Active Outdoors: Maine’s mid-coast by bike
Leaving your car behind and traveling by bike is a wonderful way to really experience an area. You cover fewer miles, but you feel more. We did a four-day, three-night bike tour along Maine’s coast on the fingers of land that jut down between Muscongas and Penobscot bays. The lull between Memorial Day and July 4th is a quiet time on the coast, especially mid-week.
We didn’t know this section of Maine well, so we worked with Norm Patry of Summer Feet Cycling (summerfeet.net). Summer Feet offers everything from day tours of Portland (with electric bikes, no less!) to fully supported excursions in Italy, Nova Scotia, Quebec and Maine. We didn’t have the time to take one of his fully supported Maine tours and we didn’t really need any support for the short time we had, but we worked with Norm to find an itinerary that worked for our schedule and budget, and let him guide us to the right routes and lodging in inns that understood the special needs of people traveling by bike. Norm booked the inns for us and provided good maps and extensive route notes, which made finding our way easy. Staying at inns where there are restaurants nearby, covered storage for your bike and a big breakfast awaiting makes a bike tour much easier.
Day 1: Warmup
St. George-Port Clyde Loop. Le Vatout B&B.
Before we began our actual tour, we drove (as much as possible via main roads, not the roads we would be biking) to our second inn to leave some extra gear and food to lighten our load. While there, we decided to bike a 15-mile warmup loop from St. George down to Port Clyde. This is part of Tour 29 in the excellent Explore Maine By Bike book published by Maine DOT (exploremaine.org/bike). We’re slowly working our way through the described loops and loving every minute of it.
Our ride took us past views of the St. George River into the village of Port Clyde and the Marshall Point Light at the entrance to Penobscot Bay. It was a perfect reminder that 1) biking along the coast doesn’t mean you can always see the ocean, and 2) the hills along the coast of Maine may be small, but they still can be challenging!
That night we stayed at the Le Vatout B &B (levatout.com) on a quiet side street in Waldoboro. Domenika and Linda, the owners of this homey, comfortable little B&B, became instant friends. We thoroughly enjoyed chatting with them, exploring the village and their incredible gardens-in-progress (even this early, it was a treat for the eyes and nose).
Waldoboro to Clak Island. Craignair Inn.
Fueled by Domenika’s incredible gluten-free backwheat pancakes (the other option was local eggs and locally baked bread), we loaded our panniers onto our big, red Co-Motion tandem touring bike and pedaled off toward Clark Island. By main roads it’s 20 miles; the route we took was 30 miles without the recommended side trip to the Olson House (farnsworthmuseum.org/olson-house) made famous by Andrew Wyeth. The lilacs and honeysuckle were in bloom, filling the air with perfume as we pedaled. Route-finding was easy with Norm’s maps and notes.
We welcomed a lunch stop for huge curried-chicken salads in Thomaston, then pedaled on to the Craignair Inn (craignair.com), where we met the innkeepers Joanne and Michael O’Shea and Mimi the “Jack-a-poo” (Miss Personality!). The room was bright and comfortable, but we spent most of our time out on the porch, where we watched the tide slowly roll in and lobster boats, ate a picnic dinner we’d left there the day before (the restaurant was closed on Monday night) and listened to our legs humming. Later that evening, we strolled out onto the private Clark Island (open to inn guests) and imagined what it would be like to own that particular paradise.
Clark Island to Camden. Inns at Blackberry Common.
Michael fed us another “pedalers breakfast” the next morning to power us through our morning ride (lots of sea views on this route). We stopped for lunch at the Owl’s Head General Store (voted “best burger in Maine” and we can see why). Full again, we coasted through Rockland and turned inland past a number of lovely ponds and pedaled into Camden from the west.
The Inns at Blackberry Common (innsatblackberrycommon.com) is a classic, in-town, elegant B&B (actually two side-by-side historic mansions converted to inns) a short walk from the village and a bunch of great restaurant options. Hosts Cyndi and Jim Ostrowski greeted us like old friends (he’s an avid cyclist). Our room had the most amazing pressed tin ceiling I’ve ever seen (if you like such things, and I do). Comfortable, welcoming, lovely.
We’d never spent any time in Camden, and thoroughly enjoyed exploring its streets and water views with schooners passing by out in Penobscot Bay.
Camden to Waldoboro.
It had to happen. After three days of perfect cycling weather, we awoke to dark skies, fog and light rain. And, of course, we were 20 miles from our car. The highlight of this morning was Jim’s breakfast, featuring all local ingredients, organic eggs and veggies. Heaven on a dank morning.
For once, the weather Gods cooperated. We jumped on the bike and took the direct route along busy highways with wide, smooth shoulders. Not bad riding but hardly scenic. Two hours later, we were back at Le Vatout, loading our bike onto the car. Ten minutes after that, it started pouring and continued raining all the way home.
Biking is a multi-sensory experience. As you pedal you use your entire body and all your senses, not just your vision. You connect your essential self with the landscape you are traveling through and the people you meet far better than you can just whizzing by in a car with the windows rolled up, the air conditioner blasting and the radio filling your ears. On a bike, you feel the muscles in your legs, arms and shoulders. You smell the roadside lilacs and honeysuckle, and the rich scent of a saltmarsh and a sea breeze. You hear the wind in the trees and the calls of redwing blackbirds, cardinals, seagulls and ospreys. And you see more because you are traveling at a pace that’s ideally suited to really seeing, not just glancing.
Life isn’t a spectator sport. Get out and enjoy!
(Tim Jones can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)