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

I rode part of the way back to Fort Kent from Dickey on an ATV trail that follows an old railroad bed. The other side of the river here is Canada.

I rode part of the way back to Fort Kent from Dickey on an ATV trail that follows an old railroad bed. The other side of the river here is Canada.

Tuesday June 10, 2014 / Millinocket to Madawaska

Total kilometers: 363

Before leaving the bridge at Dickey behind, I bumped down a gravel path to the edge of the river. I got off my bike and dipped my hands in the water. I splashed it on my face in a kind of self-baptism.

About half way back to fort Kent on Route 161, I noticed the road was paralleling not just the river, but an ATV trail as well. I dipped down onto it and found a smooth trail, dusted with crushed gravel. It seemed to follow an old rail line, complete with signs marking lost stations. It ran behind back yards and houses. Many had their own access trails leading to the larger way. I passed an old man on a four-wheeler. He waved.

This nicely groomed ATV trail ran right behind peoples houses on an old railroad line. Signs marked where the old station stops had been.

This nicely groomed ATV trail ran right behind peoples houses on an old railroad line. Signs marked where the old station stops had been.

It was hard to imagine this shared access to the river, not to mention the trail’s proximity to essentially waterfront property, working out down south, where I’m from.

Nearer Fort kent, the trail crossed a gravel road and I found my way back yup to the pavement. In town, I stopped at the NAPA auto parts store. The day before, a few cars flashed their high-beams at me to let me know my headlight was out. Only the low bean was inoperable and I’d kept it high to stay street legal. All the same, I wanted to fix it before crossing the border into Canada.

I took the light apart in the parking lot to get at the bulb. I didn’t want to buy the wrong one. The bike had come equipped with an anemic Russian sealed beam when I bought it. I upgraded it to a regular H4 bulb soon after.

But it turned out that upgrade was a bit much for the rig.

Smoked it.

Smoked it.

When I got it apart I saw the bulb wasn’t burned out at all. The heat from the H4 bulb had melted the cheap, plastic socket.

I went inside the store, noting a sign proclaiming it would be closed within the hour. I explained my predicament to the young man behind the counter. He came outside and had a look. He thought it was possible they’d have an H4 socket somewhere. Back inside, he vanished into the bowels of the stock room. It was a long time before he came back but he had a dusty socket with lead wires clutched in his hand.

He waved it at me and said it was the only one they had. I thanked him. Then he broke open a pack of crimp connectors and sold me just the three I needed to connect the wires. I thanked him again.

Outside, I commenced to stripping the wires, making note of the hot, ground and neutral. Nothing attracts older gentlemen like my bike or the sight of someone trying to fix something in a parking lot. My double situation was like gray-haired catnip. Several men stopped to ask me about the bike. I tried to chat and keep working. It was getting late.

They had a heavier-duty socket and the guy broke open a package of crimp connectors and sold me three.

They had a heavier-duty socket and the guy broke open a package of crimp connectors and sold me three.

Less than a half-hour later the headlight was shining bright and, thanks to a better socket, it wasn’t melting. I put the headlight shell back together, saddled up and headed for Madawaska on Route 1. I stopped at a boat ramp in Frenchville to cook some supper and listen to the news from the CBC on the radio. I watched the river fall into darkness as the setting sun dipped behind the evergreens. A breeze kept the bugs at bay and I waved to a man in a wooden canoe, motoring upstream against the current. He waved back.

At that point I wasn’t sure where I was going to spend the night. But I knew I was getting very sleepy in the saddle. I ended up in Madawaska before finding a suitable patch of woods to string up my hammock. As I rolled to the far side of town, I spotted the Gateway Motel. I did a u-turn and mounted a small hill to its front door.

I checked in and the woman at the desk gave me a piece of Canadian brown sugar pie with ice cream. I was so tired I thought I might not be able to eat it. I walked into my room and sat on the bed. I savored the pie in a trance as the Sandman sprinkled brown sugar and sleep in my brain.

I woke up at midnight, stretched out on the bed, my leather riding pants and boots dangling of the side. My jacket was on the floor and an empty styrofoam container with traces of piecrust sat on the pillow. I stayed conscious long enough to wriggle out of my riding suit and turn down the bed.

I awoke at first light, the sun shining past the curtains I’d forgotten to close. My bike was still there, with the key in the ignition and all my belongings under the sidecar tarp.

I yawned, stretched and murmured, “Canada.”

Stay tuned for day three.

Read day one here.

I cooked supper at the boat launch in Frenchville between Fort Kent and Madawaska. The other side is Canada.

I cooked supper at the boat launch in Frenchville between Fort Kent and Madawaska. The other side is Canada.

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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.