27.1 mi / 9.6 mph / 1497 ft. climbing
Home: Lovely’s Motel
We woke up to more blueberry pancakes, each tossed to us by Dave straight off the griddle. Ann left early to go get dirty again, and I felt bad that we delayed Dave getting out of the house to get his brand-new recumbent e-bike checked out (that came disappointingly with a problem he needs fixed before he starts off on one of the group tours he puts together with friends). Last night they had recommended adding several extra miles by reversing back down their busy, dangerous road (Dave said he stopped riding it some years ago) to US-2, rather than continuing along it to Skowhegan. But by this morning they had realized that we had come in down it precisely when the New Balance factory on the other side had let out, so it would almost surely feel better to us this morning. And when we got back up the gravel road, traffic looked very light, so we decided on the direct route, and it worked out fine.
Skowhegan marked the point where we returned to the route we had taken in 2016. That time we had come down from the north and Quebec, while this time we had made it straight from the west over (or through) the mountains in the United States. A couple days ago, someone (I think our WarmShowers host Glenn?) asked how much we remember from bike tours, beyond what I’ve blogged about. My feeling was that there was (sadly) very little I could recall beyond what I had chosen to document at the time. But this morning I recalled a particular stretch of US 2 in this area that curved around under a nice line of trees with a cliff running up to the left and the Kennebec River to the right.
And a mile or two later, it appeared! Almost precisely as I’d remembered it, which is especially surprising since the light was from the opposite direction. Though nothing else struck me with familiarity along this stretch of highway. And just now, I looked back and found that I had documented the “shadows of the tree-tunnel onto the road”; no photo though, so the text was apparently enough to project the imagery into my recollection. Still, it uneasily gets me back to the point where the only things I can recall from these film-strips of constant motion are those that I actually had the camera running for.
While re-covering the supposedly-familiar ground of US-2, we had a couple of revealing driver-moments. First, the purest example of follow-the-leader behavior I’ve ever seen. Whenever there is a line of four or five cars that need to pass us, they’ll all tend to do whatever the lead driver decides to do. Like if the leader swings completely into the oncoming lane, they’ll all move that far over. Or vice-versa: if the leader is a close-passing asshole, the followers will also tend to pass too close, not necessarily because they’re also assholes, but because they aren’t even conscious enough to make an independent choice (which can be as scary as being an asshole!) This time, however, the lead car used its left turn signal when moving to the oncoming lane, and the right turn signal when moving back after passing. Nice, but this is something extremely rare for drivers to do, like maybe it happens 1 in 1000 passes. But the next two drivers did the same thing! I’d been holding out a tiny bit of hope that this sort of mindless behavior was just my own biased perception, but this pretty much confirmed that it’s real.
The second bit was a red pickup pulling a small boat. He passed us once on the road, giving us plenty of space, so unremarkably that I’m surprised I even remembered him. Then we must have hopped ahead of him again at some point because while waiting in line for a one-way bridge-construction light to change, he pulled up behind us. The only reason I noted him this time was because we had stopped with a significant gap between us and the car in front of us in line (partly to wait under the shade of a tree, and partly to give Rett some running room to start her bike, since her “yips” have become worse in recent days), and that’s something that usually bothers drivers. There was plenty of room and time for him both to safely pass us in the oncoming lane, and to pull in front in the gap between us and the car ahead, so I was pleasantly surprised that he decided to just sit patiently behind us instead. Once we got going and made it across the one-way bridge, he waited until it was safe and passed us with plenty of room. Awesome! Our third and final encounter occurred as we crossed another bridge spanning a small lake. At this point he had his boat in the water and was motoring away with a friend. He turned back and saw us crossing the bridge and yelled “hey, it’s those bikers! Fuck you!!!” Haha, what the hell?!? I guess it’s more support for my theory that Maine’s driver education system is responsible for the generally-good driver behavior here, rather than some inborn friendliness and altruism of Mainers. But hey, if they’re going to fume quietly to themselves, holding their rage inside while driving safely and following the rules of the road, we’ll definitely take that over the opposite!
Our last ten miles or so, the wide shoulder of US 2 in Maine deteriorated to something horrible, filled with latitudinal cracks and holes. We had to be hard on our brakes on the downhills, and even at slow speeds, it was a jarring ride, as bad as a poor-quality rail trail. Only later did I notice on the Strava Heatmap that bicycle traffic basically dropped to zero along this section, a reminder that most of the heatmap traffic is created by local people doing enjoyable day rides, and they all just know to avoid this section of highway because it sucks so hard and is completely unenjoyable.
So when we rattled our way into Lovely’s Motel (a place far less-skeevy than it sounds), the cold lemonade at the reception desk, the cold air-conditioned room, and early check-in to our still wet-mopped room were much-appreciated. It’s a very unusual motel, just a classic mid-20th-century outdoor-entry motel of the type that we normally stay in because they’re cheap and filled with somewhat-grungy people like us. But this one has been updated to an extent we’ve never seen. Keyless entry, high-end bathroom, huge room with laminate flooring, wet-bar kitchenette, it felt like a modern major chain hotel on the inside. I’m not sure what the business model is for such a place, but for us it was a nice bit of unexpected luxury.