The BIKEMAINE Diaries, Part I: Bath, Phippsburg, & Doubling Point Light

Posted in by Garrick Hoffman

This year, I resolved to explore the Maine coast as much as possible.

Even though I grew up near the Maine coast, in the towns of Cumberland and North Yarmouth, I recently began to realize I’ve ironically never spent a substantial amount of time there. In my early-to-mid 20s, when a spirit for adventure really began to come alive within me, I never opted for the ocean; I opted for the mountains. The reason for this is because despite its profound beauty and enchanting nature, I’ve always associated the beach and coast with leisure and relaxation, rather than thrill or adventure. The beaches kind of bored me. I can do it from time to time, but the idea of going to a beach to just lay down in the sun surrounded by running, screaming children has never been particularly appealing to me. (But again, I can do it – after all, it is more than that. It’s nice to just chill and read a book, play pass with friends, have a couple beers, or just watch the sunset.)

So the mountains appealed to me more, hiking as much as I could whether it was Tumbledown, the Bigelows or my friends’ and my annual trip to Katahdin.

But I’ve now experienced most of Maine’s best mountains and many of its other inland features, like the Allagash River in the far north, Angel Falls and Coos Canyon in Rangely, and Grafton Notch State Park near Bethel.

So…what about the coast?

Beyond the beaches and state parks of Greater Portland/Casco Bay, I’ve been to Acadia and Swans Island, Quoddy Head Lighthouse, and Cutler. That’s pretty much it. That may sound like a decent amount to someone, but remember that Maine actually has nearly 3,500 miles of coastline! So this leaves much of York County, much of the mid-coast, and basically the entirety of the Down East region unexplored.

After getting a road bike in recent years and developing a greater interest in landscape photography – and realizing how little I’ve seen the Maine coast above Cumberland County – I decided it’s time to explore this part of Maine that is so iconic. The bike, in my estimation, was the best means to do so. Thankfully, I discovered the Bicycle Coalition of Maine, and their website is my go-to to discover and execute all my rides, specifically the “Where to Ride” page. (By the way: HUGE shout out to the BCM for all their hard work mapping out this route and all the others! Please consider donating to this amazing organization so they can continue doing such great work to make Maine bicycle-friendly!)

One of my favorite parts of doing this is I can turn it into a bike-photography adventure. I bring my camera with me in my car, do the ride (sans my camera for long rides; I only use my iPhone since the camera is just too heavy), then go on some adventure afterwards!

This is the first installment of my BikeMaine series, and while this post is about the Maine coast, I plan to also cover rides in the country and more inland in general. The goal is for this series to serve as a guide for readers, in which I’ll describe my experiences and offer advice in hopes that you, too, will take your bike out for a rad adventure!

Come for a ride with Garrick the Rad Ride Guide!

(….haha)

“Merrymeeting Bay and Beaches”
Distance: 34.6 miles
Elev. Gain: 1,836 ft.

This route will take you from the town of Bath all the way down to the bottom of Phippsburg, with the opportunity to visit Popham Beach!

Bath is about 40 minutes northeast of Portland. Phippsburg is just south of Bath and is essentially a huge peninsula that stretches out into Casco Bay. The Kennebec River runs on the east side of the towns, from north to south and into the Atlantic Ocean. On the west side of Phippsburg/Bath is a huge inlet complete with scores of islands, with beautiful Harpswell on the other side.

This is how the BCM describes the ride: “The 34-mile loop takes you up and down one of Maine’s many peninsulas. Site of the Popham Colony, Phippsburg was between 1607–1608 the first English settlement attempted in New England. You can visit Fort Popham and imagine what it must have been like to be part of that history. If you are interested in taking a break from biking, Popham Beach State Park, scenic Parker Head on the Kennebec River, and Morse Mountain Conservation Area are worth checking out.”

My Rating: Difficult. Between the length and the elevation gain, this one is determined to kick your butt, so get ready! (But it’s SO worth it!)

My Ten Riding Essentials:

  1. Felt Road Bike (I bought this used from a Cumberland Center resident just a couple weeks ago after mine got stolen recently, and I’m so thankful for it!)

  2. CamelBak backpack w/ water bladder (not sure how many liters) and two pockets

  3. Cell phone (w/ Spotify!)

  4. Water bottle

  5. Wallet and face mask (in case I want to stop somewhere for food, which I did)

  6. AirPods (great for music and super convenient without the wires, although I still sometimes think it’d be better to have wired ones with the ability to control volume easier)

  7. Breathable athletic shirt, running sneakers, and bike shorts (I don’t get too fancy with biking)

  8. Chapstick (it can get dry out there)

  9. HELMET!

  10. Also – DON’T FORGET THE CAR KEYS!

Start: You can ultimately choose where to start, but in this case I went with the BCM map and parked at the end of Cobb Street, by the Bath Municipal Band’s building and an apartment complex. It’s situated right behind the Bath Area Family YMCA. (I’m still unsure how acceptable it is to park here, or at the YMCA; there were signs advising no parking, but in the spot I was in, it was only applied to Mondays-Thursdays, and I got the green light from an older couple that walked out of the apartment complex. I ultimately didn’t experience any trouble after almost four hours of parking here on a Sunday.)

My Route: I ended up taking Route 209 all the way down to the Popham Beach area, detouring to the Fort Popham State Historic Site, which I highly recommend doing if time (and fitness!) allows!

Before reaching Fort Popham, I stopped at Bisson’s Center Store, a variety store with a kitchen, where I grabbed a couple slices of pizza and a water before continuing further. You could also do this after Fort Popham if you needed, but I stopped sooner since I didn’t have lunch before my ride…haha. (I ended up being SUPER glad I stopped for food – there aren’t many options after this, if any at all!)

At Fort Popham I stopped to explore the fort a little and take some photos with my phone. I also took the opportunity to stretch for a bit and just take a break. It’s a perfect halfway point for these purposes, and it helps that it’s so scenic, with people fishing, boats floating on the water, and birds flying about!

Taken within the Fort’s boundaries

Not a bad place to take a break, stretch, and snack out! (Right outside the fort)

After Fort Popham, I hooked a right from Route 209/Popham Road onto Parker Head Road, which ended up being my absolute favorite part of the ride. The road was far quieter in terms of traffic, since all the traffic heading toward Popham was all on Route 209. It felt more peaceful and was strikingly gorgeous as the spring colors were really coming to life in residents’ yards. The hills were also CRAZY at times – in a good way!

A section of Parker Head Road. Very little traffic, beautiful scenery and lots of downhills made this my favorite stretch!

When you get to the end of Parker Head Road, you’re on 209 and in front of Bisson Center Store again, in case you needed anything. From here, look for Stoney Brook Road on your left (about 1/2 mile from the store) and turn there. You’ll follow this until you turn right onto Meadowbrook Road, and then another right onto Campbell Pond Road until you get back onto High Street/Route 209, where you’ll turn left and head back the way you came. This portion of the ride enables you to see the more rural part of Bath/West Bath along Winnegance Creek, and it’s beautiful!

To get a glimpse of my ride, watch my video here!

Reflections: 

Originally I meant to go a slightly different route, but ended up being really happy with this one.

First, I love how Fort Popham gives you an opportunity to take a break to explore the Fort (even though, I should warn, it’s a very popular place) and just rest. There’s no pay-for-admission; however, Popham Beach is, and that could be really worth it if you’re biking on a hot day and you’re desperate to cool off in the water. So I was glad I ended up detouring to the Fort!

I was also thankful I went counter-clockwise on this stretch of Phippsburg (the loop that begins at Bisson Center) because it was nice going from a more traffic-heavy section of the route to essentially having the road all to myself, going from Route 209 to Parker Head instead of the reverse.

If time allows, you could also conceivably stop at Morse Mountain or Parker Head Site. I didn’t do either in the interest of time (and butt-kicking-ness), but I know Morse Mountain could be worth a detour, since the mountain is basically just a pleasant walk to the top and has great views. I went there last November on my birthday, woohoo!

Ultimately I had so much fun on this ride. It was dynamic with the combination of flat road, uphill and downhill. It was beautiful as the spring weather was awakening the colors of all the flowers in bloom. The mix of coast and country was a great feature that made this route so varied and ever-changing. Having the variety store as an option to stop at for food, water, or anything else was supremely helpful and convenient. Finally, the ability to stop at Fort Popham or Popham Beach makes this a truly unique, beautiful, and exciting ride!

Continue reading below for POST-RIDE FOOD & FUN!

Results:

I use the Under Armour Map My Ride app to track my rides. View the images below for the stats it provided me after I completed my ride. I’m not sure how the app compares to others, but I enjoy using it.

I accidentally went a few extra miles after inadvertently going the way I came from after leaving Popham and not turning onto Parker Head Road…whoopsie 😀

I’m not sure whether the max speed on the left is correct…haha. If so, that’s INSANE.

Epilogue: Post-Ride Food & Fun

After I finally reached the terminus of my ride, I was, as one might expect, pretty ravenous. So after I got back to my car and did some stretching (remember to stretch at the end!), I ordered a steak and cheese to-go from The Cabin on Washington Ave in Bath. After I picked it up (along with a 16-ounce can of Allagash White…hehe) I ventured only 10 minutes to Doubling Point Light in Arrowsic to catch it at golden hour for some photos (and for a sweet place to enjoy my food). I’d never been to this lighthouse before, so I was excited to see it, especially since the cloud cover was looking promising for a cool golden hour/sunset moment!

The lighthouse is open to the public, but it’s situated so close to the house of a nearby resident that you’d think you’re walking into someone’s backyard, so visitors need to be mindful and respect their privacy. Thankfully I was alone and no one else was visiting at this time!

I took a TON of photos here, but below is one of my favorites.

You can order canvas and framed prints of it from my store!


Thanks for reading!

I encourage you to get on your bike and take it for a ride! This adventure was so “full” and rewarding, so consider this same adventure for yourself!

Do you have any questions for me? What are your favorite bike routes in Maine (or beyond)? Do you wanna get more into biking? Let me know what you think in the comments below!

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