New England 2019: Massachusetts to Maine

On Friday, the 6th of September, we rose at dawn and rode out under a cloudy sky and the threat of a storm by late afternoon. I had a hunger headache by the time we stopped in Marblehead for clam chowder and a muffin. That constituted brunch, I guess.

The ride to Marblehead on the Essex Coast Scenic Byway offered everything that Cheryl had hoped for: historic neighbourhoods, interesting houses, salt marshes, rocky coasts, etc. After Marblehead, as we made our way along Route 127 toward Cape Ann, enjoying the variety that the towns presented. Gloucester is as big and brawny as Rockport is small and cutesy.

I was impressed by the history of New England towns, and how they reinvented themselves whenever the world around them changed. In Colonial times, each had been preeminent in a sector: fishing, shipbuilding, textiles, logistics, farming, etc. Marblehead built warships; Saco and Newburyport manufactured textiles, Nantucket and New Bedford whaled; Gloucester caught and exported fish. More than one town prospered in the Triangle Trade of slaves, cotton and rum until the 19th Century. Except for Gloucester (Gorton’s seafood), each town has learned to recover from an “offshoring” of its principal income and prosper in new ways. Some towns more than once.

I had promised the innkeeper, Marshall, that we would check into the Addison-Choate Inn before the rain started. We arrived with time to walk to Bear Skin Neck for supper at Roy Moore’s Fish Shack, then back through town, reaching the Inn before the storm. We even had time to visit the nearest grocery store.

Rockport was one of the last “dry” towns in the United States, and only issued its first beer & wine to a grocery store (Cracker Jack’s) last March. There are still no liquor stores in town, which means that the residents of Rockport drive to Gloucester for their alcohol.

All day, we covered a comfortable 64.42 km. It felt cold to me, but Cheryl was sweating on our ride. The wind was picking up. Dorian was now expected to pass by after midnight on its way to Halifax.

The next day felt even colder, with a high of only 19⁰. The wind blew from the Northeast at 13 knots and would grow to 22 knots by the end of the day. During the night, Hurricane Dorian passed well east of us and by morning was pounding the Canadian Maritimes. Perhaps we would see its effects when we travelled into Canada. About a half-million households were without power, but there were no reported injuries or deaths, in stark contrast to the death toll still climbing in the Bahamas.

By the time we reached Salem on the T commuter train, the sky had cleared, and the wind had died down. I shed my Arc’teryx jacket. We walked to the House of Seven Gables, then visited the Customs House and the National Maritime Site before catching the last hour at the Peabody-Essex Museum for half-off. The PEM was a jewel, with a small collection, but all the amenities and variety of the National Gallery of Art. We picked up take-out Thai, caught the train back to Rockport and ate our supper at the Inn.

On Sunday, we resumed our journey north. Clear and cold with a westerly wind at 5 knots. We rode Route 127 around the coast of Cape Ann, stopping to visit the lighthouse and the quarry. On Route 133, we enjoyed lobster rolls for lunch at Woodman’s and continued on US 1 into Newburyport. We were disappointed that Hampton Beach State Park in New Hampshire turned out to be day use only. Its designation as a campground meant “RV only”. The self-contained rolling bordellos could park for free, but the washrooms were closed at 20:00. We had supper at the Hampton Beach Food Festival just before it closed then rode into the dark. There are 20 state Parks in New Hampshire with campgrounds, but they are all in the White Mountains – none on the coast. We found a room at the Windjammer by the Sea Motel in North Hampton, where the family operating it took us in with much sympathy and generosity, offering facilities from the kitchenette in the room next door if we wanted them.

The next day was even colder, but the winds were calm. We had arranged to stay with Warmshowers hosts in Portsmouth NH. We spent most of the day across the river in Kittery, Maine, especially at the Trading Post, where I picked up all the little things that I had wished I had for camping.

Our hosts that night, Jess and Polly (Matthew) were a pair of well-travelled Australians in a one-bedroom apartment. Jess is a post-doc soil scientist at the University of New Hampshire, and Polly is a brewer with a local craft brewery. They are committed cyclists and vegetarians making their life style work in spite of the daily commutes to nearby cities. I was almost embarrassed that they were opening their home to us, with their long schedules and with their own trip to get ready for. We slept well, and everyone rode out the next morning.

At York Harbor, we stopped to eat the sandwiches that we purchased at the Beach Pea in Kittery. Rhonda stopped by to chat on her way home walking her dog. She brought us fresh blueberries. The friendliness of strangers has highlighted this trip.

Riding among the “cottages” along the coast of southeast Maine, we paused at Ogunquit, a mecca for summer people and the target of bumper-to-bumper traffic. It seemed that every retiree in the Northeastern US decided to drive to Ogunquit and Kennebunkport on the same day. We stopped for some ice cream, then pushed on. Much of the traffic opted for Route 35 and US 1 in Kennebunkport. We took Route 9, because it followed the coast to the industrial town of Saco and its neighbour, Biddesford. I could not see much, because there were pine woods and homes between the road and the coast. Cheryl pulled ahead while I got stuck by a flagman at a long stretch of paving work. From Saco, she rode Route 5 more directly to Old Orchard Beach. I went the long way on Route 9 all the way around Ferry Point. I met her at Dickinson’s Ice Cream, the only thing open at 18:30. As we watched the tourists wandering around downtown Old Orchard Beach with their dazed expressions, Cheryl observed that almost everything was closed on Tuesday on the coast in Maine. It started raining as we checked into the Old Orchard Beach Inn, a historic property that we remembered fondly from our last visit. It was under new management, but just as comfortable as before, although more expensive now.

The overnight rain did not persist, so that on Wednesday, we could easily ride the unpaved Eastern Trail from Old Orchard Beach to South Portland. The Trail (also part of USBRS 1 and the East Coast Greenway) was as scenic as I remembered, even before the fall colours. We enjoyed another wonderful memory with bread and pastries from Standard Baking Company on Commercial Street. The lobster stew at the Portland Lobster Company was to die for. After lunch, we rode to the other end of the city to Eastern Mountain Sports, the only large outfitter in town. We went to pump up our tyres, but Cheryl talked me into buying two pair of Club Ride shorts. I have to admit that they are more comfortable and fit better than my beloved Columbia trekking shorts, which were not designed for long-distance cycling.

That afternoon, we had an easy run to Wolfe’s Neck Campground, though the hills became increasingly challenging. The tensioning device on my helmet came apart, but I could keep the helmet on safely enough with the chin strap.

At only $32/night, Wolfe’s Neck would prove the best campsite of the entire trip. No lights at the site. An almost full moon made the mist over the inlets and marshes glow in the dark. We ran our laundry while we dined under the cover of the Farm Café, which was closed. It made for a lovely evening, and the darkness and silence made for a good night’s sleep. Wolfe’s Neck Campground is a revenue source for the non-profit Wolfe’s Neck Farm, an experimental station working on low-impact, sustainable agriculture in Maine. Everything on the menu at the Farm Café is grown on the farm.

We decided to visit Freeport on the way back, because we were already east of the town. On Thursday, the 12th of September, we set out for Downeast Maine. In Brunswick we stopped for breakfast and met Mike and Krista from Vancouver. We would leapfrog them for the next two days. I took pictures of Bath Iron Works, where many of the best-made American destroyers were built. Strange place to have on a bucket list, but I associated the metal plates on those ships with some of my best tours of duty in the Navy, thanks to the quality of those ships. At Wiscasset we joined Mike and Krista in the long line outside Red’s Eats. This was a highly regarded purveyor of lobster rolls, but I was not impressed.

The hills became even steeper, and the pavement became progressively worse. We were riding in the travel lane, often in the center of the road, because the asphalt was broken up for so much of the shoulder and roadway. We got as far as the isolated crossroads called Waldoboro by evening. We had covered only 77 km, but it was enough. Cheryl booked a stay at Le Vatout B&B, a scant 300 m from the convenience store/bar where we had stopped.

At the B&B, we surprised Dominica and Linda, who had just arrived home from their holiday. The email from booking.com arrived as we stood at their door admiring the lush garden of flowers and trees around the house. Linda was a professional photographer, but also a gardener, whose love of plants verged on hoarding. Dominica checked us in, and we settled in. The room we had booked was the only one ready – a lucky break for all concerned.

At breakfast, we enjoyed fascinating conversation with our hosts, then set out. The air turned cold in Belfast, so that I needed to break out my puffy jacket. We rode past Belfast (hoping to stop on the way back) to Searsport Shores Oceanfront Campgrounds, 77 km from Waldoboro.

Saturday, the 14th, started out cold and sunny. Before crossing the Penobscot Narrows Bridge, we peeled off to visit Fort Knox. This magnificent 19th Century granite fort was built during the early years of the Republic, when attacks by the British or by privateers were a major concern. It incorporated all the latest military engineering of the day but became obsolete before it was ever attacked.

We rode on to Ellsworth over some of the worst roads and the steepest hills of the entire trip.  In Ellsworth, it started raining and soon built in earnest. My cousin Polly drove out to rescue us in Trenton and drive us to her home in Seal Harbor. We had expected Rod and Polly’s house to be much farther away than it turned out to be, but we were grateful for the lift. We had reached our next major destination: Acadia National Park on Mount Desert Island.

We paused our trip on Mount Desert Island. Because I grew up in Italy, I was probably the only member of our family who had not been to the place. For generations, my relatives had summered there, and some lived year-round. In addition to visiting the park and Bar Harbor, I looked forward to catching up with my favorite cousin. Polly and I had been pen pals since age seven. Nights of wine and munchies would fill the blanks in my knowledge of my family.

Next week, we continue north.

Smooth roads and tailwinds,

Jonathan

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