On the last day of August, we completed 13 weeks of our yearlong adventure. And in Lubec, Maine, we turned the corner to head south along the eastern seaboard. It’s astonishing to me that we’re more than a quarter of the way along already; it feels like we’ve been careening across the northern US, every day full. We’ve experienced so much, and yet there have been so many hard choices to make—so many places we’ve had to choose to miss. It’s clear that a year is not going to be enough to do more than scratch the surface of this place!
August 17 – 25: Upstate New York
The further east we go, the less familiar we are with what’s going to be unique and interesting. So we’re asking people everywhere for recommendations. One night in the Black Hills of South Dakota, sitting around with David and Nicki from Aspen, their daughter, and couple bottles of Walla Walla’s finest, we got a directive not to miss New York’s Finger Lakes district. Why they call this upstate New York I don’t know, since it’s to the west, not really north of NYC. But in spite of that confusion, this is a lush area of rolling vineyards and farms between a handful of long skinny lakes, dotted with small towns and fine old Italianate and Federal style houses in varying states of repair.
At the south end of Seneca Lake is the very popular Watkins Glen Gorge—that translates to “very many people.” But it’s so spectacular you can overlook the crowd. Walking up steep paths and more than 800 steps carved into the gorge, you weave around and behind a staircase of waterfalls, ledges and pools that cascade through the shale, sandstone and limestone ravine.
Seneca Falls, at the north end of the lake, was the official birthplace of the women’s rights movement. At the Wesleyan Chapel in 1848, Elizabeth Cady Stanton read the Declaration of Rights of the Women of the United States. Now there’s a fine little monument commemorating the first Women’s Rights Convention, and the women and men behind the movement here in the heart of abolitionist country. (And when we asked how to find the falls, we learned that what we call a waterfall used to be called a cataract, and what we call rapids used to be called a waterfall. That’s why it’s not called Seneca Rapids.)
A few miles away in Auburn is the well-preserved home of one of my Civil War-era heroes: William Henry Seward. I’ve admired him for his principled stands on human rights—he was a staunch abolitionist and supporter of women’s rights—and his humble, gracious reaction to losing the 1860 presidential election to Lincoln. If you’ve read any Lincoln biography, and who hasn’t, you know that he turned around and joined Lincoln’s cabinet, becoming his best friend and greatest admirer. My favorite find in the house was the commemoration made of pressed flowers from Lincoln’s casket. Mary Lincoln had it made for Seward when he couldn’t be at Lincoln’s funeral (he was recovering from the assassination attempt by John Wilkes Booth’s co-conspirator). Gave me goosebumps.
Near Syracuse, just north of the Finger Lakes, we visited friends and biked the Erie Canal towpath, or what’s left of it—the romantic thing to do since Syracuse history is dominated by the canal. And on the spur of the moment we made one of those lucky, unplanned stops at a place we’d never heard of. Fort Stanwix played a minor but strategic role in both the French and Indian War and the Revolutionary War. I got all excited about it and wrote this Fort Stanwix blog!
August 26 – 28: Lake George in the Adirondacks, New York
Even if you’ve never spent time out east, you probably have a mental image of the upstate New York mountain resorts where for decades city people have fled for summer vacation, right? We had a few days at one of those, by Lake George in the Adirondacks (I won’t call them Mountains—they’re more like hills to us Northwesterners). It wasn’t dirty dancing, it was more of a camping resort. But it had the vibe: kids racing around on bikes and scooters, PA announcements on the horseshoes tournament, drinks at the pool bar, DJs running dance music at the rec hall every night. We had to leave so we could relax!
August 29 – September 1: Burlington, Vermont
The minute we crossed the New York/Vermont border, the towns got ever more picturesque. I think they should slogan this “the cute state.” Burlington sits on Lake Champlain and enjoys views west to the Adirondacks and east to Vermont’s Green Mountains. It feels like a cross between Bellingham, Washington (relaxed, green, multi-college town) and a European city (lively pedestrian street scene with outdoor bars for people watching). We cycled up the lake through town and along a causeway, built on chunky slabs of white Vermont marble, that curves for miles out across Lake Champlain to Grand Isle. Extremely cool, if you can ignore the headwind. And you’re allowed to reward yourself with a Maple Creemee (Vermontese for soft serve ice cream) when you’re finished.
September 2 – 4: Lincoln, New Hampshire
It’s a pretty short hop (and a pretty, short hop) from the Green Mountains of Vermont to the White Mountains of New Hampshire. These do feel more like mountains. We headed for Lincoln, and Franconia Notch State Park with some of the best biking and hiking we’ve done, including a stretch along the northern end of the Appalachian Trail. I’d give you the details but I hate to repeat myself—get Flume Gorge pictures and geology 101 in our Franconia Notch post here.
Taking advantage of the crystal clear days, we took the tramway up to the 4,080’ summit of Cannon Mountain. The highest point in New Hampshire that you can get to by lift, it’s a ski area in winter, with a 360º view across parts of four states and two countries (New Hampshire, Vermont, New York, Maine, and Canada).
September 5 – 16: the Maine coast
Continuing east, we crossed Maine quickly, as we’ve long looked forward to being on that coast. Lubec is one of our favorite towns now, the small Maine fishing hamlet that we pictured—lobster boats in the harbor, lighthouses in every direction, shuttered sardine factories, and a welcoming little tavern. We hiked along Fundy Bay’s wild, rocky headlands and beaches; this area is known for its 25’ tidal range, the highest in the world.
On Campobello Island in New Brunswick, across the bridge from Lubec, is one of the most stunning beacons: the East Quoddy Head. You can only walk across the rocks to the lighthouse a few hours a day at low tide. And, because we can’t help stopping at every presidential house we happen upon, we visited FDR’s old summer “cottage” (only the very wealthy would call it that) in an international park jointly run by the US and Canada.
The lighthouse at West Quoddy Head in Lubec marks the easternmost point in the US (at 44°48′54″N 66°57′1″W), and, outside of Washington, the northernmost spot we’ll get to on our trip. We enjoyed clear sunny days here and increasingly cool nights; it’s starting to feel like fall, so it’s a good time and place to turn south.
Meandering down the coast to Mount Desert Island, Bar Harbor is the un-Lubec. No doubt it was once the fishing village we imagined, but it’s now a cruise-destination tourist town. After about one beer, we avoided it as much as possible!
But Acadia National Park is worth it. Taking full advantage of a string of sunny days, we hiked above the jagged coastline, and cycled the interior network of carriage roads through the park. (I’ve had more to say on Acadia’s beauty and Rockefeller’s Teeth here!) Best of all, we managed to get up at 5 am one morning to get to the top of Cadillac Mountain, and (with a chattering handful of others) greet the very first rays of sun to touch the US. Sadly, no coffee for us afterwards, as we rushed out sans wallets.
Not yet having our fill of lobster or lighthouses, we headed to Pemaquid Point. There are 57 active lighthouses still in Maine, and more that are inactive. So we might have to come back. Hands down, one of the most stunning beacons is that at Pemaquid, with its dramatic, rocky setting. (If you’re reading this on your mobile device and you want to see a photo, you can switch to the online version of this Northeast blog—the photo is at the top!) An added bonus: there are forts around here! Like Fort William Henry and its 1677 predecessor on the site, Fort Charles. In 1692, Massachusetts governor Sir William Phips spent two thirds of the colony’s budget to build Fort William Henry; but it only stood four years until the French, with their local Indian allies, attacked and destroyed it. Don’t you just love that people care about this stuff and put the effort into maintaining it for the rest of us?
Here’s a minor footnote to our trip: we’ve had some incredible cycling variety across the top of the country, and along the way I’ve made a completely anecdotal ‘study’ of the friendliness quotient of oncoming bikers. I can say that so far the most sociable places to ride are the Northwest, the Midwest, and Maine. I can’t account for it, but I’d say less than 2% of other riders in Vermont, New Hampshire or upstate NY are friendly on the road. No clue how that would translate to helpfulness in an emergency, chattiness in a bar, or any other indicator of neighborliness. I’m just saying.
And with that useless bit of information, I’ll post this and get moving! Next: we’re inching south along the eastern seaboard into Massachusetts.