Maine: New Life Goals and Quiet Towns

Cadillac Mountain Overlook
I look out over Maine's Coast from the top of Cadillac Mtn.

Back in college, Kim visited Ogunquit, ME with her roommate on a bit of a whim over a long weekend. They’d heard of the sleepy Maine town on the Travel Channel as one of the most beautiful beaches in the United States. After their inaugural trip, Kim was insistent that I visit Maine with her sometime.

A few years later, we made the trip up to Maine over a long weekend in October. 7 hours on the road, we rolled into Maine and were treated to its beautiful fall foliage. While peak foliage had long passed, some of the trees were still tinted a beautiful rusty orange. The air was chilly. In fact on our first trip up, we were surprised to see some mid-October snow as we arrived.

As you pull into Ogunquit proper, the first thing you notice is the five-way stop with no traffic signals. You read that right – NO TRAFFIC SIGNALS. A handful of stop signs and some general politeness make this crazy intersection totally navigable. This intersection stands as a testament to just how quiet Ogunquit is. No one is in a rush, so the rules of the road get followed. In most of New York, that kind of intersection would turn into a 20 car pileup in about four seconds as every driver decided it most definitely was their turn and screw that other guy and his dumb face!

Small shops, restaurants and bars dot each of the streets that culminate in this wonderfully choreographed ballet of traffic. The Front Porch and Rose Cove Cafe (apple crisp, a sundae bar and Adirondack chairs situated around a fire at night) are true highlights.

However, the best spot to spend your day just hanging out is down the road at Perkin’s Cove, a great little collection of shops and restaurants right on the coast. This idyllic little spot could easily fill an afternoon. If you feel the need to walk off your lunch, you can also walk along Marginal Way.

Marginal Way has no shops on it. The walk is easy with only a few short inclines and it travels along the scenic Atlantic coast. It’s not a terribly long walk, but you’ll stop repeatedly to just take in the sights and watch the ocean crash over this rocky stretch of coast. Marginal Way is far-and-away my favorite bit of Ogunquit. It’s beautiful and has been the highlight for me of both of our visits. I highly recommend it.

Ogunquit is just one small Maine town that Kim and I have visited though. On our second visit to Maine, after a short trip to Ogunquit and a day in Kennebunkport we made our way to Bar Harbor (Bah Habah for you Maine residents). Bar Harbor feels like a larger version of Perkin’s Cove. Fun little tourist shops, restaurants and a nice little park make up this Maine town. Shopping around is fun and there are plenty of nice stores in the area, but for me the real highlight was nearby Acadia National Park.

Kim and I took a scenic flight over the park at sunset and from the air, it is gorgeous. However, if you really want to experience the park, you need to  drive the park loop at the very least. From this 27 mile road, you can drive to the top of Cadillac Mountain for a beautiful panoramic view of Maine’s coast, visit Sand Beach and dip your toes into its ice-cold water and pass a variety of other beautiful views and opportunities for short walks. As we drove in to Acadia, I began researching the National Parks in the United States.

As a child, I took a cross-country road trip with some close family friends. On this trip, we visited a number of the National Parks, including Yellowstone, Mammoth Caves and the Grand Canyon. I have great memories of every National Park I’ve been to and was excited to make my first trip in to Acadia. It was then, much to the chagrin of Kim (though I think she’s come around a bit now) that I announced that I wanted to start over with Acadia and visit every US National Park. I want to have vivid memories as an adult of every one of these beautiful places.

Since declaring this goal, I’ve made it to Acadia, Glacier Bay, Mt. Rainier and Haleakalā. Not too bad.

Aside from just loving the natural beauty of these places, I made this goal as a bit of a creative challenge. Games are frequently set in civilized areas – even if the setting is remote. Everything from medieval hamlets to shining futuristic metropolises are commonplace in games. Most role-playing games take place in vast landscapes, but they’re frequently not much more than set dressing for the grind as you move from town to the next dungeon. The Witcher series and Far Cry 2 through Far Cry 4 seem to be putting some more attention to detail in their more natural landscapes, but for the most part – wilderness is rarely the focus of any game. As survival simulators are growing in popularity and technology is allowing for more expansive worlds, we do seem to be trying to represent natural landscapes a bit more, but even in games like DayZ or Rust, gameplay starts to rapidly focus on even the tiniest hint of population because that is where supplies we are familiar with reside – canned food and weaponry.

Now that’s hardly a knock against those games. I’m an especially big fan of the Far Cry series. In all honesty, I love writing stories set in places that humans have populated, but I think that using some of nature’s beauty can provide some really interesting flavor to games even if you don’t totally disregard civilized areas. Far Cry does strike a nice balance of using natural geographical features to create some really beautiful and interesting play-spaces. Alan Wake is another game that I think takes a more rustic approach to world design. In fact, Alan Wake‘s Bright Falls, while inspired by Washington state is fairly reminiscent of a cross between Ogunquit and Bar Harbor.

“Talk had faded with the daylight. The silence that set in was oppressive. The encroaching dark, the groundmist collecting into small, curdled pools…for the first time it seemed perfectly real and totally unnatural…” – Stephen King, The Long Walk

Alan Wake actually makes great use of nature as a setting. There are scenes where the game plays with some more nature-oriented locations where you experience the spot by day first. In many cases, these locations are beautiful by day, but when night falls, they become quite terrifying. That’s part of what makes natural settings so fascinating to me – even if they’re nothing more than set dressing and aren’t the source of conflict or challenge. There is this duality of nature, where during the day, everything is beautiful and in our minds – safe. However, as the world around us grows dark, we tend to huddle around camp fires or seek shelter because at night, nature becomes scary. We don’t know what’s out there and that makes for interesting situations almost immediately.

Those of you who have played Minecraft, think back to the first time you experienced night in that game. That feeling of not knowing what to expect as you rapidly cobbled a protective dirt hut around yourself is exactly why more games should explore the natural beauty of the world around us.

What to know if you go

Going just after peak fall foliage has worked well for us – the sleepy towns of Maine are even sleepier. Just be aware that it can get cold pretty early in the Maine and sometimes temperatures can swing drastically in the fall – snow at night and 70s in the afternoon.

Peak foliage times vary by location, but tend to be late September into early October. Tourist season seems to die off pretty quickly afterwords if you want to dodge the crowds but still enjoy some color.

Acadia National Park

Much of the park loop gets closed down in December until spring, so plan accordingly. Park entrance costs $20 per vehicle.

Places

Ogunquit

Ogunquit, ME, United States

The Front Porch

9 Shore Rd Ogunquit, ME 03907
(207) 646-4005

Rose Cove Cafe

221 Main St, Ogunquit, ME 03907
(207) 641-2494

Perkin's Cove

Perkins Cove Ogunquit, ME 03907

Marginal Way

Marginal Way Walkway, Ogunquit, ME 03907, USA

Bar Harbor

Bar Harbor, ME, United States

Acadia National Park

Acadia National Park, ME, United States
(207) 288-3338

Ogunquit

Ogunquit, ME, United States
http://www.ogunquit.org/

The Front Porch

9 Shore Rd Ogunquit, ME 03907
(207) 646-4005
http://thefrontporch.com/

Rose Cove Cafe

221 Main St, Ogunquit, ME 03907
(207) 641-2494

Perkin's Cove

Perkins Cove Ogunquit, ME 03907

Marginal Way

Marginal Way Walkway, Ogunquit, ME 03907, USA

Bar Harbor

Bar Harbor, ME, United States
http://www.barharborinfo.com/

Acadia National Park

Acadia National Park, ME, United States
(207) 288-3338
http://www.nps.gov/acad/index.htm

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