We’ve made it to Maine — and taken the five-hour(!) ride in a school bus to Calais from Portland. I was last on a long ride in a school bus in Alaska — and before that to corn detassle as a teenager in Indiana.
But it gave us lots of time to get to know each other. One rider is from Maine (another Maine rider joined us at dinner), and another is from Florida, and the rest of us are from Pennsylvania north. There are quite a few who are on their first East Coast Greenway ride.
As we went up and down the hills on Highway 9 between Bangor and Calais, the group started wondering about Sunday’s route. We knew it would be hilly — but this hilly? Should we have come with fatter tires after all and taken the Down East Sunrise Trail, with its imperceptible 1% grade? Maybe a third of the group has planned to take the trail. One person even brought a second set of tires, so she could swap out for something more road-friendly after two days. Why didn’t we do that?
At least it’s only a 46-mile day.
The Down East Trail is the longest trail on the East Coast Greenway, at around 85 miles. The nonprofit that runs it is now finishing up an extension into Ellsworth, the gateway to Acadia National Park, and is envisioning an extension in the other direction, into the Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge. Pull out and sell the rails to build the trail seems to be the way it’s done.
And just how isolated is this eastern part of Maine? Our bus driver said you wouldn’t take this highway in the winter because of the snow — you’d stick to the coast. He pointed out signs with the letters TWP and a number. That’s how areas of forest and or other “town without people” get identified in rural Maine. We went through an area where there used to be a lot of logging and paper mills, but there’s much less of that here. A few homes, small — small — grocery stores (think the size of a trailer), one little elementary school and lots and lots of forest and not much else, until we finally saw a sign for a proper supermarket … 7 miles away. That would be in Calais, a town of about 3,000.
And between Calais and Machias? We’re heading out with boxed lunches because there’s nowhere to buy food.