Northern Tier 2010

September 8, 2010

Lewis and Clark I’m Not, But I Made It

Filed under: Maine, Section 11 — Henry Scott @ 3:00 pm

With good and safe roads, Adventure Cycling’s carefully plotted route through interesting and beautiful country, excellent gear, frequent opportunities to consume large quantities of food, and such incredible support from friends, family and strangers that I have literally been moved to tears, I’ve completed my coast-to-coast tour from Anacortes, WA to Bar Harbor, ME. It wasn’t the risk-your-life adventure that early explorers experienced, but rather an extremely enjoyable way to meet new people, learn some history — both natural and cultural — and see the country.

I awoke this morning to thick fog, strong winds, and the threat of rain. I was pleased by this because I’ve had such good weather and wind recently that I feared other cyclists would accuse me of receiving special treatment. The rain started within the first couple of miles, and although I was content to keep going, I came across a laundromat, which I needed to visit at some point today anyway, after only 3.5 miles in Searsport. I stopped, and by the time my clothes were clean, the rain clouds were ready to take a rest.

The sun came out occasionally, but much of the day was foggy with poor visibility. Notable breaks came as I crossed the Penobscot Bridge into Bucksport and later when I arrived in Bar Harbor, but in between I rode in a lot of rain and against the wind. I reached Bar Harbor around 2:00 and had plenty of time to visit the bike shop, eat, and learn where to camp in Acadia. Bar Harbor is cute, but the post Labor Day weekend lull for which I was hoping did not materialize: the streets were totally congested with traffic, and I wasn’t ready for such crowds.

I’m glad I have another day or two on Mount Desert Island, with my parents joining me tomorrow afternoon, because at this point I haven’t had a chance to really see and appreciate the Acadian landscape. I’m spending tonight in the Blackwoods Campground and planning an early morning trip up to Cadillac Mountain, the highest point on the island.

This has truly been a wonderful experience, and I can’t thank those who have supported me enough. Final numbers: 4,631 miles in 56 days of riding, averaging 82.7 miles per day, at an average speed of 12.5 miles per hour. The average daily mileage does not reflect my seven rest days: five in South Bend and two in North East.

Brief update because I’m posting this late the next day (Thursday): the weather is perfect today. I got up at 4:30 a.m. this morning to get packed up and head for Cadillac Mountain. I didn’t quite reach the summit for sunrise, but I got great views of the rising sun on the way up and an awe-inspiring panoramic vista at the top. Subsequently I went to the Visitor Center, spoke with an extremely helpful ranger, and am now using the Loop Bus to see some sights in the park; the geology is spectacular, and the lighting is perfect for illustrative photos for my class.


September 7, 2010

Seagulls and Salt Air

Filed under: Maine, Section 11 — Henry Scott @ 12:00 pm

It rained late last night and into early this morning, which helped facilitate a light fog hovering over the Androscoggin River, and on the fields, in the early daylight hours. My intention was to ride straight through to Bath before stopping for breakfast, but due to a wrong turn, I made a brief excursion off route to Lisbon Falls. It was worth it, however, to see defiant outcroppings of granite poking up through the water flowing beneath the falls.

Along the bike path between Brunswick and Bath, I asked for directions from a walking couple. I didn’t get their names, unfortunately, but they are avid hikers, having completed most of the Appalachian and Pacific Coast Trails; they are currently taking a break form the Discovery Trail. Whereas I’ve been out for less than two months, these two take trips for five to six months at a time.

From there I felt destined to describe the day as a disappointing grind: Highway 1 was congested, and the sky was overcast. But, by Damariscotta I started to get my first glimpses of ocean inlets, the smells of salt air, and the sounds of crying seagulls. I had reached the ocean! But, my destination is Bar Harbor and Acadia, so I have a little ways yet to go.

As I continued north through coastal towns such as Rockport, Camden, Northport and ultimately Belfast, the traffic progressively lessened, the road improved, and the sun came out.

I love rocky, rugged coastlines, and the coastal outpouring of the Appalachians through Maine and into the Pacific is amazing. Even at the coast, the terrain continues to be quite hilly. It is almost hard to notice, though, because the scenery is so beautiful and constantly cycling between forests, meadows, pastures and coastal towns, and such dynamic, breathtaking scenery makes the miles go by quickly.

The small towns, by the way, are very fun. They are historic, many with charters dating back hundreds of years, and they continue to be vibrant. I stopped for dinner in Belfast, and was amazed by the packed streets and myriad restaurants and shops. With a population exceeding 6,000, I wonder if it is less dependent on seasonal tourism than the smaller towns through which I passed earlier, where many businesses had already closed for the season.

I’m camped at the Moorings Campground just a few miles outside of Belfast. It is right on the coast, and the view is so gorgeous I was pleasantly surprised to only be charged $15: a great deal given the location… and how badly I needed a shower.

At 103 miles, today should go down as my last century ride for this tour — I only have about 60 miles left before reaching Bar Harbor. Unless something goes very wrong, I should be there for a late lunch.

September 6, 2010

The Maine Route

Filed under: Maine, New Hampshire, Section 11 — Henry Scott @ 8:00 pm

Last night almost got too cold, but not quite, and I slept very well. It was great to start the day with about fifteen miles of mostly downhill riding — I was still coming down from yesterday’s high point at the Kancamagus Pass.

I made oatmeal at my campsite, but I stopped at the Conway Cafe for a second breakfast, access the Internet, and warm up. I stayed for longer than planned talking with the waitress and some customers, and by the time I left, it was much warmer. I shed my jacket and long pants and enjoyed what turned out to be a beautiful sunny day.

I entered Maine just a few miles east of Conway and was taken aback by the sign at the border: “State Line” on one line and “Maine” on the other. Not much of a welcome, but I suppose they let the landscape and coastal access speak for themselves.

So far I’ve experienced very little level ground in New England: it’s always either up or down. But, with my low gearing and patient (i.e., slow) approach to hills, I haven’t had any problems. Today was no different, but I think the excitement of being so close to the end makes the climbing even easier. The tailwinds and relatively cool weather I’ve been getting haven’t hurt, either.

I didn’t stop again until Naples, but that also turned out to be a longer than expected break: lunch at one place, desert at another, and then some grocery shopping. It was 3:00 before I knew it, and I started to worry about how far I’d get for the day and, more importantly, where I’d camp for the night.

Southwest of Lewiston I encountered a roadblock and an associated detour which would have taken me ten miles out of my way. I decided to chance getting past the obstacle, which turned out to be a collapsed roadway due to a sinkhole and river undercutting.

Getting by wouldn’t have been difficult, but the only path around goes straight through the now-cordoned off front yard of an elderly couple, who due to continued slope failures toward their home have become very nervous. Plus, with such a long detour, they’ve faced steady pressure from motorists trying to cut through their property. There are now security guards at both ends.

Normally I wouldn’t press such a situation, but with nightfall approaching, I didn’t want to risk going far off route on a detour. It took some finesse, luck, and the help of a neighbor, but I managed to coordinate permission to cross with both security guards and the elderly couple.

After showing me a path around the blockades, through the thick trees lining the elderly couple’s property, and back onto the main route, the neighbor asked where I was going to stay for the night. When I explained that I was still looking, he offered his front yard, which I gladly accepted — he lives just a few houses down from the elderly couple. The blockade has now become a benefit, because with no traffic, I’m sure to get another good night’s sleep. That said, I’m past due for a shower, and tomorrow I’m definitely going to stop at a real campground!

September 5, 2010

Live Free or Die

Filed under: Geology, New Hampshire, Section 11 — Henry Scott @ 1:00 pm

New Hampshire isn’t very wide at this latitude (or any latitude, for that matter). I had to stop early again to ensure that I’d spend a full day here, a necessary step to justify using the state motto for a title. Actually, I suppose I’m dragging my feet a bit and savoring the last few days of the tour. In any event, my camp has been totally set for the night since mid afternoon.

I got an early start this morning and was rewarded with breathtaking views of the Penigewasset River valley once I finished the last bit of climbing up from the Wildwood Campground, and began the descent to North Woodstock, where I stopped for breakfast.

As Jennifer’s father, Bob, pointed out in the comments a few days ago, that put me within five miles of Franconia Notch State Park, which is home to the Flume Gorge. During breakfast, I got to know Dean and Nancy, who vacation in the area, and they were able to give me specific directions to the park. They left before me, but it turns out the cabin they’re renting was on the way. They were sitting outside on Adirondack chairs, waiting to greet me, as I made my way to see it — a very nice surprise.

The wonderful folks at the visitor center allowed me to bring my bike inside and stow it in a safe place so I could enjoy the short hike to the Gorge, and a few other park attractions, without worrying about it. Bob’s comment already provided some details about the Gorge: it is a steep-walled granite canyon with water still actively flowing through. The fracture was once filled with a basaltic dike, but most of the more-readily eroded basalt is gone, leaving the gorge in its place.

I rejoined the Adventure Cycling route on highway 112 in Lincoln, and after stocking up on food I continued east on 112, which is better known as the Kancamagus Highway as it heads up into New Hampshire’s White Mountains. Being a holiday weekend, traffic was heavy, and I didn’t stop for photos as much as I may have otherwise, but the “scenic overlooks” were excellent.

At the pass I decided to make camp at the first good spot I could find in USFS land. Because tonight is the last night of the holiday weekend, I didn’t want to risk finding the official campgrounds already full. I found a perfect spot close to the Swift River sooner than expected, which is why I’m all set up so early. Other than the occasional roar from a Harley, all I can hear is the stream working its way through rounded granitic boulders. It is cooling off quickly, and there are almost no mosquitos; I suspect I’ll sleep well.

I should still be able to make Bar Harbor by the 8th thanks to some long days the past few weeks — the Adirondacks, Green and White Mountains have been so beautiful, it feels good to be taking my time.

September 4, 2010

Subaru States

Filed under: New Hampshire, Section 11, Vermont — Henry Scott @ 12:59 pm

Perhaps divine inspiration led me to stop early yesterday, because in hindsight it was a very good decision. I had plenty of time to make camp, eat, get cleaned up, and relax by the river. I was in my tent for the night by six, sleeping seven, and I didn’t emerge until after seven this morning. I slept for almost twelve hours! I ate more calories than I burned, preparing for a longer day cycling than what materialized, and the combination of fuel and rest brought me into today feeling strong.

Additionally, riding conditions were much better today: the haze of recent days lifted, and the temperature and humidity both dropped. And, I had a strong tailwind for most of the day, as opposed to a headwind yesterday. I didn’t mention yesterday’s headwind to avoid being greedy — except for a couple of days near Lake Erie, I’ve clearly benefitted from westerly winds since Muscatine.

The Vermont roads have been excellent, and although steep in sections, the climbs haven’t been as difficult as I feared, leaving me free to take in the beautiful landscape. The locals are apparently, and understandably, quite proud of their state based on the high frequency of Subarus plastered with pro-Vermont stickers. They also continue the trend I’ve experienced across the country in terms of sharing the road, even when it gets narrow, and I often receive gestures of encouragement from the passing Subarus (by far the most common vehicle I see).

I found myself crossing the Connecticut River and entering New Hampshire around lunch time. I was disappointed to not see a NH welcome sign on rural 113, but I followed the Connecticut River north for the next ten miles and, at the advice of a cyclist I met along the way, crossed back over to VT for lunch at the Fairlee Diner, and was pleased to get the desired self portrait when I made my final crossing back into NH on the more heavily traveled 25A. (Subaru continues to be the most popular car.)

After a decadent hot fudge sunday in North Haverhill, I made my final climb of the day toward Mt. Moosilauke (west of North Woodstock) and am now camped in the USFS Wildwood campground. I finally got caught in some rain on the way which, oddly enough, was a welcome opportunity to use the expensive rain jacket that’s spent most of the tour packed away — it was a much-appreciated birthday present from Jennifer.

September 3, 2010

Don’t Tread on Me

Filed under: Section 11, Vermont — Henry Scott @ 11:00 am

I slept so well at Dan and Judy’s place that it was harder than usual to get up; I watched daylight slowly spread across the Champlain Valley through the window while still lying in bed. Once I made my way downstairs, I was treated to melon freshly picked from their garden and more time to talk about bikes, gear and touring.

Judy followed through on her offer to escort me up the first major Vermont climb, The Middlebury Gap, and even recruited her friend Molly to join us as well. She made plans for the three of us to meet at Steve’s Park Diner so I’d have time to tour the village of Middlebury and the campus, most notably le Chateau, where my mother spent two summers in the 1950’s immersed in French as a participant in their famous language program.

The breakfast was good and very fun — Molly is incredibly inquisitive and knew enough about Earth’s interior to ask excellent questions. By the time we started riding to the climb, I felt like I had known these two for years. The camaraderie was quite welcome because, as expected, the grades were steep — reaching 15% in some sections according to Judy’s cyclocomputer. We stopped for drinks at the Ripton Country Store and quickly befriended two more cyclists who stopped as well.

We reached the Bread Loaf writing retreat and ultimately the gap before I knew it. At the top we crossed paths with a hiker on the Vermont Long Trail, on his way to the Canadian border, as a “break” from the Appalachian Trail. His A.T. companion, his father, had to stop due to an infection in his foot, and the two will pick it up again next year.

From the summit, it was time for Judy and Molly to turn back, and for me to continue on. After descending the steep grade down the other side, I stopped in Rochester for lunch and realized my plan of covering another 45 miles was unrealistic: it was almost 3:00, and I would have yet another steep climb for the day. I figured I could make it, but I’d be racing the sun, and I decided to instead go for a relaxing afternoon and a long night’s sleep — it is only 7:00 as I write this, and I’m about to turn in.

Although I didn’t need anything, I made my way to the Green Mountain Bicycle Shop just to check it out. From the outside it just looks like an old house with some bicycle paraphernalia along the side, but inside it is packed with bikes and parts in a way that conveys a deep commitment to providing excellent customer service — this is not a “showroom shop.”

I brought my map in with me and asked, somewhat pessimistically, if anyone could recommend places to camp closer than where I had originally planned. The employee with whom I spoke was knowledgeable, friendly and very helpful. He knew about the one official campground on the route, pointed out places along the White River where I could safely, and legally, camp, and then proceeded to tell me about places where I could stay for free right in town and gave a rundown of the best local meals.

I decided to continue a little further to camp by the river, although it was very tempting to stay in town. After continuing for another ten miles or so I found a trail leading away from the road toward the river and devoid of no-trespassing signs. It led me to a perfect place to camp: close enough to hear the river, rather the road, but back enough from the banks to be under forest cover.

At the end of the day I’ve only covered 40 miles, but it was a great ride thanks to Judy, Dan and Molly. The beauty of Vermont’s Green Mountains certainly didn’t hurt, either.

September 2, 2010

Moon Rocks in the Adirondacks

Filed under: Geology, New York, Section 10, Section 11, Vermont — Henry Scott @ 11:30 pm

I faced a tough decision early this morning: after a small breakfast in Blue Mountain Lake, Travis and I rode to the Adirondack Museum, which is housed in a large, rustic, yet modern building. Having grown up in New York, Travis had heard very good things about the museum, so we were anxious to see it. Unfortunately, it didn’t open until 10:00, which would have meant a two hour wait.

With hurting knees, waiting for the museum was the obvious choice for Travis, but for me it was harder because I want to make sure I have time for a thorough visit in Acadia. As I mentioned yesterday, I can get there on the 8th with modest daily mileage, but I ultimately decided to push on. The Adirondack Museum will be yet another site that will have to wait for a future visit with Jennifer.

I have absolutely loved riding through the Adirondacks: I can see how the combination of beautiful mountains, a sporadic population of small, seasonal vacation towns, and a decent balance of public and private land have continued to make them a popular destination.

The hills may be a little steeper than what I encountered in the West, but not by much, and they aren’t very long. But, being older, and much more eroded, they are heavily forested, and the many lakes give long stretches of rolling hills following the shores with gorgeous lake views.

I need to do more research about Adirondack geology, but the brief description I’ve read so far said there would be anorthosite in the interior, and that bright white igneous rock is exactly what I found. It is a somewhat unusual rock in that it is mostly made of just one mineral: anorthite. Anyone who has ever looked at the moon has seen anorthosite, at least from a distance: it is what makes the lunar highlands so bright.

Today’s ride took me up and down through Long Lake, Newcomb and North Hudson before ultimately delivering me to New York’s eastern edge with a long, screaming descent into Ticonderoga. From there I took a small cable-drawn ferry across Lake Champlain and entered Vermont. I didn’t need the welcome sign to let me know where I was: maple syrup was for sale on the boat.

I’m staying Dan and Judy, who I contacted through Warm Showers. They live in a two hundred year old farmhouse a few miles west of Middleburry. I haven’t seen their home from the outside yet because I arrived after dark, but the interior is fabulous. We’ve stayed up until almost 11:00 talking about touring: Dan did the Southern Tier a few years ago, and the two of them will be doing a five-month tour of Asia starting this November!

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