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.