Archive for the ‘swimming in Maine’ Category

More Midcoast Maine Swimming Holes: Goodies Beach in Rockport Harbor

January 24th, 2016 by camdenmotel

Goodies beach

By Katja

I think the first time we heard about Goodies Beach was from Leah, our head housekeeper, who talked about swimming there during low or retreating tide, when the water is warmer. She didn’t call it Goodies Beach though (I’ve never heard anyone use that name); she probably just referred to it as the beach at Rockport Harbor. Leah is an early riser – for hardy Maine standards, “early” is about 4 am, maybe even sooner – and sometimes she used to swim before she came to work (although I think that was before our time here. Now she seems to prefer sunrise clamming to swimming). It was late fall by the time we discovered the beach in person: it’s a small sandy strip next to the Harbor Master’s house, seemingly in hiding not only from the road, but even from the parking lot. Of course by hat time it was too cold to swim (for anyone other than Polar Bear Plungers); so it took us another seven months to finally test the waters.

A perfect June evening!

A perfect June evening!

Hanging out in Harbor Park, early evening

Hanging out in Harbor Park, early evening

The day was hot, housekeeping had just gotten done, check-in time hadn’t officially started – and we knew we needed something to keep us going through the rest of the day.We decided to put up a sign at the office door and play hooky for an hour. We drove with the top down, stopped at a kids’ lemonade stand, and by the time we got to the beach (about five minutes later) we felt like we had no more cares in the world than a kid on a summer’s day. For an hour, anyway.

I usually warm up a bit in the sun before swimming in cold water, but there wasn’t much time, so in we went, past the kids playing by the shoreline. Oh boy — it was cold. (Do half of my swim posts contain a sentence like that? Probably). And yet ours were not the only heads bopping along with the buoys in the harbor; a few others seemed just as anxious to get the swim season started.  Here is one thing that’s so great about swimming (there are many!): even if the water or air are a bit too cold, the way you feel afterwards just can’t be beat. I think it’s about being immersed in another element, water not air, and then you return – cleansed, massaged, transformed – to your regular, non-liquid world. Something like that. On that day, our “Goodies” dip gave us exactly what we had come for: a big boost for the rest of the day, and the feeling that summer had definitely started.

Goodies Beach - the only time I've seen it crowded!

Goodies Beach – the only time I’ve seen it crowded!

There are several things I like about Goodies Beach: although it’s small even for Maine beach standards, it never feels crowded or noisy, not even when two or three small groups of people are there at the same time. If the parking lot looks busy, it doesn’t mean the beach is: many come to hang out in the park or go out on the schooner Heron, which leaves from Rockport Harbor three to four times a day. Sometimes special events like fundraising meals or small wedding receptions take place under a large tent in the park, but they hardly ever affect the beach. Also, you can swim close to the anchored boats and have a nice view of the opposite shore with its beautiful homes and woods. There’s even an apple tree by the beach, so in September you can share the water with premature apples that have tumbled down the sandy slope. Restrooms, showers, hoses to clean off dogs or feet are all available, and even a small washer/dryer area. I’ve never seen anyone use it, but I’m sure there is a reason for its existence: probably boat people?

Our first summer here I spent a lot more time at Laite Beach in Camden than at Rockport Harbor; this past year it was the other way around. My swim season started late this summer:  I didn’t even try for an ocean swim until July.  I had badly sprained my ankle in March, the healing process was slow enough to lose at a snails’ marathon, and I had to relearn many things, including how to be barefoot (I often wore water shoes instead). As a local friend and fellow innkeeper told me, I had disobeyed the golden innkeeper rule: you can’t break or sprain things! You need to be able to move around at all times, especially if you own a big building like we do.  Most beaches in Midcoast Maine are rocky, so I didn’t have a lot of choices for my first beach visit of the year: Rockport Harbor is one of the only sandy ones I know. (Laite Beach is both sand and fine gravel, but it has more steps and hills to negotiate before you get down to the beach. The kinds of things you have to think about when you’re not stable on your feet).

Anyway, my first beach outing was on a hot July afternoon, and the only other person, at first, was a woman just arriving in her kayak. During the time she parked it and rested for a bit, I had the water to myself. Not that I needed it for long – it seemed just as cold as the previous year in June. But I did swim, a hair-only-half-wet prelude swim to a longer one a bit later, after a warm up in the sun. The next time my eyes scanned the water, I saw kayak woman swimming leisurely out by the boats, entirely unfazed by the temperature. Two moms with offspring had also arrived, and the kids – super cute 5-10 year old girls – were exploring the water in the multiply creative way kids do at the beach. I have to confess I don’t usually find kids’ play relaxing to watch and listen to (not if it involves a lot of shrieking and screaming), but that day it was. I briefly wondered whether that was because everyone around me was female – but no, that wouldn’t make sense; women are often louder and less peaceful than men (although little girls usually seem to be quieter than little boys – when they play together, anyway).

Still, this beach seems like a very female space in my experience. It’s small, protected, enclosed and feels safe, and the main visitors are younger women with their kids, as well as middle aged and older women who like to swim. One unusually busy day this past summer,  I counted almost twenty heads on the beach –  all of them female except for one little boy and one father with his family. Even the harbormaster is a woman, and so is at least one of the people who work in and around the harbor master’s house (the assistant harbor master?). She’s always willing to help with one thing or another, talks to everyone, seems to know all the locals, and gives advice to tourists.

Whether feminine or not, Goodies Beach is almost always peaceful – not because it’s always quiet, but because most everyone who comes here seems to have left behind whatever else they may have going on. I remember  one day when I was by myself and yet had to listen to a guy on his boat screaming into his phone – but generally, it seems like there is something calming about the place. Maine is full of calm places, of course (Woods! Mountains! Hundreds of lakes! Places without people!)– but even popular spots with small crowds of visitors can often feel relaxing in Maine. Siobhan thinks that visitors here are more respectful, more capable of adapting to the local nature and culture than in other touristy places where she’s lived and visited. If that is true, I wonder if it’s because Maine has a powerful effect on people, or because people coming to Maine are already of a different breed than, say, the average tourist in Myrtle Beach or Atlantic City. I saw an article recently about what your vacation says about your personality or character type. It claimed that introverts are more likely to head to the mountains on vacation, while extroverts prefer the beach. That sounds a bit simplistic to me – if only for its implied definition of “the beach” as something warm and Southern or tropical, populated by thousands of roasting bodies flaunting their tans and taking them back to the bar for margaritas and more socializing. Most beaches in Maine don’t even remotely fit that description. Maybe this article would consider Maine as a whole a vacationland for introverts – perhaps with the exception of Lobsterfest crowds and groups of family and friends renting vacation homes. But if so, does that mean the majority of our guests are introverts? I never got that impression – unless you define introverted as  quiet and considerate to others!.

image

Unscientific digressions aside, Rockport Harbor Beach became my go-to beach for hot sunny days: it’s close, convenient, sandy, relaxing, and it works well for swimming during all tides (except perhaps at the peak of high tide, when there is barely a beach). The water had warmed up a lot by August, and seemed warmer this year than at Camden’s Laite Beach; it doesn’t have as many cold pockets to swim through. And even in the middle of September it was still just as warm as in August. For a longer beach afternoon, I would recommend Laite because it’s much bigger, but Rockport has fewer tourists (if any). And both have a lot of boats to feast your eyes on. (They both run out of sun in the later afternoon, and they both have occasional pollution warnings, which many people seem to ignore)

fox on the run food truck  food truck rockport beach

Around the harbormaster’s house to the side of the beach, there is an elevated grassy park area with benches (part of the Marine Park). People bring their lunches, books, cameras, and dogs to this area, and some sit on the ledge right next to the beach having a picnic, feet dangling above the water. During high tide I sometimes saw kids jump into the water from there. For a few hours a day, until Labor Day, a food truck next to the harbormaster’s house sells salads, fish tacos, burritos, Cuban and Vietnamese sandwiches, and even desserts. I’ve never tried anything there, but it looks fun and better than your average food truck. When it wasn’t warm enough to swim yet (or not warm enough anymore) I took my yoga mat to the park, for sun, relaxation, and for whatever exercises my ankle didn’t complain about.

Mother daughter regulars at Goodies Beach

Mother daughter regulars at Goodies Beach

That’s what I was up to one beautiful late September day when, after about a hundred ab crunches, I realized it was a lot warmer than I had expected. Meaning, it would be a lot more fun to swim than to look at the water from above, even if that look was upside down, from a downward dog position. I was lucky: my backpack still harbored a swim suit and my goggles from a previous outing. It was low tide and I had the beach to myself at first. The water was colder than the week before, but no colder than at the height of summer the year before – and still very swimmable. I might’ve kept my head a little drier than the previous week, but it still felt as amazing as it had all summer. And afterwards it was warm enough to lie around in a wet bathing suit for almost a half hour. Watching the only other visitors, a young woman teaching her daughter how to look for hermit crabs and other goodies, I got a distinct end of summer feel. The thought crossed my mind that this might’ve been my last ocean swim of the season – but it didn’t even make me feel sad. Endings can be fine if they’re good ones – and this swim had been a very good one indeed.

Rockport Harbor from the deck at Saltwater Farm

View from the deck at Saltwater Farm

P.S. I should probably add that Rockport Harbor is a great place to visit year-round, not just when you can play in the water. There’s the statue of Andre the seal, the Rockport Opera House next to two excellent restaurants with views onto the water (Shepherd’s Pie and Saltwater Farm); and the weekend after Camden’s Christmas by the Sea, Rockport has its Marine Park Christmas celebrations, complete with tree lighting, hot cider, homemade cookies and other goodies, luminaries lining the streets, pictures with Santa, and the best fireworks we’ve seen in years. The water can be very pretty in the winter too, when it’s cold enough to have frozen into shiny geometric plates of ice.

Ice in Rockport Harbor

Christmas fireworks in Rockport Harbor - photo by PenBay Pilot

Christmas fireworks in Rockport Harbor – photo by PenBay Pilot

 

 

 

 

 

Swimming Midcoast Maine: Rocky Pond and Snapping Turtles

December 27th, 2015 by camdenmotel

Swim Access at Rocky Pond

Swim Access at Rocky Pond

by Katja

I have no idea how Rocky Pond got its name: there is no rocky shore or rocky beach, and not a lot of rocks in the water, from what I can tell. Maybe it’s just “Rocky Pond” because it’s in Rockport, or West Rockport, to be more exact; although if that’s the case, then nearby Maces Pond (which I wrote about last year) should probably be “Rocky Pond II.”

A small turnoff at the side of Route 17, just South of 90, plays the role of parking lot for visitors of Rocky Pond, and a partial clearing with soft pine needle underground leads to the lake. There is more space to hang out by the water than there is at Maces Pond, so you’re also more likely to find someone other than yourself there. But in my half dozen or so visits this past summer, two families swimming with their kids was the most crowded I ever saw it. Twice there was a young couple just sitting by the lake, and another time a woman was watching her daughter swim. For my own swims, I always had the lake to myself, and it was fabulous. The temperature was just about perfect every time; and the play of light and colors seemed to make this lake even more scenic than Maces Pond. But something about it puts me a little on guard when I go there by myself, maybe because it can feel like an eerie fairy tale setting, with the dark trees and forested beach. In the modern version of this vision, I can see a crime scene unfolding there, straight out of Unsolved Mysteries or a Lifetime movie:  two young girls, let’s say, taking a dip in the pond to cool down during an afternoon bike ride, never to be seen again; only the bikes, hastily thrown against a tree, remain as witnesses.

Well, maybe not that bad. But I do think about someone coming by while I’m swimming, stealing my car keys and leaving me stranded. Maybe I should look into a waterproof key container? As long as I know how not to lose it in the lake…

Imagined crime scenarios aside, Rocky Pond is a beautiful swimming spot. I’d love to swim all across the lake some time (once I have that key container…), but that’s not necessary for a great experience. The water is clean, fresh, and perfect on your skin – and even though the road is close by, it can feel like you’re swimming in your own private lake. One day I wanted to show Siobhan, so we stole away for an hour during housekeeping on a quiet midweek morning in September. Two fishermen had arrived before us, and they weren’t too thrilled about the arrival of two swimmers about to disturb their prey. So they started to talk about snapping turtles – probably thinking we were silly women tourists who would be scared away by any mention of Maine wildlife. (I wonder if they would’ve acted quite the same with a family, lest they be accused of trying to scare kids away from a fun swimming trip). We got the feeling they just wanted to get rid of us, and for that reason alone, we should’ve stayed. But we didn’t exactly feel like undressing and getting in the water in front of them – and then Leah, our head housekeeper, had warned about turtles too (she still likes to do the “scaring people from away” thing with us occasionally). Most of all, even if the chance was small, we didn’t really want to lose our toes. Last thing I needed with my still recovering sprain was another foot problem. So off we drove, down the road to Maces Pond, where we luxuriated in having an even bigger body of water, all to ourselves.

snapperhead

Or so we thought, until we saw a car pulling in by the side of the road. Yup, it was the fisher guys again, probably on a tour of ruining swimming spots for swimmers and trying to make them fishing spots instead. We’d asked them about turtles in Maces Pond, so they must’ve known we would go there. Creepy! Since we obviously had no idea how long they’d stay, my plan was to just get out and ignore them. But I ended up agreeing with Siobhan’s plan: just to stay in the water and make as many splashing noises and movements as possible so they wouldn’t be able to fish. After all, if they could ruin our swimming plan at Rocky Pond, we might as well ruin their fishing plans for Maces Pond.

Well, it worked. One of the guys didn’t seem to be into it; the other was the turtle storyteller. He did cast out his pole, as if in a little phallic power display, just to annoy us for a while or make us feel uncomfortable. But he gave up eventually, having caught nothing, and off they went, probably to the next swimming hole. We drove back later than expected, imagining the story we might have to tell potential early walk-in guests: Ugh, sorry we weren’t here. We had to splash around in a lake to shoo away some fisher men; I’m sure you understand…

Could I ever have imagined such territorial encounters in Maine? On the Jersey Shore, sure, people fight over a few square feet of sand on the beach, or over the position of a yoga mat in the gym – but two men against two women over two otherwise empty lakes in Maine?? That’s pretty absurd.

P.S. I did some snapping turtle research after this encounter, and found that they aren’t out to look for trouble. They only snap when provoked, and usually stay at the bottom of a muddy lake or stream looking for prey. Several people I know grew up swimming in Rocky Pond, among them my physical therapist. He said that there is no danger from turtles unless you try to provoke them. “You gotta be a stupid kid trying to poke them – then you can worry about toe attacks,“ he told me. “Everyone else is safe.”  I made a few more visits to the pond and had a lovely swim each time.  My toes have yet to meet a turtle.

P.P.S. Snapping turtles can get very big though, up to 35 lbs, and they look kind of scary, like a prehistoric reptile. See pics!

A snapping turtle in Acadia National Park

A snapping turtle in Acadia National Park

Swimming in Maine: Better bring your Wigwams

February 4th, 2015 by camdenmotel

wigwams  By Katja

In case you don’t know what Wigwams are: they’re among the best winter socks you can wear in Maine. Not that we’re experts in winter socks – I’m sure our education will continue this year – but we do know we’re not the only ones here to like Wigwams. After we discovered them last winter – at Reny’s, of course, our local/ neighborhood/ state department store (Buy 3 pairs, get one free) – we barely wore any other socks all winter. Except at the gym – although we could’ve stuck to Wigwams even there, had we known they make gym socks too. The point is – if you wear Wigwams, your feet won’t have any complaints all winter. The rest of you will probably still shiver, unless you have equally miraculous thermal underwear (Wigwam doesn’t make any – I checked), but your feet will be safe. And in the warmer seasons you might actually  miss them occasionally, when glimpsing them in the nether regions of your sock drawer; in which case you may sigh and say to yourself, oh well, it won’t be long until I get to wear these again. Even if you hate and dread winter, you’ll take comfort in the fact that, should it come around again, you’ll have your wigwams to help you get through it.

Or you might discover, as I did, that you really don’t have to be without your Wigwams for half of the year. You could just swim outdoors, from June to October, and I guarantee you’ll eventually, and automatically, reach for them again. Unless of course you swim only in heated pools and on hot days – in which case you’re probably not really up for Maine swimming anyway.

Wigwam swimming – Two cases in point

1)      At the beginning of the season: You can’t blame a pool woman for itching to swim once June has arrived and everything looks like summer (in Jersey, we used to open our pool in the end of April).This being Maine, I knew I had to start with a lake or pool, and I did. But one of my goals this summer was to find someplace convenient – close by, not too crowded, and swimmable (meaning, I’d actually be able to swim in it for a while, without jelly fish, high waves, lack of space, or freezing temps). Laite Memorial Beach here in Camden fulfilled the first three requirements, and I kept hoping the fourth would follow eventually. It’s the closest swimming hole to our place unless you count the two hotel / motel pools close by (no, I won’t mention names – sorry! J) – a nice ten-fifteen minute walk or 3 minute drive away. Not to mention it’s beautiful – adjacent to a nice park with Frisbee-catching dogs, in a beautiful neighborhood, with amazing views ,and, while it’s small  as beaches go, it offers a lot of typical beach pleasures, minus crowds and fees and vendors, and plus a scenic view of windjammers sailing in and out of the harbor.

Laite Memorial Beach in Camden, Maine

Laite Memorial Beach in Camden, Maine

Well, and minus the warm water temps. Which is too bad for someone who inherited her mother’s “see a body of water on a sunny warm day and  yearn to swim in it” gene.  (My Dad preferred hiking, and the rest of the family would accommodate him occasionally, but I can’t seem to remember any long hikes without at least one swim along the way.  I must’ve thought, as a kid, that it was normal for any hike worth its effort to include a swim related destination.  Which is probably why I don’t remember any proud mountain top picnics with spectacular vistas; our goals tended to be glacier lakes, not mountain tops. And we always swam in them, no matter how cold.)

Anyway – I had high hopes for my first Laite Beach swim of the season last year, towards the end of June. It had been a late 70s day, and we’d had a few other warm weeks – clearly, I’d given the water enough time to crank up some heat. Or so I hoped.

At that time of year, generally called “summer,” when you walk into the ocean in a temperate climate like the Jersey Shore or most of the West coast, you get used to the water body part by body part. Your feet aren’t usually cold for more than the first ten seconds, and the same goes for your knees. Once the water comes up to your stomach, your legs are ok – and so on. At Laite Beach, especially at low or medium tide, it takes a while to walk out to a swimmable water depth. And it takes even longer for any one body part to get used to the temps. By the time my stomach got wet, my feet still felt weird and tingly. Must be a little crab sting, I decided, and ignored it. That worked for a while, considering the increasing number of other cold body parts I could focus on instead. Breathing into it and pretending it was a hundred degrees and I had just moved back to Vegas helped a little, and eventually I got myself all the way in, and swam for about ten minutes. Well, no – maybe just five. But it seemed like fifteen; it even seemed like I’d exercised. Under extreme temperatures, hot or cold, you always feel like you did a lot more than you actually did.

When I got out, it was hard to walk. What had happened to my feet? They were numb and tingling at the same time, and … hmm, did I still have feet? I looked down. Yup, there they were, looking vaguely familiar, but they sure didn’t feel like my feet. I changed into a dry suit and made sure plenty of sun made contact with my feet. No, not good enough. It all just felt strange – definitely not harmless and normal enough to stay and relax, much less go for another swim. Best to walk back fast and then soak them in hot water or something. Rats – so much for my beachy, relaxing afternoon break. After about a block, I called Siobhan. Help! I can’t feel my feet! I need a ride! Maybe even to the emergency room!   She was there in a flash – “be right back” sign slapped to the door, Mini zipping around the corner ready for rescue. But – after a quick assessment of feet and mental state – she wasn’t up for sacrificing check-in time for an ER visit.  Oh well – it’s not like I love to hang out in ERs, certainly not on a Saturday night. A shower and a few talks with guests turned out to be the only treatment I needed.

But the point is: that’s how I ended up wearing Wigwam wool socks for two hours after a long hot shower, on a warm summer evening. With shorts.

2) For our last overnight getaway last season, in the middle of October, we contemplated Monhegan Island (but the Island Inn had only rooms with shared bathrooms left), Moosehead Lake (but moose safaris had just ended because the hunting season was beginning), and the Colony Hotel in Kennebunkport, an old favorite. The Colony has a huge heated (not just heated, almost hot!) saltwater outdoor pool, which is open as long as the Colony is, come hell or high water, snow or low temps. On the 19th of October, it was 40 something degrees, grey, and a bit foggy, and for some now unremembered reason we didn’t get to the hotel until late afternoon. So by the time I made it to the pool, it was dusk. I had to plan carefully to minimize cold exposure, so on the way from our room to the pool I wore sweatpants, T-shirt, and hoodie over my bathing suit, plus the long fluffy winter bathrobe I’d packed for the trip. Steam was coming off the surface of the water; barely visible within it was one other woman, a fellow end of season swimmer I met again the next morning. I chose a chair very close to the shallow end of the pool – force of habit; there was really neither a need nor a desire to enter the water slowly and gradually.   Aah, what a contrast to my other swims this season! I never swam in water twice as warm as the air. There is nothing like that combo to guarantee a good long workout –  a bit like a hot shower during a power outage (in the kind of house where you still have hot water, but not enough heat): you wanna stay in there for as long as you can.

October dusk swim at the Colony Hotel

Dusk swim at the Colony Hotel

colony swim october

Morning swim, Colony hotel

  –          Eventually, of course, you probably have to go to the bathroom, or remember you have a dinner date, or wherever you’re swimming is closing for the day. You make a cold-and-wet-minimization plan, and put it into action as quickly and efficiently as possible. In my case, that involved 1) stand on towel, put on slippers 2) towel off, put on robe, 3) dash inside to the pool bar bathroom to change –  all in fifteen seconds.   –          And then, after putting my sweats, thermals, and hoodie back on – here they came again, packed as a special post-swim treat: the Wigwams. What more could I need? Well, maybe a stop by the fire up in the lounge, where Siobhan was waiting with a warm-up drink, followed by a hot shower and a nice take-out dinner –  in pajamas and Wigwams, of course. There’s no better way to say good bye to the swim season and hello to the colder half of the year….

P.S. I wish I could say I participated in the Lincolnville Polar Bear plunge, after which I would most certainly have needed a double portion of Wigwams. But even if I had been in town to do so, I probably wouldn’t have lived to tell about it. If you know anyone that did, ask them what they – and their feet – wore for days and nights afterwards.

Swimming Midcoast Maine, Part 3: Laite Memorial Beach, Camden

February 2nd, 2015 by camdenmotel

By Katja

Welcome to Laite Memorial Beach

We had started falling in love with Laite Memorial Beach just weeks before we moved here – when we came to Camden to get a few days of training from the previous TM owners, Rick and Jane. During an afternoon break one day, we went for a walk up Bay View Street and discovered that we’d have a beach in walking distance of our inn and home! A very scenic beach, too, where we could watch the schooners sail in and out of the harbor and look up to the top of Mt. Battie, plus have a picnic on the grass or the pebble and sand beach – and, of course, where we could swim! We weren’t complete strangers to the cold Penobscot Bay waters even during the height of summer; we’d swum a few times (including once in October!) at the beach at the High Tide Inn (and have the pictures to prove it). So we knew Laite Beach would be just as cold, but, we thought, on a hot day it would be refreshing, and even on a not so hot day, it would always feel good to at least wade in the water, watch the ducks, and luxuriate in the amazingly fresh colors of the blue bay, white boats, and green hills beyond.

laite-memorial-beach-park2

Less than a month later, the first few days of our new innkeeping life had passed, and the weather was a nice Indian summer 65-70 degrees. We were still in the process of figuring out a lot of things about our daily schedules (like – can one of us ever leave for an hour??), and I hadn’t been taking enough care of my outdoor and swimming needs. Well, that day – I think it was the day after Rick and Jane left, leaving us to our still rather ignorant devices –  I realized I really just had to go swimming. Maybe the timing was metaphorical (Rick and Jane had thrown us in deep water and there was no choice but to swim), or maybe I was just desperate and knew it might be my last chance for the season. Either way, there was no way I would NOT swim that day. We had Aini help us with early check-ins and phone calls that day, so around mid day, I packed my bag and walked over to the beach. Almost no one else was there – it was a week day in October, after all – and certainly no one was crazy enough to be in the water.  Except me – but compared to the crazed first week we’d just had, this didn’t feel crazy at all.

No crazier, really, than swimming here feels in July. The best water temps are probably in August or early September, when the bay has had a few months to try to warm up. (“Try” = it never quite succeeds). But if you try to swim about once a week, you notice how hard the bay keeps trying to get warm. Once both you and the water have tried hard enough, you can get about a 10 minute swim together. And when the sun helps out, the cold river currents marbling through that bay (yup, even colder than the regular 60 degrees) won’t be such a shock – you might even call them refreshing.(I’d recommend a hot humid day in August, perhaps after a run, to get that feeling).

Laite Beach, a cloudy day in June It may be tempting to try Laite Beach in June. It looks much like a beach in more summery climates then – with people playing, tanning, looking for rocks, and having a picnic. But you’ll probably wonder why they don’t seem to spend much time in the water: do Mainers not swim much, perhaps, living in such a wintery state? Do they not know how to swim? Or does the water harbor dangerous creatures which only the locals know about? Well, you will probably get your answer by actually going for a swim.

Laite Beach in June, with Mom Like I did towards the end of June, on a beautiful warm afternoon. I packed a big bag of beach stuff, including a change of bathing suits, spread out a brightly colored beach towel on a sunny patch of sand, and settled down. I didn’t even last long – the sun, prior swim deprivation, and almost-heat ( I have yet to see anything resembling real heat in Maine) sent me off into the water, eager for refreshment.

Instant refreshment indeed. Let me rephrase that: COLD is the better word for it. So cold, indeed, that my feet ended up having a strange new experience – they remained numb and tingly, just off somehow (as if drunk or on drugs) for hours afterwards. For the details of this story, read my next post, “Swimming in Maine – better bring your Wigwams!” Suffice it to say that wool socks had to be summoned to get my feet back to normal that day.

We did have quite a few nice swims and peaceful Happy Hours at Laite beach in July and August. And we weren’t the only ones in the water, nor the only adults. We tend to swim out a bit farther than others, close to the boats, and one night we had a talk with regular guests of ours who are building a house close to the water. When we mentioned our beach visit that afternoon, they said, “oh, we were wondering who these crazy swimmers were, out by the boats!” From then on, we waved at the house whenever we swam by.

High Tide in July We recommend the beach to whomever among our guests seem serious about ocean water swimming. I remember one family who went several times, and they all swam. We know because they had the constantly wet hair and beach towels over our balcony to prove it. (Towne Motel doesn’t usually have that beach hotel look). We recommended lakes for leisurely warm water swimming, but they stuck to Laite Beach, which I bet they now remember as their favorite place in Camden. They were from Denmark.

Other than for Danes (and maybe Great Danes?), Laite Beach is great for anyone not looking for a place to swim for exercise, unless they’re seals or extreme wet suit swimmers. But hey, now the news is that climate change is making the coastal Maine waters too warm for cod to stay, and maybe, eventually, even for lobster. Does that mean that some day people will come to Maine primarily for beach and swim vacations?? If so – and if we’re still alive and with it by then, we’ll look back longingly to the days when the water was pristine and clear and amazingly blue – so what if it was too cold to swim. When it comes to reasons not to swim, too cold is still better than too crowded– especially if the cold comes with lobster, and the warmer temps without. We can’t have a Maine without lobster!

Swimming Midcoast Maine, Part 2: Maces Pond

October 7th, 2014 by camdenmotel

Maces pond octoberDuring a late June trip to a plant store in Rockport, we drove by a lake we never paid a lot of attention to, even though we’d seen it many times. We certainly didn’t know its name – most locals don’t seem to -, not until looking at a Google map the next day. But we still don’t know where the name came from – Maces Pond seems like an odd one, and not very memorable. But no matter – swimming in it was memorable enough to write about.

It was a sunny, almost hot day, so we took a more careful look as we drove by the lake, and discovered a small parking area by the road. We pulled over. There was a short path to the lake, where we saw – well, not a beach exactly, but definitely easy access to the water. It seemed like others had been there to swim, or maybe launch a kayak or row boat or whatever other means of water transportation floats their boat, so to speak. Looking out at the calm blue water – no one was in it –, it was hard not to jump in right then and there. But we had a lot of flowers to buy, and if we didn’t buy them first, would we buy them at all? We hadn’t brought bathing suits, and walking past rows of flower containers in dripping, post-swim clothes would probably make a strange impression, unless our purpose was to water them. So we went the delayed satisfaction route and got ourselves back in the car and down the road a bit, to our destination –The Green Thumb. (No – I’m not implying we don’t like to shop for plants. Only that on a hot day, we like water even more than flowers).

The prospect of a swim was a good way to keep our flower spending under control – and to come to a relatively quick decision (in a place with that many choices, it’s never easy to decide). The sun was still out and the lake still there when we got back, just as undisturbed and inviting and empty of signs of human life as it had been before.

In we went (yes, without bathing suits, but no, not without clothes).   Maces Pond 2

Aaaah, the luxury – as Siobhan likes to say. Perfect temp, no bugs or algae or leeches or clingy plants, just clear and refreshing but warm enough water to swim, no one but the two of us, surrounded by blue and green.

Aaaah the luxury! Ok, I said that already. But it bears repeating. We swam over to the other side of the lake. We would’ve made it, had it not become weedier close to the other shore, which made us wonder what else we might find in the vegetation. Leeches? Loch monsters? People tell us all kinds of stories about lake swimming in Maine. So we swam back, and sideways, and in circles, or not at all. We swam, we floated; we sunned, drifted, water jogged, and luxuriated. The thought hit us once or twice that someone could see our stuff and steal our keys and drive off with our cargo load of daisies and petunias — but it passed. Relax – we’re in Maine! Listen to the calm.

And then we drove back, convertible top down, the back seat brimming with flowers, clothes almost dry by the time we got home. We arrived before check-in time, ready for whatever else the day would bring. Because after you’ve had a good swim, you can handle almost any chaos that comes your way  – including almost anything a motel with 17 rooms and potentially 34+ guests might have in store for you.

In the process of researching Maces Pond, I came across a fun website, called lakesofmaine.org. No photos, but it does have a map and some stats of Maces Pond.  And while you’re finding out more about the many Maine lakes, check out Wikipedia’s “List of Lakes in Maine.” You’ll learn that Maine has “at least 2,677 lakes or ponds” without a name  – and that doesn’t include two whose names start with “Unnamed!” In the lakesofmaine list, there is a Berrypatch Pond, which is also called Unnamed Pond, and an Upper Unknown Lake, Lower Unknown Lake, and Middle Unknown Lake (a group of lakes in Hancock County). And a search for “unknown ponds” yields three additional results.  So it seems that Maces Pond, while not the most well-known body of water in Maine, has been deemed important by someone – important enough to have a name anyway…

Swimming Midcoast Maine, Part 1: Barrett’s Cove beach at Megunticook Lake

August 2nd, 2014 by camdenmotel

The beach - without crowds

The beach – without crowds

By Katja

This will be the first in a series of blog posts on swimming midcoast Maine, which is one of our summer projects. All in the name of research for our guests, of course 😉 (Actually, it’s our only summer project – summers are too busy for projects!)

There’s a story by John Cheever I used to teach, entitled “The Swimmer.” In it, the protagonist swims home from one neighbor’s pool to another, which, of course, is a metaphorical journey having to do with his midlife crisis and his marriage, and can be interpreted in a whole lot of different ways. My students had to play around with these interpretations (although they probably didn’t call it “play”) – but don’t worry, our Maine watering hole journey won’t be quite as symbolic and complex, at least not intentionally. And we’re not asking anyone to analyze and write about it. But we do invite you to come along on the trip, and when you visit Maine, perhaps you can take a real trip to one of these swimming holes yourself!

As you may have noticed if you’ve read other blog posts of ours, we used to have an outdoor pool when we lived in New Jersey, and at least one of us (yours truly) misses it dearly now that it’s hot and summery:  the convenience of cooling off anytime you need to, even if you have only 10 minutes, the chance of swimming several times a day, the lack of other people crowding you, the ease of access to a watery workout without packing a bag and leaving the house. And of course, the sanity that comes with a daily dip in the water, or even just by hanging out next to it.

view of the lake, Barret's Cove, and a bit of Camden in the background

view of the lake, Barrett’s Cove, and a bit of Camden in the background

Well, we don’t have a pool here, and won’t get one anytime soon – there is no space for it. Believe me, I’ve imagined almost every  possibility, but short of buying part of the neighbor’s property, getting rid of the parking lot, dismantling the garage, or persuading our friends from across the street, the Blue Harbor House, to build one in their backyard with our money, there just isn’t a way. Which makes the search for local swimming holes all the more important.

One of our first discoveries after we became innkeepers last fall was the popular Barrett’s Cove beach at Megunticook Lake, a less than ten minute drive from Camden. We had hiked up Maiden’s Cliff trail during a half day outing, admiring the lake from above, and then found the road to the beach more or less opposite the Maiden Cliff trail parking lot. We were stunned by how peaceful and beautiful it was, and vowed to come back in the summer for swimming. (It didn’t seem to occur to us to swim right then and there, probably because nobody told us we should take our bathing suits)  It seemed like the kind of place which, if it existed in New Jersey, would charge a hefty beach badge fee and/or be overrun with people all summer. While here it was just sitting pretty in its glorious, colorful expanse, free for the taking but left peacefully undisturbed.

Megunticook Lake - the view from Maiden Cliff         end of September at Barrett's Cove

Well, by the time we got back with swimming intentions, it was early June, while my mom and sister were visiting. It was a weekday late morning/early afternoon visit, and it was perfect. A few others were there, and it got busier by the time we left, but since school was still in session and the water still a bit chilly, it was calm and contemplative.  There were a couple of mothers with young kids, two young women enjoying the water, a man walking his swimming dog in the lake, and later a family or two. They all seemed to be locals, doing their own thing without making much noise or getting in anyone else’s way. And the water was – refreshing! Cold-ish, but swimmable. I think we spent about twenty minutes swimming, and later went in a second time. And lest you think it’s just because we’re German (Germans, at least in Europe, are known for being the first and last swimmers of the season), the two young women definitely stayed in much longer. But it never felt warm exactly. Just swimmable, compared to Penobscot Bay, which wasn’t yet.

Then the high season began, and we kept saying one or both of us would go back for a warmer swim, but that took a while to happen. Until last week, to be exact, when we literally couldn’t stand the heat and got out of the kitchen. It was in the 80s, hot for Maine and hot enough if you’re baking twice a day in a kitchen without airconditioning (yup, unlike our guests, we don’t have A/C, save for one lonely loud window unit in the bedroom). So, in the early afternoon, we left the inn in our assistant’s capable hands, and headed for water. We weren’t sure whether Barrett’s Cove was the best choice on a hot summer day – -surely we wouldn’t be the only ones there – but we took a chance.

And promptly got punished for it. The parking lot was jammed! And this time it wasn’t just locals. Lots of rental car license plates, families with kids, rafts and swim noodles and beach balls and soda and oversized bags of salty snacks. And the water, at least the edges of it, looked more cloudy than clear. We weren’t thrilled: lots of people who come or move to Maine want to get away from it all, and when we’re not at home / at work (the two are more or less the same), we’re pretty much the same way. Just more contradictory: we like our guests at Towne Motel, but we don’t want crowds anywhere else, haha. We almost turned around, given how unfresh it all seemed. But since we were desperate for a dip, we found a spot and (sort of) settled down. Or rather, went into the lake!

Siobhan’s verdict was mixed. She likes this new lake swimming thing (we never swam in a lake when we lived in New Jersey – or Nebraska, for that matter), but would much rather not have to share it with a crowd. And she didn’t find the water refreshing enough! She says she gets bored swimming when it isn’t cool enough on a hot day. (Which is an odd thing to say, if you ask me :). I had my doubts too, but once I swam out beyond the warm, shallow, and crowded parts, I changed my mind. From the shore, I had laughed at the lap pool contraption someone had put in the lake (what the heck – why put artificial lines and boundaries into a natural lake?), but once I tried it, I actually quite enjoyed it. Perhaps because it was like a combo of pool and lake: laps, but instead of chlorine you have natural water and all this green scenery. It was a bit odd to do laps in a lake, but it got me into my own little swimming world, where the kids and screams receded far into the background. Having missed an outdoor pool for so long, it felt good to get into a groove for a while. And then, unlike in a pool, you can actually venture outside of the lines and  boundaries, like swim to another shore, or get in the way of kayakers and other boaters. And the water temperature? For me, it was perfect! I’m sure I’ll be back soon for additional swims.

But that day, after swimming, we ended up at a quieter spot – Laite Memorial Beach right here in Camden, walking distance to our inn. That’ll be the topic of one of the next swim series posts. Stay tuned!

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