The older I get the earlier I rise, though that doesn't seem to be the case for the group of "Dads," none of biological fathers, whose wilderness getaway I tagged onto for a day and a half. I'm the friend who falls asleep first at the slumber party then finds herself with hours of quiet early morning time while everyone else sleeps in.
The dads, all also Ohio University Alums, are going back to Boston today. I'm heading north 55 miles to Brownville and another Warm Showers host. I say goodbye to Brewer Lake and retrace my steps through Bangor. I'm heading into the great unknown.
I stop in Hudson for lunch because it's the first real town I've seen. And by that I mean there's a baesball diamond, a church and a gas station/ hardware store/ deli that I stop at. I order a veggie Italian (which is New England-ese for a sub sandwich). It was full of pickles and picked jalapeños and pickled banana peppers. Evidently I left the gourmet food behind in Portland. I'm getting better about not being terrified of leaning my bike against a store while I run in. Everyone drives cars here anyway. I tried to find a place to sit and eat and walked around back to a loading dock where a middle aged employee was having a smoke break.
Cycling makes me very friendly. I have no choice most of the time. A lot of the time I smell. I ask a lot of questions about accommodations. I need my phone charged, a place to use the bathroom, a place to sleep. You catch more flies with honey or something like that and so I smile and say hello and ask, "can I still here?" Am I in 4th grade?
My companion is a grandmother and mother of 4. She has two older daughter and two twenty something sons who live with her. She moved to Maine with her first husband from Nebraska. Six months later he left her and their daughter and she didn't have enough money to go home. She remarried, put down roots and when she retires in a few years she'll move in with her daughter to take care of her disabled grandson so her daughter can work.
We talk about special education and the public schools. It's raining and she invites me into the back room of the store. I sit on a milk crate at a stainless steel counter surrounded by recently folded pizza boxes. She wants to know how old I am, if I'm married, why I'm doing this. I'm transported back to Laos where these questions were a daily rhythm to my cycling adventures. I'm 31. I'm unmarried. I'm doing this for me. Because I can. Because I want to.
I forgot to ask to use the staff only restroom so I stopped at the town ball diamond to use the port potty. There was paper. And hand sanitizer and I felt grateful to be in the U.S.
70 mile days are hard. 50 mile days seem easy in comparison. I stopped for ice cream with 5 miles to go. It's a little strange to show up at a stranger's house and hope you get along. Paul and Nancy are Detroit natives and retirees who are refurbishing their century home that they bought 8 years ago. They are delightful, warm hearted people who let me stay in their guest room, cooked veggie burgers for dinner and have done some cycle touring in Michigan and New York.
I learned that private land without a "no trespassing" or "no hunting" sign posted is fair game for anyone to use, which explains the prevalence of these signs everywhere. The ATV trails too cut through private property, some held by companies and some by individuals. As I suspected from the homes I was passing, this part of Maine is more poor than the coast, though regionalism prevails and the level of wealth can vary greatly from town to town.
Nancy was a computer programmer, raised two boys and makes her own mustard, applesauce and jam. She has a beautiful garden and has taken up knitting toys for their three skittish cats. Both she and Paul were interested in my ride and in Bushcraft School. They even offered me a place to stay should I need one on the return trip. Time and time again I am floored by the kindness and generosity of people. Watching the news you'd think everyone's a monster but getting out into America and meeting people you find that people are pretty great and the world is a beautiful place.