Here editor and Black traveler Tiana Attride considers the dawn of a new day in America—plus, shares the only itinerary you’ll need for a road trip from Boston to Bar Harbor.
When was the last time you watched the sun rise?
If it’s been a while, I’m here to report that it is an incredibly slow process. By the time you’ve dragged yourself from bed in the wee hours, rubbed the sleep from your eyes, gotten dressed (or resigned yourself to pajamas), and assumed the position (whether at your window, on a roof, or in nature), waiting for the first hints of a new day to creep over the horizon—no matter how captivating—feels like a painful eternity.
Lately, I’ve been feeling the same way about change, and how long it seems we’ve been waiting for it to come about in America.
Before I embarked on this trip—which would culminate in daybreak in Acadia National Park, one of the first places to see dawn each day in the United States—my most recent sunrise was far from voluntary. I stayed up until 6 a.m. on March 26, watching riots unfold in Minneapolis following the murder of George Floyd. The months of protests and uncertainty that ensued terrified me, as it has many Black Americans. But it’s also given me time to consider where we’ve been as a nation, where we are now, and where we might go next.
Although I wasn’t born or raised in Boston, I consider it one of the places where I “grew up.” I spent the summer after my first year of college there, interning a few days a week and learning to explore this new place alone on the off days. This also marked the first time I heavily considered my identity in a world changing quickly, and in ways not for the better: That summer brought the Pulse nightclub shooting, Brexit, and the deaths of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling at the hands of the police. (In total, more than 250 Black individuals were killed by police officers that year alone.)
In this world, I realized, one’s race, sexuality, and nationality—among other things—could mean the difference between life and death. I started questioning in what ways had my identity as a Black American woman influenced my everyday life. The realizations were often mentally excruciating. I suddenly saw past comments from white peers for what they were; I was ashamed of what I’d let slide when I didn’t know any better; I grieved for a younger self who suffered covertly racist comments but couldn’t yet articulate why they stung so badly. But I also found strength in realizing that standing firm in one’s identity—and in the belief that we all have a right to life, liberty, and happiness—was something to be proud of.
This summer, back in Boston’s currently-empty streets, the time came again to consider who I was in a world of chaos. I paid closer attention to the landscape of the city. Devoid of the regular summertime tourists, there was nothing to distract me from its history.
Massachusetts set the scene for the American Revolution, and Boston was the hub of the action. Here is where the Old South Meeting House, the Old State House, the Old North Church, and Faneuil Hall earned their claims to fame as revolutionary meeting places; here, dissenters were gunned down by British soldiers in the Boston Massacre; and here, in one of American history’s most famous acts of protest, colonists dumped tea into the harbor in revolt against the British government. They saw that riots and damage to capital, though distasteful to some, were effective in garnering government attention and pushing forward demands for representation. Money talks—in fact, it shouts.
Surrounded by countless monuments to those who fought voraciously for their freedom, I was reminded that there is nothing more American than to protest. Our Constitution upholds our rights to speak out and to assemble; the Declaration of Independence explicitly includes the right of the people to rebel against tyranny. And this is why our present situation fascinates me: When white men fight back, they’re marked as our nation’s heroes. But when Black people (joined by individuals of all races) demand change, go unheard, and take matters into their own hands, they become terrorists and thugs—including in the eyes of those who revere the Founding Fathers and Sons of Liberty, who themselves supported the overthrow of an unjust government.
This frustration lingered in the back of my mind on the drive to Maine—the whitest state in the country. (Of 1,332,810 total residents, a stunning 94% identify as white. While I’m no stranger to being the only Black person in the room, I still find this extraordinary.) As we passed by roads lined with American flags, billboards declaring MAINE WOMEN FOR TRUMP, and even a coffee shop named Covfefe (yes, actually), the admittedly liberal and diverse bubble of my home in New York City felt further and further away—as did the goals that Black activists work so hard to achieve.
I worried for a time that a route through the Northeast wouldn’t be as steeped in Black history and identity as I would have liked. I debated writing about how many Black people worked as seamen in Portland once they were freed from slavery, but to again relegate a narrative about Blackness to enslavement—as much as it determines our lives in this country, even now—was not as celebratory as I desired. My search for Black landmarks throughout Maine yielded few results. Even Rock Rest, a vacation home created specifically as a safe space for Black travelers, is completely unmarked, lost in a town where other historic sites are clearly distinguished.
But the interesting thing about road tripping through America while Black is that everywhere is relevant. You don’t have to go to a specific place to remember what you look like, because you’re reminded everywhere and all the time: When you look around to see if other Black people are present because it gives you a sense of safety; when you’re side-eyed at gas stations as you silently will your tank to fill up quicker; when you grip the steering wheel tight as you glide (at 40 m.p.h. in a 45 zone, just in case) past a cop car.
Still, it isn’t all bad. The weekend the George Floyd protests began, I quelled my anxiety by reminding myself that this isn’t the first time our country has seen a civil rights movement or a revolution. But this time, unlike any time previous, most of the world is with us. Space now exists where we were denied space before—and, more importantly, making space is celebrated.
As I hiked, rock climbed, and immersed myself in nature over the course of the weekend, I thought of Danielle Williams: the founder of Melanin Base Camp and the first interview I did for Here as an intern in 2018, as a part of a dispatch on representation in National Parks. Finding that people who looked like her were absent from the narrative of the Great Outdoors, she carved out room for Black adventure travelers where she saw room was needed.
I feel a camaraderie with her and the other Black people I encounter on the road and on the trail. I feel proud to take up the space that those who came before me fought for, and those who come after me—if all goes well—will never have to question at all. And that, to me, is freeing: knowing I’m taking up space in places where I may be unwanted, but where I belong nonetheless.
On the last day of the trip, we rose at 3:30 a.m. to see the sunrise from the top of Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park. I am not a morning person; it was a slow and painstaking start. But after the long drag from the bed to the car to Acadia, and after waiting for what seemed like a lifetime in the dim light of dawn, the beautiful sunrise I’d read so much about proved to be true. And staring out across the mountains, the barrier islands, and beyond as day finally broke, I saw, doused in gold, a place that belongs just as much to me as it does to any American.
Like the sunrise, revolution is slow. We’ve waited for what feels like an eternity for equality, for justice, and for peace. But just as the sun always eventually crawls over the horizon—however slowly it may do so—I have no doubt that we will eventually achieve the inalienable rights to life, liberty, and happiness we were promised. Even sooner than we may think, we will get there. And this wait, too, will be worth it.
Day 1: Boston, Massachusetts
Stay: We stayed at The Godfrey near Downtown Crossing. If you’re a newcomer to Boston, this hotel will put you near everything you might want to see on a quick stint, from the Commons and Chinatown to the Harbor and Harvard Yard.
Do: Boston is a dream for American history buffs. In just over two hours, the Freedom Trail will take you on a self-guided walking tour of the city’s most historic sites, including the Paul Revere House and the approximate site of the Boston Tea Party. There’s also the Black Heritage Trail, which tells the story of Boston’s 19th-century African-American community, centered around the Beacon Hill neighborhood.
Eat: Here, your adventure in Northeastern lobster begins! I’d recommend either the Union Oyster House, the oldest restaurant in America, or Neptune Oyster (pictured deliciously above). Boston’s North End is also famous for its Italian heritage, and therefore its Italian food: We stopped at Bova’s Bakery for creamy arancini and a variety of pastries, including a Boston Cream Pie Donut.
More: Drivers beware: the hunt for public parking in Boston is a strenuous one. Prepare for narrow roads, and do a quick search for public parking rather than using expensive hotel parking.
Day 2: Kennebunkport, Maine
Stay: We stayed at Huttopia Southern Maine for a night, and I would be remiss if I didn’t first mention the glorious smell of pine. After several months spent quarantined indoors in Brooklyn, this first real breath of fresh air was heaven on earth. No Yankee Candle could ever compare to the real thing!
Eat: Although Huttopia’s main cabin offers a cafe, some groceries, and even wine, we ultimately decided to take a five-minute drive to the local Shaw’s grocery store for dinner prep. With veggie burgers on the grill, marshmallows over the fire, and several glasses of two-buck chuck in our bellies, we were certainly happy campers.
Do: Huttopia manages to strike the perfect balance between the comforts of glamping and still feeling like you’re in the Great Outdoors. Inside your tent, a bathroom and shower, a huge trunk with cooking and dining supplies, and thick blankets for staying cozy; outside, a porch, a grill, a fire pit, and a sky full of stars. (In personal news, my greatest achievement of the week also took place here: I managed to start a fire. Thank you, Girl Scouts!)
Day 3: Portland, Maine
Stay: The Portland Regency is exactly the place you’d want to stay after a camping trip. Dining out on seafood and wine on your room’s private balcony while seagulls fly overhead = the perfect summer evening.
Eat: Continue your seafood journey, because when in Rome. Order out at Boone’s Oyster & Fish House for perfect lobster mac and cheese and, later, Luke’s Lobster for fried haddock. Wake up early in the morning for a cup of CBD-infused joe at Higher Grounds and a donut at The Holy Donut. (Arrive early for the latter because they sell out quick, or hit their drive-thru location just outside town).
Do: Take a relaxed stroll along Portland’s harbor. Then, head to nearby Cape Elizabeth, home to the Portland Head Light and Fort Williams Park, to explore the rocky shoreline and the ruins of Fort Williams.
Day 4 & 5: Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park
Stay: We stayed at the Bar Harbor Grand Hotel, which puts you in the center of town and less than a 15-minute drive from Acadia. Down the street from the inn, walk down tree-lined Hancock Street to the Shore Path in the evening for a moonrise you’ll never forget.
Eat: Seafood gospel aside, blueberries are the name of the game in northern Maine—in all my life, I’ve never had better blueberry pie than what I had here. Make the blueberry pie a la mode at Stewman’s Lobster Pound a priority on your checklist. Order two slices to go, because I promise you will want seconds.
Do: Take a stroll around Bar Harbor, which is such a perfect little town that you will be convinced you’ve stepped into Animal Crossing. (You’ll return to reality when you see that the streets are lined with free face mask and hand sanitizer stands, but the care the town has for its locals only makes it more perfect.)
In Acadia, we hiked two trails: the Great Head Trail and the Jordan Pond Trail. At Great Head, prepare for a little rock climbing that will result in a lot of stunning ocean views (you will want to stop every three minutes to marvel at Mother Nature). At Jordan Pond, stop to pick some sweet blueberries in the field in front of the Jordan Pond House Restaurant before looping around the lake, where a wooden path will guide you along the edge of the water.
More: If you go to catch the sunrise on Cadillac Mountain (and you should!), be an early bird. We arrived in the park by about 4:15 a.m. for a 5:15 a.m. sunrise. There are a few places to park just before the summit that’ll help you avoid the crowds—good during a pandemic when social distancing is necessary, as well as during normal times when you want to greet dawn with a little peace and quiet.