37.4 mi / 10.3 mph / 2113 ft. climbing
Home: Brad’s WarmShowers Camper
It’s finally time to end our stay on Mount Desert Island. The morning was chilly (45 degrees), but still dry. After a couple weeks on Nova Scotia with only one or two “good weather” days, this clear and sunny four-night end-of-September camping trip to visit Acadia was an unexpected gift. When we gave the National Park a glancing blow on our way out to Canada two months ago, we didn’t even know if we’d return at all, and never would have bet that we’d be able to stay so long and so comfortably. It far-exceeded our two-night stay in mid-September of 2016, where we woke up to rain both mornings, did a single fog-covered hike, and then the continuing wet weather made it pointless to stay any longer. This time, we could thank the inherent flexibility in our current lifestyle for the ability to make a last-minute, weather-based call to stop and explore, unlike most of our fellow visitors who likely booked their trips to this crowded, expensive place months ago, and only had luck to thank for their excellent timing.
But it’s a good thing we had that reserve of relaxation, because the endless lines of Saturday morning traffic leaving Mount Desert Island had Rett fuming. A line of stop lights near Ellsworth amid heavy traffic had her hopping off her bike and walking it through parking lots and across grass berms until she could return to a less nerve-wracking place to restart. At least she didn’t have to fight headwinds on top of all of that, like we would have if we’d stayed on the island another day.
Now back in the US, we were once again repeating the basic route of our 2016 tour. I knew that when we turned onto US Highway 1 in Ellsworth, we would be faced with an immediate challenging climb, because I’d written about how impressively Rett attacked and conquered it back then. Unfortunately she wouldn’t repeat that triumph today. Just as we started up the steep incline, she was forced to dodge around a hole in the road, and that reduced her momentum to zero. Unable to restart on the steep incline, she essentially lost all hope. We backed down to the bridge we’d just crossed and had another serious discussion about just ending the bike-riding part of our travels right there. But after eating donuts we’d brought with us from the campground’s Gathering Place, she had again resolved to continue forward.
But the road curved up the hill, with traffic splitting and the shoulder disappearing, so I rode her bike halfway up while she walked on the minimal sidewalk; without being able to extend my legs their normal amount, the 9% grade was nearly enough to burn me out. Then I ran back down, collected my bike, and repeated the climb. At the top, the riding got a lot better.
US 1 finally got its super-wide shoulder that I’d been waiting for, traffic volume is way lower, and the fall colors, that had just been starting to emerge at Acadia, had now brought their head and neck fully out of their green cave.
The cheap-but-serviceable motel we’d stayed in last time in Bucksport appeared to have closed down (we’d later learn, had likely been closed down by community busybodies), so non-insanely-priced Saturday night accommodations in this weekender-season were few and far between. Thus we were lucky to find Brad, a WarmShowers host willing to have us stay with him out a little ways past Bucksport. We picked up some groceries in town, crossed the two bridges on and off Verona Island, and then started the climb back up out of the Penobscot Valley.
By this point, Rett’s energy was flagging after having burned so much of it with mental and emotional stresses earlier in the day. As we were slowly grinding our way up to our host’s property, Rett’s chain slipped (due to an alignment issue I’ve shamefully let hang over her riding for months), jolting her feet off her pedals, and then slamming her pedal into her calf when she crash-landed with her feet on the ground. Restarting on the hill was once again not going to happen, and this time she was limping bad enough to making even walking her bike a non-starter. The least I could do to amend for my lack-of-maintenance was to again go into ferry-mode, riding my bike ahead to the entrance to Brad’s land, then running back down to collect Rett’s bike. Upon my second return to the foot of his driveway, Brad appeared like a helmeted angel on a motor scooter, and I quickly sent him ahead down the hill to pick up Rett while I started taking my bike up his long rough-cleared driveway. They then followed in his pickup truck with Rett’s bike easily mounted on the hitch rack.
Brad welcomed us to his forest-covered off-grid piece of land, and generously let us set up in the tiny heated camper on this soon-to-be cold night. He immediately helped with ideas to explore to solve Rett’s gear-alignment issue, and then showed us his shipping container filled with bicycles and every other type of adventure-gear imaginable. REI finally opened its first store in Maine less than a year ago, but Brad’s shipping container likely remains the next-best thing. We then got a tour down a path even deeper into the woods that led to his own (and his partner Chloe’s) house. It’s a super-cozy cabin-in-the-woods, with solar electric and a wood-fired stove being the main energy sources. The wooden craftsmanship and nooks filled with books or music made it felt a bit like a smaller, more-remote version of Rett’s dad’s beloved house. Rett and I have gotten soft enough that, while summer-living would be glorious here, the idea of toughing it out through a Maine winter sounds relatively insane, but Brad has done it, and it sounded like even Chloe was going to give it a go this winter.
But the most-insane thing was that, despite their extremely out-of-the-mainstream living situation, how “normal” and non-insane they both seemed as people. Of course, as people who have been nomads riding their bicycles around North America for the last year, we’re likely grading “normal” on a bit of a curve, but relative to other off-grid-livers we’ve met, we felt a lot more kinship here. Some is no doubt due to similar backgrounds: Brad’s family is from the New York City area, he’s worked a corporate job, but then, like us, decided that there are alternative ways to live a life. He’s politically involved (in a non-crank way), younger than us, and turned us on to Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, so he definitely clashed with my expectations of a guy who spends his days talking to squirrels, using his bushy gray beard to separate himself from other humans. In short, I’d say he’s a Rusticator for the 21st century, doing a much more thorough job of rusticating than us.
And it was really cool to be welcomed into his home and to hear his perspectives and learn from them; our idea of “home” for the future remains wide-open, so the opportunity to witness other unconventional methods of creating a home is hugely valuable to us. We quite-intentionally abandoned any physical form of “home” a year ago, and still think that was the correct decision, but we’re definitely experiencing some of the downsides of that decision right now, and a setup like Brad’s reveals a path by which it could make sense to keep a place to retreat to when refuge is needed.
With darkness and chill falling, we said our goodnights and retreated to the refuge of the camper, where we cooked up a hot meal and then snuggled into the cozy bed.