Acadia National Park

acadia national park

A couple months ago Gregory and I started chatting about Acadia over a second (third) cup of coffee on a quiet Shabbat afternoon. “Let’s run up there this summer!” we enthused. “We’ll drive overnight and spend a long weekend. Easy!” It became a fun game to work out how we could take our family of seven to Acadia with hardly any time or money involved. We considered flying into Bangor, we checked the length of the train ride from Charlotte, we spent long hours on Google maps looking at distances. To our surprise, it grew into an eight-day road trip hitting almost every major city on the east coast, and somehow we found the time and money to make it happen.

There were the usual last minute flurries right before we left: my son had outgrown all of his jeans from last year, so we had to overnight a pair from Amazon Prime. I shopped the Lands Ends sale for fleece-lined windbreakers and pulled Rachel’s puffer coat out of storage, just in case. I ordered a sound machine (for the hotel nights) and a couple of new car toys.

We rolled our sleepy berries out of bed at 5.30am Tuesday June 29, and exactly twelve hours later we were pulling into Jim & Julie Eller’s lovely house on Long Beach Island, NJ (Greg’s aunt & uncle). We spent the night and half of the next day thoroughly enjoying their hospitality and the beautiful area of LBI. It was the perfect way to break up our long drive to Maine! We love you Aunt Julie and Uncle Jim – thank you for a wonderful visit!

One of my favorite memories is when Rachel was napping back at the house, the other berries had run ahead down the beach with Uncle Jim, and just for a second Greg & I were all alone on the sand. We stopped, took a deep breath, and I knew in that moment that we were going to make it to Maine, that we would get through every little struggle along the way, that we were going to do this together and there was nowhere I’d rather be.

Wednesday afternoon, we resumed our drive and spent two hours sitting in rush hour traffic (which is all day long) on the George Washington Bridge in NYC. Yes, we were warned to stay away from this bridge, but it stretched out temptingly in front of us with only a tiny patch of red traffic on Google maps. We hopped on only to regret it a few minutes later as everything came to a standstill and we were doomed to eat an uncomfortable dinner in the car. We stayed that night at an unpleasant hotel in Hartford, staffed by an unpleasant receptionist, where we all had an unpleasant night’s sleep.

Day 3 of our trip thus began grumpily with a drive into Vermont (for the entire purpose of scratching this state off our map) and a visit to Grafton Village cheese shop in Brattlesboro. Back on the road with maple syrup, cave-aged cheddar, and local chocolates, we finally crossed the border into Maine! Our neighbor Ed, a well-traveled man, insisted we make a stop in Freeport, home of the L.L. Bean headquarters. Apparently L.L. Bean is a big thing in Maine. Freeport turned out to be a fun stop, kind of an outlet center for active people. We left there with an excellent cup of local coffee + a copy of Robert McCloskey’s One Morning in Maine.”

We had an early dinner at Timber Kitchen in Bangor (highly recommend) and reached our charming Bar Harbor motel before dark. I say charming because it was somewhere between cheap and classy. We stuffed ourselves into a small shoebox with three double beds and a mini fridge. It would have been nice to have more space, but when we finally made up our minds to visit Acadia over Independence Day weekend, this was literally the only place we could find (the week of July 4th is Acadia’s busiest time of the entire year). On the positive side, our new home was warm and dry and there was only one bug sighting.

Friday morning we woke up to our first full day in Maine. It was overcast and a little chilly, but we grabbed our new windbreakers and headed into town. Our exploration of Bar Harbor resulted in a bag of groceries, six smoothies, and a locally made candle, as well as a stroll out toward Bar Island on the land bridge. After lunch, we hiked the famous Ocean Path trail from Sand Beach to Thunder Hole, probably the most notable trail in Acadia, besides the summit of Cadillac Mountain. I could hardly believe we were standing on it – after months of planning and research! It was really our first experience with a rocky coast line. My children skipped around the rocks like little mountain goats, while I hugged Rachel and held my breath hoping no one slipped.

Thunder Hole is a tiny bottleneck in the rocks where the waves crash in loudly at low tide. We got there at the perfect time and heard a few mildly thunderous roars. This was the only time I saw big crowds at Acadia – easily a hundred people gathered around Thunder Hole, and some had been waiting there an hour!

We picked up pizza and took it back to our motel to have a quiet Shabbat dinner. Since this entire trip was during the three weeks between tzom Tammuz and tisha b’Av, we were working through daily lessons in Unit 1 of Rabbi Daniel Lapin’s course “Scrolling Through Scripture.” (thank you Spurlocks for the recommendation!)

Our Shabbat was spent in some of the most beautiful places in Acadia. We watched Greg dive into Echo Lake for a quick swim, climbed to the top of Flying Mountain for a view across Somes Sound, picnicked at Seawall, searched for starfish on the shore of Bennet Cove, and took a peek at Bubble Rock (Eva’s favorite trail). We all fell asleep early in preparation for our sunrise reservation at Cadillac Mountain.

The plan for Sunday, July 4th, was to start the day at 4.55am, snuggled together in our jackets as we watched the sun creep up over the water and, and as the warm rays touched our faces we would shout “Happy Independence Day!” This did not happen. Instead, we wound our way up Cadillac Mountain in a torrential downpour. The entire mountain was covered by a cloud, which, although pretty cool, wasn’t what we were hoping for. At the top, Greg ventured out into the darkness with an umbrella to see if there was a view through the rain (no). So we drove back down and went out for gluten free pancakes at Jeannie’s Great Maine Breakfast. A valuable lesson here: sunrise may disappoint but pancakes never do.

If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to run around inside a foggy cloud, see below! We went back up the mountain after breakfast and walked up the summit trail.

We turned in our junior ranger books at the Hulls Cove visitor center and got badges for all the berries. They were quizzed on various park policies and promised to “make respectful choices to protect nature and history, and share (our) knowledge and love of national parks.” Indeed. Here I am, also sharing my knowledge and love of national parks. The junior ranger workbooks are free at any visitor center, specific to each park, and I definitely recommend them for kids!

When we heard that the annual Bar Harbor fireworks display was being canceled due to the poor weather, we made a quick decision to scoot out of town and end our holiday in Boston. After a stop to pick up tacos in Portland, we arrived at a cozy Hilton Home2 in Boston just in time for halvah brownies at Tatte and a lovely sunset.

With extra time in our schedule on Monday, we had a chance to drive into NYC (avoiding the George Washington bridge at all costs) and visit Liberty State Park, which is right across from the Statue of Liberty! The kids were thrilled. Looking out at Ellis Island and the biggest symbol of American freedom, it was incredible to visualize my ancestors arriving there a hundred years ago! No better way to celebrate Independence Day, in my opinion.

We made it to Philadelphia that night in time to order falafel and tahini milkshakes at Goldie, one of our original goals for the trip after we finished Mike Solomonov’s cooking class “Bringing Israel Home” a few months ago. Goldie was probably my favorite meal. It was absolutely delicious! We brought our dinner to Logan Square and ate by the huge fountain sculptures there.

Our last travel day was a full one. It was also my 35th birthday! We woke up in Philadelphia, drove into Baltimore to visit my friend Emily, stopped in DC for a walk around the National Mall, picked up grain bowls at Cava in Richmond, and finally made it home by 10pm. We aim for screen-free road trips, but after 3 miles in 93-degree DC heat, the kids earned smoothies and The Swiss Family Robinson that night.

Overall? A great trip. Better than I expected, and certainly an easier drive than our last long road trip (down to south Florida in December). I’d say the biggest challenge this time was learning flexibility when our plans don’t work out perfectly. One thing we missed doing was biking around the Acadia carriage roads, but that’s the tough part about weather-dependent activities. This was a good lesson in northern climate! I was prepared for high 60’s/low 70’s in mid-July but didn’t expect high 40’s/low 50’s. Coats, hats, and a pair of sneakers for Rachel would have been helpful (notice her little striped socks in almost every photo).

Other thoughts about week-long road trips: it’s time to invest in a travel vacuum. One of my pet peeves is traveling in a dirty car. We had to spend a few quarters on a gas station vacuum this trip. On that note, a huge thank you to Aunt Julie for a bundle of fresh lavender which scented our car the entire time and masterfully overpowered the typical sweaty feet smell.

For a progress update, this was our 10th national park! We have 53 left. Our next one is coming up in about a month! We’re visiting Hot Springs in Arkansas before joining Greg’s family in Tennessee for their annual reunion.

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