The summer season doesn’t really start for us until we spend a day in May on the motorcycle taking our traditional, and favorite, kickoff trip along some of our favorite coastal highways and byways, well before the summer crowds arrive.
That’s not to say it’s not just as delightful and beautiful from your car, and there have been a couple of recent years when the temps have inspired us to opt for the warmth of our vehicle. But as long as we know it’s forecast to at least get into the 50s, we’ll take the bike. I know many of my biking friends are thinking, “What a wimp!” But at this point in my life, I’m not out to spend a day shivering just to prove how tough (or foolish) I am.
And the fact that our route includes a fairly large chunk of road that’s directly exposed to cool east winds off the 40-degree ocean, we always factor that into our decision about whether to bike or drive the car.
We’ll always pack a snack, but we usually opt to stop for lunch at a favorite spot along the coast for our first clam roll of the new season, but more about that later.
The trip from our midcoast home takes us through Belfast in the early morning, as the sun slides up over Penobscot Bay and the visibility across to the islands that dot the horizon is unimpeded by the fogs that are sure to be more prevalent as we get into June.
Crossing the Passagassawaukeg (say that fast three times) River on the high bridge looking down on Belfast, we’re impressed by the activity at the growing Front Street Shipyard that’s changing both the waterfront and the economics of what has become one of Maine’s new favorite destinations not just for yachtsmen but for both Mainers and out-of-state visitors as well. Shops and restaurants in the busy village center cater to every taste, and you can spend an entire day in this revitalized coastal town.
But we have a long trip planned, so it’s on through Searsport, where we remind ourselves to be sure to return for a visit to the Penobscot Marine Museum to tour its eight buildings full of marine art, artifacts and tributes to Maine’s rich maritime heritage.
It’s along Route 1 to cross the Penobscot River on the spectacular Penobscot Narrows Bridge, where on our trip this year we could watch the dismantling of the old iron bridge. Although this project is currently delaying the opening of the observation tower on the new bridge, it won’t be long before you’ll be able to take the elevator up to enjoy one of Maine’s great views.
Our ride takes us to Ellsworth and then down Route 3 to Mount Desert Island, where we opt to travel down Route 102 on the “quiet side” of the island through Somesville, along the west side of the Sound through Southwest Harbor, and then around through Manset and Seawall on 102A to Bass Harbor, where we take our first rest stop at the Bass Harbor Head Light to drink in the view out toward Swans Island, Long Island and the Cranberries.
Back north through West Tremont and Pretty Marsh, we get back on Route 3 to return to Ellsworth, where we head east again along Route 1 through Hancock and Sullivan, drinking in the vistas across Frenchman Bay. If it’s still early enough for a late breakfast, we’ll pop into Chester Pike’s for some of that local landmark’s favorite blueberry pancakes, and then it’s on to West Gouldsboro and a right turn on Route 186 down to Winter Harbor, gateway to the Schoodic Peninsula section of Acadia National Park.
The one-way loop road along the shore is a never-to-be-forgotten look at what the rockbound coast is at its very best. Like us, you’ll be reminded that on another trip you’ll want to head directly there so you can spend the entire day in this less-frequented section of Acadia.
Leaving the peninsula, we turn east in Birch Harbor through Prospect Harbor and head down Route 195 for the short trip to Corea — a real Maine off-the beaten-path fishing village.
Then it’s back up to coastal Route 1 and the start of the return trip home. If we’ve timed it right, our appetites are prepared for a stop at Jordan’s Snack Bar just east of Ellsworth where we join the ever-present line (even in May) of hungry fans of this particular culinary treasure house, to get our early-season seafood fix. And you won’t go wrong if you pick their fried clams. Huge portions and reasonable prices.
Sufficiently satiated, we get back on the bike for the 90-mile ride home in the afternoon sun. The whole trip, as described, is about 250 miles, that includes virtually everything you can ask for in a day along the coast of Maine.
John Christie is an author and year-round Maine explorer. He and his son, Josh, write in Outdoors about places to enjoy beauty only Maine has to offer. He can be contacted at: