All you big and burly men who roll the trucks along
Better listen, you’ll be thankful when you hear my song
You have really got it made, if you’re haulin’ goods
Anyplace on earth but those Haynesville Woods
It’s a stretch of road up north in Maine
That’s never, ever, ever seen a smile
If they buried all the truckers lost in them Woods
There’d be a tombstone every mile
Count ’em off, there’d be a tombstone every mile
– “Tombstone Every Mile,” by Dick Curless
We weren’t loaded with potatoes or headed for Boston town and, fortunately, it wasn’t winter, so the road through the Haynesville Woods wasn’t a ribbon of ice. But it was one of the most memorable parts of our ride across Maine.
After making up some time by taking I-95 from Newport to Orono, we tooled up along the Penobscot River and through more towns I had only heard of or known from their exits on the highway – Milford, Greenbush, Passadumkeag, Enfield, Lincoln, Winn, Mattawamkeag, all on the way to Macwahoc, and the road through the Haynesville Woods. Route 2 doesn’t pass neatly through the center of most of these towns, so I can’t exactly say I’ve seen all there is to see, but riding it does give you a sense of, oh my, just how large Maine really is.
Lincoln was a bit of a surprise, after riding for mile after mile of sparsely scattered homes and businesses, both occupied and abandoned, as Route 2 does go right through downtown. After hanging a left at the crest of a hill with a view of a lake (Mattanawcook Pond, I later found out), we found ourselves on Main Street in the middle of a fairly bustling and appealing little downtown. This answered a little bit of the question that kept rattling around in my head (“Where do all these people GO?”), and I made a mental note that I wouldn’t mind exploring this place a little more. But we didn’t have time to stop and kept rolling on to Macwahoc (don’t ask me how to pronounce it) and our encounter with the legend of the Haynesville Woods.
Along with the country song recorded by Dick Curless, a Maine native, in the 1960s, there are stories of ghosts along the 43 mile stretch from Macwahoc to Houlton. From what I’ve been able to learn, since I know how to Google and find my way around Wikipedia as well as the next guy, in the days before the interstate highway system the road through the Haynesville Woods was one of the only routes from northern Maine potato country to markets and ports in southern Maine and points beyond (think “Boston town”). Maine winters being legendary themselves it doesn’t take too much imagination to believe that a long stretch of road through a desolate wilderness could take on its own mythic character.
No ghosts on our ride through, though, at least none we could see. We were still riding through intermittent mist and light rain, so they could have been there. Didn’t see any deer or moose, either, which is a good thing, too, since they would probably do more damage than your average ghost. Seeing only a handful of vehicles traveling in the other direction, no other vehicles traveling in our direction, and probably not more than a couple dozen houses, it was one of the most singular riding experiences I’ve ever had. Singular not because of the riding itself, the road was in decent condition, but just the experience of riding such a long stretch with so little evidence of civilization.
The miles rolled beneath our wheels and we eventually pulled into Houlton. We stopped for gas before the border crossing and made our way to Canadian customs. Crossing into New Brunswick we lost an hour to the Atlantic time zone, and it was a little surprising to see such a line at six o’clock on a Tuesday evening. Things moved along and we were soon given our official welcome to Canada – “Where are you traveling from? What is the purpose of your visit? How long will you be in Canada? Are you bringing anything into Canada? Are you going to be leaving anything in Canada? Enjoy your stay.”
There was more time to chat when we stopped at the New Brunswick welcome center and, even though it meant taking off and putting on the helmet and gloves one more time, we got some good information and welcome news when we were told our destination was only about five minutes away. As it turned out, the John Gyles Motor Inn and Heino’s German Cuisine was more like fifteen minutes down TransCanada Highway 2, but at least the end of the day’s ride was in sight, at least figuratively speaking.
We finally pulled up to the inn in the drizzle and mist. After checking in and decompressing for a few minutes we wandered back to the restaurant. I’d read and been told that part of traveling by motorcycle is being spontaneous. As much as I like to think of myself as being “spur of the moment” that I’m really not, at least not when it comes to finding a place to stay. Finding a place to stay that also had a German restaurant to enjoy at the end of the day was a bonus. After three hundred fifty miles, rain, drizzle, and escaping the notice of the ghosts of the Haynesville Woods, Heino’s Wurstplatte and a couple of Bitburger Draughts were just the reward I had been hoping for.