Bethel

48HRS – January 2014
Photographs + stories by Maine magazine staff:
Guest writer Jennifer Boles + Dr. Lisa Belisle, Host, Dr. Lisa Radio Hour + Podcast

 

 

Jennifer Boles, Guest writer

 

Winter weekends in the towns of Bethel and Newry offer 135 trails of Alpine skiing at 820-acre Sunday River resort, countless Nordic and showshoe trails, quaint inns and shops, and cozy pubs and restaurants to tuck into at the end of a cold day.

Friday

I am leaving early from Portland to start my first 48 Hours adventure. I have been asked to explore Bethel, the town just 14 miles north of my home in Woodstock. In June I moved to Maine from Virginia to be with my fiancé, Tim, who had moved to the mountains from Auburn the year before. We have driven through Bethel on the way to ski at Sunday River on countless occasions, but have never explored the town. This weekend we get to be tourists close to home, and I cannot wait.

3:25p.m. @ Route 26 North  
Driving past North and South Ponds, I notice all the ice shacks are gone—the sun is starting to melt away the ice, and I smile at the first sign of spring. Ozzy’s “Crazy Train” comes on the radio, and we turn up the volume. Tim and I laugh and recall a few of our late-1980s when-we-dated-in-high-school memories.

3:35 p.m. @ phone sculpture at Bryant Pond Post Office  
I stop for the first time to read and learn about this little slice of hometown history. Created in 2008 by sculptor Gil Whitman, outside of the post office stands a 14-foot-tall black steel replica of the last crank telephone in America. I always wondered why this oversized phone stood here, and I chuckle at my little town being proud of the fact they were last to change with the times.

4:10 p.m. @ The Jordan Grand Resort  
The staff is welcoming and efficient, offering a quick rundown of the resort, placing our equipment into ski check, and directing us to our comfortable room. I am overwhelmed by the view of the ski trails from our balcony. The sun is setting and the snow is reflecting the most amazing pinks and blues. I want to stay and enjoy the sunset but hunger takes over and we head back down the mountain.

5:00 p.m. @ Bistro 151  
At the Sudbury Inn we find a quiet place to eat. Downstairs, Suds Pub is full of happy families enjoying themselves, but Tim and I want more than pub food. The Bistro menu is well-rounded with tasty offerings. George, our bartender, has muddled up some amazing mojitos and serves a veal piccata from chef Peter Bodwell that I enjoy immensely.

6:45 p.m. @ Sunday River Brew Pub  
The exposed-beam ceiling and wood accents make you feel like you are at an inviting ski chalet. The place is jumping with locals, visitors, and families, all enjoying the food, ambiance, and beer. Tim and I claim our fantastic artisan mugs and enjoy the delicious porter handcrafted by brewer and local celebrity “Stoo” Mason. Sports are on most of the TVs and of course a few heated discussions are taking place. I happily jump in with my two cents. Eventually my beer is empty and I laughingly tell the boys at the bar I will be back to continue our discussion during football season.

8:35 p.m. @ Lollapalooza Trail  
The “ski out” feature of Jordan Grand is such a treat. We decide it is foolish to wait until daylight to enjoy it. Tim and I snap on our headlamps and grab our plastic sleds out of the car. We cannot pass up the freshly groomed trail. My sled has little plastic brakes that I repeatedly use to slow down, Tim has only his feet…needless to say, he is soon doing somersaults.

Saturday

7:45 a.m. @ Jordan Bowl Express Lift  
Made-to-order omelets from the complimentary breakfast have been devoured, skis reclaimed, and we are on the mountain. I want to stop and take some pictures of the leftover tracks from the fantastic sledding adventure, but the lift spins at 8 a.m., and no way are we going to miss our chance at making first tracks with skis on top of our sled marks.

11:00 a.m. @ Sliders  
Tim and I unclick our skis, barely avoiding a raucous snowball battle being held by a dad and his two small boys. I admire the mom enjoying the sun at a picnic table sipping a glass of wine. After a scrumptious All American Burger (Tim) and a turkey burger with caramelized onions (Jen), we are back on the trail toward Barker Mountain.

2:00 p.m.@ Dumont Cup  
The finals of the cup just started. The edge of the trail is packed with people in short sleeves watching people perform tricks over their heads. We jump on the Barker express and get a bird’s eye view of a few of the tricksters. I’m amazed by their daredevil skills. When we get off the lift I see a little girl snapping on her snowboard. She catches my attention because she is boarding in a spring Easter dress. After I meet her parents and ask about the fearless fashion diva, they introduce me to Caroline. She is very polite but anxious to get back to boarding. With a laugh she is gone, leaving her dad to try and keep up.

3:30 p.m. @ Foggy Goggle
It’s such a beautiful day, the deck of Foggy Goggle is packed—a bustle of activity with music, warm weather, and Dumont Cup excitement. We order cumin-dusted tortilla chips with salsa, sour cream, and guacamole, and two sea breezes. We are having such a grand time we forget to notice the lifts back to Jordan are no longer an option. We take it as a sign to join the frenzy outside and order another round of drinks.

4:30 p.m. @ Jordan Grand  
The trolley service back to our hotel was an easy trip up the mountain. We were not alone in missing the lifts back, and the seats are full of people making plans for the night. Naps then dinner seem to be the popular choice. Tim and I know the outdoor heated pool, steam room, and sauna are inviting us to relax after our long day of skiing.

8:00 p.m. @ Sliders  
At Sliders we enjoy a hot cup of chowder, a glass of wine, and live music. Lights are low and candles flicker throughout the restaurant. The atmosphere and warm food win: soon I find myself wrapped in comfortable bed linens and sleep comes quickly.

Sunday

7:50 a.m. @ Ski Lift  
We decide to make a few runs, then leave Jordan Grand. It is Easter and Sunday River has activities from sunrise service to egg hunts planned all day. We decide to leave the mountain to the families and go explore the area north of the resort.

10:30 a.m. @ Covered Bridge  
What a peaceful place to stop to enjoy the beauty of the river as the snow melts. We climb over some snow piles to take pictures. A family pulls up to take pictures with the bridge as a backdrop. We concede our peaceful space and head up the road.

11:00 a.m. @ The Peaks at Mount Will  
The drive up the mountain is spotted with amazing homes. The architecture is varied and the views back to the ski resort are stunning. Some of the houses are under construction; others are completed and occupied. We stop and walk around a few of the lots still available and dream of the house we would build to best enjoy this vista.

12:35 p.m. @ Davis Park  
The skate park has been shoveled off and kids are zipping around the concrete. I stop and enjoy their enthusiasm.

1:10 p.m. @ Bonnema Pottery  
The shop is closed for Easter, but the yard out front has beautiful pieces displayed. I do some window shopping, and see a lamp that I know I will return to purchase.

1:30 p.m. @ Funky Red Barn  
I have seen their stickers and have heard people talk about the local roadhouse all weekend. It has a chalkboard tacked up outside, giving the schedule of events and also letting us know they are closed this week. Tim and I agree we have to come back and enjoy some live music and cold beers when it reopens.

2:40 p.m. @ Snow Falls  
On the right side of Route 26 heading south is the waterfall. With all the snowmelt I figure the waterfall will be impressive, and I want an up-close look. The bridge that crosses the river is still icy.  Tim informs me that when I slip and fall trying to take pictures, he is not jumping in the freezing water to save me.

3:00 p.m.  @ Home Sweet Home  
We had an amazing weekend and realized we have still so much more to explore around Bethel. I look forward to our future trips off the beaten path in the beautiful mountains of western Maine that I am so lucky to call home.

Dr. Lisa Belisle,
Host, Dr. Lisa Radio Hour + Podcast

 

Friday

5:45 p.m. West on Route 26  
Taillights spread out in front of us on Route 26. I’ve finished a day of seeing patients, and my weekend has begun. My traveling companion, Kevin Thomas, and I are heading to Bethel to experience a part of Maine I first got to know as a high school student. I recall school bus rides into the mountains, rides that enabled us to find the snow needed for Nordic ski practice.

7:30 p.m. @ The Studio Bistro + Bar at the Mill Hill Inn  
We’ve called Woody Hughes at the Mill Hill Inn restaurant en route to Bethel to inquire about reservations for dinner. Kevin is told that, despite it being a slow preseason night, they will keep the restaurant open for us. We are flattered. Upon arrival, a roaring fire and old-fashioned bar beckon us. As expected, we are the only ones in the dining room. We feast on date compote, hummus, tuna and salmon, and admire the plates that Woody himself has made. Woody’s easy conversation is an early indication of the friendly atmosphere we will consistently encounter this weekend. We finish our meal with a half popover, topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and a fine drizzle of real Maine maple syrup. The cares of the day fade away.

9:30 p.m. @ The Bear River Cabin  
We are pleased to be spending the weekend in a rental house, situated just off the Bear River, ten minutes from Sunday River. We found our “log cabin in the woods” with the persistent help of Stacie Melanson of Four Seasons Realty. We discovered in the process that there is a wide array of properties in the Bethel/Newry area for every rental need.

Saturday

8:00 a.m. @ The Bethel Inn Resort
The Bethel Inn is well-known for its cozy pub, comfortable rooms, and scenic golf course. The course has been closed for the season and awaits the snow cover that will enable Nordic skiers to take advantage of its amenities. Today, we run a three-mile loop on the golf cart path, encountering several runners and walkers (and their four-legged-friends) along the way.

9:00 a.m. in Bethel Village  
We add another three and a half miles to our run (we also recommend it as a walk), traversing the streets of Bethel Village. We pass multiple favorite haunts, including the restaurant and martini bar 22 Broad Street, and DiCocoa’s coffee shop. We enjoy Gould Academy’s campus, and I reminisce about a Christmas vacation camp that I once attended while on the Yarmouth High School ski team. We stop briefly in front of a “For Sale” sign on one of Bethel’s self-proclaimed tallest buildings, and find ourselves stopping on multiple other occasions to marvel at the historic buildings that continue to be lovingly maintained and renovated. Bethel has become a hot spot for new construction but it is gratifying to see that the older houses have not been forgotten.

10:15 a.m. @ Erin’s Cafe on Main  
We stop for a cup of coffee and a dirty chai latte, and treat ourselves to warm rice pudding, garnished with a bit of whipped cream, before heading towards our next destination: Sunday River Ski Resort.

10:45 a.m. @ Sunday River Ski Resort  
Sunday River is a favorite destination for skiers across the state and around the world. We both have strong ties to the mountain, having spent many days there with our children and friends. Being the oldest of ten children, Alpine skiing was a luxury in my childhood, as it was for Kevin. Today, we pick up our season passes from Brandon at Guest Services at South Ridge, and feel grateful for the days of skiing that these represent. Sunday River Sports, located at the South Ridge lodge, is our first stop to replace lost ski poles and buy some other needed gear. They have everything you might need for a day on the slopes. Our legs feel a bit wobbly on our first day out, but we are happy to maneuver the trails in the company of families and children, all of whom have disconnected from the digital world so that they might reconnect with one another. We look for our own kids at the ski park, and listen to a group of Canadians discussing the day’s conditions in their native French. It is telling that they have travelled from a country that arguably has more than a few fine mountains of its own, in order to get some early season skiing under their belts. On our way back to the car, we drop our skis for a tune-up at Sunday River Sports (they’ll have them done in just a few days), and drive back into town for a late lunch.

3:00 p.m. @ The Foothills Grille and Catering Co.  
A woodstove at the Foothills Grille helps ease the winter chill from our bones. We order a Greek salad and chicken tacos, and find them thoughtfully prepared, and surprisingly filling. George, who serves us our meals, recommends Cho Sun for dinner. (He also tells us that locals frequent Cho Sun for karaoke night on Sundays.)

4:00 p.m. @ Bethel Foodliner Shop ’n Save (formerly the IGA)  
The narrow aisles have a cozy feel as families stock up on provisions for the week. Prominent displays of Maine magazine and Maine Home + Design make us feel welcome, and we are pleasantly surprised when the customer in front of us, accidentally charged for our box of cereal, doesn’t seem to mind at all.

4:30 p.m. @ Linda Clifford Scottish and Irish Merchant + Philbrook Place  
We admire a red Barbour coat at Linda Clifford, the Main Street retailer of Scottish and Irish goods, and then find ourselves admiring the handmade crafts that line the shelves at Philbrook Place, also on Main Street. We love the Community Sports section on the second floor, which offers refurbished sports equipment at significantly lower prices, the proceeds of which benefit local youth athletics.

5:15 p.m. @ The Good Food Store and Catering Company  
Next on the list is a visit to the Good Food Store, a favorite of ours on Route 26 on the way to Sunday River. This store, which shares a parking lot with Smokin’ Good BBQ, has organic foods, wine, prepared foods, and much more. Our appetites whetted, we take the recommendation of George at Foothills Grille, and make reservations at Cho Sun.

7:15 p.m. @ Cho Sun  
During our brief wait for a table, we see the latest copy of Maine magazine on a table in the entryway. The dining room is filled with families, many of whom have just returned for the winter season. The chef comes out to make sure that we have been satisfied by our Bibimbap and tuna tataki, and we learn that his mother was originally from Soeul, Korea. The cuisine is delicately seasoned and hearty. We vow to return.

8:30 p.m. @ Suds Pub  
Snowflakes now fill the air around us, and a hush descends upon the town. This contrasts with the scene we find at Suds Pub, a popular apres ski location. The waitress recognizes my traveling companion, and asks how he has been. A guitarist plays a popular cover and a pair of children dance on the wooden floor in front of him.

Sunday

8:45 a.m. @ Grafton Notch State Park  
Overnight, the temperature has dropped, and the wind chill is significant. Braving this, and a thin layer of snow, we resolve to stick with our original plan and hike the Table Rock Trail in Grafton Notch State Park. Less than 15 minutes away from where we’re staying, it offers other beguilingly named attractions, such as Screw Auger Falls, Moose Cave, and Mother Walker Falls. Well-clad against the elements, we hike to the top, retracing one of the first outings we ever made as a couple. Shades of gray and bright white greet us at the summit, as a cold winter sun forces its way through the wind-driven snow showers. We think of the people we were when we first made this hike, and how far we have come. We regret that this almost-spiritual experience must be cut short, but the temperature is a mere 14 degrees (less with the wind chill), and practical considerations prevail. And, an afternoon visit and interview with thirteen-year-old Scotty Wentzel, and his parents Scott and Lisa, at the Morrison Center in Scarborough await us. Scotty’s story has been told on the Dr Lisa Radio Show and will soon appear in an upcoming issue of Maine magazine. As we drive back to Portland, returning to the lives we have created, we pass Telstar High School once more. I remember a high school senior, sharing the ski bus with her classmates, quietly dreaming of being a doctor like her father. I was, and still am, that girl.

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