10 Jul

Camping Near Acadia National Park: Our Oceanfront Slice of Heaven

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If you are a longtime reader and podcast listener, you know that we believe Acadia National Park is RV heaven. It holds a very special place in our hearts, and no matter what, we end up back there again and again.

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Many other RVers feel the same way, and there is no shortage of campground options available when planning your stay. But again, if you are part of the RVFTA community, you know that we return to the Bar Harbor/Oceanside KOA time after time.

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The real question is, what’s the draw? What makes this the place that we want to park our rig, even after touring and inspecting many other campgrounds on Mount Desert Island?

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06 Dec

Giveaway!!! Win a Copy of Discover Acadia National Park, by the AMC

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06 Dec

RV Family Travel Atlas: Acadia National Park Adventure Guide

On this week’s episode of RV Family Travel Atlas, we are heading to Acadia National Park, one of our favorite summer destinations. We will give you recommendations for where to stay and what to eat. We will also tell you about the best family-friendly hikes and activities on Mount Desert Island.

Join us as we explore popular tourist attractions and also take you to the quieter side of Acadia, where we have escaped the summer crowds and found lots of local treasures.

Click on the links above to read our articles on the Jayco Journal about all of these Acadia National Park recommendations.

We have another great giveaway this week: Discover Acadia National Park, by the Appalachian Mountain Club. We used this book a ton when planning our trips, and all of the hikes that we talk about are detailed in this book. Enter to win here.

And make sure you listen to this week’s episode to find out about our ‘podcast only’ giveaway this week…

Play
29 Sep

Fantastic Family Activities Near Acadia National Park

We were perfectly happy to do nothing besides hike, bike, and eat lobster when we traveled to Acadia National Park before having children. But when we returned with kids, we branched out and explored a variety of other activities offered in the Bar Harbor area. Good choice on our part. There are so many great affordable family friendly activities that really celebrate the local culture of Maine. All of the following recommendations were tons of fun for the kids and very educational for the adults. Win / Win!

Timber Tina’s Great Maine Lumberjack Show

Timber Tina's Great Maine Lumberjack Show

Let’s be honest…the boys had no idea what a lumberjack was before we went to this show. As we sat in the bleachers, they eyed the chainsaws and axes with more than a little suspicion. Then the show started and they were in awe from beginning to end. Timber Tina, a former contestant on Survivor, mixes interesting lumberjack history with good ole team competition.

The boys cheered loudly for the green team, and were pretty darn excited when they won. Timber Tina brings up all the kids and gives them a lesson in cross-cut sawing, then sends them home with a certificate signed by a real life lumberjack. Ask Max and Theo about this show and you will get quite an earful. You might also get a chopping demonstration performed with their souvenir axes.

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The Mount Desert Oceanarium


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This wonderful local gem, operated for four decades by Audrey and David Mills, is a fascinating hybrid of a museum, aquarium, and preserve. Your basic tour package includes three different interactive presentations: the touch tank, the lobster museum, and the lobster hatchery. You can also upgrade your ticket and take a guided tour through the salt marches on the premises. The touch tank presentation allowed the kids to handle sea stars, sea cucumbers, and horse shoe crabs.

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During the lobster museum demonstration, Max actually got to band the claws of a lobster and place it in a trap on the boat. Pretty exciting stuff for a five year old! The oceanarium immerses visitors in the lobster culture of coastal Maine with hands on activities presented by a friendly, knowledgable staff. The playground outside the gift shop? That’s just a bonus.

Dive-In Theater with Diver Ed

Dive-In Theater with Diver Ed
There are many boat tour options near Acadia National Park, but if you’re traveling with kids, there is only one show in town. Join Diver Ed on the Starfish Enterprise for a two hour tour of Frenchman Bay that will surprise and delight the whole family. As the passengers sit comfortably on deck, Diver Ed will suit up in his scuba gear, then ask the kids to push him into the ocean so that he can search for lobsters, sea cucumbers, sea stars, and sea urchins. While Diver Ed collects these sea creatures you get to watch him and hear him on the ships’ big screen. But the best part is this—when he returns to the boat he brings all of his discoveries with him and places them in touch tanks for the kids to enjoy. While the sea creatures are colorful and amazing, the true star of the show is Diver Ed. His larger than life personality and kid-friendly humor will make this one of your all-time favorite family travel memories.

Ranger Park Programs, Acadia National Park

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When you purchase your pass to Acadia National Park you will also receive a schedule of Ranger Programs. We strongly recommend that you take a good look at this schedule and pick at least one to attend. Most of them are free, and many of them are appropriate for families with children. We chose to attend a program called Animal Tales that introduced the boys to some of Acadia’s “fuzzy, furry, and funny creatures through stories and activities.” The ranger who led this activity used puppets and silly songs to teach the kids about moose, loons, peregrine falcons, and other native species. She was also energetic and engaging. Her moose imitation was so realistic that it made Stephanie feel a bit better about not actually seeing one on our trip.
Acadia National Park, Bar Harbor, and the rest of Mount Desert Island form a premiere location for a family vacation. There are excellent campgrounds, delicious options for seafood, exciting and affordable family activities, and one of our country’s most beautiful National Parks. if your family is looking for its next great adventure, then Acadia may just be the perfect place. It was for us.

11 Sep

Great Food without the Crowds: Eating and the Quiet Side of Acadia

This summer Good Morning America named Acadia National Park “America’s Favorite Place” and people from everywhere flocked to see what the fuss was all about. We found the park much more crowded compared to our previous visits, and this led us to explore some of the quieter places on the island.

If you are visiting for the first time, places like Jordan Pond House in the National Park and The Lompoc Cafe in Bar Harbor are not to be missed.

But don’t get stuck waiting in line at the crowded downtown tourist joints. Just a short drive away from Bar Harbor and the Park Loop is a world of bakeries, restaurants, cafes, and lobster shacks that will let you taste the best of Maine without the crowds. Here are some of our favorite food discoveries from the quieter side.

TheDocksider

The Docksider is a lobster pound in Northeast Harbor with an emphasize on locally sourced, organic food. Yes, the lobster and the chowder are delicious. But this quirky and unique restaurant has more to offer than the standard seafood fare. Max had been craving meatballs and we found them here. The really surprising part? They were downright delicious. If you can’t get a table, order the food to go and take it down to the harbor where you can easily find an empty picnic table with a water view.

Little Notch Bakery

Little Notch Bakery in Southwest Harbor, with a second location in Bar Harbor, has delicious pastry, bread, and pizza. We went in for a mid-afternoon snack, but ended up sampling quite a few of the treats. Then we picked out a few loaves of bread for the rest of our trip. The staff was kind and helpful, offering hospitable smiles even after one of the boys spilled an entire smoothie on a chair cushion.

The Common Good Cafe

Our favorite discovery of the whole trip was The Common Good Cafe, which serves up popovers, oatmeal, coffee, and juice 7 days a week at no charge (donations are welcomed). This local non-profit raises money to help feed struggling folks through the hard winters in Maine. Live music by local musicians, such as the 14-piece ukelele band that mesmerized us, and a wonderful space filled with toys for the little guys made this one of the most magical experiences of our trip.

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Thurston’s is a famous lobster pound that is off the beaten path in the small town of Bernard. Jeremy voted this the best lobster roll of our trip. The crab cakes were truly perfect…lots of crab, lots of flavor, not a lot of anything else. We have been here in previous years for dinner and it was quite crowded. At lunchtime, however, we had the entire screened-in dock to ourselves.

Mother'sKitchen

We ate lunch at Mother’s Kitchen on our last day in Acadia. If we had discovered it earlier, we probably would have been regulars during our stay. Just down the road from the Bar Harbor/Oceanside KOA, Mother’s Kitchen served classic and homey sandwiches with a twist. The Grand Banker, Lightning Strikes, and Grandpa Jack are just a few names of sandwiches made from fresh, delicious ingredients and served on crusty, perfect bread. End your meal with a cup of Crooked Porch Coffee and you should be charged up for the next hike. Hours are 10-2 pm, Monday-Friday…just as quirky as the sandwiches.

College of the Atlantic, Dining Hall

This may sound like a joke, but the best and most affordable lunch on Mount Desert Island can be found at the College of the Atlantic’s Blair Dining Hall, nicknamed “Take-a-Break” by students. All food is organic, with an emphasis on local and sustainable ingredients. Baked goods are made from scratch daily. The focus on world cuisines mean that the menu is varied and creative. After lunch, visit the admissions office and buy a t-shirt or sweatshirt for the perfect, unique souvenir. On our last trip, we showed up and found out that the cafe was closed for the week. We almost cried. But we still bought shirts.

If this trip reinforced anything we have learned from traveling, it was the importance of asking locals and other campers for recommendations. Even though this was not our first visit to Acadia National Park, we felt like we were discovering it all over again. We hope you also wander away from Bar Harbor and the Park Loop to explore the quieter side of Acadia. If you do, please let us know what you find.

09 Sep

Hiking Acadia with Kids: 5 Amazing Hikes for the Whole Family

This article originally appeared in the Jayco Journal.

With over 120 miles of hiking trails on Mount Desert Island, you could visit Acadia National Park many times over and never walk the same path twice. After three visits to Acadia (two of them with young kids in tow) we have discovered some amazing family-friendly hikes that will please both children and adults. All of these hikes encompass the best that Acadia has to offer, with sweeping ocean views, dramatic granite cliffs, and landscapes filled with cedar, birch, and spruce. 

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This easy four-mile round trip hike (also known as Ocean Path or Ocean Drive Trail) is the classic introductory hike to Acadia. Starting off at Sand Beach, the path brings you to Thunder Hole and Otter Cliffs, passing by one beautiful vista after another. There are many small turnoffs that can lead to dramatic views, and also dramatic drop offs. If you wander off the main trail, keep a close eye on your kids. There are also stretches where the path is right next to the road. Traffic can be fast and close, so hand-holding might be in order. Even though we enjoyed the scenery, this hike was crowded and usually is during the peak visiting season.

Reward yourselves after the hike with a swim at Sand Beach…just be prepared to squeal as you dive into the cold water.

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One of the more famous family-friendly hikes within the Park Loop, this trail also rewards its hikers with stunning views of Sand Beach, Otter Cliffs, and Cadillac Mountain. We enjoyed this trail with another family and all of the kids had a blast navigating the rocky terrain.  The summit offered incredible ocean panoramas as well as a safe space for snacking and enjoying the view. If you are feeling more adventurous, take the Cadillac Cliffs trail spur. We avoided this on account of young Wesley.

One local mom we met on the trail recommended parking at the Gorham Mountain Trail head, hiking to Sand Beach, and taking the Island Explorer Bus back to your car at the trail head. The promise of a fun bus ride back to the car might do wonders to motivate little hikers.

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If you want to get away from the crowds clustered around the Park Loop, drive past Southwest Harbor to the Wonderland and Ship Harbor Trails. Both of these trails can be done independently, or you can do what we did: hike out to the water on the Wonderland Trail, then head west along the rocky beach to the Ship Harbor Trail and complete a loop back to the parking lot.

Time for just one of these two trails? We think Ship Harbor is your best bet, offering lots of paths down to the tide pools and, of course, great water views. We hiked these trails on a weekend during peak season and saw only a handful of people. This is truly the quieter side of Acadia.

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We get much of our travel intel from the recommendations of other campers. A friendly hiking dad named Chris told us that the Flying Mountain Trail would be perfect for our family. He was right. This 1.5 mile loop was great fun for the boys, giving them a good challenge at the beginning with a steep ascent ending with beautiful views of the Somes Sound. The tricky descent kept them entertained, and there is a rock beach where the kids can play at the bottom. The hike ends with an easy walk via a fire road right back to the parking lot.  Awesome hike.  Thanks, Chris.

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We’ve written about the Great Head Trail before on this blog.  This was the first hike we took with the twins on our first long camping road trip years ago, so it holds a special place in our hearts.  In our opinion, it has just the right amount of challenge and offers the perfect Acadian panoramic views. There is also the added bonus of ending the hike on Sand Beach where the kids can splash and play (if they have any energy leftover).

If you have a favorite hike in Acadia National Park, kid-friendly or not, let us know in the comments below. We plan on going back when the boys are older and tackling some greater challenges!

We used the following 3 books to plan our hiking in Acadia. We strongly recommend them.

Tom St. Germain’s A Walk in the Park is the best-selling trail guide for Acadia National Park for good reason. It fits in the back of your pocket and includes maps and concise descriptions of over fifty hikes.

The AMC’s Discover Acadia National Park by Jerry and Marcy Monkman also describes the park’s best biking and paddling. It includes a pull-out discovery map, far more detailed than the free one available at the visitor center.

We also recommend Best Hikes with Kids: Vermont, New Hampshire, & Maine, published by The Mountaineers Books. We have used this book in all three states, so keep a copy in your camper when traveling in New England! 

 

07 Sep

Campground Review: Bar Harbor/Oceanside KOA

We were having such a great time in Belfast that we didn’t want to leave.  But when you are heading to Acadia National Park for six days of hiking, swimming, kayaking, and lobster roll eating–you dig deep and find a way to carry on.  Lucky for us, we had reservations at the Bar Harbor/Oceanside KOA, one of our favorite campgrounds that we had visited three years back in the pop up camper days, before the birth of Wesley.

The fun started right away.  As we were setting up shop, the KOA Express stopped by and picked the boys up right in front of our site.  At the end of the ride the friendly work campers dropped them off at the same spot.  Door to door Express Train service? We were impressed!

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The husband and wife team that manned the train were delightful, and the next night they helped the boys make s’mores. Then they made all the kids balloon animals and balloon swords.

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This led to an epic, but relatively safe sword duel.  I won’t tell you who won.

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Did I mention that there was also live music that night around the community campfire? And free s’mores for everyone?  And that the music was really good?  And that the singer took requests? He played Cat Stevens, Credence Clearwater Revival, Van Morrison, the Beatles, and much more.  We could hear the music from our site, but we decided to cozy up around the campfire, toast some marshmallows, and meet some new friends.  This is what KOA camping is all about, right?

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There are several good campgrounds in the Bar Harbor area.  But we will always choose the KOA because of nights like this.  We also love that the campground is directly on the water, with stunning sunsets that are different every night.  It is an absolutely magical place if you love kayaking.  There is an easy launch spot right in the middle of the campground, and if you have a waterfront site you can launch right in front of your own camper.  P1110003

As I mentioned, the sunsets vary so much from night to night.  It almost feels like you are in a different magical location each time you paddle out.  I emphasize the word magical.  Each night my mental soundtrack was playing Van Morrison’s “Into the Mystic.”  Or was that just the live music back at the campfire?

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During one of my kayaking sessions I saw two seals swimming in the distance.  I was so excited that I fumbled around with the camera and missed the shot.  No worries.  It was time to head back to our site for story time anyway.

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Over the next few days we discovered that the Bar Harbor/Oceanside KOA has more going for it than just the great activities, free entertainment, water views, and dramatic sunsets.  We also loved being able to buy a lobster dinner right on the campground.

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And eat it right on our picnic table…

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But here is the most important piece of advice that I can give you about this campground: if you see this man buy a fresh-baked blueberry pie from him.  No– buy two. One for yourself, and one for everyone else…

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You can always burn off the calories later at the playground…

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Or by taking a family bike ride on the paved roads…

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There are lots of options for family fun right at the Bar Harbor/Oceanside KOA, and the stunning beauty of Acadia National Park is just a short drive away.  What’s not to love? We met several families that return to this campground year after year–and that could easily happen to us.  But there’s a whole lot of big, beautiful country out there to explore.  And we plan on doing just that.

Onward.

 

 

30 Aug

We looked at the swim and we jumped right in…(part three)

Echo Lake Beach, Acadia National Park
Acadia National Park is a gift that keeps on giving. Just when you think you have the place wired you discover something new and exciting.  While perusing my handy National Park Service map one night around the campfire I noticed that there were two officially sanctioned swim spots in the park.  The first one is, of course, the glorious and always chilly Sand Beach.  But if you take a look at the eastern half of your map of M.D.I you will see a cozy little lake to the left of Somes Sound.  If you listen closely you will hear Echo Lakeinviting you in for a swim.
Echo lake is not situated off of the highly visited Park Loop Road so it is not nearly as famous as Sand Beach.  Don’t get me wrong here.  I am not trying to say we discovered some hidden gem.  The place was definitely jamming. The swim at Echo Lake was fundamentally restorative (coming as it did on the heels of the aforementioned six-mile hike).  Crystal clear and temperatures in the upper sixties.  Probably close to 15 degrees warmer than Sand Beach.  The incline was gradual and the boys were able to swim and play without giving me heart palpitations.Our trip to Echo Lake was a short one–we stayed for a few hours at the end of a busy day.  But next time we head up to Acadia this place will get our full attention.  There are hikes nearby and the beach is a nice place for a picnic.  I think I experienced another moment of pure zen-camping here.  If I close my eyes I can still hear the boys splashing and laughing.
25 Aug

Sometimes You Have to Get the Baby off Your Back: Dating in Acadia

Sometimes you just have to be open to what the universe sends your way. Last year the universe sent us some great camping buddies by way of a casual workplace acquaintance and some good ole pop-up camper chatter. A woman I had lunch with at work heard lots of stories while we were in the process of buying our new camper. These stories got passed on to her husband and, wouldn’t you know it, a few weeks later they had a pop-up and we were meeting for a weekend trip in Cape May.Fast forward one year and we are planning a two week camping adventure together. Although I am sure things don’t always work out this way, ours has been a camping match made in heaven.About 7 days into our Great Northeastern excursion, and a few days into the Acadian-induced hiking euphoria that settled over our campsites, our camper-buddy Joe suggested that each couple take turns watching the four tikes while the other couple did a strenuous, non-kid friendly hike. We decided to do the Beehive hike, since we could park the kids at Sand Beach for the whole morning while we took turns trekking up the mountain. They seemed to have plenty of fun in our absence.

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And we had what was quite possibly the best ‘adult fun’ we have had since the boys were born.
The Beehive trail takes you right up the face of a mountain that looks over Sand Beach. The views are phenomenal and the rungs and ladders can get your heart pumping.

Joe and Ashley went first, and upon their return they proclaimed the hike to be “fun” and “awesome” with “great views” and good “photo ops.”

Then we started our climb. We had the unfortunate luck to end up behind a group of young adults and their mother, none of whom seemed very suited for strenuous hiking. The poor mother was shaking and crying and proclaiming at every difficult turn that she just could not make it up to the next rock. One of the daughters had a bright red face and was quivering so badly that I actually thought, “I am going to have to call in a rescue helicopter if I want to get off this mountain.” On a trail such as this, there are very few points to pass people. We had to wait an awful long time at the edges of some pretty steep cliffs.

So here is how most of the hike went: I was in front of Jeremy and I would get to a steep precipice and would not be able to turn the corner until the other hiking party cleared out. I would stand at that steep edge, watching rocks crumble from under my feet and hear things like, “Oh my God Oh my God Oh my God I can’t do it I know I can’t do it.” The psychological toll that this took was really quite intense. At every turn I had all the time in the world to imagine the horrors that awaited me around the corner. Then I would finally get to turn the corner and…one two three points of contact and we were up to the next ledge. Really, it was not that big of a deal, but the lead-up was nerve wracking.
Jeremy took advantage of one of these moments to snap a photo:

While this was a beautiful view, I remember I spent most of my time at that spot thinking, “Don’t look down. Don’t look down…”

Finally, we found a wide enough ledge where we could pass this group. Although I felt bad to leave behind this sorry collection of souls, shaking and sitting flush against the rock while saying things like, “I don’t think I’m going to move for awhile”, the relief drowned out any tinge of guilt. We were able to complete the last quarter of the climb in sweet peace and quiet, pausing only at convenient moments to appreciate the astounding vistas.

Now that I think about it, I wonder if my face mirrored that of the hikers who encountered us in full melt-down mode on our Jordan Pond excursion. I probably did flash them that same look of pity mixed with confusion. I know I was thinking, Who the heck came up with this bright idea for the lot of you?
I sincerely hope they got down from that mountain and found the rib-tickling story to share. And I sincerely hope they made better trail decisions during the rest of their vacation.

We had a blast and enjoyed every moment of our time away from the little campers. It was the best date we had had in a long time. But of course, while we hiked, we couldn’t help but debate the age at which the boys would be able to climb the Beehive with us. The jury is still out, but we’ll let you know when the verdict is in.

 

24 Aug

Return to Bubble Pond: The Past, Present, and Future

Stephanie in Acadia National Park, 2007

It may be cliche to say it, but I don’t care.  Having kids makes everything new again.  The first time Stephanie and I went to Acadia National Park together was back in 2007.  We had an awesome trip and did a lot of hiking and biking–accompanied by a lot of relaxing.  After the bike ride that was recounted in the last post, Stephanie decided to kick back and relax on a warm rock next to Bubble Pond.  She had earned it. Before we had the boys relaxation was an option at any point in the day. Particularly on a summer vacation. It makes sense right?  You do something strenuous and then you relax and take a nap. Preferably somewhere that is quiet and beautiful. Preferably somewhere in Acadia National Park.

Flash forward four years and two boys later.  We are back in Acadia.  We have returned to Bubble Pond.  We have just finished a six mile hike.  Time to relax, right?  No. Not even friggin’ close. Time for more activity, more adventure, MORE EXPLORATION.  Max and Theo are not interested in taking a nap on a warm rock.  They just had a nap while momma, da-da, and grandma took turns pushing them in their super-hip all terrain baby stroller (The B.O.B).  Max and Theo are now interested in jumping off of warm rocks. And finding frogs.  And splashing in the water. And finding powerful, magical sticks!

Notice the feet.  They have not touched the ground yet!

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*Acadian frog.  He survived the splashing.  Barely…

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We did not hurt the frog.  I promise.
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Rocks, Water, and Sticks. What else could a boy want?

I have been to Bubble Pond twice.  It was lovely on both occasions.  During the first trip it was peaceful and relaxing.  During the second trip it was exciting and magical.  Both trips to the same place were totally different.  This is one of my favorites parts of being a father.  When we take the boys to our favorite places they become new again.  Or different.  Or deeper. Or richer.  Or maybe just better.

Onward.
23 Aug

Six Miles? No Problem! (Listen for the Laughter of the Gods)

So I was all juiced up on our first hiking experience with the boys, and the next day I was having one of those ‘Mama rocks’ moments that comes on the heels of events such as sleeping through the night for the first time since giving birth, cleaning out your basement, or getting to work on time with no visible stains on your clothing.

This particular Mama Rocks moment manifested itself in the proclamation that “Of course we can do six miles. Yesterday was a breeze. And the boys loved it. And they fell asleep in the backpacks. And…blah, blah, blah. Stop doubting and get on board, ‘cuz this train of empowerment is leaving the station!”

I had it in mind that if we stuck to the carriage roads that led around Jordan Pond and Bubble Pond that we would be just fine, since there is no really rough footing. I conveniently blocked out the fact that there are miles of stretches on those roads that are graded uphill. In retrospect I remember years ago being on those same paths riding bikes with my husband and yelling at him, “This. Is. So. Not. Fun.” He would yell back at me to get off the bike and walk. I would respond, “Then what is the &%# point of the bikes?” This exchange happened more than once if memory serves.

So the boys started out like champs running down the paths, finding perfect hiking sticks, skipping and hopping and chasing each other. But things got sketchy fast. So out came the snacks.

You know the carrot and the stick? Well we have cheddar bunnies, and they worked for a little while before even that got old. They wanted to be up. They wanted to be down. They wanted to ride on our shoulders.
We finally realized that they were just plain tired and needed to be forced into a napping position. So they got strapped in with just a wee bit of fussing, and in about 10 minutes they were out like lights.

So I can say with all honesty that the last three miles were a perfectly enjoyable experience.

But here is the truth of the matter: when you take chances with your kids, you are going to have those moments when you wonder if today’s misery will trump even your worst-case scenarios. You are three miles in and you know you have no choice but to keep going forward because it is just as long to go back. The great part is you almost always emerge with some rib-tickling stories in those circumstances. I still laugh out loud when I think of the faces on a couple of hikers witnessing the four-alarm meltdown that occurred when we forced the kids into their seats. I hope they got a laugh out of the situation, but their faces registered more pity and confusion than humor.

And here is the other truth: you never know what is waiting for you at the end. We arrived at Bubble Pond with weary legs and a picnic lunch. The boys woke up, we ate, and then we all enjoyed a perfect lazy afternoon chasing minnows and catching frogs next to the pond.

The meltdowns fade, but this remains.

 

20 Aug

How I Got My Hike Back On (or, buck up and put the baby on your back!)

I vividly remember the last hike that my husband and I did before our twin sons were born. I was about 3 months pregnant and blissfully ignorant of the fact that I was carrying two babies instead of one. I was desperately trying to be one of those pregnant warriors who pursue activities like spelunking right up until they feel the first pangs of labor and rush off to the hospital only to emerge the next day ready for a good rafting adventure.

So anyway, we did a nice six-mile hike up to Apple Pie Hill, in the Pinelands of South Jersey. It was a beautiful fall day, crisp and warm with perfect cool breezes that came at just the right moments. We spent a good deal of time that day talking about how we would still do these things with a baby: just strap ’em on the back and change diapers on a bed of leaves. It would be just as much fun, but with a dash of baby-magic thrown in. Cue pre-parental sigh.

After that day, things went downhill quickly in the activity department. A couple of months more into my twin pregnancy and I could barely make it up the stairs, much less embark on any kind of hike. And then the boys were born and activities just sort of became complicated. While we were brave enough to travel quite a bit, for some reason we shied away from any serious hiking. We found different things to do when we visited the Blue Ridge Mountains. We took a shuttle up to the wolf preserve at Lakota. We picnicked at the Delaware Water Gap instead of hiking up to High Point.

So while we have had many amazing experiences with the boys this summer, the most significant ones for me were all the times that we strapped the boys into our hiking backpacks and hit the trails. Acadia encouraged us to do this. It is one of our favorite places on the planet, and there was just no way that I was going to experience it from a car. Or from a crowded vista looking out at Thunder Hole. I wanted the real Acadia experience. I wanted to hike.

So the first hike we did in Acadia was the Great Head Trail, right off of Sand Beach. This trail is listed as ‘moderate’ and it definitely is full of rock scrambles and uneasy footings. At the risk of slipping onto the corny side of ebullient, it was the perfect thing for us to do on our first day in Acadia. My husband and I both felt so empowered and joyful at the end of that hike and I know why. We had just done something that we use to do all the time before we had kids. And it was just as much fun. But even more so. Because there was a little bit of baby-magic thrown in.

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18 Aug

Our First Time Camping Near Acadia

Bar Harbor, Maine

There are over 450 KOA’s  in North American and the Lively Little Campers have stayed in seven of them.  The Bar Harbor/Oceanside KOA was our favorite of the seven.  During the first leg of our trip in Vermont we had to ask for our money back at a KOA before we even opened the camper because our site was so tiny.  During the second leg of our trip in Maine we stayed at a world class state park and we had the largest individual sites that I have ever seen.The difference between these two experiences sparked much debate around the campfire about the pros and cons of private campgrounds vs. state parks.  I stood up for the merits of KOA’s and other private campgrounds while my wife insisted that state parks were best.  She loves the beauty and privacy of a state park while I like my camping amenities.But this place was delightful from beginning to end.  It combined the best elements of a state park and a private campground.  It was naturally beautiful and had great activities and great amenities (but alas, no pool).  When we started setting up both of our pop-ups my fellow dad-camper declared, “this place is going to be special.”  He was sooo right.
There were ocean views from many parts of the campground including our two sites.  When I booked the trip back in March there were waterfront sites available with even better views–but I chose a spot one row away from the big drink.  We still had great views and I wasn’t stressed about having to fish one, or both, of the campers out of the water. Though we did have a little “accident” involving a camper’s forehead and a slippery rock. A minor injury or two seems to be part of the camping experience for our boys.  Max and Theo are perfectly capable of getting injured in a padded room.
The view from our “bedroom.”
This KOA was also very kid friendly.  The boys were able to scoot around all over the place with zero to no traffic in site.  Our after-dinner walks while the boys perfected their scooting skills were relaxing and peaceful–and the boys gained many fans along the way.   I personally love a campground that serves as its own attraction.  At the end of each day, after taking in the breathtaking beauty of Acadia, we didn’t have to leave it all behind–the campground served up its own healthy dose of picturesque views.
Many of the other campers with older kids had brought Kayaks and were launching them from right in front of their sites.  Other hardy souls were swimming right next to their sites and then warming up around their campfires.  Watching these campers really gave me some inspiration for future trips with a campsite right on the water and a kayak in the back of my pick-up.
After the boys went to bed one night we ordered fresh lobsters from a stand right on the campground and set up a candlelight dinner with our own music at an empty picnic table right on the water.  We had a delicious meal with a world class view while our boys slept safely about ten yards away.  That right there is why we love camping with kids so darn much.  We have fun with them all day, and then we kick back in full adult splendor at night without having to pay for a babysitter.
This campground even had its own little coffee shop and, on occasion, live acoustic music.  There was one miscommunication apparently, when the singer was playing at 8 in the morning instead of 8 in the evening like the flier had advertised. He didn’t draw much of an audience in the morning hours. But on another evening I had a tasty mocha while listening to some Simon and Garfunkel and Van Morrison.  About 15 to 20 other campers were also gathered around the singer and sipping their beverages.
The staff at this place was also super friendly and helpful.  We received great local wisdom from them all week long and they treated our kids like gold.  Max and Theo loved the free train ride around the campground.  The rest of us loved the super clean bathrooms and showers.
On their website this KOA brags that “sunsets are our speciality.”  Those campers weren’t kidding.  Check out these photos from our stay.  All of them were shot about 20 to 30 feet away from our campsite.
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The sunsets were magical and memorable.  But the pie was even more delicious.  Twice during our stay a local couple drove their station wagon filled with handmade pies through the campground.  We purchased the strawberry rhubarb on both of these nights and ate every last crumb from those tins.
Everything about our stay at the Bar Harbor/Oceanside KOA was perfect but the price.  Our campsite was about 80 bucks a night and those delicious pies were about fifteen bucks apiece.  But while the price wasn’t perfect, you might ask, was it fair? Absolutely.  I am already saving my pennies for a return trip.  Furthermore, if that station wagon filled with pies drove down my street right now I would buy two of them.
And I wouldn’t tell anyone else that I did.