Legions of tourists troop to Maine each summer to loll on an ocean beach or repose in wilderness seclusion. But those who crave excitement rather than relaxation can find thrills aplenty in the state that bills itself as Vacationland.
Whitewater rafting down a precipitous gorge, mountain biking on a steep ski trail and bungee jumping from a 150-foot tower offer would-be daredevils a way to get the adrenaline flowing and belie the popular T-shirt adage, “Maine — Life in the Slow Lane.”
Unconventional vacations that aren’t quite so frenetic include expeditions on horseback through the backcountry wilderness of Piscataquis County, windjammer cruises along Penobscot Bay and llama trekking in the White Mountains.
City dwellers yearning for an antidote to the contemporary urban rat race can arrange a stay on a 19th century working farm, an experience requiring them to pitch in to tend the crops and clean out the barns.
Other tourists with a penchant for hard work may get an opportunity to rake their own blueberries, testing their ability to perform the stoop labor that has become a late-summer tradition for generations of migrant workers in eastern Maine.
And for those seeking to test the limits of their physical and mental resolve, the Hurricane Island Outward Bound School offers challenges tailored to just about anyone’s capabilities.
Arguably, the best-known and most popular of the state’s thrill attractions are the whitewater rafting trips along sections of the upper Kennebec River and the West Branch of the Penobscot.
About 50,000 people a year patronize the more than two dozen rafting outfitters who operate from base camps near The Forks and outside Millinocket. The trips range in cost from $65 to $100, which includes lunch but not lodging.
After the snow melts, Maine’s two largest ski areas — Sunday River and Sugarloaf USA — turn some of their trails over to mountain bike enthusiasts for the summer.
Sunday River, which bills itself as the first and only lift-served mountain bike park in the East, also has a racing program, including a “kamikaze downhill event” in which riders reach speeds of 30 to 40 mph, according to spokesman Skip King.
Rates for recreational users vary according to whether bikers pedal uphill or hop a ride aboard a lift.
Those who prefer to get their kicks by soaring through the air rather than speeding over land or water may soon be able to try their hand at the sport of bungee jumping in Maine.
Bungee jumpers free-fall from heights, attached to a cord that keeps them from hitting the ground. This summer, Bungee Club USA plans to offer dives, at $80 apiece, from a 150-foot crane in a field next to the Maine Aquarium on U.S. 1 in Saco.
Novices and expert horseback riders alike can gallop into Maine’s backcountry with an outfitter in Dover-Foxcroft. Pleasant River Pack Trips, with base camps near Katahdin Iron Works, offers 20 different adventures, ranging from a half-day at $45 to five days for $950, which includes all food and lodging.
A new addition this year: A day trip in Acadia National Park.
Maine’s windjammer fleet, centered in Rockland, Camden and Rockport, turns the exploration of Penobscot Bay into a nautical adventure. There are more than a dozen of the schooners, some dating to the 19th century, which take excursions that range from three to six days and cost from $325 to about $600 per person.
Passengers can help hoist the sails, assist in the galley or simply take in the sea breeze and work on their tans while crew members sail vessels that are up to 130 feet in length.
Vacationers who prefer a smaller craft may try sea kayaking. H2 Outfitters on Orrs Island provides instruction and a variety of expeditions up to a week long that feature camping on islands along the Maine coast.
Whale-watching is another popular nautical activity. Excursion boats sail from ports up and down the Maine coast, from York Harbor to Lubec.
Outdoors enthusiasts who like to hike but aren’t keen on carrying heavy packs can turn that chore over to a four-legged helper when they explore the White Mountains along the Maine-New Hampshire border with Telemark Inn and Llama Treks in Bethel.
With llamas doing the heavy lifting, hikers no longer need to pack light: they can eschew freeze-dried meals for coolers of fresh food and take along roomy tents and aluminum folding tables. Rates run from $75 for a day trek to $795 for a weeklong trip that includes three nights at the inn.
Vacationers who want to recharge their batteries in a pastoral setting may consider one of the state’s farm bed-and-breakfasts. For a deeper immersion, the Norlands Living History Center in Livermore has a program that replicates the lifestyles of rural Maine more than a century ago.
Participants learn firsthand what it was like to work a 445 acre farm with 19th century implements, to make their own clothing and to live without electricity and modern conveniences, including indoor plumbing. The four-day “adult live-in” costs $195.
Farms and orchards that invite customers to pick their own strawberries and apples have long been popular in Maine. Now there’s a move afoot in Washington County to start a “rake-your-own blueberries” operation, emulating the work of migrant harvesters.
“This is the blueberry capital of the world,” said Dianne Tilton, executive director of the Machias Bay Area Chamber of Commerce. Her group is working with some of the county’s large growers to put something together in time for this summer’s harvest.
Adults who seek a different challenge can combine a Maine vacation with six-day courses at Outward Bound, which cost about $900. Students sail in “pulling boats” on Penobscot Bay, learning the essentials of seamanship and navigation while developing self-confidence and learning teamwork.
One course, “Career/Life Renewal,” seeks to overcome job stress by instilling a balance between work and personal pursuits. Another, for adults over 40, offers a mid-life self-examination and a chance to explore new directions and opportunities.