Operation Asbestos Beer, 2018 Portland, Maine to Eustis, Maine to Asbestos, Quebec to Montpelier, Vermont to Portland, Maine Mileage: 713 Bike: 2007 Kawasaki KLR650 Buddy: Deano on a 2011 Triumph Tiger 800 BACKGROUND BRIEFING As crazy as it sounds, there’s such a thing as Asbestos beer. I’ll get to that in a minute. First, let me tell you how this started. I read the headline in August. It blared something like, “Trump OKs new asbestos regulations.” The gist was, the president was bringing back asbestos — you know, that stuff they used in pipe insulation, heat-protective gloves and house siding. It’s a useful material with one sticky side effect. The fibers cause mesothelioma. That’s a particularly nasty kind of lung cancer. That made me wonder, what the heck is asbestos, and where does it come from? Turns out, its a naturally occurring set of six silicate minerals. Together, they make thin, fibrous crystals. The fibers can be woven or molded into all sorts of things. It’s tough, resists abrasion and is, of course, fireproof. The fibers can also lodge in your lungs forever and turn into cancer decades after you breathed it. Humans have been digging the stuff out of the ground for at least 4,000 years. Large-scale mining started in the late 19th century. Historically, a lot of the world’s asbestos was mined just a day’s ride north of where I live (Portland, Maine) in Quebec, Canada. Who knew? I certainly didn’t. While looking this stuff up, I ran across a town actually called “Asbestos” in Quebec. I started reading about it. Its mine opened in 1879. Known as the Jeffery Mine, it didn’t fully close down until 2012. The Jeffery Mine was, and still is, a huge hole in the ground. It’s a mile across and over 1,100 feet deep. Looking at Google Maps, you can see it takes up half the town. In 1969, they actually moved the town, making more room for the mine. I thought, “I should swing by and see the mine the next time I’m up that way. It might be interesting.” Then, I read about the beer and decided to get there as fast as I could. DAY ONE It was overcast when I left home and it rained a little on my way to Reynold’s Sportcenter in Buxton, Maine. They had a tire I’d ordered and I was hoping they could put it on while I waited. The service manager said they could. I poured free coffee into a paper cup and wandered around the new bikes for a while. There weren’t many I’d want. The pair of 2018 KLRs I’d seen in the spring were gone. Two 2017 Africa Twins were still on the showroom floor. One was even marked down a bit. I swallowed the last of my coffee and went out to the parking lot. I stretched out on the pavement, next to a pile of my gear. Resting my head on a concrete parking barrier, I dosed off. I awoke to the sound of a mechanic wheeling my bike up next to me. “All set,” he said. I paid up, remounted by bags and took off. As I headed north, the sun burned through the clouds, making for a hot day. I took Route 26 to Route 232. That spit me out in Hanover where I stopped to take a picture of my bike in front of the defunct Gordie Howe’s store and gas station. I have no idea why it was called that. The famous hockey player of the same name had no Maine ties — that I know of, anyway. I proceeded along Route 2 to Rumford. It’s a classic Maine mill town, complete with a stink-belching paper mill on the Androscoggin River. Despite its murky reputation, Rumford has a lot of heart. The folks there just keep on trucking through mill layoffs, the smell and low median incomes. I always stop on my way through. There’s a good diner, a decent pizza shop and the infamous Hotel Rumford. The hotel earned its reputation by serving woodsmen and mill workers for a hundred years. It’s actually a lot mellower than it used to be. Half a decade ago, it was bought by some folks who gave it a makeover. The lounge is now a family-friendly sports bar. I parked my bike out front and moseyed inside. I had a Bud Light and a Siracha chicken salad. It was delectable. The beer tasted like one more but I had to hit the road. Taking Route 2, I rode to Dixfield and then took Route 142 to Kingfield. From there, I snagged Route 27, north to my destination in Eustis. I pitched my tent in the sand along the shore of Flagstaff Lake. The state public reserved land is free to camp on, first come first served. The sun was setting but I was the only one there, so I didn’t have to fight for a site. The lake was formed in 1949 when the powers-that-be damed the Dead River at Long Falls. The backwater covered two villages and started generating electricity for thousands. The lake gets its name from one of the towns that now lie under it. Across the water from me, I could see the Bigelow Mountain range of peaks. The highest is 4,145 tall and the Appalachian Trail runs over part of the range. The whole thing was bought and preserved by the State of Maine in 1976 in response to public outcry over a proposed massive ski area. Before dark, I rode to The Pines, a nearby general store, to meet my buddy Deano. I lead him back to the site. He pitched his tent while I started a fire. The last light of day faded and stars came out. We could see Mars in the southeast. I stood in the water up to my knees and drank a beer. We talked and saw two shooting stars. The second was one of the brightest I’ve ever seen. We ate tomato and basil flavored Wheat Thins, smoked cigars and chatted a while longer. A few more beers and we were ready for bed. I zipped myself into my tent, read about half a page of a Stephen King novel and dropped off. DAY TWO I woke just before dawn. Mist was rising off the water. The sun glowed below the horizon, turning the mountain-draped clouds into pink cotton candy. I took some pictures and made tea. Deano arose and beelined for the outhouse. I stripped and got in the water. It was just south of bathwater temperature. I lathered up and rinsed off. Strolling across the sand to my tent, I grabbed my towel just as two dogs appeared, followed quickly by their owners. I managed to throw on some shorts before they saw me. “Howdy,” I said with a wave. They waved back, heading off down the beach in the other direction. Deano came back and we strolled the beach the oposite way while the sun dried the dew off out tents. We loaded our bikes and set off for the Canadian border around 10 a.m., crossing without any trouble. We rode up Route 161 to Lac Megantic, site of a 2013 rail disaster that killed 47 people. On July 6 that year, an unattended, 74-car train rolled down a hill, derailing in the center of town. Several tanker cars full of crude oil exploded. The ensuing flames consumed most of the downtown. Several of the 47 victims could only be identified with DNA testing and five were never found at all. As we motored into town, we immediately saw a slow-chugging train. The tracks still cross right through the middle of the downtown. We stopped at a memorial marker in front of the Catholic Church. It sits just yards from where the fire stopped. Reading the names, we paid our respects before moving on. From Lac Megantic, we took Route 161, to Route 214, to Route 257. Route 257 was particularly fun and scenic. It crossed flat farmland and had nice views of the hills beyond. Part of it was dirt, too. “Now we’re really adventure riding,” I said to Deano via our helmet headsets. In the distance, we could see Mont Ham. It’s roughly 1,170 feet high and sticks out in the flat country around it. We turned onto Route 216 and finally Route 255 before rolling into Asbestos. Before heading for the beer, we stopped at an observation platform overlooking the shuttered mine. It was massive. The bottom was full of exotically-hued blue water. It looked tropical and out of place in the Quebec countryside. Deano thought it looked like a toilet full of Tidy Bowl. An older gent joined us on the platform. Deano, the French “expert” between the two of us, mistakenly asked the man if he was OK — as in, are you OK? You don’t look so good. The man laughed it off, speaking something in French too fast for us to catch. It’s something I admire about Deano. He’s fearless with the French. Folks always seem grateful and flattered by his attempts with their language. They see it as a sign of respect. He disarms everyone with just a little effort and maximum charm. There were informational placards nearby. They were in French and we stumbled through them as best we could. Then, we headed for the real prize. Moulin 7 is a tidy little microbrewery. It sits near the lip of the mine in a small strip mall. It’s so close, a good quarterback could throw a spiral into the pit from the parking lot. The name, which means Mill 7 in English, refers to the mine. The last mill built there was mill 6. The brewery sees itself as the continuation of the town’s mining history. All its beers are mining themed and much of the decor is recycled straight out of mill 6 and the mine company offices. Deano first tried 100 Tonnes, an IPA featuring 6.2 percent alcohol. It scores a 60 on the bittering scale. We have very different tastes in beer. He’s a hop guy. I am not. I like witbiers and malty German brews. I started with the L’or Blanc — that’s “White Gold” in English. It was a 5 percent Belgian whit. I loved it. Very thirst quenching on a hot day after hours in the saddle. Next, Deano moved on to the 6.9 percent 200 Tonnes. It boasted a whopping 65 on the bittering scale. I opted for the La Mineur, a kolsch that was pleasantly skunky with asparagus overtones. Finally, I had a L’ile -A-Roux red ale. I liked it but the L’or Blanc was my favorite of the day. Deano finished with a La Spello American pale ale. He proclaimed his pick of the day to be the 100 Tonnes. We drank some water and mellowed our buzzes out before heading for the only hotel around. Riding across the town, it didn’t look like a depressed hamlet that had lost its namesake mine. It seemed orderly and prosperous enough. The hotel Le Williams was empty. Our bikes were the only vehicles in the parking lot. It’s bar and nightclub were shuttered. White sheets lay over the furniture. The dangling disco ball and huge loudspeakers on the wall looked forlorn and disused. The lady at the front desk seemed a little surprised to see us. The rate was good, especially split two ways, with the Canadian discount. We went up to our room and I had a quick nap. When I awoke, Deano was downstairs, chatting with the lady at the desk. She seemed to be giving him a French lesson. She was positively charmed. I thought she might slip him her room key, even though she was probably 20 years his senior. No such adventure ensued, though. We walked 20 minutes back to Moulin 7 where we ate burgers and drank more beer. The burgers were small, with oversized buns that made them look even tinier. The fries were good. The brews were better. Later, we walked back towards the hotel. The night was soft and pleasant. In the distance, I heard the unmistakeable sound of a bat hitting a ball, followed by the roar of a small crowd. We ambled a little further and found two uniformed teams of adults playing softball on a lighted field. I would have liked to watch for a while. Upon suggesting so, Deano replied, “Oh geez,” with a dipping sigh. It was not to be. I’m used to being the only person in a group (of even two) with an appreciation of baseball (the greatest of all sports) and its derivatives. Instead, we went back to the hotel and called it a night after cheap cans of beer and cigars in the parking lot. DAY THREE In the morning, the hotel Le Williams provided us with free cereal, bagels, toast and the worst coffee I’ve ever had. It tasted like it was strained through a miner’s sweat-salted boot. Still, caffeine had to be ingested. I choked it down with some Fruit Loops. We rode Route 249 out of Asbestos and hooked up with Route 243 in Windsor. That took us out, around Sherbrooke and to the border. The roads were smooth and predictable. We stopped for lunch at a roadside chicken and pizza joint. That’s where Deano’s French charm ran out. To start, the waitress mocked his opening “bonjour” accent. Then she continued messing with him by dropping Spanish words into their dialogue. At first, he was just confused. By the time we left, we fully understood that she having fun at our expense. Deano, true to form, shrugged it off. We made one more stop for soft serve before crossing back to the U.S.A. at North Troy, Vermont. From there, we beat it down to Morrisville via Routes 101 and 100. We gassed up and headed for a little free campsite I’ve been hitting for the past few years. It’s off Route 12, several miles north of Montpelier. I once stumbled on it by accident. Other people seem to camp there but I’ve never run into another soul, ever. The site is on the North Branch of the Winooski River. At this time of year, it’s more like a brook. We pitched our tents as the sun set and the valley light faded. We ate supper and snacked on veggie-flavored Wheat Thins around a little crackling fire. Toasty and relaxed, we drank warm beer and then went to bed. I was up for quite a while reading, listening to the stream’s stony gurgle. DAY FOUR We got up early, with the birds. It was a little chilly. A few yellow leaves from a beech tree had settled on my tent overnight. Mist hung in our little hollow. We could hear a few cars up on Route 12. While Deano made coffee, I went down to the water to wash and wake up. With the help of my empty coffee cup, I managed to get soaped up in the shallow water. It was cold, especially on my “undercarriage” parts. I must have made some high-pitched, wincing sounds while getting rinsed off because, when I returned, Deano said he thought we should re-name the river. “We should call it Bee Gees Brook,” he said. “You sounded like the Gibb brothers down there.” A full ten minutes of Bee Gees impressions followed. Good times. After the coffee, we rode into Montpelier. I had a breakfast burrito and more coffee at Bagitos Bagel and Burrito Cafe on Main Street. Looking over us the whole time was a portrait — that looked to be paint by numbers — of Bernie Sanders. That’s Vermont for you. We didn’t linger too long, though. It was Deano’s 17th wedding anniversary and he had to get back home. I had some business to attend to in Lebanon, NH, as well. We drained our coffee mugs, shook hands and parted. IN THE END You don’t need much excuse for a motorcycle adventure. Beer, a dead mine and free camping are good enough. Incidentally, the whole “Trump is bringing asbestos back” thing isn’t really going to happen. In June, the EPA did say it would review applications for new uses of asbestos — but in July, a court told Johnson & Johnson to pay 22 women $4.69 billion. The ladies said the company’s baby powder was contaminated with asbestos and caused their ovarian cancers. What business in its right mind is going to start producing asbestos products with that kind of lawsuit around the corner? In 2010, a company called Garlock Sealing Technologies went bankrupt over costs from asbestos lawsuits. Garlock made asbestos-lined gaskets — and gaskets are actually one of the products the EPA is reviewing for new asbestos uses. You can’t make this stuff up. There’s still plenty of Asbestos being mined out there, just not in North America. The biggest asbestos mine is in — where else — Russia. That’s the country that shipped asbestos out this year with Trump’s face on it. No joke. Actually happened. That giant, Russian mine is in a town called Asbest. I wonder if it has a brewery.