A crowing rooster summoned me from a short slumber on my host family’s lawn in Brunswick, and I managed to stumble sleepily out of my tent in time to say goodbye to Henry and his two children as they made their way to work and school. I shook the night’s rain off of my tent, laced and velcroed the cycling shoes on my slightly aching feet, and headed north into the morning’s ocean fog. A short 30 mile spin to Daramascotta, ME would give me a chance to dry off, do some bike maintenance, figure out what route I would take next. As my previous night’s hosts pointed out, Brunswick was where 3 major cycling routes converged (East Coast Greenway, Atlantic Coast route, and the Northern Tier), so if I decided not to travel to Bar Harbor and see Acadia National Park, I would only have to come back a little ways on busy Route 1 to get onto my westbound path.
We rode through the Brunswick Naval Air Station and took a few photos while I put my raincoat on, and then we rolled through the woods near Bath and Wiscasset. It felt cold, clammy, and a constant mist covered everything until it was either sticky or totally damp.
The drizzle and indeciscion were muting my good spirits slightly, so I tapped on my go-to happy place to amuse myself. TouringTunes has sort of a double meaning– Tunes is one of Petunia’s many nicknames, but I’m also crazy about music and enjoy the company of the tunes playing on my little radio, or sometimes I just sing loudly while rolling down the street, unashamed of my pinched and scrawny voice. I saw an abandoned VW bus on a hill, and was inspured to serenade the woods with my rendition of “Goin up the Country” in my best Kermit the Frog-esque voice.
A set of signs on telephone post kicked off a little 2000’s R&B medly of forgettable pop chart hits and booty anthems. (I’ll spare you if you didn’t catch the reference, you lucky person).
There were wide shoulders on the bridges over the Kennebec River, then the Sheepscot River, and finally the Daramiscotta River, but the wind made my rig a little unsteady. I never felt unsafe, though, and most cars gave me plenty of room.
My Uncle Mike had arranged for me to stay with his brother and sister in law, Joel and Nancy, in Daramiscotta, another of the beautiful Maine coastal penninsulas. I was happy for the short and easy day, but I was also looking forward to meeting these distant relatives. My Uncle told me in advance that they had bred standard poodles for 40-50 years, and I knew I’d arrived at the right house when I saw their poodle-decal mailbox, and all doubt was eliminated when I saw this car in the garage.
Before any humans came to greet me, three tall, poofy showdogs came to the door, barking and jumping, startling Tunes. Nancy came to the door a minute later, and put the dogs in a back room and apologized that she hadn’t been able to socialize them as well as her dogs in the past, as she said it was getting harder for her to do things as she was getting older. Consequently, she wasn’t sure how they’d react to Petunia, so she kept them apart and graciously let Tunes have the run of the house while the poodles were in a separate in-house doggie salon.
Joel, a former Navy pilot, and Nancy, a retired nurse, both in their eighties, were as sweet as can be. Even though we’d never met, they made me feel totally comfortable and welcome, and we talked with an ease of familiarity like we’d known each other forever. Even though our genetic link was limited, my father’s sister’s husband’s brother and his wife were already becoming very dear to me. Sadly, however, I had arrived during a time of grieving. Just that morning, they discovered that the puppy that they had hoped to nurse back to health after being delivered by emergency C-section had not survived through the night. Petunia and I watched as Joel buried the little box in the yard with great care. It was a hard day, but they were happy to see Petunia, I think, despite their sorrows. Poodles were obviously were obviously at the epicenter of Nancy’s life, and there wasn’t a surface that lacked some image of the curly-haired, poof-ball tail breed. From the prancing poole coth napkins, to the wall decor with illustrations and fancy-breed magazine covers, the fuzz-domed crocheted wine-bottle cozy, to the many framed American Kennel Club awards, there were poodles everywhere. At one time they’d had seven dogs, but now there were just the three, after the sad absence of the lost puppy.
Where there were not poodles, there were flowers. When Nancy and Joel were first married she recalled that he’d been taken aback by her omnipresent floral arrangements, exclaiming, “I feel like I”m living in a funeral parlor!” Dainty and fragrant grape-jelly colored lilacs, soft honeysuckle, and towering lupins were artfully arranged on nearly every table in every room of the house, including the large screened-in patio. It was really remarkable. And Nancy was readying more bouquets in preparation for a visit from her sister and brother in law, Mary Beth and David, who were hailing from Utah/Alaska (they have a home in each state, but I can’t remember which one they flew in from!), after driving up from their college reunions in CT.
We shared a lovely dinner all together, with many topics covered from the obvious bike trip, to the dullness of the Middle Ages, and David, an orthopedic surgeon, even volunteered a quick consult about my foot pain in my bike shoes. But most importantly, Joel and Nancy shared a lot about their children, and in particular, their son Jonathan, who had passed away in the last year of a rare form of thyroid cancer at only 57. “Jonathan had no bucket list,” Nancy said lovingly of her late son. “He was just a happy individual, and if there was somewhere he wanted to travel or something he wanted to do, once he set his mind to it, he did it. He had everything to live for– his wife, his daughters, his family, his business, his passion for life. And he fought tooth and nail until the end. He would’ve loved what you’re doing,” she said, and looking at Petunia, added, “and he’d be getting her to play from the moment he walked in the house.”
I was sad that I had not gotten to meet Jonathan in this lifetime, but felt the love his family had for him and was glad that such a kindred spirit had touched their lives so profoundly and had lived with such passion and joy. It was inspirational to hear about such a life well lived.
After a big dish of coffee ice cream and more late-night conversation, I slept on a comfy bed outdoors on the porch, contentedly watching the first fireflies I’ve seen all season flashing through the grass below. I suddenly knew that I didn’t want to make the trek up to Bar Harbor just yet, but that I felt like heading west, and taking on the of the first major climb through New Hampshire. It didn’t matter that I’d have to backtrack 30 miles. Nothing is a wasted trip, there are no wrong turns, and I’d enjoyed the company of new friends and previously unknown family.
I got up at 5:30 the next morning, and quietly as I could, used the time to grease my chain, put away the clean clothes that my hosts had kindly let me wash, inflate my air-horn to maximum honkitude, check my tire pressure, clean the cushy inside of Tunes’s carrier, prep my water bottles, trim my pup’s face hair a bit (this seemed like an appropriate venue), unpack my tent to clean and dry it, check maps, charge electronics, and read a silly book of New Yorker cartoons about dogs.
When the rest of the household came to at about 9, we assembled a fruit, toast, and sausage breakfast with coffee, and enjoyed the warm summery weather on the patio.
By noon, after luxuriating over a hearty breakfast, it was finally time to move on. Before I left, Mary Beth and David made a very generous donation to my fundraiser for Gearing Up (which, if you’ve missed it before, is here: Give to Gearing Up for women in need). I was really moved by their thoughtfulness, and on top of that, David’s brilliantly simple suggestion to take an X-Acto knife to my cycling shoes to strategically relieve some pressure was really seeming to work out right away. It was good fortune on top of great. I wish I’d had the right words to thank them and my fabulous family-host-family, but I hope they knew how grateful I was despite my lack of adequate language.
The weather was really fantastic today, and the route was virtually unrecognizable without the thick coat of fog graying everything out on a nearsighted horizon. Petunia and I stopped at the Lighthouse Lobster Shack to see if they could give her a sample. I didn’t want her to leave the state without at least a little taste of Maine’s favorite crustacean. (Turns out, she was not much of a fan, but thanks to our new pals for letting her try some!)
I noticed my front derailleur was not shifting down to the smallest cog, which made some of the longer hills unnecessarily difficult. Knowing that it would be prudent to get this resolved before tackling the Kancamagus Pass, I stopped in at the Bath Ski & Cycle shop, where the staffers were quite amused to see me touring with Tunes. Jessie taught me how to make a little adjustment to change the limits of the derailleur movement and he also adjusted the cable tension a bit, and I was back in business with my granny gears, at no cost. Thanks guys! He tried to help me find a replacement for the one Arkel rain cover that I lost a couple of days ago, but the ones in stock did not fit the oversized bag with the tent. In the meantime, a cost-effective large black trashbag with a drawstring will hopefully do the trick. If I’ve really only lost that one thing in over 600 miles of riding around, I think that’s a pretty good ratio for me. Might even be my personal best!
The late start and a few stops meant that it was another low-mile day, but who’s counting? It was an awsome day. I made myself supper in Durham, enjoying a fancy espesso-bean and vanilla peanut butter and banana sandwich on an English muffin, with some dried fruits and a chocolate-covered graham cracker. YUM. Having missed out on the lawbstah, Tunes had her usual wet food mixed with dry kibble, eagerly chowing down. She ran a couple of miles on a bike path earlier, which seemed to be the highlight of her day.
A firefighter named Sam enthusiastically gave me permission to set up camp next to the Durham Fire and Rescue station. While there were no running water or outlets here, I had just filled my bottles in case of rogue camping sscarcity, so I still got a good-enough water-bottle-shower with enough left to chug tonight in preparation for the coming heat, sun, and sweat. Back to New Hampshah tomorrow!
Song of the day: Across the Universe, the Bill Frisell version. http://youtu.be/kXE0Jxn9tmo