Bar Harbour

Bar Harbour Bar Harbour

I took the three hour trip to Bar Harbour on the recommendation of a family I’d met in Portland. As it was good biking country, great scenery and offered something else to do as a mid week break from Portland itself. The journey took me along the Maine coastline, which is incredible in its expanse. Over 3,500 miles.

Travelling on a fraction of this distance took me across great bays, bridges and through quaint villages. Unfortunately I missed timed the duration thinking it was less than two hours. Think I was referring back to Boothharhour Bay. When I hit over two hours I had to do a reference check on my map, which corrected the expected duration in my mind. The problem was I’d gone on the ride wearing only a T-shirt and no helmet (on the basis of a smaller ride). In the end it was no big deal as, it just turned a day trip into an overnight stay as I wasn’t prepared to drive back in the evening tired, cold and without a helmet and jacket.

Arriving into the Harbour town I drove the three to four main streets were the first priority was to get something to eat after which I’d find accommodation for the night. This was the right order as I was starving and I’d seen enough “vacancy” signs hanging from motels and guesthouses on the way into town to know I wouldn’t be sleeping under the stars. I zeroed in on a pub called Carmen Veranda as this first floor pub seemed to have some atmosphere with a semi filled terrace, 80’s rock playing and a bill of fare, which looked good at a passing glance. The name of the shop also had some appeal with it’s intended pull on the 1940/50’s model and actress Ms Miranda.

As I tried to get a seat on the terrace I had to souch past a table with two couples (Bill, Cheryl, Tom and Becky) whose clothes I knew to be bikers. Becky got there before me in striking up the conversation. My helmet and tank bag a dead give away. I joined their table and we had a couple of beers while we exchanged stories, bike profiles and tips for my road trip. They drove up from Cleveland and New Jersey with bikes in tow, were they spent each day biking around different parts of the countryside. All had Harley’s except for Cheryl who had a Big Dog chopper. I hadn’t heard of that America brand before. It looked the dogs. Bad dog.

As we continued our beers I took the recommendation of our waitress and went for the spicy steamed mussels. Nice friendly girl but a bit over confident for an eighteen year old. She was of Asian lineage, had a short stocky build and a voice that carried. I’d say she’d grown up with older brothers or more likely had a track and field prowess. My newly acquired biker friends invited me to join them for dinner but I passed as I had to get accommodation sorted but we swapped numbers and said we’d meet the following day. Before departing, Tom bought me a local brew. A blueberry beer.

Actually that part of the Maine is famous for its blueberries. Back home we’d be familiar with the sight of strawberries being sold on the side of a road, it’s the blueberry, which can be bought from Maine roadside vendors. The beer was ok. Nothing you’d drink for the night. Had another two before heading off. Later that night I did get a moments shock when I leaked a detergent coloured urine before calming when I realised the source.

I sorted the accommodation pretty easily, a nice guesthouse at USD70pn. A bit more expensive than I’d thought but it was late and I guess the guy took advantage of an unreserved turn up. They guy who worked the evening was a couple of years younger than me and was sporting a “vote for Obama/Clinton t-shirt”. Although I agree with the electorial choice I thought this canvasing was a bit provocative from someone who works with the public. Actually, it is not in keeping with the three US taboos which you don’t mention until you’re well known to someone unless of course you want to start a heated debate, being: politics, gay marriage and abortion. I ignored his attempts to engage in conversation. Jerk.

Around 9.00pm I wandered the town and harbour. Nice place but a little quiet as it was coming to the end of the season and if I remember correctly it was either a Monday or Tuesday. The walk didn’t take long and the only sign of action was the karaoke evening in Carmen Veranda. Normally I would give such a musical event a very wide berth. But there wasn’t mush else to do and it was happy hour also. Hope that concept also extended to the music!

Like many people, I’ve scoffed at the notion of karaoke as a way to pass an evening. Either highlighting my own inability to do it or laugh at those who tried but sounded awful. With nothing else to do and too early to go to bed I dropped in. When you are alone and take in the surrounds it actually quite revealing. When I arrived the proceedings were well underway with the 25 or so people in the bar. There was no group of more than four with many people on their own too. All age groups were represented. For the next two and a half hours I watched different divas and sopranos give it a go, all with varying degrees of talent (or lack thereof). A coloured guy sang John Legend reasonably well. An old grey haired hippie with a ragged denim jacket did Steve Earl Grey proud with a great rendition of Copper Face Road. There was definitely a Madonna in the making and another lady tried her best to sing Ain’t no Mountain High Enough which until that moment I always thought was an Aretha Franklin number. Then a couple of buddies probably my own age tried but weren’t too good as they simply read the screen but at least they gave it a shot. And lastly the three sisters sitting next to me gave it a go and won applause for effort.

No matter how each performed they all got a round of applause and not one returned to their seat without a smile. I was approached numerous times by the MC and nearby drinkers to give it a go but sheepishly passed proclaiming my inability, which was not an acceptable defence in this classroom. I felt a bit like that young teenager who wants to ask the girl to dance but is afraid of what the others will think of his moves. Toward the end of the evening I did leaf through the book to see what tracks were there that I might know, the encouragement coming from a few beers and honestly the embarrassment of possibly being the only one not to have tried. Well – I did make a promise to myself which is now public. By the time I finish this trip I will definitely be the first of my friends on stage to sing at a karaoke night within one month of my return, attempting no less than four songs. The gaunlet is thrown. And not one to be slow to put things into motion I made my karaoke debut with a double performance in Montreal. But more of that another time!

The next morning I got up early and met my biker friends at the house they’d rented. We compared our bikes and had several cups of coffee. I received more good tips for the trip. Bill actually had to leave his group for 24 hours to attend a prize draw for a luxurious car, which was actually a reverse lottery. A new term which had to be explained for my benefit. He’d bought a ticket to a limited draw from which 100 tickets were pulled. Each ticket holder had to personally attend the finale or forfeit the ticket. Usually only 70-80 people turn up either due to family or work reasons. The final draw is one of elimination. Where the first pulled is eliminated and the last ticket drawn wins the car. Can you imagine the hype amongst the crowd, the personal anxiety as with held breath you wait for your ticket not to be pulled. And the relief afterward as your name is not called. I can only imagine the delirium of the final 10 contestants……… I think I’d need a shot of whiskey after each draw. I should have asked for his details to see how he did. Hope you won and survived the drama. Bill – if you read the blog drop me an email.

Then it was on the bike to drive through the Arcadia National Park, which is three miles from the harbour. The Park along with the harbour was the main reason I came this far north on the Maine Coast line. The scenery was spectacular: Sand Beach, Jordans Pond (whose understated name hides the fact that this is a lake), Thunder Hole and Cadillac Mountain were amazing. As I toured the Island at a slow pace I stopped a couple of times to take in the views. On the drive to the summit of Cadillac Mountain I stopped at the mid way viewing point. As I looked down at the harbour, which I’d left only 15 minutes earlier, I was taken aback with the view. I’m not one whose normally lost for words but this was just mesmerizing. Despite the late summer heat, I leaned against the motorbike for 15 minutes, emptied my mind and just surveyed the deep blue ocean, islands, forestry and the not so distant cruise ship just off shore. The presence of which is the tour industry’s acknowledgement of this wonderful place.

Before moving further up the summit I met a nice couple that were actually hiking the trek. Rather them than me. They were in their mid to late fifties and were on a journey of their own. They’d sailed one and a quarter times around the world and were still going. They’d even sailed to Kinsale in Cork. As we finished our stories Barbara asked if she could take the back seat to the summit. The heat getting the better of her as she abandoned her husband and became the first chick (and actually first person) to ride pillion on this trip. As he laboured up the summit we continued at a leisurely 25mph! Having completed my tour of Bar Harbour I headed back to Portland.

If you are in Maine it’s worth the trip to this area.

Al Dempsey

13 September 2010.