We did it! We are done! I know this to be true, but neither my head or body comprehend what it means quite yet. I know that when we got to the traffic circle in the photo above and took a few pictures, I gave Dee a hug and the tears started — and they keep coming.
I started the morning with a familiar sense of anxiety, the kind of nerves I used to feel on the morning of a marathon. Why, after riding all this way, did a 55-mile day suddenly feel daunting? Just nerves. Dee said she felt similar nerves, they had kept her from sleeping much just like the night before a marathon.
Marla at our Blueberry Patch Motel gave us blueberry muffins, yogurt, and coffee along with a little road intelligence — Cooper Mountain would be a doozy of a downhill. So that gave me something to worry about the first 20 miles or so — flying down a steep mountain and flipping over my bike on our last day! Our route kindly, happily turned right just after the sign to Cooper.
We had a picnic at the Dennysville town office at 30 miles because there were no coffee shops or convenience stores to be had. It was one of our quietest and most remote rides of the trip. With very little traffic, we mostly had the road to ourselves. Rolling hills, thick woods, pretty streams. We kept intersecting with the Down East Sunrise Trail, which looked beautiful and flatter than our route but still gravel — so we stuck to the East Coast Greenway’s road alternative.
The last 10 or so miles before Calais were our most remote as we entered the Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge. We got weird texts from our phones welcoming us to Canada and Dee noticed that her phone had jumped an hour ahead to Canadian time. We waved away a few black flies and rolled over a few more hills before hitting Route 1, our old friend, and Calais.
We had a welcoming party in town on the St. Croix River: Sally, our long-lost driver who dropped us off eight weeks ago in Key West, and M’lyn from Rhode Island, who warmed and fed us at her house that rainy day we left Connecticut (who knows when ago). M’lyn had an “East Coast Greenway Finish Line” banner hanging for us to ride through. And the tears started again.
Watch a Relive video of the ride:
For eight long weeks, Dee and I have been held up by so many of you. (The tears again.) You have cheered us on with your blog comments, your “likes” and “wows.” Many of you housed us, fed us, even rode along with us and laughed at our stories. We agreed early on that your enthusiastic interest in our trip helped carry us over the rainy days and the hot days. And the days that were stunningly beautiful, we couldn’t wait to share them with you. Thank you for coming along for the ride. (Tears.)
We leave you with this photo of Dee’s mother, photographed by Dee’s brother, Phil, at their home in southern England as they celebrated the end of our ride. She’s 93 and was an avid cyclist (and yogi) in her day, biking to do her errands eight miles away or so. She’s been following our trip through Dee’s texts and photos to family. Talk about inspirational. Ride on!
A dirt road on our way to Route 1, somewhere in Maine. In the rain.
Oh my word. All the nice things that people have said about our ride, how we have grit and we are bad ass and all? Today we earned it. Grit is a fine word for the day.
A breakfast send-off from Becki and Diane (note the blueberry cake, which did double duty as last night’s dessert and a breakfast treat this morning). Below, goodbye to Judy, who kept our bikes overnight in her barn and came with husband Dancer to dinner last night at Diane’s, her cousin.
Like our first day of riding, so many weeks ago out of Key West, we began our day full of innocence, wearing a bit of rain gear but thinking the sky might clear. Ha!
Just out of Ellsworth we tried the Down East Sunrise Trail, which runs for 80-plus miles toward our final destination but is pretty tough for all but the hardiest bicycles. We bailed on the trail after some nine miles. With fresh, large gravel on top of sand, it was like riding in a dry creek bed. The vibration alone was too much — Dee said it was like a nonstop rumble strip.
Off on the roads again, we made our way to good old Route 1, our friend since Florida. Truly. We can count on a decent shoulder on Route 1, mostly, and reasonably graded hills, even water views in Maine.
Except today there were no views. Fog and light rain gave way to windy rain, later to downpours. The temperature was in the 50s, far colder than Dee and I had clothes for, in the rain.
Finding our way off the gravel trail
We stopped at about 20 miles at a diner to warm up and dry off. French toast and coffee helped. As did the notion of finding some kind person with a pickup truck to take us on down the road. The older man sitting at the counter telling us about his motorcycle trip long ago and his lobstering would have been a fine candidate, but he drove a car.
We rode on another five to ten miles, checking once at a convenience store for a lift in a truck. The rain lightened for a bit and we refocused on riding. When the route took us down a dirt road with enormous puddles and gullies, we just had to belly laugh. In the rain. Grit.
Fifteen miles from our destination, we came to another diner in an otherwise sad crossroads. We stopped, knowing there wouldn’t be much where we were headed for the evening. We sat shivering and dripping and consumed endless cups of decaf, a roll and butter (Dee), basket of fries (me), and split a piece of apple crumb pie. Meanwhile the rain and wind picked up. We tried the truck idea again with a couple fellows seated near us, but the guy who responded was driving a jaguar that he says he smashed into a deer. He offered to text his boss and ask about borrowing his truck, just down the road, but that option seemed to fizzle out.
“I’m fighting with three lawyers right now who are all trying to steal my money,” the young man explained.
Knowing our issues weren’t quite so complicated, we pulled on our wet outer layers and headed back out on the road, bad ass women that we are. I actually hoped for hills to climb so I could warm up as the rain poured and the wind blew.
I’m not sure I’ve ever been so happy to arrive at a roadside motel. After 62 hairy miles, we are safe and snug inside the sweet little Blueberry Patch Motel. Our room has a strong color scheme of blue going on but it’s clean and warm. We got a kind and sympathetic greeting from the proprietors as we dripped our way into their office (“I would have picked you two up in my truck if I passed you on a day like this,” the man said.)
It’s still pouring, but the forecast calls for the rain to end sometime tonight. Tomorrow we ride to the border. Given the news of the last few days, crossing on into Canada as refugees sounds smarter and smarter.
Greenway sign sighting! A first in a while, it’s under the Bike Route 1 sign
I’m embarrassed to tell you that we spent about a half hour yesterday researching ferry possibilities from Camden to Bar Harbor. They don’t exist, and I’m glad. We feared we had a tough 63 miles today, those Maine hills. But some seven or so miles out of town, after climbing up and sailing down and climbing up, Dee noted that we had just crossed a watershed. Nothing scientific here, but from there on, the hills were downright reasonable. Some were even the classic rollers where you can fly downhill and make it up the other side without pedaling.
We rolled into Belfast at just under 20 miles and camped out at Traci’s Diner, almost going into withdrawal shakes from no WiFi in almost 24 hours. We caught up on crucial social media news and reconnected with our navigation apps over our second breakfast. Lauren, our host last night at the lake, commented on Facebook, “you found service!”
Lauren arranged with Jeff at the Camden police station to hold our bikes there overnight so we didn’t have to ride the hilly five miles, including a dirt road, to her camp. Here they are this morning as we picked the bikes up, small-town kindness at its best.
We knew we had a few bridges ahead of us today, but we were pleasantly surprised to learn that the big bridge we’d been staring at in Belfast was not the one we had to take. Instead there’s a charming harbor walk and a pedestrian/bike bridge over the river — beautiful.
Halfway through our ride we crossed the Fort Knox bridge, which Tom had already warned me about, er, shared lovely photos of when he rode with us on Sunday. It is a beautiful new bridge over the Penobscot River — beautiful from afar, that is. Dee rode on ahead and I opted at first to walk my bike, then climbed on and rode the second half like a big girl.
“You conquered it!” Dee said.
“I wouldn’t exactly call it conquering,” I told her, “but I crossed it.”
Fort Knox bridge in background and me “conquering” it.
The rest of our ride was fairly inconsequential. We flew into Ellsworth on a long downhill, then picked up a greenway trail along a railroad line for a few miles out of town to a barn belonging to the cousin of our evening’s host, Diane. Our bikes are resting in the barn overnight; Diane drove us the 10 miles out to her lake camp. Which, as it turns out, has all the conveniences of home (laundry, WiFi, ceiling fans) along with spectacular lake frontage.
Diane is a long-time friend of Becki, our Scarborough host. Becki has joined us at the lake, too, so it already feels like a celebration (we will back on Friday afternoon with Sally after she picks us up). Diane announced as we stepped into her home that we were not guests, that we should help ourselves to anything. So I immediately helped myself to a paddle in one of her kayaks. In the late afternoon sun and a gentle breeze, it was heavenly to be on the water. Dee joined me on the lake after —this will amaze you — brewing up some decaf coffee and bringing it along in a flask.
Diane pointed to two peaks across the lake and told us that We had biked those hills coming into Ellsworth, which made me feel proud. Just two more days, 100 miles to go to reach the border.
We invited a few friends to join us for the afternoon on our yacht
To understand how we ended up on a schooner sailing out of Camden this afternoon, with strong young men tending to the sails and offering us adult beverages, I first have to explain a little more about how we are navigating on this trip. Bear with me.
Mostly we are following the East Coast Greenway route, thanks to a file my colleague Niles uploaded to an app, maps.me. By and large I trust this route. Without knowing all the reasons why certain roads are chosen, we have followed the Greenway’s red line up the coast. We know that we’ll catch any bike paths going our way and otherwise be on the quietest roads possible. But that means that the Greenway is often not the shortest distance between two points. When headwinds have gotten to us, bad weather is threatening, or we have to find our way to our accommodations, we turn to Google Maps for bikes. Sometimes the routes overlap, but typically Google Maps suggests a far more direct — read shorter — route.
This morning we started out of Damariscotta in bright sun and cool temps, feeling good. The roads were pretty but, oh, the hills! We’d crawl up one, fly down the other side, pedal a bit, and then do it all over again. Relentlessly hilly, Maine is. It was pretty daunting to think of doing that all day, because we were facing 57 miles of this. Yet the Google Maps route to Camden was just 29 miles. So we agreed to ride the first section of the Greenway course and then reconsider mid-morning or so.
We stopped at one point, at the top of yet another hill, to take photos of the pretty rocks, because it looked like we were on top of a mountain. Dee checked her map only to find we had gone off our course for a few miles. Rather than backtrack, we agreed to follow this pretty road on down to Route 1, where we could ride east and pick up the course again. At a coffee stop at a convenience store (decaf coffee for Dee, chocolate milk for me, a little table and WiFi and we were ecstatic, doesn’t take much), we met Bill. He used to live in Chapel Hill, near me,and he used to ride bikes. He told us that Route 1 wasn’t great for bikes, that we should take Route 90 to Camden. Which, at that point, with 25 miles on our odometers, meant that Camden could be just 12 miles away. That would give us 37 for the day, more respectable than 29 and yet far less than the 32 we were planning on.
Which is why we came rolling into the beautiful town of Camden at 11:30 in the morning with big smiles on our faces. And the fun was just beginning. We wandered down to the docks to see the harbor and a friendly man suggested we buy tickets to sail on a schooner for two hours.
“$45,” he said.
No way my frugal friend Dee will go for that, I thought as we walked away. But she stopped and we looked at each other. It was a sparkling bright day, nice wind for sailing, and our friend, Lauren, wouldn’t be picking us up until 3pm to take us to her lake camp. We could sit at a coffee shop and mess around on our phones for three hours, or we could go for a sail. So we said yes.
What a treat, and it was all eerily meant to be. We bought the last two seats available for the 12:30 sailing. And it turns out the schooner and its crew had just sailed up to Camden from Key West. It took them seven days and five hours, they proudly told us. We came from Key West too, we told those strapping young men, and it’s taken us seven weeks and five days! We talked with a nice couple from Connecticut. We saw porpoises jumping. We looked back at the harbor, lighthouse, and Mount Battie towering over the town. All in all, our two hours cruising the sparkling bay were the best alternative I can imagine to grinding up two hours more of hills.
Dee was determined to help the crew raise the sails. The main jib was a little too much, but Matt (yep, we are on first name basis) let her pull up the small jib in front (mizzen?).
Back on land, we left our bikes at the police station, as our friend Lauren had arranged for us. I got to meet Lauren, a running friend of Dee’s, when she came to North Carolina in 2009 to run the Outer Banks Marathon with us. Well, not exactly with us. Despite a bad stomach the night before, she ran a great time and won prize money for master’s women, while I failed to meet my qualifying time for Boston. But that’s another story; these are happier and more self-affirming days!
Lauren is justifiably proud of the town of Camden and her family’s camp on Lake Megunticook, where she has been going in the summer since she was a kid. She drove us up to the top of Mount Battie to give us a bird’s eye view of the town and the harbor where we’d just sailed. We smelled the roses in a park by library, also overlooking the harbor — the beauty is all a bit heady and intoxicating.
After dinner in town, Lauren drove us to her camp. It’s peaceful here and beautiful, tucked into the pine trees. Lauren walked me down to her floating dock to check out the lake view. There’s no WiFi here, so even though we are sort of experiencing withdrawal — how do we check tomorrow’s weather? How do we peek at tomorrow’s route? How will Lisa post her sailing blog?! — it’s been good to unplug, chat a bit, and enjoy the quiet.
Lauren in her happy place. Thanks for sharing it with us!
A dark, wet morning on the Greenway near downtown Portland, ME
Today was a tough day of riding. We had a gusty headwind and near constant hills for most of the 62 miles. And bridges. I lost count after the fourth big one. It’s starting to feel like this last week in Maine and our first week in Florida are strange bookends to the trip. So far they share headwinds and bridges. Florida was miserably hot and the flattest state, Maine has been cool and the hilliest.
There’s also something mental at play, I’m sure. In road races, 5K to marathon, I’m often a 90 percenter. I’ll be doing just fine, running a respectable pace until the last 10 or 15 percent of the route — and then I often fall apart and want to quit. I once interviewed a fitness coach about the phenomenon and what to do about it. “You’ve lost your focus,” he said, “and you won’t get it back by trying to force it. Instead, you should pick a new focus, like trying to pass the three people in front of you.” Which, by the way, never worked; if I’m tired at the end of a race chances are I won’t be passing you.
But I think something like this might be going on now. Here we are in the last 10 percent of our trip, the last 250 or so miles of maybe 2,900 total. I’m afraid my head may be too focused on the end, which makes a tough day in wind and hills even tougher. There’s nothing like a headwind to make my odometer slow to a crawl. I’ve got to work harder on staying in the present these last few days of riding. A little sun and tailwinds would help, of course.
Two nice surprises on the trail: Dee’s friend Jim, out for a walk from his Portland apartment, greeted us early on, then Dick Woodbury found us on the Greenway in Yarmouth.
Even with my head down, all too aware of the wind and foggy mist this morning, I did catch sight of a grey pickup truck with the tip of a blue bike and orange kayak visible from the back. My kind of people, I thought. The truck also sported a round “I 🚲 the East Coast Greenway” sticker, which I called out to Dee, because it’s such a rare sight. Ten minutes down the road, a fellow was standing on the side of the road by old railroad tracks, wearing the familiar East Coast Greenway jersey: Dick Woodbury. The truck’s owner; he had spotted us and waited for us right where he hopes the Geeenway will go one day, replacing the railroad tracks and stretching to Portland.
Dick joined the Greenway’s Board of Trustees in January. He’s an economist and former Maine state representative and senator and lives in Yarmouth. He took us a few blocks down the road to Clayton’s for coffee and breakfast. We talked about our route and how we are navigating, because Dick is going to ride from Calais to Yarmouth next month with his wife and 26-year-old son. We also talked state politics, given his background. We were tickled to learn that Dick chaired the committee that created the ranked choice voting initiative. We had just learned about this at dinner the night before. Maine is the first state to try such a thing, in which voters choose not just one candidate but rank them first, second, third — so that if no candidate receives a majority of votes, the rankings ensure a better determination of winner. Google it, I know I am not explaining it very well. But the Greenway is lucky to have this smart, independent thinker on our board, and we were delighted to be able to visit with him over coffee.
Downtown Damariscotta, the front door of our Airbnb, and the river dock. We may stay here and skip the rest of the ride.
We were weary pulling into Damariscotta but our gloom evaporated quickly. Our Airbnb for the night is tucked in back of an old house right on Main Street. It charmed us instantly: two cute bedrooms upstairs, comfy living space downstairs for $78. And we can walk out through the backyard to a floating dock on the Damariscotta River.
I walked around the corner to a little general store for coffee and seltzer this afternoon and came back “home” just as thunder rumbled and a light rain started. Here we are, just a half hour after finishing our ride, tucked cozily in our little place and not in the storm. Clean living.
A mile of so out of Portsmouth this morning, we crossed our second of two nice bridges and entered our last state.
If you can’t stand the suspense I can tell you in a nutshell: We had Grey skies and cooler temps today but we didn’t find a single cranky person!
Instead we found more friends, new ones and old. Boring, I know. And more beautiful greenways, including close to 20 miles of the Eastern Trail that leads from Kittery to South Portland.
Friend #1: Tom Gill. Early in our journey, I’d regale Dee with snippets from Tom’s social media posts. He and his cousin, John, started about a month ahead of us, also riding the Greenway south to north. Tom is about my age, John about Dee’s age, and I think we four would have been good riding buddies. They seemed to similarly not take themselves too seriously and enjoyed the people and places they met along the way.
After corresponding a bit, Tom offered to meet us this morning in Portsmouth, about an hour from his home, and ride a bit. He showed up with Maej, a young Malaysian friend and former coworker who is visiting the US for a few months. In hiking boots on a rented bike, she gamely rode her first-ever 15 miles on a multi-speed bike, in traffic, before calling it quits at our Dunkin Donuts stop in South Berwick.
We loved meeting Maej and Tom, who shared a few trip stories and offered a little route wisdom for our remaining days — including steering us away from a dirt road ahead where a fresh beaver dam has resulted in a deep puddle. Thanks for keeping us dry, Tom!
Friends #2: While I was downloading route info from Tom, Dee caught up with Dan and Barb, more Semester at Sea friends. They have been following our trip online and somehow knew we liked coffee. Dan kindly gave Tom and Maige and their bikes a ride in his truck back to Portsmouth, where Tom left his car.
Friend #3: Marilyn. This dear woman — a stepsister of Sally’s — waited in her car at a grocery/gas station on our route for two hours to see us and feed us snacks. Marilyn and her daughter, Becki, drove our route a few days earlier just to scope out a place where she could meet us — amazing.
We were sitting at a picnic table beside the market, nicely shielded from the parking lot by bushes, for our picnic. An energetic woman walked up to us, exclaiming over what a nice picnic area we had. She learned what we were up to — we have the spiel down pretty well at this point, “two months, Key West to Calais, Maine...”. In turn, she shared proudly that she had just fought off stage IV cancer. How’s that for a little perspective? She took our photo and we congratulated each other for our resilience and health.
Friends #1, redux: Tom and Maej drove to Biddeford and ate lunch while we met with Marilyn. Then they set off on a bike path section of the Eastern Trail, heading south to meet us as we came north. Maej was all smiles on the trail, enjoying the flat terrain and no traffic. So we made a trail rider out of her if nothing else.
Maej asked Tom to take her photo with us as we said goodbye, telling us that we were her new role models. It’s the kind of compliment I’m learning to take more gracefully, because what she and so many others mean to say is I love that you are doing this when you are so old.
Friends 4: Becki (Marilyn’s daughter, Sally’s step-niece, here with her daughter, Emily) and her husband, Brad. This kind family is hosting us tonight at their home in Scarborough. They cooked a fabulous dinner and invited Jim, an old friend of Dee’s from Purdue who now lives in South Portland, and Emily and her friend, Alan. Great food, great laughs.
It’s a great gift to be fed and fussed over by kind folks after a day of playing on our bikes. We rode 60 miles today, made easier because our last 10 or so miles were on a nice flat Greenway. Just a few miles from our hosts’ home the bike path took us through the spectacular Scarborough Marsh nature preserve. The sky was moody and dark and the tide was out, revealing dark sand banks — great contrast for a couple of white egrets.
No complaints, no crankiness, just gratitude.
State #14. Just one more state to go.
Just when we were getting used to every day dawning with truly spectacular weather, we woke up today to grey skies, cooler temps, and spitting rain as we started out from Salem. So our perfect October days turned into November weather —skipping summer all together, I guess. It seems like ages ago in Florida when we were ducking into convenience stores and restaurants as much for the air conditioning as for sustenance. Today we took refuge in restaurants to warm up.
In Danvers, we met Rick, an old friend of Dee’s, for warm coffee and a second breakfast (one of the gifts of bike touring). They were “Egyptians,” a group that took an Arts Boston trip to Egypt in the late 1980s and stayed friends since. A block down the road, we hopped on the Border to Boston trail, a stone-dust rail trail. Just a few miles down we met up with Al Nierenberg, a former East Coast Greenway Alliance board member (yes Bob, another Greenway friend). Al’s an enthusiastic local advocate for the region’s greenways. He led us to the end of the trail, then pretty winding back roads, and another greenway trail to Newburyport. There, as rain started, we took refuge in the Angry Donut and Cafe and talked greenways over coffee and brownies.
Al Nierenberg at the start of one his favorite greenway sections on Boston’s North Shore: Newburyport’s Clipper City Rail Trail. And it was very nice: landscaping and gardens, sculptures, good signage, even a Little Free Library.
The second half of our 50 miles today was almost all Route 1A, most of it along the coast. We crossed into New Hampshire and passed the kitschy blocks of Hampton Beach. Lucky for us, the cold and grey weather dampened the Saturday beach traffic, although there were plenty of people strolling the boardwalk and filling the restaurants. Further up the New Hampshire coast, the kitsch disappears, replaced by gorgeous old mansions with enormous front lawns facing the ocean. We cut short what would have been a scenic last stretch, past Odiorne Point State Park and New Castle, because of a cold headwind and threatening skies. Instead we headed straight north into the historic and bustling town of Portsmouth.
Tonight we had the treat of my sister Barbara driving two hours from her home in Sandwich, NH, to take us to dinner. We were standing at the hotel desk, haggling over our room fee (long story), when I turned around to see Barbara beside me — what a nice feeling, the comfort of someone so familiar. Dee had to endure a few hours with us, which of course included what my mom called our “giggle fests.” Barbara’s quick, wry sense of humor does it to me every time. She said that she kind of agrees with Bob’s assessment of these blog reports — too many beautiful days and nice friends. So it’s appropriate that today was cloudy, cool, and grey, but still with the nice people —Rick, Al, even Barbara, sorry to say. Maybe tomorrow, as we cross into Maine, we’ll encounter some cranky people and find some trashy roads. One can always hope.
The Northeastern crew reunited: Dee, Chris, Karen, Josh, Kelly, Jessica, Lisa and Bob
One of the treats of this two-month adventure has been the chance to connect the dots of so many of my past lives. I enjoyed a wonderful dose of reconnecting Thursday night, thanks to a reunion of former Northeastern University colleagues.
Jessica Treadway organized the evening and hosted us at the Lexington home she shares with her husband, Phil. Three decades ago, I was editing the university’s alumni magazine and Karen Feldscher was editing the faculty/staff newspaper. We hired Jessica as one of our staff writers. We had good taste; Jessica has since published five novels to great acclaim and teaches writing at Emerson.
We shared lots of laugh last night, including rehashing the stories Bob loves to hear about me stalking That Guy Bob down the hall in our office building and reporting back to my coworkers on our brief hellos when we passed in the hall.
Thanks for a great night of laughs and memories and catching up, Jessica
This morning we said goodbye to Mark and Laurie, our hosts these last two days in Belmont, and rode off with another dear old friend: Andy McClurg. I met Andy at my first job in Boston, at the Metropolitan Area Planning Council. He and I and a few other MAPC guys took great bike rides out of Boston. Dee joined us for s few once I had left MAPC for Northeastern and met her.
Andy is now the transportation planner for Sasaki in Watertown. He told us about his latest work in Ho Chi Minh City when we stopped for coffee in Assembly Square, after a leisurely ride along the Charles River and along a beautiful new Greenway connection to Charlestown. It’s fascinating work involving modern skyscrapers and preserving urban housing for the working class.
When I think of my brief time at MAPC, I picture shelves and shelves of regional urban plans growing dusty with no means of executing any of them. I’m happy to think that Andy and I are both in more satisfying workplaces these days.
We said goodbye to Andy when the Northern Strand Community Trail, also known as the Bike to the Sea Trail, turned to gravel, too rough for his tires. The rest of our ride, a total of 35 miles to Salem, was largely on greenways, paved and dirt. In Lynn we rode on a Greenway along the water with a view back to the Boston skyline. On yet another stunning dry and bright day, it was a beautiful ride.
Dee on the Greenway in Lynn, with the Boston skyline behind her
Dee’s friend Arnold is our host in Salem. He’s holding Windex, proof that he cleaned the window in our guest room. He took us to dinner in Beverly with friends of his this evening; he can’t believe we are desperate to go to bed at 9:30 pm.