My original intent for Labor Day was to canoe from Allagash Village to Fort Kent for the last leg of the long trip. But I was only slightly disappointed when the low water levels in the St. John River caused me to go to Plan B for the final day.
Plan B was to bike along the thirty miles of Route 161 to downtown Fort Kent. Mike & Kathy Wahl, friends from the Farmington area, had volunteered to shuttle the Commander’s pickup to Allagash Village during a trip to their camp on Square Lake. So the truck was waiting for us in Allagash when we unloaded the canoes for the final time at Mcbreirty’s Landing.
Inside the truck was my “road bike” — an early ’90s Acadia model from L.L. Bean. The bike was designed as a hybrid to handle both paved and unpaved surfaces. Over the years I have modified the gearing and added an aero bar to get down out of the wind. I also switched to narrow road tires and installed clip-in pedals to increase efficiency.
The bike now leans more heavily toward pavement, but I can still ride the carriage roads at Acadia in a pinch. The old bike is made of steel and easily weighs three times as much as modern racing bikes. But it is a rock-solid performer and almost bomb-proof on Maine’s roughly-paved back roads.
Labor Day dawned with the same clear and warm weather that had followed us down the Allagash for the past week. A perfect day for the ride. I was travelling lightly — having left all my gear and canoe for the Commander to transport back to southern Maine.
After several days of poling and muscling the canoe through shallow shoals on the river it was sublime to be back on the bike. To move effortlessly at 15 to 20 miles per hour seemed magical.
My favorite parts of this multi-sport trip have been when I switched from one mode of travel to another. From hike to boat, bike to hike or boat to bike — it’s the change that keeps things interesting. Every new mode of travel is a fresh start. A straightforward bike ride, hike or even a canoe trip that went from Kittery to Fort Kent would have been boring in comparison.
Shortly after passing through Allagash Village I stopped for a visit at Jan and Brenda Soucy’s home and business — Black River Guiding Service. Jan is a Maine Guide and lifelong Allagash resident who has shuttled vehicles, provided housing, transportation and advice to the Commander and I for many years. His cabins have been our home away from home in the St. John River Valley.
So it seemed perfectly natural to find Brenda, Jan, their son and several other guides around the big kitchen table discussing preparations for the bear-hunting clients who were in camp. I told them the story of my trip while enjoying Brenda’s famous chocolate cake and coffee.
Back on the road again — I began to wonder why bicyclist from all over the nation don’t
flock to Aroostook County. The scenery is incredible, the terrain is challenging but not overwhelming, the road conditions are excellent compared to most parts of the state and the people simply could not be friendlier. Traffic on Route 161 was light and motorists consistently gave me a wide, comfortable berth when passing.
As I passed through the town of St. John I did come across some other cyclists. I met
and/or passed by three other men on road bikes. I chased one bike for three miles before I could successfully catch up to a dedicated race biker. He smiled and waved. I slowed down to catch my breath and to extend the experience of this last day on the trail.
With my family waiting for me in Fort Kent I’m thrilled to have completed the journey and eager to go home. But I’ll sorely miss this feeling of freedom from dwelling on anything more complicated than the daily miles to be made.
It may be some kind of a commentary on modern American life that it requires a trip like this to force us to live in the present moment for an extended period of time. Maybe that’s the secret attraction of all travel, not just the wilderness variety.