Our camping trip to Acadia in 2016 was so successful and so much fun that the kids begged to go back again this year. We’ve fallen into a pattern of alternating between a house on a lake in Acton, Maine, and camping in Acadia National Park, although I don’t know if it we’ll keep doing that, just to try something new next year.
We headed out Monday morning, but not too early. I wanted to keep a somewhat relaxed pace so as not to be too stressed, yet get there in plenty of time to set up the camp site while it was still light. So starting at 9am gave us plenty of time for a couple of stops, including a lunch picnic at the Newcastle rest area between Wiscasset and Damariscotta, Maine. It was a beautiful place overlooking a saltwater estuary that also had a bunch of milkweed and thus Monarch butterflies and caterpillars.
Along the way, we listened to the audiobook of Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons, a children’s book set in 1930s England about two brothers and two sisters who spend a summer vacation, camping on an island in a lake with their sailboat, the Swallow. My kids have been raving about it and were so excited to share it with me. I have to admit I very much enjoyed it and it made the trip really fly by.
We got to the site at Smuggler’s Den Campground in Southwest Harbor in plenty of time and started setting but ran into some snags. First, my new camping cot would not fit in the tent, not if I wanted anyone else to fit in the tent with me.1 Then the air mattress that Melanie and I usually sleep on deflated with some kind of pinprick hole. So I set up my cot again outside the tent and I was going to sleep there for the night. Meanwhile, everything was blanketed in fog and mist and it dripped on me all night from the trees.
But before that we went out to Beal’s Lobster Pier, replicating our first dinner of our last trip, except without Lucy starting dinner by bashing her head on a table. I got a double order of steamers, Melanie got fish and chips, and everybody most of the kids got some kind of fish dish and ate everything and were still hungry despite the meals being substantial.
I was up with the dawn as I always am the first night of camping and got coffee and tea going before making a breakfast of bacon and eggs. Then we went into Bar Harbor to find a place to buy some tarps because of the forecast of rain that night. We also wandered downtown a bi, knowing we wouldn’t be going into the park that day because of all the fog and mist and promise of rain. I stopped in one place to buy a new coffee mug for me and another place to buy coffee. We walked down by the harbor which was still fogbound. After, we wandered into a couple of outdoors stores, which were overpriced and had thin selections, but a guy at one store recommended the Ace Hardware (which I should have thought of looking for.) We got two very large tarps, rope, some camp chairs and a new air mattress. When we got back to the site, we laboriously put up the tarps, filled the air mattress and then hung around the campsite all day because there was nothing to see anywhere with the fog followed by the rain coming.
Because of the rain, we went out for another dinner, going back to another place we’d been, the Seafood Ketch, where Melanie had a salmon with a blueberry balsamic reduction and I had a seafood and pasta dish. That night because of the rain, I folded up my cot and slept on the air mattress in the tent with Melanie and the kids.
After a night of steady but fairly light rain and no thunderstorms (thank God), we woke to the clouds beginning to break and the sun starting to shine through. Everyone got up fairly early, I made breakfast of eggs and sausage and coffee and tea and then cleaned up and then took a shower and then we headed out for the day.
We refueled the van and headed into the park. First, we stopped at the visitor’s center to buy a park pass. I had a forgetful moment and bought an annual pass. Oh, how clever I was since after all we would be visiting Shenandoah and Great Smokies and Gettysburg in September. A 1-2 day car pass was $30 here, an annual for Acadia was $50 and an all-park annual was just $30 more! Of course, because we have a 4th grader, we should have free park admission, not just this week, but in September too. And yes, we forgot to print it out for this week, but we would have printed it for September. Oh well, it’s just $30 I’m out now.
We then made our way directly to the summit of Cadillac Mountain and good thing too. After a day of rain, people were eager to check it off their bucket list and the summit was crowded. We had to wait in line to get a parking spot and when we were leaving, the rangers were closing the summit road because the line had grown so long.
At the top, the kids clambered about as usual, Anthony tagging along readily, jumping hither and yon with his foot in the medical boot, heedless of his possible broken bone. They also picked wild blueberries ripe on low bushes all over the place and getting the usual queer looks from city slickers who look askance at foragers. I wanted to walk the summit trail to the very top, but they were all antsy. So after a foray into the summit shop for blueberry soda and chocolate-covered blueberries (which we’ve now done twice on visits to Acadia so it now a tradition) we got back in the van and headed off to the Fabbri picnic area. We had a wrong turn, which turned out to be not so wrong, but which meant the whole trip there took longer than expected. But eventually we made it to the sun dappled glade among the trees and tall ferns for a pleasant lunch at which we discussed the biography of Robert Frost and watched the crows on branches above us.
After lunch, we headed onto the park loop road and just around the corner to the Otter Cove causeway beach. We all got out to wade in the ice-cold Atlantic, except I gave that up quickly, especially since the rocky beach was hacking to bits my tender feet. So I wandered off to take some other pictures, including some nice shots of a sparrow singing in a tree.
After the incoming tide chased them off the beach, we headed out again on the loop road on a very long trek that backtracked much our previous looping journey and then further on to the campground.
Eventually, we made it to the FoodMart to buy the day’s provisions. One of our lessons from last time was to get back to the camp site earlier for dinner and not to try to buy everything in one market trip for the week, but instead stop in each day for a little bit. The market is only a little down the street from the campground so it’s very convenient.
We had hot dogs for dinner and bought wooden skewers for the kids to cook their own over the fire and then made s’mores after. Then they all ran about in the bright, late afternoon sunshine until it was time for bed.
It’s not that there wasn’t some grumbling or any crying all day. There certainly was some. But it was the normal sort that is eventually gotten over, especially because it was so beautiful and bright and we were in Acadia on vacation.
After the kids were in bed, the sky was so clear that I got out my camera and tripod to try my hand at night sky photography. It turned out surprisingly well, I think, at least as well as my inexpensive camera can do. There was some banding in the dark spots, which a better sensor probably would not have had.
That night did not go so well. I woke in the middle of the night with an urgent need to run to the camp bathroom, giving myself a leg cramp in the process of trying to climb over Melanie while not waking her or the kids. I then spent the next half hour in the bathroom in the middle of the night and then the next day I felt horrible. At first I thought it was food poisoning, until it spread to others in the family a few days later.
Even so I did manage to make breakfast, clean up, and drive around the park with everyone. This time we stopped at Thunderhole 2, where we clambered among the rocks, (or at least the kids did.) I had assumed there wouldn’t be much action at Thunderhole, but the incoming tide did provide some of the characteristic booming. We also walked down the road some looking for a better place to get down among the rocks, but there really wasn’t one.
Next we headed down to our favorite picnic area at Fabbri. This is where Melanie took the kids over to the memorial park for a bit, while I napped in the van and then they all ate lunch. I think I had apple sauce and a rice cake.
After lunch, we went to Otter Cliffs, which we’d tried before lunch but whose parking lot was packed. But now while everyone else was having lunch, had plenty of space. I should note that for the future.
We clambered there for a bit, but not too long as both Melanie and I were nervous about the steep drops and the kids, especially Anthony in his boot.
After the cliffs we decided to come back to the camp site, stopping at the Hannaford supermarket in Bar Harbor this time for supplies. We cooked steak kabobs and baked potatoes over the fire, which was fun, got an early dinner in, and then put the kids to bed about 8 or 8:30.
I was feeling cold and tired and I didn’t want to have to try to get up off the air mattress in the middle of the night again so I got out my cot and slept in the open air. I was really cold before bed so I wore long pants, socks and sandals, and my jacket inside the sleeping bag and was asleep by 9.
By the time we got up on Friday, I was feeling much better. Not 100% but close. I made breakfast again (eggs with the leftover steak, potatoes, and veggies) and we headed out again. We went to the top of Cadillac Mountain again, which was much less crowded and which had almost no wind up there. We again stopped into the shop to buy some blueberry soda. The pocket knives caught my eye because they had wooden sides with Acadia engraved on one side and personalized names on the other. I found one with “Ben” and bought it for him as his very own. He’d earned his Whittling Chip at Cub Scouts this year and while I’d given him my old Swiss Army knife at the time, he was so happy to now have two pocket knives, my old one and this new one with his name and a reminder of this trip.
After Cadillace we drove down the park loop road to our favorite spot just before Thunderhole. There’s a little parking lot there that is usually less crowded and is across the road from a nice spot to go among the rocks and get down closer to the water. They all spent time nosing about the tide pools, especially Bella. Anthony’s rock clambering with the boot on gave me more angst. Then we went along to lunch at Fabbri again. (There are only two real picnic areas in the park and Fabbri is the better of the two.) And after lunch we went to the Otter Cove causeway beach again which was at low tide. Melanie and the kids found some interesting stuff among the kelp and seaweed there. Bella is turning out to be a real naturalist with knowledge of things that Melanie and I don’t have.
After Otter Cove, we went back to Hannaford’s to pick up dinner, which was potatoes, pre-made clam chowder, and haddock. We cut up the potatoes with oil and thyme and put them on foil packets over the fire. Then we put the fish in foil packets with lemon slices and thyme as well. It was all very good, although some of the potatoes got burned. I should have let the fire burn down some more first before putting them on.
After dinner, it was more of the same, with the kids playing in the playground and then pajamas and early bed for me and Melanie. The kids really did not mind spending time at the campground instead of in the park or other places, which makes it easier.
On Saturday morning, I got up at 5:30am, because we needed to pack up and head out early on our way home. We almost stopped at Fort Knox on the Penobscot River by a very big, new bridge there, but it turned out it would have cost us $30 for admission and we have much time to visit as we had other stops to make so we decided to put it off for a future visit.
That put us in the beautiful seaside village of Camden for lunch at the Sea Dog Brewery, which I keep calling Cappy’s because I’m old and call things by names they haven’t had in years. Isabella was so excited to go to the Sea Dog ever since we went last time and it was indeed a good meal.
Unfortunately, service was a bit slow. Then when we came out, Melanie and the kids wanted to walk along the harbor to see the boats, for which I can’t blame them, but it meant we were even further delayed in departing. (Problem #1)
My sister lives near Old Orchard Beach, south of Portland, and we had planned to stop there for the night to visit and see her new home. I’d told her we’d be there mid-afternoon and that had put a ticking clock in my head. And I’d forgotten that we’d planned to stop by the old fort at Colonial Pemaquid, which would bring us in even later. (Problem #2)
As we drove south, Waze was telling me we’d be in Pemaquid at 3pm, which would mean we’d be at least 2 hours later than I’d told my sister we’d arrive. (Problem #3) And I failed to communicate adequately with Melanie about my concern at being late, making a side remark that she did not understand was me expressing concern. (Problem #4)
And that drive down the side roads to Pemaquid, while beautiful, was very long. So when we got there, I said something like, “We have about 15 minutes here.” That was very dumb. After all that driving, of course we could spend just 15 minutes there and Melanie was justifiably annoyed with me. And because we evidently had not adequately prepared Sophia that we were taking a detour (because she does not like unexpected changes from the itinerary) she would not come out of the car. So while I was standing next to the driver’s door texting Francesca about how much later we’d be, Melanie walked off with the other kids, leaving me with Sophia and unable to go to the colonial fort after all.
Fifteen minutes later, Melanie came back and we loaded up. As I was driving out of the park, a ranger stopped us to remind me that the speed limit was 20 mph. It’s possible I was going slightly over the limit in my agitated, annoyed state, but I had like 200 yards of driveway left. I didn’t say a word, but just stared at him stonily, then drove off without a word. A mile or so down the road, a puppy ran into the street from behind a pickup truck and I almost hit it. It’s like a really bad, obvious screenplay.
The problem is that I am a worrier. I was worried about telling my sister we’d be there at a particular time and then being hours late. I was worried that we’d received a recall notice on the van just before our trip and it was indeed making a strange noise. And I was probably still agitated from being sick at the end of our vacation.
We did arrive at Francesca’s new home about 5pm. She made us dinner and then we put the kids to bed, watched some TV, and then went to bed ourselves. In the middle of the night, Isabella woke up sick, with vomiting and diarrhea. Evidently, what I had wasn’t food poisoning, but a stomach bug, and I’d passed it to Isabella. Melanie was up all night with her and the next morning, we couldn’t leave until Isabella could go more than an hour or two without needing a bathroom.
In order to get the other kids out of the house for a bit, Francesca and I took them to Krispy Kreme to see fresh donuts being made (we don’t have Krispy Kremes where we live) and to have a treat. It was raining so much that it was about the only thing we could do out of the rain. We eventually got home just about bedtime because of the weather and massive traffic heading south.
That should be the end of our vacation story, but I have add the postscript that Monday night/early Tuesday morning, both Melanie and Anthony woke up, you guessed it, vwith the same gastrointestinal distress. Urgh. I got about 2 hours sleep that night, had a lot of work the next day, had to pick up Melanie’s mom from the airport, but by the end of the day they were feeling better. We were on edge about the bug continuing to march through our family, but aside from Melanie relapsing a few days later and her mom feeling nauseous one day, that was it. Thank God.
Despite all the problems—the rain, the illness, cranky day of driving—it was still a great vacation and everyone is happy to have gone. And we’re looking forward to doing it again. Which will be very soon.
Melanie’s dad’s family is planning a family reunion in Kentucky in September and we’re planning a 10-day drive across country around it. I’m praying for good health and vehicles in good repair.