Between the Wheels

Earlier this year I set a goal for myself to ride the length of Maine’s Route 11 and see parts of Maine I had never seen before. So far I haven’t made much progress on that goal, though I have managed to ride 2,000 miles through southern, central, and western Maine, and northern New Hampshire.

After awaking at 4:20 Saturday morning to fog and light rain I finally got on the road, after a couple of false starts, around 6:30 and headed for our youngest’s softball tournament in Brewer, Maine. Her team’s first game was scheduled for 8:00 and there was no way I would get there in time, but I took the interstate to save as much time as possible. Traffic was light. So, fortunately, was any precipitation. I had put on my rain gear but didn’t relish the thought of riding in anything very heavy. After all, it was on the way back from last year’s tournament in Brewer that I had to contend with a broken speedometer cable and riding home in steady – sometimes heavy – rain and fog. On top of this, I discovered that my helmet leaked and that I could only hold my breath just so long to keep the face shield from fogging up.

Around 8:45 I pulled in to the parking lot at a supermarket adjacent to Brewer High School and the softball fields and pulled off my rain gear. As I looked around I noticed a distinct lack of softball being played on the fields. Text messages sent to my phone while I was riding explained why; the games had first been delayed two, then four, hours. My wife and daughter met me in the parking lot and went back to the hotel for a bit. We returned an hour or so later to find that the fields were drying, the sky was clearing, and outlooks were improving.

The game, unfortunately, didn’t takes its cue from the weather, at least not as far as our team was concerned. After a promising first inning the girls had a hard time getting it together and ended up being run-ruled in the fifth. Because of the way the game schedule was shaping up for the rest of the day I decided to head for home after one game instead of two or three. And, to make up for not making much progress on my Route 11 project, I chose to ride Route 9 from Brewer to Portland.

Like the parts of Route 11 I have ridden and, I suspect, like many state routes you get hints of what life in the little towns you pass through might be like, and might have been like in the days before the interstate highways were built. In our steel cocoons at 75 miles an hour on the interstate we’re almost completely insulated from any meaningful notion of place. They are (or can be) great ways to quickly and efficiently move people and stuff, but I still find it amazing how much the landscape changes only a few miles off the superslab.

Crossing into Bangor from Brewer things thin out pretty rapidly. Hampden (the ‘p’ is silent, for those of you from away), Newburgh, Dixmont, Troy, Unity (home of Unity College in Maine and The Common Ground Country Fair), Albion, and China. Augusta got me back into more familiar territory, but then Route 9 passes through Randolph, Gardiner, Litchfield (ancestral home of WBLM and part of the Tacoma Lakes region), Wales, Sabattus, and Lisbon. Apparently I had just missed the end of the parade for the weekend-long Moxie Festival in Lisbon Falls, and kept going. Durham, Pownal and Bradbury Mountain State Park, North Yarmouth, Cumberland, Falmouth, and, finally, Portland.

As weary as I was when I got home, and as I have been after similar rides, I was glad to have done it. I felt like I had actually experienced some little bit of these towns. Riding by the homes and businesses, the farms, the fields, forests, and junkyards, pretty little villages separated by stretches of empty road, occasionally seeing people out and about reminded me that these are real places where people live in varying degrees of prosperity and poverty.

Sunday I rode from Portland, through South Portland and Scarborough to Old Orchard Beach, Saco and Biddeford before turning around and heading for home. There’s still the stretch from Biddeford to the New Hampshire border, and from Brewer to Calais (rhymes with ‘palace’) and the Canadian border. That might take a little longer.

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