Wednesday, June 27, 2012

East Michias  June 24

The skies wept today, the gods I’m sure knowing that this was my last day. Less poetically, it rained and the fog rolled in and out. That made for a funky final day weather-wise but didn’t diminish my experiences even though my shoes squished when I walked.

First order of business, as usual, was breakfast. Rolling into town yesterday I saw a small sign stating there’d be a breakfast at the Masonic Hall today from 7:30 to 10 a.m. $5. So, up to the hall I slogged. In I stepped, a foreigner among the locals. They looked up briefly at the bedraggled stranger but quickly returned to their consumption.

“Sit anywhere you want and I’ll be right with you,” said a man with a belly that couldn’t be contained by either his shirt or pants.

Soon I was wading through my $5 meal: 2 eggs any style, 2 sausage patties, 2 slices of ham, 2 pancakes, hash browns, a piece of toast, coffee, juice and a great bowl of homemade baked beans. Just the kind of breakfast a bike rider needs—volume and calories.

Lubec as seen from Campobello
“This is pretty much the place to come on the fourth Sunday of every month,” said the man sitting next to me. “I’m surprised to see you here. Out-of-towners usually eat at the inn where they’re staying or one of the restaurants downtown. Welcome.”

I did feel welcomed as we talked about Lubec’s slow transformation from dying former fishing village to tourist attraction.

Despite the rain I was determined to cross the Canadian border and visit Campobello Island just across the Narrows of Passamaquoddy Bay. Up and over the bridge I went, got a stamp of approval from a Canadian customs official and I was in Canada. A mile and a half up the road was the Roosevelt Campobello International Park at the site of the former president’s summer “cottage.”

As a child, a young man and as President, FDR spent many vacations on the island in New Brunswick’s Bay of Fundy. He was visiting Campobello when he was struck with polio when he was 39. “My left leg lagged. Presently it refused to work, and then the other…” 

It was interesting to see FDR as a child, young man and father without polio in a film about him. My reference has always been of him as President long after he was in a wheelchair.

Roosevelt’s cottage is on a relative small piece of land, 4 acres, and is one of several in a row along the shore line.

The approximately 1,000 Campobello Island residents and the folks across the border in Lubec lead closely integrated lives, explained the lady at the Campobello tourist info office, weaving her fingers together.

“Lubec has a hospital that we use because we don’t have one,” she explained. “They don’t have a pharmacy so they come over here. Our fire departments support each other. We buy groceries in Lubec because we don’t have a grocery store.”

I went back over the FDR Memorial Bridge and headed back the way I came. Dee, my loving lady, will drive up this way tomorrow to meet me and carry my weary body back to CT.

Monica (left) and Cindy, a chocolate
On the way out of Lubec  I stopped at Monica’s Chocolates. Dee and I visited Monica 6 years ago when we came this way. She had just launched her handmade chocolate business then and was still operating it out of her kitchen.

Today she has 12 employees at her high time in the summer, ships candy all over the U.S., sells retails and wholesale, and operates out of a shop/production center on the edge of town. This is from a woman who moved to Lubec 10 years ago from Peru not able to speak a word of English and had no job.

She came to Lubec to care for her husband who had taken a job as director of engineering at a fish processing plant but suffered a heart attack. He read English books to her so she could learn our language when her country seized her company and refused to allow her to return.

A clothing designer in Peru who employed 65 people, Monica cleaned houses and fish in Lubec while she read books on candy making. Making chocolate candy was relatively inexpensive to start. She designs her own chocolates, some of which have a Peruvian influence. She creates her own peanut butter, toffee, caramel and other fillings. Instead of just putting blueberries in a bon-bon, Monica lets the berries ferment in wine for up to a year. “I don’t use any preservatives or chemicals so you get the full flavor of each element,” Monica said.    

It was a sweet way to end my ride.

To understand why I'm riding and raising money, please go to the first post--April 26.
To make a donation to the ALSA, please go to:

Monday, June 25, 2012

Lubec  June23

It was a misty Maine morning, fog hanging low creating an intimacy of limited vision and muted sounds. Instead of heading directly here via busy US 1, I turned south onto SR 191 and headed for Cutler at the end of yet another one of the many fingers that reach into the Atlantic in this state.

Low-growing blueberries ripening.
As I’ve encountered so many times in Maine I soon passed a sign that indicated the start of a town’s boundary line—Cutler Town Line, the sign stated.  I learned my lesson many days ago: don’t get your hopes up that the town will actually appear soon. Around here town boundaries can be placed an untold number of miles away from any actual settlement bearing the town’s name. Maybe it’s so the taxing authority can cast its net as wide as possible. So, I pedaled on.

Eventually what I came upon was the former U.S. Naval Station-Cutler. Since the early 1960s until the early 2000s Navy personnel stationed at Cutler maintained a field of 900-foot high Very Low Frequency antennas. VLF radio waves are used by Navy submarines to communicate with HQ. The fog was so thick today that I couldn’t even the base of a 900-foot high structure that was basically in front of me.

Budgetary cuts led to the closing of the base. The towers, which are a still in use, are now maintained by a contractor. The base was purchased by developers who have rehabbed the former base personnel houses and are selling them as waterfront condos. The location on Machias Cove Beach is fabulous. The Navy sure knew about location, location, location when it came to buying land.

All of this information was imparted to me by Adam Myer who was clerking at the small on-base convenience store. It’s one of several jobs he has—store clerk, lobsterman, clammer, Christmas decoration maker, and creator of polished concrete countertops and tables.

“You gotta have several jobs up here to survive,” he said. “But I like changing around, it keeps each job more interesting.”

His biggest pleasure comes when he uses crushed clam, mussel and lobster shells to make his decorations and countertops.  He gets the shells from local seafood processors, cleans and crushes them, and mixes them into either concrete or epoxy. The results are quite varied and very sturdy.

On the eastern side of the finger I saw several people far out in the tidal flats bent over clawing at the sand. I made my way out to the closest one, not an easy feat in bicycle shoes, and introduced myself.

The hefty young man before me introduced himself as Tyler Warner, a rising senior at a local high school.

“I do this to earn money. I also go lobstering with my step-father and do any odd job I can find,” he said as he continued to dig into the sand. Using a short-handled rake, he drove it into the sand where he saw holes. “Breathing holes for the clams,” he explained.

He pulled back and upwards with the rake and uncovered lots of clams. Not all of them could be harvested; keepers had to be bigger than a ring he had on his basket.  These were soft shelled clams.  They weren’t soft and pliable, just not as hard as most clams. “You have to be a little more careful when harvesting these than a quahog, or something like that,” Tyler explained.

He figured he had close to a bushel (52 pounds) so far for a couple hours of work. He’ll be paid $1.40 per pound by a buyer. “So, I’ll make about $70 this morning. Not bad,” he said.

Despite the money and his love of the sea, Warner said he wants to go to college to become a nurse.

What sort of reasoning makes a driver stop their car in the middle of the road and ask me for directions? I was pedaling along on a road that I thought would get me to Lubec. Two young women in a beat up old car with Maine plates pulled alongside and asked, “Which way is the playground?” “What?” I said, incredulous that they figured me, a bicyclist with four saddlebags, a go-slow triangle on his backside and a flag sticking up from where his tent and sleeping pad were strapped and who was wearing orange “hair” from his helmet and an orange T-shirt stating “Deirdre’s Ride for ALS,” would be an authority on local landmarks. 

This was the fifth time I’ve been asked directions to a local place or to a street/road. It started in GA when a lady stopped traffic on a very busy highway to ask me if she was headed in the right direction to get to some town. I could tell by the chorus of horns that the folks behind her were none too happy. Neither was I as she stopped to ask me her dumb-assed question on a hill.

West Quoddy Head is the easternmost point on the U.S. mainland. On it sits West Quoddy Head Light, built in 1808 to warn mariners away from Quoddy’s dangerous cliffs, ledges and Sail Rock which is at the mouth of the Bay of Fundy.

Lubec, with 1,600 residents, is the easternmost incorporated town in the contiguous U.S. (FYI—the westernmost is Cape Alva, WA(Been there.), Key West, where this ride started, is the southernmost while the northernmost is Northwest Angle, MN. (Bike trip!))

Founded in 1811, Lubec was once home to a prosperous fishing fleet, shipyards and smugglers. More than 20 sardine canneries and smokehouses lined its shores. Today all of that is gone, replaced by tourists who come to whale watch, kayak, take boat trips to several lighthouses in the area, watch bald eagles and harbor seals, or visit Campobello Island where President Franklin D. Roosevelt had his summer home. Tomorrow I’ll cross the border.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Machias   June 22

Quiz time. Who knows what a galamander is? No, it’s not a female salamander.

A galamander was a wooden cart that was used to pick up and transport huge blocks of granite in the days before steam engines and hydraulics. I learned about galamanders in a historical park in Franklin, which used to be the center of Maine’s granite production. Granite from Franklin was used to build the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard, pave the streets of Washington, DC and as curbstones in cities from Boston to Philadelphia.

The galamander, pulled by horses or oxen, passed over the granite block which was then lifted about a foot off the ground by leverage action. The several-ton block was then taken to local wharves and put aboard ships, which had to be carefully balanced lest they sink under the tremendous weight.

The rest of my day’s ride was through blueberry and wreath-making country.

In Harrington two very large buildings dominate the village. Although silent now, come October the buildings will be jammed with local people in a pre-holiday frenzy of wreath making. The Worcester Wreath Co., in business since 1972, until last year made wreaths and other live Christmas decorations exclusively for LL Bean. Now they focus on meeting the needs of Wreaths Across America.
In 1992, Worcester Wreath found themselves with a surplus of wreaths nearing the end of the holiday season. Morrill Worcester, the company’s owner, remembered his boyhood experience of traveling to Arlington Cemetery. Worcester realized he had an opportunity to honor our country’s Veterans. Arrangements were made for the wreaths to be placed at Arlington in one of the older sections of the cemetery, a section which had been receiving fewer visitors with each passing year.
A number of other individuals and organizations stepped up to help—a local trucking company provided transportation to Virginia. Volunteers from the local American Legion and VFW Posts decorated each wreath with traditional red, hand-tied bows. Members of the Maine State Society of Washington, D.C. helped to organize the wreath-laying, which included a special ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
The annual tribute went on quietly for several years, until 2005, when a photo of the stones at Arlington, adorned with wreaths and covered in snow, circulated around the internet.  Suddenly, the project received national attention. Thousands of requests poured in from all over the country from people wanting to help with Arlington, to emulate the Arlington project at their National and State cemeteries, or to simply share their stories.
Unable to donate thousands of wreaths to each state, Worcester began sending seven wreaths to every state, one for each branch of the military, and for POW/MIAs. In 2006, with the help of the Civil Air Patrol and other civic organizations, simultaneous wreath laying ceremonies were held at over 150 locations around the country.
The annual trip to Arlington and the groups of volunteers eager to participate in Worcester’s simple wreath-laying event grew each year until it became clear the desire to remember and honor our country’s fallen heroes was bigger than Arlington, and bigger than this one company.
In 2007, the Worcester family, along with veterans, and other groups and individuals who had helped with their annual Christmas wreath ceremony in Arlington, formed Wreaths Across America, a non profit 501-c3 organization, to continue and expand this effort, and support other groups around the country who wanted to do the same.
If it’s not pine trees or bays and rivers around here, it’s blueberry fields, specifically wild blueberry fields. None of those bloated, cultivated, all-in-a-row high-bush blues, these blues grow close to the ground and are almost ignored and untouched until harvest time in late July and early August. Washington County, where I am now, is the center of Maine’s blueberry production.

Wild blueberry field
Wild blueberries, as I found out at Blueberry Hill Farm, the state’s wild blueberry research facility, have more beneficial antioxidant and phenolic compounds than their large, cultivated cousins. The berries are grown on a two-year cycle. Each year, half a grower’s land is managed to encourage vegetative growth and the other half is harvested. After harvest, the plants are pruned to the ground by mowing or burning. And being native to Maine, wild blueberries are naturally resistant to native pests.

For wild blueberry recipes, go to:

To understand why I'm riding and raising money, please go to the first post--April 26.
To make a donation to the ALSA, please go to:

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Bar Harbor  June 21, 2012

I rode Acadia National Park’s Loop Road this morning. The pictures tell the story.

Bar Harbor  June 20

As I rode toward Bar Harbor I stopped at the Mystery Cove Book Shop in Hulls Cove. It’s a snug little, well organized shop run since 1986 by Steve Powell.

Freshly painted lobster
 pot bouys drying.
In my trek through Maine I’ve been amazed at the number of book shops, most of them selling new and used books, that dot the state. Naturally most are in the cities, towns and villages but some, like the monstrous 21,000-square- foot Chicken Barn Books & Antiques outside of Ellsworth sit alone by the road.

“Oh, there used to be a lot more of us,” Powell said. “We’re dropping like flies. The Kindle and its kin are doing us in. If we didn’t have more than a million people a year coming onto this island I wouldn’t have this shop. That’s the only thing that has kept me afloat.” He has also been forced to broaden his offering to all genres, not just mysteries.

I asked if he would recommend a good place to eat lunch. Powell directed me to Mother’s Kitchen in Town Hill for “the best” sandwiches. So up the Crooked Road I went, took a left on Gibson Farm Road and at the end of it sat the almost hut-like restaurant with a sign stating “Real good food” out front.  I had an Island Lady sandwich (grilled chicken, blue cheese vinaigrette, bacon, red onion, lettuce and tomato), a big can of blueberry green tea and a chocolate chip cookie.

Satiated, I rode down a quiet, off-the-main-drag road and stumbled across The Nature Conservancy’s Indian Point Blagden Preserve. It’s on the western side of Bar Harbor, an area that escaped the fire of 1947 that burned much of Mount Desert Island.

The trail down to Western Bay went through a thick forest of tall red spruce, white cedar and balsam. The floor was covered in either pine needles or bright green moss which sucked any sounds, leaving me to walk in silence. It reminded me of Gougane Bara Forest Park in West Cork, a quiet, almost spiritual place.

Upon emerging from the forest spiritual and perspiring more than I had since entering Maine, I decided a pint of award-winning Cadillac Mountain Stout would be just the thing to cool me down. And a Dionysian way to celebrate the summer solstice.

Atlantic Brewing Company
Conveniently, the brewer of my beloved stout wasn’t far, just about a mile away.  Atlantic Brewing Company, also operator of Bar Harbor Brewing Company, winner of gold and platinum awards, provides daily tours so I got to sample several beers but settled on my favorite—platinum award winning Cadillac Mountain Stout. Welcome summer.

To understand why I'm riding and raising money, please go to the first post--April 26.
To make a donation to the ALSA, please go to:
Ellsworth  June 19

This is such a poetic landscape. No wonder the creative flock to this state. Everywhere the land presents evocative pictures. The flowers, the trees, the rocky coast, the sweeping field to the ocean and myriad bays and rivers. Artists, like the landscape itself, hunker down in the winter readying themselves to burst upon the world with new creations when the warming sun moves northward.

Geesh, Smith, get over yourself.  Alright, I’ll stop rhapsodizing about Maine and just get on with it.

Blueberries, like blackberries, salivate my mouth and make my heart go pitter-pat. Muffins, pies, scones, bars, pancakes, tarts, slumps, sodas and even beer, oh the wonderful, delicious things you can make from them. I’m in heaven.

 I’m frustrated daily by the gagillion blackberry bushes I’m passing, their flowers in full bloom.  Their fruits are more than a month away but, alas, I won’t be around to blacken my hands and mouth with their wild sweetness.  The same thing happened when I rode through Oregon two years ago—too early.

My belief is that when you see a sign for Good Karma Farm you better check the place out just in case you need a big dose of the good stuff on down the road.

So, down the road I went and soon was being gawked at by more than 20 alpacas. When cows look at you, you know there ain’t nothing going on in their blocky heads. It’s something else when an alpaca lifts its head from grazing to give you the once over. The ears sit up alert, the eyes are bright, the face is soft and kind, and with its long neck the alpaca achieves something of a regal, intelligent stature. “Hello. Who are you?” they seem to be saying with interest. Cows, on the other hand, simply look like they’re ready to be whacked on the head, which, of course, they are.

Good Karma Farm is a full-time working farm in Belfast on the coast of Maine.  They raise alpacas for fiber and breeding stock and spin their own yarn right there on the farm.  Good Karma is also the home of Carrabassett Soap Company, now in its 14th year of soapmaking.   
I walked into an old dairy barn, past a large tub of cheeping chicks and into a small store with a rainbow of skeins on a cubby-holed wall. Josh, who moved from Chicago last year to work at Good Karma, explained that the skeins were a mixture of alpaca and sheep wool. “When woven into something to wear pure alpaca wool doesn’t hold its shape well over time, so we mix it with sheep wool in varying percentages so the things we knit will hold their shape better.”
He took me on a tour of the fiber processing operation, showing me how the fiber is cleaned, straightened, dyed and twisted into skeins. Josh creates many of the knitted garments that were on sale in the small store.
All of the soap is made in small 120 lb batches using natural oils and scents.  Once the soap is cut, it is left to cure for a minimum of 5 weeks.  The proper cure time ensures that the soap will be gentle to the skin and very long-lasting, explained Amy Grant, who with her husband Jim own the farm.

Belfast was awash with passengers from a coastal cruise ship. I borrowed an air pump from the bike shop to top off my tires and asked if there was a local coffee shop. “Oh, you gotta go to Weaver’s just around the corner,” the bike shop owner said.

Around the corner I went and was greeted by a sign: “Home of the Persian Bun.” Always one eager to sample the local culinary highlights, I ordered said bun and a coffee. Please refer to the picture. Turns out a Persian Bun is a giant, chocolate frosting-covered cinnamon roll.

One of the delights of undertaking a journey of this kind is that unlike with the rest of my life at this point I don’t have to worry about over-eating. I can eat anything I want and as much as I want and by the end of the day all those calories will have been spread over the last 60 miles.

Without a thought about how many calories the doughy creation contained, I sank my teeth into Belfast’s treasured delight.

The Persian had been a Belfast staple for generations but disappeared when the Camden Home Bakery closed in the early ‘90s. Bummed by the fact that they couldn’t relive one of the joys of their childhoods, a couple of people from the 30th reunion of the 1981Camden-Rockport High School started a campaign to bring back the Persian Bun. Max Weaver, a local baker, took up the challenge.

A Belfast public bench.
“I bite into it and go back in time,” said Chris Morong, a class of ’81 graduate.

Perhaps due to a sugar/dough overload I managed to get myself lost for more than 20 miles trying to take a more scenic route here than US 1 affords.
Tra la, tra la, what a way to work off all those calories.

To understand why I'm riding and raising money, please go to the first post--April 26.
To make a donation to the ALSA, please go to:

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Camden  June 18

I visited Pemaquid Point Lighthouse about 6:15 a.m. It was lovely being the only person there. Waves exploded onto the striated rocks below the beacon. A lone lobster boat chugged past.

I headed back up the finger and stopped for coffee at Hanna’s General Store, circa 1912, in New Harbor to warm up a bit. The front page of a newspaper announced that the government is selling two Maine lighthouses: Halfway Rock Light Station, 2 miles east of Portland Head Light; and Boon Island Light Station, 6 miles off York. The sale is sometime in July via the Internet.

While I was downing the coffee a man asked about my journey and described his epic bike ride through Denmark when he was 45. He was accompanied by his son and a client, he said.

Fifteen minutes later I was standing on the docks of a lobster company in New Harbor watching a workmen lower barrels of herring to an awaiting lobster boat, the Trina Gail, which was getting ready to go out and set a line of pots. The coffee-drinking man called out to me from the next pier, “Hey, Mike, I couldn’t miss you and that bike of yours.” He introduced himself as Rolf Maersk Moller. He knew my name because I’ve written it on the front of the safety triangle that I wear on my lower back.

He came over to where I was and we talked about the differences between Florida and Maine lobster traps. Maine traps are rectangular and made of plastic-coated wire. Florida traps, while being rectangular, are built out of plasticized wooden slats. The slats are spaced so that under-sized lobsters

At one point I asked if he was connected with Maersk Lines since he was wearing a Maersk baseball cap. He nodded affirmatively. Maersk Line is the largest containership operator and supply vessel operator in the world. It was founded by Peter Maersk Moller, a Danish ship captain in 1904. Maersk’s first cargo was a shipment of Ford auto parts.

We continued to talk about lobstering and life while Moller, who lives in nearby Bristol, waited for a friend to pick him up in his boat. They were going to Camden to have some repairs done on the vessel.

Shortly after leaving New Harbor I was stopped by a woman standing by her car on the side of the road. “Could you please stop?” she asked as I rolled up. She introduced herself as Vicky Flatt of Phoenix, AZ, who was visiting a friend in New Harbor.

She asked about the ride and why I am doing it. Thirty years ago she had a friend who died of ALS. “It’s just so unfair and terrible,” she said. We talked about the tragedy of the body malfunctioning but the mind staying alert and aware.

After taking down information about the blog and how to donate, Flatt became the first stranger in more than 2,500 miles to offer me “water, a shower back at the house, a meal. I want to do something to help you on your way.”

The fact that she stopped and made the offer lifted my spirits and will, I’m sure, bring a smile to my face in the days to come. Thank you very much, Ms. Flatt.

“Handmade hand woodworking tools” the sign stated just outside of Warren. That required a look-see.

Lie-Nielsen Toolworks began in 1981 as an effort to make top-quality hand tools available again from a U.S. maker, explained Rebecca, the showroom salesperson. 

They make over 100 types of planes, saws, spokeshaves, chisels, floats, hand routers and more. These are almost museum-quality tools that are meant to last for generations. The metals are of the highest quality and the handles of cherry, hornbeam, curly maple and the like. The cost of each tool reflects the quality and craftsmanship that is in each handmade tool. A smoothing plane costs $325, a hand saw $225. These are tools for the professional or most avid woodworker.

“We’ve found that the best quality is right here in Maine,” said Rebecca. “We source our metal castings from New England foundries, our wood from Maine sawyers, and make almost everything else the old-fashioned right out back there in the shop.”

“Oh yes, we know Thomas (Lie-Nielsen) well,” said Victoria, the Center’s marketing manager and gallery director. “He was on our board of directors until last year.”

The board of the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship in Rockport is composed of some of the finest furniture makers in the country. The Center is a year-round, non-profit woodworking school using instructors from around the world. There are weekend, one- and two-week courses, twelve-week intensive courses and nine-month comprehensive courses.  The programs are for novice, intermediate, and advanced woodworkers.

Executive director Peter Korn, who founded the Center in 1993, walked by as Victoria and I talked in the gallery exhibiting the works of some of the instructors. She introduced us and explained what I was doing. Before I could pelt him with questions he was firing them at me: “You started where?” “When?” “You rode all the way?” and so it continued until he excused himself and I couldn’t slip in one question about his impressive accomplishment.

Another curiosity snoop of the day was at Fireside Pottery in Warren. Inside two women were ruining their hands, as they have for decades, working in clay. “At the end of the season our hands are dry and cracked,” said Nancy Button, Fireside’s owner, said laughing.

Along with Laurie Lundy, the two make mostly slab pottery versus using a wheel.

Button developed her pottery passion from her mother. She moved to Maine in 1972 and homesteaded, built her own home with wood and stone from the land. A studio and kiln soon followed. A move to mid-coast Maine in 1983 opened the door to work in porcelain and the ocean “...brought fluidity to my work,” she said.

While she has a line of good-selling items that she makes again and again, excitement in that repetitive process comes in the firing. Depending on where she places a piece in the kiln, the glaze will react differently. In other words, two objects coated with the same glaze will come out the same. “One higher in the kiln will have more uniformity of color compared to one lower which will have a more varied but intense color,” she said.

To understand why I'm riding and raising money, please go to the first post--April 26.
To make a donation to the ALSA, please go to: