Day 19: Salisbury, MA to Boston, MA

September 24th, 2016

41.5 mi / 3:25:15 time / 12.5 mph avg. / ~1500 ft. climbing

Staying at Shay & Dana’s place

The evening rain came as predicted, but we were safely holed up in our tent by then, and it meant we were asleep relatively early. That enabled us to wake up before dawn so that we could make some coffee, walk over to the beach, and watch the sun rise out of the ocean. It had been a while since we’d had a chance to watch a sunrise/set over water, so it was a fitting start to the last day of our tour.

It was beautiful, but also sad. How was our ride already ending? Had eighteen sunrises and sunsets truly crossed the horizon as the world spun ’round under our wheels? It didn’t seem possible, until “…remember that lunch we had in the gazebo? Or that squirrel that ate our M&Ms?” “Oh yeah…that sure seems like a long time ago, and somewhere very far from here…” The sunrise and sunset clearly do a better job of keeping time unbent than our minds do, though we would soon be returning to a world where their passings, rather than being felt by our fallible souls, are rigidly tracked in grids of boxes filled with numbers. It’s perhaps the one time in my life when numbers and grids and records seemed less than exciting.

We left the campground without having to take out our wallets, and fell right into the middle of the Seacoast Century, a big organized bike ride. Another rider had told us about it yesterday, and as seems oddly “normal” for such things, we got very few reactions from the dozens of cyclists who passed us in both directions. Maybe no one wants to be the only person who doesn’t understand the role of the big baggage-bikes in the middle of their ride, so they just keep their mouths shut. Mostly we noted how it seemed like some 80% of the riders were wearing high-viz yellow jackets, which made us wonder if our practical and fashionable black-and-gray color scheme for all of our clothes was the best possible choice.

Our camping friends recommended Pat’s diner for breakfast, so of course that’s where we stopped. A personal greeting from Pat in her 1940’s-era prefab railcar-style diner, and great food to go along with it completed the quality recommendation.

Then it was time to begin our dash to the end. We were back on US 1, known here as the Newburyport Turnpike. An extreme cartographic anomaly, it runs dead straight from Newburyport into the heart of Boston for some 40 miles. I don’t believe there’s another road in the entire Boston region that runs straight for more than 40 yards. I figured that riding through Boston’s exurbs and suburbs wouldn’t be particularly enjoyable on any route, so we might as well take the shortest one. The site I use to gauge the popularity of roads among cyclists showed that almost no one rides the Newburyport Turnpike, but I had driven parts of it before, and did extensive Google StreetViewing of it when planning the trip, so I knew that it at least had a shoulder for its entire length, which is something the longer and curvier routes couldn’t promise.

The tradeoff is that it’s one of the more insane roads I’ve ever traveled. Particularly in the stretch through the Boston suburbs, where there are three lanes in each direction, and interchanges, both of which make it feel like a limited-access expressway, but simultaneously there are businesses lining both sides with driveways directly connecting the “expressway” with their parking lots. This means the right travel lane has to find a compromise between the 60mph traffic flying by in the left lanes, and the old ladies entering the road from their hairdresser’s appointment. While that’s a clear recipe for chaos, my bet was that people would at least be accustomed to that chaos, so adding a couple of touring bikes to the mix wouldn’t be particularly notable or upsetting.

And my bet largely paid off. Yes, crossing the on- and off-ramps at the interchanges was a bit nuts, and Rett was at code red the entire time (though all outward appearances showed she was doing an amazing job of calmly dealing with the chaos). But we only got beeped at once in 20 miles, had no close calls, and got where we wanted to get faster than any other method.

One place we wanted to get to was Friendly’s, a regional favorite of Rett’s, where we got some ice cream dessert with a side of lunch. Soon after, we left the Turnpike, all intact, only to run straight into a homecoming parade that had closed down a bunch of streets in the area. Dammit. Another reroute (we’d already had to take another detour for road construction earlier in the day). But this time, our bikes were our saviors. The parade had gridlocked traffic for miles, but we were able to slide through, and probably made it back onto our route 20-30 minutes faster than if we had been in a car. Yeah, bikes!

Then we hit some bike lanes, made a wrong turn, made another wrong turn, got some directions from a passerby, and made another wrong turn. Oh, Boston. You’re amazing in your impossibility. I literally had my GPS-enabled phone turned on, strapped to my handlebars, looking at our little dot moving across the map, and still could not determine the correct places to turn!

So our arrival at our final destination, Boston’s South Station, was both anticlimactic and utterly appropriate for Boston. My directions were directing us the wrong way down a one-way street, so we once more pulled up onto a sidewalk to re-plot, and decided that it was easiest to just walk our bikes on the sidewalk for a block to the station. Thus, without even really being aware of it, our riding reached its end on that random sidewalk, just a few more wrong turns short of 900 miles for the entire trip.

We went over to the Amtrak baggage department (located out on track 11!) to box up our bikes to send back to Chicago on the train without us ($63.50 per bike, plus one $15 bike box, plus one free reused box). As we finished packing them up, Rett’s good friend Shay and her husband Dana magically appeared to help us wrangle our multitude of bags (now loosed from their bicycle steeds) and backtracked us out in their car to their apartment in the suburbs, where we caught up, told any tales that hadn’t made it into this journal, and got some quality showers.

Apparently easing the logistics of the end of our trip wasn’t enough from them, so they generously took us out to perhaps the best meal of the trip at the Seaport Grille in Dana’s old stomping ground of Gloucester. After, we got treated to a spin through Rockport, with its almost impossible-to-believe storybook streets of old shops casting their golden glow out onto the darkened paths. We stayed up talking way too late for people who had to catch a morning flight back to Chicago, but it sure was nice to have good friends to help ease our transition back into the real world.

But wait. Why can’t riding our bikes be “the real world”? Hmm… Excellent question.  To be continued, someday, as the road goes ever on… 

Day 18: Biddeford, ME to Salisbury, MA

September 23rd, 2016

58.6 mi / 4:28:29 time / 13.1 mph avg. / 1364 ft. climbing

Staying at Salisbury Beach State Reservation

If yesterday was our partial return to capital B, capital T “Bike Touring”, today marked our full return. We started the day again back on busy, loud (especially since some light rain had wet the road surface) US 1, where for a stretch it seemed like every other building was a motel, and not all the cheap kind that we had stayed at. When I saw a a motel with three electric car charging stations, I knew we had finally crossed over from Trump-supporting northern Maine into the blue northeast. At Ogunquit we left US 1 and branched off onto not just quiet, local roads like yesterday, but quiet, local, ocean roads.

Ogunquit was filled with silver-haired empty-nesters strolling along the walkable and winding strip of hotels, restaurants, and shops, having waited out the summer like we did before taking their vacations in a quieter time. It felt like we had returned to Bar Harbor. We got breakfast as the tourist strip was giving way to residences, and with our bicycles parked right in front, avoided the $10 fee we otherwise would have had to pay to park in a lot across the street.

The Shore Road started in the woods, and reminded me of Kring Point State Park from our second night in New York. Huge swells of rock rose unasked-for in front yards, or next to houses, but were accepted and sometimes even integrated into the architecture. Next we came to a rarity in oceanfront property: houses built to face the sea, but still surrounded by thick woods, the best of both worlds. Then finally we genuinely came to the ocean, riding a two-mile stretch where the only thing between our asphalt and the water was a broad stretch of sand. Ahh. That’s bike touring!

After that, the noise coming from my rear wheel finally became annoying enough for me to stop and check it out. It turns out it was a part from my rear fender that had come loose and was rubbing my tire. I had to break out the tools, but was able to get it fixed pretty quickly. It was a fortuitous stop, because Rett was suddenly overcome with an unfortunate unstoppable internal force, and for the first time in her life had to take care of that business without any walls surrounding her.

It turns out her endeavor was a lot more successful than mine, because shortly before we set off again, PING! A spoke in my rear wheel broke in half! That’s much worse than a little bit of rubbing plastic. We rode on a bit to the next town, where Rett got a hot cider (and took advantage of their walled bathroom) while I set to work seeing if I had the equipment and ability to replace a spoke. It turns out I did, but it was frustrating that I was forced to burn a bunch of good riding time on what we hoped would be a pretty long day. It was the same wheel that had its spokes loosen early on in the trip, a wheel I hadn’t touched before we started the trip. I figured that my newly-acquired wheel-building skills were likely to only make the factory-built wheel worse, not better, so it would be better not to mess with it unless necessary. But now 1000 miles of riding had surprisingly proven the opposite: the two front wheels I had built for us still seemed perfectly fine, while the wheel I trusted was falling apart. At least now I know I should just build all my own wheels from now on!

We rolled on to New Hampshire, with yet another absent state-border-crossing sign at which to get a picture. Crossing the bridge into Portsmouth, Rett was excited to see another female bike tourer (along with perhaps her father?) in front of us. Their heavily-faded panniers and stickers from all over the world suggested that these were true world-travelers, but unfortunately we didn’t get a chance to speak with them because we headed off to the Portsmouth Brewery for lunch, while they continued on and likely would have been flabbergasted that we spent their weekly food budget on a single meal.

Afterwards we got back to the beach, and after passing some truly monumental oceanfront estates, discovered that we had magic bikes that were trying their best to get us to our (and their) destination before it got dark. Or it might have just been a big tailwind pushing us along, I’m not sure. Rain had been in the forecast all day, and we had caught an occasional sprinkle, but as the day wore on, the predicted afternoon showers were instead pushed to nearly-guaranteed evening rain. So having gotten lucky all day, we really wanted to make it to the campground and get the tent set up before our luck ran out.

We reached Salisbury Beach State Reservation and its giant 450+ site campground as dusk was approaching. The entrance station (with 4 spread-out lanes, like approaching a toll plaza) was closed, so we just continued on and picked an open site. Just as we were about to stake down the tent, an RV pulled up and the driver informed us we were on his site. Crap! He was totally cool about it, and there were plenty of other open sites, but since there was apparently no way to know whether a site was reserved or not, we feared that anywhere else we set up would put us at risk of being forced to move on again. Luckily, some other nice RV campers came up with a solution: we could just set up our tent in the back of their sites, eliminating the worry about being displaced. As a bonus, they told us then that there was no reason for us to pay for a site, since we weren’t actually using our own site. They even suggested that we park our bikes behind one of their RVs to shelter them from the strong wind and oncoming rain.

As we set up camp and cooked some dinner in the tent vestibule, I overheard the old-timers talking about the huge snow piles they’d gotten in the area a couple years ago, and how one of their neighbors pushed snow right into their driveway. “That’s just how people are these days”, one of the guys lamented. What?! No! Shut up! You’re how people are! Giving a hand to weary travelers and asking nothing in return.  I may be younger, but through these trips I’d like to believe I’m at least as much of an authority as he is on “how people are”!

Day 17: Brunswick, ME to Biddeford, ME

September 22nd, 2016

48.9 mi / 4:27:10 time / 11.0 mph avg. / 1727 ft. climbing
Staying at The Biddeford Motel

Today stayed good a lot longer than yesterday, so that was a welcome improvement. The motel had a quality continental breakfast, which of course we ravaged, to the point where it actually put the motel stay pretty close to price parity with the campground we otherwise would have stayed at, so I think Rett became fully convinced at the utility of our motel recovery night. 

Another big improvement for the day was that we got off of US 1 and onto some beautiful curvy country roads. Though at one point we passed a dead chipmunk in the road, who we determined had died not from an impact with a vehicle, but from a heart attack while ascending the steep grade. So yeah, there were still some pretty good hills, but managable for humans on bikes who had gotten acclimated to bigger ones. 

Freeport is the home of L.L. Bean, and we stopped at their flagship store (er, multi-building complex), mostly just for the fun of browsing huge outdoor/camping/biking store, and of course to get a picture with a size 246 L.L. Bean boot, of which Rett has a beloved smaller pair. 

Rett was pretty excited about Portland, particularly the Old Portland neighborhood with its wharves and brick streets. It was definitely a cool area, but some transients asking for money (and looking like they had ended up in the wrong Portland!) made us irrationally nervous about our bikes, the restaurant we targeted had a note on the door explaining that they were unexpectedly closed for the day (at least the third time that happened on the trip!), and I had some bad directions for getting us over the big bridges and out of town.

 So while it was a nice stop, I think we were left with a slightly unpleasant aftertaste due to particular circumstances.  Another day, another time, and our feelings probably would have been quite different, which makes me wonder how many of our excellent experiences are equally dependent on the exact time we were there to experience them. I guess we’ll just have to visit all these places again to answer that question! 

Out of Portland, we were back onto busy and hilly US 1, which prevented the mood from recovering. I thought that would be solved when we broke off to do 6 miles on the Eastern Trail, a multi-use gravel path that’s quiet and most-importantly, dead flat, making it a good rest for Rett’s bruised muscles.  But the gravel was rougher than I hoped, which makes Rett white-knuckle her handlebars, so that just continued to make things worse rather than better. I figured, well, we at least made it through half the day before things stopped being fun, which was a big improvement over yesterday! 

But as the miles went by, the trail surface improved, Rett gained more confidence and speed on it, and maybe the flatness was allowing her some recovery after all. Because by the time we got back onto US 1 and into the crazy honking-at-us rush-hour traffic heading into Saco, the “discussion” we had about the rules of the road with toothless girl who nearly drove into me was at least as much a moment of astonished entertainment for us as it was actual fear or anger. Even better, despite the “go fuck yourselves” thrown at us, and laying on her horn when she finally went past, she did move fully into the other lane to pass, so our education about the illegality of riding bikes on the sidewalk and giving less than 3 feet of passing space might have actually been effective! A road rage miracle! 

Some other impatient idiots along with her (including the guy intentionally shifted to the right to prevent us from passing him in the gridlocked traffic) made Saco the worst bit of traffic the whole trip, but again, there’s a good chance that it was just random timing. 

Because the girl working at the ice cream shop seemed perfectly non-murderous, and while we ordered, a young guy named John came by checking out our bikes, and almost immediately offered us a place to camp on the land where he lives. He’d done a ride from Maine to Minnesota a couple years ago, so knew how helpful such an offer could be. We actually were still deciding on a place to stay at that late hour, and his location was perfect for us, but unfortunately he was on his way out of town so we’d have a spigot but no bathroom available. So we had to decline (especially disappointing since he lived in a yurt!), though he and his girlfriend still tried hard to think of any other places or friends we could crash with (who weren’t heading out to the same festival as them) that might be better than the RV-focused campground on our radar. 

In the end, we just decided on a stop at a Hannaford grocery for another bed-picnic in a motel, since sunset was fast approaching. Again, the $60 motel was a worthwhile upgrade from a $35 crappy campground, so it was a trade I was happy to make. When we walked into the motel office, Rett wondered what the wonderful smell was, and the woman replied it was a curry they were cooking for dinner. And in a move that was equal parts sweet, funny, and jerky (to a pair of hungry cyclists preparing for a bed-pinic), the husband proudly brought the steaming kettle out from the back for us to inhale more directly. Mmm… But our brie/prosciutto/blueberry jam sandwiches were really good too.

Day 16: Camden, ME to Brunswick, ME

September 21st, 2016

53.8 mi / 4:53:20 time / 11.0 mph avg. / 2869 ft. climbing
Staying at Rodeway Inn

In the morning, everything was dry. If we had experienced a morning previously in camp when there was neither leftover rain nor heavy dew covering everything, I don’t remember it. But now I remember how much nicer it is. It’s so much more comfortable, easier to make coffee, and faster to pack up. The only rain we had to contend with was the rain of acorns that were still coming down in waves as the wind would hit a pocket of trees. There was one sitting on my pannier, one inside my helmet, and I might still be carrying some with me. I’ve never seen so many acorns. 

Rett’s tumble down the rocks last night didn’t actually make that night much worse than it would have been otherwise. The overlong hike meant that even without a fall, there still would have been sore hiking muscles, a cold shower,  and unappetizing tent picnic to make it bad enough. No, it was when she went to ride on in the morning that we would understand the consequences of the fall. Luckily there seemed to be no structural damage, so it would be mainly pain and swelling from bruising to deal with. 

Camden did turn out to be exactly the cute no-delivery-chain-restaurants town we expected it to be. Breakfast outside at Marriner’s overlooking the harbor was good enough to at least temporarily put a smile on Rett’s face. 

Unfortunately, after that, it was mostly a joyless slog to get through the miles. But as usual, she got through them, even though it was our biggest day in a while. It was also the first sunny day we’d had in four days, so that made it especially sad that she couldn’t enjoy what otherwise was a pretty nice day of bike touring. 

Along the road, we ran into Rick, a guy out on a weeklong bike tour. We rode together for a stretch, until we dropped him going up a big hill where he had to stop and walk up. Ha! Even in her weakened state, Rett is out here leaving other bike tourers in her dust. Until that point, Rick was happy for the company, since he can’t convince his wife to do anything more than drop him off at the start and pick him up at the end. I felt like he was a bit jealous of me and my girl who comes riding with me. And he should be! I’m pretty lucky! 

Beyond dropping Rick (in his defense, he eventually passed us while we took a break), there were some other moments of smiles for Rett, like kisses from a doggie at a stand where we bought some Maine blueberry jam, and a good lobster roll lunch in Wiscassett (though not from Red’s, the place recommended by John and Lauren, and Rick, because it was a 40 minute line in the suddenly unbearable sun, and we’re learning things about overextending ourselves here!) 

It took some arm twisting, but eventually I convinced Rett that a motel stay would be better for her recovery than a night at a private campground I wasn’t particularly interested in. Hopefully tomorrow will feel better for both of us! 

Day 15: Bucksport, ME to Camden, ME

September 20th, 2016

36.1 mi / 3:10:32 time / 11.4 mph avg. / 1933 ft. climbing
Staying at Camden Hills State Park 

Today was planned as our second “easy” day in a row, but this time because Camden Hills State Park, one of the last public camping opportunities on this oddly campground-free section of the Atlantic Coast, was closer than we ideally would have liked it to be.  But there was a good mountain to hike there, so it wouldn’t actually be an “easy” day overall. 

We briefly met another touring cyclist, supposedly heading to Key West, but given that our previous innkeeper told us about him spending two nights there a day before us, and the fact that we saw him coming out of a hospital, that might be a bit ambitious. At least it made us feel like our thirtysomething-mile days aren’t that short after all! 

We went through some pretty harbor towns, had lunch at an oceanfront restaurant, climbed a bunch of hills, and made it to the park by midafternoon. 

The idea was to hike to the top of 1385′ Mt. Megunticook, a taller mountain than anything except Cadillac Mountain at Acadia. Then hike down to Mt. Battie, and down from there to the luxury-cute town of Camden for a nice dinner. And figure a way back to the campground after that. Since the forecast was for sun all day, we figured it would be a good make-up for our Acadia hike when all the mountain views were into a white abyss of fog. 

It turns out that ocean weather is different than the weather I’m used to. While the day may have technically been cloud-free by some meteorological definition, we saw very little sun all day due to the layers of fog. Still, we headed up the mountain hoping for the best. 

And we got something very close to the best. A rocky, rooty, inexorable climb through a varied forest unlike anything we get in the Midwest. And when we finally hit the cliffside viewpoint 1300′ up, the sun through the fog lighting the town and harbor and forest far below took our breath away. Rett declared it a match for Tuscany, her gold-standard for places to be. It was incredible, one of our best moments of the whole trip. 

And then from those glorious heights, everything tumbled down to complete shit. 

Stupidly heading all the way to the summit marker meant that there was no chance for us to make the hike down to Camden for dinner before sunset. Our best option was to make it down to a park road that we could then walk back to our site in the dark, and that wasn’t a great option. 

And then, not far from the road, Rett took a tumble clambering down a slippery rock, badly bruising her thigh, back, and knee. She was able to limp out to the road, and luckily the last car driving down the road from the Mt. Battie summit was nice enough to stop and drive us the mile back to our campsite. 

That was basically the last bit of good fortune. To clean her abrasions, Rett winced through a cold shower, since after she limped to the bathhouse and stripped down, we discovered that “cold” shockingly turned out to be the only option. Then we didn’t have any true dinner backup in place. Delivery? No, Camden turned out to be too fancy of a town to have any Domino’s chains or anything else like that delivered. The takeout place right near the park entrance? Closed on Tuesday (it was Tuesday). Grocery store? Too far on the other side of town for me to ride through in the dark, when Rett would be alone in the tent being assaulted by storms of raining acorns. We had plenty of calories in our packs, it just wasn’t the kind of stuff we usually have for dinner. But I was at least relieved that Rett, who often just won’t eat if the options don’t match her desires, put down enough food while holed up in our tent to keep her strength up. Cheese and crackers, Mike & Ikes (Red Rageous), and spicy cashews from India (thanks Dennis! And Saxenas!) that luckily we had saved and carried all this time.

I was far more angry with myself than I was a week ago when my route over the mountains pushed Rett beyond the comfort point. In that case, she eventually convinced me that estimating how difficult hills would be for her wasn’t completely predictable, and that I shouldn’t blame myself as much as I had been. But in this case, we had just done a very similar hike up and down a mountain a few days ago. Everything was predictable. But I still bit off a hiking route that was way more than we could chew in the time we had, and somehow completely forgot that going down the steep rocky slopes of Maine takes way longer than going up. 

Worse, I felt like these two “easy” days on the bike were allowing Rett to finally recover somewhat from those two days over the mountains that did so much damage, and would allow her to finish the tour in some level of comfort. Now, all chance of that was gone, and it would be a grind through pain the rest of the way. Once again, I had failed in my goal of making this a comfortable tour for Rett, and at this point, I’m actually worried that she’s starting to believe that pain is simply a part of bike touring. It really isn’t, and someday I would love to be able to prove that to her. Unfortunately that day likely won’t come anytime soon. 

Day 14: Somesville, ME to Bucksport, ME

September 19th, 2016

33.8 mi / 2:52:56 time / 11.7 mph avg. / 1664 ft. climbing
Staying at Spring Fountain Motel 

We had another morning to sleep in and wait out the rain. It stopped enough to allow us to pack up and head off the island around 9am. We originally had kept open the possibility of staying another night (or at least most of the day) at Acadia, but the rain made that fairly pointless, so we decided to just move on. 

We always talk about how you see so much more at bicycle-speed than you do in a car, but today I realized that extends to smell as well. Whether it’s the unmistakable scent of the ocean when we crossed the causeway, the rotting flesh of some poor animal (we actually saw the proverbial chicken who crossed the road (to die) the other day), the pungent pine of a logging truck bringing Christmas,  or the lobster shack running their smokers all day long (the real reason I wrote this paragraph!), we just have a lot more local molecules entering our noses than in a climate-contolled cage, and that definitely keeps us connected to the world around us. Then again, we passed that lobster shack twice and never stopped… 

Our backtrack off the island ended when we turned onto US 1, which would be our main route for the rest of the trip. It saw us and said “who are these losers? Are they ready for me? Here, I’ll test them with a 6% grade, that oughta send ’em back to some less-worthy road. Hmm, I see they’re still coming? OK, I’ll boost it up to 8%. Hmm. 9% will surely stop them! What?! They’re still coming? Barely even slowing down?! Who *is* this girl leading the charge up my hill. OK, OK, I give up! I apologize! Here’s 5%. Er, I mean 3%. No, really, like I said, 0%. Please come ride any time!”

It pretty much misted the whole rest of the way. So while the forecast wasn’t quite wrong, it was actually pretty comfortable riding. Cool enough, and never enough rain to actually wet us down. 

Later on, when we were less-aggressively attacking yet another hill, we got a great morale boost when John and Lauren from yesterday went speeding by on their way back south, with Lauren waving out the window and some great horn work from John. In a world where communication-by-horn is extremely unsophisticated and difficult to interpret on a bicycle, John gave the most unambiguously positive beep I’ve ever heard. 

We planned a short day from the start, in order to continue the recovery from the brutal days over the mountains, and especially since the rain prevented any sort of early start. The continuing mist meant it would have been a third morning in a row waking up in a wet tent, so a motel was the obvious choice. The Spring Fountain Motel was a standard old-school motel, but our particular room was surprisingly excellent, and ratified our motel-vs-camp decision. We were able to walk to a lobster shack (Carrier’s Mainely Lobster), which was surely the first time I ever spent $60 at a place where you order through a window at a counter,  but at least we didn’t get shorted on our lobster! 

Even though we were in a building, we still remembered to go out to see the fog painting an impressionist version of a sunset. Riding short is kind of nice! 

Day 13: Acadia National Park

September 18th, 2016

mi / time / mph avg. / ft. climbing
Staying at Mount Desert Campground 

The rain started at 6am, exactly as forecasted. Luckily the forecast had improved, and the afternoon was supposed to have a dry period before the rain returned again. It actually gave us a chance to “sleep in” in the tent for the first time ever, and we both seemed to do so for the next couple of hours despite the patter of rain on the tent. 

The rain stopped in perfect time for us to get up and catch the first bus to Bar Harbor. There is a free bus service that runs several routes around the island, and it’s really helpful for touring  cyclists wanting to visit the vast park without killing themselves on the hills, especially since it has a stop right at the campground. 

We got a chance to wander a Bar Harbor packed with tourists from a cruise ship out in the bay, and I had a hard time discussing the day’s plan with Rett as she was continually distracted by things in the shop windows we passed. 

We hopped onto another bus that would take us in the general direction of Jordan Pond, and the Jordan Pond House, a place I figured we could take shelter in for a while if needed. We got off a little earlier, at the Bubble Pond stop, and I figured we’d scout out which of the many routes we’d take to Jordan Pond. There was only one other couple at the trailhead, who had also taken the bus, and as we exchanged cameras for reciprocal portrait-taking, we found them so easy to talk with that we could have been stuck at the trailhead for another couple hours if no one had snapped us out of it.


Their names were John and Lauren. We ended up spending the whole day with each other, and it was excellent. On a “day off” at Kelly’s Island on our last tour,  we similarly met a couple that we hit it off with, and the experience was just as unexpectedly valuable this time too. Rett and I probably do abnormally well spending 99% of our time exclusively with each other, but adding some other people to the mix is like adding a new spice to a recipe that you mistakenly thought you had perfected. 

Rather than just winging it like us, John had wisely talked to a ranger about the  best trails in wet conditions, so we happily followed them up the north ridge of Pemetic Mountain and down the south ridge. Though it never rained on us, the only view from the top was fog roiling over the ridge like that from a mountain-sized dryer vent. But it wasn’t a complete bust, as the fog lent its own beauty to the rocky woods on the way up and down. And at least it wasn’t raining! 

We ate together at the National Park’s Jordan Pond House, famous for their tea and popovers. We went with blueberry lemonades instead, but let them railroad us into the popovers. Should have resisted, because $5 for a hollow hunk of dry bread is not exactly hiker food. Maybe if they filled the hole with cream cheese or something. 

We decided to just hop the next bus back to Bar Harbor, resigned to the fact that we’d only get to see the mountains-and-lakes features of Acadia this time, and the ocean aspects would have to wait until our next visit. But at the last minute, I discovered the right bus connection that would allow us to see the salt water too. Which was especially lucky, since on this supposed rain-out day, the stupid sun was even coming out through the fog! This time John and Lauren decided to follow our lead, so we called our debts even. We probably could have spent a lot more time exploring all the nooks and crannies of the rocky Ocean Path, but just getting the overview was worth it. We ended up doing over 9 miles of hiking, sounds about normal for us on our “off” days. 

We made it back to Bar Harbor, said our goodbyes, and Rett and I were back alone together to have a fairly fancy dinner at Blaze, followed by some delicious foodie-flavored ice cream. After nearly 12 hours away from our tent and bikes, the last bus running dropped us off and we navigated back to our campsite in the black night. Good thing Rett suggested to bring the headlamps 12 hours earlier! 

It was well short of a perfect day at Acadia, but still quite a good one, and far better than what the previous day’s forecast predicted. We would have been fools to change our plans and shift dates around. So what is the point of all this weather technology in our pockets? Does it actually make things better, or does it just make us needlessly scared?  Would we be better just dealing with whatever happens when it happens? We’ll see, I guess; tomorrow’s rain prediction is worse than today’s.

Day 12: Bangor, ME to Somesville, ME

September 17th, 2016

45.0 mi / 3:58:41 time / 11.3 mph avg. / 2260 ft. climbing
Staying at Mount Desert Campground 

Our visit to Acadia National Park was expected to be one of the highlights of the trip for both of us. But the weather forecast was determined to blacken that highlight with near-constant and guaranteed rain that precisely aligned with the two to three days we planned to spend there. We were throwing all options into the air, including delaying our entry to Acadia a couple days,  when of course perfect weather was once again forecast. We’d then hop a train into Boston to make up for the lost time. But we threw that out since we didn’t know what we’d do when waiting out the rain anyway.

The other thing wrecking the timing was that we were due to arrive on a Saturday, so switching plans from a tent to a place with a roof was basically impossible at this late hour. At the last moment I discovered that there was a WarmShowers host (people who provide lodging for bike tourers) on the island, so I contacted her, and she generously offered to help, but we decided against it when it sounded like we’d be adding more chaos to her life than the rain would add to ours. So in the end, we decided to just stick with the original plan, come what may. 

But first we had business with Stephen King on our way out of Bangor. Rett has become an obsessed fan in recent years, so stalking him at his house was an obvious requirement of this trip. He makes it easy, having a giant house in the middle of the nicest street in Bangor, with a wrought-iron fence filled with spiders, dragons, and the letter ‘K’. We were the only ones there on a Saturday morning, but the worn dead grass in the parkway revealed that were part of a long line of stalkers. I guess that’s what happens when you use your home state as a character of so many of your novels! 

On the road, in addition to the still-omnipresent hills, we hit a new stressor that we’d been lucky to mostly avoid until now: headwinds. Combining the two pushed Rett near her breaking point, and in frustration at her own perceived “slowness” (again, check the stats to see how perception doesn’t match reality), she told me to go off and ride ahead of her for a while so she could be by herself. 

Of course I wasn’t particularly interested in that, but after we strapped her phone to her arm so she could listen to music from its speaker as she rode, I had some stuff to check on my phone, so I let her ride off ahead for a bit. 

And suddenly, I could barely catch up to her. I think it literally took me a couple miles. Even better, I later learned it wasn’t rage powering her up those hills, but a genuine mood change, so when I caught back up she was happy to have me back with her again. That made for two positive mood changes! Finally getting the first actual chowder of The Chowder Tour helped too. 

There was a lot of heavy, loud traffic heading toward Acadia on US 1A, so before we got to the island, one of the prettiest thigs we saw was when Rett went off into the woods for a roadside pee break. When she came back out she said “it’s really pretty in there, you should check it out even if you don’t have to go!” That’s the kind of thing that never happens when you’re driving around the country! 

We were heading for Mount Desert Campground, a private campground in the middle of the island. I don’t think I’ve ever visited a National Park and camped somewhere besides a National Park campground, but I had discovered this place that had some of the best campground reviews I’d ever seen, it was a bit better location (if more isolated), so what the heck? 

We were planning on picking up some dinner and breakfast groceries at a store a few miles short of the campground, but when we got to it at the top of a big hill: closed. At 3pm! At that point, the thousands of cars that had been passing us all day long made me fear what else could go wrong, particularly that the non-reservable campground had filled up, and we’d be stranded with neither food nor shelter. 

Luckily, there was one more gas station in the area that we were able to stock up at, and there were plenty of sites available. Though all the waterfront sites were taken, ending our streak at 6.

Our site was still one of the best I’ve been in. Huge, with no visibility to neighboring sites, a granite cliff through the woods on the back side, and a flat, wooden, elevated platform on which to pitch our tent. We took a hike down the trail along the cliff to fetch firewood, and had a good camp dinner. By 8pm, we couldn’t hear a single other party in the campground, even though it was pretty well-oiled, and something about the place was even making us speak in hushed voices. It definitely lived up to the reviews, was probably the best campground I’ve ever stayed in (excluding a park where I can see Devils Tower or the Badlands etc from my tent), and we had a good evening before the rain was due to arrive at 6am.

Day 11: Skowhegan, ME to Bangor, ME 

September 16th, 2016

47.0 mi / 3:55:38 time / 12.0 mph avg. / 2645 ft. climbing
Staying at Bangor Motel 6

The forecast said it would be a cold morning, but I wasn’t expecting 38 degrees! And everything soaked in condensation made it even colder. Since Rett was cold the night before when it was 20 degrees warmer, I wanted her to just stay warm in the tent while I got us ready to go, got coffee made, and maybe got a fire started. But she was so concerned about getting up and down the many hills and into Bangor in time to get her new sunglasses that there was no stopping her from packing up the inside of the tent before I even had a chance to start relighting the fire. 

Once she was done getting ready in the relatively warm bathroom, and I had discovered that restarting the fire was hopeless, there was little left to do but start riding immediately to warm up. I still had packing and drying left to do, so in a rarity, I sent her down the road with me to catch up later. 

Once I started riding, it took at least 30 minutes to track her down. And the whole way I was pushing at 100%, something I don’t normally do when I’m right behind her and letting her set the pace. I suddenly realized that Rett is pushing at that intensity all the time, and thus having a lot of fun sucked out of her tour, in a way I didn’t fully understand until that moment. 

After a gas-station breakfast, eaten at an outdoor table in the rapidly warming morning, and after she apologized for the thousandth time for her pain and “slowness”, I apologized for the thousandth time for wrecking her relatively-relaxed tour, and underestimating the magnitude and effect of the endless hills when planning the route. Particularly since that was the main goal of this tour, to make it more comfortable than her first one. And whether you want to call it incompetence, ignorance, or an honest mistake, I had clearly failed at that goal. She made a clear and strong argument to me that none of it was my “fault” and that she couldn’t do this thing that she loves (bike touring) at all without my help, and that I should shut the hell up with my apologies. But the stubborn nut in me still makes me wonder  why she loves bike touring when, under my guidance, it ends up involving so much pain. But whether I understand it or not, she at least got me to  believe it. 

A bunch more hills brought the mood down again, only for a stop at a mom-and-pop apple orchard brought them up again. Cider and our packed lunch at a roadside picnic table gave us that relaxed “bike touring” vibe that has seemed fairly hard to come by these days. 

Then it was onto the Bangor Motel 6, which had the best room for bike parking I’ve ever seen. Tons of space, newly redecorated, with any problems solved under a coat of paint. I had to gather a stack of rocks from an empty lot to prop up my end of the bed, and I spread out the tent to dry out in the same lot. Add in the laundry we did, and we were probably the lowest-class residents of the not-very-high-class motel. 

We then took an Uber to the mall on the other side of town, Rett picked out frames and actually got her glasses in an hour (made at one of four machines in the country capable of that with Rett’s prescription), and additionally got her some more quality outerwear from a going-out-of-business outdoor store. After spending all that money and Ubering back, we returned to our proper class with a carried-out pizza and beer brought back to our room, and HGTV on the screen while we took to our phones and tried to figure out what the hell we were going to do about the rain threatening to ruin our upcoming  stay in Acadia National Park. 

Day 10: Stratton, ME to Skowhegan, ME

September 15th, 2016

58.6 mi / 4:35:23 time / 12.8 mph avg. / 2054 ft. climbing
Staying at Two Rivers Campground 

Our innkeeper remarked that she gets a lot of people who had planned on camping at Cathedral Pines but then thought better of it. Which makes sense, since it’s the first place as you head south, not to mention that it’s a beautiful, rustic, converted barn, on Flagstaff Lake in the shadow of Bigelow Mountain. The only other couple who stayed there were moose “hunters”, who had seen 23 moose on their last visit. Our count: 0. Sad face. 

We got all packed up and ready to go, and then, disaster: Rett’s prescription sunglasses were gone. She quickly realized where they were: back in Canada at the B&B. When we were shown our original room there, she had understandably put them down in the room, and then when we got upgraded to the nicer suite, completely forgot about them. And then never used them throughout the next rainy day. 

She has contacts, but they’re pretty uncomfortable for her, and riding into the morning sun without protection is bad too. She called and confirmed that they were exactly where she thought, and Anne at Auberge La Charmille generously offered to mail them wherever we wanted. We considered having them sent to the Acadia campground where we’d be spending a couple days, but our Maine  innkeeper scared us out of that: “there’s no such thing as one-day shipping up here. They may say it, but it never happens” . So the plan became: buy a pair of cheap sunglasses to wear over her contacts, and get new glasses from LensCrafters once we reached Bangor. With sweet pink camouflage glasses in hand from the general store, we were finally off! 

And we made it another half mile to breakfast. Today would be a slow start. Stratton feels like a mountain town out West. Last night I saw a group of outdoors-people gathered outside a motel picnic table that offered $25 communal bunks, and this morning in the Looney Moose Cafe, I overheard another couple who sounded exactly like us, mapping out their day’s route over their eggs and French toast.

It turns out they were Appalachian Trail thru-hikers (and they even had their little Shih-Tzu hiking with them!) I knew from my planning that the AT crossed our route nearby, and it was an important place for me, both because hiking the AT is something Rett and I have talked a lot about the last couple years, and because I remember how drawn I was to it when I crossed it on my very first bike tour, in Georgia. This crossing was probably similarly close to the opposite end. 

In fact, we met So Free (aka Galen), another AT hiker, when we finally crossed the trail a few miles later, and he was near the end of his six month, four day journey north. It was really great to talk with these kindred adventurers, and like France the bike tourer, when we asked if their adventure was good enough to recommend to others, the positive response came more quickly, naturally, and unequivocally than any question I’ve ever asked anyone. Like in Georgia, we stepped onto the trail briefly, and then dragged ourselves out of the woods and back out to the bikes. 

The riding was still really tough, with three big climbs to cross from one river valley to the next, but the beauty helped counteract the struggle. 

In Kingfisher we stopped at a grocery store where Rett played telephone games to get her prescription transmitted from her latest optometrist over to LensCrafters. The fax wasn’t going through, and the Chicago-based optometry chain was making no extra effort in consideration of the fact that Rett was standing in a grocery vestibule in Maine attempting to transact business. This willful indifference was infavorably juxtaposed with the fabulous grocery/gas/laundry all-in-one we were at.  They manually sliced a loaf of cinnamon bread we bought, so we could make sandwiches at their picnic table, let use the bathroom in their laundromat, and we could even watch the horses in their back yard. Man I love the country all-in-one! 

In Madison we stocked up on baked goods at a bakery that was only open that day of the week, and had a nice talk with the people in there too, including the woman who recited a poem she remembered from her college, from which she graduated in 1953!

A final push down a beautiful US 2, with the sun setting over the river and casting shadows of the tree-tunnel onto the road, and we made it to our campground destination, where we hit 6-for-6 on waterfront sites, and this one maybe the best so far. Right on a point where two rivers meet. But it was getting cold fast, and the giant bundle of scrap woodworking firewood burned well, but quickly, and we soon hunkered down for the night.