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Heat Wave in Maine? Hardly.

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By Andrea Sachs
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 20, 2008

"It's 800 degrees," exclaimed Nate Cushman midway through an afternoon hike up Mount Battie. "Think there's a breeze up there?"

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First of all, Nate, coastal Maine never has felt or will feel like 800 degrees. Camden, 85 miles northeast of Portland and home of the 800-foot rocky knob, rarely experiences summer temperatures above the mid-80s. Second (going back to Nate's question), of course there's a breeze: Cool winds from the Atlantic constantly drift over Penobscot Bay and into Camden's streets and parks, keeping the picturesque seaside town from overheating.

Yet the young Mainer, and other locals, have an entirely different perspective on heat from Washingtonians'. Last week, when I visited, the area was experiencing a "heat wave." On the radio, a DJ called the weather hotter than the devil's naughty bits. In shops, customers swapped sympathetic words with one another: "Hot enough for you?" "Don't I know it."

I stood by, amused.

As Washington nears its historically hottest day of the year -- tomorrow -- it seemed appropriate to escape to a town that seems geographically incapable of roasting. "It's rarely ever really hot," Del Lawrence, a Richmond native who works as assistant manager at the High Tide Inn, told me by phone. "I have lived here nine years, and it's been 90 only twice."

Lawrence advised taking along warmer garments, especially for nighttime, when temperatures can drop drastically. So the winter fleece was going on a summer vacation.

* * *

Camden residents can spend hours discussing wind, fog and other Weather Channel topics. But they can also chat at length about boats, lobsters, art, lighthouses, John Travolta and blueberry picking: the people, places and things in their immediate surroundings.

The town (population 4,000 winter, 12,000 summer) is fortunate in that it does not have to choose between mountain and sea; it is graced with both. (The area's motto is "Where the Mountains Meet the Sea.")

At the Public Landing, steps from town center, the bow-shape harbor was crammed with fishing vessels and sailboats grand and humble. Ducks and seagulls competed for crumbs. Along the dock, tour operators sat at umbrella-shaded tables with sign-up sheets. The first leisure windjammer cruise departed from here in the 1930s, and now several schooners, many weathered by time and sea spray, take visitors around the bay from morning to sunset.

I was told that out on the water, the temperature is 15 to 20 degrees cooler than onshore. However, I was not significantly hot enough to warrant a boat ride. (It was a delightful 84 degrees, after all.) So, I went "inland" to Mount Battie in Camden Hills State Park, where I could work up a sweat.

I arrived around the same time as Nate Cushman and Deb McCusker, who was training for a hike up Maine's tallest mountain, the 5,267-foot Mount Katahdin. They invited me to join them and, right away, started to talk about the heat.


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