IT’S TIME TO SHOVE OFF from the Beaton Farm, put Prince Edward Island in the mirrors and head west across New Brunswick for the USA.
I was on the farm just a few days. The Beatons told me of a young Australian woman on a bicycle who stopped for the night once and stayed seven years.
I don’t know exactly where Greg and Julie Miller’s camp is in Canada, but I seem to think they use the border crossing at Houlton, Maine. (Which they don’t.) By day’s end I’m on the American side of the border so my el cheapo Tracfone will start working again. Greg’s at the river house in Stillwater. He tells me I’m too far north, the crossing I want is between Fosterville, New Brunswick and Orient, Maine.
Greg’s coming up the day after tomorrow. Julie will be in bed before I can find the camp tonight, so…
Sunrise the next morning, in a parking lot, Houlton, Maine.
That’s right, Wal-Mart. I must be all out of standards now. That’s my sleeping bag on the grass.
I could have slept in a rest stop across the road. Probably would have if I was traveling on the iron piggy. People don’t walk within 50 feet of you when you’re sleeping on the ground next to a Harley. Let sleeping Harley dogs lie. On the piglet, eh, you’re gonna meet rest stop people.
Want to sleep well? Bomb around on a motorcycle all day. That night I sleep like a dead guy in a coma frozen in a block of ice. Except for a biting ant that gets me between the shoulder blades and won’t let go. I’m semi-awake for half a minute with the bite bite bite… At least I think it’s an ant. I roll over onto my back. Whatever it is gives up. And anyway I’m… Zzzz…
Later I’m vaguely aware of something trying to crawl up my pant leg past the cinch strap I use to keep the road wind out. It’s digging around on my shin bone at the top of my boot. I’m not awake enough to do anything about it. There’s just a hazy floating up through the unconsciousness and a huh?… oh… ant… son of a… Zzzzz…
Soon it’s a new day, store opens, I go in and buy Fig Newtons. Brad McBrine, a Canadian, is hanging around the parking lot because his wife’s in there shopping. Brad tells me how in 1988 he rode a horse from Glassville, New Brunswick to Petawawa, Ontario. Stormy the horse weighed a soft 1,200 pounds in Glassville, a hard 1,000 pounds in Petawawa.
So I’m on the side of the road just north of Orient when Russell and Eric from Massachusetts pull up. They’re riding around on Honda street bikes older than they are, early 80’s vintage. The only thing better than being a free man on the Earth? Being a free young man on the Earth.
Russell’s got the bulletproof CX500 twin, Eric’s is the 550 four. With the right tires either one of these bikes would get you across the Trans-Labrador.
I wanted to escape on a motorcycle at their age, but, you know, you see the girl sitting on a stone wall reading a book, she knocks you out like the Road Runner just landed the Acme anvil on your head. Do you want to think about her your whole life or will you ask her name, where she’s from, woo her until she’s crazy about you, get a real job for once, buy a house, have kids with her and hope you live long enough to do your motorcycle wanderings when it doesn’t cost you all that? Place your bets, boys.
Eric and Russell and I talk about this and they say, yeah, man, definitely, it’s a dilemma, something to think about, oh yeah, working on figuring that out, absolutely.
Later that morning I cross back into Canada and find the camp, and without the aid of a professional. Here’s Greg’s jacket, maybe Julie’s. They’re both Registered Maine Guides.
Remind you of the river house? Greg’s the builder on both.
Julie offers me the guest room, ha, hobo in the guest room… she’s being polite.
At home in the weeds with Ella the dog. Woof.
Fine weather, coffee on the porch, a journal to scribble on, great day to be alive! Count me in.
These recent posts about Canada would burn hours if I were to tell you about everybody I met.
To hit just a few, the well-traveled ones, there’s Sven the house builder from Denmark, by way of Australia, New Zealand and Greenland; Dagmar from Slovakia; Lynn and Mario from Ontario, who sold their restaurant, retired early, now out discovering a new life in new places; Peggy and Matthew from Maine, camped in Newfoundland in a tent that folds out onto the roof of their Land Rover; Mado and Yves from Quebec, making coffee in their Yves-built minivan camper, they handed me a cup on the banks of the Torrent River.
There’s John and Doreen, from Newfoundland. They’re going to Mexico this month where John will undergo a stem-cell treatment for his MS.
Deanna, the young mother from Bottle Cove who walks along the coast every day. Doesn’t walk fast, or far, but every day she’s doing her best to come back from a stroke that many of us would not have survived.
Deanna and John must be the two bravest people I met on this trek, and they do it with good cheer. How I admire them.
Finally, the young French-Canadian soldier, Francois, born in Ottawa, stationed in Labrador. He was on foot in Newfoundland, hitching rides from one trail head to another, living out of a backpack for the month. A handsome kid, 23, no doubt the women drivers get on the brakes with both feet.
A word about interesting people I didn’t meet. The waif in Trout River, Newfoundland, six or seven, white-blonde hair, an old soul with an expression so serious and oddly wise. She’s walking down the middle of the road as I ride in her direction. I push right to give her the middle and she flashes a wave at me.
Dig it, an offhand wave, nonchalant and familiar, as if she sees me every day, like, Hey, Gomer!
In this same town I spy a beardy Captain Ahab, old man from the sea. I’ve missed a sign somewhere, can’t find my way out. Ride to this dead end, turn around, ride to another, turn around… Ahab’s eyes follow me, and he smiles. Minutes later I see him somewhere else entirely. I wonder if he might be that Twilight Zone hitchhiker.
Well it’s almost over now, I can’t do much about all the things I never got around to saying. I enjoy the last few days of the trek trying to wear out one of my favorite road dogs, as if that were possible. Throw the ball she brings it back, throw the ball she brings it back, brings it back, brings it back, I get in the tent & take a nap.
Jimi the dog in Seattle, Sammy the blind wonder-dog in Chicago, here it’s the mighty boxer/whippet rescue, Ella May, queen of the river house.
Here’s some papers Julie made up, so Ella can get through Customs and across the border. I have to think the Maine accent is what fools them.
It’s all on the up & up, official looking, gives her DOB, etc…
They stamp it at the border, none the wiser.
Ella knows I’m all saddled up and about to leave so she hangs around under my feet, Scratch me, two-legged Harley dog, scratch…
It’s time I got on the road to You Know Where.
Seventeen days, not much of a ride. I’ve been out 5X as long. But for now 17 days will have to do.
US 1 goes right by the border crossing, and, 450 miles later it passes within a mile of the humble manse. I think about riding it all the way home.
It’s a ride through the trees this far north but quite a different story when you get down along the coast. Bar Harbor and Freeport will be gridlocked with Labor Day tourists running up their credit cards. So the plan is south out of Aroostook County, buy gas in Indian Township on the Passamaquoddy rez, trade US 1 for State Route 9, head west and pick up the interstate in Bangor.
I have family and friends in Bangor but the road’s wide open, weather couldn’t be better. Tomorrow it could be traffic jams and rain gear.
Four hours later I’m home, rolling the last few miles on the 10-lane blacktop.
That dusty gravel trail to the horizon, it suddenly seems I was there so very long ago.
Tony DePaul, October 11, 2015, Cranston, Rhode Island, USA