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Down the Road

Hiking Acadia National Park from the buses
By Milt Gross
Jun 10, 2012 - 12:50:11 AM

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Hiking in Acadia National Park these days offers a special attraction, not needing to hike back down that same trail to where you left your car.

The approximately 150 miles of trails are as varied and scenic as ever, and the Island Explorer* buses allow circle hikes. Up one trail and down another.

Not yet succumbing to GPS except to find corridor-boundary markers and recording their GPS settings along the Appalachian Trail (150 miles north of Acadia) as a Maine Appalachian Trail Club volunteer, I recommend a map that shows Acadia National Park's trails.

Maps, remember them? You can look at one without worrying about whether your battery has run down. Some are made of water-resistant magic paper, so if they get wet -- wet? in Maine? -- yeah, wet, you can still read them. As useful as the buses are, they don't make good maps. You can get the free one at the Hulls Cove Visitor Center or from the park's information building at Bar Harbor's Village Green.

The Island Explorer buses, free to ride, use the Village Green as their main starting point.

Or, you can buy a map, such as the one in front of me as I write this -- so my fingers won't get lost on our new iMac's speedy, wireless keyboard. My ancient fingers aren't used to all this speed, so they make missteps from time to time...so "time" can become "yo,r." (If you see that, you know it's supposed to be "time.") The map on my lap now is one I bought several years ago, is published by Map Adventures LLC, and if you become turned around trying to find one, go to www.mapadventures.com. I think I bought mine at the Acadia National Park information building.

The free ANP maps, this one, and others cover all the hiking trails and carriage roads, which make for easier walking on their just under 50 miles. The carriage roads also make for nice -- at places nice and steep -- bicycling routes. (No motor vehicles permitted.)

A typical bus-to-bus trail trip rises steeply from Bubble Pond to within a half-mile of Cadillac's 1,530-foot-high summit to meet the South Ridge Trail. The Jordan Pond bus will drop you at the Bubble Pond parking lot near the center of Acadia. From there walk toward the pond, not hard to find since it is visible from the parking lot, and at the pond turn left.

In 100 feet or so, you'll come face to face with the .9-mile West Face Trail, which rises steeply -- actually steeper than that, if you want to be fussy about accuracy. Two of my climbs on that trail will never exit my sagging soft-drive memory, one up and one down.

On the uphill climb, I took out my aluminum canteen (which should give you some idea of how long ago this happened -- I can't remember), took a swig, and accidentally dropped it. A memorable few seconds passed as I listened to it bouncing and banging its way down the steep -- steeper than that -- west face of Cadillac.

On the downhill descent, which word I'm using because I can't think of a worse word, except "fall" which I did, I had been at it for hours and dusk was approaching as I neared the bottom where I looked forward to being on the north shore of Bubble Pond. Becoming careless, as tired hikers tend to do, I was kind of half-stepping, half-clambering (there's a difference) down a small cliff just above the pond.

When my heel missed a narrow ledge and my elbow didn't.

I could have gone to the doctor to learn that I'd hurt my elbow. I didn't, and the pain only lasted about five years. And is still a bit tender when I lean too hard on it while driving or reading or typing this column.

Another memory takes me from that West Face Trail's intersection near the summit. That day I went to the top, so the tourists, dressed in their finest tourism shorts, skirts or slacks, and shoes -- sometimes high heels, who had just driven up Cadillac could look at this smelly critter that emerged from yonder forest. (Of course, they didn't know it was a forest, since the entire summit and a good part of the trails leading to it are above tree line.)

Having achieved that method of being a tourist detraction, I headed back down the steep trail to my Subaru at Bubble Pond. On another day, I walked up the entire 3.5 miles of South Ridge Trail from Route 3 and back down that same trail to Sally Subaru parked along Route 3.

But you can do it a lot easier. You can get off the bus at Bubble Pond, clamber and puff up the West Face Trail and turn right on the South Ridge Trail and trek on down the remaining three miles to Route 3, about 100 yards south of Blackwoods Campground.

Cadillac Mountain, the higher peak to the right with Dorr Mountain to the left of it is the center of the picture, as seen from the Park Loop Road in Acadia National Park. Milt Gross photo.

I mention the campground, because the Sand Beach Bus goes there after driving the Park Loop Road past Sand Beach and Otter Cliffs. You can wave down that bus -- as you can any Island Explorer bus -- as it turns into the campground or emerges from it, and ride in comfort back to the Village Green.

From the Green, you can either find where you left your car in the crowded downtown section of Bar Harbor, hoping you didn't get a parking ticket, and drive on back to your motel or campground. Or, you can ride another bus back to that motel or campground, where your car remains where you had left it for the day when you caught a bus to the Village Green.

That's the easy way.

The long southern part of Cadillac mountain, which the 3.5-mile South Ridge Trail follows from Route 3 to the summit. This spring photo shows snow atop Cadillac. Milt Gross photo.

My way back down the 3.5-mile South Ridge Trail involved pain. That day I'd worn my old boots, which were actually leather hunting boots with very hard soles, but had forgotten the spongy inserts I usually wore to cushion those hard, hard soles. My feet hurt so much I may have shed some tears of pain during that 3.5 miles, certainly not tears of joy.

From Route 3, I drove straight to Ellsworth and bought a new pair of hiking boots, which, by golly, had very cushioned insoles.**

Speaking of pain, the buses can make your hike a lot easier but they don't make you any smarter. I recall several ladies during my Island Explorer driving trips, who asked me the shortest trail up Cadillac. I glanced at their feet, noted sandals, and replied that there wasn't any "shortest" trail up Cadillac. You need real shoes, non-slip soles, and sturdy enough so your feet will later thank you for your thoughtfulness.

Besides footwear, the buses don't make you smart enough to not wander off the trails, as a lot of Acadia's woodsy lands are near cliffs which are typically above bogs. Staying on the trails helps you in your smartness avoid falls into such unpleasant vacation spots.

Now days, if you get turned around because you held your map or GPS upside down, you can sit on a rock and reach for your cell phone to dial 911. That call will end with a ranger telling you where you are, if you tell the ranger where you got off the bus and which mountain you climbed and which way you turned on that darned trail on which you're lost.

Or, you can ask a passing hiker. Just don't ask a guy like I was the day at the Boston Common when a driver asked which way was a certain tourist attraction. Having no idea, I pointed vaguely west. Another guy pointed definitely east.

"Go where he says," I told the lost driver.

Another temptation that beckons weary hikers is the sound of traffic. There are few trails in the park more than a mile from a road. But if you hear traffic below, don't -- do not, don't -- head toward it to save time. You will likely end at at the bottom of one of those cliffs and in one of those bogs, adding to a ranger or rescue crew's time looking for you.

Stay on that trail and get on down to the bus stop.

One evening at the Sieur de Monts bus stop as I was shifting my Island Explorer bus into gear to head the ten minutes back to the Village Green, a motion caught my eye. A couple came basically staggering out the path and fell onto the bus steps, then gasping wearily but happily, climbed aboard.

They announced that I had saved their lives, since they had become "turned around," which is how you become lost in Maine, and thought they wouldn't survive a night in yonder darkening forest.

They were so thankful they offered me, which I took being fairly well starved myself due to driving some hours, a muffin. It turned out she had baked the muffins before they had left Boston or New Jersey or somewhere.

They were so thankful the couple said they would phone me the next summer and Dolores, I, and they would all go hiking happily together.

They haven't called yet.

Oh, and I forgot to tell them, since they were so thankful for having been rescued from a dark night in Acadia's woods, there was a pay phone alongside the road opposite where my bus had been parked.

No use ruining a good wilderness survival tale.

* To find information about the free Island Explorer buses, go to www.exploreacadia.com. The propane-powered buses are virtually pollution free and carry some 300,000 passengers throughout Acadia National Park and Mount Desert Island each summer. I once read a newspaper article, which stated that if the vehicles belonging to all the Island Explorer passengers were lined up, the line would reach Chicago. Once a New York City family asked me why the line didn't go to New York instead of Chicago. "Because New York already has too many lines of cars. There's no room for another line," I replied.

** Contrary to "expert" hiker practice, Dolores and I in our "maturing" years wear comfortable hiking shoes for those trails, which not only have cushioned insoles but don't cling tightly and sometimes painfully to our ankles. These days our hikes are day hikes, and we're not toting 50-pound packs, just a little water, and cereal bars. Our nice, light digital camera that replaced our old Minolta and Pentax film beasties and takes better photos, generally is in one of our pockets. So, those nice, light hiking shoes are just what we need for a comfortable walk or hike, if we keep at it beyond the point where a walk becomes a hike.

Milt Gross can be reached for corrections, harassment, or other purposes at lesstraveledway@midmaine.com.

Milton M. Gross Copyright 2012

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