Saturday, August 8, 2009

Getting lost in the beautiful North

Shelburne, Vermont -- I'm not as smug now about my Blackberry GPS. It works as long as there is cell phone service, which there was in Greenville, Maine, where I posed the KLR in front of the Moosehead Lake cruise boat Katahdin on sunny Friday morning.

The Moosehead Lake cruise ship Katahdin.

There's a straight, thin line on the Delorme road map of New England connecting the highway south of Greenville with a "town" called The Forks, some 20 miles to the west. I programmed The Forks into the Blackberry and it calculated my route. Feeling secure, I set out. About five miles from the highway, the thin line turned out into a rutted, gravel and dirt logging road.

This was before it got twisty, and wet

A few more miles and it was blocked by a trailer truck and a log skid -- a hulking hook on a crane loading fresh-cut timbers, one of which lay across the road, I waited as the operator delicately picked the log out of the road and laid it on the trailer.

Today's Paul Bunyan at work

I passed and waved, but another half mile down the road was another truck and crane -- this one totally blocking the road. I waited a few minutes and took some pictures before deciding to head back to find an alternate, paved route.

Now what?

When I got back to the first log skid, the crane operator waved at me and yelled that his partner up the road was moving out of the way. He had a two-way radio and was in touch with the second crew. I asked if this road went to The Forks.

"Eventually," he said.

I abandoned my plan to return to civilization, since these latter-day Paul Bunyans were being so accommodating to a greenhorn on a green motorcycle. I turned around and headed west again.

Then it started to rain. We're not talking windward and mauka showers, Hawaii friends. We're talking big, cold, penetrating, driving, north country rain. It turned the dirt road into a mine field of puddles of indeterminate, muddy depth, fogged my helmet visor and splashed in my eyes when I raised it to see the road.

That's when the cell service ended and the GPS packed it in.

Heck, I thought. Some guys go all the way to Alaska to have this much fun.

That's also when the road began to wander and fork. Unmarked intersections suddenly appeared. The track began to narrow; the trees crowded the path which divided again and again. The dark clouds obliterated both the sun and my sense of direction.

I figured I'd just as soon keep moving as stay in once place and get soaked. I parked in the middle of the road, since there was no way to get off, and put on my rain suit, worrying that a giant log truck would come around the corner and crush me. Then I forged ahead.

The KLR was brilliant -- it was made for this -- and I could actually do 30 miles per hour or so when I could see far enough ahead. I kept repeating to myself what my nephew Joey told me, "Throttle back to slow down or use the rear brake if you have to -- but NEVER use the front brake,"

After what seemed like hours, I reached an intersection with a much larger gravel road. Two pickups were parked at the corner, a Maine Forest Ranger in the green one. I yelled to him, "Does this road go to The Forks?"

He said, "Yup."

It was about 30 minutes later when I stopped at Thompson's Family Restaurant in Bingham. About a dozen motorcycles were parked outside. I figured this must be the place.

Inside there were rain suits, jackets and helmets piled all over the booths and lots of soggy motorcyclists drinking beer and ordering cheeseburgers. I had a bowl of fish chowder and a Denver (ham and onion omelet) sandwich -- both local specialties. I thought there might be room for pie or strawberry shortcake, but I'd misjudged -- the chowder was too big and too good.

During lunch, the sun came out. My next leg was west through Rangeley -- a lake town with sea planes moored behind the stores on Main Street -- to Dixfield Notch, New Hampshire, the town famous for casting the first ballots in presidential elections. There isn't much of a town, actually, but there is a big sign. Over the hill and through the notch is a beautiful resort, The Balsams. I stopped and shot a photo just as the rain began again.

The Balsams in Dixfield Notch

As I pulled over and struggled into my rain suit, the rain beat down. Once I was encased in rubberized nylon and back on the road, it tapered off. I saw a sign in front of a row of neat cabins: "Open, Fireplaces."

I soon discovered that "Open" didn't mean "Vacancies." The innkeeper said there was a state softball tournament this weekend and everything was booked up in the area. I kept going and, a couple of miles south of Colebrook saw a "Vacancies" sign outside another row of cabins. It seemed prudent to stop -- there might not be another chance.

Any port in a storm

These cabins were neither neat nor clean, but they had hot water, kitchens and TV. No phone, no wi-fi and, it turned out, no cell phone service. The stove didn't work, but it didn't matter, since I had my own little propane burner. I rode back to the IGA in Colebrook and bought a couple of chops, some cole slaw and a bottle of wine. Back at the cabin, I spread things out to dry, watched TV and cooked my dinner.

This morning, I packed the bike and headed to Vermont, stopping in town after town to try to call my sister to ask her to let Mary know I was OK, but out of touch telephonically. Until I reached Newport, I had no luck. There, I spotted a Verizon Wireless store and stopped in the parking lot, thinking the phone might be broken. Of course, it now showed three bars. I called Jane and asked her to email Mary that I was OK.

The lake at Eden, Vermont, is a few feet from the road

Riding through the beautiful, bucolic valleys, I suddenly realized "Vermont" literally means "Green Mountain." Doh! I grew up in neighboring Massachusetts, where I took both Latin and French, but that never occurred to me. I guess I thought the state was named after some explorer or general -- somebody named Vermont.

Vermont has more cows than moose, but the moose get the signs

Anyway, the place is achingly beautiful on a sunny day. Cows, lakes, mountains, streams, beautiful old homes and winding rivers. Vermont is gorgeous.

I had a pastrami sandwich at Joe's Snack Bar in Jericho, Vermont, checked my map and discovered I was only a few miles from Burlington, my day's destination. The city park campground at North Beach was full, but I found a campsite in Shelburne, a few miles to the south.

My campsite among the RVs

I haven't figured out why people like RVs. This is my first experience camping among them. It's like camping in a parking lot.

Tomorrow I take the ferry to New York. I rode down to the ferry dock to check it out this afternoon. It's cheap -- less than $7 for a motorcycle and rider. I want to check out the Shelburne Museum's motorcycle collection in the morning before I cross the lake.

Lake Champlain at Shelburne

Where to buy tickets for the ferry to New York

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for trying to get hold of me. Sounds like amazing adventures.