Biking The Maine Coast: Comfy Inns, Lobstahs, Lighthouses, and “The Best Burgah in Maine.”
Leaving your car behind and traveling by bike is a wonderful (literally: “filled with wonder”) way to really experience an area. You cover fewer miles, but you see, hear, smell and feel so much more; your entire body gets involved. In early June, we did a 4-day, 3-night bike tour along Maine’s Mid-Coast coast on the fingers of land that jut down between Muscongas and Penobscot Bays. Travel tip: The lull between Memorial Day and July 4th is a quiet time for biking the Maine coast, especially mid-week, but this is a trip you could do any time from the first of May to the end of October (just expect more traffic in the summer).
We didn’t know this section of Mid-coast Maine at all, so we worked with Norm Patry of Summer Feet Cycling. Summer Feet offers a number of cycling tours along the Maine coast, everything from day tours of 5 lighthouses in Portland (with electric bikes, no less!) to fully supported week-long excursions, plus tours in Italy, Nova Scotia, and Quebec. We didn’t have the time to take one of their fully supported tours (though they sound like fun) and we didn’t really need any support for the short time we had. But Norm was more than willing to work with us to craft an itinerary that fit our schedule, budget and biking abilities. He guided us to the right routes and lodging in inns that understood the special needs of people traveling by bike. Norm booked the inns for us and provided good maps and extensive, very detailed route notes, which made finding our way easy. Staying at inns with restaurants nearby, covered storage for your bike and a BIG breakfast awaiting makes a bike tour much easier. Summer Feet Cycling’s insider knowledge, plus their maps and route notes made these places easy to find.
Biking The Maine Coast: Day 1, St. George-Port Clyde-Tenants Harbor Loop. Le Vatout B&B
Because we were touring before the “real” tourist season gets underway, we had to make some compromises. Before we began our bike tour, we drove (as much as possible via main roads, not the roads we would be biking) to Craignair Inn where we would spend our second night. This was necessary because, in early June, their restaurant is only open weekends, and there aren’t any other restaurants nearby. We were staying on a Monday night, the restaurant was closed, and we knew we wouldn’t want to do any more biking after our 30-mile ride to get there. Innkeepers Joanne and Michael O’Shea were very understanding, and they graciously allowed us to leave our food in their refrigerator to lighten our load as we pedaled.
While we were in the neighborhood, we decided to bike a 16-mile warmup loop from St. George down to Port Clyde. This loop is a regular part of the supported tours Summer Feet Cycling does in this area, so we didn’t want to miss it. It’s also part of Tour 29 in the excellent “Explore Maine By Bike” book published by Maine DOT. We’re slowly working our way through the described loops in that book and loving every minute of it.
Our ride took us down the west shore of the peninsula, past views of the St. George River into the village of Port Clyde. From there, we pedaled out to the Marshall Point Light at the entrance to Penobscot Bay and back along the east shore past Tenants Harbor. It was lovely warmup ride and a perfect reminder that 1) biking along the coast doesn’t mean you can always see the ocean, and 2) the hills along the coast of Maine may be small, but they still can be challenging on a bike!
That night we stayed at the Le Vatout B &B, which hides on a quiet side street in Waldoboro. What a wonderful find! Domenika and Linda, the owners of this quirky, homey, comfortable little B&B, became instant friends; we thoroughly enjoyed chatting with them, exploring their expansive gardens and the village of Waldoboro. Even this early in the season, their garden was a treat for the eyes and nose. The room was quiet, the bed was comfortable, and we had had just enough exercise to sleep very well indeed.
Biking The Maine Coast: Day 2, Waldoboro to Clark Island. Craignair Inn
We lingered over breakfast at Le Vatout, enjoying both good conversation and Domenika’s hearty (and healthy) gluten-free buckwheat pancakes with local maple syrup (the other option was local eggs and locally-baked bread). But with a full day of pedaling ahead, we loaded our Arkel Dolphin 32 Panniers onto our big, red Co-Motion Java tandem touring bike and pedaled off toward Clark Island. By main roads, it’s 20 miles. By the route we took it’s 30 miles without the recommended side trip to the Olson House made famous by Andrew Wyeth, which was closed. The lilacs and honeysuckle were in bloom, filling the air with perfume as we pedaled. Route finding was easy with Norm’s maps and notes. The roads were mostly quiet country lanes, and we didn’t see much traffic at all. But there’s no “flat” to be found here and the hills were occasionally challenging, which is part of the fun of biking.
We welcomed a late lunch stop in Thomaston, then pedaled past the Knox Museum (it was closed or we’d have stopped) on to the St. George Peninsula. We were, as usual, happy to see our destination, the Craignair Inn, where we spent some time with the innkeepers Joanne and Michael O’Shea and Mimi the “Jack-a-poo” (We immediately dubbed her “Miss Personality!”). The room was bright and comfortable with a sea view, and we had the entire place almost to ourselves. We spent most of the late afternoon out on the porch, where we watched the tide slowly roll in and out, and the lobster boats working out on Clark Cove as we felt our well-worked legs hum to us. That evening, still out on the porch, we ate the dinner we’d left at the inn the day before. Our legs were tired, our seats were a little sore, and we were really, really glad we didn’t have to bike miles to somewhere else for dinner.
Later that evening, we strolled a mile or so out onto the private Clark Island (open to inn guests) and imagined what it would be like to own that particular piece of paradise, complete with an old quarry for a swimming hole. All it would take is luck and a lot more money than we’ll ever possess, but at least we got to visit for a little while and dream. Once again, we slept long and well in a comfortable bed in a room where the only sounds we heard were seagulls and the ocean breeze.
Biking The Maine Coast: Day 3: Clark Island to Camden. Inns at Blackberry Common
The next morning, Michael (cheerful as always, it seems) fed us a grand “pedalers breakfast” (a big bowl of oatmeal for Marilyn, bacon and eggs for me) to power us through our morning ride. At breakfast, the only other guest at the inn told us this was his favorite hideaway and that the restaurant is exceptional. He strongly encouraged us to return when it’s open, and we’re pretty sure we are going to take that recommendation, probably in September.
We turned right out of Clark Island Road and followed the map and route notes toward Rockland. The distances aren’t long if you stick to the direct roads, but our route added several long loops to shore and sea views we probably never would have found on our own.
It was perfect day for riding, sunny with just enough breeze to cool us when we stopped. Purely by chance, we stopped for lunch (HUGE, juicy, griddle-cooked hamburgers) at the Owl’s Head General Store. The sign outside said it had been voted “Best Burger in Maine” and we can see why. Full again, we detoured out to Owl’s Head State Park, then coasted through Rockland and turned inland past a number of lovely ponds and finally pedaled into Camden from the west on some pleasant side street that paralleled busy Route 1. Again, Summer feet Cycling’s map and route notes found us interesting places we’d likely never have discovered on our own.
The Inns at Blackberry Common is a classic, in-town, elegant B&B (actually two side-by-side historic mansions converted to inns) a short walk from the village and a bunch of great restaurant options. Hosts Cyndi and Jim Ostrowski greeted us like old friends (he’s an avid cyclist and has done many long bike tours). Our room had the most amazing pressed tin ceiling we’ve ever seen (if you like such things, and we do . . .). Comfortable, welcoming, lovely . . .
We’d never spent any time in Camden. Our bad. Wonderful little town. We throughly enjoyed exploring its streets and water views with schooners passing by out in Penobscot Bay. Classic Maine Coast!
Biking The Maine Coast: Day 4: Camden to Waldoboro.
It had to happen. After three days of perfect cycling weather, we awoke to dark skies, fog, and light drizzle. And, of course, we were 20 miles from our car with no option but to bike it. The highlight of this morning was Jim’s breakfast, featuring all local ingredients, organic eggs and veggies. Heaven on a dank morning.
We think of heavy rain as inevitable on any bike tour we take. But, for once, the weather sort-of cooperated. There was heavy rain in the forecast for later that morning, and to try to beat it, we jumped on the bike and took the direct route back to Waldoboro along busy highways with wide, smooth shoulders. It was drizzling occasionally, not bad riding, but hardly scenic. Without the rain, we’d have taken a longer route inland on back roads.
Two hours later, we were back at Le Vatout, loading our bike onto the car. Ten minutes after that, it started POURING and it continued raining all the way home. We laughed a lot about that.
Biking is a multi-sensory experience. As you pedal you use your entire body and engage all your senses, not just your vision. You connect your essential self with the landscape you are traveling through and the people you meet far better than you can just whizzing by in a car with the windows rolled up, the air conditioner blasting and the radio filling your ears. On a bike, you feel the muscles in your legs, arms, and shoulders. You smell the roadside lilacs and honeysuckle, and the rich scent of a saltmarsh and a sea breeze. You hear the wind in the trees and the calls of redwing blackbirds, cardinals, seagulls and ospreys. And you see more because you are traveling at a pace that’s ideally suited to really seeing, not just glancing. You can “sort of” see the Maine Coast by car or by tour bus. But our advice is to do it by bicycle. Pick a small section of the coast and see it really well. It’s an experience you won’t forget.