Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Weekend in Maine

On labor day weekend Maggie & I decided to take a Saturday & Sunday tour from Portland to Wells, Maine. It was a surprisingly simple bike trip that we could easily do without driving.

Happily, the Amtrak Downeaster train from Boston to Portland takes bikes! With a some campground research and train tickets purchased we were ready to go.

Saturday morning we loaded our luggage onto the bikes and headed to North Station. Catching the 8:50 am train to Portland meant riding into town while traffic was pretty light. Once we picked up our reserved tickets (you need to reserve a bike spot too) we tried to find out where we would put our bikes, which the station attendants didn't seem to know. So we proceeded onto the platform with our bikes. Before we passed the first car the conductor approached us, resolving the obvious question, and directed us to the baggage car immediately next to us. He helped us get our well laden bikes into the car and let us put our bikes in the racks. We unloaded some items for the two hour ride and left our bikes in good care.

I quite enjoy train rides, so getting to Portland was half the fun. Maggie knitted while I read and watched the scenery pass by. We had time for tea and our second breakfast. Train rides are always over too soon, and left the train to get our bikes at the baggage car. This proved a little more difficult since the platform is low, near track level, and the conductor had to carefully lower our loaded bikes to us. (The platforms are high in Boston, so there was only a slight lift up into the baggage car).

With bikes packed in Portland, we headed on our trip south along Cape Elizabeth and on to our campsite near Old Orchard Beach. Here is a little map of our trip with a number of key points along the way:

View Southern Maine Trip in a larger map

Saturday is in green; pan south to see Sunday in purple.

The first part is along a bicycle path beside a busy road. The path & road follow the southern edge of Portland around to the Casco Bay Bridge. Unfortunately, the path ends abruptly at the bottom of a hill just past Danforth St. This left us to intimately cope with a strange, busy street, and then bike back up the rather steep on ramp to the bridge. If I make this trip again, I will take the path at Danforth St., keeping me further away from the busy street and avoiding the short climb back up to the bridge.

Once on the bridge there is a nice large bike lane with very fast traffic. The ride would have felt much more comfortable if there was a curb between the bike lane and the traffic. At the bottom of the bridge we met up with the South Portland Greenbelt. This is a very nice path for cycling but took a little effort to find (the entrance is on the opposite corner once you get to the bottom of the bridge).

After winding along the greenway, we rode through a nice neighborhood before finding our way on to Shore Rd. and out to Portland Head Light. We found a pleasant space by the light to eat lunch.

We continued along Shore Rd. circling around Cape Elizabeth. The traffic is a bit busy at times, but all-in-all quite comfortable. I would avoid more of Route 77 next time because of the traffic, but it did have a wide shoulder.

The highlight of the afternoon was the Eastern Trail, which takes you out across the Scarborough River. The trail is quite nice, hopefully some day soon it will connect to the South Portland Greenbelt.

The trail continues on, but we had to take a left here towards the Bayley's Camping Resort. We have never camped at a resort before. The accommodations were nice, but I'm not sure a tent site and showers is worth $50/night. Admittedly, there was live music till 10pm, but not everyone finds that a plus after a full day cycling. There are some less expensive campgrounds south Saco (shown on the map above), but Old Orchard made the best mid-way stop for the night.

For dinner we cycled out to Pine Point to the Rising Tide Restaurant, at a coworker's well founded recommendation. The lobster stew was great!

Morning is time for breakfast

and packing up the tent.

Then we were on our way. We continued into Old Orchard Beach. I had many friends try to steer us away from Old Orchard, but I think I like the kitsch, and may have to come back next summer for a short weekend trip to check out the pier.

We proceeded down the coast towards Camp Ellis, a quaint little seashore community at the mouth of the Saco River. It sure would have been nice if there was a ferry across the river here. The nearest bridge was in Biddeford, 5 miles upstream along some busy roads.

Once south of the Saco River we took an inland route to Kennebunkport through a more rural countryside.

Kennebunkport was amazingly busy. The most congested roadways outside of a major city. We stopped for a short lunch, watched people in the town, and continued on our way. It was about 2pm and we planned to catch the 3:22pm train, so we focused on our destination in Wells. We arrived with about thirty minutes to spare and proceeded to wonder how we get our bikes onto the train.

There wasn't any station attendant to ask, so we figured the conductor would help us once the train arrived. This plan seems to work pretty well. The conductor opens the train doors at the high level half of the platform and we waited for everyone to get on & off the train. The conductor then directed us to bring the bikes onto the coach car and into a vacant handicap space instead of the baggage car, which wasn't open.

With a strap we were able to keep our bikes from shifting during the ride, and we proceeded to find a couple seats and fell asleep for the ride home.

Amtrak Schedule & Tickets:
Remember to get tickets for your bikes too.

Things I would do differently next time:
  • Take Danforth St. in Portland to the Casco Bay Bridge
  • Avoid much of Route 77 on Cape Elizabeth
  • Ride the full length of the Eastern Trail
  • Continue the first day south of the Saco to camp at more modest accommodations
  • Spend more time on Sunday cycling in the area north of Kennebunkport
  • Find another route to the Wells Station, Route 9 is very busy, maybe Burnt Mill Rd. or Cole Mills Rd. would be better.

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