Monday, July 2, 2012

On the Bike from Boston to Maine

We're finally underway on our tandem after a busy week getting here on Amtrak, visiting friends in Denver en route, and checking out the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

But the tandem has now been reassembled at the Amtrak station and it was less than a mile's ride to our secret way of avoiding the notoriously bad Boston drivers -- the ferry to Salem 25 miles to the north. No cars allowed on the ferry, but bikes are welcome and we got a great view of the waterfront and of some of the drumlin islands in the harbor, our bike got plenty of sea air, and we even got close enough to ogle some seaside houses and to view the harbor at Marblehead that we visited by bike 3 years ago. You can see our earlier photo of Marblehead and of various other sights in Salem and Gloucester that we bypassed this time in our blog entry from back then (

Having both been to Salem many times -- it is a fascinating place -- we headed on through town and out to Gloucester, 20 miles further. That 2008 blog entry has photos of some of the good stuff in each.

Our second night was in Ipswich. After passing through twice on prior rides, we made this an overnight destination this time around and were very glad we did. This quiet town has more homes built before 1720 than any other in the U.S. -- roughly 60 of them! The map from the visitors center shows the 40 or so in the heart of town, and next morning we walked past about 30 of those. The Thomas Knowlton House of 1688 is a very typical colonial New Engand home with a rectangular floor plan parallel to the street, symmetrical windows, center doorway, center fireplace, and an addition on the back (almost certainly not there in 1688) that is known as an "ell." The overhanging second floor is also somewhat common.

The Preston Foster House is dated 1690, but at that time was probably only the front section (on the left in the photo). The far right looks like a barn that possibly came a few years later, then other sections of house that filled in the gap. This is common further north, especially in Maine, where a snowstorm can make it hard to see a building ten feet away and make a trip to the barn dangerous in winter, but that would rarely be the case here, so it is more likely just a stylistic matter.

We wandered past many other gorgeous homes and ended our walk at the cemetery, another New England classic.

As we biked north we passed the mouth of the Merrimac River, looking very much the tidal river it is here. Two months from now we will bike over 100 miles down the upper Merrimac River Valley, through an area that was once teeming with textile mills harnessing its power in the early years of the Industrial Revolution. A few miles further we crossed into New Hampshire and stopped for a shot of the Seabrook Nuclear Power Plant. It was approved in 1976 but took over ten years to reach completion due to massive protests and regulatory impediments, and the enormous cost overruns forced its original owner, Public Service Co. Of NH, into bankruptcy. It's up soon for renewal of its operating license, and it is not at all clear whether it will get the go-ahead. Just before leaving New Hampshire we passed through the small city of Dover and its 19th century water-powered textile mill, now looking pretty spiffy and apparently seeing new life.

We had a great route planned up the southern coast of Maine, but when double-checking the route on Google the night before, Jeff noticed that a key bridge was missing! Turns out it came down two months ago and will take two years to rebuild. There are two other bridges nearby linking Portsmouth NH and Kittery ME, but both are closed to bicycles for safety reasons. Uh oh, what now? Further frantic searching on the web disclosed that there is a shuttle van that can carry up to five bikes, once an hour, but we had no way of knowing whether it could handle our 8-foot-long tandem. We ended up taking an alternate inland route that got us to our destination in 43 miles instead of the anticipated 35, but we got this nice welcome to Maine as a consolation, plus our first lobster humor in a restaurant along the way.

This trip has been planned as more of a vacation than some of our other expeditions. The ferry out of Boston was one sign of that, and planned biking of  only 35 to 45 miles per day, with frequent layovers, is another. Our first long stop was in Moody Beach, just north of the town of Ogunquit. A fellow who travels around to elementary schools and paints outline maps of the U.S. on their playgrounds was spending his vacation here and practiced his art in the sand. We've zoomed in on New England to show you our location, marked with the big arrow and plastic lighthouse. That's an amazingly accurate map for freehand sketching, yes?

We enjoyed a week's stay in a 1-BR half of a duplex right on the tidal Ogunquit River, but only a four minute walk from the ocean beach. The view out our kitchen and bedroom windows of the salt marsh was something we never tired of seeing, and we got out twice in a canoe that came with our place to explore this part of the Rachel Carson Nature Preserve. While we were three houses back from the beach itself, we could usually hear the surf, especially in the still of the night.

Everyone has heard of the "rock-bound coast of Maine," and we took a scenic walk on mile-long Marginal Way just south of Ogunquit to see some of it, twice in fact because it was so stunning.

Maine does have beaches. Many are little pockets, like these two on the south side of the mouth of the Ogunquit. But look north across the river and you can see almost five miles of continuous beach, one of Maine's finest.

We did several long walks on the beach. Near our place, the beach is lined with homes that own the beach down to the high water mark, meaning that at high tide you can't walk up or down the beach from the public access, you can only stand there looking out. But as soon as the water starts to drop and reveal the rest of the beach, there's lots of room. The first shot below is looking north about an hour after high tide. The areas of wet and dry sand reveal the dividing line. An hour or two later and there was room enough for a whole town to sit on the public part of the beach.

Walk less than a mile south and the beach is entirely public, just past those last homes. This shot was taken an hour or two before low tide. The following photo shows how the sand dune creates a spine separating the Ogunquit River and its salt marsh from the ocean.

Like any sane person, we did not for a moment think of actually going into the water at the beach. Even though it is one of the warmer beaches in Maine, water temperatures are usually in the low 60s -- Hawaii it ain't. But there's still lots to see at the beach, from kids trying to catch seagulls to kids building castles to kids just wandering off aimlessly. It's not like they can hide anywhere, so sooner or later you find them.

One guy that should have hidden was this worm-like creature. We watched him for a few minutes, occasionally readjusting his position until the next wave moved him a short ways. At last we decided to move on. We took four steps and heard a rustle behind us. Turning, we watched a gull gulp the last of our little friend!  Even easier to photograph were this deceased crab and some remarkably colorful kelp.

While the beach was hard-packed enough for one fat-tire bike, we mostly gave our red tandem some time off. We did only one ride, in part to see more of the coast (without luggage on the bike, yay!) down to Nubble Light in York and the interesting bucket ride that brings lighthouse keepers to the island, and in part to get the first two episodes of this summer's redtandem blog into the world wide web courtesy of the free internet access at the York Public Library.

Well, the week is up, and back on the bike we go. We'll post again from somewhere between here and Bar Harbor, depending on when and where we can get computer access to get online with our thoughts and photos.

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