New England 2019: Home again.

On Monday, the 23rd of September, we awoke at 05:00 and quickly broke camp. We had breakfast at Helen’s restaurant in Machias, where we had enjoyed dinner on the way north. We also cleaned up in their washroom. With three hours to wait for the daily bus, we took our time.

I rode into town and looked at some of the stores in the only town worthy of the name between Ellsworth and Lubec. The West Bus to Bangor misses the connection with the bus to Portland by five minutes, much to the frustration of the passengers from isolated communities downeast, who must wait 2-½ hours for the 15:30 bus each day. According to the ticket agent at the Concord Coach lines terminal, the owner of West refuses to make the small adjustment needed.

The West bus took us back to Gouldsboro by the Schoodic Peninsula, then turned inland along roads that we had not ridden. The pavement improved on the 1A, but the hills looked endless and very steep. I did not mind the motorized transit.

Though we rode only 28 km from Whiting to Bangor, we found ourselves in Porland before dark and riding to the Saint Francis, a charming boutique hotel downtown. Showers made us feel great. The Arts District where the hotel sits is hip and gentrified. Just walking to supper, we passed bike shops, bakeries, art galleries, cafés, restaurants, and the Portland Museum of Art. We found supper at Otto’s Pizza, where Joe Walsh and his band were playing bluegrass music.

On Tuesday we woke at 07:35 to the promise of a warmer day (high of 24°C) and only a 30% chance of rain. Cheryl wanted to go to Freeport, so we investigated buses and trains to Freeport and Brunswick. There were train and bus options north and south of town.

I like Portland, Maine, very much. The Soap Bubble laundromat offered Visa-enabled washers and dryers for $3.75 wash and $1.00 dry. The Tandem Café across the street from our hotel seemed to be where the hipsters broke their fast. It was packed. We walked to Gorham Bikes, but it was closed. The staff were on a bike ride. What a thought.

The Metro Breeze, one of the city bus lines, runs all the way to Brunswick through Freeport for only $3.50. At L.L. Bean, I spent way more than I expected to, mostly on stuff that I was planning to replace by the end of the year, such as new bike shoes, gloves, minitool, and a new air mattress.

We took the bus back to the hotel. We changed and walked to the Fore Street Restaurant, where we dined as well as we remembered from five years ago. I don’t know what their rating is, but there aren’t enough stars to do it justice.

The next day, we mounted our bikes again and rode south. With the air becoming crisper but a bright sun, we covered 70 km to Cape Neddick. Our track took us through South Portland and along the Eastern Trail to its terminus at Route 35, which gave us hours of stunning scenery away from tailpipes. Route 35 took us to US 1, where we picked up our ride north. We stopped briefly in Ogunquit, which was still busy, then 8.5 km to the campground at Cape Neddick.

We had a friendly neighbour, a young woman camping with a rental car, who invited us over to share her campfire. That night I slept better than I ever had outdoors, thanks to my new air mattress and eyeshades.

Thursday, the 26th, started out sunny with the threat of rain that afternoon. We left Cape Neddick pushing into a stiff headwind as we wound our way to Kittery. We had breakfast at the Beach Pea and picked up sandwiches for lunch. I drafted Cheryl from Portsmouth NH to Hampton. As she had five years ago, she declined the offer to take turns drafting. The wind took a lot out of her. We had lunch at Hampton Beach State Park, then continued south. In Salisbury, Massachusetts, we discovered the Old Eastern Trail to Newburyport. A violent front came through as we stopped in the historic center of town to figure out where to camp. The weather made us hunker down in the Clark-Currier Inn instead of our tent. We were glad we did. The place was charming and the hospitality exemplary.

The front blew through overnight. After a full breakfast (included), we packed up and enjoyed an easy ride to Salem. We arrived earlier than we expected. Cheryl was excited to learn that there was a ferry to Boston (we do like ferries). Before sundown, we were settled in the Residence Inn Seaport, on a waiting list for the next night. We booked the HI Hostel for Sunday and Monday night. Supper was lobster pasta from Terra Cotta, across the street from Beach Pea in Kittery, with a 2015 Languedoc from Mathews
Wine Shop nearby. Residence Inn suites have just about everything I would like in an apartment of my own. Very homey.

On Saturday, the room phone rang at 06:23. A late-night cancellation freed up our room so we would not have to move! Sometimes we just have the greatest luck on these trips.

We rode out to the Boston Public Market and bought groceries for our stay in Boston at the open-air market. After depositing the groceries in the room, we rode the Charles River Trail to Harvard. Cheryl had looked forward to the CRT. She was disappointed by the traffic and the terrible condition of the trail. At Harvard we walked among the throngs of tourists from cruise ships, then rode the Dudley White Bikeway on the other side of the Charles River, back to Copeley Square. There was an Indonesian food festival in the square. We ate lunch on the steps of the Boston Public Library. Inside, we enjoyed the exhibition on mapping the 19th Century, America Transformed. We also stopped by the Bates reading room. I must never come to Boston again without bringing my computer or a journal to the Bates Room to write.

On the way to the Residence Inn, I stopped at Mathews and found a 2017 Etna Rosso from Benanti, for about the same as we paid in 2015 in the restaurant in Milazzo. It wasn’t aged ten years like the other, but it was still rare and delicious – and a pleasant memory of our ride around Sicily.

Sunday morning, we put down another full breakfast, while Cheryl looked up museums and events. There were more things to see than we could ever visit. We checked out of the Residence Inn and rode to the HI Hostel. The HI folks let us store our bags while we went out before checking in.

Cheryl had chosen the Museum of Fine Arts, but first we needed a box for her bike. The nearest shop (Urban Adventours/Urban Cycles) assured her that they had the boxes and quoted her $50. I called and a different guy also assured me, but quoted $20. We wasted hours walking there only to find out that they only had used small boxes in which the wholesalers shipped the disassembled new bikes. We had already wasted a trip to South Station where Amtrak Baggage Claim would not sell her a box. She resolved to ride to the U-Haul store for a bag the next day, when no one answered her call.

I bought four rides on the metro, and we arrived at the MFA at 15:30. We closed the place and decided to come back the next day.

Monday, the 30th of September. A cool, partly cloudy final day on our trip together. I packed my puffy jacket, expecting to use it. I wrote to my cousins and friends setting up my destinations after Boston. After breakfast, Cheryl booked a van-taxi for Tuesday morning. I convinced her to ride ahead to the MFA whilst I rode to U-Haul for the bags and tape. I was back in 45 minutes. On the way back, I recognized the neighbourhood; I had run this same errand for bags five years earlier.

I was sitting in the restaurant of the MFA when Cheryl found me. She had taken a left turn on Tremont instead of a right, and so had only arrived shortly before I had rolled up. We finished seeing what we had not seen the day before. As always, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts is a pleasure for the senses.

After the MFA, we walked to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum around the corner. I was delighted to be told that as a veteran, I could enter for free with five guests. I turned to the couple in line behind us and made their day.

The ISGM is a rare jewel, a testament to what a strong woman with resources can accomplish.

After our visit, Cheryl announced that she wanted to get her hair cut. With most hair salons closed on Monday, that led to a walk through the historic South Boston neighbourhood, which she thoroughly enjoyed, and which we would have normally missed. The sun had almost set when we entered Supercuts on Boylston Street. She got a great haircut, but the confusing pricing structure left her feeling ripped off and out twenty dollars more than she should have paid.

She remembered Eataly Boston across the street, so we celebrated our last night together with Italian food. I had bucatini all’amatriciana with a Nero d’Avola; she had linguine alla pescatora with a Ziggurat from Umbria. We walked to the Cheesecake Factory for dessert.

We set the alarm for 03:00 hoping that the ordeal at the airport would not be as bad as five years ago.

I rose before the alarm at 02:45, dressed in the dark and slipped out. Cheryl came to the lobby at 03:50. The taxi driver, Ansher, was on time. He acted very upset that he had not been warned about the bicycle, but it fit easily in the back. I knew that he wanted to intimidate us and charge a hefty fee for the bike, but I held my ground. We had specified a minivan and warned the company about the bike. He took the money and my $10 tip and shut up.

To my surprise the new U-Haul bag opened on the long side instead of the end, which made the bicycle slip in easily. It taped with no effort, but I wondered how it would weather the plane change in Montréal and the handling.

The check-in agents gave Cheryl a hard time about no box, but after a phone call to somewhere else, they relented and checked the bike.

Lesson: always allow an extra half-hour to argue with the ground personnel when trying to fly with a bicycle, especially if you are positive about the air carrier’s policy.

At 04:30, I kissed Cheryl goodbye and watched her walk to security. As I crawled into bed three hours after rising, she texted me from the gate boarding area. Our sixth trip together had come to an end.

Cheryl’s trip home would not be as smooth as mine. The flight from Montréal left 3 ½ hours late, after sitting on the ground for four hours. Everything moved to a new plane, 50 gates away.

The American TSA sliced Cheryl’s unlocked pannier with a knife instead of simply opening it, ruining her day completely. I shared her fury. She was proud of those MEC bags, long out of production and beyond repair or replacement. I will be watching to see how she replaces them. On the other hand, the bicycle came through just fine.

I checked out of the HI Hostel and rode to my cousin Polly’s house in Brookline. Over the next two days, we caught up some more. I finished the work that had accumulated during my holiday: a presentation for a conference in November and reviewing the draft of my forthcoming novel, Emily & Hilda, which the editor sent me earlier in September.

On Thursday, the 3rd of October, I left Boston on the T for Wickford Station. I beat the rain out of Boston and across Rhode Island, reaching my friend Judy’s house in Ashaway at 17:10. The rain held off until we came back from supper at Noodle Revolution in Westerly (uniquely delicious).

With the roads still wet and slimy on Friday, Judy convinced me to let her take me and the bike in her SUV to Old Lyme. She was passing our home on her way to Centerbrook anyway.

Life returned to normal as I hung out with my family in Old Lyme for the next week. I rode along the Shore Road and spent hours chatting with my stepmother, Jan. The music and the coffee hour at Church on Sunday were familiar. I made progress choosing a printer and trim sizes for the novel and going through two more passes on the cover design. It is amazing how much work I can get done after a real holiday. The long hours in the saddle behind Cheryl are as important to my work as the hours spent at the computer. I don’t think that I would have accomplished as much in the six weeks since 20 August if I had tried to do them instead of the holiday.

I also researched weather forecasts and transportation options. The calendar started to compress. I decided not to ride back to Charlottesville.

On Thursday, the 10th of October, I hugged my family goodbye and rode to the train station at Old Saybrook. There was no rain and a stiff tailwind! The Shore Line East to New Haven was on time, and so were the Metro North to New York and the Crescent to New Orleans. I rode home from the Amtrak station in Charlottesville at 21:15. I was looking forward to more riding on the East Coast, but the Tour of New England 2019 was over.

Smooth roads and tailwinds,

Jonathan

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