Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Crazy Trip Dispatch #3 From Doug Walsh

He's back. Doug Walsh, with his across the universe bicycling adventure. I'm not using italics on this dispatch, but it's all Doug from here forward.

The Atlantic beckons! We're just two days from running out of continent to cross and it still hasn't sunk in. We were sitting in our hotel in Montreal sometime last week when it occurred to me: let's go to Acadia National Park. The plan had always been to spend a few days in Quebec City, which we did, and then head south into northern Vermont. That suddenly seemed very strange.

"Why don't we angle southeast out of Quebec, cross into Maine, and go to Acadia National Park for a couple of days?" I asked Kristin. "We can double back through New Hampshire and Vermont and still go to Cooperstown later."

"Why not? We don't have to be at work on Monday," she replied, using what has become a motto to encourage changing of plans and embracing spontaneity. And so it was settled. Rather than risk life, limb, and a drive-by bronzing while trying to dip our wheels in the Atlantic on the chaotic Jersey shore, we'll pedal along the bucolic coastal backroads of Maine instead.

This little change of direction set forth an interesting cascade of serendipitous events. I'll share one of them with you now: it allowed us to meet Bill. Bill is a retired former high school teacher from the inner city who, with his wife, moved up to northern Maine 24 years ago and carved a gorgeous campground out of the woods. He and his wife closed that campground four years ago, but they're still listed on the maps sold up the road at Bishop's General Store, where you can also buy pre-chilled leftover pizza for a buck a slice. Now Bishop warned us that the campground has been closed for a few years, "But I know they're up there for the summer and got the water on. Go ahead and knock on the door and see if they'll let you camp for a donation. I'd call them for you, but I think they did away with the phone."

So when Kristin and I spotted the moldy campground sign twelve miles down the road and turned in, we knew it was closed, but felt good about being able to borrow a patch of grass to set up our tent for the night. After all, it's still a campground, open or not.

A couple of Labrador Retrievers led the way for a graying, squat, angular man who came smiling out of the front door. Everything from his appearance to his mannerisms to his smile reminded me of Jerry Van Dyke from the sitcom "Coach." Bill was polite, welcoming, and firm in his refusal to allow us to camp. "When you say you're going to stop doing something, you just got to stop. I know you two are good people, but if I let you set your tent up then I'm going to have to say yes to the next person who comes along, and, well, we said we were done with this."

Bill apologized profusely and I didn't try to plead or change his mind. I just accepted his decision, told him we were sorry for interrupting him, and bid him goodbye after listening to his description of two places further up the highway we might be able to pitch our tent. It's legal to camp just about anywhere you want in Maine.

We weren't a mile down the road when a pickup truck slowed alongside and a man yelled for us to pull over. It was Bill. "I just feel awful for saying no to you two back there and it would really mean a lot to me if you came back and camped at our campground for the night. No charge, just enjoy yourself."

I played the politeness game in which I decline his offer, telling him he shouldn't feel bad, and that the other sites he mentioned sounded great. He then countered with promises of hot showers, wood for the campfire, and plenty of drinking water. We accepted. Happily. I couldn't say no to Luther.

Later that night Bill and his wife Holly went for a walk around their old, empty campground, and stopped in for a chat down by the lake, where we set up our tent. It was a treat to listen to their stories. You can go a long time without meeting such warm and genuinely nice people.

Or you can just go for a bike ride and meet folks like this almost every day.

Back in the USA,
Doug Walsh

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