Riding the St. John River: Day three

Wednesday June 11, 2014 / Madawaska to Fredericton

Total kilometers: 350

The Acadian flag could be seen painted on everything on both sides of the border, including this garage.

The Acadian flag could be seen painted on everything on both sides of the border, including this garage.

I finished my omelette in the Gateway Motel’s diner as workmen put up a new, lighted exit sign. The whole joint was going through a serious renovation. My room was brand-spanking new.

I rode up Madawaska’s main drag, looking for the McDonalds. I’d heard it was one of the “four corners” of the country, where bikers doing that grueling ride meet for coffee. Turned out, my information was way out of date and underestimated. When I got near the Mickey-D’s, I saw, on the left, a fountain and a sign proclaiming the Madawaska Four Corners Park.

Joe LeChance gave me a certificate and a handshake for making it to one of the four corners of the United States. Madawaska is in the most northeasterly town in the union.

Joe LeChance gave me a certificate and a handshake for making it to one of the four corners of the United States. Madawaska is in the most northeasterly town in the union.

I rode into the parking lot and backed into a space.  Before I got my helmet off, Joe LeChance was shaking my hand and welcoming me on behalf of the governor in a slight French accent. Joe is the founder of the park and force of nature. He gave me a personal tour of the park and an official certificate, proving I’d made it to at least one of the four corners of the U.S.A.

The Southern California Motorcycling Association’s Four Corner Tour challenges motorcyclists to hit the country’s four corners — San Ysidro, Calif.; Blaine, Wash.; Key West, Fla.; and Madawaska — in 21 days or less. Madawaska is the only one of the four with a park dedicated to the ride. The ride originated with Josef Usalin, who did in three weeks back in 1985 with his 9-year-old son.

I would have known all about this if I’d read and excellent story Julia Bayly wrote for the BDN back in 2012.

Joe started the whole thing with a marker at the restaurant back in 2000. Then, Homeland Security needed that spot for something or other and he moved the monument to the post office. The town knew he was looking for a permanent home for a park and in 2002 offered him a derelict lot nearby if he’d pay the back taxes. He did, and he’s been improving it ever since — and this is all after he’d put in 40 years at the paper mill. Now, along with the fountain, it has fund-raising paving stones with the names of visitors and local businesses.

It’s a real asset to the community. It sits on a hill with a good view over into New Brunswick across the St. John River. While I was there, a local family with kids in a stroller stopped by for a picnic.

Donate some cash and get a stone at the four corners park in Madawaska. It helps keep the whole thing running.

Donate some cash and get a stone at the four corners park in Madawaska. It helps keep the whole thing running.

Joe and his wife finished the tour themselves in 2008.

I crossed the border into Canada at 11:30 a.m. and an hour dissolved into the Atlantic Time Zone air. The Canadian border agent didn’t ask me to take off my sunglasses or helmet as I handed him my passport. But he did ask if the bright orange trike a few cars back was with me. I said no and he waved me through without getting out of his booth.

I didn’t stop in Edmiston but headed for Route 144. It ran south on the New Brunswick side of the river, which was still the international border. The road hugged the riverbank with a rail line between it and the water. The road was wide and fast. The Acadian flag was flying everywhere and it was painted on just about every stationary object — mailboxes, flowerpots, barns. I made good time to Grand Falls, where the river plunges over the rocks and away from the Maine border.

Finally in New Brunswick. One guide book I read said follow the stylized question mark. For the record, that's a fiddlehead fern, a spring delicacy in the region.

Finally in New Brunswick. One guide book I read said: follow the stylized question mark. For the record, that’s a fiddlehead fern, a spring delicacy in the region.

From Great Falls on, the St. John River no longer marks the international boundary between the States and Canada.

From Great Falls onward, the St. John River no longer marks the international boundary between the States and Canada.

The falls were running, but not like they do in the spring. The gorge was still impressive. There were zip lines running over the gorge and some crazy dudes were dangling out over the middle, practicing rescue techniques.

Just outside of town, I found lazy Route 105. It keeps following the river and used to be the main road. Trans-Canada Highway 2 now runs on the opposite bank and 105 is just a country road.

I probably rode 45 minutes without passing another vehicle. The road was patched and bumpy. But the views were good. There were lots of rocky drop-offs down to the river, houses, potato farms and gravel pits. It was classic north east: nothing incredibly spectacular, just a pleasant afternoon of riding with trees, meadows and the river for company.

I found my mind drifting into almost complete blankness. I was just riding. Time elapsed and the kilometers rolled under my tires.

South of Great Falls, for pretty much the rest of the day, a trail followed the river beside the road. It was tempting, but was clearly marked for walking and biking only.

South of Great Falls, for pretty much the rest of the day, a trail followed the river beside the road. It was tempting, but was clearly marked for walking and biking only.

I crossed an elderly looking hydro dam at Tobique Narrows. I saw green wooden benches on the riverbank in Bath. Circular patches of ass-worn paint told me they were well-used.

In Florenceville-Bristol I saw a one-lane bridge over the river. It had three spans. Two were steel and the third was a wooden and covered. Locals waited on either end, looking to see if the narrow roadway was empty so they could cross. I waited my turn. Just as I was coming out the covered section, two kids on a Honda Nighthawk roared between my sidecar and the bridge’s steel beams. The passenger turned and nodded to me and they gunned it for the far end.

It's a one lane bridge, so you have to wait your turn. That didn't stop some kids on a Honda Nighthawk from passing me half way down.

It’s a one lane bridge, so you have to wait your turn. That didn’t stop some kids on a Honda Nighthawk from passing me half way down.

I found the longest covered bridge in the world a little further downstream in Hartland. It’s almost 1,300 feet long. It was one lane as well. You look for the lights at the end of the tunnel to see if the coast is clear and it’s safe to cross.

I noticed all the locals seem to ride its length as fast as they could. I’m not sure why. Maybe to be polite and get off the bridge so someone else can have a turn. Maybe just because it’s fun.

I crossed and got the bike up to 40 mph. The daylight pulsed like a strobe light through the gray wooden slats on the sides. It was incredible, like some sort of carnival ride.

That, in the distance, is the worlds longest covered bridge.

That, in the distance, is the worlds longest covered bridge.

new_brunswick_ride_42

It was worth the detour to Centerville, New Brunswick. This is where all Mickey D's fries come from.

It was worth the detour to Centerville, New Brunswick. This is where all Mickey D’s fries come from.

On the far side was Centerville, where I went to the Potato World museum. I found three polite but bored teenage girls running the place. Aside from them, I was the only one there. It was informative and obviously funded by the McCain french fry folks who are headquartered nearby. I learned the St. John Valley is excellent for growing the tasty tubers in part because of the harsh winters, which kill may things that kill potatoes.

Good info to have.

Good info to have.

I went back over the bridge as fast as I could and got a repeat light show.

Downstream, the river started to broaden and the banks got softer as I approached the big Mactaquac Dam. Before getting there, I turned off at the town of Nackawic to see the worlds biggest axe. It was in a park on the river. The town was planned around a paper mill and the axe was in tribute to the pulp that made it run.

Kids were swimming in the river while a group of adults sat in lawn chairs, talking and smoking. A little boy in a life jacket saw me dipping my hands in the river, as I’d done in Dickey. He asked me what I was doing. I said I was seeing how warm the water was. He said it was warm and I should come swim with them. It was tempting, but I had to get going.

The riverside park in Nackawic, New Brunswick sports the world's largest axe. Forestry, like potato farming, has a long history in those parts.

The riverside park in Nackawic, New Brunswick sports the world’s largest axe. 

I found some kids swimming in the St. John River in the park at Nackowic. They said the water was warm.

I found some kids swimming in the St. John River in the park at Nackowic. They said the water was warm.

The huge potato farms of the Norther St. John Valley gradually gave way to smaller dairy, apple and veggie farms.

The huge potato farms of the Norther St. John Valley gradually gave way to smaller dairy, apple and veggie farms.

An enormous earthen structure at Mactaquac Dam forces the river to run left around a rocky chute and through the turbines.

An enormous earthen structure at Mactaquac Dam forces the river to run left around a rocky chute and through the turbines.

 

 

The light was fading as I crossed the big dam. It looked old and brittle. I took a dirt road on the far end, hoping to find a place to camp for the night. It turned out to be just a short cross road with a man in a chef’s outfit smoking a joint. I nodded as I passed him. He looked sheepish.

Moving on, it was clear I was coming into the suburbs of Fredricton and I wasn’t going to find a hidden patch of woods to sleep in. I decided to make for a hostel in town. It wouldn’t be free, but it’d be cheap.

It was dark as I doused my way around the city. I found the hostel. But a large dumpster full of furniture and a hand-scrawled sign told me it was no longer a going concern. I saw a pile of old steam radiators near the door.

It was now close to 10 p.m.

I took a couple of random turns and came upon a hotel with thigh-high grass engulfing an old playground on the front lawn. A lighted letter board sign displayed no message. But a herd of work trucks parked on the side with carpentry and plumbing logos led me to believe it was open and cheap. Beer coolers and men smoking cigarettes outside the rooms, sitting in plastic patio furniture, proved I was right.

I checked in and started to cook supper on my stove in the parking lot. From one of the balconies above, a voiced called out, “He look Jim, we ain’t the only hillbillies staying here.”

Stay tuned for day four. 

Read day one here.

Read day two here.

 

Recommend this article
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.