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Cycling from New Hampshire to New Brunswick, Canada and back.

May - June 2009 

Manchester, NH to Fredericton NB via Maine (and back)

Approximate route map, Manchester NH to Fredericton and back, 3000 Km

A detailed interactive route map is here  (opens in a new window)

New england route map

At last I have arrived in  un-sunny San Francisco! It has been a long day - I started at midnight Tuesday, and after about 40 hours it is still Wednesday! How did Wednesday get so long. After leaving from Darwin at midnight and flying to Brisbane we landed in stormy weather at 6 am and I froze while transferring to the international terminal. After a 5 hour wait we boarded to depart for LA just as an even bigger storm arrived. We sat waiting for takeoff for 40 minutes and made it onto the runway just as the storm became so severe that the airport was closed. So the pilot shut down the engines as it would be at least half an hour before we could move. After a long wait, the storm abated, but now the wind had reversed, so we had to change ends of the runway and line up again. Our departure was 2 hours late! At least the VAustralia plane was nice and comfortable, even though full. Upon arriving in Los Angeles, the immigration at LA airport was broken and so we lined up for another hour to be "processed". They asked us to "bear with them" while they fixed their immigration computer - what other choice do you have when you are in limbo land having departed Australia and not yet been  granted access to USA? Complain ?? And get your entry instantly refused! So we all pretended to be patient! It was another 4 hours before my connecting flight but eventually I arrived in San Francisco.

After checking into a motel near the airport, I had to recover my bicycle, which I had not seen for some 8 years, from Richard & Sandra's house in western San Francisco. This took some time as I had to travel by bus to the BART station, then to the city and then by streetcar (tram) to Richard & Sandra's house to see if my bike was still drivable. It took several hours fitting some new tyres and lubricating the bike to get it almost working and to return with my bike to the motel. Refusing to admit defeat, despite serious jetlag, I changed clothes and went out for a ride with just 7 of the 14 speeds working and after 2 laps around the block, (mostly on the right hand side (meaning the wrong side) of the road) the gears mysteriously started working properly. YEA - it was a long hard road to reach an eventual success.

So tomorrow morning I will fly across the continent to Manchester, New Hampshire (near Boston),  where everyone assures me it is even colder than it is here! The next installment will be from the cycling igloo as it seems I will take part in a cycling experiment showing that global warming is actually going backwards!

After arriving in Manchester, NH, I cruised the bike shops and took a day to get the bike ready for the tour. The main issue was adding a rack to carry my pannier full of junk. It is hard for me to live without my favourite junk - which includes this computer! While hanging out at bike shops I met several friendly locals and one suggested we meet up and ride out together tomorrow, which we did. So Dave and I rode the first 30 miles and it was the first time Dave had ridden this far from his home. He was in awe of the crazy aussie who was planning to ride so far and unsupported. I think he is now contemplating cycle touring himself! After 97 miles of pleasant riding, albeit with some heavy tourist traffic and motorbike groupies in places, I was pleasantly tired going on completely cooked and happy to find a cosy motel to stop in at Biddleford. Sunday (today) started out overcast but dry, but by midday it had started to rain. To try and retain my rapidly waning enthusiasm, I stopped at a roadside fish take-out for a late lunch. There I met several friendly and helpful locals, one of whom was an ex-pro cyclist, now a kayaking tour guide, who not only gave me some good tips, but invited me to stay at his place on my return trip! After my lunch - the sky became blue and my mood recovered and the afternoon riding fun made up for the morning funk! Now I am already at Wiscasset, somewhat ahead of my anticipated schedule. But there is pain to come - the weatherman is predicting rain for Tuesday and Wednesday.

I have been pleasantly surprised at the friendliness and helpfulness of almost everyone I have met. This is quite different to the isolated feel of my tour through Spain and France last year, where I was unable to interact with the people at all as I could not speak Spanish or French.

Now if only I could feel the same friendship from those menacing rainclouds!!! 

The saga of the rain is growing deeper (wetter??) here in northern Maine. After the light rain I encountered on Sunday, there were 2 nice sunny days to enjoy cycling the scenic, convoluted coastline, caused by the glaciation in the last ice age. In view of the forecast for rain later this week, I changed my plans and detoured to the coastal tourist towns while it was sunny. This gave me the chance to meet up with Bob and Peggy who were wonderful hosts and even made sure I had spare bananas for my departure! The weather was sunny, though cool on Tuesday and I covered another enjoyable 90 miles. But I did not see any other cyclists - perhaps they are all too smart to ride this far north before the spring sunshine gets fully operational up here! Late in the day, my chain became squeaky so I stopped at a gas station (petrol station that is!) for some oil. The owner was extremely helpful and invited me to stay with them that evening. Maine hospitality really is outstanding! But I had already arranged to stay with Sally and John, some cyclists I found on the warmshowers web site, and I continued another 15 miles to Ellsworth for the night and stayed with them. This morning, (Wednesday) was supposed to be wet, but fortunately the weather man got his days mixed up again, and it was dry, although overcast and just on the cold side of uncomfortable.

I rode off to the north-east, and covered 60 miles despite the cold. But that was enough and at 3pm I found a cosy motel, and none too soon either, as the rain started shortly afterwards. It is quite pleasant in my room with the thermostat cranked up to "tropical" as I watch the birds fishing for their supper in the river outside.

Now I am about 2 days riding from my destination of Fredericton, and I have 4 riding days remaining but I have to worry how many days will be so wet that I choose not to ride. Yes folks, I am way too soft to live in Maine where the cold rain is even more unpleasant than the persistent cold wind. So I am not sure if I will reach Fredericton before my wheels and muscles freeze!

After a rainy night in Machias, the morning was misty and cold, but at least it was dry, so I set off on the last section of my Maine journey to reach the Canadian border. It was so cold by mid morning that when I stopped in a gas station for coffee and saw some work gloves, I bought them for extra hand warming. I might have bought them merely because they were bright yellow - as most of you realise I am addicted to yellowness! But they sure did help keep my fingers safe from the cold wind.  For a few brief minutes the sun shone through the clouds and I actually started to enjoy the riding and beautifully scenic coastline I could see through gaps in the mist. Next morning I rode to the border post and asked "can I go to Canada please". This was apparently an unusual request and everyone smiled back at me and the customs inspector was interested to compare bicycle details with her own bike. Perhaps few people actually ask to enter Canada and this made everyone friendly - but read on, Canadian friendliness did not stop here! By 10 am I was entering the Trans-Canada highway towards Saint John, about 70 miles away. It was cold, really cold and there was a road crew out working and a lady controlling the traffic. As I stopped beside her, we chatted and she immediately saw I had very little clothing covering  my arms - and she wanted to give me a sweater (thats a jumper to you Aussies) she had in her car! I thanked her and politely pointed out that sweaters don't work well while cycling, and I headed off. Most traffic was polite, but there were a few nasty motorists who wrongly thought the Trans-Canada was for cars only. Mostly that is true, but for this 70miles there is no alternative road and bicycles are expressly permitted. Too bad about arrogant motorists who don't understand the concept of shared road usage. When I eventually reached Saint John, I found it to be a pretty untidy town, but found a Tim Horton's to rest in and enjoy my first Timmie's muffin for about 10 years! Nice. Crossing Saint John was difficult both because the traffic was nasty (it was hometime at 4pm) and bicycles are not permitted on one of the only 2 bridges in town. I was still cold as I stayed in Saint John for the night.

Saturday (today) was a repeat of the cold weather, so I had a late, lazy start and found another Tim Horton's. Everyone in Canada was also there and the service line (queue) was way out the door into the coldness! Then I found a bike shop where they were showing a video of the Giro d'Italia race - another excuse for a rest inside before tackling the wind outside. So it was 11am before I set off properly. Just 10 Km (hey, it is Canada now - I am allowed to stop using those "mile" thingies) up the road I met 2 other touring cyclists and we stopped and had lunch together and compared notes. They were on a trip from Florida to Moncton (about 150 Km away). We realised that we had seen each other 4 days previously at Ellsworth - but traveling in opposite directions! While having lunch it started to rain and they departed in the rain while I chose to stay behind and have more coffee until the rain stopped. See, i really am a wimp about cold rain! About 40 minutes later the rain had stopped and I set off to an uncertain destination. After 50 miles, I reached Cambridge Narrows - but there was nothing there, so I continued to Jumseg, where there was even less than nothing! But there was a wedding in progress and I think they now have wedding photos with a red and yellow cyclist in the background! It was a bit tricky to find a way across the Saint John river without using the bicycle -prohibited Trans-Canada highway, but eventually I found the old highway and that was great. It was well paved, but now unused and runs along the river bank for about 40 Km. But that is where the black flies live, and I quickly learned to cycle with my mouth closed when I ran into several swarms of them. By now it was 6pm, I had already ridden 80 miles and there was no accommodation nearby. The only hope was Oromocton, and I reached there about 7pm - but was unable to find the only motel in town. It took me 3 loops of the town and lots of questioning to find the motel, by which time it was 8pm (but still daylight!) and I had covered 101miles .

So after several days of nearly 100 miles I have finally done a proper 100 mile day, although it doesn't feel right that the last 15 miles were done in circles while lost in this crazy town cut in 2 by the freeway and lacking intelligent route markings. Now I am just 20 Km from my destination of Fredericton and now that the tour is about finished, the weather forecast for tomorrow is sunny. It has been a long time coming, so it had better be real sunshine so I can at least get one sunny riding day, even though I will have to go in silly circles to make a decent length ride out of a 20 Km trip!

After the conference, I stayed with my friends in the Shediac beach area of eastern New Brunswick for 3 great days. The sun shone and I rode around exploring the numerous farmlets and beaches in the region without fear of rain! On the weekend we scoured the local marketplaces for delightful breakfasts - more enticing food than I could possibly eat! But Monday was to be my departure to return back to Manchester. After such great hospitality from Jim and Marie it was so hard to say goodbye. They had offered to transport me to Sussex, about 100Km south, as my start point. I wonder if this was a ruse to ensure I would not merely return?? ;-) So at the local Tim Horten's (of course), we parted. It was a fine sunny day with a gentle breeze and it was magic to cruise along through the farm fields and small hamlets to the soothing hum of my tyres. This is what cycle touring was made for! 50Km south I reached Saint John, where I again managed to get lost I swear they had moved the bridge since my transit there last week! Then it was time for the long 100 Km open stretch on the Trans-Canada freeway back to St. Stephen. The wind had risen and I had a malevolent headwind trying to prevent me from reaching the USA border. It was 7pm by the time I made the border crossing with many questions from the cautious USA border immigration guards, who were much less friendly than the Canadian border guards 2 weeks ago. They seemed unable to understand why anyone would ride a bicycle from Southern Maine in order to attend a conference in Canada. I guess only a truly addicted cyclist could ever understand that! Although it was already late, I called Gary and Cheryl and arranged to continue to their house, although i underestimated the distance - another 28 miles, so i was very late in arriving there at 8:45 pm after a 12 hour riding day and 146 miles. This is my new daily distance maximum. Cheryl and Gary were such great hosts to this weary cyclist as we exchanged tales of cycling and hiking on the Appalachian trail, which they had done. I developed a new appreciation for the toughness of hikers, who have to carry their clothes and food and tents on their travels, while I carry only a few clothes. And each day I stay in a warm motel, while hikers spend days camped in cold and sometimes wet weather between infrequent towns. Hikers are clearly tougher than cyclists - so I will happily remain a softie cyclist. Next morning we enjoyed a luxurious and relaxed breakfast in the sun on the delightful outside deck of their house before I departed towards Bangor.

The weather forecast for the next few days was looking grim with persistent rain and cold, and I wanted to reach the inland highways and valleys before the rain arrived. The route was through a very sparsely settled region of 100 miles over a glacial upland, very undulating and I would have no protection from bad weather. Although the sky remained threateningly grey all day, the rain held off. But just 1/3 of the way I found myself on a steep hill and was sure I must be running on empty. This hill felt so much harder than it looked - until I noticed that the truck ahead of me was barely moving faster than me. This was a famously nasty hill and some locals nearby said it was far worse before it was "fixed" last year. And even now many trucks cannot climb it in winter. I pedaled on, but I could feel my strength waning fast. It was not until 4:15pm that I reached the only restaurant on the route and stopped for lunch. But I still had 40 miles to go and my enthusiasm was close to negative. Despite this I ground on but at least the down-dulations now seemed to exceed the up-dulations, though frankly I desperately wanted no undulations at all by now. It became another long day when I eventually reached Bangor at 8pm after 105 miles. Doing back-to-back long days makes me greatly respect the pro-racers who do such distances and more daily for 3 weeks. But for me it is  time for a quiet start and a short day - if the nasty grey clouds let me out onto the wide open road.

It was misty and damp as I left Bangor, vainly hoping for sunshine later in the morning. But it remained damp so I took refuge in a warm diner for a while before deciding to stop after just 30 miles in a town which was the biggest truck-stop I have ever seen. The advantage being that truck stops have free internet access for the truckers - and me! While sheltering I made contact with a cyclist, Douglas, at Waterville, some 25 miles south - if you travel by the shortest route, and arranged to stay with him next evening. Next day  it was overcast but dry and I found a circuitous route to Waterville which took 70 miles as the 25 mile route was far to short to qualify as fun! That afternoon I found the local farmer's market, which was only small, but while there I met 2 very friendly locals who both invited me to stay with them. Hey, there are so many friendly people in Maine I may have to come back again!

Doug and Jamie gave me a place to stay and cared for me and also kindly allowed me to stay on Friday, which was so wet all morning that cycling was not an option - not for me at least. Doug did cycle to his workplace though, which further proves that I am too soft to ride in wet weather. And I am quite happy to be that soft! ;-) Doug's friend, John, arrived on Friday afternoon and the 3 of us enjoyed a great and surprisingly sunny 40 mile Saturday morning bikeride around the Waterville area, guided by Doug. Thanks Doug! After a stop at Tim Horton's (of course) to cap-off the ride, I departed to the west into the clouds, as the sun had already hidden. Summer in Maine can be as short as just half a day it seems! By Sunday morning, the rain had become persistent again, and I set off into a heavy drizzle. After 20 miles I took refuge in a gas station diner where the helpful owner provided towels to help me dry off. Although the rain eased slightly, it remained wet as I continued another 20 miles west to Norway. I was amused to discover that Norway is only 2 miles from Paris - in Maine you can cover all of Europe in mere minutes! But the rain continued and so it was time to take refuge as the next dry motel is some 30 miles away, just the other side of Sweden! Too much wetness for me to enjoy in a day.

I have just 2 cycling days left to reach the end of the tour in Manchester, but it is only about 120 miles away. All i need is a respite from the rain - which the weather forecast keeps promising, and then un-promising just before the respite arrives. At present there is a heat wave in Texas - perhaps I should have gone there instead. It seems I forgot to give my bicycle some essential swimming lessons which are required when cycling in Maine!

After my short day cycling to Norway because of the persistent drizzle and wet roads, I was relieved to see the rain had stopped next morning, although it was still overcast with threatening clouds as I set off for New Hampshire. There were occasional very minor rainspots, but I soon reached Fryeburg and Conway where I had hoped to get a coffee. But it was too hard to find a Dunkin Donuts or equivalent, so I turned south and kept going. I had accidentally found a scenic route on route 153 and it was pleasant with little traffic and even fewer stores. By early afternoon and some 50 miles I had still not stopped for refreshments. Eventually, the first store I found was a lonely looking store from out of the late 1800's, apparently run by M. Taylor according to the sign over the door. There were shelves to the ceiling, neatly stacked with a curious mixture of old and current stock. Madam Taylor was apparently the big sleepy black cat in the basket beside the door, who ignored my entrance. I helped myself to some soda and cookies and sat at the only table inside the store, beside the still sleeping Madam Taylor. After a relaxed time consuming my refreshments I was ready to leave, and Taylor emerged from her basket and stepped out onto the table - apparently to check my purchases. So I counted out some money and when it was apparently enough, Taylor returned to her basket in acknowledgment. As I departed, I wondered if Taylor employed a trained primate to assist her with running the store - or if she ran it on her own? The rain held off as I continued south and the population density increased. Soon I reached Rochester and relaxed in a Dunkin Donuts store and made arrangements to meet up with John, whom I had met in Waterville with Douglas 2 days ago, and with whom I stayed that night.

It was now the last day of the tour and I was just 30 miles or so from my destination at Manchester. But at last the sun had emerged and it was great cycling weather - so there was no point going directly to Manchester and I found a delightfully circuitous route which resulted in a 120 mile ride in the sunshine! Although the last 10 miles was an involuntary detour as I tried to find the non-freeway route back into Manchester! Road signs always assume that you want to use the freeway!

Next day I packed the bike and flew to San Francisco and as I landed  I could see the pacific coastline and route 1 following it south down to Santa Cruz - a fabled cycling route and I wondered about cycling along it! By chance, Richard was traveling to Santa Cruz next day, so I quickly planned to ride there and meet him - so that I could cheat and travel back with him in his car. At 9 am I set off for a delightful and sunny ride south on the coastal highway with stunning scenery and a few intense climbs. Despite heavy traffic in a few places, this ride was perhaps one of the most memorable of my touring. I spent a few days in San Francisco and enjoyed several sunny rides across the Golden Gate bridge into Marin county. This is one of the worlds greatest cycle routes - as evidenced by the constant stream of tourists on rented bicycles who all cross the bridge by bike. And it is still free to ride across the bridge!

But now it was time to hang my bike in Richard's basement for another indeterminate period while I returned to Darwin. It had been a tour of contrasts - with more cold weather than I had expected, but this was compensated for by the very many wonderful and kind people I met along the way. I declare Maine to be the friendly state! Having just completed 1900 miles (3050 Km) of cycling you might think it is time for a rest - but NO! It is time for the next bike tour and I have already planned a trip from Brisbane to Cairns in August, with the official excuse of attending a conference in Townsville on the way. But you all know that its not actually about the conference - it is about the cycling.

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