On our drive into Maine from New Hampshire, the ‘check engine’ light kept appearing and disappearing on the dash board. The Monaco wasn’t driving or running differently, so we kept heading west through the mountains toward our destination. Once we were settled at our camp in Ellsworth, Mike consulted the all-important Owner’s Manual and determined the engine was low on coolant. During our weekly errands he picked up anti-freeze and distilled water at the Auto Store. After he emptied the first batch of coolant/water mixture into the tank, it became obvious we were not LOW on coolant, but we had a LEAK instead. This was a bit different.
Through the course of the week, he went back and bought several more gallons of anti-freeze and water in order to get the tank back to full. The morning we were departing Ellsworth to drive south toward the Portland area was slightly stressful. I could tell he was frustrated, but he wasn’t confiding in me. I felt it was best to remain silent until spoken to, so I kept busy with prepping the bus for travel and walking the dogs on an extra long pre-drive walk. He spent almost an hour mixing the liquids and filling the coolant tank before we were ready to pull out. I found out later that the reason he was stressed was because this drive was going to be risky. He had kept me oblivious to the fact that there was the potential of being broken down and stranded by the side of the road before we arrived at Wassamki Springs Campground. He said he didn’t want to worry me. My guess is that he didn’t need the added headache of me asking a thousand questions about a topic I knew nothing about – 500 Horse Power Engines.
About half-way through the three-hour drive we stopped for fuel. I noticed that it took Mike about 4-times longer than usual to fill up, but I didn’t ask. The report I got when he returned to the Captain’s chair was that all the coolant he had added in the morning was gone, and he had just filled it all over again. Time to Google ‘Cummins northeast’. One of the many lucky factors on that day was that there was a Cummins shop four miles from where we had our next reservation. I called them to find out if/when we could bring in the coach. We were thinking we would just drive directly to the shop. They could not take us that day, but they scheduled us for 10:00 AM on the day we planned to leave Maine.
Over our traditional first-night martinis at our new camp in Scarborough, Mike finally explained to me how lucky we had been during our travels that day. First, the weather was cool and cloudy with temperatures in the 60’s. This helped prevent the engine from overheating. If the temperatures had been in the 90’s (like they were on the previous day), the engine would have run much hotter during the drive. Another good thing was that the route from Ellsworth to Scarborough was much less mountainous than what we had been navigating on our previous trips through New England. It was easier on the engine to drive a flat boring Interstate Highway than it was climbing winding mountain roads – switching between drive and down shift modes.
Fueling lanes at truck stops can be pretty chaotic. When the lanes are busy, the truckers are expected to fuel up and then move their rig to the parking lanes while they finish paying and finishing other tasks. When we got to the truck stop at our half-way point, it was not busy at all. This meant Mike could take the time to check the reservoir and add the coolant mixture without holding anyone up behind us. Finally, there was a Cummins shop so close to where we were going, and we were able to schedule an appointment without any problem. We would be able to pull in when they were expecting us, have it fixed, and then drive on to our next destination without any more worries about the radiator. All in all, we had certainly been very lucky on that travel day.
Wassamki Springs Family Campground was similar to the last place we had stayed, except this place had a 30-acre lake and Zumba classes in the recreation center. The campsites were divided between ‘seasonals’ and travelers like us. All of the seasonal sites were located by the lake and under a canopy of pine trees. The traveler sites were located off in a big open pasture with no shade. We had a wonderful view of the dumpster. The added bonus of road noise from the corridor beside us made our spot even more special. Since the roadway was to the industrial sector of Portland’s outskirts, it was primarily travelled by big trucks and other commercial vehicles. Loud and stinky when they are passing us at a distance of only about 20 yards. The icing on the cake was when we quickly learned that we were located on short final for Portland’s International Jetport, the busiest airport in Maine. Big loud jets descended directly above us throughout our first evening, so we realized this would be a regular and constant occurrence unless fog or bad weather closed the airport temporarily. The state of Maine is breathtakingly beautiful with an air of storybook charm, but we could not say the same about the campgrounds we had selected during our time here. They both met the minimum requirements: full hook-ups, reasonable price; easy access. However, we had to leave each of the parks to tap into the allure of The Pine Tree State’s majestic beauty.
It rained the first three days we were in the Portland area. We didn’t really care about this on our initial day. We were drained from traveling with the ‘iffy’ engine, so we were fine with a low key agenda. Mike worked on the outside of the bus and I cleaned the inside. There was an ad in our camp guide for a hair salon down the street from us. Later that afternoon I ventured out to find a Petsmart and risk getting my hair trimmed. The next day was devoted to grocery shopping and cooking. I wanted to make seafood lasagna while I had access to inexpensive lobster, clams, and fish. By the third day we were feeling a little cramped and trapped. We got out in the wet weather to do some drive-by sight- seeing.
Mike had wanted to do some scouting for fishing spots, so we drove south to Old Orchard Beach. We cruised the boardwalk, and then made our way back up the coastline to Scarborough Beach. Just because the entire eastern edge of Maine borders the Atlantic Ocean does not mean the entire eastern edge is sandy beach. Most of Maine’s coastline is made of jagged rocks and crashing surf, or big tidal marshes deep with water or thick with seaweed – depending on the time of day, and what the tide is doing. Sandy beaches should not be taken for granted here. This explains why Old Orchard Beach was bustling with people and action even though there was a lingering steady rain. This beach marks the beginning of a seven-mile stretch of wide soft sand. Old Orchard Beach is a certified tourist area with amusement parks, carnival-type arcades, t-shirt shops, and restaurants that feature one of three things: pizza, hot dogs, or ice cream. We didn’t get out of the car, so we only saw the pedestrian area along the main road. On the water side we missed seeing more shops, games, and restaurants featured along a 500-foot pier that extends over the Atlantic Ocean. As we made our way through town, we could see that condos, beach houses, and small hotels stood three-deep between the beachfront and the road. There were people everywhere. The farther north we drove, the less populated it became. As we reached Scarborough we were in another quaint cottage community peppered with charming beach retreats. The streets were narrow, and there were more people riding bikes along the roads than there were people driving cars. We found a tiny marina where the mouth of one of the area rivers empties into Casco Bay. The tiny marina had a tiny restaurant by the docks. We parked ourselves at a table by the window watched the activities on the water while we had a drink. The sky was grey, the air was thick, and drizzle fell lightly out of the encompassing fog. We watched lobster boats come and go. Fishing guides were coming off the water and loading their boats at the launch. Other locals were fishing from the docks or the rocky edge of the Bay Shore. We were inside looking out, so the wet weather only contributed to the atmosphere from this location. It was a fun way to experience the typical patterns of a regular local marina.
By the time we were mid-way through our stay in the Portland area, the sun finally decided to make an appearance. It was a clear day with cool breezes… perfect tourist weather. We loaded the dogs into the car and drove into the belly of Maine’s largest city. Portland’s population of just over 62,000 equates this city to Texas towns like Conroe or Victoria or New Braunfels. Although each of these Texas communities is a nice place in-and-of itself, they are unable to equal Portland’s authentic history, architecture, commerce, or diverse natural environment. It was energizing to be in such a relatively small town that had so much to offer in the historic urban waterfront environment of Old Port.
Portland’s location on Casco Bay means it evolved from the fishing industry. The commercial businesses were established on wharfs along the water centuries ago. One of the local brochures described this community as “a place where gray flannel and plaid flannel coexist companionably”. I loved this! It was a perfect description. As we wandered through the streets of downtown and Old Port, we saw as many business executives as we did “artistic types” covered in beards and tattoos. The atmosphere was a great mixture of old and hip, traditional and trendy. This downtown was an authentic place with tourists wandering around while “real” people went about their daily business as inhabitants or business owners. After I read that the sea tempers Maine’s climate, making for mild winters and cool summer breezes, I told Mike we should put this town on the list of places I could live. Even though winter temperatures range between 20 and 40 degrees, it wasn’t like they got to below zero or anything. After the timer was up on our parking meter, we drove back to camp through South Portland and Cape Elizabeth. We completed a drive-by visit to Fort Williams Park and snapped a photo of Maine’s oldest lighthouse. The seaside estates along Shore Drive were amazing. I felt like we were cruising inside the pages of a Better Homes & Gardens magazine as we made our way back home.
We had sun again the next day, so this time we loaded the dogs in the car and headed south to hobnob with the outrageously prosperous in Kennebunkport. This tiny town of 3,000 became famous when President Bush (41) was in office. The family has a summer home here called Walker Point. It is really more like a compound than a home. We know this because we went looking for it. It is easy to find, and apparently thousands of visitors flock to it weekly. I had read that the Bush clan flies a Texas flag when they are there. We drove through the tiny town and out Ocean Avenue along the water. Walker Point is about a mile down the scenic drive. There is no parking, but cars are allowed to pull over onto a curb area near the front gate to take a look and snap a photo. There is a 15-minute limit per vehicle. We drove a bit longer along Ocean Drive an accidentally stumbled on a small area that could hold about 8 cars. There was one spot available, so we pulled in and traded our wheels for feet.
There is a paved walking trail along Ocean Avenue called Parson’s Path. We walked the dogs along the trail for about a mile and then turned around and retraced our steps. Walker Point is not the only monstrous summer estate along this prestigious and scenic corridor. We gawked at beautiful summer homes along the entire walk. I even found my dream home! It was situated high on a craggy cliff overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. The architect created the foundation out of a random assortment of rock so it looked like it was rising out of the shore’s boulders. It was a traditional craftsman style design with natural colored shingles framing the exterior. It was dramatic and quaint all at once. If it ever comes up for sale, I hope the owners will give me first right of refusal on its purchase. Maybe we will have won the lottery by then, and I will just be able to pay the cool multi- million dollar purchasing price in cash.
Meanwhile, back at Walker Point we got to see lots of activity. The Texas flag was indeed flying beside the American flag and the Maine flag. A foursome was playing doubles on the tennis courts while a few family fans watched from the bleachers. Down by the water, a group of 10 or so loaded into the giant fishing boat the press corps has captured many times on film. It looked like the passengers were taking a ferry ride into town more than it looked like they were heading out on a fishing expedition. Secret service vehicles were coming and going through the manned (and armed) guard shack. Video cameras were everywhere (like in the trees and landscaping). The fences along the portions of the compound that did not border the ocean’s edge were very strong and fortified. From what we could tell, it looked like a regular day at the summer home. We felt a bit like “peeping Toms” on this part of the daytrip, but I was glad we went. We drove back into town and found a little Irish pub with an outside patio that would allow the dogs to hang out with us during happy hour. We did some excellent people-watching as other tourists passed along the sidewalk in front of us. One thing I noticed about this little town was the very large collection of expensive antique automobiles on the streets. Drivers were out and about showcasing their big-boy toys in the Main Street traffic parade.
Our last daytrip in the Portland area took us to Freeport, about 40 minutes to the north of where we were camped. My mom’s BFF, Sugar, had suggested we visit Harraseeket Lunch and Lobster Company while we were in the area. I love any travel advice we get, so we arrived just in time for a lunchtime lobster roll. The place is a typical Maine lobster pound… situated on a marina with a window for placing orders, and picnic tables under an awning from which to enjoy the delicious grub. As the crowds started to grow, the place became more intimate and patrons started sharing picnic tables so everyone could squeeze in and have a place to eat. It was a fun place to have a meal on a Sunday afternoon.
After lunch we made our way to Wolfe’s Neck Woods State Park. It was time to exercise the dogs and work off some of the calories we had just consumed. We paid our $9 entrance fee and took the dogs on a long hike through this wooded peninsula. We only got lost once. Our views alternated between green wooded forest and dramatic waterfront vistas. There was no beach at this state park, but visitors could park themselves atop boulders rising from the water to fish or enjoy an afternoon picnic. We were all pretty hot and tired after our two-hour nature walk, so we headed back to the car and made one more stop at the famous LL Bean flagship store before driving home. We found a spot to park in the shade, rolled down the windows, and let the dogs take a nap while we went to explore the three-story-one-full-city-block outdoor gear Mecca. Mike bought a fishing hat that would protect his ears from the sun. I bought a special rubber brush that claimed to conquer dog hair on upholstery. It was still fairly early by the time we got home, so we spent the rest of the afternoon watching golf on our little outside television. After we watched a Texas Longhorn win the tournament, we built a fire and watched the planes come in over us.
We are on the “Lower 48 in 48 Tour”, and our plan is to stay one month in each of the lower 48 states over the next four years. However, here in New England the campgrounds are not open all year. The season runs from the middle of May to the middle of October. Because of this, we called our “month” in Maine after 19 days. I loved the lobstah on every corner and the beautiful views around every bend, but it was time to keep moving if we were going to make it through most of the northeast before winter arrived. I was sorry we had missed the Mid Coast region of the state. I had also wanted to visit Boothbay Harbor, Damariscotta, and the Coastal Maine Botanical Garden, but we had run out of time. The next morning was a travel day, so we made plans to start exploring New Hampshire if we were lucky enough to make it out of the Cummins shop intact.