Maine 2020 – Part 2 (August 16 – September 18, 2020)

We began our second month at Timberland Acres RV Park with a 4-mile hike of the Penny’s Preserve via Peter’s Brook Trail in Blue Hill, ME.  The hike took us through the forest, past an old quarry and along a brook with a small waterfall.  The preserve contains many interlaced trails and, although there were trail maps throughout our route, we still managed to get turned around at one point.

After a rainy Tuesday, we were back to hiking on Wednesday, August 19th.  We hiked the 4-mile Bald Peak and Parkman Mountain Loop.  We had hiked this loop with Jason in 2019 but the summits had been socked in with fog.  We had much nicer weather this time and the views from the summits were beautiful.  Although rated as moderate difficulty, this was a more challenging hike than we had done together this year.  There were lots of boulders to climb up and down.

On Thursday, we hiked a 3-mile loop that included the Beech Mountain, Beech South Ridge and Valley trails.  We had hiked this loop in 2019 but, this time, we took a more direct, but steeper, route to the fire tower at the top of Beech Mountain.

On Friday, we hiked the 4-mile Acadia Mountain and Man O’ War Trail loop.  We had done this loop going counter-clockwise in 2019 but, this year, we did it clockwise.  We really don’t know which direction is more difficult but either way is a real challenge.  Going clockwise, we had a steep ascent to the summit but had the benefit of lots of staircases built out of rocks.  Descending was equally steep and required lots of rock scrambling, many times where it was difficult to find footings on the rocks.  We were really tested by this hike but enjoyed the challenge and the views.

On Saturday, we took it easier and hiked a couple of trails on nature preserves owned by the Frenchman Bay Conservancy.  Both preserves were in nearby Ellsworth, ME.  The first trail was the Jordan Homestead, a 1.2-mile loop along the Union River which was near low tide.  We spotted a bald eagle in a tree by the river.  The second trail was the Indian Point Preserve, a .9-mile out-and-back path that was also along the Union River.

On Sunday, August 23rd, we took a day off from hiking and did a road trip to a couple of small coastal towns south of us.  The first was Castine, a town with a population of approximately 1,400, on Penobscot Bay.  Castine is full of history.  It was first settled in 1613, seven years before Plymouth Rock, and its strategic location has been occupied by the British, French, Dutch and Americans.  It contains many beautiful old homes and inns on tree-lined streets.  We visited the wharf and strolled through the quaint downtown shopping district.  Castine is home to the Maine Maritime Academy, one of the top 4-year public colleges in the U.S., that graduates officers and engineers for the U.S. Merchant Marines.  We watched first year midshipmen march around town and viewed their 500-foot training ship, the TS State of Maine.  We then visited the ruins of Fort George, a garrison that was built by the British in 1779 and was the final post surrendered by the British at the end of the Revolutionary War.  We also visited the Dyne Head lighthouse, built in 1828 but now decommissioned and a private residence.

Our next stop was Stonington, on the southern tip of the island known as Deer Isle.  Stonington, with a population of approximately 1,000, was once almost entirely devoted to fishing but is now home to many artists.  Despite the near collapse of the fishing industry, Stonington remains the largest lobster port in Maine.  We strolled along the wharf and walked along Main Street.

On Monday, we hiked the steep Razorback Trail to the summit of Mansell Mountain, an 879’ elevation change in less than a mile.  We then descended via the equally steep Mansell Mountain Trail.  Both ways were very challenging and involved climbing the rocks.  We were exhausted after this 4-mile hike.

Overnight rain and dense fog kept us off the hiking trails on Tuesday.  The weather improved during the afternoon but Phil’s 4 pm pickleball gathering was washed out almost immediately when a severe storm approached.  Phil managed to get back to our trailer just as lightening struck and a hailstorm commenced, along with strong winds.  Jan got some good photos of the storm as it moved over our campground.

On Wednesday, we returned to Jordan Pond and hiked the 3.2-mile Triad Trail Loop.  Although there were few views of the vista from the Triad summit, the trail took us through a thick forest with lush, green moss all around us.

The weather had cooled off considerably.  The daytime highs were now in the upper-60s to low-70s and the nighttime lows were in the 50s.  In addition to having great sleeping weather, our morning hikes were much more comfortable.

On Thursday, August 27th, we hiked the 3.5-mile Kebo Mountain Loop, which consists of the Hemlock, Stratheden and Kebo Mountain trails.  We had started this hike one evening when Jason was visiting but had quit due to darkness.

On Friday, we drove two hours northeast to Lubec, ME, the easternmost point in the U.S.  Pre-COVID, we had intended to camp in Lubec this summer, as we had in 2019, but we cancelled those plans when the Canadian border was closed. Our first stop on the drive was in Cutler, ME where we hiked the Cutler Coastal Trail.  This was one of our favorite hikes last year, with magnificent views from the rocky cliffs high above the Gulf of Maine.  We had hiked 4 miles in 2019 but, this time, we opted to go farther down the coast and then return via the inland trail.  The weather was perfect for hiking, with a strong breeze coming off the bay, and the views were outstanding.  However, the extended route ended up being a 9.5-mile hike, our longest yet.  It was quite different than walking 9.5 miles down a road.  In addition to the ever-present rocks and tree roots that make Maine trails a challenge, we had a seemingly endless number of steep climbs and descents along the coast.  Including over an hour spent enjoying the views, the entire hike lasted six hours.  We were exhausted by the time we arrived back at the parking area, but were proud that we had managed to complete the challenge.

One of the main reasons Jan had had for making the drive to Lubec was to shop at Monica’s Chocolates.  Jan had visited Monica’s last year and is convinced that her candy, made with Peruvian chocolate, is the best in the world.  Our long hike had put us in danger of not reaching the shop until after she closed at 6 pm.  Fortunately, light traffic enabled us to arrive in time.  COVID restrictions limited entry to the shop to three people at a time so we had to wait while another group went ahead of us.  Once we got in, we quickly made our selections and headed to dinner on Water Street.  The major attraction for Lubec is its proximity to Campobello Island, FDR’s summer home.  Although Campobello is just across a short bridge from Lubec, it is in Canada and, with the border closed, is off-limits this summer for US tourists.  As a result, Lubec’s downtown district looked rather dead.  Our first choice for dinner was closed for 2020 so, instead, we chose to eat at the Water St. Tavern.  We both ordered scallops and enjoyed watching seals play in the bay outside our window.  The sun was setting as we began our two-hour drive home.

Saturday was a lazy day.  Between tired muscles from the previous day’s activities and heavy rains from the remnants of Hurricane Laura, we stayed indoors all day.

On Sunday, we drove to Orland, ME and hiked the 3.5-mile out-and-back Great Pond Mountain trail.  This trail was one of many in the 4,500-acre tract managed by the Great Pond Mountain Conservation Trust.  Although the hike was rated as “easy,” it included a 639’ elevation rise in a little over a mile.  The views from the summit were awesome, with forests and water for as far as we could see.

On Monday, we scaled South Bubble Mountain in a 4.1-mile loop.  The hike began with an easy stroll along the east side of Jordan Pond.  Then we ascended the steep South Bubble Trail, which included lots of rock scrambling and a couple of climbs up sheer cliffs.  When we did this hike in 2019, Jan got assistance from a couple of strangers to get up the cliffs.  This time, although she still thought it was scary, she managed to make the climb with no outside assistance.  After reaching the South Bubble summit, we had our breakfast at Bubble Rock, a huge boulder that appears to be balancing on the edge of a steep cliff.  We then continued our hike on the Bubbles Divide and Jordan Pond Carry trails, before returning again on the east side of Jordan Pond. 

We spent Tuesday, September 1st, hiking the Ocean Path from Sand Beach to Otter Cliff and back.  We had done parts of this trail a couple of times earlier in the summer but, this time, we walked all the way to the end, resulting in a 4.4-mile round-trip.  It was a beautiful day, with just the right temperature and a cool breeze off the water.  Despite it being a weekday, there were lots of fellow hikers on the path.

On Wednesday, we returned to Blue Hill, ME and hiked the 3-mile out-and-back Post Office Trail.  As the name suggests, the trail goes through the woods to the Blue Hill Post Office and back again.  This trail connects to one leg of the Blue Hill Mountain Loop that we had hiked three weeks earlier.

During the six years we lived in the Chicago area, we generally had a Friday night date night at a Chicago-style pizza restaurant.  In the later years, our favorite was Lou Malnati’s.  This week, we received an Internet offer to get a Lou Malnati pizza for 10% off.  Although it was still exorbitant, we decided to splurge.  The pizza arrived on dry ice on Wednesday and we had it for dinner.  It was every bit as good as we remembered.

We had also signed up through Merrill Lynch for a virtual wine tasting webinar for that evening.  Merrill Lynch had mailed us a bottle of red wine but we weren’t supposed to remove the cover until the end of the webinar.  Laura Maniec Fiorvanti, a Master Sommelier, presented a lecture via Webex on how to identify wines by taste.  It was quite interesting, although most of our wine purchases come in a box so we obviously don’t have the most demanding palettes.  After doing the blind tasting, we learned that we had been sampling a Pinot Noir. 

On Thursday, we drove to Winter Haven on the Schoodic Peninsula and hiked the Buck Cove Mountain Trail.  The trailhead is at the back of Acadia National Park’s Schoodic Wood campground, which is closed due to COVID.  As a result, we had to walk nearly a mile from the day pass parking area to the trailhead before commencing the trail.  We ended up hiking 7 miles out-and-back to the summit of Buck Cove Mountain.  The hike was OK but lacked many scenic viewpoints and the summit was only an elevation of 224’.

We took a break from hiking on Friday and, instead, spent the afternoon in Bar Harbor.  We strolled through a lot of shops and bought a few souvenirs.  We sat and did some people-watching at Bar Harbor Beerworks where we stopped for drinks and some lobster, artichoke and spinach dip. 

On Saturday, we hiked 5 miles on the out-and-back Maple Spring Trail.  This was a beautiful trail that ran along a stream most of the way.  Much of the hike involved walking on rocks so it was slow-going at times.  We took a short detour near the end of the trail to climb to the summit of Gilmore Peak, where there was a 180-degree panoramic vista.  Then, we continued up the Maple Spring Trail until we came to the Maple Spring.  Although the spring was not very active, the views on the way up were spectacular panoramas.  When we returned to the campground, we spent part of the afternoon watching a large charity corn hole tournament from our site.

On Sunday, we drove to the area near Seal Harbor.  We first stopped at the Cooksey Drive Overlook and climbed out on cliffs high above the water.  We then went to Hunter Beach Cove and hiked the 1.5-mile loop that included the short Hunter Beach and Hunter Cliffs trails.  The Hunter Beach trail took us down to a rocky beach where we sat and watched the waves.  We spotted a large porcupine along this trail.  The Hunter Cliffs trail rose from the beach and took us along the cliffs above the cove.

On Monday, we hiked the 5.1-mile Meadowbrook Forest Loop in Ellsworth, ME.  The trail consists of a wide service road through the forest and across a couple of streams.  It looked like it must be ideal for snowmobiling, but was only so-so for hiking.  There was a sign at the trailhead saying that the loop was currently impassible due to road/bridge repairs.  Fortunately, since it was Labor Day, we were able to walk through the construction zone.  We only saw one other person on the trail.

On Tuesday, we drove to Jordan Pond and hiked the 3.2-mile out-and-back Asticou and Jordan Pond Path.  It was a nice walk in the woods and we had the entire trail to ourselves.

Jan had signed up for an American Kidney Fund fundraiser that involved her committing to hiking at least 37 miles in the month of September.  The number ‘37’ was significant in that it represented the 37 million Americans who suffer from kidney disease.  Jan had set a goal to raise $200 and, thanks to the generosity of our friends and family, she had reached this goal.  As of the morning of Wednesday, September 9th, Jan only lacked 3.8 miles to reach her 37-mile goal for the month.  Wanting to achieve the goal, we hiked the 6-mile Long Pond and Great Notch Trails.  The first two miles of this loop were on a fairly easy path that ran along the west bank of Long Pond.  Then, the trail turned uphill until we reached the Great Notch summit, followed by a sharp descent back to the lake.

For dinner, we had whole lobsters at Lunt’s Lobster Pound.  Although we had had several lobster rolls during our time in Maine, these were our first whole lobsters this summer.

On Thursday, we were unable to find an open parking space at the first two trails we tried so we ended up hiking the 1.7-mile Jesup and Hemlock Loop.  On Friday, we drove an hour to Deer Isle and hiked the 3.5-mile Barred Island Preserve Trail.  We first hiked through the woods for an hour, then arrived at the island exactly at low tide.  Barred Island is only accessible by foot within a 3-hour window centered on low tide.  We walked across the sandbar and spent the next hour walking the circumference of the island, having to find our footing rock by rock.  The views of the ocean were beautiful under the bright blue sky.

On Saturday, we stayed closer to home and hiked the 2.1-mile Woodlawn Park Loop in Ellsworth.  The loop took us through woods that are part of the 180-acre Woodlawn Museum estate, also known as the Black Mansion.  On Sunday, we drove to Mariaville, ME and hiked the 2.5-mile Mariaville Falls trail.  This trail took us through the woods, across a stream and along the Union River.  Part of the trail required walking along a ledge high above the river.

On Monday, we returned to Acadia and hiked the 3.5-mile out-and-back Beachcroft Path to the summit of Champlain Mountain.  The first half of the 951′ ascent was mostly on large, flat rocks that had been neatly arranged to form the path and staircases.  It is hard to imagine the effort that went into constructing that part of the trail.  The second half of the ascent required scrambling over large boulders and climbing up granite faces.  The hike provided beautiful views the whole way up and the scenery from the summit was truly amazing.  For dinner, we returned to Bar Harbor and ate at the Side Street Café.

Tuesday’s hike was our 50th since arriving in Trenton, ME two months earlier.   We did the 3-mile Beech Cliffs and Canada Cliffs Loop.  Although not exceptionally long, the steep climb to the summit of Beech Cliffs made it memorable.  It began with numerous switchbacks and stone stairs that rose quickly up the mountainside.  Then we reached the part of the trail that was so steep that we needed to climb up four iron ladders that were bolted into the rock face.  The first ladder had ten rungs, while the second had eighteen.  The final two ladders were about as long and were positioned one after the other, with a platform in between.  Once we reached the top of each ladder, we had to grab onto steel cables to pull ourselves up.  After scaling the fourth ladder, we reached the top of Beech Cliffs and were able to enjoy beautiful views of Echo Lake.  The return trip was down the Canada Cliffs Trail, which was easier than the first trail but by no means easy. 

Brownsville – Month 3 (March 12 – April 14, 2020)

On Thursday, March 12th, we began our final month at Tropical Trails with a boat outing. A group of eleven from Tropical Trails met at the Dishmans’ condo on South Padre Island. Hill Dishman had his own boat and had borrowed one from a neighbor. Although windy, it was a beautiful day for a boat ride. The activity for the afternoon included a poker crawl in which we picked up a paying card at each stop and the person ending up with the best poker hand would win the pot. Our stops were at Parrot Eyes Restaurant and Bar, Longboard Bar & Grill, Driftwood Landing and Laguna Bob’s. Phil had the best hand through the first three stops, then fell into third place on the fourth card drawn. Fortunately, the ‘4’ he was dealt as his fifth card gave him two pairs and he ended up with the best hand, earning $40 from the pot.

On Friday a large group from Tropical Trails took a 2 ½-hour tram tour at Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge. The park, which encompasses over 97,000 acres, was established in 1946 to provide habitat for wintering waterfowl and other migratory birds. We had visited the park a couple of years before but had not taken the tram tour. The tram ride enabled us to see much more of the refuge than we had seen before. Unfortunately the speakers in our car were not working so we were unable to hear much of what the tour guide was saying. One of the highlights was seeing a small rattlesnake slithering next to our stopped tram.

That evening we had an ice cream social, followed by two games of LCR. Phil won one of the games, earning $4.50 in winnings.  A lucky couple of days!

On Sunday afternoon, Jan participated in the beanbag toss tournament.  We later met the Rykals and Ehlenfeldts at Longboard Bar & Grill and listened to Shake & Bake perform. We then headed to Pier 19 for dinner.

Tuesday, March 17th, was St. Patrick’s Day. We celebrated with a Happy Hour on the patio at Tropical Trails. The Rykals and Ehlenfeldts joined us for the get-together.

On Wednesday evening, we had a fish fry at Tropical Trails. Hill Dishman fried up a lot of trout that he had caught on his boat. Everyone else brought a side dish.

On Thursday we headed over to Winter Haven and had a belated St. Patrick’s Day feast with the Rykals, Ehlenfeldts and some of their neighbors. We enjoyed lots of corned beef and cabbage. With the current shortage of toilet paper, Tom and Roxi should have thought twice before letting Beth use their bathroom.

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Beth trying to make off with the Rykal’s TP

By Friday, the effects of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic really began to impact our activities. The city of Brownsville closed the schools and imposed a curfew between midnight and 5 a.m. (not that that affected us). Restaurants were restricted to take-out. South Padre Island implemented restrictions on gatherings and closed restaurants and bars.  Phil went to H-E-B for groceries and had to stand in a long line to get in the store. Once inside, he found many of the shelves were empty. Toilet paper, paper towels, disinfectants, eggs and canned goods were unavailable, both in the stores and online.

At Tropical Trails, life was getting increasingly boring. In addition to many of the campers having already departed, some of the remaining campers decided they would self-isolate. This left the campground, which had already been fairly vacant all winter, seem almost like a ghost town. Even when we did see other people, there was very little interaction. There were only four people playing pickleball on Friday and, by Saturday, this had dropped to just Phil and Beth Petruska.

On Saturday afternoon, we finally got around to flying the kite we had purchased when Jason was visiting. Since the kite was only rated for up to 18 mph winds, we had not had many opportunities to fly it earlier. It was quite easy to assemble and flew quite well. The wind was somewhat stronger on Sunday and we flew the kite again. This time Phil relaxed in one of our lawn chairs while the kite soared very high. He may have been testing the limits of the string as the kite was really pulling very hard.

The boredom continued the following week as the pandemic’s spread and resulting stock market drop dominated the news. In addition to the usual strong winds, we had several days with highs in the 90s. Our only interaction with our fellow campers came from a distance. Beth decided not to play pickleball anymore due to COVID-19 concerns, but Phil did manage to arrange to play singles with Hill Dishman a couple of days. Jan made several trips to the fitness center to run on the treadmill. We managed to ride our bikes on occasions when the wind died down somewhat.  On two evenings, we ventured up to the Amenity Center to play shuffleboard and dip our feet in the spa. One night we actually went swimming in the pool for the first time this winter, but spent most of our time relaxing in the spa.

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Jan relaxing by the spa

Hill came by on Monday and gave us some of the fish he had caught. We grilled Cajun red fish on the half shell for dinner on Tuesday.

We rarely left the campground, except for occasional trips to the grocery stores. Phil got up early on Tuesday and went to Wal-Mart for their once-a-week Senior Hour at 6 a.m. He got in line at 5:30 and was glad he had arrived early. By 6 a.m. the line was quite long. Although he was able to buy eggs, paper towels and disinfectants (which are in short supply), many of the shelves were empty. We received notice from the campground office that the H-E-B in Port Isabel had been well-stocked and without lines on Thursday. With nothing else to do, we headed there on Friday to see if we could find the things that had been unavailable at Wal-Mart. We did have to stay in line outside for about 10 minutes but, once inside, we were able to find most of our desired groceries.

One of the greatest shortages during the pandemic was toilet paper, with people hoarding it as panic set in. After checking the Sam’s Club website repeatedly for several days, Phil was able to order toilet paper. His only option was to get a 36-roll pack, which should last us a long time. When it arrived on March 31st, it was such a big deal that we had to post it on Facebook. The post resulted in 69 likes and 45 comments. Facebook became a popular means for people to try to find humor in the face of the pandemic. Leslie, one of our Tropical Trails friends, posted a video showing how to make a mask out of boxer shorts and, of course, Phil had to try it. The things people do when they have too much spare time on their hands!

During the remaining two weeks at Tropical Trails, our days largely fell into a routine. Although Phil played pickleball with Hill several mornings each week and we rode our bikes when the wind permitted, most of our days were spent sitting in our trailer. We both killed a lot of time playing on our phones, Phil did a lot of reading, and Jan worked on Diamond Dots and cleaning house. We did visit the pool several evenings, where we largely had the place to ourselves. About the only times we left the campground were for trips to the grocery store. While it was not the camping experience we had hoped for, we were very grateful to have a place where it was so easy to self-quarantine. In a campground with over 300 sites, we were down to 14 RVs on the property by the final two weeks (even at the peak this winter, there had never been more than about 35). We were also grateful that none of our friends and family contracted the coronavirus during these weeks.

We had planned to leave Tropical Trails on April 12th, Easter Sunday. In anticipation of the trip, Phil checked the truck’s tire pressures two days before. After being unable to get any pressure reading on one of the dually tires, he discovered that the tire had a huge tear in the belts. He was able to order a new tire but it wouldn’t arrive until Monday. This caused us to delay our departure for two days. This was actually fortuitous since the weather on Easter was terrible. The temperature hit a high of 103 degrees (blowing away the previous record of 95) and the winds were very strong, with gusts exceeding 40 mph. In addition, since April 12th was our 17th wedding anniversary, we were able to enjoy a relaxing day. Phil grilled some T-bones for dinner and then we headed to the pool.

On Monday, Phil took the truck to Discount Tire to get the new tire installed. Due to short staffing caused by COVID-19, he had to sit in the parking lot for two hours before getting to pull the truck into the service bay. We got up early on Tuesday and we thought we were ready to leave at 8:30 am. One of the last duties is to fold up the steps but, this time, one of the steps would not budge. We tried dousing it with WD-40 but that had no effect. Hill drove by and offered us some help. He had a couple of his guys work on the step and, after much effort, they managed to get it to fold up so we could depart. Our departure was delayed by an hour but we were just happy to be able to go.