Backstory: a long time ago as the ice sheets from the latest ice age slowly receded, an island was carved out of the Maine coastline. My father purchased a few acres of land shortly before humans showed up in North America to jack up the prices, intending to build a vacation home when modern building methods were developed.
A house never materialized but we made annual treks to the island, called Islesboro, for years while I was growing up. After my parents lost interest, I occasionally went there on my own to go camping until finally I, too, got busy with life and stopped going.
Fast-forward a couple of decades, to last Sunday night in fact. Meghan and I got to talking and we realized that we’re really only a short drive away from Islesboro nowadays– only about 3 ½ hours from door-to-ferry slip. Why don’t we go? So we booked a room for Friday night and started rearranging our schedules.
A little more backstory: When I used to go up by myself, I generally spent a my first night at a little motel on the mainland, just a mile from the ferry slip. This motel was about as bare-bones as you can get: little cabins with a clean bed and a shower, and if I recall correctly it was about $25 / night back then. They family that owned it made you breakfast in the morning (Best blueberry pancakes I’ve ever had.)
The hotel is still there, under new ownership and a new name but still relatively inexpensive – and still clean and comfortable. They also accept dogs, so we could bring Butter instead of trying to board her on short notice.
We left mid-day Friday, after I finished up my tasks and morning meetings at work — my employer offers some scheduling flexibility and I put in a number of extra hours over the course of the week to make sure my promised deliverables were deliverable (I have to explicitly mention this since some of my co-workers may actually read this blog).
The trip was rainy as hell on the way up. We detoured into Freeport to visit the LL Bean store — even if you’ve been to a L. L. Bean store, it’s not as big as the L. L. Bean store. The girl-folk went inside to procure winter jackets for the kids, while I took a nap in the car and walked Butter around in between squalls. (Did I mention I’ve been staying up late all week to get stuff done?)
We arrived in Lincolnville around 5:30 pm. The rain was still coming down and occasionally pouring, but the breaks were getting longer. After settling into our room, and letting everyone (including Butter) stretch their legs a bit, we headed back up to the road to downtown Camden in search of dinner.
We found a nice tavern, away from the main drag, called the Smokestack Grill. Not much ambiance inside — it looks a bit like a sports bar with large TVs over the bar — but the building is an old mill so there’s architectural interest. I had a jalapeño cream cheese and bacon burger, Meghan had calamari, and the girls split a fried shrimp dinner. The bill was quite reasonable, our server was attentive and friendly, and the food was delicious. Butter, sadly, stayed in the car and waited for us.
Afterwards we went back to our room and got ready for bed – except me, I stayed up until the rain stopped so Butter could get in a short walk — she is a princess and doesn’t like to get wet, and sleeping in close quarters with a wet dog is not high on my list of things to do. I didn’t have to wait too long, and we were all in bed early. There’s something about travelling that just makes you tired, even if you’re sitting in the car all day.
Saturday morning was sunny but really breezy and chilly. The kids were divided on whether or not to go to the island, so I cast the deciding vote: no, the seas are rough and I don’t want to spend $70 to have two seasick kids and a sick dog – we’ll come back for that. Lets go do something else this time.
Right up the road, between the motel and downtown Camden, is a state park called Camden Hills State Park / Mt. Battie. We drove in, paid our fee, found a place to park, and went hiking up the ‘Tablelands Trail.’ It takes you right up to one of the peaks, which overlooks both the Penobscot Bay and downtown Camden, from nearly 800 feet up.
After playing around on the peak for while, and after the clouds started playing peek-a-boo with the sun, we headed back down to find some hot chocolate in Camden to warm us up. The breeze was making us chilly even when we were ascending on the trail, so without the sun we got downright cold.
Camden starts to shut down before October, so while a majority of shops were still open there were a few that have already closed for the season. We window-shopped and walked around downtown for an hour, and hit the road for one last stop down Route 1.
For whatever faults the Maine prison system may have, they maintain an intriguing program of teaching trades to prisoners, including woodworking. The finished products are then sold to the public.
I’ve been stopping at the Prison Store in Thomaston for as long as I’ve been going to Maine. The last time I was there was in 2001, and the store was still attached to a working prison; in 2002 the prison was closed and subsequently torn down, but the store remains.
Unsurprisingly, we came out with some gifts for family and a few things for ourselves.
After Thomaston, we made a bee-line for Bath (home of the BFC – Big Friggen Crane – at the Bath Iron Works) and the interstates so that we would be home in time to make dinner.
All in all, it was a fun little jaunt, even if we didn’t actually step foot on the island. Next time I think I’ll try to just take the day off instead of squeezing five days worth of work into four.