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Home » PEOPLE AND PLACES » MAINE » The Other Maine
A Dangerous Curve in Saint David, Complete with Dramatic Skid Marks from a Near-Moose Encounter
The Other Maine

Hot on the Trail

By Alex Seise | August 29, 2012

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There's a distinct odd charm to living in a place where summer is so short that it is measured in weeks rather than months.

Fields of Fallow in Frenchville, Maine

Though sparse, the few warm days in Aroostook County are themselves long and inviting, carefully balancing a perfect blend of afternoon heat and brisk twilight. Plants extend before one’s very eyes, sometimes even literally as tendrils soar through the air to capitalize on the brief growing season. Weekends in sleepy towns are stacked with overlapping festivals, transforming the peaceful region into a party-hopping oasis.

Then, there are the people who finally emerge from their shell-like homes, victors over the onslaught of a seemingly interminable cold season. Whether it’s tending the yard, sitting on a creaking porch swing or prodding the soil for tubers and shoots, few spend the summer inside. Some explore the warmth from the comfort of a four-wheeled quad; others load up pickup trucks with fishing rods and rifles to harvest the area’s bounties.

When it comes to outdoor exercise in Northern Maine, there is a long-reigning triumvirate of cardiovascular indulgence at play. The hardiest take to the cool lakes and rivers for swimming and sailing. The most reserved stick to walking and jogging along the mostly paved streets. And then there are the cyclists, those odd beasts who walk the line between smooth asphalt and scattered trails, between bustling towns and dense forests.

Cycling in Aroostook County has its fair share of quirks. For one, towns are spaced at erratic intervals. Some are just a few miles apart; other times, there are well over 20 miles of solitude and sheer loneliness between incorporated areas. On bright, cloudless days when all is well in the world, this rarely presents a problem. But when a quick-moving summer storm blows through, or a rogue tire falls flat, these large patches of isolation can become memorably miserable.

On a Forested Portion of Pelletier Road in Frenchville, ME

Fortunately, on a fairly aggressive 15 mile ride through the hills and brush of Frenchville and Saint David this summer, I was met with a thoroughly blissful journey.

Departing Madawaska, the first realization that struck me was how difficult the towns are for those navigating via bike. Crowded sidewalks and bumper-to-bumper on-the-street parking made riding downright difficult; the same issues plague most towns in the area.

After departing the 25 mile per hour zone, the situation became even more precarious.

The Other Maine is serviced by just a few busy arteries, steady traffic traveling at a speedy clip fills the byway during daylight hours. Cyclists are forced to decide between smooth pavement that shoves them dangerously close to whizzing traffic or rugged shoulders replete with uneven gravel and overgrowth spilling out off the roadside.

But all those perils disappear on the quiet side streets.

As I turned onto Pelletier Road in Frenchville, I was instantly met with yet another bane of Northern Maine cyclists: tall, windy hills. Though easy enough to navigate during the summer with a motored vehicle, the steep inclines are no easy feat for those traveling by bike. The downhill portions are equally jarring; with steep drops and pitted potholes, speeding along on two wheels becomes a white-knuckled obstacle course.

Rolling Hills off into the Distance

No danger is quite as palpable as the perceived fear that seeps in when the trails go dark. At numerous points, the paved road and fallowed fields give way to deep, thick brush, blocking out the light and the distant signs of civilization.

Everything changes, from the sound of the wind shrieking between the trunks to distant crunches of large beasts traversing the woods.

On a bicycle, it’s difficult to escape this fear; the sights and sounds come from all angles, and thoughts of survival cloud the mind. Fortunately, these patches are always over shortly after they begin, breaking up the highs and lulls of hillside pedaling with bursts of pure adrenaline.

And yet, after zipping along the curves of Gagnon Road in Saint David and back onto Route 1, none of the perilous portions of the trip lingered for me. All that remained was a thrilling memory of the Other Maine in a way that few fully appreciate.

On a bicycle, the countryside is filled with the hum of crickets and birds chirping, the cozy aroma of fresh hay and cool balsam and the unforgettable feeling of a warm sunny breeze rolling over the hilltops and pouring into the valley.

Set against breathtaking vistas stretching as far as the eye can see, these sense-tingling experiences make bicycling through rural Northern Maine simply unforgettable.

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