I grew up in Maine, so anytime I get to head back for a vacation- especially when it's not winter- is a welcome retreat. This summer Alex and I were able to both take off from our real lives for a week to head east and hang with some of my family. Normally around this time of year, my whole family- aunts, uncles, cousins, extended family and friends- would all go camping at a place (peninsula) called Hermit Island. Its a magical place that I grew to really love and cherish spending summers there every year. I love going back, but these days it seems like we've all grown up and moved away and it can be hard to get everyone together for a whole week of just enjoying each others company. So instead, this year, Alex + I joined my Dad and sister Jade, plus my Dad's partner and her daughter as we planed to hike to the top of Mt. Katahdin, Maine's tallest mountain, and then raft our way through class 5 rapids in the Penobscot River. We hopped on a plane at LAX (Miley style) and spent 5ish hours traversing the country before waking up at about 4 am in the Boston Airport, where my Dad was waiting to pick us up. First stop on the way home? A bright and early check in at LL Bean for some quality hiking boots and then to Mister (Mr?) Bagel to get double toasted onion bagels with veggie tofutti cream cheese (at least that's what I ordered). It was humid AF outside, but it was good to be back!
We got home and napped, then woke up to do a bit of foraging on Dad's property. We found at least 6 different crab apple trees, plus ripe raspberry bushes and early season blueberries to munch, and we collected some for later. It also just so happens to be peak strawberry season in Maine, so we stopped by our favorite local and SUPER vegan-friendly farm + cafe Sheepscot General to pick as many pints of organic strawberries as we could hold. That night we made dinner for the family, which included a big green salad with lots of goodies from the garden and our foraging adventure, a whole roasted cauliflower like this one, some chickpea salad with rye bread and a strawberry raspberry crisp made from the fruit we'd collected ourselves. It was so good + we were so happy to cook a healthy, protein-packed vegan meal that everyone could enjoy.
The next day we spent driving north and setting up camp and eating bagels at my FAVORITE ever bagel joint in Maine, Bagel Mainea, where I coincidentally worked in high school - so maybe I'm biased?- but almost every bagel is vegan and they offer 5 vegan-friendly spreads as well customizable vegan sandwiches and even house-made granola and bagel chips! I always get the veggie garlic, double toasted, with plenty of veggie tofutti cream cheese and sliced down the middle for my eating enjoyment. If you're in Augusta, it is way worth the visit.
The next morning we were up and out of camp by 5:30 to drive to the trailhead and get our permits checked in. Below is a picture of my sister Jade, me, and my Dad at the beginning of the hike, probably about a mile in. (Note the rad fanny back if you will!) I have a super weak stomach in the morning and rarely eat before 10 am, plus being up so early hadn't allowed me my normal morning *ahem* ritual, so at about this point I was slowly dying inside. I felt SUPER nauseous and dizzy, and also like I was going to crap my pants while hiking uphill in front of my boyfriend so yeah, it was getting bad. It was about 3 miles to the first stop with outhouses on the trail, Chimney Pond, and somehow I managed to make it there without throwing myself off the mountain itself, although I did manage to get stung by a bee while attempting to sit down and rest on the way up. It wasn't a great start. But after a visit to the ladies room at Chimney Pond, a lot of trail-side dry heaving and half of a chickpea salad sandwich, I was feeling ready to push on and conquer Katahdin. (2 pics down is Chimney Pond in all of its shorts-saving glory.)
When we left Chimney Pond, we were about 4 or 5 miles from the top and the weather was getting worse and worse. We had worn shorts and brought light rain jackets, but overall we were seriously underdressed for the ascent. Alex and I ended up getting quite a bit ahead of the rest of our group as we neared the top, and the higher we climbed the steeper it got. We kept hearing about rock scrambles but it felt like the whole top half of the mountain itself was one giant rock climbing expedition. Your arms felt like they were working just as hard as your legs, and it was getting colder and harder to bend your fingers and toes all the time, but we pushed on. We look happy even!
In the picture above right we're about 1/2 mile from the summit peak at the top of the mountain, and pretty much where we ended our hike. We had originally planed to hike Knife's Edge up to the top but the wind conditions were so strong at Chimney Pond they advised against it. When we reached the tablelands, about 1 mile from the tippy-top, the hail began. First it was a light rain, then harder and harder until actual hail was hitting us all over and the temps had dropped to about 30 degrees. Oh, and there were 50 MPH winds, so we were getting sucked around and hiking behind large boulders to stop and catch our breath. It was a really crazy expercience being up there, and even though some people chose to keep going- and I applaud them- I just could.t My fingers were frozen and I had a little mental breakdown cry feeling so guilty about turing back just before we snapped the above right picture. Luckily, Alex was (always is) amazing and coached me through it, reminding me that no one really cared if we summited but us - and that in his opinion we had gone far enough. That was enough for me! We started our descent back down the tablelands and met up with my Dad, sister, and the rest of our group just before we begin our final descent. A few of them decided to keep going, and did summit (you go guys!), but the rest of us took our frozen buns back down the mountain. We stopped and chatted a bit when we got back to the Chimney Pond station, and we continued down the trail a major thunderstorm rolled in. The lightning was close and we were soaked, but at least my feet stayed dry until the last mile or so. At that point there was a veritable river running down the trails and we were just splashing our way down, trying not to lose footing or each other in the dense rain. When we finally got to the bottom we had hiked a total of 14 miles over 9 hours, in some of the worst conditions I have ever voluntarily placed myself in. We were soaked, but we were happy to be heading back to camp, where we made a big pot of black pean pasta with garlicky tomato sauce and toasted bread. It doesn't look like much, but it was the perfect post-hike hot meal.
The next day we spent rafting down the Penobscot River, where Alex, my Dad, his partner, and the raft guide all got tossed out in a Class V rapid and I had to steer the boat to safety. NO JOKE PEOPLE. I have video evidence, if I can figure out how to single out that part and upload here. I'll work on that. Anyway, it was incredible and I wish we had more pictures but the whole losing-your-iphone-in-the-river thing was something none of us was willing to risk, so we have to pictures to prove it.
After that, we spent a day at Hermit Island, walking around a getting a small piece of what we used to go there for every year. We hiked around the island, collecting seashells and taking in as much fresh sea air as we could. Afterwards we want to the best pizza joint in coastal Maine, The Cabin. Its a great wood-built cabin (literally) that houses some of the worlds best pizza crust and lives right next door to Bath Iron Works, Maine's largest ship builder. It gets pretty busy when those guys are out for lunch around 12-1 pm, but any other time its worth stopping in for a veggie topped pizza for two.
We visited our favorite hidden gem farmstore next door, admiring the produce and hanging with the chickens they keep in the back pasture. Th next day we went paddle boarding in the Damariscotta River while my Dad and sister kayaked, and afterwards enjoyed lunch at The Newcastle Publick House, where we got to try their new vegan menu item - inspired by our cauliflower nuggets recipe! They tasted great and it was awesome to see a small restaurant like that offering something for all their customers. Also, their hand-cut french fries were AMAZING. And isn't my boyfriend just the most handsome? I sure think so.
On our last night, we played trivia at the Liberal Cup in Hallowell, and Alex and I each ordered one of their hand-made, bean + veggie based burgers with grilled onions and a side of hand-cut fries. I also worked here in high school and was always a fan of the fries. In fact, I used to be the one that CUT them all! I'm glad I don't have to do that anymore, but I love coming back for trivia night and its always great to run into old friends while we're there. We didn't win at trivia (but we didn't lose either!), and afterwards we headed home for an early bedtime so we could get our butts up in time for our flight the next day. Lucky for us, our favorite little donut shop, The Holy Donut, in Portland is open early and let us reserve and order of a dozen vegan potato donuts to scoop up on our way by. About 7 made it all the way back to California, and the rest were gone the next day. You can read our full review on The Holy Donut here. We love hanging in Maine and can't wait to go back. I'll be there for a quick visit in September again, and will definitely be getting another dozen donuts to bring back. Have you been to Maine? Where are some of your favorite places?