New England Autumn...
By the calendar, the season has officially changed from summer to fall. But I can hardly tell by the weather and just a very few of the trees have started to change color. I had hoped to see the blaze of fall foliage before reaching the end of my trip, but it's looking like I will be a week or two early.
Since leaving Boston, the weather, the riding, the towns and the countryside have been nothing short of spectacular. The daytime highs have been in the low 70's with cool evenings around 50F for perfect sleeping weather. The route has taken me through many forested areas and along beautiful Atlantic shorelines. The roads have been mostly quiet with rolling hills perfect for cycling. Each downhill generates just enough momentum to take me to the top of the next hill.
There have been a number of highlights over the last week. First was Concord, MA. I remember from American History the story of the first battles of the American Revolution at Lexington and Concord. The Minutemen made their stand at the Old North Bridge to stop the British from coming to take their weapons and ammunition. What I didn't know was that Concord was also the cradle of American literature in the mid-1800's. Thoreau's Walden Pond is just outside of town. Alcott, Hawthorne, and Emerson also lived here and they are all buried within a few yards of each other in the Sleep Hollow Cemetery. I like wandering through old cemeteries and this was a particularly good one as it is built in a hilly, wooded area with gravesites scattered throughout in seemingly random patches as opposed to a typical one laid out in a flat field with row after row of headstones. It's most famous residents are all clustered together in an area called Author's Ridge.
Portsmouth, NH also stands out as a great place to visit. Sitting at the mouth of the Piscataqua River, it was first settled by Europeans in 1630 and was called Strawbery Banke for the wild strawberries that grew along the shores. The city has been a ship building port for centuries. John Paul Jones lived here on two different occasions while ships for the revolution were being built. The US Navy still maintains a shipyard here where they service and repair submarines. In the 1950's, when residents realized that many of the old homes and buildings were being torn down, a museum was formed in the original Strawbery Banke settlement area to preserve the history of the city. Each building in the museum has a different story to tell. One was a governor's mansion from the 1840's. Another highlights the building techniques of colonial times with displays of how tree trunks were shaped into beams, the tools used by the carpenters, and wall/ceiling sections removed to show the joining methods and architectural structure. The William Pitt Tavern from 1766 was a place where plans for the revolution were made and had such famous visitors as George Washington, John Hancock and the Marquis de Lafayette. One building was laid out as a mirror image duplex with one half decorated in 1750-style and the other half in 1950-style. There's a World War II era grocery store with all the staples typically available during war time. Many of the houses also had actors portraying an inhabitant from the time period of the building. The woman at the WWII grocery store was being quizzed by a visitor on who was president. She answered that 'They're gonna come take you away to the hospital if you don't know Franklin Roosevelt is President. Next, I suppose, your're gonna ask me who won the World Series!'
Maine is working hard to win my vote for best state of the trip. It's my 19th and last state, but certainly not the least. In just my first day in Maine, I saw small fishing villages, ocean resort towns, sandy beaches, rocky shores, lighthouses, winding roads, forests, marshes and even an old boardwalk-style amusement park. People here seem to be a bit more friendly than I've run into for awhile. After getting used to being waved at and questioned throughout the west and midwest, New York and Massachusetts didn't seem to pay much attention. But, in Maine, I've started to see many more touring cyclists and I was given the quiz by two different people within 10 minutes of each other yesterday in the town of Bath. And everyone tells me that the best is yet to come as I get closer and closer to Bar Harbor!