Is there a better way for outdoor enthusiasts to spend four days than mountain hiking on a range of magnificent summits, sea kayaking along perhaps the most spectacular section of the Maine coast and biking a network of scenic, off-road trails that weave through mountains and around secluded ponds on an island paradise? That’s exactly what chowderheads in the Penobscot Paddle and Chowder Society (PPCS) did during their recent fall outdoor extravaganza.
For many years, the PPCS has held its annual Fall Supper weekend on Mount Desert Island. Usually scheduled in conjunction with Columbus Day, chowderheads take full advantage of all the island has to offer. Arguably the most beautiful area in Maine, perhaps the entire northeastern United States, it provides almost inexhaustible opportunities for outdoor adventures.
The uninformed may perceive the PPCS as a small, esoteric clique of canoeists dwelling along the shores of the Penobscot River consuming copious amounts of chowder. We’re much more! While we love our chowder, especially at the Fall Supper, the PPCS is a four season outdoor club with membership around the United States and eastern Canada. One flaw, we’re an aging club in need of a youthful infusion.
This was my fourth year having the prestigious indispensable responsibility of cooking chowder for the supper. On the night before, a predominantly senior detachment of dedicated cook’s helpers known as slicers, dicers and pickers assisted with preparation of the savory concoction. Hours were spent boiling, picking and cutting up lobsters. Potatoes, celery, scallions, onions and salt pork were diced and blended into gallons of half and half. Secret ingredients along with about forty pounds of haddock, cod, shrimp, clams and salmon were added to the mix. Simmering through the evening, a taste test deemed it a perfect ten. The contents were refrigerated in anticipation of the big event the following evening. Chowder is always better after allowing the flavors to blend for a day!
Paddling, mountain hiking and trail biking trips were scheduled on the first full day of activities. I joined leaders Suzanne and Gary Cole for a mountain hike. Their choice was an extended trek over Parkman, Bald, Gilmore and Sargent Mountains, with the possibility of continuing on to Penobscot Mountain.
Featured in my mountain guidebook, Mountains for Mortals – New England, the Parkman/Bald loop hike is one of the most scenic in Acadia National Park. Climbing Bald Peak on a trail of the same name, wonderful views of eastern Penobscot Bay greeted us from the exposed summit. Persisting on to Parkman and Gilmore, each peak provided more exceptional vistas. From Gilmore, we dropped into a heavily forested area and then climbed steeply on the Grandgent Trail to glorious panoramas at the top of barren Sargent Mountain.
Responsible for starting the chowder early, my culinary duties dictated an early return. Leaving the group resting next to the summit cairn, I descended to Route 3 via the Maple Spring Trail. They resumed their trip to Penobscot Mountain, completing a significant alpine undertaking.
My previous three chowders had been deemed successes by the hard grading chowderheads. Alas, this year was a colossal flop. The refrigerator failed and the chowder turned bad. Resisting the temptation to serve the soured contents with a poker face, a sheepish confession was proffered.
Three out of four is exceptional in baseball; even better in the Senate. Not so when cooking the PPCS chowder. Having responsibility for a large meeting of chowder-less chowderheads is a terrible burden to bear. Fortunately, we always have more than enough to eat as most members bring potluck dishes to supplement the chowder. There were no malnourished chowderheads! However, the disaster begs the question, is my cook’s position in jeopardy?
Constructed under the auspices of philanthropist John Rockefeller about a century ago, the Carriage Roads of Acadia National Park were originally designed for horse-drawn carriages. With about forty-five miles of trails, I consider them to be the best most scenic off-road bike rides in Maine.
My favorite Carriage Road bike ride is a section called Around the Mountain. Beginning at Eagle Lake Trailhead on Route 233, we road south for two miles along picturesque Eagle Lake. Dropping precipitously to Aunt Betty Pond, we then began a steady climb towards Hadlock Pond. Reaching Around the Mountain junction, it is a steep two mile ascent to the high point along the shoulder of Sargent Mountain where there are breathtaking views of Somes Sound and Cadillac Mountain. From there, we reveled in a rollicking ride down to Eagle Lake.
Despite some inclement weather and a chowder catastrophe, it was another wonderful PPCS weekend in paradise. Next year, I’ll get the chowder right, given the chance.