Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Running for lobstah

My husband and I just got back from an amazing vacation in Maine that I cannot say enough good things about. We relaxed, ate amazing seafood, and got in some great sightseeing. We took our pups along, and they loved being on vacation. To top it all off I got to run a bucket list race, the LL Bean 10k, with Joan Benoit Samuelson. Okay, not with her considering that she was 20 minutes ahead of me, but we did run the same race. Awesome.

Murphy loves vacation
To break up the 17 hour drive, we stopped overnight in Albany, New York.  We are working on seeing all of the U.S. capitol buildings, so a stop in Albany (which was right on the way) killed two birds with one stone. Albany is about what you'd expect - a seemingly sleepy town, a bit run down, and dominated by state government. What surprised me about Albany was the cultural diversity. There were tons of shops and restaurants catering to all different cultures. The main street displayed flags from all over the world. Despite its size and geographic location (kind of in the middle of nowhere), it was surprisingly diverse. 

Visiting the New York Capitol Building
We rented a quaint cottage on the Atlantic Ocean in West Bath, Maine. The cottage was somewhat isolated yet close to everything. As soon as we drove up and saw the ocean view, we knew it was the right decision.  The 3 bedroom, 2 bath cottage was just perfect for us and the pups. 

The cottage we rented in Maine
How's this for a view?
Shortly after arriving we headed out to get some groceries for the cottage and to grab dinner.  We had a recommendation for Gilmore's Seafoods, so we went to check it out. Gilmore's was little more than a tiny building on the side of the road, but we quickly learned this is part of what makes Maine fantastic. We both had lobster rolls and fries - so good.

First stop - Gilmore's

Excited for lobster rolls

First delicious food of the trip
I started off my first morning in Maine with a run. I ran to the end of the road we were staying on, which turned out to be only about a quarter mile. I then headed out onto the main road to finish a route. It was so quiet - the only sound I could hear were my feet hitting the pavement and my breathing (which was haggard due to the hilly terrain). We then headed north to Augusta to visit Maine's capitol building.

Before heading to the Capitol we stopped at The Red Barn for lunch. The Red Barn is a larger eatery with ample outdoor space. I had fried clams and fries - amazing. The food was incredible, and all the positive reviews we'd read were dead on. I'd totally recommend.  

Fried clams

The Maine capitol was much more like Michigan's with a center dome and picturesque exterior. It had a porch on the upper floor that visitors could sit on (complete with rocking chairs). It was gorgeous. We then decided to walk around Augusta's downtown which was just kind of sad. There were lots of empty storefronts and a misused riverfront.  I was happy to get out of Augusta to head down to Freeport for packet pick-up.

Relaxing on the porch at the Maine Capitol
Jumping in front of the Maine Capitol in a skirt and wedges = talent.
Freeport is about 45 minutes from Augusta, and it was a quick trip. I'd heard that I'd really like the shopping in Freeport, and I'd heard right. Freeport is an outlet town, but instead of the traditional outlet set up, it has the stores arranged in a downtown fashion. The town has even restored some older buildings that now house outlet stores like Banana Republic and Abercrombie and Fitch.  L.L. Bean is clearly a generous corporate citizen of the community.  After doing some shopping we picked up my packet.  The New Balance tech shirt is one of the best race shirts I've ever had, and the registration was pretty inexpensive. And really, it's all about the shirt.
Posing at LL Bean in Freeport

A gorgeous day
Not holding the lobster
We headed back to Bath for dinner at J.R. Maxwell & Co. in downtown Bath. I had a pasta with seafood and a parmesan sauce. The sauce was a bit heavy, but the experience was still nice. The restaurant had tall, open windows that look out onto the street.  Our service was good, and you just can't beat the price of seafood in Maine.

Wednesday morning, the 4th of July, we got up early to head to Freeport (about 20 minutes) for the 10k. We found parking easily, and made our way to the start. It was raining a little before the race, but it was much better than the oppressive heat of my last few races. As I was waiting for the race to start I heard someone say Joan Benoit Samuelson was there. Joan is an Olympic champion (winner of the first women's Olympic Marathon in 1984). She still holds the fastest time for an American woman in the Olympic Marathon and in the Chicago Marathon. She's truly a running legend, and I was completely star struck to be in the same race.

Joan Benoit Samuelson at the start (in the gray in the right side)

Me at the start (in argyle...shocking)
I ran a good race. The course was very hilly, and the rain stopped to yield to cloudy, humid conditions. I found myself praying the rain would start again. The course was very crowded the first few miles and then thinned out nicely. It felt hard - the hills really took a lot out of me. But at the end I blasted between two runners to finish strong. I took 22 seconds off the PR I set in March to finish in 57 minutes even. While that was about 19 minutes slower than Joan Benoit Samuelson, it was inspiring to just be in the same race.

Joan Benoit Samuelson finishing

19 minutes later, me blasting between two people

Strong finish

After the race we headed back to Bath to watch the Bath 4th of July parade. Without intending to we were there during Bath's annual Heritage Days - a celebration with a carnival, live music, and people everywhere. Downtown Bath is ADORABLE. It's a city with a population of less than 10,000 people, and I'm not sure there was a single empty storefront. It is a recipient of a 2012 Great American Main Street award, and it's well deserved. In the small downtown there are 2 (yes 2!!) grocery stores. There are tons of restaurants and local shops. It was incredible. The downtown was filled with people, and Heritage Days turned out to be a great display of community pride.

We headed back to the cottage to rest for a bit, but not before stopping at Plant's Seafood for lobster roll #2 of the trip. I liked Plant's WAY better than Gilmore's. It had less dressing on it, and the lobster tasted fresher and less chewy. Two thumbs up. The only downside is that Plant's serves their lobster rolls with chips instead of fries. I did miss the delicious fries we got at Gilmore's.

That evening we came back to downtown Bath to ride some carnival rides. I admit - I am a sucker for carnie rides. We rode the ferris wheel, the Tilt-a-Whirl, and my favorite, the Scrambler, twice. I was laughing so hard that my stomach was sore and my face hurt from smiling. I can't remember the last time I had that much fun.

This is my face on the Scrambler. Classic.
On Thursday we decided to head down to Portland. I'd heard Portland was a vibrant city, and I was not disappointed. There were people everywhere, and we had a difficult time finding a place to park. We headed first to get some lunch at Gilbert's Chowder House. I had the special - chowder and fried Maine shrimp. I'm not so sure why I was craving so much fried food, but it was worth it  (and vacation after all). We then walked around downtown Portland.

Some shots from downtown Portland

For years I've held Chicago on a pedestal as my all-time favorite city, and after only a few hours, Portland unceremoniously knocked it right off.  This city has placemaking down. There are blocks upon blocks of stores, restaurants, bakeries, coffee shops. I'd say 95 percent of the businesses we saw were local. The streets were narrow and walkable (and cobblestone!), and there were shops EVERYWHERE. I was delightfully overwhelmed at what to go see next. Even the alleys had shops and restaurants in them. It was just unbelievable. We went in dozens of stores, and I could not get enough.  

More from downtown Portland
We decided to take a mid-afternoon breather and stopped at The Thirsty Pig, a bar that has a plethora of pork options on its menu and lots of beer selections. They had a mimosa special, so I decided to indulge in a few. We walked around Portland a bit more after a few cocktails. I loved Portland so much that I feel inadequate to describe how fantastic it was. There were so many people, it was so vibrant with green space and just life. It was amazing.

A chalkboard for public use! Wonder who wrote this?
Exposed brick, great atmosphere

After our visit to Portland we headed back to the cottage where we could look for jobs in Portland. I was assured by the bartender at The Thirsty Pig that Portland winters were brutal, but I figured they couldn't be much worse than Michigan's, right? (Please no one burst my bubble.) Okay so we're not moving to Portland. But it's fun to pretend.

Friday morning we started our last day in Maine. My husband and I went for a short run and relaxed a bit.  We decided to head up to Boothbay Harbor, an area about an hour north of us. We'd heard it was gorgeous spot, and we thought it would be fun. First was lunch at Kaler's, a place hailed by the locals. Then we just walked around and enjoyed the shops and harbor views.

Gorgeous Boothbay Harbor

We drove around a bit and got lost, but then we discovered we'd arrived at this peninsula (honestly I don't even know where we were). We went to a town pier and it felt like the world had ended. The ocean views were sweeping and just incredible. We walked around a bit and took some photos.

Amazing, amazing views.
After we finished packing we headed out to Solo Bistro in downtown Bath for our last dinner. This was another spot with rave reviews. It had an extremely chic interior and delightful menu. I had a lobster pot pie which contained an entire lobster's worth of meat. It wasn't heavy nor was it baked. It was topped with a crispy piece of phyllo. The pot pie, along with the two glasses of Sauvignon Blanc, made this the perfect last night in Maine.

Enjoying the sunset on our last night in Maine
In case you haven't realized it yet, I am in love with Maine. Every town we visited was incredible, and Portland just blew me away. The LL Bean 10k was one of the best races I've ever done. I've never really been sad to leave a vacation before, but I admit that I cried as we drove away from our rented week-long home.  Whatever you've heard about Maine is likely wrong. Maine is better than whatever you've heard.  


  1. Girl, you're totally making me want to jump in the car & head to Maine this instant. Fabulous post.

  2. Lis you should - it's amazing!! I completely recommend.

  3. I haven't been since I was 10. I'm realizing how completely insane I've been to not have gone back yet.

  4. I think this should be the next Synowiec vacation...