What I did with my summer vacation, Part 2: Acadia

I was pretty excited to go to Maine. I’m not exactly sure why that is, since pretty much all I know about Maine is what I’ve read in Stephen King books. Wait, I think we just nailed why I wanted to go to Maine. In any case, I’d never been and it seemed as good of a place as any.

Ollie wanted to try lobster SO BAD. It was all he could talk to leading up to the trip. I don’t know why it captured his imagination so much, but for him Maine = Lobster. Therefore, as soon as we got a chance, we stopped for a lobster roll.

eating lobster

If you’re going to do it, do it right, and we had heard that Red’s Eats was the place to go. However, after eating there I have to say, don’t waste your time. The line was long (as expected), but it seemed unnecessarily so. I’m a guy who stands in long lines to get good food relatively frequently; I’ve stood in much, MUCH longer lines, but they moved 10 times as fast. Despite them bringing us watermelon slices and umbrellas in the rain (which were pretty nice touches), they didn’t seem to be making any attempt to move the line along. Consequently, our average-sized line took about 2 hours and 20 minutes!!! I guess it is in their best interest to keep a line going. The food wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t life changing either, and after waiting with two small hungry kids for 2 1/2 hours, it would have needed to be.

The worst part was that Oliver discovered he didn’t like lobster after all! He wanted to so badly, so he kept trying, but he clearly was not enjoying it. In fact, at one point Sara and I were worried he was having an allergic reaction or something! But no, he just kept shoving it in his mouth even though he didn’t like it.

It turns out that Maine is nearly impossible to navigate. There are very few “real” roads, but the state is covered with little private drives with street signs. So the real roads are camouflaged and easy to miss. Furthermore, the highways are VERY poorly marked, informing you your turn is coming up, but not actually posted at the turn. Some highways we went on never listed the highway number for the few miles that we were on them. The street signs usually only show you the intersecting street, but are missing the crossbeam that tells you what street you are on.

All of this came to a head when we were arriving at our first campsite in the kind of dark you can’t get in Chicago and the kind of fog you can only get in Maine. And all the while, while straining your eyes to see, sign after sign warning you of the dangers of moose, who apparently streak across the road at a moment’s notice, like some kind of deadly game of Frogger. (Side note, despite all of their moose crossing warnings and moose memorabilia for sale, I never once saw an actual moose! I was pretty disappointed.)

You know, one thing that we didn’t really think about when we booked this trip was that there were a lot of one-night stays at a lot of cabins. We’d get in late, sleep, then pack up and take off the next morning. The problem is that at each stop you basically have to unpack the entire car, get out all the clothes and shower stuff and sheets and pillows, make the beds, unmake them the next morning, drive with wet towels on top of things, etc. This was all a *lot* of work! But we had miles to cover, so we didn’t have much of a choice.

We did make one quick stop a the LL Bean “flagship” store. Totally lame, don’t waste your time. Sure it’s big, but so is the Internet, and there wasn’t anything I couldn’t see on their website. Not a single thing we looked at was discounted or on sale. There was a giant boot to take your picture with, as long as you didn’t mind a sign or three shouting at you not to climb on it.

Finally we made it to Acadia National Park, where we could unpack a little bit, since we were actually staying for 3 nights. Luxury.

We pulled into the KOA just after sunset and were told that we had no reservation. After some momentary panic, we discovered that there are 2 KOAs within a mile of each other, and we were apparently at the wrong one. ::Whew!::

Finally, we made it into the park. A little driving, a little exploring, and story time with the park ranger. I get the impression that her audiences are usually…not so enthusiastic about stories. The other 4 or 5 kids there were just as interested as Evie and Ollie and probably would have went on listening all day. She seemed somewhat happy to oblige them.

Eventually we did make it over to the most excellent Jordan Pond House for lunch. This place was really cool. They have outdoor seating on these wooden tables. I don’t know how to describe it exactly, other than to say it seemed very fancy and made me feel like I was having tea on a Sunday afternoon at La Grand Jatte. Mostly they serve these amazing popovers, like warm hollow biscuits the size of my two fists. They were great with butter or jam, and we devoured them like wolves (wolves who eat popovers instead of red-cloaked children). I had a very rich lobster stew and the kids had fancy hot chocolates.

Afterwards, we decided to do the nature walk and, as pretty much always happens, accidentally found ourselves hiking around the lake. It was actually a really nice hike and Evie made the entire ~3 1/2 miles on her own (Oliver had to be carried for a significant portion), but we were a little stressed out because we had already purchased tickets for a whale watching tour that evening. Luckily we made it around with basically no time to spare, and found parking in Bar Harbor (no small matter) in time to make the boat.

We did in fact get to see two big humpback whales pretty close up. Not to perpetuate stereotypical humpback gender roles here, but their names happened to be Sword and Victim (guess which one was a man and which was a woman).

Whale Tail

Humpback Whale

The experience was pretty awesome, and only marred by one thing: the terrible, awful, no good, very bad, seasickness.

Oh my goodness. I’ve been on boats before, even on the ocean, but I don’t think I’ve experienced anything quite like this. The sea was particularly choppy (4 – 6 foot swells), and the boat was particularly fast (~30 knots). Furthermore, we were making a beeline for deep ocean where the whales were and not really making any attempt to lessen the impact of the waves. The feeling was exactly the same as a roller coaster, with my stomach dropping out on me and then suddenly slamming back into place as we went up the next wave.

Ollie was the only one of us who had never been on the ocean, but we figured we were more or less okay, so he would be too. Not so. He got green around the gills right away, curled up in a ball and said, “My tummy hurts”. We asked him if he was hungry, thinking maybe it might calm his stomach, but as soon as he got some food in his mouth he started gagging. Sara grabbed him to run outside, but it was nearly impossible to walk, the chop was so bad. They did make it in time, and the fresh air revived him just a tad, enough that he didn’t throw up. However a few seconds later, Evie and I had to run for the door ourselves. Evie was saying, “Go on the other side, I don’t want to see Ollie throw up!” worried that might be the thing to put her over. I understood exactly how she felt. Sara, on the other hand, has a stomach of iron and never felt the least bit of discomfort.

So none of us actually lost it, but based on the smell alone, I would say a non-trivial percentage of the boat was not so lucky. Every few minutes I would get a fresh whiff. Luckily our stomachs had a chance to calm down a little bit when we we stopped to see the whales, and the ride home was much smoother. Still, we didn’t dare go back inside. I was pretty miserable, and based on how Ollie looked, he was feeling worse than me.

On a somewhat crazy impulse, we decided to keep the kids up even later and keep the party rolling. Sara had seen mention of a “Stars Over Sand Beach” program that evening. I have always been into astronomy, but this was honestly a highlight of the trip. Just to lay there in the sand with the waves crashing behind us and see the stars like they can never been seen in Chicago. We had a little picnic, and Ollie fell asleep listening to stories of constellations and stars. I saw satellites, several shooting stars, and the double grand finale of seeing both the International Space Station, and an iridium flare. It was pretty cool, and well worth keeping the kids up so late.

The following day, we did a little “tide-pooling”, which I have to say was better than I expected it to be. At low tide, a giant sandbar appears, connecting Bar Harbor to Bar Island (creative namers, those Mainers) and trapping any sea creatures unlucky enough to be in the area at the time in little pools. We had a blast running from pool to pool, overturning rocks and picking up seaweed, discovering the little beasties. One of the better things we did in Acadia, and totally free!


We also got a chance to explore Bar Harbor a little bit. There are a lot of restaurants and things, but mostly just tourist type shops and absolutely NO parking! I wasn’t opposed to buying some souvenir junk, but we just didn’t quite find the *right* souvenir junk (though we did buy Ollie a “Maine” sweatshirt that’s pretty cute).

We also managed to solidify what would become the major theme of the trip: ice cream.

eating ice cream

eating ice cream

We started our little ice cream odyssey in Buffalo, but in this case it was Mt. Desert Island Ice Cream, which was fabulous. (Actually, we went there once the first day in Bar Harbor, so this was the second time.) They had “The Dude” White Russian flavored ice cream! Awesome. Ollie got the butterbeer, and I think that was the best one I tried (unfortunately, nobody tried the “celery and raisin”).

Of course, it couldn’t be all fun and games: our next stop was at the emergency room.

When we were in Buffalo, 4 kids were playing on one of those free-standing hammocks, which is sort of a recipe for disaster, but I was holding it so it wouldn’t tip. However, it became necessary to pull Evie aside and give her a little talk about being nice, which meant my back was to the thing when it flipped. Jackson and Elliot both took headers into the dirt, but Oliver was the lucky one who landed on the crossbar. Even the sound of his head hitting it was enough to make me wince, but he was basically okay. When he stopped crying we put some ice on it, and it didn’t even bleed.  His ear turned a lovely purple, but wasn’t too much the worse for the wear. He basically forgot about it.

Fast forward 3 days and suddenly he started complaining his ear was hurting. That’s when we took a good look at it and realized it was about 3 or 4 times the size of the other ear. This wouldn’t have been bothersome at all if it happened the day of, but it had never swollen at the time, and it seemed strange it suddenly would out of nowhere. To compound things, our Internet connection was extremely spotty, and we got stuck on a Google image search for cauliflower ear (do yourself a favor and don’t click on that link). So every time we glanced at the computer, we had to contemplate horrible things that can happen to damaged ears.

We decided to take some pictures of Ollie’s ear and email them to our pediatrician. We found a coffee shop in town and sent them. She called us back almost immediately and told us to go to the emergency room. Basically the theory was that it could be an infection, and if it was, the ear is a difficult thing to treat so the sooner we started treating it, the better.

Luckily for us, it ended up being nothing. Apparently it was just some kind of weird residual swelling. The emergency room was absolutely lovely, fast and efficient with friendly people. We didn’t even have time to get a game of Old Maid in. And when Evie and Ollie blew the complimentary bubbles all over the floor and made a slippery disaster zone in the lobby, they just called for maintenance and didn’t say an unkind word.

The whole thing took maybe an hour, and basically didn’t disrupt our schedule. We were off to Thurston’s Lobster Pound for our first in-the-shell lobster of the trip.

Cracking Lobster Claw

Now, I have to say, I had really been looking forward to cracking open some lobster. However, it’s pretty expensive, and honestly after my first two lobster meals, I was already kind of lobstered out. On the other hand, I came to eat a lobster, and that’s what I was going to do. And I must say, this lobster was by far the best one that I had. It was fun too, picking it out from the big bins and seeing it waving around. Oliver still talks about how it splashed him with his tail.

And after all that, we still made it to Bass Harbor Lighthouse by sunset.

Maine Lighthouse

And thus ends the Acadia portion of the trip.

I do have one more story to relate on the way out. As we were driving out of Bar Harbor, Sara saw a yarn shop, so of course we had to stop. Evie decided to buy her very own knitting needles there, with her OWN MONEY. I mention this because she cried later to think that people wouldn’t know that she spent her own money on them, so I told her I would do what I could. So now you know. They have little cat heads on the ends.

That’s not the end, though, since the best part of the trip was yet to come in part 3…

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