Riding the St. John River: Day two (part one)

A side trail leads to what looks like a canoe launch under the bridge at Dickey, Maine.

A side trail leads to what looks like a canoe launch under the bridge at Dickey, Maine.

Tuesday June 10, 2014 / Millinocket to Madawaska

Total kilometers: 363

The sprinkles turned in to a steady rain while I ate an omelette in the Millinocket cafe. The coffee was passable. The homemade English muffins seemed to be nothing more than round slices of toast, but they were deliciously grilled. The waitress offered me the morning Bangor Daily News and I accepted. A couple of old dears in a booth nearby played out their morning ritual. They talked about who’d died, who’d been moved to a nursing home and their prospects of getting their daily walk in, what with the rain and all.

Through hikers sign their trail names on the ceiling at the Appalachian Trail Cafe in Millinocket, Maine. The homemade English muffin was tasty.

Through hikers sign their trail names on the ceiling at the Appalachian Trail Cafe in Millinocket, Maine. The homemade English muffin was tasty.

Across from them were two pony-tailed Appalachian Trail hikers, trading blister and bear stories. They looked at maps, looked out the window at the rain, and looked at the maps again. Above them, on the acoustic ceiling tiles, were the signatures and trail names of those that had come this way before. I finished my meal, folded the BDN and set off, wiping the rain from my face shield every few minutes.

I rode Route 11/157 out of town, through East Millinocket and into Medway. Both towns looked particularly miserable in the rain. I gassed up and bought a doughnut from a surly woman at a corner store that sold individual boot laces from a nail by the door. I hung out under the eaves, looking at the rain, enjoying the raspberry filling and reading the funny notes on the bulletin board.

But I had to get going.

A sign in Medway, Maine lets you know Roger is willing to deal.

A sign in Medway, Maine lets you know Roger is willing to deal.

I had a close encounter of the antler kind  just north of Grindstone Falls on Route 11. I really didn’t come all that close to hitting the moose. I wasn’t going fast due to the rain. But it was close enough to make me slap the brakes hard and the jolt of adrenaline infected me with the jitters for a few miles. Bullwinkle stepped out from the bushes on the left side of the road, saw me, jumped across to the right shoulder and trotted ahead for bit. Then he swerved back out into the road, stopped, looked over his shoulder at me — I was now at a dead stop behind him — flapped his ears and dove back into the greenery to the left of the pavement.

Then it began to really pour. By the time I got to patten, my rain gear had given up. It’s hard to make a waterproof jacket that won’t leak at the zippers and seams at 45mph. I stopped at a diner and squish-squashed my way to a booth where I dripped a mammoth puddle. The hot coffee was nice just to hang onto.

I heard a guy with a southern accent from a booth behind me. He was asking directions to Bangor. Turned out, he was a wet biker as well. He’d been riding with his buddies in Nova Scotia till he laid his bike down at 70mph on the Cabot Trail. He showed me the damage to his bike and his ripped riding gear to prove it. He said he’d lost his bike’s topbox, and most of his stuff, over a cliff when he crashed. The poor guy was limping his bike to Bangor where he hoped to fly home to Atlanta. He planned on coming back in a few weeks to fix the bike and cycle home.

I gave him my email address and said I’d help out if I could. Then he rode off. I didn’t catch his name.

Locals chew the fat in Patten, Maine while this fella from Atlanta gets ready to saddle up. He was on his way to Bangor, Maine to catch a flight home. He'd laid his bike down at 70mph in Nova Scotia.

Locals chew the fat in Patten, Maine while this fella from Atlanta gets ready to saddle up. He was on his way to Bangor, Maine to catch a flight home. He’d laid his bike down at 70mph in Nova Scotia.

The rain gave way to dry, glowering clouds in Oxbow. By the time I hit the Fish River valley, the sun was sneaking through the overcast. Puffy clouds and blue skies greeted me in Fort Kent. I began to dry out.

I gassed up and turned west on Route 161, heading for Allagash. Wooded hills, rising on the left, smoothed out into farmed fields and houses as they approached the road. On the right, the St. John River flowed indigo. The far bank was Canada.

Behind the school in St. Francis, the international border is taken north by the St. Frances River while the St. John becomes Maine on both sides. I trundled through the village at Allagash and came to the bridge at Dickey, and crossed to the far side of the river. That was the end of the line for me.

The bridge at Dickey, Maine is as far up the St. John River as you can take a bike. The roads from here on in are privately owned by paper companies and such and don't allow motorcycles.

The bridge at Dickey, Maine is as far up the St. John River as you can take a bike. The roads from here on in are privately owned by paper companies and such and don’t allow motorcycles.

I stuck my hands in the water and splashed my face here at Dickey, Maine.

I stuck my hands in the water and splashed my face here at Dickey, Maine.

After that, is the North Maine Woods (NMW) checkpoint. A web of roads, cut through the forest, could take me much further up the river but motorcycles are forbidden.

NMW is a non-profit, conglomerated consortium of big and little landowners who control 3.5 million acres of working forest. They allow public access to sweeping swaths of their land for a fee. But they do not allow bikes, bicycles, horses, motorhomes or ATVs. The organization was born in the 1960s when logs drives faded and trucking took over as the way most trees made it to market. They needed a central agency to manage the private roads connecting all that land.

I’m not sure what the difference is between my street-legal sidecar rig and a car for purposes of using their dirt roads and doing a little camping. But it’s their land and they make the rules. Maybe someday someone like the Maine Dual-Sport and Dirt Bike Association can strike a deal with them so folks like me can have a little access, too.

I thought of this as I crossed the high bridge and did a u-turn. The river below chuckled over stones and gravel. Small birds swooped all around and under the road, feasting on bugs. I took some pictures and headed back the way I came. My navigation of the river was finally underway.

Read day two (part two).

Read day one here.

The St. John River runs shallow and rocky at Dickey, Maine.

The St. John River runs shallow and rocky at Dickey, Maine.

 

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.