Thursday, July 31, 2008


Those who know me best have seen me a little off my game lately. A host of challenges (from a failed job search to a crappy performance review, with plenty more from the Department of Mediocrity) have managed to put a wobble in my gait.

But as everyone knows, it's tough to love the weak.
Snapping out begins now.

Leave it to a perfect stranger to help that process along.
Tonight I came home to this:
This isn't just any garden variety piňata. It's from Dulcelandia, a Willie Wonka-like storefront about a quarter-mile west on Fullerton, where every manner of candy--from wax lips to candy dots to pixie sticks--are sold brazenly, with no regard for toothbrushes or the advent of fluoridated water. Did you know there's a specific product called "piňata pack" that's filled with starlight mints and laffy taffy, meant to withstand several blows from a kitchen broom? It's made in Columbia but distributed out of Candy Works right here in Chicago, Illlinois.

The best piňatas are also filled with toys, so this one comes with a bag of party favors, including a yo yo, a tiny pack labeled "ojos de plasticos con dulce (plastic eyes with candy)" and an inexplicable plastic carrot, as if to add an exclamation point to this bold burlesque of healthy eating.

By all rights, I should probably hate this thing. I've just spent the last three years studying food deserts and how they disproportionately affect poor neighborhoods, where kids are left with sugary sweets and greasy fries in place of real nutrition.

But I don't. I love this piňata with all my heart. No just for its hot-pink crepe paper torso and shiny silver points. Not just for the way it will sway back and forth at our neighborhood block party three short weeks from now. But because Jason, a hard-partying guy I met the other night while collecting signatures in support of the party -- a guy who's rented an apartment just five buildings away for the last seven years, but who I've literally never seen before; a guy who probably will be working the day of the party, but still got on his cell phone to call a couple of neighbors out to sign the petition; a guy who boldly admits he never wants kids but was itching to make a contribution to the effort -- went over to Dulcelandia the day after we met, bought this piňata and all its trimmings, and dropped it off at my house so the kids on this block would have something to look forward to.

I challenge anyone to stay in a lousy mood after that. In some ways, it's the kind of block we live on. Not all the time, mind you. You may recall some gang- and drug-related homicides in the last six months, for example. But we also have people like Jason, our resident
Boo Radley, who makes a promise and keeps it, and seems to know exactly what a gigantic pink piňata left on a porch can do for deflated spirits. If you're around on Saturday, August 23, feel free to come by and try your hand with a whacking stick.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Beating the Heat

We've had a long stretch of sweltering weather lately -- no real surprise for late July, of course, so it's hard to complain. But it's also hard to absorb day after day. Everything in the yard is just, I don't know, droopy. And I'm afraid I'm no exception.

A few years ago we discovered the single best antidote to summer's malaise: real fruit Italian ice ordered window-side. There's no shop to pop into, no public restroom. Just a single person usually reading a book behind the screen, waiting for some overheated citizen to pop over and order up a coconut and papaya, pineapple and lemon, or my standard, raspberry and lime.

You can sit on one of two park benches positioned in the parkway outside. The benches face the building, which is adorned with the handmade birdhouses you see above. And it's suddenly easy to forget there's traffic speeding by or blistering heat beyond the shade.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

And speaking of gardening . . .

Columbine is the perfect perennial for the horticulturally-challenged, like myself. It grows like a weed, and soon enough its leafy clusters have taken over the entire yard. There are certainly worse problems to have (like when the trumpet vines take over the yard, which is another quagmire altogether).

You can almost see all of evolutionary history in this columbine's petals. From dinosaur to chicken, it's all right there. My apologies to the half-pints, because I'm starting to think what's happening in this photo may be downright PG-13.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

First Harvest

My mother gardened like a pro when my sister and I were kids. Put us in a horrible company town 25 miles from the nearest school, with unpaved roads, party-line telephones, thieving neighbors, and frogs everywhere, and what does my mother do but put in a gorgeous rock garden that may have been the one good thing to take root in that murky geographic and psychic goo.

A few years later, we found ourselves in a better place, on a half acre across the street from a small but lively horse farm. My mother tilled that soil till the nutrients came up from the bottom. She fed us and the neighbors for pretty much four summers straight: tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, pumpkins, and buttery lettuce like you wouldn't believe. But this was always something my mother did, with her farming roots and bachelor's degree in home economics. Anything she touched seemed to bear fruit.

Not so much with me, unless you count the weeds that invaded our yard the first three years we were here. So imagine my surprise when I tucked a few zucchini seeds into our new deck planter last summer, and some little green shoots started to peek up through the soil. It wasn't long before prehistoric-looking leaves subsumed the entire bed (sorry, sweet nasturtiums and wild coreopsis), and we actually found ourselves with a yield! A real live yield we grilled in a basket on our mini Weber. Carmelized like molasses.

Our deck adores zucchini, I realized, and back went the seeds for year #2.

The first two beauties of the season are pictured at the top of this post, and at the risk of summoning one of those film strips that shows the progression of mooing cow to delicious ribeye, I'll share my zukes' evolution from stalk to plate, just about an hour ago. Here's hoping your dinner was as tasty as mine.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Sunday in the Park

Try to spell the name of the park nearest our house -- Kosciuszko -- and you'll understand why it goes by the nickname "Koz." Here was the scene today as John and I took a breather with our softball and gloves.

Kids on the playground, or exhausted from the playground:

Vendors doing a brisk business selling coconut ice, sliced cucumbers, or chicharrones:

And a girls' soccer match that reminded me of my days as the star fullback of our 4th-grade team (Saul's Saints; we had one win that year). These girls would have made quick work of me blindfolded:
Koz is an underfunded park that, until recently, had no nets on the basketball hoops and sagging ones on the tennis courts. Thanks to the people who live in these pictures, the City is reinvesting resources and making Koz a nerve center again: the kind of place you want to go to play on the swings, grab an elote, or watch a soccer game that makes you glad you're not a fullback anymore.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Day 8: Powered by the Finish Line

If this were Day 2, we would have been doomed.

Day 2: Wiscasset to Brunswick, via Bath (24 miles)

The word of the day was pain. My right knee hurt when I woke up but got steadily worse with each passing hill, grinding on inclines more than 7 or 8%. Hills I could have taken blindfolded yesterday proved to be endurance tests beyond, well, endurance. There were tears and gritted teeth, plus a demoralizing moment when, for the first time, I had to alight the bike on nothing more than a bunny hill and walk it up to the top. The joy that's greeted us around every corner -- because it might be a lovely town or glassy body of water -- today felt like an adversary. The agony of defeat.

John was a trooper, staying slow behind me and offering words of encouragement when I came close to falling apart. The roads, though, were kind and forgiving. And a brief junket to beautiful Bath (the perfect town to picture living in for a good long stretch, if not for the missing bike shop) let us rest our aching bones, grab some locally-roasted coffee, and get directions from the two angels of the natural food store, who seemed to read my mind, and body, in suggesting a flat if roundabout route into Brunswick.

This was the same road we'd learned about from that second cyclist stopped by Boston Bob the day before. I ran into him outside of Red's Eats and he tipped me off to a great bike path that wasn't on our map. A merciful thing, because it was a paved, traffic-free, and relatively even stretch that, best of all, spit us out right in front of Frosty's donut shop in the heart of downtown Brunswick, Maine!

Brunswick came up quickly and caught me by surprise, and by the time we pulled into the Sea Dog brewery for a victory beer, I was overcome by emotion in a way that also surprised me, and I blubbered like a baby . . . for our 325 miles in eight perfect days, for the 40+ mile/day average distance, for the agonizing knee pain that burned now even on the downhills; for all the majestic views, great nights' sleep, and kindness of strangers; for the way my 42-year-old body rose to an occasion I never even envisioned doing, much less doing well; for the reliability of my trusty Bianchi (thanks to Kevin at Boulevard Bikes for handpicking my perfect steed); but mostly for the way a trip John and I knew could go either way -- we could get along famously or drive each other over a cliff -- felt so fully like a partnership, like such a peaceful and productive collaboration, that we fantasized about just chucking it all: the jobs, the house, the urban living, and just going until our resources ran out.

Alas, one key resource -- a healthy body -- had its number come up today. But even that cup was over half full. If this had happened Day 2 or even Day 6, there would have been the deflated call to my parents to come pick my sorry ass up off the asphalt. As it is now, we'll ride triumphantly, if painfully, into their driveway, and they'll welcome us with open arms and eager ears. Our good fortune continues to shine.Now, sadly, the real world begins to encroach. There are at least five televisions on in this restaurant, and we've learned despite trying to block them out the recent baseball scores, political scandals, and weather reports. Back at the house the internet will offer its temptations (I should really clean out that inbox before it's even more full of spam). Our cell phones will come out of roaming and we'll probably balance our checkbooks.

But for eight much-too-brief days, all of that was irrelevant, and we were just bodies with machines, and bodies as machines. This is as important, I think, as flexing the mind. I only hope this time next summer, we may be sitting in a place not unlike this one, recounting another ride.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Day 7: Powered by Ibuprofen

Pain is the enemy of miles. Thankfully today was a short one.

Day 7: Pemaquid to Wiscasset, via Damariscotta (32.75 miles)

Waking up to the sun after a good night's sleep. But also a bit of an allergic reaction -- bottom lip swelled up like a plastic-surgery mishap. Probably from all the Deet. (Deet, our love affair may be over, alas).

My legs seem to be operating at full capacity again, but my right knee is screaming from what's probably a repetitive stress issue finally catching up with me. John made a quick adjustment to my seat, so hopefully that'll do the trick. Either way I'm loading up on ibuprofen. Just two more days between here and the finish line; I refuse to give up so close to the end.

After a tasty breakfast sandwich at New Harbor's Cupboard Cafe, we rolled into Damariscotta, a vibrant town with a great independent bookstore and adjacent coffee shop. We ordered two walkaround mochas for a quick jaunt through Main Street. Then, it was on to Wiscasset.

We were about four miles out of town when a septuagenarian on a moped flagged us over to the side of the road. He introduced himself as Boston Bob and said he'd biked most of the country. He loved biking and all who biked, he said. He was upset we hadn't come through the day before because he would have insisted we stay at his place, leaving me quietly relieved we hadn't come through a day earlier, though I'm sure it would have made a great story. After we mentioned we were from Chicago, he told a convoluted story about a friend of a friend's son, or maybe his own son-in-law (we lost track), who turned out to be Arne Duncan, CEO of the Chicago Public Schools. Boston Bob insists that if Obama is elected, Duncan will be Secretary of Education, mark his words. As a parting gift, he handed us what may be our oddest but most coveted souvenir of the trip: a poem plunked out on a manual typewriter that morning (but dated the following day), about being a "Mainer" as opposed to a tourist, and watching the world from "inside the windows" -- curious claims from a guy who calls himself Boston Bob, but he was a wonderful kook and it was worth the stop. We were silently grateful for the next cyclist who scaled that hill, though, since Boston Bob called him over and gave us the opening to say our fond but slightly overdue good-byes.

Wiscasset's Main Street is also Rt. 1, so traffic roars through the center of an otherwise quaint downtown. It also makes for some tough crossing to Red's Eats, home of the purportedly best lobster rolls in the country. A PBS documentary about the history of the sandwich actually featured Red's some years ago. Sadly, the actual Red, who'd run the place since the 1950s, died just over a week ago. Red's passing doesn't seem to have affected the length of the lines, though. A couple of regulars ahead of us said they're as long as they've ever been.
After more than an hour snaking our way up the side path to the tiny ordering counter, I had one of the deservedly hailed lobster rolls -- just cold pulled lobster on a grilled roll, melted butter on the side, no mayo. They even had a grilled cheese and some thick-cut onion rings for John. I doubt I could hold a job if I lived in Wiscasset; I'd spend an hour in that line everyday if that sandwich was on the other side of it.

Fat and happy, we cycled our way to the Chewonki campgrounds, on the Chewonki Neck peninsula. This was just a tiny triangle on our map but ended up being the most beautiful and well-maintained camping facility either of us has ever seen. It's on a strange road that shoots off Rt. 1, and the approach is dotted by a bunch of light-industrial operations, including a small airport where prop planes take off and land all day, directly over the camp (which is actually pretty cool).

You can imagine our surprise then to turn the corner and find a lush, green, hilly campground, with saltwater marshes, flocks of wild turkeys, and two adirondack chairs at the top of a hill for gazing out over the full expanse of it. They also had tennis courts and a saltwater swimming pool, but this makes it sound so ridiculously resort-like that I almost hesitate to mention it. It's actually as pristine a place as I've ever stayed.

So pristine, in fact, that for a meager $9 an hour, you can canoe or kayak those saltwater marshes, and because only a fool would pass up a chance like that on such a beautiful day, we grabbed a couple of oars and set off on our way. We rowed ourselves through the narrow channel and underneath a railroad trestle to a small waterfall. John did most of the rowing like a pro. I took over until I saw a group of animals bobbing their heads out of the water (I assumed, of course, they were frogs. It's saltwater, I know, but with phobias there's no convincing). Frog scare notwithstanding, that canoe brought a kind of peace I didn't know was possible for me anymore, the sun glinting off the water, the trees shimmering gently in the breeze, and my breathing slow and steady as the rowing.

We'd picked up a loaf of rosemary bread in a nice shop in Wiscasset and a bunch of provisions from a little green grocer along Rt. 1. This was the stuff of our picnic, the last official dinner of the trip and therefore sort of melancholy. We tried to make a fire with some wood left behind by a previous camper, but the logs were too big and still slightly too damp. It was a valiant effort, but took more nurturing than either of us had the patience for. So we walked the grounds and watched the sky turn a dusky purple. We helped ourselves to those two adirondack chairs at the entrance to the camp, not far from the house where the sister/proprieters live.

Very faintly, we could hear the sweetest bluegrass music coming from the house. We glanced at the windows and were surprised to see not a stereo system, but one of the sisters actually bowing a fiddle with a small group of other musicians. We itched for them to come out to the lawn, or just to play a little louder, but instead we craned our necks to listen for a while. John said, "Just when you think a place can't be anymore amazing . . . " When we felt we'd invaded her privacy long enough, we headed back down to the dock for the last of the sunset.

It's an understatement to call Chewonki charmed -- it's a place we hope might become a tradition on our periodic trips to Maine. This was one of those magical days when everything comes together in a way that may be more than you deserve, but still exactly as much as you need.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Day 6: Powered by the Promise of Lobster

To John they're just sea bugs. To me they're a holy grail.

Day 6: Waldoboro to Pemaquid, via Round Pond and New Harbor (41.5 miles)

We woke up in our cabin, well-rested and surprised to see sunshine and blue skies, in the morning no less. The daily fog seems to have moved on to the east, though I doubt we've seen the last of it. We started the day with breakfast at Moody's Diner. It was 6am, so it was just us and the counter regulars. People seemed genuinely curious about our biking but not at all cowed, as if to say, 'Sure, it's interesting, but we see it all the time.'

I had a bowl of Rice Crispies and homemade corned beef hash, and John had an oniony omelet. Everything from the servers' white uniforms to the stained newspaper clippings on the walls makes the place seems stubbornly frozen in time. Our Rockland barista had mentioned something the other day about wanting to be famous without being big. Moody's is that wish in technicolor (actually in avocado green).

The riding this morning was beautiful but tough, starting with an intimidating climb out of Waldoboro that crushed our spirits a little. Then we made a wrong turn into a mosquito-infested private development, and our moods were pretty deflated. We tried to be strong for each other but finally both admitted we were feeling the burn, and this seemed to ease the pain.

Rerouted to the proper road we lumbered on, though a comment overheard at Moody's earlier started to haunt us. One of the customers had mentioned a bridge that was out near Damariscotta, which skirted a small portion of our route. Sure enough, when we reached the recommended turn-off, it was "Road Closed Ahead" and a forced change in plans.

Last time we left the suggested route it was a big mistake -- roads thick with traffic but nonexistent shoulders. So we proceeded now with caution and a hefty dose of nerves. As it turns out, Rt. 32, our alternate, proved smooth and relatively traffic-free. It delivered us unharmed into quaint Round Pond, a tiny coastal community with a general store, a couple of b&bs, two lobster pounds, and that's about it. We were inspired by an organized ride passing us in the other direction -- about 25 people waving and cheering us on, which made us feel part of a mobile community and helped us forget both hunger and hills.

Now we find ourselves sitting outside the general store, waiting for a fresh-made pizza for John so we can head to Muscongus, a family-run lobster pound where I've decided to finally treat myself to a two-pounder . . .

. . . my lobster lived up to all my hopes and dreams: bulbous red crustacean on a styrofoam plate, steamed corn and melted butter on the side. It was exactly what I needed to pedal into New Harbor, then Pemaquid just to the south. John and I found a clean and lovely campground less than two miles from Pemaquid Point, where for two dollars you can tour the historic lighthouse that graces the Maine state quarter. We took the tour with a crusty old docent who indulged a few too many superfluous details, but he seemed to love that lighthouse lens like a son. Earlier in the day was a visit to Pemaquid Beach, with its white sand and something like mica in the water. The tiny waves glitter as they lap to shore.

At the moment we're huddled in our tent, listening to a gentle rain fall on the canvas. We have a bottle of crummy wine picked up at the general store that we're sharing in the dark. And off in the distance the sun is going down so majestically that the rain above us seems a lie. Like if we took 20 paces forward we might be dry and breezy as sheets on a clothesline. But it's starting to come down a little harder, so we'll keep our cover for now.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Day 5: Powered by Affirmation

John hasn't let a hill go by without complimenting me for reaching the top. It's nice to know someone's got your back even when it's not breaking (yet).

Day 5: Rockland to Waldoboro, via Thomaston

A sort of gray and dreary day today. First stop on the itinerary was Owl's Head lighthouse, which was an eerie sight in the thick morning fog. We'd hoped to look out over the water for miles, but we could barely see our hands in front of us. We climbed to the top anyway and just listened to the deafening foghorn. Owl's Head, like several in Maine, remains a working lighthouse. We learned that boaters these days are turning to GPS, but many still find the actual lights and sounds of a lighthouse reassuring. Wonderful luddites of the sea, I wish you decades of sailing.

This was uneventful and forgiving riding on what we expected to be a grueling day. Such a pleasant surprise for 48 miles to fly by with few headaches and even fewer taxing hills. We even took a wrong turn near Friendship that cost us four miles, but we came across a lovely organic wool, hay, and egg farmer (all renewable outputs), who set us on the right path.

We now find ourselves in a cheerful tavern in the town of Waldoboro, where about fifteen years ago I once caught the end of an acoustic music set at a cafe that's now a hair salon. Waldoboro is more homespun and modest, at least to the naked eye, than many of the other towns we've visited. A kind of mashed potatoes to Rockland's pommes de terre. This particular spot, the Narrows Tavern, was recommended by our outstanding barista in Rockland, and she'd be right at home at one of these picnic-style benches, sidled up to a pint of draught.

Tonight we'll stay at the Moody Cabins Motel, retro lodging devoid of any irony whatsoever. The place is run by Bob, the preacher son-in-law of the woman behind the legendary Moody's Diner (which continues to be a Maine institution), just down the hill and past the frog pond from the cabins. Bob is a rabid hockey fan originally from Newfoundland (emphasis on "found") and he regaled us with stories, including the macabre tale of his brother John's death at 58, and the subsequent death of John's wife thirteen weeks later to the day. He told us that on his single visit to Chicago, almost 20 years ago, his only goal was to visit the Pacific Garden Christian Mission, which I actually wrote a paper about two years ago. I was able to tell him had recently moved to a brand-new green facility on Canal Street. He gave me the kind of quizzical grunt I associate with those 1980's commercials: Pepperidge Fahhm . . .

Monday is movie night at the Narrows and a group of men is already gathered around the bar to watch the show. It'll either be Running with Scissors or Monty Python's The Meaning of Life, depending on whether the waitress or the owner wins the day (I'll leave it to you to guess who wants which). It's of little consequence to us either way, though I'm secretly rooting for the waitress. John and I are enjoying some early Talking Heads over the sound system before we head back to the cabin. We'll sit and read on the sweet screened porch, blocking out the mosquitoes and the world for just a little bit longer.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Day 4: Powered by Pancakes

The bed was great, but the breakfast was better.

Day 4: Belfast to Rockland, via Camden

The wonderful proprieters of the Harbor View Inn -- two animated sisters who can't quite believe they're running a business together -- cooked us a gift of a breakfast. They knew our miles ahead and wanted to guarantee we were stuffed silly. The first course (?!), gingered nectarines, was among the tastiest dishes I've eaten all year, and this from a person who, as a rule, would sooner eat a wet sock than cooked fruit. They followed up with banana-pecan pancakes and two crisp strips of bacon for me (an extra pancake for vegetarian John). Perfection.

We had some of the most scenic riding of the trip, 42.25 miles by the end of the day, following country roads out of Belfast on a cool, foggy morning that gave way to blue skies and sunshine. We went miles and miles before seeing a car, and found ourselves claiming entire lanes instead of hugging the perimeter. After congested Route 1, we drank in the calm.

I haven't reflected much on the physical experience of this trip, averaging 42 miles a day up and down some pretty punishing hills (at least for a Chicago flatlands rider like myself). But I've probably never had an experience that so clearly exposed the body as machine as this one has. On a trip like this, food is fuel. Calories matter dearly as units of momentum. Hunger doesn't come out of boredom or suggestion. It comes when the body needs renewal, and stomach pangs are a message best listened to.

When the tank is empty, the engine won't go, except for that brief, delirious period when you're literally running on fumes -- the legs moving more of intertia than any palpable energy.
I've 'bonked,' as John likes to call it, a couple of times, the most deflating on the stretch between Searsport and Belfast, which seemed to get longer the farther we rode. It's the worst kind of rock-bottom imaginable: a contempt for all the world's geography and all the body's frailties, a sense that forward movement simply isn't possible.

But you get through it, refuel, and understand first-hand the necessity of filling the tank. And while these car metaphors seem misplaced on a trip like this, there's really no other way to describe it.

These were the thoughts that carried me from lovely, rolling Belfast into slightly antiseptic Camden, where we ordered ice cream cones from a place we learned was run by a Republican state senator with a name like Skip or Chip or Picket, who promises to "regulate government spending" (apparently through butter pecan). We washed down the sour aftertaste at a cafe with a cute barista and some incredible photography on the walls.

After a park-bench picnic, we headed on to Rockland, which is half fishing village, half boutique tourist attraction. German travellers and New England bluebloods mix with downtrodden folks who stagger their way down the street. Some major industry must have abandoned this area recently, leaving a heap of bad luck in its wake, all of it buried under the brushstrokes of "downtown revitalization."

Maine's Farnsworth family seems to have rebuilt the town singlehandedly. A museum you'd expect to find in a much larger city, including a self-contained Andrew Wyeth annex, takes up a sizable patch of land adjacent to the downtown strip. We were actually sorry to have missed the museum -- could have been a nice way to kill some time, especially since the only real alternative (a non-alternative for us, but seemingly the only game in town in these Maine tourist burgs) is shopping.

Instead, we wandered about trying to find lodging, including a stop at the local police station to get clearance to pitch a tent in the public park. An officer explained, sadly, that this was against a city ordinance -- enacted, no doubt, to keep those same down-on-their-luck locals from sleeping on the immaculate sidewalks.

We ended up at a depressing motor lodge at the end of town, but once the rain started we were grateful for the roof and warm beds, not to mention the cable tv that broadcast a Cubs game.

Aside from a dreamy dinner -- fried clams and onion rings at a tavern with its share of regulars -- Rockland was no great shakes. But we left on a high note, popping into the local coffee roaster for morning mochas, served up by an award-winning professional barista who'd just given up her car for a bike-only lifestyle. On our way out of town, a woman in a station wagon shouted "Happy trails!" and gave us a big thumbs up, so the town left a fine last impression.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Day 3: Powered by Paybacks

Yesterday, John fixed a stranger's bike chain. Today, we happened upon the only true bike mechanic on the Maine coast, exactly when we needed him to surface. I'm no great believer in karma, but sometimes you have to admit it when two plus two equals four.

Day 3: Ellsworth to Belfast, via Bucksport, Sears Island, and Searsport

37.5 miles today--a short one by comparison, but still longer than the longest day we'd predicted.

Fortune has shined on us so many times today I've pretty much lost count. We're letting ourselves indulge it from the pristine back veranda of the Harbor View House bed and breakfast, in the quirky town of Belfast, where we were fortunate enough to find one of the last remaining rooms in town (footnote for future visits: Saturday in coastal Maine ≠ abundant lodging). We're spending just over $100, a fortune for our estimated budget, but a steal for where we've managed to end up -- a sweet, airy room with twin beds and a Chez Panisse poster on the walls. A sea breeze is blowing off the water where sailboats rock in the distance and a handmade boat launch will happen tomorrow at 1. We took a gander at the boats today, beautiful sturdy things constructed of polished wood and muslin. They looked like something Grace Kelly might sail in. We'll have to miss the launch, alas. We'll be long gone by then, on our way to Camden or Rockland maybe. I'm guessing the ride won't be nearly as breathtaking as today, especially the stretch between Bucksport -- where we had a homey diner breakfast that made us ache for our friends the Von Holtens -- and Searsport, which I'll get to in a minute. It deserves its own page.

Just after you leave Bucksport, Maine on Rt. 1, you start a modest climb, which delivers you to the massive Calatrava-esque structure known to locals as "the new bridge" Directly beside it is the old bridge, a regal old soul with perfect green patina that was clearly the transit workhorse of its day. We were high up as bi-planes, but even though I felt that heart-fluttering nervousness I get when something seems to defy all physics, we stopped to take photos. I pictured the camera falling and me just behind it, but we both survived to tell the tale.

The new bridge spits you out at a carved rock worthy of those old handcolored, accordian-style postcard books. Impossibly burnt sienna. Almost as beautiful as the view from the bridge. Almost.

And a few miles beyond that, still energized by our waffles and hashbrowns, we had a decision to make. John had broken two spokes in his rear wheel and was worried about further damage, especially carrying the bulk of our gear. We'd talked about a side trip to uninhabited (at least by humans) Sears Island, but it was probably wise to skip it, heading straight for Belfast, where we knew there was a bike shop.

Reason be damned, we decided. We'd head to Sears Island. We reached a sturdy blockade where just beyond was a formidable hill. A guy with a whistle and dog stood outside the gate and I figured he was there in some official capacity, so I asked: Can we go through on our bikes?

"Oh, I'd encourage it," he said. And that was enough for us.

He sputtered out some quick directions so we proceeded ahead, up and down the hills, surrounded by wildflowers and tall trees, until we reached the end of the pavement and found ourselves on a gravel road that did a number on John's wheel, but also led to the sea. We parked our bikes and followed a path of driftwood to the shore. The place had a strange and abandoned feeling about it, but was also gorgeous and spare. The view to the west was some kind of massive industrial facility, but right in front of us grew heady bushes with pink flowers. A barge sailed in the distance and a woman walked by with her dog.

When we came back out the other side, a group was handing out petitions to "Save Sears Island." They didn't give us a petition, so maybe we're what they're hoping to save it from, but I have a feeling it's something more ominous than that -- something that will pique both curiosity and ire after a quick google search. I almost don't want to know what's in store for that beautiful, untouched place -- just imagine it exactly as it was: salty air, boneyard of wood.

Onward we went toward Belfast, John's concerns for his wheel now heightened by the side trip. We knew there was a bike shop in Searsport, a tiny dot on the map just ahead, but we decided to forsake it for the surely larger, more full-service shop in the bigger town.

But there we were, plugging along on Rt. 1, and what should materialize but Birgfeld's Bike Shop?

It proved a talisman like none we'd encountered so far. The building was covered over with political signs and skateboarding stickers, and inside was Doug: Doug of the greasy hands, grizzled voice, spun yarns, and lobster-pound recommendations. Doug who would be closing the shop for two weeks starting tomorrow so he could pick up his wife, a nurse who worked the better part of the year in San Francisco. And Doug who set aside his current project to fix John's spokes with the care of a surgeon. He rewired that wheel like it was an old watch, or a piece of embroidery, lovingly, with exactly the right dose of sarcasm to let you know he's a local. When we asked him about the shop in Belfast, he told us they don't do wheel work; they actually send those repairs to him!

We coasted the rest of the way into Belfast, John's wheel spinning in perfect true thanks to Doug's handiwork. From there it was dinner at restored beachside shack The Three Tides, where I had Maine crabmeat quesadillas and a salad of local greens that still hinted at the soil they came from. We tasted 7 of the 8 microbrews handcrafted in the building next door, and the sun beat down on our backs. Then it was back through the cheerful downtown to watch the sunset from that Harbor View veranda, the sky dusky and pink from clouds that threatened all day but happily never delivered.