Thursday, 29 September 2011

USA Today (5) Camden to Acadia (George Bush, mountains and cabins)

I wasn’t a happy camper. My knee had started to give me some serious gip, my fit flops had rubbed great ulcers on my feet and I had many, many itchy mosquito bites – 23 on my right leg alone. I always knew I was tasty but this was ridiculous. However, it was a lovely morning so I didn’t stay grumpy for long. 

We had an action packed day full of things to do, so we packed away our tent and headed into Camden for breakfast. As part of the Windjammer Festival celebrations, the local Camden Rotary were cooking a pancake breakfast in the car park. For next-to-nothing you could have blueberry pancakes, sausages, maple syrup and coffee – and you could keep going back until you exploded.

My dad is a very active member of his local Rotary, so I asked the three wise men who were taking payment in their Rotary International aprons, whether I could take their photo to show him. They duly obliged, but not until one of them had disappeared and then re-emerged as George Bush! I don’t know why, but it made us all laugh.


George Bush - an active member of Camden Rotary

Community spirit.

Who would have thought sausages & maple syrup could work so well.

By now the town was overrun with Pirates, including one with a rat in a cup. ‘Ho Ho Ho, it’s a rattaccino’ he bellowed. They had come to Camden by land, sea and mobility scooter. The latter was flying the skull and cross bones and had a brass telescope lashed to the front. Maybe Long John Silver had got tired of his wooden leg?

One of the stranger things that I like to do when I am travelling is to read the graffiti in public toilets. I’ve learned many things in the past, like which girls in the Australian town of Cooma allegedly have syphilis. Well I’m happy to announce that in Camden, Harry Potter is alive and well, carving ‘The Half Blood Prince’ into the cubicle door. Of all the things in the world to write on a toilet door, it was a puzzler. Maybe it was a clue? Maybe it was a route into the Chamber of Secrets? Maybe a Basilisk lived down the toilet which was going to rear up and speak to me in parceltongue? Maybe the blueberries George Bush had given me in my pancakes were hallucinogenic?

So long Camden.

Much as we wanted to stay for the lobster crate race, we needed to head north. Acadia National Park on Mt Desert Island was calling. 

Beyond Belfast we drove through Searsport, where I really started to notice for the first time, just how much American’s love their flag - attaching them to telegraph poles to make a patriotic archway of stars and stripes for us to drive through. I was puzzled. Was I in danger of forgetting what country I was in? I’d been served blueberry pancakes for breakfast by George Bush, I was driving on the wrong side of the road and Bruce Springsteen was belting out ‘Born in the USA’ on the radio. Where else could I possibly be?

Back home in England, we might invest in some Union Jack bunting for a royal wedding or jubilee, but as soon as it’s gone up, it’s down again and stuffed in a wheelie bin. 

Even campers in America – before getting their tent out, one of the first things they often do is plant their flag, claiming their territory like Neil Armstrong on the Moon.

It was only later in our trip, when we’d been through many similar towns and villages that I realised that America is so big and so diverse, that it’s at constant risk of fragmenting. It probably needs the constant reminder of the flag, that one symbol which unifies and draws everyone together. An American friend once said to me, ‘You’re OK, you’ve been around for ages. Everybody knows who you are. We’re the new guys. We have to get our branding out.’ 

<<Car Radio - Song of the Day>>

'When I die, bury me in satin.
Lay me down on a bed of roses.  Sink me in the river – at dawn.

It was so ridiculous that I started singing along with my own version:

When I die, pop me in a track suit. Lay me down in a fiery furnace. Flush me down the toilet – at dawn ....... 

You’ve got to admit, mine is the better version!

It was still early, so we decided to venture a slight detour to the  Blue Hill peninsular and tackle climbing the ‘Blue Hill’. 

I’ve not climbed up a big thing since we almost made it up Mt Snowden in 2009. Cancer treatment kind of knocks it out of you. Last summer I couldn’t even make it back up to the car park in St. Ives without sobbing with exhaustion. But this year it’s different. ‘Bring it on’ I thought and without a suitable road to drive up, if I wanted the view there was very little alternative. It was going to be a challenge, but I was ready for it.

Or so I thought.

The first part of the climb was across a relatively steep field of pasture. I found it really hard to get into my stride and it was so hot that my eyeballs started to sweat and steamed up my sun glasses. I needed a de-mister! 

Keep up Tris.

‘Come on Alison – you can do this’ I snarled at myself, willing myself on to reach the bench at the top of the field. ‘I will get there’, I said to Tris. ‘It just might take me a little while’.


Making progress.

Tris was great. In his wedding vows he promised to encourage me to reach my goals. He certainly did that. He’d never shown much interest in photographing fungus or stalking squirrels before, but it gave us an excuse to climb the mountain slowly with lots of rests, without me feeling guilty for slowing him down. I’m not much of a mountain goat.



Interesting fungus.

Stalking red squirrels.


More interesting fungus.

Although we’d chosen to walk up the steep route, suddenly from nowhere, two cowboys appeared, crashing through the undergrowth on horseback. They didn’t stick to the path, they just went straight down the mountain. And then they were gone. Tris and I looked at each other with ‘Did you just see that?’ looks on our faces. We shook our heads in disbelief and carried on upwards. 

So close.

You could almost smell it.


I found the climb really hard, but I did it and the view from the top was worth all the effort. There beneath us was a huge fried egg lake with a forest yolk. As I went to sit on a boulder a bright, lime green snake slithered out of my way. 


I did it!
And I got up there first!

It wasn’t just the view that was glorious, it was my achievement. I’d tested myself with my toughest physical challenge so far and I’d done it. It was another step in the right direction away from the hollow shell that cancer temporarily turned me into.

On to Ellsworth for lunch - the gateway to Mt Desert Island and Acadia National Park – where we dined at The Riverside Cafe, which wasn’t actually by the side of the river at all. The waitress told us that we were ‘very welcome’ when we ordered our club sandwich and then when she asked us how it was (we did the usual ‘Oh yes, very good’) she replied, ‘kinda hard to muck up a sandwich’. 

Quick as a flash Tris was in there with ‘well Subway manage!’ Back of the net – nice one hubster!

Keen to see the riverside we went wandering, at exactly the same time as a flock of bikers appeared on their Harley's ‘easy riding’ their way down the road. In amongst ZZ-Top and their impressive collection of beards was Bono, with wrap around shades and leather trousers. He was looking for something - it looked like he still hadn't found it.

It was really odd seeing people on motorbikes without helmets. While I have been on the back of a bike in the US without a helmet (don’t tell anyone), it does turn my stomach. To me I see everyone of them as a caved in skull after a horrific road traffic accident. They look so vulnerable. Now there’s a cheery thought.

Acadia National Park on Mt Desert Island comes with rave reviews. We knew it would be a high point of our New England adventure and it didn’t disappoint. If you imagine a pair of lungs, that’s what the island looks like.
The right lung is the more populated (and touristy), where as the left lung is much gentler and less developed. The lungs are separated by a fjord, Somes Sound. This is where are next campsite was located, right on the left bronchus – 'The Quiet Side of Acadia'.

We planned to stay there for three nights, so had splashed out on a waterfront cabin, called ‘Starfish’. To call it basic is an understatement, but it had a bed and electricity and with my dodgy knee in mind, it didn’t require any crawling, which made it positively luxurious. 

After raising the Union Jack, we headed off to Southwest Harbor and found Quietside Ice Cream Shop which promised the best pie in Maine. If their fish and chips were anything to go by, then it probably was.


Our luxurious cabin called 'Starfish'.

I spent some good dollars that day. One of them was for 5 minutes under a warm shower. It’s not long to shampoo and condition but the threat of a sudden freezing deluge is one hell of an incentive. After the nightly ritual of scratching my mosquito bites and a determination for my bladder to achieve a ‘one-stop strategy’ in the night, in our little cabin, overlooking a fjord on the right bronchus of an island in New England, I had the best night’s sleep I’d had in months.




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