August 17, 2013

John Christie: Deer Isle's charms are just around the corner

As Deer Isle locals are proud to say, "Welcome to Deer Isle, the way life used to be." As a result, a visit to this special corner of Maine jutting out into East Penobscot Bay should be on everyone's summer excursion list, and we always plan at least one motorcycle trip in our schedule of August adventures.

Despite the fact folks down on the island will tell you that all that's best about the cluster of small communities with 2,400 residents that make up the year-round population can be most appreciated other than in the peak tourist month of August, even that busy month is relatively uncrowded and laid back by midcoast Maine standards.

Although we always plan at least one summer visit on a sunny day so we can most enjoy the open air on our bike, the beauty of the area is just as visible from your car.

Since it's about 85 miles from our midcoast home to Stonington on the eastern tip of the island, we like to get an early start as there are several traditional diversions along the way that we always like to include in our itinerary.

Just east of Bucksport on Route 1, a right turn on Route 175 leaves the bustle of out-of-state cars and motor homes behind, and the sudden quietude of the less-traveled road heading down toward Castine is palpable.

Continuing on 175 around the end of Northern Bay and through the tiny villages of Penobscot and South Penobscot, we always turn right on Route 176 in North Brooksville to take the loop around South Cove and if we want to extend our trip a little, we'll pop out around Cape Rosier, adding another hour or so to our ride, but well worth it.

We rejoin 175 in Brooksville until its intersection with Route 15, and that road leads to the Deer Isle Bridge spanning Eggemoggin Reach onto Little Deer Isle. (The perfect map for all of this is No. 15 in DeLorme's Maine Atlas).

A curving causeway leading to Deer Isle features a wonderful little beach where we usually take our first rest stop, as our Teutonic old BMW isn't the softest ride in the world, and a couple of hours in the saddle is about our limit.

We then find ourselves in a photographers-birders-kayakers-sailors-painters-naturalists' paradise, with stunning vistas around virtually every bend. In fact, the island features 12 diverse nature conservancies, many of which have been donated by generous residents for the enjoyment of all. Not to mention neighboring Isle au Haut, a unit of Acadia National Park, accessible by mail boat on a regular schedule from Stonington.

In the village of Deer Isle, we head east toward Sunshine, home of the internationally renowned Haystack Mountain School of Crafts. On our recent trip, we stopped for the first time at Nervous Nellie's Jams and Jellies, a short distance out on the Sunshine Road. What an oversight that we had never done so in the past, as a visit there with Anne and her author/sculptor/artist husband Peter Beerits is worth the trip all on its own. In addition to an assortment of jams, jellies and to-die-for chutneys, their shop features Maine crafts, food, teas and coffees.

Perhaps most impressive are Peter's sculptures that festoon the compound, derived from island junk that has found new life in a whimsical setting, and you can even see him at work in his studio as his fertile mind finds new and imaginative uses for stuff that he's picked up at the dump or has been abandoned in fields on the island.

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