Québéc, New Brunswick, Maine - Maine
Lubec, the easternmost U.S. border crossing town, was a tumbledown has-been. Perhaps that was saying too much - guidebook-less, I could only speculate. Perhaps it never was. There WAS a tidy little waterfront Main Street, but the old storefronts screamed for care: paint was chipping and faded, plus there was plentiful evidence of cracked wood, missing tiles and shingles, etc. The same could be said for the rest of the town, I soon discovered, but without even the classic architecture found on Main Street to offer redemption.
In contrast, the Canadian towns I had been passing through for nearly two months almost uniformly showed more pride in their appearance. As a returning expat of sorts, this sudden encounter with decay was thus a bit embarrassing to behold. Moreover, THIS was what Canadians first beheld when entering the U.S. at this (thankfully) forgotten corner. Where was the pride?
Then again, perhaps it was fair enough: supposedly Washington County, to which Lubec belonged, was the poorest county in the U.S. I'd hear that this had been the case for some 380 months running (at the time of this writing). Not somewhere in Mississippi, I thought? Well, that statistic DID have a caveat. It came courtesy of an unbearable, know-it-all hippie I had exchanged words with in Moncton. There was beer, there was long-windedness... so... who knew?
Meanwhile, the border crossing and the subsequent initial, cursory survey of U.S. territory over with, my call for the day was to make big tracks southwest-ward. As sure as "plan" went with "awry", however, both the roads and weather would waste no time in conspiring against me and my triumphant U.S. return, however. General McArthur ("I shall return!") I apparently wasn't.
The roads I'd find myself on, Maine's Route-189 and the national (East Coast) U.S.-1, were in terrible shape right upon entry. This joy of a nightmare would continue, too, all the way until Machias - some 50km inside the border. There were gravel shoulders to boot - yes, that wasn't exactly new - but what gave them standout status was how the otherwise 3-5 rightmost feet of the 2-lane road were dangerously cracked and pitted.
This wasn't in the least suitable for any form of riding, hybrid tires be damned. In no time at all, thus, my best and worst friend became the middle of the road. There was just enough traffic on the road to make this section an unforgiving game of cat and mouse as a consequence. I tried mostly in vain to find the rightmost smooth edge possible, no small task amidst the numerous and varying rippled, undulating repairs.
Whatever - it was the unyielding rain that would ultimately be my undoing. Misty drizzle began as soon as I entered the U.S., which was dealable, but then it never let up. Instead, it only steadily increased in volume. Eventually it achieved a consistency of a steady, moderate rain of ploppy drops. The kind that soaked, with virtually no hope of evaporating away. This was not in THE PLAN. At least I hadn't sunscreened-up this day - that would have only added to my soppy misery. Sigh.
At around 3p.m. I reached the first town of any size, the aforementioned Machias. It claim to fame (to me, anyway) was that it was a suitable place to get out of the wet. I was ready for any excuse - Machias fit the bill. And for my effort, what? Fish (tasty broiled haddock in an egg sauce)? Wild blueberry ice cream? Hell, yes. There should've been no surprise, then, to what was forthcoming: I called it a day shortly after my gullet was replete with such fine grub.
Perhaps, however, it was the restaurant's intense A/C that had been the final straw. Yep, I truly was back in the ol' U.S. of A., where the wasteful freezer concept inhabited every possible building come summer. (And ice cubes smothered every drink, for that matter.) Indeed, while otherwise basking in the cozy digestion coma of being happily bloated, I was getting really cold. Wet clothes and skin didn't mix well with the Arctic. For all this, I simultaneously looked outside both smug with contempt (at the now-pouring rain)... while envying its warmth.
So... into the motel I went, and $75 went away from me. Ouch - that was thrice my nightly shuteye budget to date. Smugness warn't cheap. But I'd try to get my money's worth of this sanctuary, hanging my clothes (and soggy sleeping bag) to dry on every available surface. Next I cranked up the heat to 80F... before later turning the A/C down to 70F - to suck the wet out. Such was my successful theory, although I was (and am) open to better means to accomplish this in the future. (Suggestions?)
With my clothes drying quickly, I lay my showered self down on the big comfy bed. Yessssssss. Nothing could be better in my mindless state than zoning on cable TV, flicking through channels endlessly as the Almighty Tube intended. I was being a TV hypocrite, sure, a guy who dumped his TV a decade ago. But did I care? Negatory, oh illuminated reader. On the other hand, I didn't purchase any zirconium, nor did I find myself fixated on firming up my abs with any of a dozen (proven!) devices. Nothing would get me out of the bed, for that matter, except a checkout time.
Shockingly, come morning, I wasn't in any hurry to peel out of this incarnation of heaven. By 10:30a.m., however, I supposed that I should get a move on. I stretch and lazily attired myself in dry gear. For how long, who knew? The day was forecast to be only a temporary break between spells of rain. With that in mind I set out mostly westward again, putting in a reasonably quick 50km to Millbridge.
Apparently I wasn't the first person to notice this place on the map. Upon immediate arrival, I found a veritable clusterfart of Saturday tourism in (overflow) swing. Apparently, the entire town was holding a garage sale on the main thoroughfare, too. I rode through the ruckus likely looking a bit lost and confused, practically feeling like I was on parade - minus the invite. [I later learned that they were taking advantage of a Medieval/Rennaissance weekend.]
Along the main road, a plethora of hot dog stands littered all of the open spaces between the multitude of merchandise tables. Oddly, they seemed virtually without competition from any other kind of food fare. Verrrrry mysterious, I thought. Whatever - even for a half-arsed willing-to-lapse vegetarian, hotdogs would be pushing it too far.
Mostly, though, I just wondered if it had crossed anyone's mind to offer something else. Was this all that the vox populi asked for - HOTDOGS? Yuck. Beating that by a mile, I edged a little out of town to serenade a graveyard with my trumpet instead. I munched through my stock of fruit, too. Hotdogs! Sheesh.
Next I remounted my steed again for another 15-20km, still following the main road. At one point, topping a hill, I suddenly ran into a surprising sign: Bar Harbor Ferry. Well, hel-LO!: just where I was headed to! Apparently, too, it left from nearby Winter Harbor. This was indeed fortuitous. Although the ferry wasn't on my map, it would cut out some 50-70km of cycling.
This was particularly appealing because, otherwise, I would have been forced to take (and then partially repeat to get out) a circuitous route to reach Bar Harbor. Backtracking was still far from my agenda, for obvious reasons, and now I'd have none of such nonsense. Excellent, excellent!
Winter Harbor, and Gouldsboro on the way, were cute little towns slightly off of the tourist track. Perhaps I was't the only one with a map that didn't show the ferry to keep things that way. In any event this ferry wouldn't be particularly cheap at $20 for a 50 minute ride, but the convenience made it agreeable.
The pleasantness of calm Winter Harbor in a creeping fog didn't hurt, either. Indeed I found myself in one of those nothing-can-go-wrong moments, so giddy was I over the break I had caught. Of such mind I happily passed a wait of a couple hours, taking advantage of the forced timekill to grub on seafood salad. As per my mien, I also force-entertained a few people who were loafing about the dock area. They didn't seem noticeably upset... only slightly befuddled at my odd intrusion.
My de facto audience was composed primarily of some native Americans fishing for mackerel, running in season at the moment. It didn't take long to gather that this wasn't exactly a sanctioned thing, however. As each of a couple of officialish boats pulled up to dock at the ferry wharf, they in turn would beat a retreat to the main (public) wharf. They'd only return to the ferry wharf - which was apparently more exposed and better for fishing - as soon as the boats would leave.
Spotting an easy intro point to conversation, I confirmed with these locals that it was something of a game that they were forced to play. They were required to perform this daily modern dance to avoid the ferry operators giving them hell and bringing all of officialdom to bear. Hmm - I could sympathize with this readily. In fact, it kinda reminded me of busking! Runnin' from deh law!!!
Meanwhile my ferry arrived right on time. This didn't feel a given, not with the desolate, lonely feel of the place. But here it came, parting the mists at the last moment to pop into view. When, shortly thereafter, the tiny girl purser found herself overwhelmed by my bike's weight, I loaded my beast onboard. The boat warbled against the dock, but otherwise the Minnow swallowed the Titanic whole.
The girl had it otherwise easy, too: I was the only passenger. Or, rather, I was outside of a Pittsburgh couple - they appeared exactly at the last minute. Evidently they were more certain of the timeliness of the vessel than should have been humanly possible. Off we went.
The fog was going nowhere, though. Quite the opposite - it became extremely thick on the quick, allowing crew and passenger alike to see all of nothing in making the crossing. I occasionally peeked over the captain's shoulder to see the radar-like screen he was using for navigating. That only helped me marginally at first, but I assumed it did him wonders better. My only overriding thought was that this would not be a good time or place to sink.
How they did this foggy crossing in time's past, prior to instrumentation, was a guess to me. I mused that they probably just didn't. In spite of this, it wasn't like we couldn't make out a few boats and shorelines that were extremely close - like 20-40 feet away close. Outside of those fleeting mirages, however, the rest of the trip was essentially a study in shades of gray. Fortunately, the computer system worked superbly, making all of my observations moot. Every meaningful detail showed up exactly on cue as I familiarized myself with the lay of the screen.
Eventually Bar Harbor suddenly showed up, too. Keeping with the theme of sudden knowledge of surroundings, we docked within a handful of seconds of seeing the floating dock. Now my previous excitement over a surprisingly early arrival reignited, measurably increasing as I walked my bike up the ramp.
Almost instantly I found myself walking along Main Street, surprisingly among hordes of tourists. The change from sleepy town to full-on tourism was both shockingly sudden and intense. Yes, the town was very cute (!), quaint (!!), and reasonably authentic (!!!) in terms of its old houses and architecture. But, also as true, the flood of shoppers on the sidewalks, the fleet of buses, the bottlenecked cars on the street, and the people in line for restaurants were a lot to take on such short order.
Bewildered in the consumption frenzy, I made my way directly to the hostel I knew of. The only one in Maine, it was located just on the edge of the downtown core. Both on account of that and the mass of humanity I had just witnessed, I counted myself lucky to secure an overflow bed on a Saturday night (always the x factor night for finding last minute accomodations).
This accommodation soooo beat sleeping in a tent, especially in such dryness-defying moist air. To boot, thundershowers were predicted the following evening. I moved in my luggage, scrubbed off my daily accumulation of road muck, then strolled outside to rejoin the throngs. I was certainly capable of being an additional clueless tourist - at least for an hour or so.
Besides being the sole Maine hostel, the Bar Harbor Hostel was almost the only one in New England, period. (I would later learn of two around Cape Cod, probably similar anomalies in an environment of shopping-gone-mad.) I genuinely felt pretty lucky (and happy) to not have a mattress made of air for a change. Perhaps, though, as a consequence of being in the ever-commerce-minded U.S., my bunk was a little more expensive than in Canada. My bunk in a dumpy room would run $25 without breakfast. Finding a modest silver lining, I happily noted that at least coffee would be available - per the donations of previous occupants.
A significant downside was the hostel's (record-breaking for me) lockout time. It comprised all of the hours from 10a.m. to 5p.m., besting any previous lockouts I had ever encountered by some 2-5 hours. Whoa. I tried to balance this with a corresponding upside, at least: the two staff members of the (now-city-owned) hostel were friendly, helpful, and informative. And, outside of my room, the place was clean and houselike cozy. Yin, Yang - somehow it equalled out.
Perhaps best of all was that I was allowed to stay in an overflow room in the first place. This turned out to be a surprising bonus for being tardy, an odd "punishment" of being housed in a room that only had four bunks to the usual eight. It wasn't full, either. With the pros outweighing the cons on my hostel inventory, I would unsurprisingly stay three nights. That every night in a hostel meant one less in a tent didn't hurt, either.
Part of the longer stay, too, was a result of how I spent my first full day, cycling almost the entire perimeter of the island. I guessed afterward that I put in about 55mi of generally dry and hilly terrains. This made for a pretty reasonable adventure for an "off" day, I thought. Views were aplenty in compensation, however, as I stuck to the coast as much as possible. I found numerous coves, cliffs, and beaches to make for stopping points to play, eat, or gawk on Mount Desert (pronounced day-zehr, a French leftover) Island.
Beyond the natural attractions, I made a few friends with my horn, picked roadside wild blueberries to munch on, and slowed to a crawl as I passed through each small town. There was a pile of money in Bar Harbor (bah ahbah) and environs, that was obvious - this was the old stomping grounds of the likes of the Rockefellers, after all. Gorgeous houses, stately and traditional, lined the towns' small streets, and various segments of the open road, too, as I loped along.
Above and beyond all of these highlights, the big attraction on the island was unquestionably Acadia National Park. This was the only national park in the Northeast, for one thing, but it was also the first so accorded east of the Mississippi. It hosted loads of trails, a couple of mountains (well, hills by western standards), beaches, carriage roads, and animals - the appeal was evident. A propane-powered shuttle bus system was free, too, stopping just about anywhere on the island one would want to go to. There COULD be some upsides to heavy tourism after all.
Indeed, an appreciable amount of tourism had been going on the island since the park's inception. Even before then the island was a well-known vacation destination. Given this, I found the tourism crush actually reasonable. Only Bar Harbor took on the excesses of it people-wise, packing in the tourist buses and cruise ships to jam things up splendidly. Having cornered the market on all of the über-cute shops deemed important to many tourists, this couldn't be surprising. (I'll not get unduly sidetracked with my opinions on this, I promise).
Even THAT wasn't ALL bad: big positives were always to be found in good bakeries and restaurant options - I wouldn't whine about THOSE. For example, one such establishment - the Morning Glory Bakery - immediately would become my repeated breakfast and lunch source. Their abundance of superb muffins, bars, cookies and sandwichlike vegetarian "pockets" kept my belly happy for all three days - my priorities had obviously not deviated in the least, not even for my incursion into a different country.
A second full day on the isle proved itself a reaction to the first's overactivity: the bike found itself quarantined at the hostel for the day. Instead I tooled around town on foot, grazing and gazing my way about. I checked out the North-Atlantic-ubiquitous whale sculpture, then tumbled into a funky, stringed-instrument store at the waterfront. Those were enough to sate my Bar Harbor tourism appetite. I wondered to myself: who could stand to while away a vacation shopping in such a beautiful place?
With that observation in mind, I next walked up and down a healthy crisscross sampling of the streets. Eventually that got old, too. If I'd seen one thousand cute little houses, I'd seen a million. Soooo... what about that free shuttle service? Yeah - THAT would get me somewhere... away!
I soon made my way onboard; fifteen minutes later, I was deposited at the famous "Sand Beach" of Acadia National Park. There I found... a sandy beach. Still, the shuttle trip had fit in well with my mien. It provided an effective free entry to the park, too, avoiding an otherwise minimum of $20 if I'd entered by car (yes, that fee was good for a week, but no daily rate?!? "Screw dat noise!" I muttered haughtily from my comfy bus seat). I'd thank the girl at the hostel's desk when I returned.
Before then, however, I'd observe Sand Beach. As I had been forewarned, too, there I found a riot of kids, almost all of which could be found frolicking in the cove's cold surf. This was super-okay with me, actually. How could one ever get upset with shrieks of joy from kids? Still - they didn't make for a quiet remove into nature, not by any means.
A long and rocky shoreline thus beckoned me. It began at the beach cove and quickly took the edge off the mayhem. It also proved ideal for sitting and reading, great things to do at the shore... when not checking out the other various coves of rocks, all far tinier than Sand Beach's. This was per the plan: I stuck my horn's bell into a good number of them, testing each for acceptable accoustics.
Meanwhile there was also an attraction midway down the coast, Thunderhole, where the moderate surf created a loud "WHUMP!" in a very enclosed covelet of granite. No surprise there, in a sense - I was still in a stellar tide zone, not being too far off from Fundy. Modestly similar, yet nameless, attractions could also be found nearby, minus the crowds. To that latter point, thus, I only gave Thunderhole my regards for about fifteen minutes before strolling beyond. The crowds petered out almost instantly. By that time, though, when I had made it to the end of the coastal section - at a cluster of cliffs with birds jetting in and out below me - I called it a day.
"Shuttle bus to the hostel, good driver, and make it snappy!" I now commanded mentally, hopping aboard the next shuttle that came by. This couldn't happen soon enough, too, as my roadside horn tooting was being met with wide, suspecting eyeball. I wondered if I matched the profile of some pied-piper child abductor on TV or something. (THAT answer should be an emphatic NO, by the way.) I couldn't help the jumping to conclusions, always wary when I met with such open approbation. I generally attributed such pensive looks to the fear-mongering wrought by the unofficial god of the U.S., the television set.
Back at the hostel, meanwhile, I found myself noticing that this group of travellers was far less international than the ones I had encountered in Canada. And no, I wasn't including the Canadians, either. Almost everyone was relentlessly American. Sigh.
Still, for all that, I met and conversed numerous times with a couple of cycle-tourers from Minnesota making their way north from Virginia. As usual, here were cyclists going the other way - by now it was a miracle that I had any faith whatsoever in my chosen route. But I did - so there.
There were also two college girls, a Megan and her friend, heading to Nova Scotia from "Mass" (most people from Massuchusetts use this abbreviation in conversation for obvious reasons). This felt in keeping with the most stereotyped of hostel residents - college kids. Beyond them, as unsurprisingly, was a 'Bama boy. In contrast to the girls, though, he instead was an annoying specimen - often holding court among any in earshot who would listen. This turned out to mostly be other young college students, proof indeed that you don't learn much in school.
A particularly amusing exchange came when I met a mother, traveling with her brood from Michigan. She had coincidentally taught at my former middle school, Grosse Pointe Park's Pierce Middle School. How odd... so... Go Trojans! (I think that's what we were, anyway.)
Most at my speed, however, was jabbering with a guy who had just finished the Appalachian Trail. He was in Bar Harbor resting in the aftermath, not quite ready to return to society. So much so, apparently, that he was now looking forward to attempting the Pacific Coast Trail. If anything, he served adequately to keep any of my accomplishments to date - and future plans - humble in perspective.
Practically the lone foreigner was from Malaysia, an ever-smiling guy. His strict maintainance of that beatific smile, however, lost traction as far as I was concerned. Nay-saying every idea I had regarding travel in Malaysia and Indonesia probably had a lot to do with that. This was slightly maddening perhaps mostly due to his imperturbable friendliness.
Still, with regards to his approach to any forms of risk, I had to keep my grain (shakerfull) of salt handy. Such a conservative approach to travel would likely strike out most of the world as possibilities. This voyaging style, devoid of adventure, actually took the form of adventure avoidance instead. This made for a bit of a killjoy.
For example, I was assured that I would be robbed naked within 24 hours of entering Indonesia. This was something I felt reasonably doubtful of. 48 hours, sure - but 24? I'd still have my underwear, I was sure of it! If he actually knew me, I might've entered into some kind of defense of my travel cred. Nah.
As virtually the only non-American in the hostel, I mused in the end that perhaps he was an American in disguise. That seemed an appropriate fit, and it'd void his otherwise claim to giving the place an international claim. Fear infused with more fear, idle and unresearched conspiracy theories - if that wasn't America these days, what was?
After three nights of the lull of Bar Harbor's tourism-ready atmosphere, I eventually was festering to make some tracks again. York Beach and August 2nd sounded their warning bells, a place and time set in stone with my family's descent there. Thus a final loadup at the bakery saw me out of town by 10:30a.m. Not for the first time did I note that this was my witching hour for comfortably leaving.
Ellsworth was in my sights sometime noonish. There I stopped at the river next to the town's historic section to rest. Such a pause, though, was a necessarily relieving effect to a dismaying cause: I had just traversed Ellsworth's never-ending, hellish stripmall section of fastfood chains. "Good gravy!" I muttered crossly to myself, deftly dodging potholes and, more importantly, carloads of tourists outbound from Bar Harbor.
In repulsion of seeing every stereotype of carloads of families on vacation in action, I couldn't find an escape soon enough. A 90-minute respite in the refreshingly shaded spot I discovered would do the job nicely before pushing on. The water's trickling voodoo, plus the quietude of not being on the crowded US-1, even made me want to set up camp right there. If only I could've - but no.
Instead, chatting with a nearby restaurateur setting up an event, I got some directions on how to safely bail out of town. I'd also effectively elude an accident-prone section of the road immediately ahead. Off again, it was only 5km later that it was apparent that either (a) I had massively screwed up in my listening, or (b) he had led me astray. Where the hell was I? Or anybody else, for that matter?
Choosing a corrective course, and effectively adding 10mi to my route, I decided that he must have screwed me. Yes, he had been very nice at the time, but no, it didn't add up. I knew how to follow directions, and his couldn't be simpler. I'd allow for no dissent from any peanut gallery - that I had screwed up, possibly? - no, none of that!
Meanwhile I still was in good shape to get to my destination, Searsport before dusk. For this, perhaps, I should've been thankful instead for the (significantly) more scenic route. NAH! I couldn't let him off the hook so easily! Besides, now that my tracks were leading south again post Bar Harbor, this horse was increasingly beginning to think "BARN!!!"
Bucksport, up next ahead, was a big bend in the route. There I found two commanding bridges, each crossing the river in parallel before preceding to take a sharp turn due southward. The new, bigger and more gallant span bridge was open; its rickety brother alongside was closed and considerably older. Although this made some amount of logic chronologically-speaking and all, I couldn't see what was actually wrong with the latter. Not that I'd set wheel to it to find out, however.
In the interim I took in the brick-laden town which lay to the north on one side of the bridges and the crossing. An old, cannon-holed fortress lay to the west on another. Still more dramatic than these manmade marvels, though, was an osprey which screamed from its nest atop the old bridge. Wow - what a screech! Yet, for even that, this unfamiliar and idyllic call of the wild oddly harmonized with something a bit more familiar sounding... thunder. Oh no - not again!
Immediately my thoughts coalesced around only one idea: MOTION! Fortunately, too, I quickly detected that the roll of this atmospheric disturbance came from behind. Could I use this new tailwind to spur me quickly forward? By the time I felt raindrops, thus, I had long since topped out my gearing and my hulking rig bulldozed its own ripple into the air I broke through.
This rain's spurring, perhaps unsurprisingly, got me to Belfast in a hurry. By then I finally eased on the throttle, figuring I had put enough distance between myself and the mayhem to pause. I stopped to eat at a coop grocery, congratulating myself in being such a risktaker to risk such a break. Then again, maybe I was just playing the fool. After snacking and taking in a calm riverview, it was only some 30 minutes later before the wet started to make its presence known again. Time to flee again.
Still, by then I had taken a little time to remark to myself on the brickwork of the aged downtown. It was certainly handsome stuff, a characteristic feature of Maine's coastal towns that I now had begun to take for granted. Lubec's tarnished entry into the country was now long-forgotten as I found myself in the heart of Maine's "Vacationland". Indeed, rambling houses, often of two or three centuries of age and in good restored condition, helped to flesh out a now-typical picture. More cynically, I assumed that much of the care that went into their restorations and maintenance had to strictly to do with tourism - the "cute" factor seemed to only be growing, too.
Fleeing the rain again, Searsport soon come up on my horizon in a timely way. Once there, however, my meticulous (i.e. on-the-fly) planning got untracked: $39+tax for a tent site? "WHAT?!?", I retorted in feigned disbelief to a non-plussed manager. Ah yes, now I WAS really back in the dollar-crazed U.S. after all. Bargaining got me all of nowhere, too.
Bowing to my cheapness - or budget, to be more respectful, I committed once again to an unknown race against darkness. I had no idea how long it'd take to reach the next available campground I knew about. Maps often made little or no mention of things like hills, road conditions, or... rain. Sigh.
Some 20-25 miles later I rolled into the dusk-encumbered campground of Camden Hills State Park. FINALLY! By then, of course, it felt like nothing short of a miracle that I was done for the day. The last few miles had begun to feel sketchy, too, what with the light rain and poor light. It was thus with more than a little relief that I approached the ranger shack. Any room at the inn?
Waiting on a reply while a reservations list was scanned, I bantered with the Grizzly Adams character I found there. Joyful to be off the bike, I was shortly happy with a now-considered-more-reasonable $26.75 asked for my camping needs. Not that this whole campground thing wasn't a ripoff, though. $3 would've been a far fairer price to cover a shower and the 3'x8' rectangle of ground that I covered. Well, okay, maybe $5. Or... $6. Was I really this cheap, or was the world really this mad to accept such pricing?
Each night spent at a campground seemed to bring this same realization. Should I just be poaching instead? Or would that ever acceptably satisfy my chief, basic requirements: water access and a safe spot to lay my head. A shower and a roof or shelter was just a bonus. Hell, I mused, I'd be happy in a prison yard! Minus the inmates, of course.
The next morning I checked my maps again. Time to make some last plans, but things were actually going swimmingly time-wise. Four days remained before the reunion, but I had only two full days worth of riding left. With the luxury of time, I figured to keep things that way: I'd make a shove for the nearer, northern side of Portland in one day. That'd leave a final equation of three days to cover the last one day's worth of riding.
Barring mishap, this sounded perfect. I'd be able to see Portland for one day, perhaps hit a beach on another, and so on. This was MY version of a final victory lap. Now all that was required was my putting in that penultimate, honest day's work of 60-70mi. This would become 75mi before all was said and done, of course - per my usual underestimation. But that's getting slightly ahead of things, as I tend to rather consistently.
The day started on a positive note, unquestionably. A coffee-blasted surge got me into the rivertown of Wiscasset by 1p.m. or so. That already put more than half of the day's traveling out of the way. Yeah! Yes, indeed - that barn door smelled mighty fine, even to the whinnying nag of a horse I'd become. Moreover, my proactive push meant that I could take a leisurely rest before returning to the road.
With this in mind, a restaurant offering views of both a bridge and a river called my name. How could it not? It was available, for one thing, yes, but I mostly was eager to get off the road for another reason. A growing amount of traffic had by now backed up from the bridge. It stretched to the horizon in both directions, carload after carload of tourists sitting in hunks of metal spewing away. Though such a mess was fortunately not a hassle for a bike to get around, the overwhelming message I nevertheless received was "Remove thyself!"
No great shock as to what happened next: I bellied up to a fish chowder, my sworn best friend for the duration of my Atlantic leg. More surprisingly, I was in for the pleasantest of shocks when the bill came. Only $5 at this jampacked tourist junction? Seriously, it was. Outside, for example, there was a lobster shack across the road with a line a block long. Yikes.
Inside, meanwhile, I made my treat complete. I surveyed with pleasure an array of eight bread samples, all at my disposal to dip into my bowl. All were delicious and homemade, only allowing me to further sink into culinary heaven when I learned that there were $1 refills of the chowder. Clearly this place hadn't heard of starving, penny-pinching cyclists.
It wasn't like I could take great advantage of such gluttony-inspiring offers, however. I was thoroughly stuffed on the first go-round. Burp. Such was the danger, undoubtedly, of allowing me to help myself to the biggest bowl I could find and load. As I honestly considered laying myself out on the restaurant floor to pass out, I repeated a new mantra: what a find, what a find!
Yes, this was truly dangerous stuff for the ravenous biker - I might never leave. A finishing touch of local blueberry soda only made for that much more of a case, too. Belch. Burp. Belch. Sally's (Sandy's?) had to be commended for taking proper advantage of its tourist-land situation, if not for giving a reason for it. Yum city.
To further congratulate myself on my tasteful discovery, I strolled (weebled, wobbled, waddled) a few blocks away. There I decided to play some tunes on the steps of the old, vacant Custom's House. This always helped digestion, unquestionably. Or so said this now-lazy trumpet player, anyway. Frankly, it only marginly beat passing out.
For the umpteenth time on this long journey, too, I was soon approached by a couple. Apparently they had passed me by on the road hours ago, unable to dismiss my oddity to oblivion in their minds. Perhaps it was my hillbilly rig, complete with trumpet on top. Maybe it was my being suited up in a Mexican flag jersey that was conspicuous. How-do's complete, it was onward in any event... SOMETHING was going to have to burn off that feasting.
Fair enough, that shouldn't be too difficult. I still had many more more miles of sweating to go on this day. Evidently I had many more unmatched gloves to count on the roadside, too. This was weird. I'd already seen at least 30 in riding a week or so in Maine... versus a mere handful in my seven weeks of Canada. What was with that, anyway? A cultural difference? Glove sale week?
Of vastly more import, I also soon picked up my trip's 2nd (and last) mascot. This came in the form of a rubber frog with one eye missing. I instantly appelled my new friend "Two". This was only appropriate - something had to honor my first mascot's unnamed, unnoticed demise on those train tracks almost two months prior. Yeah, the road pickings had become a bit slim, but a frog seemed like a good companion. Plus, I had no expectations of hearing a peep out of him.
Meanwhile my final big-miles day was progressing smoothly. I felt comfortable, thus, making a library stop in Bath. Brunswick came next, Bath's match in stately charm. Sure, the police politely kicked me off of Highway US-1 between the two cities - the road had turned into a proper highway, no place for bikes - but at least they were nice about it. Maybe they had no choice but to conspire with my shit-eating grin, growing evermore as I neared my journey's end.
Getting off US-1 wasn't a bad thing, either. Indeed, without that detour, how would I have come upon the super-cheap, tasty fruit stand on the old US-1 route? Apparently some guy regularly trucked up the older fruits and veggies from Boston's main market, racing them to a final market before imminent rot. This allowed for superbly priced, perfectly ripe fruit as far as I was concerned. I bought too much, of course, but ate it all before the day was old - not there was a choice. They REALLY were ripe, as delicious as they were messy.
Happy with those fruits of triumph, I judged that this victory lap of touring was progressing just swell as the day's end neared. In such high spirits, Freeport saw my likes soon after Brunswick. Ah, yes - this meant that I had reached my campground, somewhere out there on Freeport's outskirts. This was a good thing, too - I didn't want to spend much time in the confines of town in the least.
Actually, I probably couldn't afford to, anyway. Freeport, like Searsport, like Camden, like Lincolnville, and like so many other Coastal Maine towns, now no longer surprised me in its perfect and tourist-ready state of being. It was all so... authentic... if it wasn't so otherwise artificially gilded and perfectly restored to be discomfitting. A contradiction, I know, but there it was - and there I wasn't to stay long.
Here was another example of how the real coastal Maine was long gone, its working authenticity rose-tinted into a past that now was revealed only on large, charming, and colonially-dressing historical markers. This somehow didn't feel right, particularly when knowing that it had never quite looked like this shopper-ready postcard. I was hardly the only one with such an observation, either - many a Mainer had told me the same by this time.
No, I was in the NEW (and IMPROVED) "real" Maine, all warts removed. Yecch. It was thus with this strange distaste that I quickly turned away from Freeport. Providing almost instantaneously relief, I next traversed the several marshy, hilly miles to my campground. Sleep was golden to me, but the golden streets would be staying firmly behind me at a safe distance.
Come morning, my thoughts were filled with the intention to bypass a return to Freeport. Haagen-Dazs and Starbucks could be had elsewhere, I knew. Fortunately I'd be able to do so, too, merely by taking backroads until S. Freeport. I set off, again in a good mood as the countryside rolled pleasantly by. Old Maine, indeed.
Such gilded aversions were changed soon enough, though, when I encountered a snag: my fraying shifter cable had finally finished its unraveling. This came about in no uncertain terms, either, as it noisily ripped through its housing. This irreparably rendered the front rings' shifter in the process. It was now limp and inoperable only a mile into my detour. Crap. Not only didn't I have a spare shifter cable, I didn't have a spare housing, either. I made a mental to replace the other shifter cable and housing before heading to Australia - once I got myself out of this latest jam. So close... but the fun wasn't to be quite over with yet, apparently.
Not that it would be a disaster, either. Indeed, my opinion of glittery and "perfect" Freeport drastically changed within only the several miles it took to reenter town. "Thank GOD for that LLBean store-the-size-of-a-flight-hangar-with-bike-shop!" Seriously. $16 for labor and parts, and getting moved to the front of the line for out-the-door-in-45-minutes-repair? Why, certainly! I gave three hearty cheers to super customer service. Maybe I really wanted those spendy, rubber-ducky LLBean boots after all... SOMEday, anyway.
Meanwhile this grasshopper hopped back to the road much relieved. Hey, my bike really was working great! How about that! It was only with thoughts of joy that I miraculously returned to the world of 21 speeds instead of a stunted 7. That had been a painful return to town indeed, but only in means and not end.
Even for the lost time, I was still thinking that a backroads approach to Portland was a great idea. I only had a small distance to cover for the day, after all. Soon, however, I realized that "Portland day" might diminish more than expected in quantity and quality of time should I keep up my detouring route. Time had a way of being eaten up on backroads.
It wasn't long before I found myself back on Route 1 as a result. By this time the road had further changed, too, at least since I got pushed off between Bath and Brunswick. Now I found myself on a speedy, broad-shouldered, and smooth beast of a road. It was one that screamed "this way to Portland - fast!"
That's what it WOULD have said, anyway, unless something stopped on that shoulder to slow my way, as a Subaru soon did. A woman got out - Sheila I was to learn was her name - and pregnantly paused aside her car. Apparently she hoped that I would do the same. I did.
You meet travellers everywhere - literally - but this was a first, methodwise. Nevertheless, Sheila met the proper description in my book. She had solo-cycled the west coast a few years back; my ungainly rig had caught her attention as that of a fellow long-distance cyclist. Why not stop and chitchat, she thought? So it was, then, that for 30-40 minutes we carried on an interesting conversation - when we weren't being interrupted by cops wondering if we were okay, that is. Was a roadside, highway-banter that (perhaps? ya think?) atypical?
In that abbreviated period, nonetheless, we covered the well-worn gamut of cycling, travel. We even managed to get to religion, impressively. Of agreeable and similar mind, us cycle tourists - this I was finding to be true enough.
For the time being my new friend lived up ahead in Portland, it turned out. That is, she did when not working with tourists as a cycle guide in Maine and (only recently) Nova Scotia. Now there was an occupation I could understand!
Recognizing another urban-hippiesh traveller as myself worth talking with some more, I told her I'd try and meet up ahead in Portland. She'd be at her friend's tea shop on the main drag, Congress Avenue. Sounded like a plan.
Sheila parted; back I went to my usual, plodding devices - cycling away at an unimpressive speed. Finally I made my way into town as well, actually only very shortly thereafter after resuming riding. It was high time, too, to think of things of far more import than reconnecting with my new friend. Indeed, as I made my way down various streets and into downtown, it was impossible to not consider where I was in the grand scheme of things. Portland! Finally!
Yes, this was my last noteworthy port-of-call before York Beach. I was getting close to the end of my two months of cycling. This was already past something that I was beginning to have a taste for in earnest. Perhaps with that in mind I stopped at a deli. Food had a way of making itself into all decision points, I'd long since noticed as well. Plus it seemed a reasonable compensation, particularly when I was denied the quicker entry into Portland via the US-1/I-95 bridge. [I later learned there was a way onto it after all, via a pedestrian passage.]
Gassing up my belly - figuratively only, thank you - and getting new instructions on how to enter town. I finally was ready surge into the heart of the ancient - by U.S. standards - town. I soon rounded a lake/marsh, a longer-but-scenic route to follow on the a water's edge to gain Portland proper.
Now officially in the most urban area, an info booth had me set up quickly with a map. I immediately set to rambling about the genteel brick buildings of downtown Portland. Right away I was impressed. This town quickly showed itself to be the pretty kind of place that could welcome tourism without being overwhelmed by it.
Such calm in the face of gawkers-by was evidenced by the kinds of shops fronting the avenues. It also was felt in view of the people milling about in non-stifling numbers. In terms of scale, however, it was merely a much larger version of all of those quaint Maine towns I had been seeing for a week plus. It just had a lot more room to space people out, perhaps.
This kinda reminded of an adage I'd heard in Venezuela. It had come from some like tourists in jeep, a trio hailing from Slovakia with slivowitz in hand (naturally). Talking about Slovakia's capital Bratislava, they judged it only as the largest of the country's innumerable villages. With that in mind, I reckoned Portland was merely the biggest village - "town" I'm sure they'd prefer - in Maine.
Meanwhile, with tourism thrust on my backburner by first impression, I set out for the tearoom of Sheila's friend, the Herbroom. That is, the Herb Room. Or Her Broom, as I quickly surmised when I stepped inside into this laboratory of potions. What witchcraft had we here, I'd soon wonder.
But not before immediately meeting the several clients having their tea at the counter. Introductions came on short order courtesy of my new acquaintance, already in attendance with a bowl tea steaming away before her. On this day at least, the (mostly) women have a sit and a tipple of tea were all apparently climbers. On a rainy outlook outside, they were chatting the day away idly, each exuding healthy living in the process. This especially included Sheila, and even moreso her friend/tearoom owner Sara.
Finding myself in a familiar haunt, much like my typical coffeehouse in Seattle, I settled in. Specifically, the place reminded me of a slightly more intimate version of a tearoom hangout that I also went to in Seattle, Mr. Spot's. That place also hosted mellow concerts, book readings, and a very alternative crowd (if only in appearance).
Here, however, it was a one-woman show. Ringleader - or Head-of-Coven - Sara got to indulge in her whims as they came. This meant that she could both find herself making a fine tea à la the local witch doctor - imagery in which she took great delight - or hosting a local meeting spot among friends. In short, the tea room was Sara; Sara was the tea room.
Meanwhile, with Sara and crew so welcoming and conversational, this detour suited me eminently well. I luxuriated in a few hours of hanging out over a monstrous and righteous chai. I think it was called a red or rooibos chai, but in the end that wouldn't matter much. It just tasted good, and I lost myself in chatting amidst this friendly small group that had gathered. Why, I considered passing out on the floor, it was so homey. But I gathered that would not be kosher... maybe.
Such thoughts served to remind me, actually: a campground supposedly awaited me! Ah, yes - that! Thus I FINALLY left the Herbroom... only as a light rain began to fall
No, this was not a good omen, not by any means. In fact, this latest dripping only slowly picked up in intensity, too. I began to feel water on my skin of a colder - and cleaner - variety than my typical sweat. This was not good.
In the meantime, my route out of town remained fixed. It was supposedly a nice way to go and take in some scenery, weather be damned, and allow me to make my way down the coastal roads of Cape Elizabeth. I planned to glance at its six lighthouses that had been so cheerily recommended at the info booth I had encountered when I entered town. It sounded like a capital idea... then.
By the time I got to the first one, however, I became far more interested in other relative comforts. For example, I spotted some very large trees which I hoped could shield me from the rain. Oops. Once again, I found myself drenched in short order. Once again, too, I was amidst a thunder-and-lightning storm with considerable punch. Hadn't I promised myself no more of such nonsense since that dreadful approach to Val-Comeau?
Apparently not. Still - my chosen campground wasn't so far away... and it was only 3 or 4p.m. in the afternoon. Such was the scenario, then, that would begin an unfolding saga. That misery would eventually consist of four flat tires within the span of an hour of riding.
Certainly, however, it was the first flat that was the culprit for all the trying experiences to shortly follow. That one came shortly after hiding out from a particularly heavy pouring of the heavens. I had found a providentially-located (and empty) roadside sales tent in the middle of nowhere to hole up in. What a godsend!
And it was, until the rain slackened ever so slightly and I ventured out from its sheltering cover. Upon leaving, I almost immediately noticed the telltale wobble of a flattening tire. Oh... crap - this was that same rear wheel, too, that of the newer tube (St. John) and tire (Moncton) of my first flat!
At least I was better prepared this time, right. YES! I had the spare tubes and patch kit... if only I could work in an environment of some sanity (ie, dryness). No, such steady rain wasn't the stuff to allow one to think or operate calmly. It simply just wasn't possible, not with darkness on the way to boot. With that in mind, I eventually took to walking along the road in the downpour, hopeful for... something, someone, anyone?
Ah, yes - there it was: I spied a house before long, one with a large red barn conveniently lying alongside. That could be hopeful, certainly. Indeed, lights were even on. Those emanated from one window of the house, fortunately located by the front door. There I saw two women having coffee.
Walking up to the door, I quickly caught their attention - I might've looked the madman, even, but I WAS wearing bright cycling gear. Whatever the case, each in turn contemplated this drowned rat approaching their door. Making hand signals toward the barn, I knew that I was unquestionably a pathetic sight.
That might be a good thing, sometimes. Perhaps it was because of that that I was quickly met at the door by the woman owner. She right away took pity on me; she immediately agreed to let me use the barn to change the tube, too. Step 1 was now at least accomplished - I was out of the wet! Thinking could resume (and the women could return to their chat).
Clear thinking DID return, too. Why, the barn was so clean and dry, my first thought was to beg to stay the night there in my tent! That woulda been genius... but no. I didn't even bother to ask - it was still only 4 or 5p.m. by this time.
Instead I bucked up and methodically disassembled my gear from my wounded steed. In a pittance of time - dry conditions allowed for such, thankfully - I changed the flat. Next I patched the spare, too - you never knew. Finishing, I left just as the visiting woman was leaving as well. Mentally I closed my idea of a barn-tent option.
Back on the road, it was not long after this - of course - that I could tell that something was amiss. For a second time, my rear tire was losing air, albeit more slowly this time. Sighing didn't cover my exasperation of the moment. Fortunately - again - I spied a fire station at a junction as my tire began to increasingly shimmy on its rim.
At the station I surprised the two lounging firefighters watching TV inside. They were nothing if not helpful, however, when I begged for some air to get my tire pumped up significantly. Not wanting to use precious daylight unless necessary, I skipped on a proper repair for the moment.
My hope was to reach US-1, instead. There I hoped to find a bike shop, presumably before I was running directly on my rims. With my tire already essentially history, I didn't want to trash those as well. I had nothing if not focus. Effectively, by this time my mind was fully wrapped only on one thing - the space between the rubber walls of my inner tube.
Setting out at the highest speed I could manage in the rain, within a few miles my hopes deflated... along with my tire. Crap! Crap! Crap! Dejected and now resigned to my obvious defeat, I finally dismounted for good. I set to walking; what lay before me was an unknown amount of roadway to US-1, but by now I had no choice.
Fortunately my deathmarch turned out to be only a remaining mile or two. Once turned onto the main roadway, I almost immediately spied a crappy motel nearby to hole up into. Yes - sanctuary! With a roof over my head, my problem was solved for the moment. Once inside, in fact, I could only ask myself one thing: WHAT problem? No rain in here!
What lies beyond the Pearly Gates is relative, of course. For example, this (actually kinda shabby) room was a far cry from the other (recent) motel I had stayed at. It went for about the same price, but what ONLY made it a similar slice of heaven was its lack of wetness. Apparently that was about the only thing that'd put me in a place not in the form of a hostel or campground.
Civilization came in the form of other amenities, too. A grocery store was nearby, zum Beispiel. My further efforts to regain sanity would thus find success by eating first - before dealing with my repairs. A hungry stomach is a sorry state of affairs to get things done on.
By now I was already guessing that my tire had glass shards in it, easily missed when riding in such a hard rain. Probably I needed a new tire... make that certainly. After a hot shower following repairs, though, sleep would ultimately provide the best answer when it came to dealing with the situation. It had been - and understating the case significantly - a long day.
My waking mission was now only one thing: BIKE SHOP. Wherever I'd find one, that was. To get there, my latest fix had (surprisingly) held the night, so I had some hope. Nevertheless, several miles and another fire station pumpup later, my rims would again scream in agony. This wouldn't be over until it was over. Duh.
This time around, under daylight, thankfully, I set up shop alongside a car dealership. From that odd vantage point I had to simultaneously field questions from one onlooker after another, perhaps not unusual in a place that housed the competition, so to speak. In the process this barrage of querying confirmed my suspicion that care salesmen really have nothing to do when not haranguing, cajoling, and otherwise pestering hapless customers into parting with their dough.
Meanwhile, this flat-fixing routine had gotten old not long after it was new. I used up my last patch and 2nd-to-last spare - uh oh. Then again - was it like I had any options? Making quick work of the change, I soon got some USEful news from my new acquaintances, too. I learned of a bike shop only several miles ahead in Sacco. Hope!
Now I just had to get there. Guessing that this latest fix wouldn't last, either, I pedalled like a madman onward only moments after putting the tire back on the bike. Finally, though, I found myself pulling in front of the bike shop. My 4th flat was almost touching rim, but no one would be able to tell with the smile that must of been pasted across my face. Saved!
I entered the shop with a familiar laundry list, at least one that had been repeating in my head for going toward 24 hours. "I'll take a tire, a tube, a new lever set (I had snapped one at the motel), a patch kit and... whatcha got to drink?" Priorities.
After such an experience, I now was of an even more-heightened mind to close out my trip's riding. I made my purchases, eventually settling on a cold Gatorade to soothe my head. To think I had been quite cold just the night before! Beer would only wait a little longer.
Paramount among all considerations, however, was that it was only some 40 miles further to York Beach. My terminus maximus actually felt in sight - now I'd be headed directly to the finish line. I didn't care that it would be one day ahead of schedule, omitting a laze at a beach or town in between. The four flats had won something out of me, thus, even if I would complete the trip to win the greater victory - of sorts - in the end.
With the new tire, too, I was confident enough to return to some backroads and the coast. I'd use that as a way to compensate myself a little for my troubles, not really adding in distance. Thus I next passed through the most-touristed spots of Maine in succession, all thankfully in relative ease: Sacco, Cape Porpoise, Kennebunkport, Wells Beach, Ogunquit.
Finally, though, I saw what I had been waiting for for so long: York Beach. For my souci (trouble - your parting gift of French vocabulary), I had at least been merrily rewarded with a similar parting bestowal of charming views of nice waterways, beaches, towns, and ports... and throngs of tourists in traffic jams. Not that I cared. My journeying was now over for a spell. It was all I could do, instead, to summon the effort to not smile like the village idiot as I rolled along Shore Road into York Beach.
My second campground choice - York Beach was in full tourist swing, too - had a spot with my name on it. Well-experienced by now, of course, I erected my tent for a final time. Done, done, done! And that meant ONE thing, of course. Time for another clam chowder!
This meal, to me, anyway, would signify "The End". Could it really be? Ohhhhhh... yes. I settled into the Union Bluff Hotel's restaurant overlooking Short Sands Beach. To be fair, I soon found myself thinking mostly of beds. Tent be damned! Thoughts, too, next turned to throwing my tiny niece Lilia into the air the next morning. My cycle tour's end also meant my family reunion's start. Yes, it really had ended.
Of course, this end also meant that it all would be beginning again soon enough. How long would it be before I was doing it all over again (and then some) in Australia? Not long at all, I knew - I was already getting ready to buy the ticket Down Under. But, in the meantime, I didn't care much about that. THAT was far off - like several weeks and stuff - and I had a chowder to take care of. Plus, maybe a beer or two...
Looking back at what I had finished, I realized that over 1500 miles had been rolled into this St. Lawrence River/Atlantic Coast shoreline-following, hook-shaped journey. Wow - that actually sounded like a pretty impressive number! Looking at a map, I saw that this was so - in a way. It was as if I had gone more than half of the way across the U.S.! In sheer distance, though, hardly as the crow flies. Indeed, given the geography and the map in front of my face it seemed hardly plausibly true, but it was.
Whatever - I was now done. And happy to be done, frankly. Okay, distance aside, had I proven anything? Were there any epiphanies? Strangely, I felt no such things forthcoming.
There was a sense of accomplishment, though, I couldn't deny that. I had set out and completed a reasonably physically-demanding task. True, it was nothing of a sacred, hallowed, or - more importantly, as these things go - marquée order. But I had done what I had set out to do, always a good feeling.
In the mix of things, meanwhile, I had met many cool people. Of them, there were perhaps a few which I might maintain a correspondance with over the long haul - but you never knew. I had lost 15 pounds for my efforts, too, but those would probably find their way back over time. Those were measurable things of some order, anyway.
Possibly most important to me of all, however, was that I had gotten the lay of a land that I was unfamiliar with. Québéc, New Brunswick, and Maine: I couldn't deny that I understood them much better now. Some amount of ignorance had been vanquished, and informatively so. For that I was grateful and appeased.
There were no spiritual awakenings, though. Neither were there any deep alterations in my understanding of mankind. There wasn't any changing of my name, as if I had gone to India like so many others. Neither, too, would I be adding one to my existing monikers (of which I had come to favor TripTrumpet).
I had experienced, I had tasted (!), and that was good... enough. The doing was the thing, verily, even if it wasn't profound. I had pushed myself in some ways, but never drastically so. Simultaneously it did fulfill - partially - a sense of adventure that I had in doing a big cycle tour. Finally I could be thankful that I was able to slake that thirst.
As a consequence of meeting the challenge, perhaps, I also found myself wanting to push harder on the next go-round. Bigger begets bigger still. Plus I wanted to show myself that I could do it more wisely. Better begets better still, too.
I had learned some practical things for my next step, too. For example, I wouldn't carry a stove or water filter in Australia - no need. Did I really want to cook on a campstove in lieu of checking out restaurants? Would water be that unavailable? Hardly.
At the same time, carrying twelve books - which had quickly become six before I had broken a sweat in the trip - would become two or three. Duh - that was a no-brainer that apparently I hadn't had the brains for. My insecurity for not having something to read - ever - should still be sufficiently attended to even with such a reduction.
One change of clothes would go, too - though MIGHT be a questionable move when a certain stinking time came. As it perhaps inevitably would. I could also undoubtably spare some spare toiletry items - they'd always be readily available in a developed country. Currently I only had plans for cycle-touring in developed countries, so that was easy enough to vow.
This thinking continued: my sleeping bag could reduce in size; so could my trumpet case. All that extra weight on the bike meant more wear and tear on the tires, yes, but it also wore on the mind somehow, too. Lighter would be better, unsurprisingly. This was something I already knew in practice, too, from recently downsizing my belongings in Seattle down to a dozen or so boxes prior to the trip.
Nevertheless, I would ADD some things, too. Things such as a little bit of spare bike repair gear, for example. That would take the form of a spare tire, some extra chain links and a chaintool, and remembering to bring my forgotten multitool (oops!). I'd throw in some extra brake shoes and cables, too.
For those last additions, my hillbilly rig would overall streamline by becoming better prepared. If only mentally. A couple of components would wither away beyond those, too. The rear rack compartment would be making a disappearing act as the sleeping bag would need to find its way inside the panniers (thanks to the newly-reduced load, in theory).
As a bigger change, I vowed to not write up the upcoming Australia trip. [That'd ultimately turn out to be a lie - that's how my "vows" sometimes go.] Certainly I didn't plan to do it as much as I went along, like this go-round. How would it be to travel like that? Would such a trip, with no expectation of being covered in prose, be a trip-changing change unto itself? (I often found myself mentally writing as I rode.)
The thought would be to leave space for reflection and action outside of the written word. The "in the moment" thing, ya know. Besides, Australia more than sufficiently written about from a travel perspective already. Thus, while being more in-the-moment risked being a hackneyed catchphrase, I'd try to force the issue regardless.
More resolutions? Sure - and it wasn't even New Year's-time! I resolved to place limits on the miles I rode per day. And at what time of day, too. No more dusk approaches to sleeping quarters; no more days over 50 miles. Can't you hear the weighty gavel slam? This is big stuff!
Not only would these latter items be smart moves safetywise, but they would lessen my dehydration symptoms. Those had been noticeably bad for my horn playing, and this would increase my daily freetime. In theory all of this stuff would open up more time and effort into trumpeting efforts - a paramount thing in my sorry book of life. How couldn't this not increase connection/collaboration possibilities and progress?
So, then, what DID I get out of this trip? Anything other than stepwise improvements? Nah. Just the following: travel more, but travel smarter, too. Hey - that was the same lesson I got from every trip!
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