Coastal Maine

Coastal Maine

Frosted with whitecaps, the cold sea reflects a slate-gray sky streaked with silver. The horizon has been lost. Looking east across the North Atlantic, my eyes gaze into infinity as the wind whips the tang of salted air into my nostrils. I turn up the thermostat on my Aerostich jacket liner - the day is cold and the damp air permeates everything. It's mid-May but spring has yet to arrive in Maine.

A couple of weeks on and "The Season" begins, a time when these slender stretches of sand are packed with well-oiled bodies seeking to transform winter pallor into gleaming bronze tones. I don't know how many people arrive at the beaches of southern Maine on a given summer weekend, but a quarter of a million people would be a conservative guess. This state has approximately 35,000 miles of jagged coastline, but 90 percent of the sand beaches are found in the first 35 miles. On a hot weekend in July the stop-and-go traffic on Route 1 can be a nightmare and travel in the popular resort villages is even worse. But today the Yorks are practically deserted and I leisurely cruise along Route 1A.

I ride up to Cape Neddick Light - or at least to the parking lot at Sohier Park. A narrow strip of water separates the mainland from a rocky island where the 1879 lighthouse and keeper's cottage rests. Maine has 63 lighthouses, but this one is my favorite.

After riding through Ogunquit and Kennebunk, I drop down to Old Orchard Beach from Saco. A summer fantasy destination for generations of young teens, filled with arcades, tee-shirt and souvenir shops, and an amusement park right on the beach, it appears the same as it did decades ago.

Portland is a city revitalized and the once rundown Old Port area now thrives with restaurants, galleries, boutiques, and offices. Some of the long wharves have been transformed into upscale condominiums, but massive loading cranes and customs offices are still extant; and though its heyday as one has past, the city remains an international seaport. This is a vibrant, hip community and it's always a pleasure to visit Maine's largest city. Today I'm just riding through.

The inclement weather proves to be a blessing as I cruise through Freeport, home to the L. L. Bean Company. Over four million shopping enthusiasts descend on this small village each year to visit L. L. Bean and search for bargains in dozens of other brand-name factory outlet stores lining Route 1. There are no available parking spaces, but the weather has all but eliminated the ebb and flow of humanity that makes riding through this town so difficult during the summer months.

From Brunswick the interstate continues northeast and Route 1 truly becomes Maine's "Coastal Highway" - transformed from a service road into a highway with its own personality. Despite being a coastal highway, the state's long peninsulas mean that access to many seacoast towns and scenic spots can only be reached by detouring down other roads for miles. On this trip, I bypass the opportunities to visit Boothbay Harbor and Pemaquid Point, but recommend both.

One of America's greatest shipbuilding centers is located on the Kennebec River 18 miles upstream from the Atlantic Ocean. During the last half of the nineteenth century over 80 percent of America's sailing ships were built in Maine and half of those took shape right here in Bath. The Bath Iron Works (BIW) owns the largest construction crane, needed for the building of naval destroyers and battleships, on the East Coast. I no sooner stop to photograph this famous crane when an employee dressed in jeans and a checked shirt "casually" wanders over and engages me in a conversation about who I am and what I'm doing. It's a sign of the times that I have yet to adjust to in the aftermath of 9/11.

The Owls Head Transportation Museum, located just four miles off Route 1 on Route 73. is a place I didn't want to miss on this tour. It's one of the finest museums in New England and everything works. Just to whet your appetite, I'll mention but a few of the more unusual items on display: a 1913 Scripps-Booth Bi-Autogo; a 1935 Stout Scarab; the 1901 Riker Torpedo Racer (electric); an 1885 Benz; a 1900 Clark Bi-wing Ornithopter; an 1868 Velocipede; a 1917 Curtiss JN-4D; and many other rarities. I'm going to return when I have more time and take the opportunity to drive something a little more exotic than my trusty Beemer - maybe a 1908 Stanley Semi-Racer or the 1898 Leon Bollee Tri-Car.

I begin my second day sitting on a bench in the sun, sipping my morning coffee, and munching on a homemade muffin. After a restless night camping at the foot of Mt. Megunticook in near-freezing temperatures, I need warming up. Besides, I'm enjoying the view of the tall-masted sailing schooners moored in Camden Bay.