travel

the rain in maine falls mainly on the grain

October 4, 2015
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A few weeks ago I wrapped up my last triathlon of the year in Freeport, Maine–Lobsterman (rated one of the most scenic and beautiful triathlons in the world). The race was an olympic distance triathlon, which coming off the heels of my first 70.3 Ironman, was a bit anticlimactic. In fact, I was kind of dreading this race and wished I hadn’t succumbed to the promise of a post-race lobster bake; but, this is what happens in winter when you get excited about the upcoming tri season and start signing up for races that are 7-8 months away.

Despite my previous success at Timberman I was still nervous–if not mostly for the chilly Atlantic ocean swim. (The swim was indeed extremely chilly.) But all was well, and I was very happy with my sub-3 hour finish. I was also not disappointed with the amazing post-race lobster bake.

Thankfully this was a Saturday triathlon, a rarity, which gave us the rest of the weekend to freely explore Maine without the massive time constraints of an early Sunday morning race.

Maine is a state that is, ostensibly, off the radar for most. First of all, it’s tucked way the fuck up into Canada. The state is juuuuust far enough away from Boston that the prospect of crawling a few extra miles is enough to end the drive at Lake Winnipesaukee.

In this regard, Maine seems uniquely full of Mainers, as opposed to New Hampshire that reticently hosts many vacation homes to many Massachusetts residents, or as they are affectionately known in these parts, Massholes.

The drive from Boston to Maine is actually quick and might be one of Maine’s best kept secrets. With moderate to heavy traffic I’ve made the trip in under three hours. Without traffic, and staying within speed limits, I’ve made the drive in just under two hours. In my estimation this is a very short drive to feel so far removed from the city of Boston. Maine feels that different.

New England’s reputation as being stuck-up, preppy and stodgy is not an unfair critique. There’s part of me that appreciates the nostalgic vibe of the Hyannisport Kennedy compound, but there’s part of me that finds the white-washed quaintness of say, Portsmouth, to be tedious. Quaint has its time and place–but for adventure, creativity, art and food (that transcends stormy seascape paintings and fried cod) Maine is the place to visit.

My first visit to Portland, Maine was last year when I raced a Sprint Tri in Berwick (Pumpkinman, naturally). And yes, most all of my summer treks over the past few years have revolved around triathlons. I was really surprised by the healthy mix of both grit and polish that comprises Portland. Second hand stores, hipster vintage shops and vinyl/record stores are harmoniously nestled next door to restaurants such as Vinland.

Speaking of Vinland, this restaurant is easily one of the top 5 best meals I have ever had in my entire life. It sounds like a schtick, but Vinland uses ingredients solely from the state of Maine. So, no citrus, no olive oil and interestingly, no gluten by virtue of no wheat. The restaurant is 100% gluten free. (Rejoice celiacs!) David Levi, the chef and founder of Vinland, studied at both Copenhagen’s Noma and Sweden’s Faviken, so the farm-to-table concept is of no surprise. What is surprising is how successful the dishes are executed within the microcosm of locally sourced Maine ingredients. If you go, definitely choose the 5-course prix fixe. Essentially, you can select any 5 dishes from the menu–the plates are substantial so show up hungry. (We could barely get through our final course.) Highly, highly recommend.

I digress.

 

I am a huge sucker for lighthouses. I have no idea why. Back when I was clawing my way up from whatever circle of hell Tucson, Arizona resides, I would often fantasize of New England. Specifically I imagined lighthouses, craggy coast lines replete with seagulls listlessly gliding against a dramatic backdrop of cool on gray.

If you identify with this obsession, Cape Elizabeth, just south of Portland, is worth your time. Here you will see all of the light houses with fewer tourists than you might imagine. Start at Bug Light and head down just a few miles to Portland Head Light. From there you can check out Cape Elizabeth Light and end at Two Lights–which also has a lobster shack. (map) For coffee and brunch hit up 158 Pickett Street Café.

 

 

But maybe the highlight of our journey to Maine was touring the local craft brew and distillery scene. There really is no shortage of them. (Keep in mind that on Sundays many of the distilleries/craft breweries are closed.) Many of the distilleries are in brick buildings set back in random industrial parts of town. And almost every brew house has a food truck nearby–because fish and chips and/or tacos are a nifty side dish when tasting copious amounts of beer.

I’m not so much a beer drinker, due to the forbidden glutens, but much like my recent excursion to Ireland… do as The Mainers do.

I really enjoyed touring around the area seeking out the next brew house. It’s a perfect, chill way to spend the day. If you’re worried about driving, there’s even a Maine brew tour bus.

In short: Maine is awesome. Maine beer is awesome. Lighthouses are super awesome. Go there.

 

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