS, Andy and I decide he will take the lead. He has a great sense of direction. I’ll give verbal queues from behind as the waypoints come closer into range according to the GPS. There are a couple of bridges that will take one over the Fore River, and of course we learn later that we’ve taken the one furthest off our course. No matter, we are in no rush, but it would be nice to find these lighthouses a bit easier. As we ride along, it seems wise to make our way to the furthest one first, because the road signs are now pointing us in that direction.

We arrive at Cape Elizabeth. We pull into a parking lot at the end of Two Lights Road, as there is no on site access to this light. This is a beautiful setting however, and the lighthouse itself is picturesque. A painting of this lighthouse by Edward Hopper was featured on a 1970 US postage stamp, and I can understand why. It has a prominence and quiet majesty about it that leads one to linger at this spot. Andy and I walk the breakwater past the massive fog horn stationed there. The signs here warn of its loud blast that can be unexpected and ear piercing. I have no worry as fortunately, this day is without fog.

We set off again with Andy in the lead. Over the radio he asks what I’m seeing on the GPS screen. I tell him he needs to find his way to the right somehow. He does, and takes us through a beautiful community that warns us there is “no thru traffic” this way. I can see why. Money talks and the homes along this stretch of road are something to behold. I could house Andy’s and my family in any one of them. With Andy’s eleven siblings and my own seven, that is saying something about these homes. The route is great though as it leads us directly to our next destination, Portland Head Lighthouse on the site adjoining Fort Williams Park, Cape Elizabeth. If I thought Cape Elizabeth Lighthouse was picturesque, it paled in comparison to the Portland Head. Consulting my lighthouse guide, I read that this is the most photographed lighthouse in North America. There is no argument from me. As an added bonus Ram Island Ledge lighthouse is visible from shore.

Finding the last two lighthouses in Portland are tricky. We can’t seem to find any direct route, there are no street signs pointing the way, and the area seems busy with commercial shipping and recreational boating. Finally we spy from the road the top of one, yet we can’t get to it. Andy continues on, and we find the other, the Portland Breakwater Light. This light is also affectionately referred to by the locals that the Bug Light. There is a pleasant park here also called Bug Light Park, with a memorial to the shipbuilders that worked in this area. The plaques are worth reading and I found it interesting that there are 60 positions for which you could apply for to work to build a ship. It reminded me of the mill days when my relatives worked the looms in the Amoskeag Mills, or in the shoe shops that once were prevalent in the Manchester NH area. I myself had a summer job as a stitcher and my specific job was the “vamp.”

From Bug Light Park we can see the last of our Portland area lighthouses, the Spring Point Ledge and scratch our heads on how to reach this light. I remember then that the access to this light is trough the parking lot of the Southern Maine Community College campus. We have passed the college on the way to Bug Light, so we backtrack and then proceed through the campus. Sure enough, we are lead directly to the lighthouse. This lighthouse is at the end of a 900’ long breakwater constructed with 50,000 tons of irregular granite blocks quarried from Biddeford and Wells Maine. At the end of the breakwater at the base of the light are two panels of solar cells which now power the automated light. We spend some time in the wind watching vessels of all sizes pass by. Since it is now close to 2:00 pm we decide it’s time for lunch and make our way to the nearby Joe’s Boathouse and have a pleasant meal on the deck overlooking Casco Bay.

We look at our watches and decide we have time for the last lighthouse on our tour, the Cape Neddick Lighthouse or “the Nubble” as the lofty prominence of land a few hundred feet offshore is called by the locals. This lighthouse has no onsite views as the channel separates it from the parking where we now find ourselves. We linger here for a bit and take time to soak our feet in the ocean water as the day is quiet hot. We chuckle that with the expanse of ocean we have seen this week, it is the first time we dip any part of our body into ocean water. A look at our watches tells us it is past five o’clock, and decide that it’s time to high tail it to the Hotel Henderson. With that, for the first time this week, we make for the interstate and head for home. It is on this high speed, wind refreshing blast for New Hampshire, that I realize why the GPS has pointed us to ferry landings. It is human error in that I had forgotten to set this as one of the avoidances in the settings. Hopefully, it’s not too late for others to learn from my mistake should you choose to take the Lighthouse Tour for yourselves.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Maine Lighthouse Tour
Day 6

We start our day at the Maine Lighthouse Museum in Rockland. This is a must see for anyone doing a lighthouse tour. We were amazed at the things we learned from type of lights, to fog horns and bells. We also learned of lighthouse ships, which I had never known about. These ships are no longer in service. By the time I left the museum I had a better appreciation for the work our New England Rider pal Pat P (Mortis) and his wife and family must have experienced in their 12 years tending a lighthouse on Cape Cod.

(Not a picture of the museum, just a cool looking lobster.)

Our first lighthouse of the day is Owl’s Head. Owl’s head is so named because the native Indians thought the cliff, when viewed from below, looks like an Owl’s head. From the photos we’ve seen it still does today. If you visit Owl’s Head be ready to climb some steps; 51 in all. The residence here is private, so keep to the path. The road leading to this light is decent, (a state park nearby) but the parking lot is not paved and the gravel is loose, so that the kickstand sinks in quite a bit. With the back issue, Andy had to help me bring the bike back upright. A blow to the pride for any rider!

Off we go to our next light, Marshall Point. The interesting thing about hunting down lighthouses is that it’s not so much that you can see them on approach, because you just can’t. It’s that the air becomes noticeably cooler. This is the definitely the case as we approach Marshall Point. The road narrows, we pass through a tiny village, typically quant, and then the road narrows to barely wide enough for one vehicle. The lighthouse is a surprise as it is not on the point itself, but just off and on the rocky shore. A long boardwalk leads to the lighthouse out over the rocky shore below. The grounds here are beautiful and a black marble memorial has been erected to remember the local fishermen who died at sea.

Pemaquid Point Lighthouse is our next destination. While the day is absolutely beautiful with plenty of sun and blue sky, we know we are near our destination because the air cools, and fog rolls in. We are surprised to see a gate at the entrance and a fee for parking. However, when we approach the gate the woman tells us that for $2.00 each we get to park, visit all the grounds, climb the lighthouse tower…
“…wait? Climb the lighthouse itself?”

That is what she said, and I couldn’t get my two bucks out fast enough. I made a bee line for the lighthouse, and waited my turn to climb the spiral steps to the top. There I stood and examined the light, the view (what could be seen through the fog) feel the mist and listen to distant fog horns. The oil house stands open to visitors as well as the bell tower. Until know we could only “see” what these were like on the inside by the descriptions and diagrams provided. The keeper’s house is now a fisherman’s museum on the first floor. An art gallery is across the way with paintings by local artists. One of the features of this spot is the expanse of rocky cliff and bluff, the most we’ve seen of all the lighthouses we’ve visited. Looking at what the ocean has carved for itself over the centuries is awe inspiring.

Pemaquid locals are very proud of this particular lighthouse, and if any of you are coin collectors you know what I’m talking about. This lighthouse is featured on the Maine State Quarter. It was unveiled in a special ceremony right there on site, and the die used to mint this coin is on view in the base of the lighthouse tower.

Our final lighthouse this day is also the hardest to find. We head south on US 1 to Bath Maine. Here the GPS seems to be confused. We take a loop and end up back on US 1. Then it indicates we have to cross the Bath Bridge over the Kennebec River. Once across, it’s looping us again. Since there is a visitor’s center right at the south side of the bridge we pull in there and ask. We are giving written directions that will send us back over the bridge.
“It’s the closest I can get you on wheels” the guy tells us.

That should have been our first clue. Andy puts me ahead as the GPS seems to have regained its bearings. Yet, it seems to want to send us down what looks like a residential driveway. Then we see the street sign and it’s a dirt road. We continue to follow the GPS but we soon pass the spot. I turn us around again and stop as soon as the GPS says we’ve arrived. Andy is shouting about me stopping again. “We are here,” I tell him, but all we can see are trees. I decide to believe the global positioning system and get off the bike and head down what looks like someone’s driveway.

Sure enough, as we approach the last house, there is a small sign pointing the way. Here on the banks of the Kennebec River at Doubling Point are two lights that are used together and accessible by wooden walkway; a long wooden walkway. This has to be the strangest of all experiences; to be lost in the woods, on dirt roads, with mosquitoes buzzing; finding and inspecting a lighthouse at the mouth of the river. If you go, mount your knobby tires.

Maine Lighthouse Tour
Day 5

We begin where we left off the day before and head into Acadia National Park. Our first stop is the visitor center for first things first; INK! With the stamp in place, (National Parks Passport Book) we watch the video presentation about the history and natural habitat of the park. Then off to and up Cadillac Mountain, a destination that has long been on my list. Once there I find the geological marker and take a few photographs to commemorate the moment.

The views from here are absolutely beautiful. The posted placards help us understand what we are looking at below. The signs also indicate that at certain times of the year, the sun rises here first on the US of A. Cool! The ride up Cadillac Mountain is easy, with many turn-outs for viewing. As mountains go, it isn’t very high, but can boast being the highest point on the eastern coast. (Not to be confused with the highest point in the Northeast which we know is Mount Washington in NH.) We end our Acadia visit with the completion of the loop and make for our next destination.

If there is one thing I’m learning on this tour, is that lighthouses aren’t as easy to find as one might imagine. Despite waypoints marking them, so far most are not possible to see until you are upon them. Even then, a few are right under our noses, but so nestled into their spot as to be hidden from the inland approach. Since lighthouses sit on points and bluffs, they are also typically at dead end roads, most of which aren’t well maintained. While Blaze did a magnificent job navigating these roads, Andy complained the Vulcan dragged bottom a few times. Finding the lighthouses is one thing, all the backtracking away from dead end roads is another and time consuming. We decide we are on no one’s time schedule except our own.

Our first official lighthouse this day is Dice Head. This is a beautiful spot set so far off the beaten path I would have never ventured here except in finding this lighthouse. As with many of the lighthouses, the home attached is a private residence. It was good to see that the people we come upon at these spots are respectful and follow the signs pointing to footpaths. Dice Head Lighthouse sits atop a rocky bluff. From our vantage point we can see the sailboats below, hear the bell in the channel coming to us on the breeze. The path leads around back and downward. We discover a staircase built into the granite rock that leads to the water. On our return we eat handfuls of blackberries that are ripe and ready for eating. A great snack for our trek upward.

Back again we go over jaw jarring roads and around to our next light, Fort Point. Off the beaten track we go. We are pleasantly surprised to find that as we approach the road improves. I think it’s because this light abuts a state park. Here too is the former site of Fort Pownal. The grounds are spacious. This light is at the mouth of the west side of upper Penobscot bay at the tip of Cape Jellison. We find a few artists painting their renditions. The artist to the right more to my liking. The one to the left is painting in monochrome and puffing a stogy which spoils the smell of the ocean breeze.

The day is getting away from us as we make our way to Rockland Breakwater Light. We have been to this one about seven years ago, so we don’t take the mile walk out on the breakwater. I’ve done a bit of hiking today already and the back may not like the uneven stones that lead to the light. We take some time to appreciate the quiet of this evening, inspect the flora, and read a few of the names on benches along the path, paid for by families to remember loved ones. We decide to save Owls Head for tomorrow. Here too in Rockland we find the Lighthouse Museum. We may just have to visit that too.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Maine Lighthouse Tour
Day 4

I’m trying to run from the tornado, but my legs will not respond. The ache is tremendous, and I keep trying despite the agony. I spy people heading to a storm cellar and I try to catch up, but the door slams before I reach it. I look up and the funnel cloud is looming ever closer. That is when I awake yet again this night. The back problem that has flared up is causing me great pain so that earlier, Andy had to help with pulling the boots off.

As the morning rolls around, I can at least get out of bed, barely, only to discover that I can’t lift the right foot onto the floorboards. I’m beginning to seriously wonder at the safety of traveling in such a state. I strongly suggest we stop for something besides oral meds. Medicated back rub is suggested. Through the course of the day, we try that and by 3:00 pm I’m not thinking so hard about lifting the foot off the ground.

The day progresses in like fashion. We head down the coast along US 1 and detour at Milbridge and head down one of the many finger like peninsulas that dot the coast of Maine. We are having technical trouble with the two way radios, and we miss the first turn. No worry, the GPS recalculates and we can still get there from here. Yet, the fog is thick, and while we can see the shore, no lighthouse seems to appear. Andy stops to ask directions for a local utility worker parked in his truck. Meter reader I presume. Andy begins gesticulating in the way I see him try to speak with my brother and sister. The person in the truck is clearly a deaf man. Finally he pulls forward and I roll up.

“Hi” I say with a wave of my hand. Then in American Sign Language I ask my questions.
“Lighthouse…can’t find here…where?”
“Not here” the man tells me. “Go back…US1 south….4 miles.”
“Sign?” I ask
“Yes, sign, about this big” indicating with his hands the dimensions of the sign.
“Beautiful!” he adds “you will like.”

We head back to US 1 south, yet we never see the sign. What we do find are some significant commercial fishing docks. We stop at these and try to see through the fog. In a few moments a young man comes rowing in and pulls his rowboat in.
“Done for the day?” Andy asks.
The man is chatty and we discover that there is a lighthouse not too far off but the fog will not allow us a view and you can’t drive to this one. Now how did that one end up staying on the route? It was not my intention.

So that the day is not a complete waste, we ride through and stop in Schoodic National Scenic Byway. The fog is still shrouding a lot of the area, yet we are fortunate to spy a seal popping his head up to check out the visitors. We are also amazed at the posted signage telling us about the magma that in the earth’s earlier days pushed its way through the crevices of granite stone, leaving the stripes we see today. “Jim” an old retired buck, and Maine native, approaches us to talk about the bikes. He seems interested in the fact that I’m riding my own. We chat for some time and he tells us a few stories of Maine. He’s out and about in his motor home investigating all the tourist attractions he never visits because he lives so close.

We mount the bikes wave goodbye to Jim and head toward Bar Harbor. With any luck, here will be the only lighthouse we see this day. It’s close to 5:00 pm when we finally reach Bass Harbor Head Light. We take our time here, and then a few moments to discuss our next move. I’m reluctant to leave this area. I want to ride through Acadia National Park, get my stamp and climb Cadillac Mountain. We head back inland, find lodgings, eat at the nearby “Maine Luau” and I sample another local beer. This one is Cadillac Mountain Stout, made right here in Bar Harbor. Sokay…I’m walking, not riding.