The biggest, wildest state in New England, Maine is also the first state in the union to catch the light of the rising sun. As a September dawn wakes me in Kennebunkport, the nearby routes along this storied coast exert a very strong pull - nearly 3,500 miles of beaches, bays, inlets, and harbors - but I have other intriguing plans for the day.
Day 1: Coastal Getaway
I follow US 9 north to Saco, where I catch SR112. Passing under Interstate 95, I leave the lobsters and coast behind. I'm heading inland, to the land of the moose, and the mountains and lakes and woods that begat Paul Bunyan and inspired Thoreau.
SR117 is on my escape route, a quiet road that becomes more rural with each passing mile. As the morning progresses, mountains appear in the distance and small vistas reveal themselves on open stretches. Trees, trees, and more trees, parting only for the numerous lakes or odd farms that dot the countryside. These are the Maine woods, covering 90 percent of the state and standing thick as thieves.
After a mellow morning ride, Bridgton is a good stop for lunch. Like other small towns in the state, Bridgton has an unassuming air and a character all its own - Ricky's Diner, replete with fifties-era décor and an old jukebox, is next to a leather and tattoo shop with a miniature custom cruiser parked out front.
I stay on SR117 until Buckfield, where I join SR140 north to SR219 west. Pavement flecks flash in the afternoon sun as the road continues to twist and rise. In West Paris, I head teasingly toward the White Mountains of New Hampshire on SR26. They're growing on the horizon, but in Newry I turn on SR2 east and end the temptation. New Hampshire will have to wait. I have more of Maine to see.
I meet the legendary lumberjack Paul Bunyan in Rumford. Other states may claim him as a native son, yet here he stands, over 15 feet tall and towering above the Kawasaki. State lore maintains he and his blue ox Babe were born in Maine, and as loggers traveled west they carried tales of the outrageous pair with them. This particular statue of Paul used to greet customers of a local hardware store but was brought to the information center at Rumford Falls when the store closed.
On SR17 in Mexico, ME, I start the final stretch of the day with a sense of urgency, eager to find shelter and a warm meal before the sun sets. The road bisects a farm-lined valley before following a crooked, raging river. Without warning, the road rises, and then rises some more to a breathtaking view of Lake Mooselookmeguntic. A little further along there's an equally stunning twilit view of Rangeley Lake. I ride for moments like this - to be shaken from the stupor of everyday life and renewed by the incomparable beauty in this world.
I reach the town of Rangeley in the fading light. Located halfway between the equator and the North Pole, the town feels like a sleepy vacation outpost, and much farther from Kennebunkport than the 200 miles and 1,507 feet in altitude change might suggest. The sidewalks are rolled up for the evening except for the ruckus at Sarge's, a country-sports/karaoke bar, if you can imagine that. Some patrons are willing the Red Sox to victory, while others are belting out classic Country/Western tunes. It's a fun way to close out the day.