Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Flex Tour in Maine: Day 3, 20 June 2017 - Waldoboro to Rockport

Last night after my call home to check in with Kathy, I shared with Steve an event she related. It appears that she lost power in the wee hours due to a raccoon that had gone up our power pole and incinerated itself on the transformer, causing the outage. He responded dryly, "Too bad you guys are vegetarian." Indeed.

R.I.P., you wild and crazy guy.

There was some rain and wind in the morning, but it was over by ride-time and it turned out to be a pretty sunny day. We had breakfast at Moody's Diner, of course.

Like the previous two days, the course was pretty much non-stop up and down. When we got to the attractive town of Rockland (not to be confused with RockPORT, about five miles up the road) we were all hungry, so we cruised down and back along the main commercial street, settling on what might be best described as a food truck, without the truck, but with a handful of outdoor tables.

Our plan was to spend two nights in the Rockport area. We had reserved rooms at the Ledges on the Bay hotel but it turned out to be midway between the commercial areas of Rockland and Rockport, about two and a half miles of climbing from each, and definitely not a convenient walk to restaurants, stores, and pubs. Mitch easily convinced us that it would be much better if we stayed at the very nice Rockland Harbor Hotel at the edge of the commercial district of Rockland. Over the phone he negotiated an acceptable cancellation charge at Ledges, but we decided to ride up there to check it out before making a final decision. The view was great, but it would be very inconvenient to stay so far from town. In the end, Shannon at the Ledges told us that her manager had agreed to waive the cancellation charge because we were on bikes. How nice! If we are ever up there while traveling in a motorized vehicle, we will definitely be staying at Ledges by the Bay for the view and the staff, if nothing else.

Steve, Fred, and Seth at Ledges by the Bay in Rockport

We coasted back down the hill into Rockland, checked into the modern, clean, and comfortable Rockland Harbor Hotel, got cleaned up, and headed out to find dinner. We had a pretty good meal in Rockland on the outdoor deck of The Landings Restaurant & Lounge, entertained by seven elderly women practicing their steel drum numbers on the pier next door. (That situation has a very interesting back story.) After dinner we roamed around that part of town and discovered a little park featuring a display of old shipping lane buoys. Nobody paid much attention when Steve wandered off, that is until there was a sudden, deafening clang of the bell on the buoy we were standing beside. Looking up we saw Steve on the other side of the bell holding a sizable rock and grinning broadly. A few minutes later we realized that the buoy park was adjacent to Rockland's police station. Luckily nobody came out to take Steve into custody. I suspect it is a regular event for those working in the station. Our final stop before heading back to the hotel was the Rockland Harbor Brewing Company, which had a good selection of their own brews on tap.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Flex Tour in Maine: Day 2, 19 June 2017 - Brunswick to Waldoboro

Under somewhat overcast skies, we headed to breakfast at the Brunswick Diner, a very short walk from our hotel. Mitch was excited about breakfast possibilities featuring lobster and he was not disappointed with his selection of a lobster omelette. 

This business is located between the hotel and the diner. "Seniors on the Go" seems somehow appropriate for our group, even if Mitch doesn't quite qualify just yet.

An hour or after breakfast, we were back on the road and soon hit the first (and by comparison to what came later) the easiest climb of the day -- the bridge over the Androscoggin River.

Steve and Seth. Photo by Fred.

Pretty soon, the sky cleared, it warmed up, and we were treated to some pretty fine Maine eye candy.

In fact, it warmed up enough that these guys, delivering many tons of ice to convenience stores each day, figured that it wasn't such a bad job after all.

Mitch, fine tuning his skills at group selfie photography.

Lunch was water-side at Schooner Landing in Damariscotta. Over the many years I have dined with Steve, he has been the last one served more than his fair share. On this occasion, he was left nursing his beer while the rest of us finished our meals before his own finally appeared. Our waitress was sweet, but spectacularly incompetent. Perhaps it was her first day of a summer job with zero training? Anyway, when the checks arrived, Steve complained that there was no compensation for having to wait so long for his food. She offered that he didn't have to leave her a tip. Steve was having none of it, and sent her to talk to her supervisor. Eventually she returned with an amended check, but never took his credit card or asked for payment for his meal. Finally, we simply got up and left, with Steve feeling a little better about his meal that ended up being on the house.

Mitch chatting up a couple of our neighbors at Schooner Landing.

Between Damariscotta and Moody's Diner and Motel in Waldoboro, we climbed approximately 357 gazillion hills ranging from 10 to 15% (or maybe more). Somewhere along the way, I even got off and pushed my bike up the steepest section of one of them. When we finally got to Moody's, it was a cruel joke to discover that while the diner was at street level, the motel (which is actually a cluster of cabins) was at the top of a hill that was a match for anything we had just climbed!

Once we had reached the summit, we were checked in by the elderly, but perky and talkative, daughter of the original Moody who opened the establishment exactly 90 years previously. I believe that literally everyone living in the great State of Maine has visited Moody's Diner at least once in their lives. The 90th anniversary meant at least one important thing for some in our group: Moody's famous pies were on sale for 90 cents a slice instead of the normal $5 to $6! Food at the diner was a challenge for me. Eventually I settled on eggplant parmesan with spaghetti but without the parm. I couldn't finish it all. The other guys seemed satisfied with their choices. Steve and Mitch were very pleased with their peanut butter pie, especially at the anniversary price.

One little tech note. I use a Google Nexus 5X cellphone with Google's Project Fi service that automatically picks the strongest cell provider among T-Mobile, Sprint, and US Cellular here in the States. Today I noticed that I was connected to US Cellular for the first time. Project Fi also provides service, including high-speed data, almost everywhere in the world for the same data rates it charges here in the US ($10/GB, charged precisely based on actual usage), with no need to swap SIM cards. My wife and I spend a good deal of time in Europe each year, so that is a killer feature for us. The catch is that you must use one of a very few phones to get these features. Highly recommended for Android users who generally don't use very much data.

The cabin at Moody's that Steve and I shared. Basic, but clean.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Flex Tour in Maine: Day 1, 18 June 2017 - Standish to Brunswick

Last night David basically told us to ignore the weather forecasts, as the Maine weather rarely does what the meteorologists predict, and he was right. In spite of predictions for a good chance of rain, there was no rain, and initial cloudiness turned to sunshine by the time we reached Portland. 

We got a bit of a late start because of some minor bike issues. Finally on the road, we made a left instead of a right, or maybe vice-versa, so we added a couple of miles to today's ride before actually getting on route. Along the way, Fred decided that he likes his rental bike, including the fact that it has airless, flat-proof tires. By the time we got to town, he had decided to keep it for the week, so we made a slight modification to the route to stop by Gorham Bike & Ski to change the rental period to the full week. While at this very nice shop, Steve had an adjustment made to his rear derailleur and bought an attractive hi-viz jacket. Mitch was fascinated by some kind of attachment that converts your bike to a cargo-bike, and I stayed outside keeping an eye on the bikes and sending out some status messages on my phone.

From the shop, it was just a few blocks to the waterfront, where we settled into an outside table at Dry Dock Restaurant and Tavern.

From left to right: Steve, Mitch, and Fred
The route out of Portland was on several miles of waterfront recreation trail, with lots of pretty views and a trail-side, narrow-gauge train carrying tourists.

Fred and Seth
From that point on, it was pretty much up and down until we arrived at our hotel, The Travelers Inn in Brunswick. It is an old property, but it has been nicely remodeled and was both clean and comfortable. Right next door we found an excellent Thai restaurant called Sweet Angel, which we all enjoyed.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Flex Tour in Maine: Day 0, 17 June 2017 - Standish

It has been two years since my last real tour, the most recent one being my wet, cold, hilly, and windy pedal from the north of Scotland to Carlisle in the north of England. This time we (touring buddy Fred, Florida buds Steve and Mitch, and I) packed up our stuff and headed for the cool forests of coastal Maine in the U.S. The plan was a seven day out and back from Standish (near Portland) to the Rockland-Rockport-Camden (RRC) area. In accordance with my recent conversion to the lower daily mileage camp of bicycle touring, the goal was to do 40 miles or so for each of the first three and last three days, and a day of casual exploration of RRC in the middle. We expected to be riding somewhere between 270 and 300 miles all told. Everyone agreed to the theme of the trip, which was to remain flexible and to take things as they come – a “flex tour”.

For Steve, the Maine ride was to be just one part of a longer road trip with his life-partner, Debi, and their latest RV. While we were doing this little bike tour, the RV would be parked at our starting point and Debi would be visiting with a family member in Massachusetts.  Fred flew in from Colorado the day before the first ride, as did Mitch and I from Florida.

A little background. A few months ago, at a birthday party for a mutual friend, I had the extreme pleasure of being seated next to a most delightful woman named Elaine. We soon got to talking and she shared that she and her husband David winter in Florida, but in the summer live in Maine on many wooded acres near Standish. “What a coincidence!” I exclaimed. “Some friends and I will be bicycling in Maine this June, starting in Portland!” Before I knew it, Elaine had not only invited us to start and end our trip at their place, but also had insisted on picking us up at the Portland airport and housing and feeding us as well.

A month or so later, Steve met another Maine couple, Elly and Charlie, at the Florida Bicycle Safari, and within minutes they too offered to put us up and feed us in South Harpswell if we were nearby. A few weeks prior to starting our trip, we all agreed to do just that if they were still willing, which they were. That diversion added some miles to our proposed route, but we weren’t about to forego their invitation. We were confident that it would all work out somehow.

Returning to the Portland airport, Elaine was there waiting for us when Mitch and I arrived, and in minutes her husband David drove up to the door of baggage claim, loaded us, our bags, and our bikes into their SUV and we were on our way. After a tasty lunch in town, we headed toward Standish, hoping to find that Fedex had delivered Fred’s bike to their home. As luck would have it, the delivery was not made because none of us had considered that Fedex would not leave the bike without someone there to sign for it. All that was left was a notice that they would try again on MONDAY – a day after we expected to ride out! A frenzied phone call to the Fedex office confirmed that there really was nothing we could do. I reached Fred while he was between planes in Atlanta and he said he would be willing to rent a bike if we could locate a suitable one prior to the ride start.

Simultaneously, Steve was driving his RV around the vicinity, trying to find Elaine and David’s “camp” location where we were going to be staying. He called Elaine’s mobile to ask for some additional directions, but just as they were being given, Mitch and I noticed his RV pulled off the road as we whizzed by. David spun the SUV around, gathered up Steve and the RV in his wake, and we all headed to the camp.

After dropping Mitch and me to assemble our bikes, David and Steve went off to check out some possibilities for Fred, and ended up with a small Cannondale road bike owned by their daughter-in-law, along with a nice hybrid, including a rack, rented from a bike shop in Portland. Feeling proud of their accomplishments, they stopped in a nice pub near the airport to celebrate, then picked up Fred at the airport and returned to the camp.

Now, let me stop for a minute to review the facts. Having never laid eyes on, nor spoken a word to, any one of us prior to that morning, this kind and generous man spent the rest of the afternoon driving around the Portland area picking up, dropping off, and equipping our sorry crew. Finally home a bit before dinner time, he immediately joined Elaine to provide us with a wonderful dinner and delightful company until everyone was too full and tired to continue. Really, REALLY, incredible pair. “Oh, no. That’s just the way we are in Maine,” said Elaine. Wow! In that case, there are quite a few world leaders I would like to relocate to Maine.

David, still smiling!

Oh, yes, and after dinner David took us all out for a pontoon boat cruise on Lake Watchic.