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.

It's then off to Stonington, a genuine fishing village that has found new life as a destination for travelers who like to discover out-of-the-way places and get a taste of the "Real Maine." There are now a variety of eateries, shops and galleries that make a stroll down Main Street a treat, and there are enough overnight accommodations to host visitors for multiple-day visits.

We always try to plan our ride so that we can grab a late lunch on the return trip at one of our favorite snack bars, the Bagaduce Lunch back up Route 175 in North Brooksville.

More than the food makes this particular spot a must if you want not only great Maine seafood or other fare, but a scenic setting that's hard to beat: overlooking Bagaduce Falls where, on the outgoing tide, the river rushes under a bridge right beside the drive-in and adventurous kayakers ride the currents and put on quite a show for diners at the picnic tables.

Although clam-eaters in sufficient numbers preceded us in our mid-afternoon visit on our recent trip, and there weren't any left for us, it did provide the perfect excuse to try, for the first time, their fish sandwich, an 8-inch chunk of fresh haddock on a 5-inch bun that has now joined my lexicon of best fish sandwiches in Maine.

If you only plan one trip Down East this summer, you'd be well advised to consider this one.

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:

jchristie@fairpoint.net

 

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