VIDEO: Portland to Mooselookmeguntic (and back)

I left my house in Portland Friday at the crack of noon after packing and tying up some loose ends with work. I was to meet a couple of fellow sidecarists (Thomas and John) at the Phillips Memorial Preserve near Oquossoc later in the day. But first I had to ride to Bath to pick up a banjo from a luthier. It’s a custom instrument he made for me. He carved a special, long five-string neck for a 1928 Vega Tubaphone rim. Anyway, it’s a wonderful instrument and he was doing some tweaking for me after its sea trials. After I got the banjo, I had to swing by my old employer in Brunswick to tie up a final batch of details. I hit the road for the preserve at 3 p.m. First, I swung through L/A via Route 196 in and Route 4 out.

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My next stop was a bite to eat at the Buckfield Mall. As I ate my turkey sandwich from the food court, I guy pulled up, rolled down his window, and asked, “What the hell is that?”

I said, with my mouth full, “A motorcycle.”

As you might guess, that answer was not specific enough and the Ural Delay Factor ensued. You see, I drive an oddball, Russian made rig called a Ural. It get’s lots of attention wherever I go. Fellow Ural-istas call it UDF: the Ural Delay Factor. You have to take it into consideration when timing your travels.

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After leaving Buckfield I had a pleasant, traffic-free ride ride on some back roads via Worthley Pond, through Peru, Rumford Point and then to Rumford: Rhinestone of the Androscoggin River and birthplace of U.S. Senator, Secretary of State and lead author of the clean water and clean air acts, Edmund Muskie. His real family name was Marciszewski, but his father changed it when he came to this country in 1903. But I digress.

I saw a Maine Forest Ranger pull into the parking lot of a store where I was looking at a map. He strode directly over to me and handed me a card with a picture of himself and his wife on their Ural. Turns out he has a Dneper, too.

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I crossed the river into Mexico — without seeing a single customs or border patrol agent — and made my way up Route 17. I was looking for the Bemis Track, a dirt road following an old railroad line that would take me almost directly to the campsite. The problem was that it wasn’t marked well. I found what I thought was the right road, but I wasn’t sure. As I stood there wondering, a truck came down the path. I flagged them down and a nice guy with an electrolarynx told me it was indeed the Bemis Track. I answered a few questions about the bike and he drove away. It was then that I noticed his truck had Massachusetts’ plates. I laughed out loud. Here was a switch: the native Mainer getting directions from the out-of-stater.

The Bemis track was a pretty well maintained road with a few nice views and several bridges over chattering streams.

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The road eventually wound its way to the shores of Mooseloomeguntic Lake and to the Stephen Phillips Memorial Preserve. I arrived just before dark. My companions were already there. The site was a quarter mile down a wooded path on the shore of the lake. It took three trips to get my tent, backpack, banjo, cooler and camping stuff to the site. I was ready to relax and enjoy the last light of day and a well-derved malted beverage.

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Thomas and John are, it turns out, early risers. I am not. But they seemed to be eager to get riding — plus they wanted my coffee — so I got out of my tent at six-something. I made the java and Thomas planned the route.

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We headed to Oquossoc for gas. It quickly turned into a warm, sunny day. We hit the Morton Cutoff Road just up Route 16, plunging into the working forest. The dirt road was well-maintained and just a bit dusty. We hit some nice views and took our time, stopping for pictures here and there.

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Then the trouble started. John’s steed was losing power. The plugs were black, but not wet. They also seemed to be putting out low, yellowish spark instead of a bright blue snap.

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He limped it back to Route 16 via the Lincoln Pond Road, and there we sat, scratching our heads and checking random bits. Eventually, it was decided around noon that Thomas would head down the road to Wilsons Mills where fellow Ural rider Alan lives. Alan came with his truck and a tow strap, but only after helping Thomas fix his muffler which came loose due to a broken bolt on the way.

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Once at Alan’s homestead, armed with a wiring schematic and parts from Alan’s bike, they went to work solving the mystery.

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The hours ticked away, Thomas puffed away and I waved the bugs away, but to no avail. It wasn’t the Hall sensor, the spark plugs, the coil, the ignition, a chafed wire or a bad ground. Defeated, we ate dinner at the only joint in town, which is next to Alan’s house. And, he works there, too. John made plans to come get the bike sometime soon and he piled into Thermos’ sidecar, which had only half a seat and we went back to camp just before dark. A lovely sunset helped salve a frustrating day.

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In the morning (they were up at 5 a.m. or so) we packed up. Thomas put John’s stuff in his sidecar with his own gear and I let him ride in my sidecar which has a seat. We went back to Alan’s house where John was going to get a ride home from Bill at VT Cycles in Poland. I left my things at the campsite. When we got to Wilsons Mills, Alan had good news: it was fixed. Turns out it had a dirty air filter. The engine wasn’t getting enough air and the plugs were black from unburned fuel. That’s all. John had peeked at the filter right off the bat, but the Ural filter, drawing from the center, instead of the outside like most motorcycle intakes, is hard to judge without taking the lid off and pulling the whole filter out. Doh! He’d been riding third, behind me and Thomas, sucking up all our dust.

Lot’s of handshakes, lot’s of head shakes and a sandwich at Oquossoc later, all three bikes were back at the campsite. I loaded my gear and we took off for the South Arm Road, a long dirt track running along Mooselookmeguntic and Richardson Lakes before reaching Andover. It was dusty and bumpy but fun. We split up at Rumford Point. I took the long way home via Route 113 and Evan’s Notch. It was a great day to be riding.

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So, how was your weekend?

Troy R. Bennett

About Troy R. Bennett

Troy R. Bennett is a Buxton native and longtime Portland resident whose photojournalism has appeared in media outlets all over the world.