My bike trip to Canada, 7/22/11-7/23/11

Day 1

After little sleep and having to cut jogging short (that fried food did come back to haunt me after all), I set out at a little before seven in the morning on my long bike ride. I made good time following U.S. Route 1 to Portland, getting there at around eight-thirty. I took a quick diversion through the waterfront, thinking I could connect with U.S. 1 again at the same exit I always used to. It figures that the exit was closed for road work this time. I thought I took the correct path to get back on 1 but ended up back-tracking. I finally got onto 295 by the University of Southern Maine campus. I missed 1 again, but took 295 to Falmouth, finally getting back on track there. I stopped for a quick break at a grocery store there, then took off again.

From that point U.S. 1 still alternated between highway and built-up areas, only this time the differences felt more pronounced. A good example is Freeport, with L.L. Bean and the outlet stores. Heading directly through one gets right back on the highway towards Bath. I kept on going until I felt the need for a break in Newcastle.

A quick word about breaks: I really wanted to head straight through towards Calais with minimal stops. Yet I needed to take more breaks than I thought I would. Riding for that distance can get very stressful on the lower back and lower. The neck muscles can wear out as well from wearing a helmet. Also, my left knee did bother me after riding a few hours straight. Fortunately, it is getting better, and getting off the bike for only a few minutes will do the trick.

A little ways after the Newcastle rest area. I stopped at a grocery store for lunch. Making my way up U.S. 1 I finally saw water from Rockport–for about a mile. That’s a common misconception that I get all the time from tourists stopping at the convenience store. They hear U.S. 1 is a “coastal route” and expect it to go out right by the water. Well, I have travelled the length of it today and saw first-hand that it doesn’t. I’ve heard this before but even I still thought I would see the ocean more than I have. The coast is far from a straight line. Where 1 does go near the water, it’s where the numerous peninsulas face each other. The horizon is usually blocked by islands. This can make for some pretty views, but they are far and few between.

I stopped at a gas station in Belfast, then kept on going until I got to Prospect. There I saw the Penobscot Narrows Observatory. The Penobscot Narrows Bridge is a famoust bridge on U.S. 1, which includes a 42-story observatory. Access to it is connected to the Fort Knox State Historic Site, and only costs five dollars.

So guess what I did.

View from the Penobscot Narrows Observatory

I have to say, I wasn’t overly impressed with the view from the observatory. To get my five bucks worth, I checked out Fort Knox as well. No, it’s not the same Fort Knox with all of the gold. They’re both named after Major General Henry Knox. I won’t give you a full history lesson. The fort has several dark tunnels on the outer edge of it. I didn’t take too many pictures–it was just a good way to cool off. I swish I brought my ear buds with me, though. Some dark black metal would have heightened the mood.

I figured that would have been the only long diversion I took on my way north. I was wrong. I may have taken a quick snack break somewhere (after a while they all blend together). Then, in what I believe was West Gouldsboro, I saw a sign leading to Acadia National Park. It said eight miles. I figured a quick ride out and around that peninsula and I would be back on 1 in about half an hour. I grossly underestimated that one. When I got as far as Winter Harbor the temperature dropped immediately. It wasn’t frigid–it was extremely refreshing, actually. The temperature remained constant as I rode around Acadia National Park.

I purposely did not take any pictures of the park. I’m sure there’s plenty out there. I can imagine they don’t do the place any justice. The sheer beauty of it is best experienced by going there. The road around it is one of the best rides I have ever taken. The climax of the diversion was Schoodic Point. It is nothing but rocks, no beach. The North Atlantic pounded away on them to produce one of the most relaxing experiences I ever had. I wish I could have spent the whole afternoon there, but I had to move on.

I don’t know if I had enough or if it this is true, but the rest of U.S. 1 seemed rather boring. The road was highway for most of the time. Occasionally there were some nice moments, but at that point I think I had enough. I’ll stop with my opinions, as I may not be fair to a few spots.

I did take one last stop on my way to Calais, at a rest stop in Robbiston. The sheer silence shocked me. I couldn’t imagine being outside in a public area by a highway and water and hear nothing but my own head noise. When I checked my map, I was delighted to find that Calais was not at all far away–and that the land mass opposite the water was indeed Canada.

View of Canada from the Robbison rest area

I hopped on the bike and rode to Calais, trying to find a place to eat. I settled on a local restaurant. It had limited vegetarian options. I ordered a grilled cheese sandwich (listed as “Grilled Chez” on the menu) with a side of fries, and got a room at a nearby inn. It was the first time I ever spent a night in one. I had to call around just to find out what to tip the housekeeper.

Day 2

I don’t’ remember at what point I decided to cut my road trip a day short. It may have been after I was told what the room would cost me. The reality of that, gas, and food for that many days started to sink in. I also new that I needed to get home on Sunday to get my affairs in order before the work week. As the day went on I began to realize that I would spend a large part of Sunday resting as well. So, I decided to ride around New Brunswick for a few hours, and ride home in the afternoon and evening. If I needed to spend the night somewhere, I would.

I got up early, but without setting an alarm. I decided to wash up quickly and head over to the inn’s restaurant for breakfast. The “full continental breakfast” consisted of packs of cereal, bread and English muffins, coffee, milk, and orange juice set up in a sort of self-serve school cafeteria style. It was included with the room, so I can’t complain about how fancy it wasn’t. I got my things, paid for my room, and headed out.

I rode over to the U.S. visitor’s information center first to see if they had any maps of New Brunswick. The building was closed. This seemed rather odd; the sign said they opened at eight, and the clock on my phone said that it was eight-thirty. When I crossed over the bridge to St. Stephen, I soon found out why. A sign on the bridge indicated that I was crossing time zones. My phone must periodically update itself, and it mus have picked up Atlantic Time.

The young woman at the Canadian Customs booth was very friendly as she asked me her routine questions. She had a foreign accent. I thought it seemed odd that just crossing over the border their accent changes so drastically from Mainers’. I soon realized that when I had to go into the office for some sort of background check that she must have not been from there there originally. I think she might have been from Australia, or perhaps New Zealand.

The women behind the desk inside the office were also friendly and courteous. I half expected them to be hardened form everything they must have to put up with. I was wrong. It wasn’t until later that day when I got back into the states did I come across some attitude.

I rode into St. Stephen, making my way to the tourist center there. I got a map, as well as a spiel from the guy working there as to different things to do in the area. Apparently the local chocolate factory is a big deal for St. Stephen. I didn’t bother stopping at any tourist attractions while I was there. He did mention St. Andrews, though, which sounded nice enough that I decided to make that my first goal.

View of Calais from St. Stephen

Riding out of the downtown area I rode through a shopping district. The stores had different names, but the area looked a lot like our strip malls here. I began to notice that several business had signs out front made in a similar way. They were large black boards with large letters in bright green and orange. I wonder if one company provides these or if it’s a trend. I saw them all throughout my time in New Brunswick, though.

Pretty soon I was on a highway riding through the country side. Already the ride was becoming one of my all-time favorites. While the highway went through hilly terrain, the curves were incredibly gradual. I had to use my brakes less than I had to on U.S. 1. Also, unlike U.S. 1, N.B. 1 went through a lot of beautiful areas. Likewise when I got off the highway to take the coastal route to St. Andrews. Occasionally I would go by a mountain, only to go around one of those curves to find that it was actually an island. I didn’t brush up on my local geography, but I new enough hat I was travelling along the coast. The land that I would sometimes see across the water may have been Maine.

I made it to St. Andrews in about half an hour. I didn’t cruise the streets too much, but what I saw was a charming little seaside town. I did make a point to stop by the beach for a few minutes. There was some haze over the water, so I couldn’t tell if there was land across the water at every angle. After staking a few pictures, I went through St. Andrews back to N.B. 1. At one point I rode down one street called “Prince of Wales,” with side streets named after members of the royal family. This led to a fancy-looking hotel, so I don’t know if those roads were privately owned or not.

Once I connected to N.B. 1, I stopped at a Tim Horton’s for a coffee and a donut. Like in Maine, I came across Tim Horton’s shops and Irving stations everywhere. This was the only time I bought anything in Canada. It worried me at first that they didn’t take my type of debit card, but they did take American dollars for a small fee. Overall, it didn’t feel like it cost much more here. So, with that one purchase, the total I spent in Canada is $2.27.

I rode on N.B. 1 for a while longer, towards St. George. The highway here felt a lot like the inland highways of Maine, except with the occasional coastal view. At some point I would love to go back, but for more than just a few hours. There are five “Scenic Drives” set up throughout the province. I want to hit most, if not all of them. Alas, I only had those few hours, so I decided to go to St. George, find route 770, then head back. St. Geroge looked like a nice small town, but I didn’t stay too long. I found 770 and left.

According to the map of New Brunswick I had (which I unfortunately lost somewhere), 770 was supposed to loop around and connect back to N.B. 1. At first, the road was quick pleasurable, providing great riverside views and going through some quaint sub-rural areas. Then, a few miles (sorry, kilometers) in, the pavement ended. At first I thought it was only temporary. Then, after a while, I realized I was riding through the back woods. For the most part, there was nothing but trees all around me. There was one spot that had a nice river view:

At first I joked with myself that I was riding through “Red Green” territory. Then somehow I managed to convince myself that this was more like “Deliverance.” I got to the point that I was getting nervous. I also realized that the smooth jazz I had going on my bike’s stereo system really didn’t fit the mood. I didn’t stop to change it, though. Instead, I focused on maneuvering the bike on the dirt road. Finally, the road stopped–at an intersection with another one. Instead of trying to find my way forward, I turned around. My ride back went more smoothly. Perhaps at that point, because I knew where I was going and what the road was like, I rode with a more calm sense of confidence.

I rode back to N.B. 1, and took it all the way back to St. Stephen. Hungry and frustrated, the 110 kph ride wasn’t the most pleasant, but I got back around noon. As I waited in line to get to the U.S. customs stop, I did see one interesting sign:

That’s right, St. Stephen is the birthplace of former Boston Bruins player Don Sweeney.

Getting back into Maine was quick, but I didn’t like the guy’s attitude. He couldn’t seem to believe that somebody would just cross over for a quick joyride and back. He may have only been asking routine questions, but the attitude annoyed me and made me a little nervous. He let me go, though.

I couldn’t find a cheap enough vegetarian lunch nearby, so I headed on my way down Route 9 West. At this point, my frustrations were mounting: after the rough ride in the woods, the U.S. border patrol officer, and lack of lunch were being augmented by physical concerns. Oddly enough my left knee wasn’t one of them. After a whiles of being stiff, it became all right again, not to bother me for the rest of the tip. By this point, though, my left thumb had gone completely numb. I was taught to keep my left hand on the handlebar with the thumb wrapped around the bar and the fingers out-stretched over the clutch. This is handy for most of the riding I do, but after a few hundred miles it hurts. Furthermore, on highways where I’m not shifting as much I don’t need to keep my fingers in that position. I had to train myself to curl them around the bar to ease the tension on the thumb.

One other physical problem prevailed, causing me to make stops every once in a while…. My ass was sore as Hell, man!

At one rest stop in particular a guy walked up to me with an unusual request. His girlfriend wanted him to take a picture of her sitting on my bike, topless. I declined to be in the picture, but stood by making sure my plate wasn’t in it. In retrospect, I needn’t have worried, but at that point I was still slightly worried after the harassment by the customs officer.

I rode along Route 9 with one more problem. The person who recommended the road failed to mention to me that it goes through a mountainous region. I don’t blame him, really. He didn’t know that I’m afraid of heights. The highway itself wasn’t really that harrowing, but the psychological fear kept me driving a little too cautiously. I stopped at a roadside restaurant/gas station/convenience store with lodging for lunch. After an hour and a half (and several angry drivers who had to pass me) later, I arrived in Bangor. I had never been there before. It seemed like a small city that would be worth a visit someday. This time, however, I just stopped at a strip mall to stretch my legs. I got onto 95, making two quick stops. After two and a half hours I reached Augusta. I took 201 for a little bit, enjoying the rivers-side view. I got onto 295 when I got the chance.

I had dinner at my favorite pizza place in Portland. After some window-shopping in Portland and Scarborough, it go dark. At that point I didn’t need the light anymore. I was already familiar with the ride home.


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