My introduction to Maine coastal islands came when I was a young Revenue Officer with the Internal Revenue Service in 1973. Revenue Officer responsibilities did not make me particularly popular with independent island fishermen. The mission was to collect seriously delinquent taxes, often using harsh enforcement measures, and conducting preliminary investigations on those perceived to have committed various other tax sins. In short, I was not loved.
Conversely, I embraced the islands and their resilient uncompromising inhabitants. Their rough and tumble hard-working lifestyle, harsh weather and relative isolation were very appealing. Most of all, I savored the majestic attraction of the islands.
On an early visit to Beals Island, the local radio station announced a warning over the airwaves that the IRS was crossing the Beals Island Bridge from Jonesport. When I traveled to North Haven and Vinalhaven Islands on the ferry from Rockland, my reluctant customers had an abundance of prior warning as advance ferry reservations were a necessity. Not surprisingly, most weren’t home on my first few visits. Since many of the Maine State Ferry Service employees lived on the islands or had relatives there, I suspected a connection. Without disclosing some of the draconian realities of IRS procedures, I found ways to get their attention. Some of them actually became friends, especially after they learned that I was a native Mainer and not from away.
It was common for me to have a large inventory of cases on North Haven and Vinalhaven. Driving a ridiculously conspicuous government Jeep, I usually stayed at the Tidewater Motel on Vinalhaven for two or three nights. If warranted, I took the short ferry across Fox Islands Thoroughfare to North Haven. A runner, I usually jogged on the roads at the end of the day. On a couple of occasions, disenchanted fishermen gently nudged me off the road as a reminder that I was an unwelcome visitor on their turf. Given the adversarial nature of my presence, I considered that acceptable island etiquette. At some point, I met cyclists transporting bikes on the ferry. My reaction was simple, “What a concept!” Exceptionally scenic rides on lightly traveled roads and I might go unrecognized wearing a helmet. I resolved to return for cycling adventures in a later life.
A few years ago, I completed solo trips to Islesboro, North Haven and Chebeaque Islands. This summer, I decided to schedule some Penobscot Paddle and Chowder Society weekday trips for ancient retired Chowderheads like me. North Haven was first on the list. My wife and two retired friends enthusiastically joined me on a gorgeous hot sunny summer day.
Leaving from the ferry landing in Rockland, the one hour voyage to North Haven was worth the price of admission. We quickly passed the mile long Rockland Breakwater on our left with the impressive Camden Hills looming behind while distinctive Owls Head Lighthouse was immediately to our right. After crossing West Penobscot Bay, the journey ended enveloped by islands in Fox Islands Thoroughfare. The entire trip was a succession of breathtaking views.
Our bike ride was equally exceptional. After disembarking the ferry in the village, we rode north past the airport and turned left on Crabtree Point Road where we experienced several panoramic ocean vistas on the hilly peninsula. Returning to North Haven Shore Road, the gang stopped for lunch at a shaded picnic table next to a small market where we contemplated the remainder of our itinerary.
Deciding on a loop trip on the outer island roads, we persisted northwest on the North Shore Road soon crossing a bridge over picturesque Pulpit Harbor stopping for obligatory photos. Rounding the eastern end of the island, our sun baked group arrived at the entrance to Mullen Head Park. Following rough dirt roads to an idyllic site overlooking Mullen Cove and outer Penobscot Bay, we lingered for a much appreciated respite.
Departing south from the park, our intrepid band passed tranquil Cubby Harbor on the South Shore Road and returned to the village. With time to spare before departure on the last ferry, we explored the busy harbor community. Connoisseurs of fine beers, my friends found an excellent microbrewery.
Our trek was a little over twenty miles in distance. I recommend cross or trail bikes for the excursion as the roads in Mullen Head Park are rocky and it’s a “must see” location. We experienced a thoroughly entertaining return trip on the ferry with a constant view of the stately Camden Hills overlooking the bay.
As far as I could ascertain, I went unrecognized. Probably had something to do with the absence of a full head of black hair and decades of accumulated wrinkles. Think I’ll try Vinalhaven next.