We were about to embark on our – well, my – first real motorcycle tour in the six years I’ve been riding. The plan was to leave Greater Portland, ride up to Bethel and cross most of Maine on U.S. Route 2 to New Brunswick, Canada. From there, ride up the St. John Valley to northern Maine and back home again along “the other Route 1.” And, for the most part, that’s the way it turned out.
Packing was more of a challenge that I thought it would be, especially with two large side cases on my 2001 Kawasaki Concours. The trip was only three days with two overnight stays, but I quickly figured out that it was important to keep it to the essentials. My rain gear and a bright red (for improved visibility, of course) wound up being bungied to cargo rack, which worked out well enough. I still ended up packing more than I needed, but it was a worthwhile lesson and one I’ll want to remember for the next time.
Tuesday morning I awoke early and checked the weather, which didn’t look promising, but the reservations had already been made. Besides, I remember hearing someone say something like, “Real riders ride in the rain.” It was a little like the beginning of a Doors tune, but I wasn’t about to risk my real rider credibility when I had been planning and looking forward to this trip for weeks. Still, I hoped maybe we’d get lucky and not have to put on another layer in the middle of July.
I rode over to meet Don at his house and realized I had already committed a cardinal sin of motorcycle travel with a companion – fueling up before you leave. It wasn’t for lack of trying. A convenience store (or inconvenience store, as it turned out) on the way wouldn’t take debit or credit cards that morning, though they had before. Sputtering while I put my helmet and gloves back on, I figured I probably had enough gas to make it to our first fuel stop, one of the advantages of a bike with a large gas tank.
The hope that we might escape riding in the rain evaporated before we got to Bethel. On the way there I felt the engine stumble (remember the inconvenience store fueling fail I mentioned before?) and switched the fuel selector to reserve (or so I thought). This would leave me enough fuel to get to our planned stop in Bethel. We stopped at the Snow Falls rest area on Route 26 and put our rain gear on. It wasn’t raining steadily yet, but we didn’t want to wait until it was.
We had only stopped for about ten minutes, but I noticed the strong smell of gasoline, and then I noticed gas dripping from one of the four carburetors. Instead of switching the fuel to “reserve”, I had switched it to “prime” which just lets gas run into the carbs. It was flooded and wouldn’t start, and I felt like a complete knucklehead. Fortunately I had had this experience once before, having mistakenly left the fuel on “prime” while I sat in a meeting for two hours. I got it started that time, too, but correctly switching to “reserve” and a combination of waiting and cranking the engine over a little. This time, too, after only about fifteen minutes of waiting and trying, I got the bike started. As Tom Hanks said, playing Jim Lovell in Apollo 13, “Looks like we’ve had our glitch for this mission.” I sure hoped so.
The rain became steadier as we rode into Bethel and made our planned fuel stop. I was careful to put the selector in its normal position. We had hoped to stop and get some breakfast, too, but there didn’t seem to be anything handy nearby, so we continued up Route 26 to its intersection with Route 2 and headed east. Despite the rain, which was steady but not heavy, and a face shield that fogged up unless I left it open a notch, the ride into Rumford and Mexico wasn’t bad. Traffic was pretty light, and even in the gray and rain I was enjoying the scenery along the banks of the Androscoggin River.
My last visit to the Rumford area was so long ago I really had no memory of it, though I knew my parents and I had gone through there on a trip to the Andover Earth Station for a school science fair project in the mid-1970s. Winding down the hill and past the falls into Rumford we had a spectacular view of the paper mill that was the economic engine of the area for so many years. It had also been a contributor to the pollution in the Androscoggin River by the time it reached Lewiston-Auburn, where I grew up, but the Clean Water Act seemed to have helped in that respect.
Just over the river in Mexico I saw what looked like a local breakfast joint, just the kind of place I like to find. Dick’s Restaurant, located across the street from The Chicken Coop, another notable local landmark, was exactly that. It gave us a chance to talk*, the food was decent, the prices modest, and the coffee hot. After peeling off my rain gear and new touring jacket (with “waterproof, breathable” membrane liner – hah!) to find that I was completely soaked, I could have done with a little less air conditioning, but you can’t have it all.
(*Funny thing about motorcycle travel, whether it’s just a short ride, a day ride, or a longer trip. Unless you have intercoms, as long as your’re on two separate motorcycles, there’s little opportunity for interaction, so you have to save it up for when you stop – coffee, gas, meals, rest stops, etc.)
Sitting in the restaurant, I was warming up on the inside but freezing on the outside. As we looked outside it seemed the rain was letting up. We put our gear back on only to find that the weather was playing games with us, but we headed out anyway. Continuing along Route 2, we finally rode out of the rain in Skowhegan and stopped in the parking lot of St. Anthony’s School to remove at least some of the rain gear. On the way we passed through parts of Dixfield, Wilton, Farmington, and Norridgewock. This was a part of Maine that probably never enjoyed a lot of prosperity and recent times haven’t been kind. Still, there seemed to be a lot of newer businesses alongside those that appeared to be struggling or had long since given up.
It was already afternoon by the time we got to Newport. Checking our progress and accounting for the fact that we would lose an hour when we crossed into New Brunswick, we decided to ditch Route 2 in favor of I-95 to pick up some time. We rejoined Route 2 in Orono and continued north. As a University of Maine graduate and semi-frequent visitor to the area things were pretty familiar for a while, but before long we were passing through towns with sparsely scattered homes and few businesses, and wonderful river views along the Penobscot. I found myself wondering how people manage to live so far away from essential services, where they worked (if they worked), how far they had to travel to get to school, or a doctor’s office. At the same time it was becoming even more obvious to me the challenges that Maine, as a state, and as a population, faces being so spread out.
Next time… The Legend and The Reward. Stay tuned.