I have always savored sunsets. (My daughters are nicknamed the Sunset Sisters, after all.) First, they’re awesome — as far as I’m concerned, you can never have too many sunsets. Second, I have always savored sleep, and as far as I’m concerned, no sane person wakes at dawn.
Of course, the past 15 months have been nothing if not ironic, and so my sleep cycle since March 2020 has veered between too extremes: either I get too much sleep and feel lousy, or I get too little and feel awesome. During the weeks after I returned from set, and while dealing with my back and family health issues, I slept and slept and still never felt like it was enough. But as those situations have improved, I have slept less and felt better. So that made it particularly appropriate that my next road trip involved getting up at a particularly unGodly hour and catching the sunrise at a particularly famous spot.
Returning to Maine was always part of my grand travel plan to hit all of America’s six geographic corners. I would visit five in the spring (Southern California, Kauai, Key West, Seattle, and Alaska) and finish my odyssey at sunrise on the first day of summer in Maine, our country’s Northeasternmost corner. The synchronicity was going to be perfect.
But no travel plan survives contact with the calendar, and my month off the road meant that after bagging three corners, I had to cancel my trips to Alaska and Seattle. Maine, however, remained well within reach. So two days ago I set off and drove north and east. My first visit there since Election Day (read Part Three of the Prologue if you haven’t yet) would provide a great opportunity to see what had changed in one of my favorite states, and what remained the same. It would also provide an epic sunrise. And it did all that and more, in one of the most amazing 36 hours of my entire travel odyssey. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. . .
My cousin James is one of my favorite family members; we are close in age, though not in height, and every summer his family would stay in the house one hill over from our own, so we became pretty much inseparable. I always looked up to him, literally (he’s nearly 7 feet tall!) and figuratively, since James has one of the most kind and congenial personalities on the planet. He’s also super strong — in the mid-1980s he and I rowed around Naushon, at nearly 7 miles the longest of the Elizabeth Islands, in a double-oar boat his family had built. It took us five glorious hours, and I’m not ashamed to say that James did most of the rowing.
But life, as a former teacher once told me, is not a fairy tale, and a few years ago while biking, James was hit by a car and his life changed completely. He still maintains that same gloriously genial personality, but as we age (time is undefeated, Rocky memorably says in the movie Creed), things get harder.
Fortunately James has an ingenious pedal-based solution that enabled us to walk/ride to the lighthouse a mile from his house in Owls Head while catching up (we hadn’t seen each other since the “before times”), and then we went back to his house and chatted some more. It could not have been nicer, and was just the sort of maskless reunion with loved ones that the COVID vaccine has made possible. Thank you, science! Thank you, Dr. Fauci!
After I said good-bye to James, I made my way back to Bangor and Stephen King’s house, which the Sunset Sisters and I had visited Halloween morning. I caught it just as the light faded and the shadows (and tree branches!) lengthened, and the only sound was some unseen crowd cheering a baseball game whose location I was never able to determine. It was, in fact, very sweet and not at all scary, but all the same I couldn’t resist a silly selfie, for which I ask your (and Uncle Stevie’s) forgiveness.
I spent the night at the same hotel where my daughters and I had stayed, and left promptly at 3am the next morning in order to arrive at Acadia National Park, where I planned to observe the sunrise at 4:47am along with Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, the first Native American to hold the post, and acclaimed cellist Yo-Yo Ma. (No, really https://www.pressherald.com/2021/06/18/watch-cellist-yo-yo-ma-performs-as-interior-secretary-haaland-visits-acadia/). I never saw them, but I still had plenty of adventures.
I couldn’t get a vehicle reservation to ascend Cadillac Mountain, the crown of Acadia and the highest point on the North Atlantic seacoast, until 6:30am (it’s pretty popular, and tickets were gobbled within seconds). So instead I made my way to the Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse, arriving first in the parking lot around 4:15am.
So, the thing about both sunsets and sunrises is that they aren’t static. On the summer solstice, the sun doesn’t just rise in the east (I’m told that part doesn’t change), but also a good bit further north than it would in December. So I quickly realized that pretty as this spot was, it wasn’t ideally suited for this particularly sunrise. So I set off in search of a better spot and…well, let’s hold that thought for a few moments, shall we?
Instead, let me say that I spent an enjoyable hour or so touring the southern part of Mt. Desert Island while waiting for 6:30 to arrive. The morning sun streaking through cliff-hugging trees actually reminded me of Kauai’s Na Pali coast in the late afternoon, always fun to recall.
And oddly enough, the highlight of the hour was that same sun streaming through sprinklers turned on at 6am to water a wall in no need of watering. It was a William Carlos Williams moment that mesmerized me for many minutes (ok, not many, but I do love alliteration, which along with irony is the secret sauce of all succulent scribbling (er, good writing).
I then made my way to Bar Harbor and enjoyed some views of the, well, harbor. And then it was time for the journey up.
I’m ashamed to admit this, but for all my time spent in Maine over the years, and all the national parks I’d bagged from North Dakota to Hawaii, I had never been to Acadia. And the Cadillac Mountain views were my second-favorite thing about this trip to Maine.
It’s just stunning, that mountains over ocean view that you almost never get in the East. And although I summited it two hours after sunrise, I still had plenty to savor.
Through this vehicle reservation system, the Park Service has ensured a blissful lack of crowds at one of its most popular spots, and for that I applaud them. Everyone there was maskless and merry, and it was as easy to chat idly and satisfy those “would you mind taking a photo of me” or “would you like a photo of both of you together“ requests as it had been at scenic spots in the before times. That felt really good.
After an hour or so, I descended, made my way to a visitor center, chatted amiably with a park ranger after she had raised the American flag (More chatting! With strangers! As if they were friends! I love it!)
By this point my phone was losing its charge quickly, but I still had time to take the 27 mile one-way Park Loop road, stopping at nearly every corner as it revealed another stunning vista.
Then my phone ran out of juice just as I was leaving the park, already plotting how soon I could return (the fall foliage must be unbelievable on Cadillac, and I hope to see so for myself!). But my Maine adventure hadn’t quite ended. Driving back to Bangor, I passed the Black Sheep Trading post (http://blacksheeptrading.com) and was drawn in by the fact that it prominently displayed two of my favorite things: Hawaiian shirts and Stephen King books. Needless to say, I bought plenty of both.
But that wasn’t the best part. The best part was the extended conversation I had with Bet-c, the wonderful proprietor of the Trading Co. (do I call her the black sheep in chief?). I told her about my blog, she gave me helpful back soothing tips (involving a dog’s chew toy, an onion bag, and a door frame; yes, really, and I intend to try it out!). She and I, both fans of alliteration, dubbed it “Bet-c’s Bountiful Black Sheep Back Bonanza.”
And at no point then or during my other conversations that day: at my hotel, at the Center for Maine Crafts, and even with the shirtless dude in a backwards Yankees cap polishing his car rims in the gas station parking lot, was I even slightly concerned about keeping my distance and avoiding conversation because of COVID transmission. (And those who know me appreciate how much it takes even in normal times for me to converse with a Yankees fan!)
That’s the biggest change since my first trip, to Vegas, and this most recent one. In Vegas people were reveling unmasked in defiance of science and with the vast majority of them at that point (late March) unvaccinated. In Maine, which along with the rest of New England boasts the nation’s highest vaccination rates, people were reveling unmasked because of science and in celebration of the fact that so many of us are now protected.
That was my favorite thing about the Maine trip: it showed me what the light at the end of this tunnel looks like, a glimpse of the new normal to which we are returning. And even that altered normal felt really good.
As for where I caught that sunrise…well, I couldn’t tell ya. GPS is spotty in the park, and I, who scorned it for years in favor of maps, found that GPS got mapless me to the Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse and then conked out just in time for my return (though it occasionally muttered “Head East,” which was appropriate if not exactly helpful).
And so, at precisely 4:47am on the morning of June 18, I was somewhere on Mt. Desert Island, failing to find a suitable sunrise spot. All things considered, I probably should have stayed at the Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse. But it didn’t matter. For though I was lost, I was also found. And I knew something I hadn’t when I crossed the Maine border: one way or another, I’m gonna bag those last two corners.