Destination North! Planning on stopping in Caribou and will decide at that time if Mabel will see the tip top of Maine at Fort Kent. Steinbeck went all the way up so I at least should consider it. I am this close, so consider seeing if there are any big differences over the 100 extra miles or just more of the same.
We are still on Hwy 1 and the road is pretty well maintained. The logging trucks thunder along, the driver’s familiar with the route so their speeds dwarf my own. Its ok though, I take my time, probably being cursed by the anxious drivers, intent on “getting somewhere” by a certain time. I on the other hand have time and can stare out the windows as the trees pass. It’s hard to imagine the logs on the back of the trucks turned into usable lumber but we will see processing centers on our route, the logs prepped and turned into value. Even though there are trees for as far as one can see, I don’t know where they get all the lumber. The supply must get exhausted at some point and any replanting will take years to mature. Will we run out of wood I wonder, and if so what are the true implications?
I am more convinced that we are a “Nation of stuff” as I travel farther North. Items sit in yards, faded For Sale signs announcing their owner is no longer in need of their services. Some items are in an order of sort, allowing for easy browsing others are set for a hunting excursion. I think back to my days at Banana Republic where the most difficult items to sell would end up in the jeep, awaiting anxious hands in search of value. When it comes to bargains the thrill is in the hunt.
A church sign proclaims, “If man evolved from monkeys, why are there still monkeys?” I don’t have an answer and Mabel was mum on the subject, barely stirring when I solicited a response.
We start to see potatoes, their white tops recognized from my days on Long island. Steinbeck wrote of the three great potato areas in the USA, Maine, Suffolk County and Idaho. I don’t think Suffolk County would make today’s list. Potato fields for McFries have been replaced with McMansions. The small plants remind me of those late summer nights, driving the backroads and the cool winds from the ocean carrying a faint pesticidal odor. We didn’t think much of it, it was the smell of summer.
More American flags announce the coming of another town. They are quite handy in limiting your speed, not that I drive fast with the camper. I am “poking along” as some would say, at times with a mini parade of cars close behind. Should I pull over and let them pass? It all depends on my mood. It seems like each town has a Dollar General or a Family Dollar store within their city limits. The big towns have one of each, expanding their choices and boosting competition. But how much wiggle room is in their prices anyway, and will multiple outlets have the effect, of say, a Walmart moving in? On the store I just pass, a red “Clearance” banner hangs on the front. How do they price clearance items at a Dollar Store? Is it 5 for a dollar or 10 for a dollar? I am convinced that Dollar stores are becoming the new 5 & 10 stores for smaller communities and will look at the fundamentals when the trip is over.
Windmills dot the mountain, sentinels in a row, their large turbines with varying rotation providing power. They kill the view, sight pollution if there is a term for it. If not, I just made one up but I doubt it. I understand their importance but does their utility outweigh the visual impact? Maybe it’s a question for the locals as they look out their windows daily, for me it’s just in passing. Over time they may get used to those windmills sitting high on the mountain and its tourists like me that pose the questions I did above.
Pulling the trailer has its disadvantages, especially when it comes to needing a quick reaction. The pictures I have missed because I couldn’t pull over far outnumber the pictures I have taken. As we were heading North I saw a figure down the road walking towards traffic. As the distance between us shortened, I saw It was a woman pushing a cart and day glow letters spelled “Walking My Way to Key West.” Now this would have been someone to talk with as I could see, even at this speed, that she didn’t seem equipped for the journey. Key West is a long way away as I was assuming she meant Florida. Please let me know if there is a Key West Maine. She would have been a great conversation, I just know it, as there are so many questions that could have been asked. But, I have the trailer and a car was behind me so I had to keep moving, her story remaining unknown.
We finally pull into Caribou, survey the city and since hungry, find a small burger place just outside of town. They have car shows every Monday and the sign said to “leave lights on if wanting service.” It looked like a neat place so I went inside and placed an order, this time including a chocolate shake, my first of the trip. The two behind the counter were looking at the camper, trying to determine its type. I used this as a Segway into conversation and found out that the woman wanted out of Caribou for a new start in Southern Maine. She didn’t have a plan which made me wonder if you need one. Does action, in this case, getting up and moving away facilitate the process of gaining a better life? Is it spontaneity or meticulous planning that assures success? I think a little of both is necessary.
We ate outside and spoke with a couple that was spending the day on their Harley motorcycle. They liked Mabel, asked her breed, and explained they had dogs but their daughter took their last one to live with her. I keep finding that dogs are a common denominator for good conversation. I asked how things were going in Caribou and the man took the lead. He mentioned that the county lags the state in job growth and the closing of Loring AFB in 1994 was hard on the area but they are slowing repurposing it. Their son works at the Defense Accounting Office, still housed on the base and the runways will be open soon. An aircraft refurbishing company is leasing space which will provide jobs and require an active runway. I got more of an optimistic feel from this couple than I did when discussing economics in Southern Maine. For some reason, their situation didn’t seem so hopeless. They left to continue enjoying the day on their motorcycle. Mabel and I decided to go on to Fort Kent via HWY 161, she cast the deciding vote. As I put my tray back inside the reatsurant, the lady yelled “safe travels.” I wonder if she will ever move from Caribou.
Forth Kent, although not at the very top of Maine, is pretty damn close and it offered access to the southern loop using HWY 11, similar to HWY 1. We stopped at the Fort and toured the inside. It was small but well preserved and felt like a step back in time. The Fort is typical of the area and I could have guessed its location if just shown a picture. We didn’t dally too long as I wanted to pivot my journey in a Southern direction. Maine is nice, but its big, and I kept feeling like I was going away from my journey instead of to it.
We pass Eagle Lake, the scenery astounding, as well as Portage and pull off to get some exercise at a small park near the river in Ashland. I noticed a motorcycle off to the back with a man appearing to set up camp. This trip is all about meeting people so I make my way over and extend a greeting not knowing how it would be returned. I met Dan Humberd, his dog Perry, and his very cool Ural motorcycle. Travel routes were discussed and we laughed heartily when it was determined we were both on the John Steinbeck TWC tour. Mabel wanted to play so badly, but Perry didn’t feel the jubilation leaving Mabel to blow off steam on her own. We continued talking as he set up his hammock and he explained using freecampsites.net to find this spot. I have thought to use it but at this point of the trip feel more comfortable at an established site, rather than a community park. As we talked, he looked admiringly at the comforts of the camper and I looked admiringly at the freedom that comes with being 34 and owning a kick ass motorcycle. I pushed on, thinking Maine was smaller than it is, and hoping to soon be in New Hampshire. Check out his Facebook page, Adventures with Perry.
New Hampshire would have to wait as I now go into survival mode. Up until 5:00 my thoughts are centered around what I am going to write. Looking out the window I wonder about a variety of things and these wonderings find themselves in my blue journal and eventually on the blog. But after 5:00, all thoughts turn to where I am going to stay and what I am having for dinner. Still not adventurous enough to knock on a farmer’s door and ask to stay in his field, it is 2017 after all, I look for an actual campground. Thankfully they are marked on the map. Breaking with convention I jump onto Interstate 95 heading South to Medway and the Pine Grove Campground which was a few miles off the highway. It is dark, and a little foggy, but I find it with the owner guiding me to my spot next to the river. The rains pushed through about two hours before so the air was heavy and full of bugs but we cooked dinner, walked around the campground and called it a night still in the large state of Maine.