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Peaks Island, Portland

My adult son, home from North Carolina on his summer holiday, said riding bikes on Peaks Island was the one thing he’d like to do while home. Hmmm. Interesting, my husband and I thought. Of all the things…..

We took our two sons to Peaks Island several times when they were kids. We took our kids everywhere that we wanted them to see and experience. Our goal was to expose them broadly to see what ticked.

On Peaks Island, when they were boys, we rode bikes, looked at towers made of rocks on the backside shore, took photos used in Christmas cards, and basked in the sea air on the 20-minute ferry from Portland.

As teenagers, both sons brought friends to Peaks Island several times. Our NC son would have his cousin take the train from Boston and with the guys, they’d ferry out alone. They no longer needed my husband or me. They’d bring or rent bikes. Independent. Free. Get an ice cream. Do whatever they wanted, unfettered.

And they’d always make their way to Battery Steele in the center of the island.

Older brother is a musician who makes videos. How many discussions we’ve had of the possibilities filming a video at Battery Steele – gold mine! It’s a U.S. WWII military fortification, like so many in Casco Bay. It was built in 1942 on 14 acres nearer the backside, the ocean side, of the island. It was built to protect Casco Bay, particularly Portland Harbor, from Kennebunk to Popham Beach in Phippsburg. It wasn’t just the largest gun battery built on Peaks Island, but the largest ever built anywhere in the United States.

I find it spooky.

Always damp, deep puddles precluding us from entering at certain entrances, marred with graffiti, overgrown plants, strewn broken bottles – it’s not a place I’d visit unless urged to do so by sons. (Amazing what out-of-character things I’ll try for them.) I’ve been with them long enough to get their artistic visions. I can see it. (They’re persuasive and passionate.) But I’d just as soon stand with my rented-girl-bike-with-a-basket at the entrance listening to the birds and looking at wild flowers while they explore the concrete, dripping caves.

On this visit from NC, thunder storms were predicted on our only possible days we could visit. Day 1, we caved and headed to Blackpoint Inn and the Cliff Walk instead. Day 2, we had to go for it to get Peaks Island in before he flew south. So we did. And made it! (Rained on the ferry home but by then, it actually just felt good on my sweaty self, and the sky heading into downtown Portland was absolutely gorgeous. I don’t melt.)

We rented our bikes at Brad’s Bike Rental & Repair with several others just ¼ mile or so from the boat. We weren’t forced to wear helmets. My bike had 3 gears that didn’t seem to work (could be operator-error) and an awesome basket to hold my camera and rain jacket. We knew the way, didn’t need the map, rode Island Ave. to Seashore Ave., which opens up across the entire back shore. I loved riding behind my son. He was fast, enjoying the wind and the view, and totally in his element back in his home state of Maine in July.

We got as close as possible to Pumpkin Knob, a tiny island just off the coast of Peaks that my father once owned.

Then we rode down every side street possible until we wound our way back to Island Ave. I admired cute houses, some with names, front porches, big/small/new/antique/colorful. Fortunately, on this humid storm’s-coming day, there were lots of ancient shade trees so our ride was interspersed with both heat and relief.

Lunch was at the Inn at Peaks, the biggest lobster roll I’ve ever seen. And boom – thunder, rain, but no matter, we were outside but under their awning. It was actually kind of magical watching it from there, ordering a brownie sundae to share amongst the three of us while we waited out the weather. Then, the blip was gone. Skies cleared temporarily so we could finish our sightseeing.

We bee-lined it to Battery Steele, then back just in time to return our bikes, get a couple waters at Hannigan’s Island Market, and me, a few cute gifts at Take a Peak gift shop while the boys headed down to the dock to await the ferry. The Casco Bay ferries are always on time, efficient, easily making the 3-mile trip back & forth to downtown Portland for just $7.50 round trip.

As I met up with the guys in time, particularly loving my Flip Flops Only tiny plaque I purchased, reggae played, and I danced my way down the platform ready to catch the boat with so many fellow tourists.

What a sweet day!

We don’t need Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket, or even Monhegan Island. An island get-away is just a short ferry ride from downtown Portland… close, but so very far away from our city.

And just a few days later, NC son flew over Casco Bay, heading south, taking one last look down at Peaks Island…until next time “home.”

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