The Rangeley Lakes

Today felt more like I was on a bike trip. For starters, when I woke up, I wasn’t home. I had coffee and a muffin before I left (eliminating a stop I usually have to make soon after leaving a campground), and checked the weather forecast. It was only in the high 60s, and again wasn’t going to exceed the mid-70s. I packed an extra sweatshirt in the top trunk that I’d accidentally left here the last time I visited. The chance of rain had also gone up to 50%. Not much I can do about that now.

IMG_0896[1]I’d planned not so much a loop but a figure-8 on the map out and around the Rangeley Lakes region of Maine. There are many fun roads and scenic views out there, and so many of the roads run north-south that this seemed the best way to travel as many of them with as little overlap as possible. APRS coverage seems to be virtually non-existent in this area, so I don’t have a map of my route.

I left Augusta thinking I’d hop 95 north one exit and head to Farmington, but the GPS was suggesting a different route – 17 into Readfield, to North Road up to 41. I knew 17 intersected with 41, but I never knew that North Road makes a good cutoff between them. And that’s saying something – I was a professional delivery driver in Maine for a number of years, and I thought I knew all the shortcuts.

From there I followed 41 up to New Sharon and hopped 2 through Farmington. Actually, I took a side road I remembered, and cruised past the University of Maine at Farmington. As I cruised by I thought of a friend of mine, Eric Benson, who was a student there. He, his twin brother, and his whole family were active in the Cumberland Motor Club, who I used to autocross with when I lived in Maine. He was about to graduate when he was killed in a street fight with some hoodlums in Portland, defending the young lady he was with. Eric was on my mind a bit as I passed by his old school.

Moving on, I hopped on Route 4 and followed it for a long time. Traffic all but disappeared once I was past Farmington. Road conditions were pretty good, and the speed limit was 50-55. There weren’t many technical twisties, but the road rolled up and down and through the hills, and the scenery was great. The further I went, the more sparsely populated the area became. It’s amazing how short a distance you have to go from a significant population center in Maine before you’re in the middle of nowhere. That was one of the things I liked about Maine when I lived there. The riding was excellent.

IMG_0899[1]Eventually I pulled into the town of Rangeley. Apparently this used to be quite the tourist trap over 100 years ago, when the train from Boston came up here. It’s still the biggest town in the area, from the looks of things, but it’s not too far above the “blink and you missed it” level.

On my way out of Rangeley a pickup truck cut me off pulling out of a gas station, then went very, very slow. If someone’s going to cut me off, they could at least have the decency to move along at a reasonable speed, but usually they don’t. As the speed limit picked up and I got a dotted yellow line, I punched it past the truck in no time. Only as I returned to my lane did I notice the cop at the bottom of the hill. I didn’t actually exceed the speed limit while making the pass, and especially once I saw him I kept it right at the new 50mph limit as I went by. I gave myself a 50-50 chance of getting pulled over anyway, but he stayed put.

The next leg was Route 16 out to Errol, NH. A number of years back the New England Forest Rally had some rally stages out near Umbagog Lake, with a service area right in Errol. I remember driving some of these roads to get there and back, and they were fun, so I wanted to try them out on a bike. Route 16 was slightly broken pavement, but it wasn’t too bad. I ended up behind a Ford ZX2 with a kayak strapped to the roof, but it wasn’t a problem. It was a pretty desolate, uninhabited trip all the way to Errol.

IMG_0903[1]My GPS told me to turn left down the combined 16 and 26, but on a whim I turned right to see if there was a gas station. I found a store that was not only a gas station, but also a convenience store, grocery store, Subway, hardware store, four wheeler/snowmobile shop, camping store, and gun shop. LL Cote literally has everything. I parked next to a Harley and Suzuki Savage, looked around, and snagged a sub.

It was bright and sunny when I went inside, as you can see in the photo. When I came outside ten minutes later, it was raining steadily. I took my time eating my lunch on a picnic table under the roof.  A passer by told me, “I’ve been up here for 3 months now, and every day it rains.” By the time I was finished the rain had stopped.  I put my rain pants on anyway, since my bike and the roads were wet, then fueled up.  A Harley riding couple with Quebec plates dressed in full rain gear and I swapped a few words of understanding and commiseration.

It wasn’t raining when I left LL Cote, but a few miles down the road I ran into some more rain. I pulled over, put my rain jacket on, and kept going down 26 past Umbagog Lake, back into Maine, and through Grafton Notch State Park. It was a curvy scenic road, but the rain limited how much I could lean and enjoy the curves. I kept going in and out of the rain. Then at one point my GPS shut off on me. I wiggled the power cord and turned it back on, and it came back to life. Chalk up one more reason to seriously consider replacing the old TomTom.  Two, actually – its internal battery never lasted very long since day one, and now it doesn’t seem to be holding much of a charge at all. It might be able to float a brief loss of external power with even a halfway decent internal battery, but if that battery is toast and the connection’s gone flaky, there’s no telling when I’ll lose the GPS. I’ve come to rely on the GPS quite heavily for my trips, and I can’t afford to lose it, especially in areas without phone data coverage where I like to ride.

As I approached Rumford I found that my iPhone had data service once again, so I checked the weather radar. It showed some large, strong storms to the west of me, and they were heading my way. The rain I had passed through so far was basically the tip of the iceberg. I had to make a choice. I could certainly continue my planned route, up Route 17, through the Height of Land, then follow 16 and 27 on a meandering, twisty, scenic eastward route toward home. Or, I could skip the second loop of the figure-8 and run away from the storm as quickly and directly as possible. I know my rain gear will keep me dry, so that wasn’t a factor. But it’s less safe to ride in the rain, between the reduced traction and the greatly reduced visibility – helmets don’t have windshield wipers. I wouldn’t be stopping to admire the scenic views along the way, because in the rain I don’t want to take out my camera or phone and get them wet, and there wouldn’t be much to see anyway. If I was doing a longer trip, and I had to get to the other side of the storm to reach my overnight stop, I would’ve braved the storm. But I had nothing to gain on this trip by doing so. I cleared the route in my GPS and told it to take me back to my friend’s house, fastest route.

IMG_0904[1]While I did this, the rain caught up with me again.  I punched it and rode out of it a bit.  I stopped again to text my friend that I’d be coming home a bit earlier than planned.  The rain caught me again just as I finished sending the text.  This storm was moving fast, which meant that to stay ahead of it, I had to as well.  So I did. Back roads took me to Route 108 through Livermore. There I stopped just long enough to take off my rain gear, since the sun was out and I was getting hot. But the storm was right on my tail, as you can see in the photo, so I didn’t waste any time and kept on going. After a bit further on 108 I picked up 219 and repeated the route through Wayne and Winthrop I’d taken yesterday. I thought about stopping for a drink along the way, or to top off the gas tank, but I didn’t dare since the storm was so close behind me. I still had half a tank of gas anyway, and I’d be riding through highly populated areas with plenty of gas stations the next day anyway.

I rolled into the garage with the sun shining down on me, but it didn’t shine for long in Augusta. The storm came through with heavy rain, thunder, lightning, and even hail in some places. I was warm and dry on the couch, starting to write these posts before the trip was even over, for once. I would’ve rather been finishing my intended route in nice weather, but it wasn’t meant to be, and this was a better alternative than riding through it for no particularly good reason.

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