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.


Diana Sudyka said...

sooooo jealous! this looks awesome.

Stove said...

I'm incredibly jealous too. And curious. I had to look up what was going on at Sears Island. I won't tell. You can rest easy it has nothing to do with you.

leslie said...

Aw, wish we could have met you at that diner! (This vacation sounds so dreamy...)