Friday, August 14, 2009

Machias, ME: Downeast

Our re-entry into the United States was rather low-key. The border station at the bridge at Lubek was just a man and a shack. He glanced at our passports and waved us on. No litany of questions like when we entered Canada, making sure we had enough money in our bank account and that we would eventually leave and not stay for the free health care. We left Canada with a bit of meloncholy -- we both did not want to leave this place where the people were so open and generous. Would it be the same back home?

We did a side trip to West Quoddy Head, where there is a lighthouse and a plaque. It is an attractive candy-striped lighthouse, but the significance of the spot is that it is the easternmost spot in the United States, and that is what brought us here. There is an East Quoddy Head, too, and it is more easterly, but it is located accross the strait in Canada.

We spent the next days travelling south through the region known as "Downeast" Maine. It is still very rural with with few roads and great (to a cyclist) distances between services. But the side roads are very quiet, and we did another detour through Cutler and its harbor filled with fishing vessels. The towns here are less frequently visited by tourists, and the commercialism that comes with it.

We opted for a hotel in Machias, since campgrounds were non-existant in the area. It was the weekend of the Wild Blueberry Festival, but we opted instead to do an early-morning bike ride Jasper Beach to pick rocks instead of berries.

Supposedly only one of two such beaches in the world (the other is in Japan), and we had fantasies of a beach covered with beautiful polished jasper. We weren't sure how far it was, and we ended up going 12 miles of steep ups and down and stopping for directions before we found it. There were some nicely colored red stones, but the serenity and sound of the waves filtering through the stones as the tide came in was more of a prize.

South of Machias we were truly in the heart of blueberry country. We learned to recognize the patches where they grew. And when they grow right on the side of the road, we could not help but pick a pint to put in our morning oatmeal.
We have since learned that there are specialized rakes to make the task a bit more efficient. And we went past the blueberry rake factory on our way to Jonesport where anatomically correct PVC people demonstrate harvesting techniques.

We spent one very windswept night in a rustic campground at the tip of a peninsula outside the town of Jonesport. No showers, and water was trucked in using a trailer-mounted plastic vessel that was filled at the local church -- our campground host called it "holy water". Afternoon entertainment included a couple of guys harvesting seaweed and getting their rusty old suburban and trailer stuck. They backed the trailer over the edge of the shore to make it easier to shove the seaweed in. But eventually it was too heavy to pull up, and it took some rocking and manoeuvring to get it back on the road.

The stiff breeze made cooking a challenge, but it kept the mosquitoes away. We were steps away from the bay, where lobster traps dotted the water. We were awakened before dawn by fishing boats heading out to sea, a parade that lasted for the couple of hours it took us to eat breakfast and break camp.

But the evening light was magical as the sunset in the west in quintessential Downeast Maine.

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