Hiking: 6.7 mi / 1000 ft. climbing
Home: Mount Desert Campground
We didn’t want to move yesterday’s cancelled bike ride to today, because we wanted to keep our cycling muscles fresh for tomorrow’s move onward. But I also didn’t want to put off seeing Acadia’s famed “carriage roads” until my fourth trip to the park, so today we would do a hike that started us on those carriage roads.
Our overall route would be similar to the other day: take a bus east, hike one-way from north to south, and pick up a different bus to take us back home. This hike would just be a bit west of the Cadillac Mountain route, starting at the north end of Eagle Lake.
Acadia’s “carriage roads” are a network of gravel-surfaced paths, unconnected to the park’s actual road system. They were constructed under the careful guidance of John D. Rockefeller Jr., so that he would have cool places to ride his horse and carriage separated from motor vehicles. A century later, that desire still holds, and on foot, we discovered that the nicely compacted surface would definitely be quite bikeable by us. They’re quite wide for a multi-use trail, at 16 ft., and also unlike most gravel trails, they have significant inclines, but even there the genteel construction meant it wouldn’t rise to the level of mountain biking.
We walked down the west side of Eagle Lake, where the trail stayed mostly flat, and then missed a hiking trail that would have kept us along the shore and instead we began climbing uphill on the carriage road. Then we missed a second chance at a hiking trail, even though I was paying attention on my phone’s GPS, and needed to turn around and walk back until we found the unmarked offshoot. The carriage roads and the hiking trails here each have excellent signage, but apparently not where they meet!
We continued upwards to the summit of North Bubble, on yet another perfect day at Acadia.
Then it was back down the south end of North Bubble, and, after a discussion of whether or not our out-of-practice hiking legs still had enough in them for one more round, we began the ascent up South Bubble.
From the top of South Bubble we backtracked north to the cleavage between the Bubbles, and then took the direct route west down to Jordan Pond. And down it was, definitely letting us know that tackling these mountains on their north/south slopes is far easier than their steep east/west slopes. We were essentially grabbing on to young tree trunks the whole way down, though the fact that we inadvertently got off-trail at some point probably contributed to the treacherousness.
Bottoming out at the north end of Jordan Pond, we then had the complete opposite: a perfectly level, graded walk all the way to the south end, elegantly constructed out of the native granite blocks and hugging right up against the water.
We had plenty of time to wait for the bus that would take us back to our campground, and no interest in fighting the massive crowds at the Jordan Pond Restaurant (we got their famous popovers in 2016 and they were pretty much crap), so we explored the gift shop. That’s an activity that normally produces little value for me, but in this case the shop had an informational display about “the Rusticators” that unexpectedly provided a key to a puzzle that has kept me curious since Mexico. “Rusticators” was the name given to people who began traveling from northeastern cities to Mount Desert Island in the mid-1800s, in an attempt to experience a more-rustic style of living. A variety of artists from the Hudson School had begun making paintings of scenes on the island, and popularizing those paintings in the big cities, inadvertently creating tourism ads for the island. Simultaneously, the transcendentalist movement, led by folks like Ralph Waldo Emerson, provided a philosophical backing whereby self-reliance and a return-to-nature were seen as positive, desirable qualities (think Thoreau’s ‘Walden’). These inspirations both combined to bring the Rusticators to MDI, which over time led to later, less-rustic visitors, which eventually led to the establishment of Acadia National Park in 1919.
When we were in Baja, it was interesting to learn that Mexico doesn’t seem to have nearly the culture of “rusticating” that the United States does. Yes, people camp, but the national parks are much-less designed and targeted as places for people to play-act at living a life in a less-developed past. This Mexican culture actually makes a lot more sense: generations of people have worked hard so that their children and grandchildren don’t need to sleep on the ground, so you need to be a special kind of idiot (like us) to intentionally forsake the unambiguous benefits motor vehicles, walls and roofs, and climate control.
But why the difference in cultures? This new information suggested to me that the continuing US culture of “rusticating” could possibly trace its origins to the influence of a shockingly small group of people. And that opens the possibility that Mexico simply never had the “luck” of those few people existing and planting their rusticating seeds into Mexican culture.
This theory may all be a bunch of bullshit, but as people who recently lived through a “butterfly effect” that created the most-powerful storm in Canada’s history, it’s certainly a romantic notion that our current lifestyle could be directly connected to the flapping of a few pens and paintbrushes nearly 200 years ago.
The bus home was a route we haven’t taken before, and it took us through the hamlet of Northeast Harbor, a cute tourist/retail strip that I didn’t even know existed (I thought Bar Harbor was the only such place on the island). And beyond that, we got nice views of the bays, forests, mountains, and glamorous woodland houses, so the free Island Explorer buses end up being a lot more than just a way to move from place to place.
After dinner back at camp, we accepted the generous invitation of our neighbors who had arrived yesterday to join them around their actually-working campfire. Dan and Lisa were from northern Ohio, and along with their big load of firewood they’d brought with them (that Dan kept piling high to keep us warm on the chilly night), they also brought along their comfortable Midwest sensibility. I’d done a bike ride earlier over to the gas station a mile away to pick up some beers, but once we’d finished those, our hosts continued plying us with more, so we had a grand old time talking travel and life. They’re an inspiring (and I feel, rare) couple who have “reverted” from RV travel to pickup-and-tent camping…fellow Rusticators! As always, we’re so thankful to the friendliness and generosity of (former) strangers, and socializing with these two played an especially-valuable role of bringing our mental state back up from the depths of where it was two dark nights ago.