Friday, June 27, 2014

650B and Acadia National Park - an Uncommon Pair for Cycling

650B is an uncommon bicycle wheel size in the U.S. and Acadia National Park in Maine is an uncommon national park but they were made for each other. Acadia is one of the few national parks east of the Mississippi River.

It was created in a very unusual way... totally from private land donations. Maine has always been a vacationland for the east coast.

There are lots of summer homes of the wealthy on the rocky coastline. Around the early 1900s, a group of these landowners, including George Dorr and his father along with Charles Eliot and John D. Rockefeller Jr., decided to try and save a portion of Mount Desert Island by donating land and promoting the idea of making it a park. They had quite a time convincing the government of the day to accept it!  In addition, Rockefeller financed the construction of over 50 miles of gravel carriage roads with 17 beautiful granite bridges. Rockefeller was a horseman and wanted the carriage roads free of the new noisy automobiles. A man after my own heart.

I am western born and bred and a national park, for me, is a wild place with critters that might eat you if you don't behave. So I was quite disappointed at Acadia having the moniker of national park when I first arrived. It felt more like a giant New York Central Park to me than a wild place. But, as a cyclist, I could not deny that the carriage roads, with no cars allowed, were awfully nice for riding and perfect for a 650B randonneuring bike with it's wide cushy tires. But don't expect anything flat. The carriage roads are either a climb or a fast ride down with not much in between. However, the roads are graded for carriages and the climbs are never too steep but you might want to bring your triple. Cadillac Mountain is the highest point on the east coast so many of the carriage roads have great views.

When the summer sun is making other parts of the country uncomfortably hot, Acadia provides considerable shade and cooler temperatures for riding.

The stone bridges are an amazing display of the stone mason's craft. Rockefeller wanted them to blend in with the natural environment so the local granite was sculpted rough to match the natural rock.
I was pleased to find so many families riding the carriage roads together and the Park Loop road is nicely paved and a lot of roadies were out riding that loop.

Even though I would guess that cyclists are now the number one users of the carriage roads, the Park Service has not made it easy for us.

You can camp at the Blackwoods Campground on the east end of the isle but there are no bike trails that go directly from the campground to connect with the carriage roads. You can ride from the campground on a little trail to the main Park Loop road but the Park Loop road is one-way and you can't get back to the campground the same way.
The Park Loop Road - paved but no shoulders.
The public road "Highway 3" can be reached via the east entrance, for your return, but it is a bad road for cyclists with fast traffic, no shoulders and rough edges to the road. We did find an alternative on a small, quiet and beautiful residential road (Cooksey Dr.) that gets you most of the way back without using much of Highway 3.
Cooksey Road bypasses the worst of Highway 3/Champlain Rd

In late June, a shuttle bus starts running that you can use to get into and out of the park with your bike but it would be nice of the Park Service to recognize the value of cyclist visitors and to provide a basic bike path to get them to and from the campground safely.

For those of us interested in expanding our cycling to gravel forest roads the opportunity to ride in Acadia National Park should not be overlooked.

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