This Maine back roads trip has a story, a really big one spanning about 12 years at this point. For the preliminary details, check out Back Roads of Maine Motorcycle Trip: Prelude. If you have not read it, you may want to check it out first, as it provides a good deal of the back story.
My wife keeps wanting to go far afield. We’ve been to England on a canal boat, St. Thomas (where I forgot to wear sunscreen prior to a 4 hour snorkeling adventure), Arizona, and a few other spots around the world/country. I keep thinking “Sheesh, there are places in this country I’d like to see before I go traipsing off to faraway lands,” and then I think “Crikey! There are places in my state I ought to see too!” And, as of last year I have a motorcycle running again, so what better way to enjoy my state’s back roads than doing it from the saddle of an iron horse.
And that’s what I was aiming to do. With Scott’s help, I went on a mission to go from my house in West Newfield, Maine to “The County,” and hopefully see a thing or two on the way.
Day 1: Maine Back Roads from Home to Bangor
My initial plan was to go to Patten on day 1, then Caribou and down to Bangor the next day, then home on the third. But because I’m stepping up to take over the family lumber yard, this had to be cut short. The new plan was to go as far as Millinocket, then skirt “The County,” and head south for Bangor.
Part of my plan was also to just have my wife meet me in Bangor. But she’d had enough of work for the week, so she decided (because she won’t ride the bike) to follow me in a Jeep Cherokee. Good thing, and you’ll read about it a bit later…
Yes it’s a town in Ireland, and yes it’s the name of a kind of (often dirty — you know “there was an old lady from Brewer” type stuff — hit me up if you absolutely need to hear the rest) poem, but it’s also the next town over from me. I’m used to it, so I haven’t got much to say other than it’s pretty in spots. I’ve been told, by a former York County Sheriff’s Deputy that it was, once upon a time, the murder capital of the state. I didn’t get into details, but I’m guessing that maybe two murders in the same year caused that label some time back in the 60s…
Anyway, I came in on Route 11, but I’m going to bang a left on 5 and head north. Rt. 11, for the record is long. It goes all the way to Canada, and I ran across it several times on this journey, but I’m not just staying on it this trip…
When I worked at Mouton Lumber in Cornish, I took this route (11 to 5) every day. I’m sorry, I’ve got nothing really to say about it. It’s old hat. There’s a scenic lookout on 5 a little ways out of Limerick Village where you can see Mt. Washington, but that’s about the extent of it.
Oh wait, you might get a kick out of this… There’s a fellow who bought some property on the main road, and built a barn/garage. Folks farther up the hill (I’m going to guess they live on Cannon Hill Rd, but I’m not sure) complained that the barn was blocking their scenic view. They claimed, I’m told, that his building blocked both the sunrise and sunset. Apparently, their view was something like an old Western, where the sun rises and sets in the same spot. Anyway, this fellow (Steve Maclean) then painted a gigantic yellow smiley face on his barn, for their benefit. You may think it was kind of a nasty move, but it’s also pretty funny, and I’m not sure where you draw the line there…
I’ve got to be careful here, as this is where a lot of my father’s family lives… There’s not a whole lot to see. Rt 5 is mostly woods up through here, but very nice. I take a right on 25 (which is packed when Fryeburg Fair is going on in October, but dead otherwise), and go by Bridge Street. I mention Bridge Street for two reasons… My father crashed his ’68 Mustang on the bridge once (back in about ’71) and farther past the bridge is my favorite guitar store, Friendly River Music. I could still see the chip in the cement where he crashed his car until about ten years ago, when they rebuilt the bridge.
Here again, I’ve got to be careful, but now more so. It’s not an “uncle dad,” scenario necessarily, but there are family pictures that are on walls in houses on both sides of my family that have Baldwin folks in them. The ride through town is nice though. Even though I’m on state routes, this is starting to get out into actual Maine back roads. State route means nothing here, just that maybe someone painted lines on the asphalt. I stayed on Rt 5, hung a left at the 113 intersection, and headed for Hiram. If I’d needed gas, then I’d have headed right instead on 113, and got some petrol at The Whistle Stop. Last time I was in there was last fall, and ended up chewing the fat with the owner. If I remember right, he’s from India, then moved to Massachusetts (we call folks from there Massholes), then moved up this way and bought the store. I can’t remember now what he said he was thinking when he bought the place, but he is definitely a cool dude, and I heartily recommend spending cash there. There are railroad tracks running behind it, and a gigantic water tower across the street that I believe used to be for refilling on the steam locomotives that ran through, once upon a time.
The only thing I can think people might like to see here is the Hiram Falls Dam. From Rt 5, you don’t get to see much. I only remember this spot because my babysitter’s husband (who raced pigeons) let his birds go from here once, in a training exercise. They were waiting for us back in Alfred. This is a nice place to just pull over and set awhile though…
I also ran across this recently when I was journeying with my dad to go look at a 1978 Ford F250 Extended cab truck (which I ended up purchasing). There’d been an accident on Rt. 25, so we had to take the back way (River Road) to North Yarmouth, which I’d never done. At one point, Dad said “This is the back side of Hiram Falls,” and I was like “WHAT?” Totally not where I thought we were. Hiram Falls, for the record is here:
Turns out that my grandmother (Nana — my dad’s mother) was friends with a girl whose father was kind of the “watchman” for the falls. She’d go hang out with her friend, and the father would let them go run out across the waterfall. OSHA would Poo Twinkies nowadays…
I took a right on 117, and stopped at a small general store. I’d stopped here a couple months ago on a trip to Waterford. It was open and closed for a few years, then some new owners opened it up just as the Covid-19 ruckus was starting. These guys are still surviving, but barely, so I try to get sodas and butts there when I can if I’m in the neighborhood.
Nothing to see here really, just more of Maine’s back woods beauty. Enjoy it, and be glad you’re not in Portland…
Now, this is kind of a happening place, if only because they have a hospital. I remember a story once where a cousin of mine (from Baldwin) got his finger stuck in a lug hole (on a tire) and his mother followed the ambulance from Baldwin to Bridgeton, watching him essentially hug a tire the whole way.
I tried to stop in at the metal roofing manufacturer we buy from, Everlast, but there was a No visitors — Corona type sign on the door, so I rode off.
There’s not much to Harrison. I needed to give my tailbone a break though, so I stopped at a rest area along Long Lake, and ended up shooting the breeze with another guy on a bike for a bit. I’ve also got a first cousin that lives up here somewhere, but I haven’t ever visited. I skipped visiting him, but noticed that 117 along Long Lake is a very nice ride.
When my wife and I got together, back in the 90s, she had a college roommate living with her and her parents for the summer. That roommate was from the Paris vicinity. I remember her telling me “Paris is like Sanford, except it’s all squished together.” She was right. Don’t blink or you’ll miss it. It’s nice though. You can take 117 through South Paris, and you only feel like you’re “off” back roads for a little bit.
There’s not a whole lot to say about Buckfield, except “Hello.” I mean, it’s where Patrick Dempsey grew up (you know, the fellow from Grey’s Anatomy who drives Formula 1 cars or some such nowadays), but there’s not a whole lot to driving through. if you need gas (or a sandwich, according to Yelp reviews) then hit up the Buckfield Mall. It was a smidgen off my beaten path, but with a name like Buckfield Mall, how can you go wrong?
Here, I left 117 and started on 140.
The Abenaki tribe lived here, until they got wiped out by smallpox in the 1750s. Other than that though, it’s a beautiful place. And while I knew we had wind power projects in Maine, I’ve only seen the ones down in Scott’s territory (PA) when we drive south. Canton has such a project, and I was able to see some of the turbines spinning through the mountain peaks.
I’ve heard of Jay, growing up, but have never been there. They are famous for having a paper mill, but apparently there’s also a special kind of granite that is quarried there. Ever heard the joke “Who’s buried in Grant’s Tomb?” Well, Grant’s Tomb is made of Jay White Granite. So is, I’ve heard, the Naval Academy in Maryland. I talked with the “manager” I guess you’d call her, ahead of time, and once I have a list in hand (she’s only got it on paper) I may see about helping her get it up on the quarry’s website.
140 ends here, so I had to hop on 17 for a bit, then Hyde Road over until I took a left on 133. This is a bit difficult, on a motorcycle, by the way. I had my turn list printed out, and stuck to my gas tank with a rare earth magnet so I could glance down real quick, but still missed a few turns.
If I remember right, the University of Maine in Farmington is where you go if you want to be a teacher when you grew up. I came up 133 all the way here, hopped on US Route 2 for a bit, while they were the same road, then left town on Maple Ave.
After some back-roading, and getting into a town called Industry (for real — that’s the name of this town, with all of 900 or so residents) and got on 148. Something I got a kick out of that I didn’t know before this trip… Benedict Arnold (before he was a traitor) marched through this neck of the woods on his way to invade Canada. I hit 43 again here in Anson, right at the bridge that crosses the Kennebec River.
I’ve been here before, but only by coming up 95 and going through Waterville and Skowhegan. This is the town I visited a lot back in the Spring of 2001. My wife and I (though we weren’t married yet) came up to meet a 10 year old boy that we eventually took in as a foster child, then adopted. I almost went to see the group home we got him from, but that might have ended up being a longer side trip than I wanted. Onward ho!
I caught 150 on my way north, into Athens, sang out of tune on purpose as I passed through Harmony, then turned off 150 onto 15. What I meant to do was turn left onto a back road just before the 150/15 intersection, but I missed it. 15 led to Dover Foxcroft. I’ve heard of it all my life, but never been. My wife goes, because she’s got an office up there. Apparently there’s a whoopie pie festival, but if they even have it this year I’d have been a couple months too early. Another trip maybe…
I almost bit the big one here. Apparently, someone coming in from Route 16 thought that a stop sign didn’t apply to them. If nothing else, I discovered that I can lock up both tires on a bike in a hurry and not dump it… I, at a complete stop, waved her through the intersection of routes 15 and 16, because I didn’t trust her to not run me over again. My wife (watching all the mayhem from her Cherokee behind me) might have shot the woman if she’d been carrying the 9mm I gave her a couple years ago…
Remember I mentioned the Kennebec River earlier? Well, there’s another of Maine’s bigger rivers here, the Piscataquis. I was traveling right over it around the time the SUV lady who doesn’t understand “right of way” almost took me out.
Here is where I ran into a problem. Coming out of Dover Foxcroft, I had to turn onto a Brownville-Sebec road. I missed it, because the sign wasn’t quite the same. This road was a disaster, becoming, after a mile, nothing more than an ATV trail. So there we were, a Vulcan 1500 Classic and a newer Jeep Cherokee, puttering down a trail full of loose rocks and random puddles or mudholes.
At one point I stopped to take a break (going down steep hills on such terrain is a little unnerving), and smelled antifreeze. My bike had overheated, and was spitting fluid out the overflow hose onto the ground. I let it cool down and sent my wife ahead to check if there was asphalt in our near future.
There was no tar up ahead, and it started raining. We sat, and said “Hello” to a couple of girls riding their 4-wheeler through.
Once the bike had cooled, I got back on and found tar finally. Something must be up with my cooling system, I’m guessing my thermostat broke, and I figured that it overheated because I’d been chugging along in 1st and 2nd gear, with not enough of a breeze to cool things off.
We found a gas station. Many thanks to the girl at the Irving station (located at Route 11 and Main Road in Brownville Maine) for letting me park the bike there a spell. She even pointed me in the direction of a NAPA (in Milo). My wife gave me a ride, I grabbed some antifreeze and went back to the bike, then drank a coffee until I thought it was safe to unscrew the radiator cap. I then filled the bike’s radiator up (with the bike running, of course — cold antifreeze in a non-running hot engine is a good way to crack the block, if I remember right), and discussed future plans.
It was around 3:00, and there were another four hours to go, so we both made an executive decision that we’d just go back through Milo and head straight for Bangor rather that keep trucking for Millinocket before heading south. We had left the house around 7, and after a hawk nearly knocking me off the bike, the nut job in Dover Foxcroft who doesn’t understand intersections or big red octagon signs, and taking my cruiser trailing through the woods, we were both ready to call it a day.
After my bike had started acting up (it’s doing some weird backfiring power loss thing occasionally — plug wires I think), hitting the Bangor city line was a welcome feeling. I gave up trying to lead, and had my wife go first, with her Jeep and GPS directions to our AirBnB.
Day 2: Maine Back Roads from Bangor Back Home
We started off by grabbing the presents I had hidden at different stores in Bangor. Because I hadn’t heard back from many, there were only three. We lucked out at the shoe store. I guessed wrong on her size, and they had another identical pair that was big enough. We picked up the flowers too, and the little wooden couple statue, then headed out.
This day wasn’t quite as awe inspiring as the first, mostly because I’ve been to a lot of the towns on my route at some point or other. But it’s still interesting, especially for folks who have never been through. From Bangor, I pretty much just got on 202, then hit 11 in Augusta, and followed that back to Newfield. If I’d been smart, 11 is what I’d have taken all the way north to Millenocket. Alas, I tried to blaze a different trail, literally…
Day 1 was rough so I took a straighter route home. I got on 202, then booked it west. I went through Hampden. There was a battle here, during the War of 1812, which I guess made Mainers mad at the British for years afterward (that whole sacking the village thing).
I saw some signs warning about horses and buggies here, and totally forgot that there’s an Amish population in Unity. And I’m pretty sure some of them make metal roofing.
Yes, I’ve been to China, but not where you’re thinking. We’ve got China in Maine, and tooling a little farther down 202, I landed there. Interesting town. This was apparently Quaker country back in the day, and if I heard right, a lot of African-American families moved here because the locals didn’t tolerate slavehunters, regardless of what and Federal Fugitive Act said. Ayuh, sounds like typical Mainahs…
And have we got any machinists reading? This is also the home town of a Mr. Starrett, I’m told. Yeah, that Starrett…
Ahh, I’ve been here many times. Every year in elementary school (Alfred) we’d come up to the state museum, visit the capital, and stop at a few other places. I’ve been there many times since for various reasons (foster care, Maine Arts Commission, etc.). There wasn’t anything real eventful here, other than I got on Route 11, which was pretty much my last road change all the way home. Getting on involved a couple of rotaries. For all you outta statahs (out of staters), this is what we call traffic circles. I know folks from MA call them rotaries too. I’m just not sure how far south you go before “traffic circle” is the term that gets used.
11 and 202 (and I think 100) are all the same road from Augusta to Lewiston. I’ve been through “The Dirty Lew,” as it’s fondly called by some (I’ve heard Augusta called Disgusta too, but I’m not sure if it’s because of the population, or the politicians — it’s our state capital, after all) many times, so really the only thing making this ride exciting was worrying about whether or not I’d overheat at intersections. I’d just got done worrying about the same thing in Augusta.
For the record, I didn’t have trouble in either city.
Lewiston’s sister city, Auburn was no trouble. I got yacking at an intersection with a biker couple. They took a left somewhere, then I saw them headed my way from a side street, and did a goofy looking wave. My wife said the woman was laughing. I like to brighten people’s days, don’t you?
I kept to 11, with the Androscoggin River to my left, the whole way to Mechanic Falls. This is another town I’ve always heard about, but have only been through within the last couple years. Once was on my way home from that motorcycle class in Fairfield, but the other time was to visit this gigantic old chicken barn, which now houses old stuff for sale. I wouldn’t call them antiques, but I’m in my 40s now, so maybe they are. It’s like a gigantic yard sale, but inside. And they have hot dogs! It’s called The Willows. If you’re in a hurry, don’t stop there. It’s easy to burn a couple hours just picking things up and reminiscing…
The Last Leg
At this point, the trip was about over. I was back to where I had half a clue about my location. I was a little worried about driving along the north side of Sebago Lake, since it was in pretty rough shape last year when I came through. But it’s been paved since then, so all was well.
I did end up visiting The Whistle Stop this time around, one of the many places I paused at on this trip to rest my poor tail bone.
We were only about a half hour from the house at this point. Staying on 11 a bit more, we hung a left on 117 to stop in and see some friends for a few minutes, then headed West for the house, where we crashed hard (onto a couch) for a bit.
Yes, the trip is over, but I’m still stewing on it. I never made it to The County, which was very disappointing. I’ve got bike trouble I need to fix. Two of the plug wires, when I got it, already had electrical tape on them. I suspect the sputtering is because there’s trouble, as it feels like only one cylinder is firing when it’s doing that. I also believe my thermostat is screwed, but I won’t know until I do the old stick it in boiling water trick to see if it’s opens up or not.
Once those are solved though, I may try it all again next year.