I brought my bike into the campsite multipurpose room to tighten my brakes and charge my phone. I noticed a cappuccino maker sitting on a table and wondered who it belonged to. Before long a French-Canadian woman came in and explained that she was camping with her husband, two other couples and their combined 9 children. She said of all the luxuries she could live without, good coffee was not one of them. The mother of two, she had her first child at 33. She s impressed by my journey and told me it was a good idea to travel and have some life experience before settling down. I didn't have the heart to tell her I had no intentions of settling down. I've softened my tune on marriage and children. I used to say I didn't want either. In Laos I learned to say "Not yet." Now I tell people "I'm in no hurry." It's the way I'm traveling through space via bicycle and through life milestones.
I bid adieu to my new friend and cycled to the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge. I discovered Carson's work in 6th grade when I did a report on pollution. Bikes were not permitted on the paths and I'm so nervous to leave my bike unattended with all my stuff attached. I'm trying to practice trusting people, seeing the good and not being paranoid but it's hard. So I did a lap around the parking lot and continued on in search of breakfast.
I found a diner dedicated to Larry Bird in Kennebunk. His image was hung inside and a sign in the lot said "do not block entrance unless you are Larry Bird. I got an order of hash browns and a bacon, egg and cheese sandwich and tried not to worry about my bike leaning on the side of the building. I ate outside on the picnic tables and watched the cyclists and the motorcycles go by.
I had opted for the longer, coastal route, which disappointingly lacked a lot of coastal views. The beach was tucked away behind rows of private residences and vacation rentals. No boardwalk, no bike path. I have a new appreciation for the miles of unadulterated public access to Lake Michigan that Chicago affords. I wheeled my bike up the sidewalk to the steps that led to the beach. It was beautiful and hot and went on for miles in both directions. I was torn between trying to figure out a safe place to park my bike and go for a dip and worrying too much. People passed me coming and going but the anxiety won out and I opted to keep going.
Maine is typically only uncomfortably hot for a few weeks per year. As it turns out those are the exact few weeks I've chosen to cycle through it. The coast is full of inlets and marshes tall with grass and birds and waterways full of canoeists and kayakers. I passed old motels, some with vacancies, others full. An amusement park with rides and a roller coaster, a multi-tiered putt putt course with waterfalls and too many ice cream stands to count line the main street of Old Orchard Beach. I see a surf shop offering free lessons. I'm tempted. "But the bike," I think. The farther I go the less precious it will feel, the more I'll trust it to be right where I left it.
I ignored the recommendation to take 77 into Portland, which in hindsight I regret as I got flicked off by the passenger of an SUV with her feet dangling out the window on route 1. I know people who say they hate bikes have never experienced the utter joy and feelings of accomplishment that accompany pedal power. It's easy to be. Bully when you merely need to press your foot down once to go.
I arrived in Portland ahead of schedule at 3:30 across a long bridge and found my way to my host's house. His neighbor graciously opened the door so I could drop my bags off in the vestibule and explore the town. I went to the Eastern Promenade to watch the sailboats and take in the seaside. I met a family from Atlanta who said the beach there was one of the best in the world for finding sea glass. I ate the second half of my breakfast sandwich, walked up and down the bike path and decided while it's true I make my own schedule and don't have to factor in anyone else's needs or wants, traveling solo is also a little lonely.
I met my host, Eliot (the little brother of the ex-boyfriend of an amazing woman I taught English with in Tanzania over a decade ago). He cycled across America a few summers ago and was excited about my trip. I tagged along to his co-Ed soccer game at one of Portland's two high school fields. His team did not need my feeble attempts at passing and dribbling but they won 3-2. It was a nice change of pace from cycling.
We stopped at the grocery store for fruits and lunch items. Eliot dreams of opening up a chain of smoothie shops and I was transported back to Asia and the over abundance of cheap produce as we loaded up on mangoes, citrus, bananas and a pineapple. Back home I took a luxurious and much needed shower before heading out on foot for sushi. The sprinkle of rain didn't bother me knowing I had a warm bed to sleep in. Maine is known for its craft breweries and I tried three different varieties and some poutine before calling it a night.