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Eagle Lake, Acadia Nat'l Park

Updated: May 13

The parking lot is a few cars full around 8 am when we hop out of the Mustang onto the wet pavement, littered with new leaves. Doug unrolls the yellow Intex inflatable kayak in the shade and hooks up the manual pump to one of the rubber intakes. I click together the three-part paddle in a sliver of sun and start pumping after Doug asks, "Wanna get warm?" It's a cold 49 degrees and windy, but the view of Eagle Lake in the crisp October morning is perfect. Eagle Lake, situated on the northern end of Route 233, is the largest freshwater lake in Acadia National Park and Mount Desert Island (Maine) and a water reservoir for local residents, equipped with signs banning many kinds of recreational activity like paddleboarding, swimming, and wading with horses or dogs. Most of the people around the perimeter of the lake are walking or biking; the whitewater from the wind--forecast to be up to 31 mph but only about half that right now--appears to have scared off any other paddlers.

After I retreat to the trunk to unwrap and click together the second paddle, Doug notices a lot of the air has already started to dissipate from the right side of the kayak. When we listen, we spot the hole, a tiny little thing that makes a big hissing sound. Doug left his patch kit in his backpack at our AirBnb 10 minutes away, so he jumps in the car to retrieve it while I sunbathe in my five layers, including my Icelandic wool sweater, on a slab of rock. It's rare that I don't have my phone these days in my minutes of down time; I study the lake instead, the small crests and the mosaic rim. There are so many of these gorgeous lakes in Acadia you can see from down below and up high, so many trails you can hike again and again for panoramic views that change with seasons and the sun.

I've decided over the past few days that Acadia--a place I've visited both in summer 2010 and September 2021 with Sara--is best this time of year, maybe exactly right now, the last week before the last week, when the leaves color the puddles and crunch underfoot, when restaurant billboards post "Last Day of the Season." It's easy to imagine Bar Harbor, a quaint little seaside town full of charming historic houses, decked out in Christmas wreaths and garland, but there's only one major tourist season: May to October. Only a few restaurants remain open during the holiday season as seasonal workers, including international students who came over on six-month visas, head home. The hospitality industry relies on those six months to generate a year's worth of revenue, which explains some of the Nashville-esque prices ($16 for a cocktail).

Our bartender the other night was telling us about the cruise ships, too, how Bar Harbor recently adopted a limit on cruise ships at the request of the locals, who say the influx of cruise ship tourists (who only stay a few hours during the day) do less long-term "good" for the town than land tourists (who typically stay several days and spend money on lodging, food and gifts). Bar Harbor now bans cruise ships during the months of April and November and sets daily limits during the busier months. It was a tricky issue, our bartender explained, for those working in hospitality. Creativity in the industry was tricky too, he added, as he mixed us a fruity rum cocktail, remembering his days as a line cook.

Doug and I muse a lot about ideal spots for theoretical vacation homes, a thought experiment that forces us to look around and ask, could I see myself here, again and again? We've been here in Bar Harbor since Saturday and have walked the downtown streets over and over, until I've finally learned to orient myself in the direction of the coast or the YMCA. Yesterday, I took a late afternoon stroll in the cold, drizzly grey, hopping in and out of cozy tourist shops I've already been to before, listening to Elton John play from The Dog & Pony Tavern and watching an old man rev his motorized scooter. He was turning right at the main drag, smiling big under a blue helmet.

When Doug gets back with the patch kit, we carry the kayak to the water--it's way lighter than I expected it to be. I get in the front first, and he hops in the back. I say we can just push off from there with our paddles, probably, but we try and try and don't get anywhere, so he jumps out and pushes us further in.

The wind is blowing against us and the sun is blinding, and we forgot to put the rudder on the kayak, but we can still steer in a straight enough line to get to our destination, first nowhere and then the white buoy across the lake that says RESTRICTED. When we turn left, the breeze blows the water from the paddles right onto my legs and face and sweater, and it's not at all pleasant, but when Doug asks if I'm miserable I say no way. I'm cold and wet and I wonder if I'd react differently if we'd known each other longer, if I'd try and somehow make my discomfort his fault. I don't know. I do know it's damn gorgeous, and Doug's playing a perfect playlist on his phone--Fleetwood Mac, CCR, etc. We power to the buoy, and I start to stretch out my hands to touch it but the wind whisks us away and we're trying to steer back to it, but we miss it again, and the whole thing makes me laugh so hard that it warms me up and I don't care about the wind or the cold, just the satisfaction of the buoy against my wet glove when Doug manages to grab it and pull it my direction, just as I'm slipping away yet again.

We steer toward the swaying grasses next and say how beautiful it all is until we notice the big rocks coming up fast underneath, so we push off of them with our paddles as Doug's cracking up behind me saying life's an adventure. We go against the wind again until finally we're riding with it, past another buoy and back to the shore.

The whole trip lasts about 45 minutes; my thick black cotton leggings are soaked through in patches and my fingers are icy as we dismantle the gear and stuff it back in the car, brown pine needles everywhere. I put my seat warmer on high and my fingers near the vents; back at our AirBnB, I strip off and contemplate a hot shower, but change into dry clothes and lay on a patch of sun on the hardwood floor instead, listening to the heat rattle through ancient pipes.

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