Wednesday, January 29, 2003


Maine attraction: Family fun, serene scenes

By Ian Gregor

It dawned on me as I was loading our luggage into the back of my well-used Nissan Pathfinder:

“Am I missing something or is this really easy?”

Don’t get me wrong — our annual trips to coastal Maine have always been relaxing, even when our two children were younger and labor-intensive. It takes a lot of effort to stress out amid fresh air, historic Colonial-era homes, spectacular ocean views and the joys of not having to adhere to a routine, mow a lawn or feed, walk and clean up after a 95-pound Labrador retriever.

But as we headed off to LAX a few weeks ago for our red-eye flight to Manchester, N.H., I couldn’t shake the feeling that something was different this time around.

Consigned to photo albums and the recesses of our memories are the wonderful accoutrements of infancy — portable cribs, high chairs, bottles, sippy cups, mounds of toys and the dreaded double stroller that I used to lug filled with children up the stairs of the wooden foot bridge that spans Perkins Cove, the inlet in the town of Ogunquit, Maine (population 1,800), where we own a week of time shares in the summer and fall.

That’s not all. Now our children — Erica, 7, and Nicholas, 4 — actually are interested in doing some of the things that my wife, Diane, and I want to do, especially if it involves hooking fish or hiking on trails where they can stop every 18 seconds to examine a near-microscopic bug. And, for the first time, Nicky can last an hour in a respectable restaurant without turning into a savage.

After we landed, the kids napped in the back seat and Diane gazed into the woods that shroud the highways while I drove our rented car east from Manchester toward Route 1, which connects Ogunquit with Portsmouth 20 miles to the south. It always feels as if we’re returning home as we cruise north on Route 1. We’re eager to see which restaurants and stores failed to survive the previous tourist-starved winter and spring, and it never ceases to amaze us that the guy who’s been building that two-story log cabin just south of Ogunquit has made virtually no progress on the project in the 10 years we’ve been visiting.

When we hit the center of town, which is marked by the intersection of Route 1 with Shore Road, it felt, as it always does, as if we’d never left. We were greeted by the ubiquitous sight of the Latest Scoop

ice cream and coffee shop across the street from The Front Porch, a meticulous bar-restaurant that caters to the sizable gay population that descends on Ogunquit during summer weekends.

This year, we decided on a 10-day trip to Maine. For the first three nights we rented a room in the Studio East motel, which is smack in the center of town and offers small but comfortable rooms for a reasonable $109 a night — and always accommodates our request for an early check-in.

The first thing we did after unpacking was jump on one of the trolleys that run through town and head south to Perkins Cove. In addition to offering postcard-perfect views of moored fishing boats and a collection of fine shops and little art galleries, Perkins Cove is the home of the Lobster Shack, which serves up the best lobster rolls anywhere. It’s owned by Jason Evans, whose father took over the business in 1986 before retiring last year, and his wife, April. They’re personable and Jason has a mind like a steel trap. When I walked in this year minus the goatee that I sported last year and wearing glasses instead of my usual contact lenses, Jason greeted me by name and remarked that the journalism business must have been crazy after Sept. 11. Then he asked Diane and me if we wanted our standard Casco Bay Pilsners with our lobster rolls.

Nodding off from lack of sleep and a couple of cold beers, we headed back to our room for a nap before a pizza dinner, after which we made the mandatory ice cream stop at The Latest Scoop.

The next morning we woke refreshed after 11-hour slumbers. From our room, it was barely a two-minute stroll along a charming and uneven red brick sidewalk to a small market, several good restaurants and our beloved ice cream parlor. Another three minutes brought us to Ogunquit Beach, which sports a mile of undeveloped shoreline on one side of a little peninsula and a small bay on the other.

Naturally, we headed here first because the bay at low tide is a fine place to catch crabs using the daddy-dives-into-the-cold-water method or, alternatively, mussel meat that my children tie to strings and toss into the water like fishing lines. Gregor family tradition holds that we place the crabs in beach buckets, where they undoubtedly have a grand time, until Daddy, after changing the water several times, announces that we need to let the crabs go or else they’ll die. Then we repeat the procedure.

The surf on the ocean side is pretty small but just the right size for 4- and 7-year-olds to use boogie boards. On day two, which happened to be July 4, Erica and I boarded and surfed while Nicky hunted crabs. Later that evening, we enjoyed a spectacular, half-hour Independence Day fireworks display.

My in-laws are the ones who introduced us to Ogunquit a decade ago. We loved it so much that we bought a week of time shares in the summer and fall in the Hillcrest Inn, which was built in 1911 on a wooded plateau where one hill stops and another begins.

Staying in the center of town was pleasant and convenient but we feel as if our vacation really starts when he check into Hillcrest. Our summer unit is a spacious, east-facing one-bedroom apartment on the second floor that offers an ocean view and has hard wood floors and throw rugs in the living room/dining area and a big carpeted bedroom. We’re just one floor up from my in-laws’ unit, which allows our children to continuously dash up and down the stairs to visit Grandma and Papa.

The only drawback to our annual Maine visits is that as we explore more places and do more things, we find that there’s no way we can get through our entire to-do list. This past year, we didn’t make it to the wonderful Trolley Museum in Kennebunkport, the summer town of the Bush family that is about 20 miles north of Ogunquit. Nor did we make it to Portland, a picturesque port city 20 miles north of Kennebunkport, or the wonderful beach at Cape Neddick, which is in the town of York, a few miles south of Ogunquit. And I didn’t get out kayaking along Maine’s craggy shoreline either.

But this year, we did considerably more than usual, in no small part because the children are older and more adventurous.

Diane made several outings to the antique shops that dot Route 1 and Shore Road, and walked most days along Marginal Way, a 1\-mile path that winds above the shoreline between Perkins Cove and the center of town. I went running almost every morning, either on Marginal Way and the beach or through the myriad trails that cut through the surrounding woods, where crude stone walls erected by farmers a century-and-a-half ago or more still stand.

Naturally, though, most of our time was spent with Erica and Nicky. There are plenty of things for kids to do in and around Ogunquit, including several miniature golf courses. We also went hiking twice on Mt. Agamenticus, a low peak just west of Ogunquit where the children rode horses for rent at public stables.

A highlight of every trip is chartering a fishing boat run by Dennis McMahon, known to all as “Satch” because he lived for a time in New Orleans. We first met Satch 10 years ago when he supplemented his teacher’s income by working summers on a fishing boat out of Perkins Cove called the “Bunny Clark.” A few years ago, Satch bought an old boat from the widow of a man named Bobby Coombs, who pitched in the major leagues for the Philadelphia Athletics and New York Giants and taught Satch’s sons, Whit and Dennis, how to throw curve balls.

The “Gath III,” which Coombs named after his wife, Agatha, is one of the oldest active fishing boats in Maine. Now Whit and Den, who are in their early 20s, have their captains’ licenses too; father and sons take turns running trips on the Gath III and the “India Marie,” a boat that the family bought last year and named after Satch’s daughter.

This year was the first time we took both children fishing for striped bass, although Erica has accompanied me on previous trips. Nicky took to the sport, well, like a fish to water. He and Erica delighted in pulling up one, two, three, even four mackerel and pollock at a time, which we collected and dumped into a salt water tank to use as live striper bait.

When it came time for catching stripers, Whit maneuvered the boat up to a series of rocky coastal protrusions. Erica landed the first striper, but it was one quarter of an inch too long to keep. (Maine allows you to keep stripers between 20 and 26 inches and over 40 inches to preserve the breeding population.) Diane caught the next fish, a keeper at 24 inches, and her father, Art Fitzgerald, quickly nailed another keeper. As we were preparing to call it a day after 4½ hours at sea, I finally got a bite on my line and reeled in a 7½-pound striper that, like Erica’s, was too big to keep.

We fried the fish that night in butter and washed them down with some full-bodied Shipyard Ales.

Our favorite find this year was the Chauncy Creek Lobster Pound, a charming little restaurant built onto a big dock on the banks of a tranquil creek by the same name in the city of Kittery, just north of the New Hampshire border. You can down your lobster roll in the sun or under a canopy, and if you happen to pull up in a boat, a waitress will come out to take your order and deliver your food.

Another wonderful discovery was Lindbergh’s Crossing, a cozy, dark restaurant on the bottom floor of a 200-year-old brick building in Portsmouth near the banks of the Piscataqua River. Wisely, we left the children with Diane’s parents and were able to fully appreciate the charm of the blackened interior brick walls, the immense wood ceiling beams and the excellent service.

The food was like nothing I have ever tasted. I started with the $9.50 mussels marinated in white wine and shallots, followed by a $16 vegetarian roasted mushroom paella that exploded with flavors of rosemary and oregano. Diane had chicken and pine nut empanadas in sherry sauce for $8 and garlic marinated beef and sauteed shrimp with creamy polenta and sofrito for $19.We sidestepped the pricey wine list in favor of a couple of full-bodied local draft ales, and rolled out of there entirely content.

I’m already counting down the time until we return to Maine — 44 weeks.

Publish Date:September, 1, 2002

Krynen Chiropractic
Krynen Chiropractic

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