Day 0: St Louis, MO to Portland ME
The past few days have been a whirlwind of new experiences. My flight from St. Louis to Portland, ME left at 5:30am on May 10. A 3am wake up combined with a night of poor sleep due to rain and nerves left me feeling exhausted, so I dozed through the flight. When I landed in Portland, my Warmshowers host Dylan was kind enough to pick me up at the airport and give me a ride back to the apartment he shares with his girlfriend, Katie. He showed me around, gave me a set of spare keys, and returned to work. Luckily, the bike shop where I’d shipped my bike to be reassembled was only about three blocks away from Dylan and Katie’s place, so I walked over there and picked up my bike, which was assembled and ready to go.
After that, I biked down to the camping supply store where I picked up a few things I wasn’t able to bring on the plane (fuel, lighter, bear mace). Trader Joe’s happened to be right next door, so I popped in there and stocked up on some food: beef jerky, dried fruit, trail mix, peanut butter, apples, cheese, flatbread, oatmeal, chocolate, and Cliff bars. I didn’t really buy anything that needs to be cooked (other than the oatmeal and some Starbucks Via coffee, which I already had), because I was planning on using single serving quick rice, mashed potatoes, mac and cheese, and tuna packets, none of which Trader Joe’s sells. Once I work my way through my current horde, I’ll figure out how to get some hot suppers.
After my supply run, I returned to Katie and Dylan’s, sorted through my gear, and packed. Still exhausted, I took a short nap on the air mattress they set up for me in their spare room. The room was tiny — the size of the air mattress, plus room for my panniers — but it was very comfy.
After my nap, I decided to take a walk around Portland to see the sights and try out my new camera. I walked over to a coffee shop that Dylan recommended and ordered an espresso, thinking it would help wake me up. Remind me not to order espresso again. I’m sure it would’ve been delicious to an espresso drinker, but it was much to strong for me.
I didn’t explore too far away from the apartment, but what I did see of Portland, I really liked. It’s a charming small city full of interesting little shops and gorgeous historic homes. And the weather was just perfect: perfectly clear, 70 degrees, and sunny. Evidently, it had been rainy and miserable the week prior and Tuesday was the first nice day, so I really lucked out. After my walk, Dylan and I biked down to old town where we met Katie for dinner at a restaurant whose name I failed to note. We ordered their pizza special of the day and it was delicious, but my nerves prevented me from eating too much.
After dinner, Katie and I biked around Portland and she showed me the sights. We took a photo on the beach (I didn’t end up dipping my wheel, but it was close enough) and witnessed a lovely sunset over Portland.
I have to say, when I found Warmshowers, I was expecting maybe a floor to sleep on and a warm shower if I was lucky. But Katie and Dylan were awesome. Not only did they pick me up at the airport, buy me dinner (and breakfast), show me around Portland, and give me a comfy place to sleep, they were full of insight and advice about my impending tour. They biked the Northern Tier last summer on a tandem, so it was great to pick their brains about the trip. I’m so grateful for everything they did for me, it was an excellent way to start my tour and it really helped assuage my nerves.
Day 1: Portland, ME to Bridgton, ME
In the morning, Katie and I woke up early and she drove us out to Fort Williams, where there is an old lighthouse. We walked around and chatted and I learned that both Katie and Dylan are graphic designers. That was pretty neat, given my background. Next, we headed to Scratch bakery — which Katie said makes the best bagels she’s ever tasted — and picked up some Maine sea salt bagels. We returned to the apartment where Katie made an egg scramble to go with our bagels. Once again, my nerves got the better of me and I wasn’t able to eat too much despite the delicious food.
After that, it was off to work for Katie and Dylan and westward for me. After some finagling, I got my bike loaded up and set out. About four blocks into my great journey, I heard someone shout behind me, “You dropped a glove!” I’m not used to wearing my gloves and I’d forgotten that I set them on top of my back trunk bag. I thanked the stranger and we chatted a bit about my tour. After that, I had to retrace my route back to Katie and Dylan’s apartment where (luckily) I found my other glove lying in the street. Gloves on, I set out once again for the road to Bridgton, ME where I planned to connect with the Northern Tier route.
Riding out of Portland on the 302 was nice. It was basically small town after small town, and I didn’t really encounter any proper wilderness. I stopped at Chipman’s Market in Poland Spring, ME for lunch (chicken and corn chowder and an ice cream sandwich) and then continued on.
I arrived at Colonial Mast campground just a couple miles outside of Bridgton at 2:30pm. I’d only ridden about 35 miles, but I was anxious to find a place to set up camp and eager not to destroy my legs by riding too far on the first day. The campground was located right next to Long Lake and because it’s early in the season, there weren’t too many people there so I got a choice site on a tiny peninsula. My tent was literally five feet from the edge of the water. I set up camp, had a snack, and walked around a bit.
I had asked at the office when I paid for my site, what they recommended regarding food storage and the woman there told me that in her 39 years at the campground, she’d only seen one bear but that they did have troubles with skunks and squirrels. So I decided to hang my food, mostly for practice. After several failed throws, I managed to get the line over a decent-sized branch and hang the bag. It definitely wasn’t far enough from my tent and it only ended up being about eight feet off the ground, but I was satisfied with it as a first attempt.
I decided to turn in early and went to bed around 8pm. Despite the fact that there were other campers close by and the weather was clear and not too cold, I didn’t sleep terribly well. I don’t know if it was first night jitters or the sound of the lake or if I’m just not great at sleeping in tents, but I tossed and turned for awhile. I’m really hoping that I’ll get better at the whole solo camping thing as I go, but it’s still new.
Day 2: Bridgton, ME to Conway, NH
I woke up at about 7am and made oatmeal and coffee. It took me a couple tries to get my stove started, but eventually I got it going. Once again, the weather was clear and sunny. The morning started off brisk but it warmed up as the day went on. I’m trying to savor the good weather, because I know that eventually, I’ll run into rain. I packed up and set off around 9:15am. Packing up took longer than I anticipated, and I couldn’t quite remember how I’d packed my panniers the previous day, so it took some rearranging to get things situated.
The previous afternoon, I’d called around to some campgrounds to try and book a site for the next day but didn’t have any luck, so I decided to book a spot at the White Mountains Hostel in Conway, NH. It was about a 35 mile ride, and I’d hoped to arrive by about 2:30pm, but the hills of Maine had different plans for me. My morning ride was pretty difficult. Really difficult, actually. I just kept hitting inclines that defeated me. Even in the lowest gear, I couldn’t stay on the bike. So I ended up pushing up a lot of hills. Finally, at about 1pm, I made it to Lovell, ME where I stopped at the general store to use the restroom and get some water. I ate lunch and rested for a bit before setting out again towards Conway, NH. Luckily, the ride from Lovell to Conway was much flatter and the inclines more manageable. I pulled into the hostel at about 4:30pm, two hours after my intended arrival time. After about 6.5 hours of riding and only 35 miles, I was pretty disappointed but happy to have made it. I’m really hoping that my mileage picks up after I pass through the White Mountains.
Tomorrow, I’m supposed to ride the Kancamagus Pass which is nearly 3000 feet but it’s supposed to rain. I’m really not interested in facing the challenge of nearly a full day riding uphill and the challenge of riding in the rain for the first time, so I think I’m going to stay at the hostel for an extra day and wait out the rain. That will also give my legs a chance to recover from the first two days. I hadn’t anticipated taking a rest day this soon, but I think it’s probably for the best. I don’t want to overdo it.
Overall, things have been going pretty well. But of course, that’s easy to say from the comfort of my hostel bed with the prospect of a rest day tomorrow. To be quite honest, I’m much more comfortable with solid walls around me than the thin plastic of my tent, so maybe I’ll be taking advantage of Warmshowers more than I thought. Or maybe I’ll get used to sleeping in a tent. Only time will tell.
I know it’s only day two but at the rate I’m going, I’m not sure I’ll be able to ride the entire Northern Tier route. As much as I want to see Glacier National Park and as much as I want to be able to say I rode the whole thing, I’m strongly considering calling it quits in Minneapolis. Or I might jump on the train to bypass North Dakota and save some time. Who knows. Everything is kind of up in the air right now, and all I can do is take it one day at a time.