04. 08-11-11 Kindness

DSC_0086 (600x399)From Eastport, Maine, the eastern-most point of the United States, I, and my Magna, caught a ferry to Deer Island, New Brunswick, Canada. It was getting late, and as usual I was planning on catching the last ferry out. I pulled up to the dock just in time to witness the boat pushing back from the dock! I crossed a time zone, a half-hour difference, without knowing it. I had but a moment to be distraught before I witnessed something I never thought happened in the “Screw you the doors are closed, you cannot get on the plane which is still sitting 30 ft. away” society we live in – the ferry started coming back - for me!

I was only a few days into my journey and had yet to learn the magic of the road, and the kindness people have for travelers.

The ride was quick and surprisingly painless. This was my first time putting a motorcycle on a boat, and I imagined every wave knocking it over. But the boat was steady and the steel horse didn’t even tremble.

By the time we arrived on the island dusk was upon us in earnest so I made my way to the closest campground. I pitched my tent facing the water and the sun setting over the bay. The time passed easily with whales, porpoises, jumping fish, and whirlpools. It was a stark northern beauty softened by the colorful warmth of the setting sun. It is exactly the kind of place one would come to to write in peace and breathe the crisp, clean, inspiring air of the north. But I was still new at long-term travel and felt eager to get back on the road. Sadly I could not make myself stay for more than a day.

The rain fell steadily, and the fog horns kept me awake, for most of the night. In the morning there was a brief lull during which I rushed to pack everything and race around the misty isle, losing my bike cover in the process, to the northern ferry to mainland New Brunswick. And just like the one coming to the island, the ferry, which had already departed, reversed engines and came back for me – saving me from having to wait another hour in the rain.

The rain picked up after we arrived on land and stayed with me for the next 8 hours – soaking and chilling me to the bone. I had made the mistake of assuming that August would be a warm and dry month, and did not bring the proper long-distance riding gear. I hoped the rain was localized to the northern coast so I decided to take the shorter route to Montreal by way of Northern Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont (as opposed to riding north and switching back south-west by way of Quebec City).

I took the uneventful highway 1 to Saint Stephen and crossed the border back into Maine where I caught highway 9 to Bangor. Fog rolled heavily along hilly, sparse, granite plots of farmland. There was a deep smell of pine from the endless sea of evergreens through which the road cut long, sleepy curves.  It was easy to see why most of the population lives along the coast – where the sea shares its bounty more freely than hardened northern soil. I passed few people on the road, there was no hint of traffic, not even in the towns, unlike the coastal road which came to a halt every 30 miles.  The rain I was hoping to escape further inland only continued to intensify the closer I got to Bangor.

From Bangor I took highway 2 to highway 26 which brought me to tiny Errol, New Hampshire, 300 miles from Deer Island. I was still a few hours out of Montréal, somewhere between the White Mountains and Northern Woods, when I simply had to get off the bike. It was hard to see anything, the road was curvy and slick, and I was wet and freezing. Though it was August, this was not a warm summer rain wet, this was a suck the heat straight from your heart wet. So I pulled into a gas station across from which was a diner, and made my way, if not to warmth, than at least to food and a precipitation free environment. It was already late in the day so I couldn’t afford to stay too long, lest I would have to ride to Montreal in the dark.

To complement the weather perfectly, I was “greeted” by a waitress who stole no less warmth from the room than the rain did from my bones. I needed some patience and understanding but instead found rudeness and curt backtalk. So I sat there, miserable, eating my mediocre burger and drinking my mediocre coffee, and feeling no less mediocre myself. And then a fine example of conversations I would have across the continent began with a jolly faced, goateed young man who sat down a couple of stools away.

“Where ya from?”

It is usually pretty obvious that I am not from wherever I happen to be.

“Well”, I said, “I started in New York. But since I no longer have a home or job there, I’m not sure I will return”.

“Ha, ha!”

He had a most peculiar laugh, a “ha, ha” with an emphatic stress on the second “ha”, such that it rang throughout the diner.

“Where ya headed?”, a couple of older guys joined in, Harley riders on days better than this.

“Tonight, I’m just trying to make it to Montreal”.

In a moment when New Englanders drop their typically laconic façade they become quite hospitable, and allow a glimpse into how their ancestors might have acted 300 years ago. The whitewashed colonial houses which are still the predominant structures lining the tiny Main streets and mountain roads of the great nor’easter land, help complete the picture. Though still cold, I was beginning to warm up as we continued chatting about the curse of the rain and the joy of riding.

In turn we started talking about books and the joy of holding and smelling a particularly old one. Mark, the young man, mentioned that he had found a history book from the 1870’s, and noticing my obvious and immediate excitement invited me over to take a look. I was eager to make it to Montréal, but dreaded continuing to ride in the rain, so I accepted his offer. We finished our burgers and drove a mile down the road to a beautiful estate where Mark was the groundskeeper.

Mark's little cottage was sparsely furnished, with little more than two beds and a toilet (the shower was a hose outside), but he managed to make me feel so at home. He saw that I was still cold and dreading getting back on the road, so he offered for me to stay the night. He had a spare bed and said he would appreciate the company – he made it seem as though I would be doing him a favor by staying!

That is true kindness and altruism: making the recipient feel not as though they are a burden and should be humbled by the granted favors, rather as a fellow Man being treated as one should.

I leafed through the beautiful, red leather bound book for a while, then Mark and I talked, as long time friends might, before I was finally overcome with the fatigue of riding. I have rarely been so comfortable or slept as soundly as I did that night.

I left that day feeling the warmth that only making a new friend can bring.

The rain continued, but thankfully was much lighter than the day before. I kept to HWY 2 which skirts the White Mountains. The slickness kept my speed down, and the mist and clouds kept me from seeing the beautiful mountains. On a clear, autumn day this is one of the most beautiful rides in New Hampshire.

Eventually I had to get onto the interstate in order to cross the border back into Canada. Those few minutes on Int. 91 reminded me why I never take interstates: they are straight, impersonal, and with the exception of a few stretches, very ugly. It did however mark the beginning of my ride across the world’s second biggest country.

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03. 08-10-11 First Days
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