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Thread: The Maine Road Back

  1. #1
    Ambassador at Large Jim Shaw's Avatar
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    The Maine Road Back

    THE MAINE ROAD BACK
    Text and Photos by Jim Shaw (MOA 61722)

    IÔÇÖve been up there a dozen times, but each time I like it better. Thus, the overriding notion was to ÔÇÿjust do itÔÇÖ. ÔÇÿItÔÇÖ is Vermont and the coast of Maine.

    Maybe I was twelve the first time I saw the Atlantic coast with my folks in the family sedan. That would have been about nineteen-fifty [something]. Funds were thin, so we drove a lot, stayed in pretty cheap motels, and had maybe two nice seafood dinners. But to us, it was a wonderful holiday. We went again a few years later, and that time discovered Vermont on the way. As I recall, The Sound of Music was pretty new, and somebodyÔÇÖs research uncovered the presence of the Von Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe. We went there for lunch one day, and asked about Maria. The Baron had long since passed away, and Maria was in her seventies. The hostess said we had asked at the right moment; Maria was in the Lodge, and I got to shake her hand. Of such things, lifelong memories are made. In the seventies, I took my (relatively) new bride on holiday from Boston to Halifax, and back through Gaspe, Montreal, and home. Some of my Canadian friends dispute this, but I swear it sleeted one morning in August, about halfway out the Gaspe Peninsula. Naturally, we were camping. But, again, the Coast of Maine fed our eyes with beauty, our noses with salt air, and our bellies with lobsters.
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    Ambassador at Large Jim Shaw's Avatar
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    THE MAINE ROAD BACK

    Early this year, I spent two weeks on the back roads of Mexico on the GS. That was followed by a ride to Alaska, and then Spokane, and home. After 12,000 miles, I parked the GS in the garage, kissed the ground, and figured I didnÔÇÖt need to ride anywhere for a little while. That feeling lasted maybe four days. I had been riding and meeting new people for so long, I guess I was hooked.
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    Ambassador at Large Jim Shaw's Avatar
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    THE MAINE ROAD BACK

    Again, I wanted to ride. Once again, Vermont and Maine beckoned. Labor Day (American) was fast approaching, and touring facilities shut down pretty promptly along the Maine coast after that date. The weather is known to start getting cantankerous after then. Worse, the blue-hairs (my hair is white, not blue), invade Vermont and New Hampshire en masse, dragging their wretched trailers and motor homes in an eye polluting aluminum-overcast at glacial speeds, while supposedly looking at the colors (but really just showing pictures of their grandchildren). I gotta miss that ritual-cum-fiasco!

    So, I called in some riding advisors who live in Vermont and Maine, and planned a route with a couple of free beds and riding companions for local sights. The weather forecast looked good. The GS had a new rear tire, and the same Tourance that had done Mexico, Alaska, Spokane, and home was going strong on the front. GiSmo also had fresh fluids and a minor tune-up just before departure day.
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    THE MAINE ROAD BACK

    I always forget at least three or four vital errands the morning of a big trip. Thus, it was at the crack of noon that GiSmo and I started down the Shaw Towers driveway, and aimed east. After a night in Syracuse, I rode over the fast track roads to Rutland, and then across the Green Mountains to the hamlet of South Royalton. SoRo, as the locals call it, would be a much smaller place if it werenÔÇÖt for the presence of the Vermont Law School. It would be less charming without a white church and Victorian buildings around a spacious square with a gazebo. It would be quieter without a couple of fast commuter trains that shake the otherwise sleepy town several times a day. It would be a lot less fun without the Crossroads Bar and Grill, owned and bartended by an old friend of a new friend of mine. Scott Durkee is the man behind the bar several nights a week, and heÔÇÖs the catalyst who combines the locals with the law students to make merry on almost any given night. The place is a little like an American adaptation of ÔÇ£The Student PrinceÔÇØ, and what is certain is the Crossroads will be fun but safe.
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    THE MAINE ROAD BACK

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    THE MAINE ROAD BACK

    Attached to Scott are his new wife Sabra [SayÔÇÖ breh], and a new offspring, Isabel. Sabra is gorgeous. Mostly, I like kids like cats like water, but Isabel is a charmer. ScottÔÇÖs a long time rider, currently on an ST1100, but I tricked him into logging a few miles on the GS, and he wasnÔÇÖt unimpressed. A couple of years ago, my pal John Ryan helped Scott build his sturdy log house on the side of a hill a couple miles from SoRo. The hard part for me was preventing my bar bill from going on ÔÇ£RyanÔÇÖs tabÔÇØ ÔÇô a mythical account that never did exist. After my catatonic sleep in the guestroom, once Sabra was off to work and Isabel was in safe keeping with an aunt, Scott and I took as long as we could at breakfast in town. Just before noon, Sabra played hooky, suggesting we all take a ride in order to show me some fine back roads to New Hampshire, and pat me on the butt in the direction of Portland, Maine.
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    Ambassador at Large Jim Shaw's Avatar
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    THE MAINE ROAD BACK

    New England reminds me, in more ways than one, of ÔÇÿoldÔÇÖ England. In the Midwest and West, American riding distances are vast. In Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine, itÔÇÖs different; places are closer than I generally expect. Thus, even though we took the scenic route across Vermont and into New Hampshire, I was soon across the White Mountains on the Kancamagus highway, then to Portland. So far, the weather had been magnificent: perfectly clear skies in the morning, enough puffy white clouds later to make great photos, and cool evenings.

    Vermont always looks better than you think it possible. Property is well kept; the roads are fun and well maintained. Maybe itÔÇÖs me, but the Vermonters seem friendlier than their reputation and my experience as a kid led me to expect. Back then, if you asked a New Englander a question, heÔÇÖd usually ask you why you wanted to know. In the Midwest, we think thatÔÇÖs kind of rude. Maybe it was custom back then, but they donÔÇÖt do it much anymore. I suppose I should have taken more time in Vermont, ridden all the ÔÇ£notchesÔÇØ, and again sailed Vermont route 100, but IÔÇÖve done all that before, during Green Mountain rallies. Also, Scott and Sabra are new friends, and I didnÔÇÖt want to wear out my welcome, first pass. Now, having gotten to know them, I know there wouldnÔÇÖt be any shortage of welcome.
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    THE MAINE ROAD BACK

    My friend Dennis Kesseler lives near Portland with Elizabeth, two dogs, several horses, a productive vegetable garden, and about five or six hundred acres of mostly hay fields. Their home is the original farmhouse, which has the charm of being well and properly decorated and lived in. After a nice sleep in the guestroom, I felt like Papa Bear sleeping in GoldilocksÔÇÖ featherbed! The next day, Dennis and I rode the long way up to Rangeley and back, over some of his favorite roads. You probably have heard of Dennis; three-time Iron Butt Rally rider, heÔÇÖs the guy whose bike burned to the ground during the 2003 Iron Butt. Not one to quit easily, Dennis was loaned another bike, but had to get to Los Angeles to pick it up. Despite losing thousands of points due to the fire and missed deadlines, he still went on to finish in a very respectable place in the Rally. With his reputation as a pretty fierce rider, I thought I would have to scramble to keep up, but either he was patronizing me, or IÔÇÖm getting good at this twisty thing. Anyway, the GS stayed with his big Kawasaki, and it was a blast of a ride: beautiful, fun, a little twisty, with some great towns along the way. That night, I sprang for the lobsters, Elizabeth did proud by her garden, and we ate like royalty.
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    Last edited by Jim Shaw; 10-16-2004 at 03:14 AM.

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    THE MAINE ROAD BACK

    The next day we had breakfast and I shoved off for Bar Harbor and parts north. Dennis strongly suggested I take the slab to Bangor, as the tourists were in full bloom on US 1, the coastal road. I set the new electronic cruise control on the GS for eight over, and was pleased that I missed the fate of three sport riders seen parked in front of three Troopers along I-95. Long ago and many miles past, I learned the innocently simple logic of how to get there almost first, but not achieve driving awards: hold a steady speed at about 8-9 miles over wherever you can, donÔÇÖt pass on the right unless you have to, and donÔÇÖt make a nuisance of yourself to other drivers. Breaking these habits are what every cop has an eye for. But thatÔÇÖs me, and certainly not the riding mode of many of my friends. So, I generally prefer to meet them down the road, and IÔÇÖm as often there at the same time as a minute or two late. Too frequently, I pass them on the side of the road, learning new manners from the local constabulary and giving more than they can afford to a judgeÔÇÖs charity.
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    Last edited by Jim Shaw; 10-15-2004 at 07:11 PM.

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    THE MAINE ROAD BACK

    What can I tell you about the coast of Maine? If you havenÔÇÖt been there, go. The scenery is beautiful. The people are ÔÇÿstraight-upÔÇÖ nice; the food is straightforward and wonderful. Even McDonalds serves lobster rolls. When I was there in late August/early September, the ÔÇÿsoft shellÔÇÖ lobsters were coming in. These are so called because they molt their shell and grow another, thus it is soft for a period. Diehard Down-Easters donÔÇÖt like them as well, so they go cheaper. When I was there, 1 to 1-1/2 pound lobsters were selling in the markets for $4.99 a pound, alive or cooked. Eat your heart out; I did.
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    THE MAINE ROAD BACK

    The rustic Cordon Bleu of all lobster pounds is the Trenton Bridge, near Acadia National Park. I camped near there, and attempted to seriously endanger their inventory of the succulent sea crawlers. My campground was the Mount Desert (pronounced like the after dinner sweet, not like the hot sand pile) Campground just down the road from Acadia and Bar Harbor. It is rated one of the nicest and best managed campgrounds in the US, and I concur. The sites are spacious and fairly private. Many overlook the little bay there, and the ground is fairly rocky but well forested. Most of the tent spots have sturdy wooden platforms because flat ground is scarce. The camp personnel are exceptionally nice and friendly. When you check in, itÔÇÖs a surprise to be handed a small bundle of nails; tent stakes donÔÇÖt work on wood platforms. My little Kelty looked like an afterthought on the big 12-foot square platform.
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    THE MAINE ROAD BACK

    As always, I slept like a baby with the sea lapping at the rocky shore. We had a light fog that night, and I awoke about 0430 to the sound of a light rain on the tent roof. Nothing puts me to sleep more soundly than rain on a tent roof. By 0830, when I got up, there was almost no evidence of the rain, and the skies were once again brilliant blue. That day, I rode around the island, did the circuit of Acadia National Park, and wallowed with the tourists in Bar Harbor. I was tempted, but not for long, to roll the GS onto the jet ferry that takes people and vehicles to Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. I havenÔÇÖt been to PeggyÔÇÖs Cove, Halifax, or Cape Breton Highlands for about eight years, but that ride is best left for another trip. That evening, I rode up Cadillac Mountain to watch the sunset, and the low clouds forming over Bar Harbor.

    I parked with three riders - two on Harleys, one on a vintage BMW R100RT. The Harley guys couldn't believe I was from Ohio. Their BMW riding friend just grinned. They were from Bangor.
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    Last edited by Jim Shaw; 10-15-2004 at 11:45 PM.

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    THE MAINE ROAD BACK

    The next day, I hugged the coast as closely as possible, taking every byway northward to Lubec. I had dinner at a local restaurant that featured blueberry pie. Oh, thatÔÇÖs right, I havenÔÇÖt told you: most of the USAÔÇÖs blueberries come from the bogs in this part of Maine, and it is fresh blueberry season. So, between fresh lobster, and even fresher blueberries, this is one tough place to start your diet. That night, I hired a simple hotel room from a nice lady who helped me carry my bags in.
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    THE MAINE ROAD BACK

    In the morning, I rode into Lubec for breakfast and found a pair of Hondas parked outside. Inside, two college guys and their girlfriend were having breakfast. They were fresh graduates from Wisconsin, celebrating their commencement with a trip around the US and Canada. Eager and friendly, we chatted for a half-hour after breakfast. One of the guys and the girl were riding an ST1100. The single guy was riding a Super Hawk ÔÇô not exactly your round-the-continent best possible choice, but his lean butt probably did fine on the skinny seat. The ST11 pair were running a quick trip down to Boston today, to drop her at the airport to go back to Wisconsin. The guys would meet again the next evening, and continue on to Nova Scotia. The remaining rider didnÔÇÖt yet have a place to stay that night, so he made a date with a great looking waitress, and IÔÇÖm sure was thus taken care of. Such is the luck of being 21, thin, and looking good in racing leathers. I was so envious, I could cry. I asked them where they stayed the night before. ÔÇ£Behind the church, just up the street. Nobody seems to mind much if you camp behind a church ÔÇô on a weeknight!ÔÇØ Damn! To be young again!
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    THE MAINE ROAD BACK

    Lubec is close to two pleasant places: the Quoddy Head lighthouse and Campobello with its well-known cottage where Franklin Roosevelt was born. Both places, and the coastline between them, make great sights on your ride. After breakfast and seeing the sights, it was a pleasant afternoonÔÇÖs ride back to Acadia for an evening of bar hopping in Bar Harbor and another motel night (on foot, not riding). I awoke at 0730 to a heavy rainsquall, but it had passed by the time I threw a leg over, and headed south for the shores of Penobscot Bay. This area is especially scenic, and GiSmo and I took the hard way past every village and fishing town we could find. ItÔÇÖs folly for me to photograph such places, and I have long since learned to replace photos with my best memories of the sights. Many years and six continents ago, I found I was expending such effort to photograph scenes that I wasnÔÇÖt looking at them. So, I learned to put the camera down and just look. The result is that I return with only a gleam in my eye, and with just words to give my friends as to what I have seen. No richer gift have I to bring.
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