What do you think of when you think of Maine? I have always thought of lobster rolls and sailboats, coastal fog and thick-bearded lumbermen and the spruce-firs that line the Appalachian Trail as it snakes towards its northern terminus at Katahdin. My visits to the state over the years have confirmed this impression: Maine is a Vacationland par excellence.
So when the opportunity to spend a few days exploring coastal Maine arose, I jumped at it. After attending a wedding in Camden with my friend, Kate, and my dog, Romulus, we headed northeast along the coast to Acadia National Park where we began our 5-day odyssey. We slept at the Seawall Campground on the southwest corner of Mount Desert Island—known as the “quiet side” of Acadia—right down the road from the famous Bass Harbor Lighthouse. There were wild blueberries and vistas of rocky outcrops galore. We stood atop Cadillac Mountain and lunched at Jordan Pond House alongside families beset with squealing kids who cried out for popovers and blueberry crisps. Each day we watched the sun rise and set from a new vantage point along the Atlantic—Bass Harbor, Schooner Head, Thunder Hole. When we were not welcoming the day or biding it farewell, we lazed around Bar Harbor enjoying slow, idle hours sipping coffee while basking under the midday sun. This was summer done right.
After Acadia we drove two hours north to a slice of protected wilderness area known as the Cutler Coast Public Reserved Land, which nearly straddles Maine’s border with New Brunswick. This part of the state is known as the Bold Coast. When we passed through Cutler, a small fishing town socked in by a heavy, grey fog, lobstermen were pulling traps off of boats with the names of women important to them and unknown to the rest of us painted across their sterns. We began our hike late that afternoon, hurrying through a downpour to reach our campsite by dusk. Upon arriving, we were informed by fellow backpackers that they had not been able to see more than 30 feet in front of them all day due to the fog—an ominous start to our overnight. But the weather lifted ten minutes after our arrival, a rainbow appeared as the sun dipped low on the horizon, and I swore my fealty to Maine forever.
I had never camped in Maine during the height of summer, a period of time that Mainers casually refer to as “black fly season.” I had heard about the flies and the mosquitoes and the ticks, of course, but I swatted away the forewarning offered by friends just as I had swatted away countless pesky bugs over the years. Been there, done that, I thought. Bring it on.
When the bugs arrived, bring it on felt like the most foolhardy thought that had ever crossed my mind. Hordes of mosquitoes, as thick and furious as Mongols raiding the Asian steppes, descended on the Cutler Coast at dusk. It happened in an instant. One moment we were perched on some rocks cooking dinner, the next we were throwing everything—uneaten Mountain House meals, a still-assembled JetBoil stove, and a beleaguered dog with bugs in his eyes—into the tent. In the span of the seven seconds it took for us to unzip the tent doors and fling our bodies inside, fifty mosquitoes accompanied us. I made a reference to Joseph Conrad’s Congo. Kate said something about the Amazon. We conjured up every dark corner of the world where pestilence was a common occurrence and proceeded to methodically kill every last mosquito before collapsing in an exhausted stupor.
The following day dawned as new days sometimes do—brilliant and beautiful and calm with a horizon bathed in oranges and reds. Incidents of the previous evening were forgiven if not entirely forgotten. The voices of lobstermen carried over the water and a foghorn cried out in the distance as we packed up and began the 6-mile hike out on the Cutler Coast Trail. I was covered in mosquito bites. Considerable real estate on my lower legs and shoulders was blotchy and red, the skin an uneven landscape of itchy bumps. I cursed the mosquitoes—nowhere to be found now—but knew they would soon become something of a welcome memory, something that would add color to the tableau of this outing on the coast of Maine, something that might just earn me bragging rights among friends jockeying for the best camping story of the summer.