The Alchemist Ride Journal - Acadia National Park
Images and Words: Philip Harwood
I have wanted to visit Acadia National Park in Maine for a long time.
I discovered it in the pages of National Geographic, blown away by the rugged beauty that seemed to jump out of the photographs and into my childhood imagination and take me far, far away.
Well, this summer I finally got the chance while traveling to New England on a bike trip to hang out and ride with old friends. My ride plans were bookended with weekend gravel rides, but I needed some filler to my vacation sandwich. My good friend Johnny G goes to Acadia every year for his birthday, which fell perfectly midweek of my trip. As he tells it, “The plan is to ride the gravel carriage roads all day, check out the view atop Cadillac Mountain, eat lobster, and drink IPAs”.
Count me in!
President Woodrow Wilson established the park as a national monument in 1916, and John D. Rockefeller financed, designed, and directed construction of a network of gravel carriage trails throughout the park during the great depression. The trail network covers over 50 miles, most all of which are still maintained and open to public use today. Hand cut granite stones alongside the trails edges act as a guard rail of sorts, and are known locally as “Rockefeller’s Teeth”.
The word epic seems a bit overused these days, but would not be an understatement here. The carriage trails are basically groomed gravel bike paths that wind through dense green forests, circle around deep blue freshwater lakes and ocean fjords, lily pad riddled marshes, and circle up and around mountains. The terrain is perfect for a gravel, cross, or all-road bicycle, and we saw lots of tourists comfortably cruising along on rental hybrids and mountain bikes. Once we got deeper into the trail system and away from the parking lots, the crowds quickly thinned out and we enjoyed miles of empty trails, discovering a wonderful solitude that captured the natural splendor perfectly.
I rode my Atlas with lightly treaded 30mm tires and had the perfect bike for the job.
No trip to Acadia would be complete without summiting Cadillac Mountain, the highest point in the park at 1,530 feet. After a brief stop in the bustling tourist town of Bar Harbor for coffee and blueberry pie, we followed the rather busy park loop road until we hit the left turn for Cadillac. The summit road is an out and back that winds up to the summit in 3.5 miles with an average grade of 5%. The climb is not too long or hard, but is visually the most stunning road in coastal New England, as it twists and turns up the mountain views of Bar Harbor, the ocean, and the inland lakes amaze in every direction.
The road was heavily trafficked with both autos and cyclists, but felt peaceful and relatively safe. There is a large parking lot at the top, and fantastic 360 degree views thanks to a large fire in 1947 that burned the mountain top bare. It was such a clear day people were claiming one could make out Nova Scotia to the northeast.
The descent back down Cadillac was fast and fun, sweeping around the bends and hooting and hollering at the cyclists on the other side of the road grinding their way up. Once down we ditched the park road and got back onto the carriage trails, relieved to only see a handful of draft horses pulling carriages for the rest of our ride.
For our post ride meal we drank some New England Double IPAs and headed to the Seafood Ketch restaurant in Bass Harbor, which features outdoor dining on a harbor full of working lobster boats. Lobster for dinner, and more Maine blueberry pie for desert.
You just can’t get any fresher than that.