So I was itching to get away on the first real bike trip of 2019. It had been a long, cold and dark winter and my last trip in 2018 hadn’t been truly satisfying what with the cold, wet weather I had encountered.
The 2019 season would also be a kind of personal turning point where I would actually have to begin living the retired lifestyle I’d been thinking about for for so long. I wanted to change up the style of my trips. Until now most of my multi-day trips could be characterized as long, time-limited trips to specific destinations comprised of long, high mileage days and not many roses getting sniffed along the way. Those rides served a purpose and allowed me to tick off a lot of the boxes on my list of “personal destinations I want to ride to” but were losing their satisfaction quotient and becoming kind of tedious.
Beginning this year I wanted to do a different kind of trips. I still have loads of specific places I want to ride to and some of them are even familiar favourite places, but I no longer want to do so many long days and I want to avoid the interstate, travelling instead on the byways and backroads. I hope to explore places more fully, do a lot more photography and meet more interesting people on my travels. I’m looking forward to stopping earlier in the day and doing a lot more relaxing. Having a more flexible attitude about where I’m headed should also allow me to avoid more bad weather and camp more nights – because that really is one of the things I love about this kind of travel and besides, I’m a pensioner now and I need to economize where I can. Camping is a big part of the fun for me and repeatedly setting up and breaking down my camp rarely gets tedious, especially if I’m not trying to hurry to a specific destination or beat the gridlock on Interstate #whatever.
So this trip is an experiment. I need to see if I can actually do it. I want to see if I enjoy a more “meandering” travel style and if I truly can stop to experience more of a places and the people that live there.
To give me the best shot at early success I chose to travel familiar territory and because later this June I have two graduations and one Senior Prom to play Dad at, I had a maximum of 12 days to spend. I wanted to spend most of my time in the back country and could potentially see myself getting as far west as Vermont. Anyway, here’s what I actually ended up doing: I travelled a total of 1,861 KM over 5 days and camped all but one night.
Wednesday June 5, 2019
I had a loose plan to ride back roads to MacAdam, NB, cross into the US at Vanceboro, ME and ride route Two with a plan to camp at one of the campgrounds I knew about near Gorham, NH. It would make a fairly long first day, but I was prepared to stop early if I needed to. As it turned out my planning flexibility was put to the test early on the first day.
In keeping with my new, “life in the slow lane” outlook I didn’t get up at dawn, I didn’t skip breakfast and I hadn’t pre-loaded the bike the night before departure. The weather forecast was some showers in the morning and a chance of overnight showers in the area I was headed to but nothing significant. Still, it was likely going to be GoreTex conditions for the first day or two – after that everything looked perfect for at least a week in all directions.
I arrived at my storage garage around 9:30 AM, rolled the bike out and and packed it up with my gear. By 10:20 I was getting into my riding gear and giving the bike a final pre-flight look-over in preparation for departure when I looked at the front tire and thought, geez that looks soft… Sure enough it was flat.
My last ride on this bike was a big NB gravel day trip a few days before and about midway through that trip I had hit a big, pointy rock dead on with the front tire. I stopped at the time and the wheel was fine but it’d been a big hit and I thought a pinch flat was a strong possibility. I’d kept an eye on it throughout the rest of the ride and it held up fine all the way home. I never hit anything big after that one big rock so I guess it just took a little time for all the air to get out.
Nobody wants to start a trip this way. I still wanted to go and I knew I’d need to fix this anyway so I dug my tools out of the cases and got to work. By now the showers have stopped and it’s looking like an awesome day for riding.
In about half an hour I had the wheel off and the tube out. I had the hardest time ever breaking the bead on this tire – I’ve often wondered why there are so many fancy bead-breaking tools out there, it had just never been a problem for me before but this one was a b*tch. Got it done, though with the help of my big rubber mallet. I guess it would have to be a big ugly rock if I was doing this trailside.
I found the hole easy enough and it was, in fact a pinch flat. I was about to patch it when I remembered somewhere in one of these boxes I had at least one unopened 21 inch tube. A new tube is always better than a patch if you have one at hand so I went looking for it. In the end it took a bit of digging in boxes but likely no more time than it would have to patch the tube and things went back together well.
By the time all the unpacking, disassembly, cussing over the bead, digging for the tube, swatting some bugs, cussing some more, reassembly and repacking was done it was about 11:20 and I was about 2 hours behind. It was time to be flexible.
I jettisoned the stop at the car wash on my way out of town idea and determined there would likely be enough rain along the way to clean most of the caked-on muck off the bike automatically. I then deleted most of the back roads portion of the NB leg of the ride – giving in to the simple expedient of taking the TCH to just beyond Fredericton. Still it was looking doubtful I could get to Gorham, NH today as the GPS was suggesting a new best-case arrival there of about 9:30 PM.
I got to MacAdam without incident and it was a fantastic ride. Temps were pretty much ideal at 19 degrees or so and the road was smooth and clear of traffic. It was one of those days that motorcycles were invented for.
I pulled up to the Vanceboro Customs booth at 3:18 and was on my way less than two minutes later. While there the Border Agent and I mostly discussed the cloud of black flies surrounding my head. He didn’t want me to “get chewed up” so didn’t require me to take off my helmet – it’s been years since I haven’t had to de-helmet going into the US.
Down the road a mile or so I stopped for a drink and a snack and the flies swarmed me again. Inside, it’s all anybody was talking about. “Wet spring”, “long winter”, “late hatch”, “warming temps” were some of the reasons they were offering for what was looking like the worst black fly season anybody could remember – and it just started.
Hmmmm, a week of back country travel and camping you say… maybe it will be better further along.
30 minutes later I stopped at a bank I knew of that had an ATM to get some USD. The flies were not better, if anything they might have been a little worse – I literally couldn’t bear to stand at the ATM long enough to get even a single dollar out. In my mind’s eye I’d pictured at least a week of setting up camp early, hanging around, reading, walking in the woods etc – it was definitely time to be flexible again.
The weather on the coast was forecast to be cooler, a bit wetter and windier. The cooler and wetter part had it’s downside for a camping trip but it was only going to be wet the first night. I was betting, though, that the bugs would be a lot less troublesome along the coast. There was more exploring and wandering in the back country and the coast had a lot more of what I didn’t want like traffic, tourism and crowds but in the end the bugs made the call for me and I headed for the coast.
Arriving on the coast I stopped for some coffee and wifi in Searsport where I found two things, that the overnight forecast had worsened to “heavy rain” all night and rain all morning the next day. The other thing I found was a motel for only $20 bucks more than the campsite’s price so I put away my He-Man Card and booked the motel… the Bait’s Motel… ha ha, very clever. I was genuinely disappointed to not be camping but if my new rule was going to be “to be more ready to change my plans” this didn’t seem like a good time to revert to stubbornness.
The wifi didn’t work at the motel so I had to go stand outside the restaurant to get any. But the motel was clean and dry and I was blissfully sleeping as the rain thundered down all night. I would hear about this rainstorm from other campers and riders I’d meet in the days to come. ahhh, my new friend flexibility.