BAR HARBOR — The kid jumped down from a tan SUV with Maryland plates, saw the roller blades about to go on my feet and grinned.
His mom had parked on a side road near the 14th fairway of the Kebo Valley Golf Club. A hundred feet ahead, a low brown gate prevented automobiles from proceeding to the nearby Park Loop Road, a 27-mile ribbon of smooth asphalt that, on such perfect early-autumn afternoons, is guaranteed to put an observer more than halfway through the License Plate Game.
Not on this day.
As the single white sheet of paper – affixed with three strips of blue painter’s tape to the knee-level gate – proclaimed: “Because of the federal government shutdown, Acadia National Park is closed.”
Closed closed? Or closed to motorized vehicles?
The kid, and his bicycle, clearly interpreted it to mean the latter.
“I’ve done this every day,” he said. “I call it my anarchy ride.”
The failure of Congress to reach an agreement to pay its bills without eviscerating the Affordable Care Act has brought a lot of pain to a lot of people.
More than 800,000 federal employees are off the job and wondering about their next paycheck. Agencies, museums and national parks have been shut down. Mortgage applications are in flux.
But if there are silver linings to the shutdown, surely a loop road bereft of Buicks, Beetles and BMWs is one of them. The only drawback to Acadia in foliage season is the crowds. Take away the hordes, and what remains?
Although I would have preferred to skate the whole loop, our resident photography expert insisted that a helmet camera atop an in-line skater would induce seasickness in viewers because of the constant side-to-side motion. So I compromised (politicians, take note) and borrowed a bike.
Pedaling off through the new-growth trees that populate the chunk of Acadia that burned in the fire of 1947, the immediate feeling was one of tranquility, of a stillness as unnatural as the planeless skies of September 2001.
Champlain Mountain loomed to the right and Huguenot Head soon came into view. The benches and tables of Bear Brook were empty of picnickers and nearby Beaver Dam Pond glistened quietly in the afternoon sunlight.
Climbing the serpentine road toward a view of Frenchman’s Bay, four cyclists whizzed past, blissfully ignoring the one-way signage. The only sign of life in the parking area beneath the Precipice Trail was a pair of hikers strolling through an otherwise-empty parking area.
About this time came the realization that an injury or a blown tire would leave me stranded miles from help.
Any concern evaporates in the warm sunshine and disappears in the rustling leaves already turning into wonderful shades of red, orange and yellow.
Farther on, toward Sand Beach, more hikers and more cyclists appeared. Those tourists whose cruise boats turned away when informed of the park closure don’t know what they’re missing.
At Thunder Hole, a woman wearing a bridal veil peered into the abyss and listened for a moment, but the incoming waves were not of sufficient strength to provide much of a pop.
Overlooking Otter Cliff, two women lounged on lawn chairs placed in the Loop Road’s left lane and gazed back toward a Sand Beach dotted with perhaps a dozen intrepid explorers.
And so it went. No popovers or tea graced the back lawn of the Jordan Pond House, only two women looking out over the pond and the Bubbles beyond. Near a patch of white lichen beneath a stand of old-growth spruce in the area untouched by the ’47 fire, a photographer squinted behind a tripod as his wife looked on.
Chipmunks and squirrels skittered with impunity across the pavement. No roadkill on this day. Only needles, acorns and early leaves interrupted the sun-dappled asphalt corridor.
After 90 minutes of pedaling the borrowed hybrid bike, I came upon the brown sign pointing the way to the summit of Cadillac Mountain. Did I dare?
Nah. Not with these brakes. More accurately, not with these tired thighs.
Later, after returning to the 14th fairway, I traded bike for blades and met the teenager from Maryland. I returned to the Loop Road, ditched the helmet cam, and skated halfway to Sand Beach before turning back.
On a flat stretch, I fell in with an older guy on a bike. He sported a white beard and a black shirt and black shorts with lots of words on them.
“An opportunity like this doesn’t come around very often,” he said. “I like to ride it backward. You see things differently, especially along the ocean.”
He’s right, of course. I should have gone against what little grain there was on this postcard-perfect afternoon and done the loop counterclockwise.
Seventeen years have passed since the last government shutdown.
This one surely can’t last much longer.
Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at: