When the night has come
And the land is dark
And the moon is the only light we’ll see
– Ben E King
Weeks ago, a new moon put dazzling constellations in the late night sky when I camped next to the beach at Prince Edward Island. Now a Farmer’s Moon lights the night clouds in Amherst, Massachusetts. According to Alistair MacLeod’s novel No Great Mischief, a full moon is the Gaelic lochran àigh nam bochd, the “lamp of the poor.” I enjoy learning such expressions.
Portland, Maine, is a beautiful harbor and city into which one can arrive. The CAT ferry from Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, slowed as it neared the harbor. The few of us bicyclists were waved through before even the motorcycles, and not having a plan, I rode to a local bicycle shop for some route guidance.
This east coast Portland seems a miniature Portland, Oregon; hip with hippies and hipsters, a bicycle trail that courses along the harbor, a panache that many cities strive to achieve. I crossed the Casco Bay Bridge to South Portland, ate a lobster, bargained for a good price at a roadside motel, and studied my map. I was far less certain where this stage of the trip would take me.
Firewood, of all things, stood out as a difference between Canada and Maine. I’d gotten used to seeing a dozen or more cords of cut wood piled in small mountains, ready for winter. Not so in Maine, where the winter’s wood had been neatly and precisely stacked. Along the Maine trail, small, striped chipmunks are abundant. As I pedaled south, squirrels are predominant, as are the oak trees that drop acorns as if they were raindrops. I am surprised to find that autumn has arrived more fully in New England than Canada’s Maritime provinces.
The Eastern Trail out of South Portland is what bicyclists dream about. Views of tidal marshes set the stage for a well-maintained couple of dozen miles through the forests. Signs for the on-road Eastern Trail continued, and I placed my bets on them, rather than Google. It was a good bet. So long as I was headed to the south, it would work its way out.
The first ten miles of a day’s pedaling can be so perfect. They sure have been this last week; perfect weather, no wind, long stretches with no substantial hill work. Best are the days with only a vague sense of destination and surprises waiting. Like the day out of South Portland, when I found a few dozen miles along the Eastern Trail. The trail finished abruptly with a small sign that said “End.” A nice conversation with Moira and Elizabeth, two local cyclists, and on I rode. Perfect signage took me along local roads and I figured I’d scope out spots for a stealth camp before dark.
It seems a fact of touring life that the best stealth camp sites come early in the day, long before they are needed. By dusk, I was looking for camp and finding nothing, when a sign for Vaughan Woods Memorial State Park appeared. Camping, I guessed, would not be allowed, but I’d roll in at dark and tuck in. My bivouac was spotted by a late day hiker, then a maintenance truck parked nearby. Not quite busted, I talked to the park worker and told him my plight. “I’m the park manager and work for the sheriff’s department,” he said. “You can put your tent up anywhere you want. I’ll let others know you’re here and you won’t be bothered.” And so ended a perfect day, in a grove of old growth timber in a park entirely to myself.
Nearing New Hampshire, there is an inland shortcut to Massachusetts, but on good advice I arrived in Portsmouth on a morning so perfect the locals were in awe. The longer route, the one I took, leads to Odiorme Point State Park and its views of the Atlantic, then hugs the ocean beach near mansions so vast I can only imagine the millions they are worth. I would love to have pitched my tent on one of those ten-acre lawns, but eventually headed inland, where home values dropped to the mere hundreds of thousands and less the further from the coast I pedaled. Motel rooms became once again affordable.
After days of perfect cycling, surely there are hills in the distance, between Nashua, New Hampshire, and Albany, New York. How can there not be? There are some climbs, but most are long and sweeping. They slow me down, and slow my arrival to Princeton, Amherst, and Pittsfield on successive days. One more big climb to reach Albany, I was told. I got my first ten miles ridden and was thinking “bring it on.” I figured it to be half a day’s work but was up and done in half an hour. Some call them the Berkshire Mountains, those who have seen Mountains call them the Berkshire Hills. Lucky for me.
A bicycle route can always change and flexibility is essential. After Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island it would have been easy to pedal to Boston and fly home. But I’d have missed out on crossing Massachusetts and would be kicking myself for skipping a ride along the Erie Canal. Two final days to reach Albany, then a 360-mile, dedicated bicycle lane awaits. Rumor is, there are hiker-biker campsites at the canal locks. I am ready for such conveniences.
New York is not a small state to cross. There are 36 locks along the canal. I am ready to end sharing the road with speeding and erratic motorists. Already I focus on the logistics to get my bicycle shipped home from Buffalo. But it’s still too soon to book a flight for me. Mountains unknown or the lightning and rain that are forecast may slow my arrival date.
October 8, 2017
Albany, New York