Adam and I went on vacation this month!

I would apologize for bragging, but the job I started in April of last year grants exactly zero vacation time for the first year of service, and a whopping one week for the second, so I felt like I was due.

We spent time in Portland and Bar Harbor, Maine. Neither of us had been to Stephen King's home state before, so it was a trip full of new experiences for both of us. We hiked some amazing trails, ate good food, drank good beer, and shopped some fun bookstores (you knew we would).

Hiking

Portland is, as you might guess, an urban area with fewer options for hiking, but we did manage to walk the four-mile loop around Back Cove. Being so close to the ocean was neat for us landlocked Midwesterners, and the houses facing the cove were stunningly gorgeous.

Excuse the finger in the shot. Amateur photographer alert.

Excuse the finger in the shot. Amateur photographer alert.

Bar Harbor and nearby Acadia National Park were where we did our best hiking of the trip. The mountains aren't nearly as high as some of those we hiked in Colorado a couple years ago, but they're rocky and steep and the surrounding forests are like something out of Tolkien.

Our first day, we walked across Sand Beach, which is one of the few places in the park where you can get right up close to the ocean without having to pick your way across rocks.

After that we climbed Beehive Mountain, which was at the top of Adam's list thanks to its near-vertical ascent. It's a non-technical climb, which means you don't have to have ropes or spikes or any kind of climbing knowledge to hike it, but as an NPS ranger cautioned us, if you have any fear of heights, it's not for you. I was a little nervous to try it, but it turned out to be really fun and empowering.

I've been working to get more fit since January, and I was excited to challenge myself physically on this trip. We did so many hikes that even a year ago, I would never have attempted. Now that I've shed some weight, gained muscle, and improved my cardio fitness, I feel like there isn't much I can't handle on the trail, which is a great feeling. One of the highlights of the trip for me was when the aforementioned park ranger was telling us about her favorite trails, and hand to God, she looked both of us up and down and said, “You're both pretty fit, right?” If you say so, National Park Service Ranger!

Our second day, we decided to head farther west into the park, to try to get away from some of the crowds. We walked in using the carriage roads, a system of nice, flat gravel roads that are open to bikes, horses, and pedestrians. That led us to an awesome trail that began by crossing under a picturesque stone bridge and up through a dry creek bed to the summit of Sargent Mountain. After that we hiked to a few other nearby summits before calling it a day.

Our last day in Acadia, we ventured even farther west and found another great trail near Echo Lake. This trail, like Beehive, was a non-technical near-vertical climb, with iron rungs and ladders built right into the granite. This might have been our favorite hike of the trip, especially since it was in such a remote part of the park. We hiked the entire loop without seeing a single other person. I still can't believe we had that entire ridiculously cool trail to ourselves.

Eating and Drinking

In Portland, we loved Sebago Brewing Co. for their cask beer, generous pours, and over-the-top fish and chips. We sampled both beer and spirits at Liquid Riot Bottling Co., a craft brewery and distillery, and Adam (who's been a whiskey, Scotch, and bourbon enthusiast for a while now) learned he also likes sipping rum. Now that I can get behind. (Whiskey is not for me.)

In Bar Harbor, our hands-down favorite was McKay's Public House, which had the most delicious coconut porter on beer engine. The food was the perfect balance of gourmet and accessible—a fine balance to strike, as we've walked out of restaurants in the past that felt too stuffy and fancy for us. We were seated on the porch, which was perfect in the cooling evening temperatures, and were serenaded by a classical guitarist named Bob, who was set up across the courtyard. The vibe was total bliss.

They also had a s'mores dessert that consisted of crushed graham crackers, chocolate mousse, and a marshmallow topping, torched like crème brulee. Served in a mason jar. Needless to say, we went back again the very next night.

Bookstore Browsing

In Portland, I had a wonderful time browsing in Longfellow Books, where a beautiful paperback edition of I Am Radar by Reif Larsen caught my eye and begged to come home with me.

Also in Portland, we happened upon Sherman's Books & Stationery (which turned out to be a Maine chain of bookstores, all very charming), where Adam helped me pick out these socks:

In Bar Harbor, we happened to be in another franchise of Sherman's Books & Stationery on the day the beautiful and talented Ann Patchett's new novel Commonwealth was released. I was on the hold list at the library, so I thought I could wait until I got home to read it, but when I saw the “Signed First Edition” sticker, I knew that hardcover was destined for my bookshelf.

Vacation made me do it.

Vacation made me do it.

I finished reading it once we got home, and while it didn't quite live up to my (Mount Olympus-level) expectations, it was an excellent family drama in the same vein as Ann Packer's The Children's Crusade, which was one of my favorite books of 2015. The slow-motion car wreck of the two married parents' affair, and the resulting blended family and their eyebrow-raising interactions were riveting. I think where it fell short for me was the development of the central relationship itself, between Bert and Beverly. I never felt like I really understood why they each gave up everything to be together. I never, ever say this, but I almost wish the book had been longer—Patchett could have given herself a little more space that way to really sell the attraction between them.

All in all, it was a great vacation and a much-needed break for both of us. Here's to good hikes, good food, good books, and compliments from park rangers!

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AuthorTaryn Pierson