Winter in Maine

Ten activities to get me out of the house this winter.

A few weekends ago we were surprised with unseasonably warm temperatures. We jumped on the opportunity to enjoy dinner alfresco with friends. It was beautiful and all the sweeter because we know those days are numbered.

Winter is coming and with the pandemic’s second wave in full force, it’s inevitable that there will be less opportunity to go out. The problem is that I live in Maine. When winter arrives it will bring snow, ice and incredibly cold temperatures.

Where does that leave us during a pandemic?

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Three Days Exploring the Moosehead Lake Region of Maine

While we were supposed to be in Scotland in September, COVID had other ideas and instead we planned a last minute staycation. It does help to live in Vacationland during a pandemic.

For this trip we decided to head to central Maine and spend a few days near Moosehead Lake before heading towards Mt. Katahdin and Baxter State Park. It’s an area we don’t explore as often as the coast since it’s further away for us but our revamped vacation plans meant it was the perfect time to explore the North Woods of Maine.

Day 1

We arrived in Greenville Maine on an atypically cool August day with strong winds dropping the temps even lower. We had taken our time driving up and stopped often along the way including a visit to Turning Page Farm Brewery in Monson . My husband and I enjoyed a summer session and brown ale respectively while relaxing at one of the picnic tables in their beer garden. We  enjoyed watching their playful herd of goats while eating a couple of bratwursts along with our craft beers.

We arrived in downtown Greenville in the late afternoon and checked into our suite at the Dockside Inn and Tavern. The accommodations were gorgeous with plenty of space to spread out and relax. Since the weather wasn’t cooperating, we opted to get take out from the nearby restaurant, Flatlanders,  bringing the fried chicken and fresh cut friends back to our suite.  We enjoyed a relaxing evening watching movies in the cozy living room and resting up for our more adventurous plans for the next day.

Day 2

After a quick breakfast in the room, we headed out to Lily Bay State Park for our first hike. Their shoreline trail which goes between the beach and the campground is about 2 miles each way. It’s a relatively flat and easy path getting a little more root infested as you approach the campground but still manageable. The trail hugs the Moosehead Lake shoreline although inland a little so in most parts you’re only getting small glimpses. There were plenty of opportunities to get closer to the water’s edge by following the various offshoot paths from the trail.

After our successful morning hike, we headed to lunch at Stress Free Moose Pub & Cafe located on Pritham Ave just a short distance from our hotel. The wind had finally died down a bit and the weather warmer, so we were able to  enjoy a delicious lunch on their upper outside deck. I started with a cup of their clam chowder. It was a thin style chowder which I actually prefer. It was delicious. Knowing we’d be doing more active pursuits later in the day, I went with something lighter for my meal and enjoyed their spinach, walnut, strawberry, mozzarella and chicken salad. My husband got the smoked trout plate. Both meals were excellent.

We had a few hours before our Moose Safari which we had booked the previous day at Northwoods Outfitters Moosehead Lake so my husband napped while I did a little more shopping in downtown Greenville. After our brief break, we regrouped and grabbed an ice cream from The Dairy Bar and headed to Northwoods Outfitters to meet our guide.

Our Guide, Steve, introduced himself and gave us the rundown on the plan for the trip. Because of COVID, all  tours were private so it was just the three of us. We masked up and headed into the van. Steve drove up Lilly Bay Road crossing onto gravel roads when we hit paper company territory. The tour started at 3:30 pm which is a little early to spot moose as they typically don’t come out to eat until dusk but Steve expertly navigated the unmarked roads checking out various known Moose spots.

Having no luck on our initial pass, we headed to a remote pond and a waiting canoe. My husband and our guide were the paddlers while I sat in the middle, camera in hand. We explored the beautiful, wild lake as we waited for the sun to set. After circle around on of the islands, in a small, shallow cove my husband spotted our first moose. She was snacking along the shoreline and the guide was able to quietly navigate us in for a closer look. She was mildly interested in us but for the most part wrote us off as no threat and continued to eat her dinner. We watched her for a while before paddling back to the launch spot and returning to our vehicle for the ride home.

The sun was setting so as we headed out, and passed the spots we had visited earlier, we had more luck seeing additional moose grazing by the forests edge. First another female, then a mother daughter pair and lastly a small young buck snacking on the salt left behind from the winter snow plows. 

In the end it was a successful moose safari and a wonderful opportunity to really take in Maine in all her remote beauty. 

That night, a friend had posted on Facebook that a Moose ran across the road in front of her as she was driving home. You don’t necessarily need to search out moose in Maine but it’s certainly nice to see them relaxing by the side of the pond rather then jumping in front of your moving vehicle.

We made it back to the hotel just before 8 and ordered takeout from the Dockside Inn and Restaurant which we enjoyed back in the room. Exhausted but happy.

Day 3

Before heading to our next stop near Baxter State Park, we had one final day in the Moosehead lake area. We grabbed lunch at Kelly’s Landing on their outside deck overlooking the lake. It was a beautiful spot with delicious food. I especially enjoyed my chicken Alfredo flatbread. It was a brief stop though as we had tickets for the 12:30 pm Katahdin Cruise on Moosehead Lake.

Fortunately, it was a quick drive to the dock and we arrived at the departure location in plenty of time. With COVID, boarding was more structured. They called us onto the boat by passenger groups one at a time allowing ample space between everyone. Seating was outside and we got a spot along the side of the upper deck. It was breezy but beautiful and we enjoyed the leisurely three hour cruise with incredible views of the lake and surrounding landscape.

While sad that we didn’t get to go to Scotland this year, it was a lot of fun to explore some of the more remote regions of Maine. It really is a stunningly beautiful area and it gave us an opportunity to reconnect with nature.

Next stop, Baxter State Park and the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument. But, that’s a post for another day.

Have you taken any staycations this year?

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A sad goodbye to Goecco. You were one of the best!

The best travel tour I ever took doesn’t exist anymore. All that is left are the memories of one spectacular two day adventure that I’ll never be able to duplicate. I should be happy that I still have the photos to fill in the spaces as my memory fades but today I’m sad.

We are scheduled to go to Scotland this coming August but with the continued uptick in positive COVID-19 cases and delayed re-opening of the entire world, it is becoming less likely that we will be able to go on our planned vacation. While I’ve spent months meticulously planning every moment of our trip, at least for now, the itinerary will remain untested. Probably. I’m still holding out hope that with a negative COVID-19 test in hand, we might still be able to go.

But, practicality is taking over and I’ve started looking at alternatives. Maybe an elaborate staycation exploring those more remote areas of Maine that we can’t easily get to during day trips or long weekends. It’s on the list of possibilities. Or, maybe a quarantine friendly destination, if any really exist. A remote island perhaps?  I’m not typically a beach girl but I can adapt.

As I researched alternative options, I came across a random search result that Iceland is allowing travelers into the country as long as they get tested for COVID-19 upon arrival. Right now, entry is limited to EEA and EFTA countries although they will be issuing new guidelines on July 1 and potentially expanding entry to other countries. With the United State’s current spike, we may be barred from that expansion list but maybe we’ll make the nice list.

Obviously, the current pandemic leaves our plans in flux and we won’t be able to make a final decision until much closer to our actual departure date. As part of my Plan B research, I decided to see what my favorite tour company might be offering for late summer adventures in Iceland. My previous trip to Iceland had been in January. I’d love to see Iceland during the summer although I’d go back in January too. It was spectacular.

I did a quick google search for Goecco. The usual SEO heavy hitters, TripAdvisor and LinkedIn, rose to the top but no website. Hmm. Maybe they re-branded. It has been five years since my previous visit.

More internet searching only uncovered a domain name for sale and broken links on every reference or article I could find posted by happy bloggers and travel review sites.  A few of the later TripAdvisor reviews indicated last minute cancellations and a possible bankruptcy. I know I shouldn’t be surprised. Businesses fail all the time. They fade away. But, I wasn’t ready for this tour to be a memory. I was ready to schedule my next adventure.

Instead, my memories will have to be enough.

Here is the memory that will stay with me forever. After landing in Iceland, we headed to the bus station to wait for the Goecco jeep to pick us up. There is always that moment of fear that no matter how well planned something will go wrong and we’ll be stranded: no tour, no hotel, no place to go. Abandoned in a tiny bus station in a foreign city where it’s too early for anything but the coffee shop to be open.

Fortunately, the jeep eventually showed up. With some difficulty, our luggage was loaded up into the storage containers strapped to the roof and we were ready to meet our fellow passengers. We spent the day driving south exploring ice caves and black beaches, climbing up to frozen waterfalls and visiting with Icelandic horses.

After a full day, we arrived at base camp. The simple white, two-story building seemed so small sitting quietly in front of the snow covered mountains and rugged landscape beyond but somehow it fit perfectly in that space.  It was an old camp that the tour company had bought and converted into accommodations for their tour guests. There were no other guests. It was just us. After dragging our luggage up the narrow staircase and settling into our room, we grabbed our wine and headed to the common area.

The tour guides were preparing a traditional Icelandic meal for us in the kitchen and the long family style dining table was set and ready for conversation. The wine allowed me to be more adventurous with food than usual. I confidently swallowed the gelatinous sheep’s head that was offered as an appetizer letting it slide down my throat without having to actually taste it. I opted not to try the fermented shark. There isn’t enough wine for that.

We all pitched in on the cleanup. There was ping-pong, more wine and lots of conversation. We stayed up way too late. Drank too much. Laughed a lot. One of the guides sang us an Icelandic drinking song that sounded suspiciously like “She’ll Be Coming ‘Round the Mountain'”.

We felt like we were visiting friends and not as if we were on the first day of a random tour with strangers.

I think it is impossible to know in the middle of a moment the significance it will have in your life. Some moments that you think you’ll never forget do eventually fade or get relegated to just a footnote. Others that seem insignificant never actually leave you and some just make you smile when you think of them even years after they happen. This tour was one of the latter. It always makes me smile when I think about it.

RIP Goecco. Vagabond Tours, please don’t go. I have happy memories of my time in Ireland with you too. But, that’s a story for another day.

Do you have a favorite tour or travel adventure?

 

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An infographic on spending a fun filled socially distanced weekend in Maine.

During my first year of blogging, I created an infographic that highlighted how to spend a perfect weekend in Portland, Maine.  Now that we’re all staying home and access to public spaces is more limited due to the pandemic, I thought it would be fun to create a new infographic focused on how to spend a perfect socially distanced weekend in Maine.

Even if we can’t currently visit our local restaurants, breweries, museums, shops and all the other amazing places that Maine has to offer there are still many ways to support our local businesses while practicing social distancing and having a great time.

The links to all of the sites mentioned in the infographic are listed at the bottom of the blog post. Wishing everyone a fun filled virtual weekend!

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Summer hiking is finally here as we head up to Carabasset Valley.

I’ll admit it. The mosquitoes win. They may be small but they are relentless. It’s the reason we rarely hike during the spring. It’s just not worth it.

No matter how many layers of all natural insect repellent I put on, it’s just never enough. I know something more high-test with deet might do a better job but I’m not a fan so instead we mostly avoid the woods during these months. But now that summer is here, we’re heading out to the trails again which is a good thing. I did not move nearly enough this winter and am excited to get back into our hiking routine.

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