Ralph Gardner Jr.: My 36-hour Maine vacation | Columnists

GHENT, NY — Take this vacation quiz. What’s the shortest amount of time you can spend on vacation and still make it worth your while? I’d say a safe rule of thumb is that travel shouldn’t exceed the amount of time you get to lounge on the beach, hike the mountains, or whatever your preferred form of relaxation is.

I realize that’s a very low bar. A month sounds like a sensible holiday, no matter what your employer or bank account says. When you return it is not necessary that you be a new person. But it’s nice if you can see your everyday existence through fresh eyes.

I took the quiz myself last week, involuntarily. I’d had COVID the week before, took Paxlovid, tested negative after the five-day treatment and loaded the car. Leaving shortly after 10 am we arrived at our friends’ home in Tenants Harbor, Maine around 6 pm

We try to make it to Maine once a summer. The Hudson Valley and the Berkshires have their benefits, but the ocean isn’t among them. Our friends’ guesthouse is on a peninsula overlooking the Atlantic, the sea no more than a hundred feet from our front door.

The weather also happened to be delightful, in the high 70s while the rest of the nation sweltered, and the fog that often envelops the Maine coast was elsewhere. One could argue, though I’d prefer not to, that if we’d had to return home as soon as we arrived, that brief interlude with the tides would have made the journey worthwhile. I have no doubt that writers more talented than me have tried and failed to describe what it is about the ocean that soothes the soul. It may be asking too much of language. But that sense of connection is primitive and profound.

After breakfast the next morning we headed to the beach, only a few minutes drive. For the many delights of our host’s home it does not offer easy access to the ocean. One would be required to wade or dive off sharp, slippery barnacle and seaweed strewn rocks.

By then the fog had rolled in, but not enough to obscure the sun completely. Swimming in Maine in any season qualifies one for a merit badge, the bigger the badge the further north, and further removed from the warming waters of the Gulf Stream, you go. I was told the water temperature in Tenants Harbor was 58 degrees. That’s entirely too cold. My limit, where my body doesn’t suffer apoplexy, is somewhere around 64 degrees.

On the other hand, can you truly say that you’ve communed with the ocean in summer if you haven’t submerged yourself completely? It took me about half an hour to rouse my courage, but it was worth it. The water felt warmer than advertised, although nobody would have mistaken it for the Cote D’Azur.

If reintroducing myself to a vast expanse of sea is my primary mission on a visit to Maine, consuming as much lobster as possible ranks a close second. We had lunch at McLoon’s, a lobster shack in South Thomaston known for its overstuffed lobster rolls and equally generous whoopie pies.

A decision I first faced on Martha’s Vineyard several years ago was whether to order a mayo lobster roll or a butter lobster roll. McLoon’s solves that dilemma by allowing you to order a mayo lobster roll with butter on the side. If that sounds decadent it is. But given the price of lobster rolls these days — theirs costs $22.95 — it’s already an indulgence. So why not swing for the fences?

Six bucks for a whoopie pie is also an investment. But there’s a surprising variety to whoopie pies. They range from the commercially produced to the homemade, with different flavors of cake and fillings. I stick to the classic – a chocolate sandwich with vanilla buttercream filling.

McLoon’s is homemade and so fresh and large that one serves a party or two or more. It also qualifies as the perfect accompaniment to a lobster roll lunch. After the decadence of lobster with the trimmings it would be foolish to eat a healthy dessert, such as berries, or even dumber to forsake dessert completely. If you require proof that you’re on vacation, that the rules of home no longer apply, there’s no more poignant way to do so than by topping off a lobster roll with a cream-filled calorie busting cake sandwich that requires two hands to navigate .

Unfortunately, the next morning I wasn’t feeling my normal chipper self and tested positive for Covid. When my doctor first prescribed Paxlovid he warned me that “rebound” reinfection a few days after treatment is not uncommon.

I suppose I could have quarantined where we were staying and even returned to the beach; our kind and generous hosts were all for us staying. But my wife reminded me that a working definition of a good houseguest is one that doesn’t double as an infectious disease vector. I neglected to list socializing with friends as a feature of a successful vacation, equal to lobster rolls and whoopie pies, especially if you’re preying on their hospitality. And that was now prohibited.

So we decided to leave promptly. I don’t know how sick I’d have to be to call it a vacation after a single lobster roll. I was nowhere near that sick. My wife, acknowledging that universal truth, and by now both of us fully masked up in each other’s company, agreed to stop on the way home for a lobster dinner. Outdoors, of course.

We found a place along Route 1 in Wiscasset. It wasn’t Reds, a famous lobster joint where the lines are so long they hand out umbrellas against the sun and rain. We went across the street where the line was shorter but the wait probably longer and the shade in equally short supply.

At around the half hour mark I began to question how much suffering I was willing to undergo for a lobster roll? Especially with my body telling me that I’d be happier at home in bed, perhaps even hooked up to an IV And home still five hours and 300 miles away.

But here’s the thing about steamed lobster with melted butter and a side of fries and cole slaw. It’s almost that good. Fingers crossed it also has medicinal properties. So was 36 hours in Maine worth it, with 12 hours of travel back and forth? I wouldn’t recommend it. But, yes. It probably was.

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