Have you ever wanted to sell everything you own and just "take off?" Travel the country's back roads, paddle down a meandering stream, experience breath-taking mountain views, walk among 100-year old trees, and just marvel at America's beauty? That is the dream that my partner, Betsy, and I decided to make a reality. This blog describes our adventure. The food we eat, people we meet, sights we see, and the enjoyment we find in traveling.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

A Trip Down the St. George Peninsula, Maine

Maine’s coastline is jagged and with numerous peninsulas dangling off the mainland jetting out into the sea. To those who travel on the fast-track and don’t linger in one area long, these may look like out-of-the way places that go unvisited. And they are right, these towns are out of the way – which is why they are so worth the visit. One peninsula we came to know very well last summer was the St. George Peninsula which lies just south of Coastal Route 1 between Thomaston and Rockland, mid-coast.  The southern tip of the peninsula is the charming town of Port Clyde surrounded by a may lay of islands and home to one of Maines’ iconic lighthouses. But don’t rush down to Port Clyde. Instead, spend the day getting to know the peninsula's other pretty towns, enjoy a delicious lunch with a water view, watch artists paint by the sea, and marvel at the coastal scenery.

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Start your journey in the town of Owls Head, an upscale bedroom community of Rockland. Owls Head State Park is pretty small at just 13.5 acres but the draw for many people is the Owls Head Light and the beautiful scenery. The park offers panoramic views of Western Penobscot Bay and the entrance to Rockland Harbor from the light. The lighthouse is open for you to go up in but there is a fee. We like to walk down the path to the water and let Spirit swim while we soak up the sun and also get to enjoy the great view. (Dogs are allowed in some parts of the park but not near the lighthouse.) Another State Park we like is Birch Point where a wide beach is a great place to enjoy a warm summer day with your toes in the sand or just hang out on the rocks and watch the lobster boats haul their traps. In between the two parks is Ash Point Preserve where a short (less than 2-mile trail) winds you through the woods with pretty views of the coastline.

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Now that you’ve had your lighthouse fix and a walk or two, drive south to Spruce Head where the most awesome lobster “shack” awaits you. We fell in love with McLoons Lobster Shack the minute we drove into the parking lot and it really became a full-blown love affair after we ate there. The food is amazing and the setting beautiful. The lobster is so sweet because it comes directly from Spruce Head lobstermen whose moorings are bobbing in the water right in front of you. Live lobsters are held in crates in seawater until you order and they finally meet their demise. I fell in love with the crab cake sandwich with spicy aioli and their lobster stew was one of our friend’s favorites. McLoons sells non-alcoholic beverages but if you want to BYOB, stop at Mussel Ridge Market which sells cold wine and beer.

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As you leave McLoons heading south to Port Clyde, keep an eye out for the Lobster Lane Bookshop. Lobster Lane is a used bookstore jammed packed with books in every corner of the building. The books are at a bargain price and many are gently used. The place may look disheveled when you first walk in but ask the owner who remarkably knows everything that is in there.

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South of Spruce Head is the town of Tenants Harbor. There is another great lobster shack there called Luke’s which serves up deliciously sweet lobster and crab rolls (sprinkled with a special seasoning) and delicious fried haddock. Luke’s is actually a chain with locations all across the country including New York, Las Vegas, Miami, Maryland and more. The food is very good there too but we like the family-owned and run feel of McLoons better. We do like how picturesque Tenants Harbor is and decided to take our paddleboards and kayak down there one day with our friends Pat and Debbie. The warm weather and calm seas made for great paddling as we perused the shoreline for sea glass and wove around the moored boats getting a close up view.

The very tip of the St. George Peninsula is a rocky point of land marked by the Marshall Point Lighthouse which dates back to 1832. The lighthouse sits at the end of a wooden runway making it idyllic for photographs. The Lighthouse property includes the light, a restored Keeper’s House which is a museum, and surrounding gardens. The lighthouse was featured in the movie Forest Gump where it was the terminus of his long run across the country.

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Back up in the town of Port Clyde you will find that it can be quite bustling on summer days. Here you can catch a ferry to Monhegan Island (which we highly recommend if you have the time), rent a kayak, a stroll through a plethora of art galleries, and dine at eateries like the Dip Net (who has great fish tacos) and the Village Ice Cream. The town’s main attraction is the Port Clyde General Store. This is one of those super fun general stores where you can get a hamburger grilled on the flat top, pick up some gourmet cheese, fuel up your boat, pick out some penny candy, buy a t-shirt for a souvenir, do laundry, and buy fresh fish and a bottle of wine for dinner. You probably get the picture! It has always been one of my favorite places to stroll around.

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But don’t spend all your time downstairs at the general store because upstairs is an art gallery called Wyeth’s by Water dedicated to the three generations of great American artists – N.C., Andrew, and James Wyeth. The gallery is owned by Linda Bean (the granddaughter of L.L. Bean) who is dedicated to sharing information about the Wyeth's time spent in the areas and the places that influenced them. The gallery offers guided boat tours around the islands surrounding Port Clyde describing the influence and inspiration that this area had on the three generations of the Wyeths. The 2.5 – hour narrated tour was a fascinating way to see the area and learn about these renowned American artists.  The tour boat is a 45’ lobster boat and as an added bonus your tour begins by hauling a few lobster traps so you get the true Maine experience of being on the water. 

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Heading back up the peninsula in Owls Head is the Breakwater Winery. The winery's name comes from the view on their front porch of the Rockland Breakwater. Their tasting room offers a variety of wines, cider, and mead where four tastings cost only $3. After tasting you may decide to buy a glass and sit on the front porch enjoying the view or walk over to see the adorable goats.

The places we visited in this post are certainly “off the beaten path” but so worth the time to visit.  We returned many times during the summer and loved being in these less touristy places in coastal Maine.  The views are always great, food is wonderful, and there is a slower pace.  The the little harbors and coves filled with bobbing boats make Maine what it is.  You really should pay Maine a visit if you never have been.  It gets in your soul!

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Thursday, December 27, 2018

Rockland – Maine’s Arts Capital and So Much More

Rockland, Maine sits on scenic coastal Route 1 half-way between Portland and Bar Harbor and is usually overlooked by those dashing up to Acadia National Park.  It is one of those places where you can hike up a granite mountain, spin your head around 360 degrees, and see crystal lakes, a stunning coastline, and enchanting islands off in the distance. After just a few hours getting acquainted with Rockland, you will wish you had more time getting to know this town. Spend a summer in this area and you will fall in love, as we did last summer.

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What makes Rockland unique from other Maine coastal towns is that it is steered by year-round residents.  When the summer ends and fall leaves lose their splendor tourists stop coming but supportive residents are there to ensure that theaters, galleries, restaurants, and stores have patrons.  Rockland used to be known as a stinky fishing town but that all changed with a downtown revitalization that transformed ugly storefronts into appealing shops, a renovated theater, renowned art galleries, hip restaurants, and craft breweries.

Rockland deservingly garnered the title the “Art’s Capital of Maine” because of two amazing museums – the Farnsworth Art Museum and the Center for Maine Contemporary Art – and numerous galleries filled with works by artists who flock to the area finding inspiration in the mid-coast's beauty.  The best way to enjoy all these artsy places is during the “First Friday Art Walk” when the museums are free, galleries stay open at night, music fills the air, and the warm summer air blankets you as you peruse artistic creations.

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Some of the most famous artists who frequented the area were the powerhouse family of the N.C., Andrew, and James Wyeth who became known as “America’s first art family.”  Maine’s landscape, people, and wildlife were the subjects of their artistic styles which differ amongst the generations and are on display in The Wyeth Center at the Farnsworth.  Even if you are just lukewarm on art museums, this one really is worth seeing ... especially on free Fridays.

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But, there is so much more to do in downtown Rockland than just art.  Probably the number one tourist activity in Rockland is to walk out the craggy rock breakwater to the Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse.  This .8 - mile long walk to 20180526_093903the light is a great way to stretch your legs, bask in the sun, and smell the salt ocean air. If your trip out the breakwater sparks your interest in learning more about lighthouses, then head over to the Maine Lighthouse Museum or satisfy your nautical interests at the Sail, Power, and Steam Museum.

To learn more about the area's amazing and diverse natural environment visit the Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center.  This is a great place to learn about the area's wildlife and the islands that are home to thousands of bird species and marine mammals through film and exhibits.  Some of the islands are home to puffins – those colorful little seabirds whose antics captivate us.  To learn more about puffins, the Audubon Society opened the Project Puffin Visitor Center downtown. Here you can view puffins and other seabirds in real time video and learn about the success and challenges faced by Audubon and its conservation partners to restore and protect the seabirds on Maine islands and beaches.   And fall more in love with these uniquely beautiful birds.

Now comes the point in this post where we need to talk about food and drinks.  The “lobstah club” at the Brass Compass CafĂ© is famous as it lured Bobby Flay to town for a “Throw Down” – which he lost to the restaurant’s owner so that tells you how good it is.  The Atlantic Baking Company is one of my favorites because of their array of delectable European-style pastries, fresh bread, warm cookies, and more baked deliciousness.  Wasses is a hot dog stand we discovered years ago and keep going back to for that delicious snap of a dog cradled in a soft pillowy bun. For fine dining, you can’t beat the farm to table execution at Primo eloquently run by a James Beard Award – winning chef. We prefer to eat upstairs at Primo where the atmosphere is more casual and you do not need a reservation, but no matter where you sit, you will not be disappointed in this restaurant.  A sweet addition to downtown is the Bixby & Company Chocolate – a family-owned and operated business whose mission is to “make chocolate confections that are clean and natural, with a conscience.”  Bixby touts their “beans to bar” approach of hand-made chocolates and invites you to their visitor center where you will learn how chocolate is made from the cocoa beans and enjoy samples of their products.  If you want to sample a part of Maine’s extensive craft beer industry, then stop at Rock Harbor Brewing Company for a cold draught that may be accompanied by live music and free bacon.  Yes, they had the genius idea to replace salty pretzels with salty bacon as the perfect accompaniment to beer.

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But when it comes to eating in Maine nothing comes to mind more than lobster.  This famous red crustacean is celebrated at the annual Maine Lobster Festival.  Rockland's population swells from 7,200 people to 75,000 every August when the town is a buzz with everything lobster.  Tents go up, huge lobster pots are lit, lobsters by the truck load (as in semis) are brought in, and a queen is crowned for this four-day event.  Our friends Steve and Dara were in town and game to partake in the party with us where we stuffed ourselves on lobster-flavored potato chips and everything else seafood.

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We would not be doing Rocklands’ food scene justice if we did not mention a couple of great markets.  First off, the weekly farmers market is a pleasant mix of music, fresh baked pizza, dazzling flowers, assorted produce, soaps, and other hand-made goods.  Jess’s Market was our summer go-to place for picking up live lobster (we like to cook them ourselves) and fresh local cod.  Not to mention the fact that Jess’s has a pretty good beer and wine selection. Not in the mood for seafood?  No problem, stop at Wiggin’s Meat Market – Butcher for some delicious cuts of meat that had the best steaks we had all summer.   Maine Street Markets is a foodie paradise that has artisan and specialty foods, smoothie & juice bar, salad cafe, full-service deli, hot food bar, homemade soups, grab & go foods, and fine wines & craft beers.

Rockland took a summer for us to really get to know and will definitely remain on our list of places to go back to.  Stick around for the next post because we will enlighten you with more on midcoast Maine and the neighboring towns that we called home last summer. 

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Monday, December 3, 2018

Work Camping … At a Maine Winery!

The term “work camping” often leaves people with the idea of working at a campground while living on-site where your campsite is free in return for the hours you work or collect a paycheck.  But work camping is more than that and actually refers to anyone who lives in an RV while working in any capacity - not just at a campground.  Over the years, we have found many different work camping opportunities.  Work camping allows us to earn some cash, defer camping costs, meet new people and form long-standing relationships, and learn new skills.  Last summer I worked at a winery which was filled with wine, music, food, and great people.  It was a new and wonderful experience.

Many people ask how we find our jobs (which we have written about in a previous blog post).  Some of our favorite sites are Workers On Wheels, Volunteer.gov, and Workamper News.  But finding this job was different and somewhat by happen stance.  Back in 2014 we stopped at Savage Oakes Vineyard and Winery (a Harvest Host location) to spend the night and volunteer for their fall grape harvest.  We had a blast!  Like many Harvest Host sites, we parked in a beautiful, quiet place where we enjoyed a good bottle of wine and had a restful nights sleep.  The next day Betsy and I picked grapes for a few hours, enjoyed a picnic lunch (accompanied by their estate wine) in the vineyard, and spent the day watching the beginnings of wine making as grapes were crushed, de-stemmed, and pressed.

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Last winter I contacted Savage Oakes to see if they would be hiring a part-time person for the summer (which I saw on their Facebook page the previous year).  Luck was in my favor.  They were hiring someone and agreed to hire me part-time.  I was pretty jazzed about this new opportunity because it meant working in a field I knew nothing about.  While I am pretty skilled at opening a bottle of wine and know a little about wine, I was eager to learn more.  There are so many benefits of work camping and learning something new is one of them.  Savage Oakes did not provide an RV spot for us but did pay a salary for all hours worked.  We found a great campground about twenty-five minutes away where we payed a seasonal rate and enjoyed the quiet campground with a great river view. 

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Savage Oakes is a small family-owned and run business.  The property has been in the owner's family for many generations and a big red barn proudly displays a sign with its origin of 1792. The historic farm has changed from traditional uses of livestock and hay to wine grapes and solar panels.  The owners, Holly and Elmer, first planted cold-climate grape vines in 2002 and now have a vineyard with ten grape varietals spanning three and a half acres. Everything regarding their wine is done on-site and growing the grapes is the first step.  Don’t look for cabernet sauvignon or chardonnay here, those grapes would never make it in Maine’s harsh cold climate.  Instead, varieties like Marquette, Cayuga, Marachel Foch, Leon Millot and more make up the contents of your wine glass.  And being Savage Oakes is also a farm in Maine means blueberries are in the mix as well.

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So what does working at a small winery entail?  Luckily for me … everything!  That’s my kind of job because I like to keep busy and do lots of different things.  Every aspect of wine production – from grape growing and harvesting to bottling and labeling – is done on-site at Savage Oakes.  There were days when I would work in the vineyard pruning the vines, afternoons pouring wine in the tasting room, tending to the garden, cooking and setting up tents for music concerts, bottling and labeling wine, and of course picking grapes.

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Over the past few years, Savage Oakes has become known for more than just being a winery on the Maine Wine Trail.  They have put together a pretty well-known lineup of musical artists like Melissa Etheridge, Michael Franti and Spearhead, Lyle Lovett, Indigo Girls, Chris Isaak and more.  The little town of Union, Maine (population 2,200) nearly doubles when 2,000 people show up for an outdoor concert where music radiates off the wild blueberry fields, the chickens scurry inside the barn, and the belted Galloway cows seem intrigued by sound checks.  Tents are filled with the smells of food, Maine beer and wine are flowing, and artists sing before beautiful Maine sunsets in open air stages.  The venue is awesome and smaller crowds make for a much more intimate setting with performers mingling into the crowd and concertgoers being invited up on stage. 

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In early October the harvest was over, grapes were safely aging in their tanks and barrels, and our campground was closing for the season so it was time to start packing up the RV and figuring out our exit strategy from Maine.  It was definitely hard to say goodbye to such great people that I worked with and others we met during the summer but our nomadic lives had to get back underway.  Leaving was especially hard because we developed a love for the area.  Once again, this was another rewarding work camping experience.