Gail and I decided to use one of our RCI certificates and take a week off just before the kids came home for Thanksgiving. We settled on the Bethel Inn and Resort, in Bethel Maine. We chose this spot for a few reasons; it was within a days drive of Moncton, we had never explored that section of Maine before, and it was close to North Conway, NH - a great place to do some Christmas shopping.
The drive down was beautiful. We crossed at Houlton and drove down the I95 to the other side of Bangor where we exited at Newport. From there we followed Rte 2 through Skowhegan, Farmington, Rumford to Bethel.
For anyone who hasn`t taken this drive before, it is a very picturesque drive on a sunny day. At various times the road parallels the Kennebec River, the Androscoggin and the Sandy Rivers. The road winds through hardwood forests, small towns and is a pleasure to drive if you have some time on your hands.
Bethel is a quaint little community sitting in the Androscoggin Valley in the eastern foothills of the White Mountain Nation Forest. At one time this was a lumbering town. One of the long time residents we spoke to told us there used to be three saw mills in the area but they had all closed down over the years. One of it's current claims to fame is that it is the home to the world's largest snowman in both 1999 and 2008.
A major employer in Bethel is the Gould Academy, named after the town's first pastor, Rev. Daniel Gould. It is a private, co-ed, college prep school offering both boarding and day school programs. It was founded in 1835 and has approximately 240 students in grades 9 to 12. It has a well maintained campus, located in the center of the village and is just a short distance from the Bethel Resort and Inn.
The Bethel Inn first opened it's doors to the public in July of 1913. As I mentioned before, Bethel was founded on agriculture and forestry, but now tourism is it's main industry. This a beautiful part of the world with many golf courses and ski hills in close proximity. While we were there, several tour buses stayed at the Inn as people came to see the fall colours.
Bethel also has a large number of artisans and some great places to eat. We purchased a lamp and serving tray at Bonnema Pottery. This husband and wife owned business turns out dozens of designs of lamps, dishes, platters and all things pottery. Beautiful work and we took a long time making a final decision.
One evening we ate at the SS Milton restaurant situated in an old house, almost across the street from Bonnema Pottery. Like many things, it was walking distance from the Inn. The slogan on their sign at the street is "a fine casual restaurant" and they lived up to their name. Our meals were excellent, the service perfect and they had craft beer from a New Hampshire brewery called Smutty Nose. Couldn't resist that. I was a nice red ale with a full flavoured finish so I ordered the crab and shrimp stuffed sole which worked very nicely with it.
We found out from one of the waitresses at the Bethel Inn that the Fryeburg Fair was going on that week and that we should make it a point to attend. We decided to do so on Tuesday. It was a bit misty and not a good day for hiking so the Fair seemed like a fun way to spend the day.
We were not disappointed. The Fryeburg Fair is rural America at it's very best. It is organized by the West Oxford Agricultural Society which was incorporated in 1851. Originally 9 communities in Maine were included and in 1888, six communities from New Hampshire joined in as well. After moving around for its first few years, the Fair finally settled in Fryeburg. It now sits on 180 acres and includes a harness racing track and over 100 permanent buildings. Over 300 thousand people go through the gates in six days. It was absolutely amazing! If it had four legs and fur, there were building for it. Cattle, oxen, horses, pigs, goats, even a building full of rabbits. (I wonder if it was full at the start of the week?) We watched a lady brush an angora rabbit. It was sitting on her lap, happy as could be and it looked like it was four feet across. You could hardly find the actual rabbit in there.
We discovered that it was Woodsman Day and the crowds were out in full to see the competition. One old gentleman, who was competing in the bucksaw competition was 75 years old. Pretty impressive too. They had double bit ax throws, log rolling and more.
Gail and I wandered around all day. Lunch was no problem at all. there must have been 100 food vendors not counting every church within 50 miles selling desserts. Finding something not deep fried was a little more tricky. A few new things too - at least for us. Deep fried dough which looked a bit like a beaver tail, but deep fried dill pickle? How about deep fried kool-aid? Not sure how they did that unless they mixed the powder into the dough. Anyway, I we went with BBQ and it was great. Finished up with fresh blueberry cobbler from one of the church groups and we were good to go.
We found a short trail, called the Eye-brow Trail, that went for 1.2 miles up what looked like some steep terrain and hooked onto the AT. The walk back was less than a mile so we figured we could handle that. Well...... were we ever mistaken! The trail started out steep but good walking and we went along easily. As we went it got steeper and steeper, but then it flattened out and things were good. Then we came to a spot where the trail went straight up the side of a rock face. Well, not quite straight up, but the trail designers had drilled steel posts into the rock and ran steel cables through eyes on the top of the posts so you could pull your self up.
So we got to the top of this, and stood on a natural rock platform about 10 foot square. Nice view from there and I noticed that the mist was starting to look a bit like snow. Once Gail had joined me, we looked to see where the trail went next. Then we noticed that there were metal pipes buried in the rock forming a series of steps we could use to crawl up to the next level. So, we did this as well.
Now we're standing on a ledge about six inches wide looking out over the tree line. It is getting colder and although we're quite high up, you really don't get a sense of it because we're next to a large chunk of granite that has been worn smooth and curves out of sight so you really don't see a vertical drop.
To our dismay, the trail leads across this six inch wide ledge with a fifteen foot wall on our left side. This vertical wall had more metal pipes to hold onto. However, with the amount of rain we we had received, there was a lot of water running down this wall. We crept across this ledge, holding onto the metal pipes with rapidly freezing fingers. It was probably not much more than forty feet, but it seemed a lot further.
We got to the other side and then saw that the surface run-off had created a bit of a brook at the other end of the ledge. We needed to crawl down a few more stairs and then hop over the brook and hope to land on a small metal ladder which disappeared around the corner of the bank. We looked down the stairs, which we would have had to back down, looked at the ladder and then I said,"What if it get worse after we go up the ladder? Can you imagine trying to hop across the brook and landing on these metal bars." We decided to go back. We figured our kids were still too young to be orphans.
So back we went and we hiked a different part of the AT instead!
The next day was cool and clear and we decided to try out the Mt. Washington Auto Trail. At 6288 feet, Mt. Washington is the highest point on the east coast and is home to some of the nastiest weather on the planet. The highest wind speed ever recorded on Earth, ever, was at the summit of Mt. Washington. It was the winter of 1932 and it was 332 mph. Companies that build equipment to work in the sub-arctic test them here. The weather at the summit on October 6th was 15 degrees F with a 95 mph wind blowing . The auto trail was icy above 4200 feet so that's as far as we were allowed to go. That put us above the tree line so the view was great but it was cold!
We had a great time that week and we discovered the first day there that our Blackberry's wouldn't work in the mountain's. After a brief panic we realized this wasn't all bad. After a few days we realized this was actually quite good. For the overworked, and over stressed I highly recommend the Bethel area to help you unwind. Just take a rope with you if you decide to hike the Eyebrow Trail.