Saturday, August 16, 2008
Canada at Last!
4,780 miles from our start in Florida, we've finally arrived for a ceremonial "wheel dip" into Rock Island PQ from Derby Line VT. Google maps says it is 1,811 from Key West to Derby Line -- guess we took the long way, eh!
For a while we thought we'd have to call this entry "Swimming to Canada." NH had its 2nd wettest July on record and the first half of August kept it going. We had 15 consecutive days with rain, starting with the last day of the tandem rally. Amazingly we only got drenched once more, but only because we spent a TON of time looking at weather radar on tv or on our handheld devices, and timed our travel between downpours. The rain also cancelled two days of canoeing on the Saco River, as all that rain made the river too dangerous, and the canoe rental places had to close up during prime time.
Other than that, we made the best of it. The day after the tandem rally we went all of 11 miles, which was just fine -- we were tuckered out. We stayed in South Berwick, with the 1774 home that author Sarah Orne Jewett later lived in setting a colonial tone in the heart of its little downtown. We toured the campus of Berwick Academy where Jeff taught for 3 years in the 70s, and were amazed at the number of new buildings. On the way north the next day we dropped by the home of Jim and Di Dean
for a quick hi, the friends we had dinner with last week in Portsmouth. And with rain filling in much of the remaining time, that was about it for sightseeing the first week.
When the going gets tough, the tough go shopping, right? Our route took us right through the outlet store capital of New Hampshire, North Conway. Now as a rule, we never buy anything unless we can eat it -- books excepted. But these were not just any ole outlets, these were L L Bean, Eastern Mountain Sports, Louis Garneau, Pearl Izumi ... Suffice it to say we replaced one pair of bike shorts and one helmet, in both cases with the same model so we could keep this identical-matching-bike-outfit thing going.
On a rest day after all that shopping we timed a 7-mile walk between rain storms and saw rivers looking much livelier than they usually do in August. Then came the biggest challenge, getting through Crawford Notch with a 60% chance of thunderstorms predicted each day.
The weather held for the 1200 foot ascent, and the road was particularly nice for New Hampshire, as you can see. Near the top of Crawford Notch we got a view to Mt. Washington, maybe 15 miles away here.
It doesn't look that foreboding from here, but some of the coldest temperatures in North America, and the very highest wind ever recorded on earth (231 mph) were recorded here. 14 years ago we biked through here and took the famous cog railway to the top. It was in the mid-70s at the bottom, about 40 and extremely windy at the top!
Our climb brought us to another Appalachian Mountain Club lodge at the very crest of Crawford Notch. This is a new facility, built with ulta-green technology, but very attractive and user-friendly.
From comfortable perches on the third floor we took photos before the rain arrived and just as it was about to hit.
Fortunately we were able to get out and hike down to a nearby beaver pond and admire
the mosses and lichens along the trail before then.
We also took a shot of the view to the Mt. Washington Hotel, the large white building in the distance, then again the next morning when rain continued from the middle of the night until about 2 pm, when we made a break for it.
Partway down a beautiful descent we hit the brakes to catch this closer-in view of the Mt. W. Hotel. This is where leaders of the Allied Powers met during WW II to draft the Bretton Woods Agreement creating the International Monetary Fund. It is still a grand hotel, and when we stayed there 14 years ago they loaned Jeff a sports coat (several sizes off for 6' 4" Jeff) so that we could eat in the dining room. Just one of those things we hadn't thought to pack on the bike ... .
Our next highlight was St. Johnsbury VT, where we stopped for a factory tour at Maple Groves, the largest maker of maple candy in the world and the largest bottler of maple syrup in the US. With free samples, of course!
St. J. is a favorite place of ours, a small city with beautiful homes, the attractive Estabrooke House B&B
we stayed in,
a century-old school now recycled as office space, and an old hotel
now serving as senior housing two doors down from the "Atheneum," a combination library and art museum. While walking down a back street we came upon this octagon house now inhabited by
two octogenarians, one of whom stopped rocking on the porch to tell us about the house, the only octagon house in Vermont. It's 140 years old and they're only the fourth owners!
Next was Lake Willoughby, where we stayed in Willoughvale, a small but grand hotel down the road from a cabin community that Jeff's family came to every August for over 15 years in the 1960s and '70s. Lake Willoughby is one of the prettiest lakes in the US in our humble opinion (and that of a lot of Vermonters), and we'll let this shot of Louise
in the front end of a Willoughvale canoe with Mt. Pisgah (left) and Mt. Hor (right) in the background help you decide.
BTW, the road comes along the shore underneath Mt. Pisgah, and these two shots hopefully convey part of the fun of biking through here with granite cliffs towering 1000' above you as you ride along.
And then the border. We selected Derby Line VT as our northern destination for several reasons, Jeff's familiarity with the area among them. But more important was that Derby Line is one of the most interesting border towns in the world.
Did you notice that attractive building behind us in the first picture of this blog entry? It's the Haskell Opera House and Free Library, and the US-Canadian border runs right through it! That's the black line in the reading room and in the hallway (notice the flags?),
and upstairs the international boundary runs right through the theater, with 1/3 of the audience and all of the performers in Canada, and the rest of the audience in the US of A!
And, luck of luck, we were able to time our visit for a production on the US-Canadian border of a British musical about Japan -- of course, The Mikado! For those driving, as long as they parked on the side of the border they came from, they could go to the theater and leave without going through customs.
However, the audience was reminded before the perfomance that anyone who found a parking spot on the opposite side of the border had to go through both customs after the performance or be subject to a $5,000 fine. Yes, there is a limit to this international spirit of Derby Line. And when we went to dinner on the Canadian side, we had to check into Canadian customs beforehand and US customs after.
For 8 1/2 months, we've been answering the questions we get every day about where we're coming from and to with "Key West to Canada." OK, been there, done that. The next day we answered "Canada to Ithaca NY," and the questioner was sufficiently impressed so we left it there. So on we go to Ithaca, which we hope to reach right after Labor Day. We'll tell you about that journey and what happens after we reach Ithaca in our next blog entry.