P2P part 2: Boston to Portland, Maine on the East Coast Greenway

Three days, about 170 miles on the East Coast Greenway. Plus another 40 miles around Portland.

Live by the Garmin, die by the Garmin.

We certainly needed the help of our electronic gadget to find a few trails that are part of the East Coast Greenway on the second half of our P2P (Providence to Portland) adventure.

I’m especially thinking of one with an unmarked, overgrown entrance on curve of a neighborhood street and another spot where it helped navigate us from Somerville’s Assembly Point neighborhood to the start of the Bike Trail to the Sea in Everett (though we still struggled with the MBTA parking lot and roads surrounding it — how about signage for the benefit of area residents, never mind strangers like us, Everett?)

But we also opted to follow the Garmin’s directions over East Coast Greenway signs, and that led us to this “road” in North Berwick, Maine:

Oh, there’s more — the adventures of touring!

We have heard tales of three different Garmin models showing three different directions; did our Garmin fail to download the electronic cue sheets properly? Or is it haunted?

Our three days on the bike — 72 miles from Boston to Hampton, NH, 57 to friends in Kennebunkport and a final 40 to a friend in Falmouth, just north of Portland— was another reminder of the challenges facing the East Coast Greenway and creating a route that goes through major cities, rather than avoiding them.

Take getting out of Boston. Thanks in part to the non-existent signage (and some short photo stops), I figure it took us about three hours to go the 17 miles to get beyond the Lynn waterfront and finally put the Boston skyline behind us.

UPDATE: So much signage was added in late 2020, thanks to a hardcore East Coast Greenway volunteer we have biked with. Thank you! It should be much simpler now.

A former Ford factory gets reimagined into a mixed-use development with public space.

Oh but there were plenty of highlights too.

Loved seeing dockless Lime bikes along the Bike Trail to the Sea. I’m guessing some clever employees of businesses along the trail ride them to work and know no one will claim the shared bike during the day, so they can reclaim it for the ride home.

We continued picking up trails … in Marblehead, Salem, Peabody, Danvers and Topsfield. Some are paved, some are not. Please work on your signage so locals know how they connect and where they go (as an outsider, I’m all for marketing them as the Border to Boston route). And there are a few weak links that could use some TLC (I’m looking at you, North Salem, and that trail entrance hidden on the curve on Dahlia Avenue, the poor state of the trail along Northshore Road and then the overlap with the mall exit.)

We stopped midway for sandwiches at the shop owned by Kate’s husband… that Cuban fueled me for the next 35+ miles. Generously filled, and not just because we were riding with Kate. Next time I’m trying the Manny meatball sandwich. Betty Ann’s is the place to stop in Danvers, and it gets extra points for being across the street from the trail.

We loved the quiet roads after Boxford (aside from a very short piece of Route 133). That turnoff to the trail for Newburyport, however, is one we’d never have guessed was a legitimate trail had we not had the Garmin. And that we at one point needed to take the left spur, a skinny track that dumped us out at the Newburyport train station…

Newburyport is also the end of the line for one of the MBTA lines, with stops along the way in Salem, Swampscott and Lynn, if you want (or need) to lop off some of our route. Oh, there’s also an ice cream spot and a taco place, plus at least one brewery that someone decided needed direct access from a trail, fence be damned.

Thumbs up to business signage on a trail.

And then some lovely trail, made lovelier with some art. Should more trails be like this?

Finally, New Hampshire!

Fact about the East Coast Greenway in New Hampshire: just 16 miles but only 0.15 miles is on protected greenway, the smallest percentage of any state.

On a Monday evening before the “summer people” really arrive, it didn’t matter. We happily pedaled along the beach, breathing the salty air, until we needed to turn left toward our hotel on U.S. 1.

The next day, stalling and stalling because of rain until we decided we couldn’t wait any longer and it must be almost over (and we brought rain jackets, so why not use them?), we retraced our route to Hampton Beach, oohed at the homes along the coast in Rye and then stopped on the outskirts of Portsmouth to admire a row of classic English cars — Clive knows them all. Turns out the owner was once a big road cyclist, and after using an ebike on a bike-and-barge trip down the Danube he is now the proud owner of an ebike with drop handlebars. Cool to hear how someone is getting back on a bike!

Signs and cue sheets diverged, and we went for the quick and easy route through Portsmouth. A true sign of Maine as soon as we crossed the bridge: a lobster pound!

It’s all road until the Eastern Trail succeeds in pushing south from Kennebunk. When will that happen? Building trails is slow work. So sometimes we shared the route with Adventure Cycling’s U.S. Bike Route 1, until it veered closer to the coast and we stuck with the Eastern Trail’s interim road routing.

It’s always wonderful to end a bike ride at the home of friends— thank you, Pat and Jim. We took a day off to catch up, walk the beach and add 30 leek seedlings to our panniers (I know! But this place in Arundel is just the best for them…). And then it was off to Portland and Falmouth, much of it on the Eastern Trail and through the beautiful Scarborough marshes … until it runs out.

The Eastern Trail Alliance has done a fantastic job raising money to close a 1.6-mile gap from Scarborough into South Portland (and get riders off a busy road). Now it’s just a waiting game until the project goes out for bid and construction begins. This year? Next year? Yes, trail building can take a lot of time, even when you have the money.

Rain at the beginning of the day, rain at the end … but it was great to see Chris, yet another WAY rider. Chris was badly injured on our ride last year — a driver in St. Augustine thought there was time to make a turn when Chris had the right of way. I’ll spare you the gory details, but it was wonderful to see how much progress he has made with his recovery.

One last day to do a mini lighthouse bike ride around Portland, see yet another WAY rider plus Kristine, the East Coast Greenway staffer responsible for New England, discover a decadent dessert at Scratch Baking …and of course lobster.

And then it’s over. An easy Amtrak ride back to Boston (the Downeaster accepts bikes in Brunswick, Portland and Boston only), then home.

Author: alliumstozinnias

A gardener (along with the Brit) who has discovered there is more than hybrid tomatoes. And a cyclist.

6 thoughts on “P2P part 2: Boston to Portland, Maine on the East Coast Greenway”

  1. I love reliving our 2012 WAY ride. I can’t believe the MBTA trail is still not marked. I remember riding around that parking lot for a very ling time.
    Some of you should sign up to “Ride the State” in CT on June 29. Sign up is in the ECG website.
    It’s not on “my” very beautiful Hop River Trail but the Farmington Valley Canal Trail is a beauty in its own right. If you do sign up, and want to ride the Hop on Sunday (40 miles round trip) email me for details.


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