In 1950, Vita Sackville-West identified in a broadcast on the BBC, a number of unremarkable but essential pleasures. These brief moments were termed in the family shorthand,“through leaves”, after the small but intense pleasure of kicking through dry leaves.
It was “through leaves” to run a stick along an iron railing or crunch thin ice; to suddenly remember a word or name you thought you’d forgotten; to write with the perfect pen; pulling curtains that run freely on their rods; sliding out a drawer which opened readily and silkily on ball bearings, cutting pages of a book with a sharp paper cutter; drawing a cork with a good corkscrew; drinking when you’re thirsty; feeling of sand between your toes at the beach; and reading in bed. Others include; sinking into bouncy seats at the movies; waking up to find it has snowed overnight; shopping in an outdoor market; putting on a freshly ironed shirt or suddenly catching sight of the sea.
In the few days after we left New Brunswick, we were going to tick off a number of Vita’s “through leaves” moments. We could have had one before we got out of the car park, as there was a thin layer of ice on the car windows. Down we went to the post office for what was the third time. We had been waiting for the map that covers the route down the coast and now at the very last moment, it was there. Hurrah indeed.
We made our way out of town, discovering always too late, many nice places that we had lacked the energy to find during our stay. We quickly made our way to Freeport ME., despite a short 15% climb for the first time in thousands of miles. Home of L.L.Bean, a dozen nice cafes and the bare bones of a bike culture. You would know you are somewhere on the East coast with a quick look at how many L.L.Bean labels are on the clothing walking towards you, and here is the flagship store. Four stories, and featuring a department for ‘dog accessories’, we were intimidated and fled.
The day warmed up as we rode on and we were back to our summer gear, having started in arm and leg warmers. Life was good and unhurried. We have managed the rather difficult task of riding 6,500 miles up and across the USA, with two weeks to spare, and are feeling ‘chuffed’. I thought back to a day in 1969, watching Apollo 11 splash down into a blue Pacific just 1min 40 seconds late. “Well if Midland Red could get the buses to Stafford to run like that”, observed my Dad. Timekeeping and punctuality were important traits in our family and still are.
If you are trying to organise a long bike tour, the trick is to calculate 1,000 miles per month and you just about get it every time. I remember sitting at the computer, doing the research for this ride. Wind directions, distance and time of year and applying the 1,000 mile rule. Was I pleased when I realized it should all work and that we would be here in ‘The Fall’.
On we went, along HWY 115. For goodness sake, it is Oct 7th and farmers here are still able to harvest hay. The days are unseasonably warm with mid 80’f when it should be 60’f. We camp at Sebago Lake after 46 miles and wake to a Summer’s day morning. The houses along the last 500 miles or more have had us going “wow” and “I could live there”. This does not happen in the UK without an unbelievable price tag. Here, to us, the average home is inviting and has charm. Add to that some ‘fall’ decoration and we are sold. Maine and New York are wonderful.
Through Standish, Hollis and Goodwins Mills we had undulating and sometimes downright lumpy riding. We were starting to get some colours in the leaves again after a section of dullness. Property prices looked to be rising at about 1% per mile as we travelled towards the Atlantic Coast. In the gardens of the houses were ocean going boats of massive proportions. These were full on, second mortgage, divorce inducing, floating gin palace monsters. The open ocean was not far to go now.
Kennebunk, and with time on our hands we sat in a cafe once again. “Do you want to stay with me tonight?”. Within minutes we were with Jeanne at her home, drinking tea. She had done a cross country and quite a number of ultra runs. We were in good company in her charming C18th home.
If I do ever forget to say this, America, you can be so proud of your fellow American’s. Time and again we are humbled by acts of kindness that make travelling here such a pleasure. Fed and watered by Jeannie, we headed to the tourist coastline of Wells and Wells Beach. It was Columbus Day weekend, the last kick of the ball for holidaying USA and the forecast was unbelievable. The roads were packed, ice cream sales in full swing and we were in top spirits. Then quite by accident we see the Atlantic ( See “through leaves” above for importance). We have to ask for confirmation as it had been teasing us for many miles. It is the Atlantic.
The houses become even more expensive as the road winds it way along the coast to York Beach and York Harbor. We know we are in for an expensive campground, but we are not expecting to find it difficult to get a spot. It is, and we are lucky to get a pitch and a deal at Libby’s campground. The sun is hot enough to force us to the bottom of our bags for suntan cream. For goodness sake this is October. We are treated to a fine sunset, missing the sun dipping into the ocean here on the East Coast, but the colours are just fine.
At Portsmouth we pass over a bridge and back into New Hampshire. It all feels wrong to be back in a State we have passed through but it is not our fault. New Hampshire is shaped like the letter ‘Q’, with the tail heading down to the Atlantic Coast. Like Lex Luther in the first Superman film, it has a passion for beach front property and was not going to worry about a strange shape, if that meant a toe in the ocean. It did feel wrong to be back though.
Portsmouth is ‘red brick’ and charming indeed. It was hot enough for a chocolate milk shake and my last excruciating ice-cream headache, also known as brain freeze, cold-stimulus headache, or its given scientific name sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia (meaning “nerve pain of the sphenopalatine ganglion“). So, now you know. I seem to be incapable of avoiding them no matter how much I breath out slowly through the nose “to pre-heat the roof of the mouth”, as suggested by the web!
We headed inland, and towards horse country on the HWY 111. This was beautiful, that was for sure. To left and right it was equine from head to toe. This was a bit of a coincidence, as we had just heard about ‘Mane N’ Tail, shampoo and conditioner for you and your horse. Yes indeed, the only brand to have seen a gap in the market for a grooming product that you and your horse can share. It may sell well here.
We stop for food at “The Hungry horse”, and on the wall is a calendar indicating guesses for the first snow of winter. $5 a go and winner takes all, with the owner being the judge of what counts as snow. “If it looks like snow out of the window here, then it is snow”. The first guess is early November.
We end the day just outside of Exeter, at The Elm River Campground. Biting flies and mosquitos, are enjoying the Indian Summer every bit as much as we are. There is not a breath of wind. Esther has to do the camp chores whist I hide from the pests in the tent. Thank goodness for a ‘bug screen inner’. How did people camp and even ‘Go West” without them? We go to sleep with Squirels making strange, angry noises in the branches above us. Dear god they are annoying. You would not want one in your loft space.
For a few hundred miles now, the American Diner has disappeared from our route leaving us with crap. We spend the night with Monika, at Nashua, and then next morning, just a few miles along the Nashua River Trail bike route it is there. We have the last ‘second breakfast’ of our journey in Groton. Two eggs, sunny side up and Rye toast, times two. We will miss this. As we have neared the East Coast people have become puzzled by our accents. The final McDonald stop was an unhappy affair, with two of the three things ordered being wrong and us too tired to complain.
We ride on this ‘rail to trail route’ in perfect weather. Leaves are pulled into the air as our back wheel passes. This is the perfect unremarkable, but essential pleasure. The LCD in the handlebar meter from the symbols for 6,500 miles in the USA and a few miles later we arrive at the end of our journey in Acton Massachusetts, just short of Boston. I am deeply and entirely worn out.
We end our journey here with 6,512 miles and 242,000 ft of climbing and if you throw in New Zealand, 9059 miles since January 25th. It has been amazing to have so many web friends following us and cheering us on. Thank you all for that. We will be back with some equipment review blogs and then we are back out on the road again some time soon.