Wave Good-bye to the Fiberglass Moose

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Outside magazine, June 1999

Wave Good-bye to the Fiberglass Moose
Beyond the yacht clubs and the outlet malls, you’ll find the Maine that’s worth stopping for

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If you want to drive Maine’s famous coastal highway, U.S. 1, and avoid the typical tourist traps and temptations, you must persevere. It can be done, but you have to be strong. Skip the fried clam strips in Kittery, and the
outlet malls. Give a miss to the beaches of Ogunquit and Wells, crowded with French Canadians in knee socks who think the freezing Maine waters are comfortably tepid. (I suppose they are, compared to hockey rinks.) Lash yourself to the steering wheel and resist, if you can, the lure of L.L. Bean, open and buzzing 24 hours a day in Freeport. Go north, through Wiscasset
and Damariscotta, where the road starts to rock and roll, over hills and along sweeping curves down to narrow bridges that cross the bays and inlets and cliffs that make up Maine’s rocky shoreline. If you’re hungry, stop at Moody’s Diner in Waldoboro, the transcendental eatery that keeps getting discovered, over and over again, by the likes of Charles Kuralt, yet
somehow remains unspoiled—and cheap. Otherwise, just drive.

Here’s the key: At Ellsworth, keep heading east. Most people don’t. Most people turn south to Acadia National Park or Bar Harbor, but that’s because they’re weak. They’re tourists. There’s very little tourism east of Ellsworth, few resorts or golf courses, no yachting, no large fiberglass animals. So what is there?

Real Maine. Instead of factory outlets, you get roadside Bargain Emporiums where you can buy a dozen socks for a dollar or eight-track tapes of Juice Newton, still in the original shrink-wrap. Here you’ll find blueberry bogs and fishing villages where you can’t understand what people are saying because their accents are so thick. According to my friend Bill, weird
kinky things happen in the basements of hardware stores in these towns involving cheap whiskey, alligator clips, dry cell batteries, and tinfoil. I don’t ask him how he knows this. Tough Maine. Dark Maine. The part of Maine where Stephen King gets his scary ideas. The part where they only give you half the rules.

If you turn inland you get streams and rivers and more bogs and too many lakes to name them all. These are the big woods, deep forests of fir and birch, where boys go to work the day after they graduate from high school, just for the summer because they can’t find anything better—and wake up a short time later and find they’re old men who’ve worked the big
woods all their lives. Not that they have regrets. The lakes are cold and clear, the private property of the loons, which proclaim their ownership each night at dusk. There are black bears among the blueberries and streams full of the smartest trout in America. They must be, because I never caught any. Take Maine 9, which parallels the coast about 20 miles inland, and
head for places just because you like the names: Pocomoonshine Lake or Sysladobsis Lake or the town of Meddybemps near Staples Cove, which is really more like a lake, but that’s all right because Meddybemps is barely a town, right there in the shade of Porcupine Mountain, which is really just a big hill.

Back on U.S. 1, go all the way to Quoddy Head State Park, the easternmost point in the United States. There’s a lighthouse there. If it’s not foggy, wait for it to be foggy. Listen to the foghorn. If you’re too close to it, you’ll have to cover your ears. Walk along the shore and feel lonely. Hear the seagulls. The creaking ships’ rigging. Ghosts. Smell the sea. It
could be a hundred years ago. Somehow, standing on the edge of the country, you feel like you’re at the center of it all. —PETER NELSON

From Freeport to Quoddy Head, the Coastal Highway is two twisty lanes with 203 miles of seashore views. For a closer look at Penobscot Bay, rent a kayak in Rockport at Maine Sport ($25–$55 daily; 800-722-0826).
DON’T MISS: The world’s biggest rotating globe—42 feet in diameter—at DeLorme map company in Yarmouth.
BEST EATS: Lobster and fries for around $10 at any Bar Harbor area “lobster pound.”
TOP DIGS: South Bay Campground (877-733-1037) on Cobscook Bay in Lubec; $23 gets you a waterside site and a chance to spot a whale.
INFORMATION: Maine Office of Tourism, 888-624-6345.

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