Once in a while, I catch the express bus from Bangor or Portland to Logan International Airport in Boston. It’s a fast, comfortable trip down the Interstate and a huge convenience. But up until last Saturday, I had never ridden the coastal route bus down Route 1 to Portland. I’m here to tell you — this experience now ranks high on my list of small pleasures. I can’t wait to do it again.
My armchair adventure began in Searsport, where the Concord Coach bus from Bangor picked me up at 7:45 a.m. at the Steamboat Market on Route 1, about ten minutes from my house. My one-way ticket cost $26. There were three passengers already on board, and three more of us climbed on in Searsport. I set my overnight bag on the empty seat beside me and settled in with a cup of coffee from the Steamboat.
The bus was warm and quiet, the big windows tinted, my reclining seat clean and comfortable. It would have been easy to fall asleep, but I was too interested in looking out at the scenery. The village of Searsport slid past, just waking up. People chatted on the sidewalk outside the bakery. A glimpse of blue ocean sparkled behind some houses. Someone’s forsythia was in bright bloom against a pale green lawn. I sipped my coffee.
Fifteen minutes later, we picked up three more passengers at the Circle K market in Belfast. While the bus was stopped, I walked up to the front for a free set of earbuds in a plastic bag. Back in my seat, I plugged the earbuds into a wall jack and found a relaxing soundtrack of classical music for my journey.
The bus trundled on, over the Little River, through deserted Lincolnville Beach, past the over-the-top Norumbega Inn and down the main street of Camden, where a few early businesses were already doing a bustling trade. We stopped at Maritime Energy on the far side of town, where a couple more people climbed on. The bus still felt empty. No one was smoking, or arguing, or talking on their cell phone. It was so peaceful.
Outside of Rockland, I texted my brother just to say I was passing through town. He happened to be at the ferry terminal, which is also the bus stop, so I climbed off for a quick hug. When we were back on the road, the bus driver made a few announcements, cracked a couple of jokes and then started a movie. I was much more interested in what was passing by my window.
We rolled past the cement plant in Thomaston and Moody’s diner in Waldoboro, scooped off Route 1 into Damariscotta and out again through Newcastle. We crossed the low bridge over the Sheepscot River into Wiscasset, which bills itself as “the prettiest village in Maine,” and the high bridge over the Kennebec into Bath, where the Navy’s weird new Zumwalt destroyer was tied up at the shipyard. The bus pulled in briefly at little markets and gas stations all along the way to pick up and discharge passengers.
We stopped at the Amtrak station near Bowdoin College in Brunswick. And then, three easy hours after leaving Searsport, the bus arrived at the Portland Transportation Center. I hopped off with a thank you to the driver, walked through the station and found my husband, Douglas, waiting for me out front in his old Volvo wagon. Meeting him in Portland for a family weekend was the real purpose of this sojourn. But now I know the coastal route bus ride is a sweet experience in its own right — a three-hour tour of familiar landmarks and scenic views, and an intimate glimpse into the historic communities along Maine’s iconic coast.
Like many Mainers, I wish we had a more robust public transportation system. But the truth is, between Concord Coach and Greyhound, you can cover a lot of territory here by bus. Now that I’ve traveled the scenic coastal route to Portland, I’m thinking it might be time to plan a trip to Houlton and points north.