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HERB BENHAM: A glimpse of heaven by way of Maine

No one knowingly climbs the 2.2 miles straight up to Cadillac Mountain — which, at 1,529 feet, is the highest peak on the Eastern Seaboard — without a good breakfast, and Jordan's in Bal Harbor was a way to stock the calorie-burning larder.

Anything is possible in America with a good breakfast. A good attitude, a good day and a spectacular hike.

We are on a road trip along the coast of Maine that will take us to West Quoddy Head, the easternmost part of the United States and then back to Thomas and Alicia's wedding in Ipswich, Mass.

Road trips are a combination of good planning (thank you, Sue) and luck. There are happenstance, serendipitous and unplanned travel miracles and Jordan's was one. You could feel the magic the moment you walked in. Wooden floors, bright lights, the cheerful bustling of a breakfast place that has its chops and a staff working together as if they were telepathic.

Towering above it all is Dave, the 77-year-old owner standing behind the counter, making the lightest, fluffiest — I'm surprised they didn't rise off the plate like Aladdin's magic carpet — blueberry pancakes, equally fluffy blueberry muffins and homemade corned beef hash.

Dave, standing in front of a large paint bucket full of blueberry pancake batter, was like the conductor of an orchestra but in addition to ushering in the violins at the right moment and hushing the bass drums, was taking a flourish at playing all the instruments.

Being a chef is one thing, but when's the last time you saw the owner as the lead short-order cook and one who could, as our waitress proudly explained, take breakfast orders being shouted out by eight servers without writing any of them down and never make a mistake?

Never?

"Never," said our waitress.

Never and never loses his temper or looks anything other than Buddha-like behind the griddle.

"I'm one of the new servers here with 11 years and he's never yelled at me once," she said.

Dave seems to welcome everybody, sort of like the Bar Harbor version of the Statue of Liberty. The staff was multicultural and included an older man filling water glasses.

"I've been here since July," he said. "I retired from the high school and, after a month, my wife drove me over here and dropped me off."

Dave works 12 hours a day, seven days a week for the seven months the restaurant is open. In the winter, he goes to Florida to rest and get away from the Maine winter. I asked him how long it took him to get back into working shape once he returned.

"Not long," he said. "I get antsy after a month and can't wait to go to work again."

•••

A word about Maine. Go before you die but if you don't go, heaven may include parts of Maine. If it does, Cadillac Mountain will be at the top.

It's one of those “Oh, my God" places, especially in the fall (summers are beautiful, too, but crowded as the entire eastern U.S. is tempted to flee there). We found ourselves saying, "This would make a beautiful photograph," and a few minutes later, a cove later, a stretch of rocky beach later, a glorious bay later, saying it again. Pretty soon you have 10 million photos on your iPhone.

Cadillac Mountain was described as a moderate hike. Moderate? Either people in Maine are tougher or non-Mainers are wimps.

Climbing a mountain can be a metaphor or when it's straight up, just damn rough, Dave's blueberry pancakes notwithstanding. Maybe I should get that hip done. Like maybe at the top.

The top was worth it. No matter which way you turned, water everywhere and maybe heaven, too.

On our way down, we met a couple in their 50s from California; she was a holistic doctor and he lived in Santa Cruz. The conversation got real, quick.

"I lost my house in Santa Cruz in a fire last year and my dad died this year," he said, eyes filling with tears.

"Although he had a beautiful life and a beautiful death, I miss him. I am celebrating him with every step I take."

I was moved and also thought he would be doing a lot of celebrating because he had several thousand more steps to go.

Further down, I overheard a conversation between a couple where the woman said she had forgotten to bring her bladder. I usually bring my bladder, but given that I had forgotten the backpack that Sue had asked me to bring — the only thing she had asked of me — I was probably lucky I didn't forget that, too.

I realized the bladder she was referring to was a CamelBak, one that people carry water in, but it sounded funny. Things can when you're stumbling tired.

That night, I had a dream in which my father appeared. He looked lean, healthy and in his 40s. In the dream we were the same age and it was as if we were twins and had become the same person.

"I'll meet you halfway," I thought, and I'm not sure what that meant.

I knew one thing. Like most people lucky enough to have gone, he loved Maine, too. It's hard not to.

Contact The Californian’s Herb Benham at 661-395-7279 or hbenham@bakersfield.com. His column appears on Sundays, Tuesdays and Fridays; the views expressed are his own.