I had finally made it. Honestly though, it didn’t feel like a climax. I decided to ride to Maine to get a lobster roll on a lark. I mean, what else was I going to do? And so here I was, in Hampton, New Hampshire, ready to cross over into Maine and accomplish my goal, but I don’t even like lobster that much. At least the weather agreed to behave like typical New England coast weather, so I got the proper experience. I hopped on the 1A so I could putter up the coastline, and was greeted by an Atlantic wind that genuinely did feel like the southern coast of England. It was cold and there was a good salt spray due to the rocky coastline and white-capped seas.
One of the calmer bits of coastline I found that day, near an inlet.
This was unlike the Atlantic I was used to along the South, where even on the blustery Outer Banks of North Carolina the wind didn’t carry much sea spray. It was cold and cloudy as I moved north and stopped off at a tiny post office to mail some things. Upon walking out I noticed– right in between two buildings, a tiny cemetery, with graves from the 1700’s. This type of thing gets more common the further east you go, but it’s still hard to get used to as a Californian used to “old” cemeteries having people who died in 1950.
Portsmouth is the final town on New Hampshire’s coastline before you cross the bridge into Kittery, Maine, over the Piscataqua River inlet. Right on the other side is Warren’s Lobster House, a well known spot for lobster rolls and seafood in general. Generally a good lobster roll is made fresh, with the lobster and mayonnaise mixed soon before serving, either on a butter-toasted or un-toasted bun. Warren’s uses a large sort of hot dog bun, un-toasted, and very little mayo.
Now, I’ve pulled crab straight from the sea and cooked it same day, so I reckon I was bound to be unimpressed, especially since I don’t think there’s anything special about lobster. On the plus side for me, they had a really nice salad bar and soup included. Now, there’s nothing wrong with Warren’s rolls mind you: it’s more that I was struck by the fact that my entire trip was a lark, and that I had already accomplished what I wanted to do…go ride my motorcycle to new places.
I didn’t even bother getting a sharply focused picture, but it came with soup and salad, so…
Having satisfied the ostensible mission, I poked around Kittery for a few hours with no particular destination. I ran into more insanely old graveyards, one that had plaques explaining that some famous stone-smith made a bunch of the markers there (Point of Graves). I found pockets of coastline to walk across and imagine what the natives or early European settlers looked at when they were in the same area. The opposite bank for me was always some cluster of houses or a massive shipyard with cranes and towers. I stopped at the site of Ft. McLary, which was used during five different wars yet saw almost no action. I’d call it a cush duty station except it looked like you were going to be on construction detail most the time you were stationed there.
This was going to be all I saw of Maine, as I knew i couldn’t keep exploring and still make it down to Mexico in time to house-sit for my friends. This meant Kittery was my only real taste of the state, but it was still a unique memory. Most of the New England coast is memorable to someone from the west coast. It’s often like being on a movie set. In California there are plenty of ghost towns, but most of the old farming communities are now places where city-dwellers go on the weekends to pretend they’re out in the country while paying $30 for a farm-to-table, artisan, fair-trade, gluten-free meal and shop for overpriced honey in the farmer’s market.
New England has plenty of hipster-chic breweries and restaurants too of course, but it somehow fits into the aesthetic better. It’s like the towns changed with the times while looking the same, whereas maybe California is constantly trying to reinvent itself. The metaphor of the teen versus the twenty-something comes to mind, where you can see the lack of confidence and search for identity in the dress and tastes of a teenager. A twenty-something may not have their crap together, but they’re seeing some of the parts fit together and they just aren’t willing to try so hard: they know what they like.
It’s hard for me to know having just passed through New England, but there do seem to be a lot more New England expats in California than the other way around. Neither place really enamors me as a place to put down roots, but I don’t know of any place that does these days. Of course, if you spend enough time in the woods you’ll start to miss having community and paved roads and soft-serve and central heating, so there’s no point in looking over fences to see where the grass is greenest.
The grass probably really is greener on the other side when you are under it.
And so I roamed Portsmouth the rest of the day, noting that you really can’t tell the newer apartment blocks from the 200-year-old buildings. Usually there’ll be vinyl siding instead of wood insets, but if an old building has a new roof and you’re standing 100ft away, it seems easier to look for a historical marker by the door. If there is one, it’s probably an old building. And, despite the area looking a bit like it was out of the early 1800’s, there was still a circus of cars on narrow streets, crowded sidewalks, and the usual hubbub.
They sure seem to do a good job hiding their homeless people in Portsmouth,though, but it felt like there was old money in the area, and I reckon old money isn’t so happy with tent cities. Plus, there really isn’t the same level of open space. Every square inch is dedicated to something, but in most western cities there’s always some multi-acre freeway interchange that provided shelter via the tiers of over-lapping roadways. Or perhaps it’s a commercial lot abutted to a neighborhood and shopping center. There’s always some landscaping to stretch a tarp across. It’s an interesting contrast between the two coasts, because New England certainly has enough pockets of riverbank to have some massive shanty-towns, but then it’s a long commute to go panhandling downtown. Fortunately this was all stuff to mindlessly ponder an not anything I had to truly care about. I have home, even if it is just a motorcycle with a trailer. It’s plenty more than many have and all that I currently need.
This pedestrian bride and the dam it connects too was another thing I saw in Kittery. The dam was used to help make ice blocks for sale back before refrigeration.
Back at the hotel it was a night to sort and repack, get some Chinese food because why not, and ponder my route west. Originally I was going through Canada and down into Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, but time was not going to allow for that. I didn’t want to retrace my steps until I remembered the Blue Ridge Parkway. I also had a friend from California who had settled in Virginia not too far from the Parkway, so I gave him a call and made tentative plans.
I wanted to see more of the coast but that would also mean going through the many coastal cities that have basically all connected over the centuries. If I took that kind of route the only thing I’d see of Boston or Providence would be traffic. I just didn’t have time to go look at where the Salem Witch Trials happened or to meander through 250yo covered bridges. And so in the morning I packed up for my return leg determined to make as much of it as I could, which would mean avoiding interstate as much as possible.
I had gotten a sharp piece of metal in my rear tire and this delayed my departure while I plugged the leak and reinflated the tire. The delay was a mixed blessing because it made me decide to stop at the local airport for a later breakfast. I’ve learned over the years that regional airports try to attract the weekend private pilot with a decent breakfast and lunch menu. The Airfield Cafe at Hampton Airport was such a place. Excellent food in large portion, a wide view of the runway, and a decor of model planes hanging from a track on the ceiling “flying” around the entire perimeter.
From there I made a route and found another place to sleep for the night and started to think about the many steps involved in getting the 3,227 miles across the continent and into Mexico. Although the trip involved a lot of droning on the interstate, it did give me a fantastic parting shot as I left the Blue Ridge Mountains. It also gave me a chance to finally fix my trailer’s taillights, rapidly watch the change in scenery and culture as I pounded my way west, and gave me some long boring hours to reflect on what it means to be a human being on planet Earth. We’ll touch on some of that in the next installment.