This post is sent to you from La Crosse, Kansas. At 2425 miles, I am at about the halfway point of the trip. Yesterday, the route began the slow and gradual gain in elevation toward the Continental Divide while trees became even more infrequent than they have been already. Though still days away, I am filled with excited anticipation as I near the Rockies.
In this post, I continue my trip log. I plan to compile all of these into something, I’m not sure what, at some point. I hope readers enjoy them, though they may slip into the mundane at times.
This being the midpoint of the journey I have just a couple of comments about my impressions of what I have seen on the ground passing through this country so far. As I post these trip logs, I hope to convey the bottomless reservoir of kindness that I have found in the hearts of the people that I have met. However, there is definitely a stench of dark hatefulness that fouls the air as bad as any Kansas feedlot. This is probably not news to anyone paying attention. There is the sweet smell of winter wheat after it rains –just like in Oklahoma!–and then along comes this odor.
One aspect of it that I have seen has been the flying of the Confederate flag everywhere from Upstate New York all the way to Kansas. In New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, the states with the highest Union casualties in the war to end the horribly inhumane practice that is chattel slavery, people are flying the Stars & Bars. There are a couple of instances of this abomination equal in every respect to the swastika flying right on Main Street here in La Crosse. John Brown’s body must lie a turning in its grave.
And there’s more, but I’ll save it for a later post.
April 22, Moose Point State Park, ME to Damariscotta, ME
The morning air on Penobscot Bay was chilly when I climbed out of my tent but the sky was crystal blue. It looked like it would be a sunny and warm day. I pulled out my backpacking stove to warm up some water for coffee and oatmeal to enjoy my first breakfast on the road. While watching a ship roll into port and the morning sun reflecting off of the water, I savored my instant oatmeal and coffee.
I then packed up and started pedaling out of the park. An older woman and man were walking down the drive into the park as I rode out. We exchanged what seemed like a chilly greeting. Their demeanor radiated “What’s he doing here?” They didn’t look official, and so I wasn’t worried.
My legs felt tired but not too much. My main worry at this part of the trip is whether or not I will be able to ride my bike fifty or more miles day after day without blowing out a knee. Every time I have ridden long distances in the past, they are what really start to hurt toward the end of the ride. Or maybe something else will go wrong. I am 62 after all.
To maintain a sustainable pace, as I start to climb the first steep hill—this day would be full of them—I tell myself “Walk. Don’t run.” The quickest way to burnout physically on a long trip like this is to overexert. It’s a long way to Astoria, OR.
The day turned out to be delightful with no big difficulties, just lots of steep climbs and descents, especially around the Camden Hills area. At about 30 miles into the day, I found a nice picnic table outside of a convenience store where I could eat lunch in the sun. I took out my travel guitar—an extravagant mass for a trip like this to be sure–to play for a few minutes before completing the rest of the mileage for the day.
That would be completed this day in Damariscotta, Maine. There, I happened upon a Thai restaurant. I went there to have dinner with a side agenda of using their wifi and their bathroom. With it being early in the season, most public facilities were closed.
After dinner, I went outside to the restaurant patio where my bike was parked. I still had no idea where I was going to camp for the night. It looked like there were a couple of possibilities down the road a bit. While looking at my phone, a group of four people–two men, two women–approached me and asked me where I was going. It is hard not to look like you are going somewhere when you have so much stuff attached to your bike.
I started telling them about the trip and answering their questions when one of the women, whose name I would learn was Helen, asked me if I wanted to spend the night in their camper and invited me around to the rear parking lot behind the restaurant where they had it parked. It was a 1970s Toyota camper in great shape. Her partner Jerry, opened up the back door to give me a tour, telling me how to fold down the cushions to set up the bed. He said there was no heat. I told him I had a nice warm sleeping bag and that it would be perfect. I was delighted that my daily problem of trying to figure out where to sleep had solved itself, at least for this one day.
Jerry told me to go ahead and get settled into the camper and then to go knock on the door of their home, which was part of the same building in which the restaurant was located, to share some wine.
And so I did and had the greatest time talking with them both. We talked a lot about politics. All being fans of Democracy Now! and Amy Goodman, we were quite in agreement about things. Helen informed me of the fact that Amy Goodman had graduated from the College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor where I had been just the day before.
I related my story of how my girlfriend and I had met Amy Goodman at one of her speaking events in Portland, OR when she signed a copy of her book for us. The day before the event, I saw a woman that looked just like her at a Mexican Restaurant in our neighborhood, Angel’s. I didn’t want to bother her while she seemed to be having a private moment with friends. But, I left thinking that was Amy Goodman for certain. So, when Amy was signing the book I asked her if that was her. She laughed and said something along the lines of “Are you kidding? I’m booked for these events back-to-back. I hardly have time to eat or sleep.” Here I had imagined the glamorous life of the famous journalist. What a hayseed I can be.
Jerry was Canadian and an artist. Helen and he had just purchased property up in Prince Edward Island. They were going to be spending more time up there, eventually planning to live there. Jerry suggested that my skills as a web software developer might be welcome there and that perhaps I should consider moving there. I was just starting my trip and so focused on it I that I could not consider it seriously. With things being as they are here in the US, such possibilities do sound inviting.
The great tasting wine made me sleepy and not wanting to overstay my welcome, I bid a goodnight to my hosts and went out to climb into my cozy quarters out in the camper. It is only the second day of the trip and already I am experiencing such kindness from strangers.
April 23, Darmiscotta, ME to Upper Gloucester, ME
Jerry and Helen prepared a very nice breakfast for me. We ate enjoying the warmth of the morning sun on the small balcony off the back of their apartment. They sent me on my way with lots of food and a US road atlas.
The latter was something that was on my shopping list. It feels precarious to rely completely on electronic devices dependent on access to the Internet and places to charge them, things that could become infrequent in more remote parts of the country. The atlas was a bulky item but Jerry suggested I pull out the pages for just the states through which I will be traveling.
The terrain was less demanding today with gentler climbs and descents. The landscape frequently reminded me of the Willamette Valley in Oregon. The big difference was there was a higher proportion of deciduous trees, all of which were completely bare and showing only buds, not leaves. I went past a lot of lakes and wetlands, and over rivers that flow out to the Atlantic. The noise from the frogs around the lakes and marshes was deafening.
At one point, when I was getting ready to make a right turn onto another highway, a red car turned left onto the road on which I had just been riding. He asked me about my trip and I told him. About five years ago, he rode his bike across the US and then back again. He told me it was the most memorable and worthwhile thing that he had ever done and encouraged me to keep a good journal. Every time he looks at the one he kept it brings the experience right back. Talking with him was just the kind of encouragement I needed on my fledgling journey, being still full of doubts and fears about my ability to complete it.
Going through the Brunswick area, the route took me over the first stretch of bike/pedestrian path of the trip. It is always a relief to be able to relax and not need to worry about being clobbered by a car or truck. The path went for a few miles along the Androscoggin River. The sun was still shining. I felt that freedom and bliss that cyclists of all ages know.
While stopping to take a quick break at a trail kiosk, I spent a few minutes talking with a man named Mark who was walking the trail with his dog. We had a conversation about cycling and walking and how it brought things down to a human scale. We agreed how important it is to be able to look people in the eye in order to connect with our mutual humanity.
Much has been written lately about how the Internet has splintered and atomized our culture. That is probably true but I wonder if the automobile and the isolated way of living it enables had already done most of the damage years ago. With the private automobile, we can live in suburban settings in which we often don’t even know the names of the next door neighbors, and go to work and back each day without directly encountering other human beings along the way. The Internet and the proliferation of media outlets simply complete the process by permitting us to choose in which ideological ghetto we want to live. All those who don’t live there with us, along with those other cars that impede us from getting to work on time, become the enemy.
I end the day’s ride in Upper Gloucester. I spend a few minutes riding around the tiny town looking for a place where I can camp. There is a big open field that looks like it might do. I order a veggie sandwich at the convenience store deli nearby, grab a beer and eat my dinner at a picnic table in front of a closed restaurant across the road.
Just as it is getting dark, I walk my bike to a corner of the field well away from the road and not too close homes on adjacent properties to set up camp. I hope no one tells me to leave.