Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Val & Steph's Excellent Adventure

Our trip started out with some exciting news. Our all day flight had been changed to a quick layover in Chicago, and then onto Portland! That was, until Steph showed up at my house and goes, ‘Um, that change made it so we fly out Friday, not tomorrow.’  So we got on the horn promptly and finally got a flight that went from DM to Denver, to Boston, instead of the original plan of flying into Portland Maine.  Our flights went off without a hitch, so we went to get a rental car.  Unfortunately, I had reserved a car through Priceline, to pick up in Portland, with no exchanges, transfers, or changes allowed.  So, we had to pick up a car in Boston, drive it to Portland and then get our originally reserved car for the rest of the week.  We attempted through at least 2 phone calls to see if we could avoid driving to Portland to drop off a car and pick up thew next one, but we either got caught up in a never ending loop of automated hell, or chatting with someone with English as a second language who had absolutely no comprehension of what our problem was or understanding of our suggested solutions. So, we carried on thru countless toll roads and tunnels from Logan International in Boston to the Portland Jetport in Maine. The drive was about an hour and a half, but the Hertz pain took at least 45 minutes on each end.  I likely won’t be doing that again, the Priceline Negotiator, or Hertz.  They got enough out of me this week (specifically, about $40 more for the hour and a half rental from Boston to Portland than I had paid for the rest of the week).  As we picked up the car in Portland, or let me back up, got back in the car we had just driven from Boston to Portland, it started pouring. 
I had talked to some friends the night before and they had told me that every road is lined with trees.  I had absolutely no idea what to expect.  What I learned very quickly is that: 1. Maine doesn't invest much money into road signage. 2. There are no straight roads. And 3. I’m going to guess as a result of one and two, the speed limit on 90% of standard paved county / state highways is 45 mph.  One really shouldn't go much faster than that anyway.    
As we weaved our way through the ‘towns’, we kept a look out for some sign of life.  I think we only passed through 2 ‘towns’ that had a convenience store or something more than a string of houses.  We finally rolled into Back Country Excursions around 12:00 a.m. eastern.  This journey had started at 8:00 a.m. the day before.  We were exhausted.  
We received a warm, albeit wet welcome from Tyler, who did a nice job of swatting away the huge bugs and moths as we entered the ‘rustic cabin’.  He showed us to our ‘room’ where we would be staying for the next 3 days. ‘Rustic’ is a state of mind that really cannot be described without photos.  The owner of Back Country Excursions, Cliff, built the cabin himself, in 1970-something. I’m pretty sure there haven’t been updates since then.  Tyler told us that there was another Stephanie in the room adjacent to ours (no door, shared bathroom with shower).  We would meet her the next day (specifically as I groggily rolled over to see a tiny thing bee-bop by me).
The Cabin:  You walk into a small kitchen, and wrap around through a living room with couches and chairs, and plenty of biking and Maine themed magazines.  To the left is a small screened in porch for dining.  Beyond this is a ½ bath (with pastel blue and pink plumbing fixtures) and full sized bed, no doors, mind you, this is just as walk through the cabin.  As you squeeze by a tight dresser up the steep, shallow stairs, you wind up to the loft style bedrooms.  Our bedroom consisted of 3 toddler beds, I called the one off to the left, and to the right, under a sloped ceiling was where Steph took up residence.
There were 2 small beds that were made of a 5 inch thick foam camping mattress that sat atop a plywood base.  She also nabbed a window fan, unfortunately for her, there was no operational window that she could open to place it in. 
She propped it up against a couple pillows and made due. The upstairs bathroom housed a toilet that stood about 7 inches off the ground, perfect for potty training a 3 year old and a shower that was tucked into the same sloped ceiling.  I spent more time washing the ceiling than I did my hair.  It was built in the 70s, smaller people back then, I guess.  And so we made ourselves at home. Before we tucked in for the (short) night, Steph shrugged, ‘Maybe the thought is that if you work hard enough and you’re tired enough, you’ll just fall asleep.’  Turns out, that is exactly how it works.

Some of the reading material found in the cabin. 
Day 2: I tiredly wandered downstairs to check the schedule.  Breakfast preparations were underway, and we were to report back downstairs in another hour or so.  During breakfast, our get to know you time, we sat with a mechanical engineer, Stephanie (23, and our loft mate), a school teacher from the Bronx and his fiancé, Andy and Joseline, Cliff, our fearless tour guide, and his female companion, Lynn. At the other table there were 4 people from Virginia, brothers, Jimmy and Chris, Amanda ( Jimmy’s wife), and the brothers’ aunt, as well as Tyler, Cliff’s apprentice.  We had read some reviews prior to arriving that had us nervous…something about Cliff not being afraid to discuss politics.  Within about 12 minutes he had already mentioned something to the school teacher about using the history books with the ‘right’ version in it. I don’t know what that means. 
After breakfast it was still raining but we decided to get fitted for bikes and try on helmets. Then we went for a 2 hour ride.  I was the first one to hit a stump and go off my bike.  In my defense, Cliff did tell us that if we saw it, the bike would go over it, it was just our mind saying it couldn't.  Well, I didn't make it over the stump.  I do however now have some pretty impressive bruises. Can’t say I didn't try!
The trails are all on an easement from the State of Maine. Cliff doesn't own the property, but through an agreement with the state, he maintains the trails.  There are miles and miles of winding trails, that if you didn’t know where you were headed, you should probably pack some overnight gear.  They’re pretty easy to follow, but they are indeed, in the middle of nowhere. I believe Cliff also has naming rights to all the trails that he uses for riding.  There was Katy’s Trail, Lady Slipper, Half Pipe, Wild Wild West, and Upper and Lower Anaconda, just to name a few.
Steph and Virginia Chris posing while Tyler fixes Jimmy's bike that he over powered while changing gears going up hill and busted a chain. Photo op!
Anaconda Trail was a pretty flat trail that twisted and winded around, kept you on your feet, but all I could think / sing in my head was,
‘My anaconda don’t want none unless you got buns, hon!' I probably sang those 2 lines about 17 times throughout the day. When I told Sister Steph about my daydreaming, she responded with, ‘All I heard from your mouth all day was ‘Piss!’ and squeals, and the occasional ‘sssiiiiiiiiiiiiigggggggggggghhhhhhhhhh’.   So yeah, that was how I sound mountain biking.  Other than that, the ride was pretty uneventful.  It rained all day, but we were working so hard, the rain gear acted like a sauna suit and my lungs felt every bit of elevation that we climbed.  Cliff told me that all my excitement and adrenaline was coming out my face.  Once I got that under control, the ride would be easier.  (I never got that under control, by the way.)
We came back to the cabin for lunch. This is when we realized that Cliff really likes to talk about himself, isn't the least bit modest, and very proud of himself (I believe narcissist is the proper term). At one point, someone had asked Cliff about the house.  Cliff went into some long spiel about how he was a general contractor, did a lot of work laying brick pathways and stone chimneys.  Tyler innocently said that we would probably love to see the handiwork he was doing on Lynn’s house.  Cliff came out of nowhere and uncomfortably snapped at him saying, ‘Tyler, they’re asking me questions! Don’t respond when they are talking to ME!’  AWKWARD.   This was just the beginning.
Since it rained all day Friday, the 4th of July fireworks all around were postponed until Saturday, so we had some time to head ‘into town’ to get some dinner.  I plugged, ‘Corning, ME’ into the GPS (the lovely GPS that so reliably got us here in the first place), we got a hair place in NYC.  We drove around aimlessly for about 45 minutes trying to find a signal, nothing. 
Finally we turned onto a highway and decided that the first gas station or sign of human activity we saw, we’d stop at and ask how to get to the nearest lobster source.  Well, eventually our highway came to an intersection with signage (!) and low and behold, there was a sign that said ‘CornISH, Maine, 9 miles.  Yeah, knowing the right name of the town would have probably helped the GPS out a little bit.  Anyway, we pulled up to what looked like a little mom and pop restaurant.  Luckily for us, Bay Haven was the ‘best lobster for hours, at a wildly reasonable price. We scootched ourselves into the bar area and ordered a drink and engaged in a little chit chat with the locals.  The ladies out here are crazy.  ‘Where ya from?’ How’d ya get here, whattaya doing?’  ‘You girls out here all by yourselves?’   I talked to a guy who responded with, ‘IOWA? Geez, I almost got thrown in jail in DeZ Moinerz’ (add additional consonants and vowels as you see necessary, you had to have an idea of where he was going with the story to make it out)!  Turns out, back in his wilder days, he was hitchin’ on I80 and almost got picked up by the police for vagrancy.  Apparently they did that back then.  A few minutes later, we got seated in a cozy table next to a couple and their friend, the gals were from CHI-caaaagoo, one a United Airlines stewardess, the other originally from Ellinois.  I told her I knew for realsies that she was from Ellenois because she pronounces the I like an E. They were lovely.  Ordered ‘steamas’ which are steamed clams that you take out of the shell and then rinse them off in some water, dip in some butta and, down the hatch they go.  

They gave Steph and I each one to try.  They were good, but I don’t think I could have ordered a whole appetizer for both of us to share.  I ordered twin lobster, with sides of a bun the size of a softball, coleslaw, and fries. Steph ordered shrimp and scallops. The bread was amazing, everything was.  (Side note: If you’re a Hagamaroe reading this, if these were the buns at Ashley’s graduation party, I would have eaten - all the buns.) 

Blurry photo one of the Helpful Ladies Of Maine took for us. 
Next came our stab at cracking open some lobster.  The ladies next to us wouldn’t let us waste a single bit of meat, so they showed us all the tricks to getting every bit out.  We sang some songs from, ‘The Little Mermaid’, and enjoyed all the lobster our stomachs would hold.  On our way out, we ran into Steph #2 eating at the bar with another one of New England’s finest worried moms.  She pretty much made us sit with Steph until she finished her lobsta.  She just couldn’t handle all us girls out here by ourselves. It was hilarious, really. Then we headed back to camp, as you would expect, not the right way.  We managed to touch base into New Hampshire for about 10 minutes (not technically on the route).
Day 3: Saturday
It stopped raining somewhere in the middle of the night, the sky was blue and all signs pointed towards it being a nice day. Breakfast started out with Bronx Andy asking Virginia Jimmy what he does for workouts (I think he was legitimately trying to get some iron pumping advice), without prompting, or even a notion, Modest Cliff chimes in and goes, ‘So, what kind of workout do I do during the winter, well, (well, actually MC, no one asked you, but go ahead, tell us how amazing you are for the next 15 minutes) I split wood, I blah blah blah. Ya know, we really don’t need gyms out here. We just move at a different pace, I’m retired, believe it or not?’  Good job MC, I’m proud of you. That carried on for far longer than necessary, at which point, I made eyes at Sister Steph, pushed by her and muttered, ‘I’m going upstairs, I can’t handle any more of this !@##’.
After breakfast we headed out on the bikes.  We did some more trails, ventured out onto the Half Pipe, which as I was just beginning to understand, our fearless tour guides undersell the level of challenge something ridiculous.  I believe the words, wide trail, not bad, super fun, and not hard, were all used to describe this trail.  It was horrifying.  I noticed nothing wide about the trail, and don’t recall being told about the 90 degree, tree root and rock infested incline following the 90 degree decline.  Somehow, I fought off the tears, but the internal dialogue was psychotic. I don’t think mountain biking is my thing.  Yes, horrifying was the right word. 

My stab at taking a panoramic photo of the woods and some of our fellow riders. 
Once we got back from that death trip, we had lunch and cleaned up.  Steph, Steph, and Cute Chris decided they wanted to go out again, I decided I’d rather get lost in the woods in my car.  So we went on our separate ways. 
I spent about an hour and a half winding around the back roads of Maine and New Hampshire. Got to see a lot of beautiful country that I hadn’t even imagined existed in the US.  If Dana were with me, we would have sang Taylor Swift songs and run around looking for vampires and werewolves ala Twilight.  But, alas, I was by myself and had finally located one radio station that came in pretty regularly, no T. Swizzle, but I made due. 

When I got back to the lodge, Steph was getting cleaned up.  The Virginia people had left early (bummer), and we still hadn’t seen any more from the Bronx couple. Steph Squared and I decided to go find some dinner and hopefully some fireworks.  We wandered into another small town restaurant, had a delightful seafood dinner and washed it down with a delicious blueberry beer, my new favorite. This one actually had fresh blueberries floating on the top. So refreshing.  Shortly after we were seated, ole MC and Lynn showed up to sit at the table next to us, which was just a little weird as they had invited us to go along with them, but after the lunch time tirade about all of Cliff’s accomplishments, I didn't have the stomach for it.  After dinner we were in search of some fireworks.  Now, I’m not sure what your preconceived notions about New England looks like, but to me, this was not it.  We were closer to the documentary, ‘The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia’ than we were, the quaint and reserved New England that I had imagined…which was nice, because I took this evening as an opportunity to wear my kitty shirt.  Luckily for me, we were kickin it in the sticks with my people, and there was a whole family of teenagers wearing patriotic kitty shirts.  
Steph Hageman was not pleased during this. 
Since we didn't know what to prepare for, we didn't have a blanket or lawn chairs to watch the fireworks from, so we went back to the Kia Soul, put the back seats down, opened up the hatch, and made ourselves comfortable. 

The show lasted about a half hour, and we were off, back to our home away from home.  We stayed up for a little bit, shooting the proverbial shit with Tyler, learned all about his bike and adrenaline junkie lifestyle, then headed off to dreamland.  We had decided earlier that Sunday’s ride was going to be a short one so that Steph could get back to Boston to play tourist with her friend, and I just didn’t have the blazing desire to kill myself again. 
Once we were out on the trail though, day 4 turned out really well. The trails had dried out a little bit, my confidence wasn’t completely lacking, and I didn’t throw myself off the bike or well up with tears once.  Now, I’m not saying that I’m going to abandon my road bike, get me some 29s and start using the words ‘gnarly’, and ‘flow’, but I am glad I stuck with it and went for the 3rd ride.  It was fun, and I’m glad I challenged myself.  We even did the ‘Half Pipe’ twice, and I admitted to enjoying it.  It wasn’t nearly as terrifying the 2nd and 3rd times around.  #lifelessons
After the ride, we came back, had a quick breakfast, cleaned up and headed out for Portland.  We even had some revelations about MC, although when in a social setting, he comes off as a narcissistic, self-absorbed a-hole, when he’s on the bike, he couldn’t be more supportive, helpful, and complimentary.  I might go again. This is just my two cents, but I think the dynamic of the whole weekend would be different if he would start people out on bikes instead of in his ‘made by his own 2 hands’ cabin and kitchen, making small talk. 
Steph and I got into Portland about 1:30, but couldn’t check into our hotel until after 3:00.  We went down to the waterfront area and headed out on a ferry to Peak’s Island.  We got some ice cream, rented some bikes and took some more touristy pictures.  We thought the ferry was going back at 4:00, but quickly realized we still had an hour to burn. We headed to the closest watering hole that we could hear playing some reggae tunes.  We walked in and it was an all-out Jersey Shore, college inspired booze fest.  Now, I’m all about a good game of flippy cup and accelerated drinking, but after all the quiet that we had become so accustomed to, it was a hard pill to swallow.  We chugged our drinks and got out of Guido-land as fast as possible.  Back to the ferry we went.  A group of hammered girls sat themselves close to us and slurredly planned out their weddings to Francois and Nick, the 2 strangers they had just met at the ‘Shore’.  Thankfully, the ferry ride was only about 17 minutes (yes, I counted) and we bailed from that train wreck.
We headed to the other side of town to check into our hotel and relax.  Then we drove around looking for a Mexican restaurant that Steph said she had seen on our way from downtown…ended up going to a Thai restaurant and ordering far more than either of us could handle.  We decided that if we saw a homeless person, we would give them our leftovers.    We didn’t see any, but while I’m on the topic, Portland, Maine has some of the cleanest homeless people I’ve ever seen.  They’re well placed and know exactly which stoplights hold on red for 7 minutes at a time.  We called the front desk, got a mini refrigerator for our leftovers and went to sleep. 
The next morning, day 5, for those of you keeping track, we had massage appointments at 10:00.  I got one of the best massages I’ve had in my life.  Stephanie, not so much, which I was terribly sad to hear; because as I waited for her to emerge from her room, her masseuse came out,  a tall bearded man who I could have only imagined receiving nothing but bliss from. Unfortunately, I think he was scared of her similar ‘LMT’ status (licensed massage therapist, for those of you not in on the lingo), and just tried too much fancy work instead of just beating out the tense muscles.  After our appointments, we headed back towards the water, got some grub, did some shopping, I got a cupcake, she got some gelato, and then went back to Casco Bay to take another ferry through the islands.  We rounded the trip off by hitting up a local DQ (after searching for other ice cream places in the area, which without driving back downtown, there appeared to be none) and heading back to the ole HoJo (Howard Johnson).  Our return flight took off at 6:00 a.m. and we needed to (finally) return our beloved Kia Soul.  All in all, we had a great trip! Perfect way to ring in a new decade for Steph Jo!
What you probably didn’t know about Maine!
  1. Their state slogan is, Maine, It’s for Vacationing! 65% of residents get at least part of their income from tourism related industry. 
  2. Maine is the most sparsely populated state in the continuous 48 states.
  3. Road signage is not a strong suite, in fact, where us Iowan’s are used to seeing a street sign at each street, with its corresponding intersecting street named as well, Mainers (pronouneced, Mainuhs) save 50% and only put up one. Like no one has to know what street they’re currently on.  Hard to explain.
  4. Sometimes gravel / dirt roads are ‘the way’. GPS recognizes them, whereas in other areas of the country, the GPS would send you on a 20 mile loop before they send you on a secondary road, there isn’t an alternate route.
  5. They still have full service gas stations!  I had no idea how to behave.
  6. Their towns carry on for miles, even if the main portion of it is just a string of 3 houses somewhere in the middle. There is a sign for coming and going to each town, which seem more like counties or townships than how I typically think of a town (with a main street, Casey’s General Store, bank, and a BAR.)
  7. Clean homeless people, kinda just look like they got dressed for work, and showed up on a median of a busy intersection.
  8. Their neighbor, New Hampshire, home to Mitt Romney, looks pretty much identical to Maine (in the tree-lined back roads that I saw, anyway).  Their state slogan is, “Live Free or Die”, and upon entering NH, they have a big 4’x4’ wooden sign hanging from a street lamp (where you might more ordinarily see a holiday décor / wreath, or state / USA flag) with a painting of a hand gun.  You probably don’t need to guess which way they swing on the political spectrum.
  9. The low toilet thing isn’t reserved for rustic lodges, I got extra squats in all week getting down to Maine’s level.
  10. If you can’t clearly pronounce your R’s, you should move to New England, they don’t use that letter anywhere.

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