Acadia National Park, Maine

The nickname, The Quiet Side, rang a bell when we searched for a destination for our first empty nester vacation of length. Acadia National Park in Maine has two sides as opposite as our grown kids. One is all about activity and people. The other is laid back and …quiet.

But the available places to stay in the heart of it all were pretty expensive. That’s when our two laptops synchronized and found the same place by two different names on two different Air BnB platforms. Mine called it the Writer’s Cabin. Hers called it the Teacher’s Escape. We both heard the calling. More about this gem in a minute. Anyway, the serendipity (and bargain) of the moment didn’t escape us, so we booked it.

On the two-day drive from Southwest Ohio to Acadia National Park, I made a habit of spilling my McDonald’s coffee. For some reason, the lids kept popping off, scalding my bare leg and making the whole car smell of java. To which my wife’s positive energy kept countering, “At least it’s a good smell.” To add insult to injury, the New York City to Boston stint of the drive was probably the worst congestion I ever experienced. The rainfall remnants of a tropical storm didn’t help. It was 10 hours of bumper-to-bumper driving before the road thinned out again. Soon after entering Maine, we made it to a seaside town, York Beach, where we’d rest our heads at The Grandview Hotel for the night.

This throwback wind-whipped three-story motel was right on the ocean with only a road to cross to the endless beach. The lady at the front desk reminded me of Maud from the 1971 cult classic movie Harold and Maude. Maude tried to convince us to spend our week here and nowhere else. She was quite persuasive. After a night exploring the scene, I could see her point. The rooms on the second and third floors had walkout balconies. The balconies stretched the length of the building, facing the ocean, with a waist-high wood divider between each room. It was my kind of flop pad.

After walking the surf, we found a lobster restaurant. I had never eaten lobster before, so I YouTubed a tutorial on where and how to break the crustacean open to extract meat. The tutorial must have been really good because the waitress was impressed that I was getting the meat out of places a lot of people don’t even think to try. It was very tasty. That night, it felt so nice with the porch door wide open. The sea breeze soothed me. The sound of waves lapping just outside lulled me to sleep. I didn’t care that I left the balcony door open. We were left completely insecure to anyone who could walk the balconies looking for a room to rob. I must have been out of my mind, but after the long day and great meal, it felt too incredibly comfortable to care. Consider it training for the accommodations we’d find at the Quiet Side’s Writer’s Cabin/Teacher’s Retreat.

We arrived early to our weeklong abode on The Quiet Side of Acadia. The cleaning people were still there, so we cruised the empty roads aimlessly until we stumbled upon the charming Seal Cove Auto Museum in the middle of nowhere. It featured antique autos from the Brass Era of horseless carriages. It was the perfect pitstop to kill time. The guys running the place were so friendly and informative. It was a sign of things to come.

Now, for our paradise stay.

The road to our cabin was unpaved. The draping greens were untrimmed – I later found a hacksaw and trimmed them so my car wouldn’t get scratched. Our parking spot was by a shed deep in the brush. Then came the grassy walk of about 500 feet along the edge of the brush to get to a gravel walkway that hugged the front of our tiny cabin. The one-room cabin looked like a converted boathouse.

The gravel path continued to a private rocky beach and elevated pier with the most spectacular views. Private means this scene was reserved for us and two large cabins on the hillside. The entire front of our cabin opened like a door, leaving a screened wall. Half of the adjacent wall did the same. There was no air conditioning or heat. It was mid-summer, so neither was needed; the days reached the upper 60s to lower 70s, and nights dipped into the 50s. The front of the one-room cabin had comfy sitting chairs. The back area had a queen-sized bed and a little kitchenette with a counter, mini fridge, toaster, and microwave. In the middle of the back wall was a door that opened to the outdoor shower and a private enclosure for the toilet.

The place came with no keys. The only lock was the doorknob lock in the back. At night, I barricaded the front door with a rock I could barely lift. Anything of value was put in the car for our excursions away from the coziest of stays we ever stayed. We lit the grill, ate steak, and drank wine outside, stargazing until who knows when. There was little to no light pollution, so the black canopy popped with so many white dots overhead it’s no wonder they call it The Milky Way. Shooting stars crisscrossed the sky. We felt how small and insignificant we seemed in the grand scheme of it all.

On a side note, our Amazon purchase of a portable cordless, flameless, sprayless, scentless mosquito repeller kept our outdoor lounging bug-free. Our peace of mind while sleeping behind the rock lock system was sealed by the portable motion detector and alarm we set up. Although it scared the living #%$* out of me when I found my route to the bathroom triggered it in the middle of the night.

It was so quiet at night that you could hear a conversation a quarter mile away. From a dead sleep, my eyes opened while my mind tried to catch up. It was loud once the feet found the gravel walkway that hugged our cabin en route to the pier. At that moment, I forgot about all the instructions of what a guest may expect to encounter and did what I’d do if a bear came knocking – shout my lungs out in the most intimidating manner I could. As soon as I went to catch my breath, I instantly realized I probably scared the #%$* out of vacationers from one of the hilltop cabins just coming to see the Milky Way from our private but shared pier. Still, it was three in the morning. I immediately felt embarrassed, so I laughed (hysterically) to try to brush it off. Needless to say, I think they took a wide, grassier course on their return.

I loved showering outdoors so much that I wondered if I could pull it off back in the Cincinnati suburbs. My wife assured me I could not! The morning ritual was capped with coffee on the pier. The doe and her fawn nibbled at the blueberry bushes. The family of loons swam away from the gurgling boat nearing. I watched a lobster fisherman check his traps. We later learned that a fixed number of these licenses were allowed, and some people spend many years next on the list waiting for someone to retire, quit, or die. The burly guy I watched along with a juvenile bald eagle in a tree overhead found his marked traps empty in a bay of many competitors. The penalty for poaching another’s traps is too severe to try. By the expletives I heard over the water at yet another empty trap, I wondered if the thought crossed this lobsterman’s mind.

Many of our days involved various hikes on Acadia’s quiet and overrun sides. The views were definitely as advertised and worth every trek we took. A variety of other postcard locations included the Bass Harbor Lighthouse, a wonderland of tidal pools with crabs, a seal at the sea wall, and rock formations that blew the mind. One of the strangest things we saw in all our hikes was along a peculiar rock wall formation on Cadilac Cliffs Trail. This stone wall looked like a bunch of runny roses. Little water straw falls oozed out of stalactite-like cones spanning the wall.

Diverse landscapes ranged from Thunder Hole to a tranquil beach. Our picnic lunch was shared, unwillingly, with a bold seagull. The afternoon was spent reading and sipping blueberry sodas.

When foghorns sounded early in the morning, we knew the day’s hike would be amidst a masterpiece painting of rock, forest, and water sprayed with a surreal mist. The fog-framed textures and colors were awe-inspiring.

Another favorite hike was to the fire tower on Beach Mountain. I think we enjoyed it most because, at one point, we sat for a snack, taking in the panoramic view of the adjacent peaks that plunged to the water below with not another soul around. We lost track of time and stayed in a meditative stillness until the length of sheer solitude awoke us. Down the mountain, a kid yelled, “Jackpot!” He and his mom filled water bottles with tiny blueberries. A bit later, another mom exclaimed, “We made it! Our first family hike.” Her little girl squealed, “I’m so proud of us!”

We tried several wonderful restaurants but made a repeat stop at a family-owned café that was just months from the end of its 30-year run. Out of all the places claiming to have the best key lime pie on planet Earth, we found the one telling the truth. Everyone there was so friendly, fun, and personable; you left as a friend. The staff would stop and chat, and the people at adjacent tables would widen the conversation. We befriended a mural artist. The following day, we stopped to watch her bring a dull gray wall to a colorful life. Everywhere we went on the Quiet Side intersected with delightful locals.

A conversation ensued with a tiny bicyclist well into her twilight years. She told us that her bike fell into the causeway over the winter. Since she had tall boots, she leaped into the water after it before it washed out to sea. She was desperate to save the wool sweater she had knitted for her son in Seattle. Her 1-speed bike was older and interesting. Her saddle baskets were loaded with rocks. A pair of tourist bicyclists joined in and asked why. She laughed and said it was probably from transferring plants to the nursery. She also had little stuffed animals in her front basket. She was a spry, wrinkly thing shy of five feet and 100 pounds at best. She tossed her long gray braids, mounted her ride, and said, “Thank you for talking to a lonely old lady from Maine,” and pedaled away.

Completely spent after one of our more energetic days of exploration, we collapsed into our lounge chairs in front of our cabin and watched a thick fog roll in with dusk. Maybe my phone heard the foghorn sounding. Whatever the reason, I was offered the 1951 Ray Bradbury science fiction short story, The Fog Horn, in audio. You bet we listened to it. Our foggy setting made for a virtual reality that was actually REALITY. We laughed when it was over, realizing this classic tale completely captivated our imaginations.

The next day, we ventured into the heart of the loud side of Acadia – Bar Harbor. It was where we were to board our boat for the lighthouses and Puffins tour. Waiting on the dock in a long line, we couldn’t help but hear the story Ralph was telling his fellow seniors. Ralph had a classic business-tourist look. He was a polished storyteller. People hung on his words and humor. When he finished, he turned to us and began to share his career at Texas Instruments, and the twelve places he lived. But his eyes lit up, and his voice reached a sales pitch when he talked up the greatest little coffee shop just inland. It was his kid’s place. The Puffin tour paid off bigtime. Our guide said it was one of the best sightings of the weird-looking birds she’s seen. The three-and-a-half-hour boat ride on choppy waters had the seasoned tour guide spotting the turning stomachs before they turned and gave some pointers. When she took a break from her narrative, she beelined to me to ask if I was okay. I lied and said yes.

Afterward, we went into the heart of town for lunch. After driving around for 40 minutes just looking for a place to park on roads packed with cars and pedestrians, we decided to bail. Our escape route came to an intersection like no other. The backup at each stoplight on divided roads allowed just seconds for greenlights, creating an anxious and confusing mess with lots of line jumpers. When we finally raced across, it felt like a game of Frogger on steroids. There was a lot of horn-blowing.

On our way out of Acadia the following morning, we laughed and decided to find Ralph’s coffee shop to juice up for the road. It was a converted garage in front of a house in a residential neighborhood. We parked on the curb and went inside. I exclaimed, “Ralph sent us.” His son-in-law laughed and said, “Of course Ralph sent you. He tells everyone he meets because he’s an investor.”

On our drive home, we stopped in Boston to get Mike’s Pastry, a highlight from a past family vacation. As we looked at our empty nester vacation in the rear-view mirror, we reminisced about the circle of life we experienced in Acadia. The joy of seeing youth on vacation experiencing new things made us think that even if they don’t remember it, it’ll always be a part of them and will never be forgotten by moms and dads.

By Frank Rocco Satullo, The OhioTraveler, Your Tour Guide to Fun

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