Hiking: 7.3 mi / 1500 ft. climbing
Home: Mount Desert Campground
One reason our campground is nice for us is that it’s a stop on one of the free Island Explorer bus routes that take you to various places around Acadia National Park. It lets us get places without being exhausted by riding our bikes over the extremely hilly roads, and more-importantly, it enables one-way hikes, where we can take a bus to one trailhead, hike to another trailhead, and take a different bus back “home”, without needing to return to wherever we’d parked our personal vehicle.
With the forecast looking much better than the fog-shrouded day we hiked through here in 2016, we figured we’d shoot for the big one: Cadillac Mountain, up the north slope and down the south slope. We boarded the bus and mentioned where we’d like to be dropped (the drivers are nicely flexible in regards to “unofficial” stops), which then led to mentioning our plan, and another couple on bus briefly made us nervous by reacting with surprise: “wow, you guys are bold and must be in really good shape!” (particularly since we know that we aren’t in really good hiking shape at the moment!) But then a 70+ year-old woman, who seemed to be some sort of Park ambassador, quickly and elegantly shut down their uninformed nonsense by speaking to us: “I’ve got two bad knees and I do that route once a week, you’ll be fine and it’s a great hike. Enjoy!” Just like cycling advice, it’s often close-to-useless to pay attention to people who haven’t actually done the thing you want to do.
The climbing started immediately, so it didn’t take long before we could turn around and see Bar Harbor and the water back below us. Well, at least when we could see through the morning fog, which seemed to be separating. And from our vantage point it gave us a nice illustration of how fog is really just “clouds on the ground”.
As is always the case with National Parks, the trail up this park’s best-known mountain was nearly empty, despite how tourist-packed the overall island is. Totally fine by us! Though the further up we got, and as the path opened up and our view became painted with the multi-colored granite, green forests, blue skies, and bluer waters, in a constantly-evolving mixture, the absence of everyone else in this breathtaking place became even more of a mystery than usual. I’ve always felt that Acadia is significantly overrated as a National Park, simply because it’s the closest semi-impressive place relatively close to the giant population centers of the East Coast, and if all of those people had easy access to the public lands in the West, no one would even talk about Acadia. But powering up this trail, on this perfect early-fall day, I discovered that Acadia can really stand on its own, and its specific mix of sea and stone is something unique and special even in this part of the world that we have become quite familiar with over the last few months. But how am I even surprised? I’m pretty sure there aren’t any other National Parks I’ve brought myself to three times like I have to Acadia!
One of the “features” of Cadillac Mountain is that there is a road to the top. So the closer we got, the more “explore from the top” hikers we ran into, but nothing prepared us for the mob at the parking area! Hell, there’s a whole damn gift shop! Not something we’re used to coming across at the midpoint of a long hike. But at least that also means there were toilets and a place to re-fill our water bottles. We fought our way out of there as quickly as possible and headed back down the south trail, and didn’t need to go too far before the crowds once again dwindled to nearly-nothing and we could find a peaceful spot for lunch.
But before that we made sure to find the summit marker. Cadillac Mountain is the highest point in the USA with a view of the Atlantic Ocean, and coincidentally, we made it to the top almost exactly a year after we hiked to the top of Humbug Mountain, the similarly-tall highest point on Oregon’s Pacific Coast. It’s often a challenge to understand that we’ve now been nomads for more than a year, but climbing mountains apparently helps to bring some perspective.
We were able to cruise pretty quickly down the south slope, thanks to the sticky granite surface and our sticky rubber shoes (Rett’s current cycling shoes are pretty much a perfect bike/hike hybrid, and mine are technically intended as “approach shoes” for rock climbing). And thanks to the fact that the ridges on the island all run north-south, so the slope is much gentler than if we’d gone east-west over the top. But despite the symmetry, the specific views and micro-settings exposed us to continuing variety. Halfway down I commented how the lack of visible trail infrastructure (bridges, railings, drainage, etc.) is extremely unusual (and appreciated, because it tricks you into believing that you’re a true explorer), especially on such a highly-trafficked decades-popular National Park trail. But just at that moment that’s when the wooden stairs and drainpipes started to appear! Maybe a difference between old-school, Rockefeller-inspired “cut these rocks into a staircase that will trick people into thinking it’s natural” and a more-modern “just get it done” era of trailbuilding?
The nice lady on the bus this morning recommended that instead of walking all the way in to the official bus stop deep inside the huge Blackwoods Campground, we could just hang out at the entrance and the bus would pick us up there. But we had plenty of time to kill, so we took the opportunity to walk the extra half-mile, check out the nice (but not as nice as ours) National Park campground, and then we had a bench to lay on and rest our tired legs while waiting, bundling up to now stay warm in the cool shade of afternoon.
This bus brought us back to Bar Harbor, where we had enough time to get some ice cream at an ice cream shop filled with unhappy workers, and then catch the other bus that would bring us back to our campground.