Sokokis Lake, Limerick, Maine August 11 The philosophy of this story originated with my bicycle touring apprenticeship in the 1970s. Many Americans reacted against the Arab Oil Embargo by fastening camping gear to their new 10-speed, European-style models, and riding across the country. Sub-divisions and franchises had not yet consumed the land. It was greener, still rural. There was far less traffic. Pick-ups were basic, driven by farmers and tradesmen. Harleys were mostly bare machines, chopped and ridden by young Viet Nam vets. Dressers were for cops and Shriners. On my Raleigh Record, a red 10-speed made in England, I couldnt wait to ride to all the interesting places I knew were out there beyond the Midwest horizon. I had already discovered some of them by thumb-tripping--another common activity then, when students traveled with strangers everywhere. Since then, I enjoyed many wonderful motorcycle journeys, mostly on old BMWs. I went to numerous rallies, and rode with chopper friends for decades. But I still rode bicycles to work, and at times I missed their simplicity on a trip. In 2010, I bought a Yamaha XT 225, a modest dual-purpose machine, from friends who were using it as a trainer. Its popular in many countries for its agility and thrift. Capable of 70 mpg, it did everything but paint itself green. I would put road tires on it, pack it like a bicycle, and take some cheap trips. This basic vehicle seemed to communicate to me its acceptance of the name Tiny, and to be an answer to my search for a way to conserve oil, yet still have fun on the road. Bikes Save the Earth has been the opinion on the back of my helmet. The route to New England was easy to decide on--I had already bicycled and hitched there decades ago. Departing from western Lake Erie in August 11, I was happy to return to a favorite blacktop lane--Ohio 303. It begins in Florence and takes you to Wakeman, and its just as quiet as it sounds. It changes numbers as it heads east toward Kent and the burbs southeast of Cleveland. The positive side of development has brought some biker-friendly establishments to the route, such as in the village of Peninsula. Just beyond there, local traffic would cause most bikers to head for I-90. But I entered Pennsylvania along the boat-filled shores of Pymatuning Reservoir. I had over-nighted at a friends house and penned a route on my map on his kitchen table. I planned to ride northeast on PA77. Its more direct, making up for the fact that I wasnt exactly racing toward Maine, but in the pleasant casualness of the afternoon, I made a wrong turn that instead took me to Franklin. It was a serendipitous error, because it sent me along the banks of the Allegheny, one of our most scenic and historic rivers, and an area I had always wanted to return to. Franklin is one of the multitude of handsome towns of substantial architecture, monuments, and emerald foliage that you routinely find in the east, just as often as the blue-collar towns whose blight receives more publicity. I was able to research some Revolutionary War events for an essay just by stopping at the numerous River Road markers that began in the town. It was a joy to see the green and blue Allegheny Mountains rolling away from their namesake river. That night, I camped at the Buckaloons Rec Area, along the old National Forge Road a few miles east of Warren. Continuing on US 6, one of my favorite eastern roads, I had to idle behind lines of traffic through dozens of construction zones. All the repairs have to be made within the short summer. Tiny took this hot idle-and-shuffle-uphill assignment without a hint of stumbling or clutch weakness. Being but 53, and having had to lower my seats, including Tinys, I appreciated how easy it was to duck-walk the bike in this scenario. I didnt mind the delays. They gave me time to see things: the tire swings, canopied oaks, dairy farms, neighborhood taverns, all the things I once bicycled past. When I spun the throttle between zones, the bike would fly me up the switchbacks. I thought, this is mighty fine-- an almost perfect compromise between the relaxing, intimate observation characteristic of bicycle travel and the exciting convenience of land flight, the sine qua non of motorcycling. The Yamaha would take me as far as I liked, within the limits of early mountain sundowns. This type of terrain, found from Tennesee to eastern Canada, doesnt offer many side roads where you could spend a night, as you could easily do out west or even in the midwest. The slopes come directly down to the winding roads, shoulders are sketchy at best, and the critters are many. Traveling through Pennsylvania, recollecting the the long conflict between whites and the Iroquois and Delaware tribes, reminded me why it took years for colonial-era families to decide to venture west beyond their mountain walls. East of Tonawanda, I turned north in the late afternoon and entered southern New York, following the ribbony Susquehanna River on NY 434. I discovered a vast, grassy park, named the Hickories, owned by the city of Owego. A small section held a hundred RVs, but I found a fine shoreline tent site a quarter mile away. I strolled by a Goldwing gathering for retirees, who told me that recent flood damage in this low area had been fixed just in time for the camping season, a big source of revenue for the city. Tiny needed nothing yet other than some chain lube, so off I went on NY7, braided with I-88, through Albany and Troy. There I joyfully crossed the Hudson, entering Vermont at Bennington. John and Molly Stark, heroic figures of the Revolution, are commemorated throughout the state. Here, grateful citizens erected an obelisk. I arrived just as shadows from towering elms and oaks were becoming long. The stately monument on a green hill dominates the town and informs visitors about the sacrifices of the army and New England militia in our national founding. I continued on VT 7 through the mountains, arriving in Brattleboro in the early evening. I asked a couple of women walking their dogs in a field if they thought anyone would mind if I put up my tent. Not at all. This is a public space, they replied, and added that early tomorrow, Saturday, farmers would be arriving to hold their market. This serendipity would give me one of my all-time favorite camping memories. It began with a evening spent between two rushing brooks. Moonlight in Vermont--as tranquil as it sounds. But the early morning made it really special. As I was enjoying coffee and packing Tiny, I observed a parade of vintage pick-ups and vans arriving. Their drivers, maybe half of them women, begin setting out their delectable wares. I was really vexed trying to decide which treats I would most enjoy, but who could leave without sampling Vermonts most famous products--maple syrup and cheese? I found a young cheese vendor in a long calico dress and bonnet who worked an heirloom drawknife against some giant wheels of cheese of varied appearance. She described each one according to which of her animals had contributed its milk. I said, Well--I cant decide. They all look so good! Give me a big ol wedge of the one you said is the combination of critters. She carved a 2-pound hard chunk from a wheel and charged me only 12 bucks, my trips best transaction. I mentioned to her that the same type, with that thick rind, was a food coveted by the Revolutionary militia, because it kept a long time in a knapsack. I spent Saturday cruising through the lake country of New Hampshires Rt. 9. I had once been detained for skinny dipping from boulders while hitching with friends somewhere around here at about age 15. I thought it was rich that I should be having such a good time here today. In East Rochester, I was delighted to be advised by locals that I only had to cross the intersection I was stopped at to enter Maine! I was bowled over by Tinys competence at bearing me to within a few miles of the Atlantic. I had to brag at some motorcycle shops. Now to get down to some real fun! Old Orchard Beach, with its computerized, color-changing Ferris wheel, beckoned, but was too crammed for parking on this week-end. A rider standing in a slot adjacent to his toaster-tank Beemer gestured that I should try it, but traffic was pushing me to continue. I didnt mind, because some of the places along Rt.1 seemed like they might be interesting for short breaks. I checked out an outdoor flea market, then moved on to Bennys on salt-scented Commercial Street, south of Portland. You cant get much Maine-ier than this old, blue-collar diner with a deck, where you can munch clam roles while viewing ships and derricks. After I crammed down all I could, I followed Commercial north to the piers at the citys waterfront. There were throngs of people in front of the bars, waiting for the ferries and cruise ships, and riding bicycles to numerous parks. Music vibrated from doorways. The atmosphere seemed festive, not work-a-day, although plenty of folks were hustling at providing a meal and a good time for the rest. Lobster boats came in to unload their catch, with the restaurant crowds more or less the immediate benefactors. Eat Locally, I would find throughout my trip, has always been the practice here. My Peace Corps friend Carl had been out of town and wouldnt be back till tomorrow, so I asked other bikers for camping suggestions. One told me to go north of Pownal on Rt. 9, and Id find Bradbury Mountain State Park. It has a rustic campground in its woods, with seasonal-ranger students living in a yurt at the entrance. Theyll deliver firewood to your site if you want. I whipped up the tent and relaxed to Prairie Home Companion on my pocket radio. Just enough woodsmoke from other folks fires provided the pleasant atmosphere. Sunny, blue Sunday morning, I drank some oj and decided to head to L.L. Bean. The town of Freeport, the home of the familys sporting goods empire, turned out to be much nearer than I thought, actually just a few hills away. I should have anticipated the zillion-car week-end crowd, but theres enough bike parking. The stores departments are spread through several buildings around a square, with the grassy plaza having a stage for musicians, space for camping displays, and outdoor classes. You can lick some Ben&Jerrys and wander around looking at guns, kayaks and mountain bikes. I appreciated the Amtrak depot across the tourist-crammed street. It delivers Boston- and New York-accented shoppers to Bean, North Face, Patagonia, etc., without adding to the car-jam. I reflected that the tourists I saw might be the descendants of shoppers who arrived the same way decades ago. I wondered if Norman Rockwell had ever depicted their arrival around Christmas. Roughly between the tracks and the water a few miles away are Wolfs Neck State Park and Recompense Bay, one of the best coastal campgrounds. This is a sizable area, and the two places seem to overlap when you wander around. Local families harvest produce from community gardens at the Park. The camp office is tuned to bicycle, cycle, and kayak travel. Plenty of nice tent sites and some cabins, and a treat shack offers ice cream and burgers. Carl hoped to buy a place somewhere not too far from his professor job west of Portland, so we spent time touring the countryside. What a contrast to my expectations--having lived in the Denver area during its explosive development of the 90s, and then finding the same thing happening in parts of Ireland when I visited in 99, I had long since grimly accepted that any scenic place is doomed to saturation with miles of franchises and sub-divisions. Instead, just beyond the urban intersections, were walls and knolls of oaks, orchards, and gardens. Spacious meadows, cows and sheep, austere Capes, and 19th century barns. Respect shown for old homes, in the form of the absence or hiding of porches, screen doors, TV dishes and other anachronisms. Beyond some hills, away from the bigger lakes, there were few cars, where I had expected to find burbs consolidated end-to-end by strip malls. I was fascinated by the way the place made me feel I was back in the 70s, mellow and happily absorbing the scenery, instead of vaguely feeling on guard and fenced in. We returned to Portland for some pub-crawling, pier-watching, and hiking on the stony, breezy beaches around Casco Bay. From various park heights and landmarks you can see the many nearby islands that can be visited by ferry, kayak, and chartered schooner. We spent an evening back at Old Orchard Beach, kicking the sand along the old-timey boardwalk under the festive Ferris wheel. I was doubling my enjoyment of these days by memorizing all the interesting things to be done in future trips, while, for example, we scarfed clams and lobsters at Two Lights, a Portland institution at the end of Cape Elizabeth Road. My hot tour tip-- thanks to superior local ingredients, I never had a disappointing restaurant meal in New England. But that makes it an outstanding region to save money by buying your same favorite regional items in markets and sustaining yourself with multiple picnics. Plenty of wonderful cheese and seafood in the shops, and ice cream stands everywhere, with all the scenery you could ask for. We bagged great clam chowder at the Hannaford Grocery in town for one of our beach hikes, saving dough while enjoying the tides. I felt like some culture, so off we went to Brunswicks Bowdoin College, after choosing the Edward Hopper exhibition there over another museums Wyeth event. I loved the neighborhoods around the campus--like Ann Arbor, say, but with even more trees and a kayak or canoe in every yard or on car racks. The edifice housing the Hopper paintings was classy, of course, like its neo-and actual Greek Revival neighbors. You could also visit the Joshua Chamberlain Civil War Museum, a memorial to the colleges famed soldier/president. A pleasant ride from Brunswick will take you over to Baileys Inlet. These cottage-dotted rocky heights reminded me of Murder, She Wrote, although I think the show was set Downer Easter near Bar Harbor. Watch the sailboats and see sun-hatted grandmas and aunties sitting in lawn chairs reading (and writing) murder mysteries, painting seascapes, and such. Cooks House was a fine place to relax on a long porch facing a sound full of lobster boats. The restaurant familys men brought in the stars of the menu, and the women cooked and served. Highly enjoyable, as was our late afternoon stop at the Kennebec River Tavern, another institution, with some up-dates. Tasty burgers and local beer under the patio roof, which backs on the banks. The highlight of my stay in Maine was our kayak day trip from Sea Spray, an outfitter with two launch areas northeast of Portland. I love fishing and exploring the Great Lakes shores in my small yak, and wanted to buy a longer one, so I asked the staff to rent me the longest one they had, which was 18. They told me its rudder cable was broken, but I said that was fine. I wanted to experience that length of a boat with that condition, in case it would happen on a tour. Out we went with the tide, through a channel lined with abodes reflecting every taste, from tin shacks to glass-walled lodges. I stopped paddling to chat with a young couple who had fastened a pick-up shell over their skiff. It seemed to fit as if designed. We aimed for the numerous piney, step-stone islands, two or three miles out, to enjoy some treats and take pics. We probably lingered out there a little too long, because it was so scenic. When we started back, we faced a head-breeze that let me experience steering nine feet of boat ahead of me against the current. I aimed for some feature about a thousand feet ahead, and things went as well as with my shorter boat. We stopped trying to stay together and concentrated on the upper-body work-out necessary to return. We greeted kayakers zooming out. I hoped their pilots understood the wind situation they could be in on their way back. We thanked the Sea Spray people for a good time, and went down coast to satisfy our appetites. We had our fun day while Cumberland County Cycles was changing Tinys oil. They are a Ural dealer, and they told me how well the rigs are selling. Mainers use them the same way Russians do, for ice fishing, camping, etc. Having had lots of utility usage and touring fun with the two Beemer-powered sidecars I used to own, I was happy to find that Ural has earned a place here. Much as I wanted to tarry in Maine, it was coming time to depart. I consoled myself by moseying along some backroads through Limerick and Sanford. I passed a girls camp next to a lake and marveled at their uniformity as they paraded in a line of canoes--almost every 11-year-old adorned with a blond ponytail, pink top, shades, and sparkly nail polish. I curled around past some lakes in New Hampshire, then dropped down onto Rt. 9 in Vermont. An ugly sky in the mirrors led me to stop for the night at Molly Stark State Park, a woodsy place with cheap tent-sites. Just in time--I tumbled into the tent as gusting rain and lightening took over the night. It was a sign of weather, and tragedies, to come. In the morning, things seemed fresh-scrubbed. I shook the tent, re-crossed the Hudson, and proceeded into New York. I rode through some little cities along the Susquehanna, with brick-paved main streets and updated, railroad-era cafes. Up to the 70s, small manufacturing had been a source of income for many rural New Yorkers, who worked part-time in addition to dairying and other farming. Since then, theyve struggled to adjust to the loss of jobs and farms, and to live with the replacements--the service jobs in the towns, and the rise of the wine industry, especially in the western grape-favorable counties surrounding the famed Finger Lakes. I dropped down into Pennsylvania. I wanted to have a look at the Grand Canyon of the East. There are two ways into this scenic area, separate by several miles. I didnt need the services at Leonard Harrison, the more populated state park entrance, so I took the suggestion from rangers to go over to Rt. 6, toward Colton Point, and enter by a local road. The Burning Barrel Tavern sits at the Ansonia Valley intersection of the road and 6. Across from it is a old fillin station, run by its elderly owner, who also sells her baked goods. A sign said, $10 Minimum to Start Pump. I calculated that I had enough to get up to the rustic camp, and would buy more in the morning. The winding road of about seven miles brought me up to a vast view over Piney Creek--such a reward that I entirely forgot to take pictures as I absorbed the green quiet and birdsongs. Its one of the majestic, oil-painting type of vistas in our eastern states. I learned that this CCC-built campground is one of the few official rustic ones in the Penn park system. Another item--the two other bikers also camping were among only the dozen I saw during the trip. Numerous publications I came across indicated that so many bikers are now lodge owners in the Northeast that it seems a majority of the rest spend their nights in them and dont feel a need to camp anymore. Next morning I pumped some gas and stopped for a few minutes to check out the Barrel. TV news was talking about an earthquake, and a patron said it had just happened in DC--damage to the National Cathedral, etc. That gave me things to think about as I rode west. If you should need bike stuff, the basics can be had at the multi-brand shops in towns along 6. Everybody owns wheels since the popularity of ATVs. I stopped at some of these places to chat and check the weather. The eastern sky was still OK but clouding up. I took a different way toward Warren, where I would have some back road choices. I came through some hilly Amish areas as the wind behind me became a whirlwind. Although the sun remained bright overhead and the sky blue, the gusting from all directions was not normal. The farmers horses were struggling, and at times I wasnt going much faster the buggies. I began to feel that I was asking my pony of a motorcycle to do the work of a horse, on a hard day. And even with earplugs, the noise was a roar. When I came back to Pymatuning Lake, on the Ohio border, it was too crowded, so I went to Mosquito Lake, an Army Corps of Engineering reservoir with a smaller campground. The wind had ceased and the dusk was grey and humid. Of course, true to the lakes name, the bugs came out, but once I was in the tent, I just laid back and thought about the bear grease and smoky fires the Indians once used to help them live here. As I was falling asleep, I was jolted by the wailing of a storm siren. Disturbing, but no help for it. There was no place stouter than a brick bathroom a block away, so I might as well remain lying down. It seemed just a thunderstorm. But in the morning, as I was drying off, somebody said that a big hurricane, named Irene, had smashed into the East. Where? She said, All over, even Vermont. I rode uneasily in search of another bar. Just two mornings ago I had left Vermont. With its mountainous terrain, it seemed immune from maritime storms. But I sensed that this hurricane was the cause behind the local weather just now behind me. In a tavern, I watched with others the destruction to New England shown on the Weather Channel. I rounded south Cleveland, stopped at a cycle store, and received compliments on Tiny. Thats the littlest adventure bike Ive ever seen! said the smiling dealer. I was feeling my usual not-ready-to-go-home feelings, except that I very much wanted to know more details of the storm, so I returned to my work base in near Lake Erie to get online. The park in Brattleboro, where I had so enjoyed my cheese breakfast, were under waist-high water. It had rushed violently over the banks of the West and Connecticut Rivers, the brooks I had camped next to. Up in the granite-flanked mountains, their thin soil already sodden, there was nothing to branch the storm water as it crashed south and downhill, taking dozens of bridges, homes and miles of major roads with it. A cemetery in Rochester caved in and washed away, scattering caskets and bones across a highway and into a field. Three Vermonters drowned. Thousands of easterners living on other waterways, especially the Susquehanna, suffered as well. The images were being broadcasted mostly via helicopters, because land travel was almost impossible. Yet, even with the level of destruction the worst since the hurricane of 1927, and described as third-world by reporters, Vermonters able to write on line said that they felt lucky the damage hadnt been worse. In this way, a middle-aged re-enactment of youthful trips came to a successful, but sobering, conclusion. Tiny carried out the mission without missing a lick. I enjoyed myself immensely, almost completely. And the best sign of a good trip--wanting to go again--came over me in no more time than it took to unpack.