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.


kkurtz said...


psychlops said...

I found your blog via a link from Diana Sudyka's blog (I'm a bird geek as well as a poster geek). I've really enjoyed reading about your trip as I live here in coastal Maine (a few miles from Red's Eats) - I recognize a lot of the photos and places you described :). In fact, next week we'll be on vacation up in Acadia with our bikes!

Rockland really isn't as sterile as you sadly found it to be (though I admit the downtown can appear kind of bleak). It's home to one of the largest blues festivals in the east (yeah, it's not Chicago but...), they've recently brought one of the town's original theaters back to its former glory, and then of course as you mentioned, the Farnsworth. But Rockland used to be really bad - A large industry did "recently" leave the area - mainly a huge fish processing plant back in the 80s that made the town stink like hell and was anything but a tourist attraction. The town was really down in the dumps. Likewise Belfast, which up until the 80s was home to a chicken rendering plant which also stunk the town up and made the river flow with chicken fat :( It was a very down on its heels town too.

I look forward to reading more about your trip!

sorry about the ramble...


Christy said...

Hi Psychlops,

Thanks for your comments! I envy your life in magnificent Maine, and sort of had a feeling the clouds and fog might have been unkind to Rockland. Still, I felt a sadness for what seemed a disproportionate number of disenfranchised folks, maybe left behind by shifts away from local and toward more global trade. I'd be curious to know the social-service make-up of the town. I've seen great signs of mission-driven nonprofits in the state (the puffin organization in Rockland as well as wonderful Spindleworks in downtown Brunswick), so maybe there are some good options for these struggling people.

Have a wonderful time in Acadia!! (Did I mention I envy your life in Maine?) :-)

Diana Sudyka said...

the first time i really experienced the "tank is empty...NOW." feeling was sea kayaking the san juans and hiking the olympic peninsula. it's really good to experience it, and have that connection. we're so overwhelmed with opportunities to eat on a daily basis. that said...when's dinner, sister?!?

psychlops said...


One of the things I edited out of my original post was the decline of the fishing industry over the past 20 years or so that's hit the coast very hard. Due to a mix of factors like rising property values (a BIG factor), tough fishing regulations and rising fuels costs it's hit towns like Rockland pretty hard. Up and down the coast what were once primarily working harbors are now mostly full of pleasure craft. This also impacts the folks who support the fishermen (bait sellers, equipment sellers, shipyards, etc.).

I don't really know what sort of social support services there are in the area but I do know that the State Health and Human Services department is pretty much perpetually in crisis mode.

I'm not sure globalization has hit Maine as hard as elsewhere. But many of the lumber/paper mills have closed for a variety of reasons including it being cheaper to purchase wood from abroad. But also multinational paper companies that own tens of thousands of acres in the north woods have found it more profitable to sell the land to developers rather than to sustainably harvest the trees. So you might get some short-term rise in construction jobs but a general long-term down-turn in the local economy (in addition to local infrastructure cost increases).

Looking forward to more posts!


psychlops said...

As for that tank is empty NOW thing...I discovered midway through a particularly difficult backcountry snowshoe slog that peanut butter and honey on dense whole wheat is just the ticket! Don't go home without it :)

Christy said...


After reading all these great responses I'm so disappointed we didn't get to meet on the trip! My parents live in Brunswick, though, so I'm out that way with some frequency. I'll send something over the transom next time I'm in the area and hopefully we can get a cup of coffee. Cheers, and thanks!

psychlops said...

That'd be great!