While not the biggest state in the nation, Maine is a bit on the huge side. I think going from the southern tip to the northernmost spot is about an eight-hour motorcycle ride (unless there’s a blizzard, then you’ll want to figure in a few more). I’m a native: I don’t pronounce the letter R except in extreme circumstances, and even say Ayuh at least four or five times a day. And while I’ve been banging around on the back roads of Maine my whole life, I’m from southern Maine, in York County (raised in Alfred, now living in West Newfield). I’m ashamed to say that I have never been to The County. For those of you “from away,” that means Aroostook County, which is pretty much the whole northern half of the state.
Riding a Motorcycle on the Back Roads of Maine
My wife, a social worker, works in Bangor (about halfway up the state) a couple times a month. We’re currently in Coronapocalypse lockdown, so she’s working at home with me for now. But, once things get back up and running, I’m planning a trip. Once I find out the next time she’ll be in her Bangor office, I’ve got a plan. A day ahead of time, I’ll ride from my house in southern Maine, stop a ways up for the night, then go to Caribou and back down to Bangor the next day.
Our only real highways in Maine are I-95 (which goes to Florida) and 295 (which, as far as I know is just another, albeit nicer looking, way to get from Portland to Augusta). But I’m going to avoid them like the plague, and ride my bike on the back roads of Maine the whole way. I’ll meet her at the hotel she stays at in Bangor, then when we’re done (there’s another mission you’ll read about in a bit), I’ll take some more back roads to get home.
Before I write about the ride, I’ve got to tell you, this bike’s got a story…
I took a crash course in UNIX and Linux (computer programming languages) for a year. When I got out, my first “computer job” ended up being at a motorcycle shop. While I expected to do all sorts of computer-ish work, it ended up being more data entry and customer service. But while I was there, I bought a Kawasaki Vulcan 1500 Classic. The bike’s a ’97, and this was in about 2008. I got my motorcycle permit, bought the bike, and rode it around a bit until my permit expired. Then it sat…
And it sat until about 2012. A girl living with us (long story, but if you really need to know, she was the half-sister of a boy we fostered and eventually adopted) had a boyfriend. He’s mechanically inclined, so he and I got the bike running enough for me to take it for a spin.
Story #1: Dumped! On the Back Roads of Maine
Take it for a spin I did. I wore a helmet, but also shorts and a t-shirt. I was only taking it for a little ride (my road is a loop out here in the willy-whackers) but it was Spring, and we still had sand on the roads. So, I went up a hill at about 10-15 MPH, and the bike chugged (it’s kind of cold-blooded). I goosed it a bit, and ended up dumping it because my back tire was on a patch of sand. It was awesome. I still have a really big scar on my calf, where I laid it on the very hot exhaust pipe. I never confirmed with a doctor, but I’m pretty sure I did some bone damage to my left elbow as well.
Story #2: Stolen! On the Back Roads of Maine
Fast forward a couple years… I’d let the bike sit a while longer (because of my calf and I’m pretty sure broken-elbow injury from the last ride). The mechanic at the bike shop where I’d bought it originally was still around. He had been to Florida at some point in the meantime, and ended up in federal prison (I don’t know the details, but I know there was a drug addiction, and crimes related to it). However, it had been a few years, and it looked like he was on the mend.
So I gave him a holler, and he came to the house. We worked on it for a couple of weeks, then got it running well enough that I rode it to his house over in Waterboro (yes, this was illegal, with no registration or insurance at that point…) so he could finish the repairs and get it road-worthy.
Insert Scary Music…
I happened to be riding through Sanford one Sunday, and noticed what looked like a green and white ’97 Vulcan near the gas pumps at a 7-11 (which has since closed and been boarded up). I’ve only seen about three of these since I got it, and thought it odd. The next day, I took a ride over to Tommy’s mother’s house. No Tommy. No bike. I called his cell… nothing.
A couple days later, I got a “Dude, I’m wicked sorry,” call from said Tommy. I’m not sure the details, but it sounds like he took the bike on some sort of drug run, got pulled over by the Sanford PD, and was arrested. I ended up having to go buy the bike back from the impound lot (because the Sanford PD wasn’t bright enough to call whoever owned the bike and avoid the whole impound situation). Three or four hundred dollars later, I had the bike in a trailer and headed home. There it sat for another couple of years…
The Motorcycle Revival
I talked with another former coworker from that bike shop who was working at a Kawasaki dealership in Lebanon. I hit her up in 2019, to see if she might be able to guide me through getting this rig up and running. We scheduled it. I dropped it off (in pieces — it was very sad) and got a call a couple months later saying that everything was working. She told the truth. When I showed up, the bike actually worked. I’d gotten my official motorcycle license a week before (thank you very much to Erik Payne, at the non-profit Motorcycle Rider Education of Maine — that two-day class was a ruckus too, but it’s another story) and insurance, and pretty much just rode the bike home from there (stopping at The Brew Shoppe in Shapleigh to show Tim the bike I’d been talking about for so long).
A New Paint Job Paves the Way
There’s a lot of bad juju here. I love the bike, but some pretty terrible things have happened. After all, it IS a green motorcycle…. Wanting a fresh start, I figured a paint job might make things better. I feel guilty about letting this thing sit, get dumped, and be stolen over the course of the last 12-13 years. So after a fair amount of sanding, cleaning, and a ton of elbow grease, it went from the original green-and-white original paint job to red (Toyota’s Barcelona Red, according to Dupli-Color).
The bike and I have a new relationship, as of May 2020. I’d like to think we’re both in love. I refuse to get a new bike (as much as I’m into computers and tech, I’ve decided that I’m all set in the “let vehicle manufacturers decide what kind of software my vehicle runs” department) and hope that the Vulcan will forgive me for any transgressions I might have afflicted it with. From here on, we’re both on the up-and-up.
My Back Roads of Maine Mission
This isn’t just about a back roads ride though. Being from the whilly-whackers, I’m no stranger to back roads. This ride is a little different. On one hand, I’m going to Aroostook county (which I’ve never done before), and on the other hand I’m doing something special for my wife. Back in the 90s, when we were just “going out,” I created a scavenger hunt. It was contained to my parents’ house, but was still kind of cool. I started her off with a note in an envelope. The note told her something about why I loved her, then had a clue leading her to another similar note.
This trip, I’m doing the same kind of thing (25 or so years later) where I’ll be giving her a note that leads her to a store in Bangor. I’m leaving a couple days before she does, to take my back roads ride (courtesy of Scott at takebackroads.com), and landing in the same day she does. I’ll putter about town while she’s still at work, and deliver the clue-laden notes to the various targets.
I’m just waiting for Coronapocalypse to be over so she can go to her Bangor office again. The next morning, I’ll hand her a letter with the first clue, then book it to get to the first stop and meet her there. When that’s over, she’ll get the next letter.
On the way to Bangor though, I’m hoping to stop into or go through places I’ve heard of while growing up. These are towns and cities that were once “on the map.” They were places that manufactured shoes for the Union army during the Civil War, or paper, or anything else made here until all of our (US) production went to China.
I’ve laid the groundwork. Soon enough, we’ll hear about the ride itself.
Addendum to Motorcycle Road Trip Plans
There have been a few changes to plans… There will be no wife working at her office for the foreseeable future. Maybe in January, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to ride a bike through Maine that time of year. A snowmobile maybe, but no bike. And I’m about to give up a life in tech to step into a family business (a lumber yard). I am still taking the trip, but it’s going to be a bit abbreviated.
I’m leaving the house tomorrow, 7/31/2020, and going far enough North (Millinocket) to say that I’ve been to Aroostook County. I’ll skirt it just a smidgen. Then I’ll head back South for Bangor, and meet my wife there at an AirBnB. Most of the stores I contacted did not reply, so there will only be a couple of stops for her the next day. This is sad, but will still be a nice getaway. Her ride will be under three hours (she’ll just go to Gray and hit 95), and mine will be in the 8-9 hour vicinity.
But the trip is happening. Enjoy the write up!