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.


leslie said...

"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."

Christy, that's just lovely.

psychlops said...

Beautiful post Christy. If you had crossed the river from Chewonki and climbed up the hill you would've practically walked into my house.

Yeah, I really love where I live :) and I'm glad it was such an awesome experience for you.

Could those creatures have been seals?

Christy said...

I hadn't even thought about seals! Are there seals on the channel? That might have stopped my heart.

These were actually much smaller --John thought probably minnows (but I have a horrible and chronic frog phobia from childhood--very silly, but so far impossible to resolve--so of course I made the connection).

psychlops said...

Well I would've been surprised to see seals that far up the river but it wouldn't be unheard of. And if you had seen seal eyes there would be no question that that's what they were as you would've also seen their snouts and long whiskers.

Minnows is probably right. But despite having lived here for 11 years and actually co-owning a lot right on the river I have yet to put a canoe or kayak in there. I must rectify this! I shall seek out said googly eyes and ascertain their true nature!