The circumstances of the past several days–including a TV shoot, seeing and talking to old friends, being in the old neighborhood, reconnecting with brother Randy, and cycling 373 miles in five days–coupled with the anticipation of some reunions in Houlton, has pushed us up on the adrenaline meter. Our excitement has also been intensified by our upcoming move to the Nashville, Tennessee area. In July, I accepted the position of Manager, Projects and Technology for TheHopeLine (aka thehopeline.com and the Dawson McAllister Association). You can learn more about TheHopeLine by visiting their website or by checking out our hopeline webpage on our 2010 blog or the blog of our 2011 mission trip to the organization.
So sleep was a challenge last night, although not so much for Debbie. She crashed early and was unable to budge even for a hot fudge sundae across the street. An early alarm launched us to McDonalds to stuff ourselves full of whatever reasonably healthy calories, carbs, and coolants we could find there. We are particularly mindful of this today because the upcoming seventy-mile stretch will be among the more desolate of our entire trip. It is this stretch, and others like it to the south and west of Houlton, along with the Canadian border to the east, that help make Houlton the unique oasis of culture and community it has become.
However, no amount of isolation was going to deter us on what we anticipated to be the final day of our Mom-to-Mom tour. Another friendly wind pattern from the south returned to boost us along. We cycled to downtown Lincoln and enjoyed a view of the adjacent Mattanawcook Lake. The cool and tranquility of the early morning fostered a unique ambiance for our upcoming trip through the woods. We soon rejoined the Penobscot River’s path from the north, passing through towns ever diminishing in size and services.
After one climbs the hill out of Mattawamkeag, the gradual move toward the woods and the wild has been confirmed. We were on our own at this juncture, but with enough fluids and snacks to push us to our destination, Houlton, the Shiretown of Aroostook County.
I know these parts well after years of traveling between Bangor and Houlton. This is a road of legend, brought into the national spotlight in the sixties by Dick Curless with his top-five hit Tombstone Every Mile. The song describes the fate of truckers who navigate the area’s Haynesville Woods in winter. This stretch of road connects Aroostook County to the rest of the country. Aroostook is referred to in Maine as “The County” due to its large size and unique character. It is known by its hard-working, wholesome, honest, and friendly people. Back when I was a kid, the Route 2 and 2A stretch was the only connection to the “outside world” for cars and trucks. The railroad was a significant factor in travel back then, too. But Interstate 95 was soon extended north to Houlton, the railroad died its slow death, and the Haynesville Woods became even more isolated, but for those in the logging industry who lauded its timber.
So there we were, on what soon had become another gorgeous day of sunshine, alone but together, amongst endless trees surrounding a solitary paved road that stretched for miles. Periodically, a house would spring forth, perhaps liveable or perhaps falling in on itself. At one pit stop on a side logging road, the silence was incredibly refreshing. This is how to get away. There was nothing to interrupt the train of thought, the communing with nature, except for one another. We enjoyed the silence together for a time before resuming our inevitable rendezvous with life. Our Mom-to-Mom tour was accomplishing a purpose, if not its intended purpose, to recharge, enliven, or reawaken what might have become dulled through the vigors of everyday life and responsibilities. Thank you Mom-to-Mom–you have been a worthy companion for these past six weeks.
Also legendary in these parts is Santa Claus Hill, so-called, I suppose, because of the Christmas tree farm on its top, although I’m not sure which came first. It also helps to be shaped in the form of an “s” and to display a seasonal view of Mount Katahdin on its northwest side, with snow cover that outlives that of its surroundings. We are here the wrong time of year and in the wrong era to truly appreciate the mystique of the hill. But I experienced it firsthand as a child, although not from behind the windshield of an eighteen-wheeler trying to negotiate its slippery slope in the dead of winter. We could see the curve in the road from atop a neighboring hill. Moments later, we began our climb up Santa Claus, with a slow travel lane especially made for vehicles incapable of maintaining current speed up its ascent. Our bicycles fell into that category. It wasn’t as if we would have any other vehicles vying for lane position on this isolated road. Regardless, we had trained on steeper hills, back in Pennsylvania, New York, and Connecticut. Santa Claus was simply a jolly ole hill–and we dispatched of it with ease, while enjoying the legend on the way up.
I recalled one of my mother’s many accounts–this one of a cold winter night when the family was traveling back to Houlton. The car broke down and Dad had to walk at least a mile to the next house to call for help. In those days, you could knock on a stranger’s door, especially on a road like this, and hope to receive warm and welcoming assistance. Mom was left with the kids in the car and used a blanket to keep us warm from the bitter cold. We were rescued by a tow truck driven by the father of someone who would become a good friend. Ah, those were the days. You have time to reminisce on a bicycle–especially on this road.
Miles later, we passed through Haynesville–merely a few houses and boarded up buildings. We were met by some friends, the Timminses, at a rest stop. Jim and Janet enjoy outdoor activities and have done some bicycling of their own from time to time. Janet and I enjoyed many years working together, during which time I learned much from her. Soon, another friend, Brian Bell, stopped by. Brian is a strong biker who had bicycled some twenty-odd miles out of Houlton to meet us for our ride into town. He and his wife, Debbie, have been long-term friends and encouragers to me, and now to my Debbie. Brian and I have enjoyed bicycling together for years.
We parted ways with Jim and Janet and resumed our ride into town. Upon arrival, we connected with the Harbisons, also long-term family friends. We will always remember their kindness and hospitality, all the way down to their daughter Sarah’s welcome sign. The Harbisons are special people–community leaders with hearts of gold. They made our arrival and short stay in Houlton most meaningful.
The Mom-to-Mom tour was originally inspired in 2011 as a follow-up to our coast-to-coast tour in 2010. But a blood clot that I contracted in the winter of 2011 put that dream on hold. A year later, our circumstances seemed to allow for this adventure, so why not? The blood clot alone suggested that time is awasting, that one should be about getting life done before it gets you done. Having now enjoyed another tour, Debbie and I consider our effort and expense to be an investment that will continue to pay us back for years to come. We hope that our written accounts have also blessed you along the way.
Mom, of course, is no longer in Houlton. She was promoted to Glory in January, following some health struggles for much of 2011. Debbie and I took some time to visit her gravesite. Sure enough, there was the stone I had seen in the drawings. Other than some sod and a marker, there really isn’t much to see at a gravesite. Nevertheless, it provided an appropriate setting and stillness to pause and reflect. I have so many wonderful memories of Mom. I feel as though she is really a part of me and I can take her with me wherever I go. I can’t think of too many blessings in life that trump this one. Our parents are like that–you can’t get away from them no matter whether you wish to or not!
I’m not sure when we’ll get back to Houlton, but I’m sure it will be here. My long, faithful sanctuary will just be farther away, which of course will only serve to add to its appeal. In the meantime, thanks for the memories, Houlton. I owe you and your people more than I could ever repay. I will miss you, and I will miss them.
So after 2,654 miles over 47 days, the Mom-to-Mom tour ends with some farewells and mixed emotions, but exciting times are on the horizon. Debbie and I are looking forward to what God has in store in Tennessee. It is thrilling to see how He has led us to this opportunity. We are both volunteer hope coaches for the organization and expect to continue that involvement. Debbie has begun a transition to leave her current job so we can relocate, but the timing of our relocation will not slow down my start date, which will be sometime in September. Debbie has many rich life and professional experiences to offer, so we are sure God will open new and intriguing doors of opportunity to utilize them. Our daily activities will change, but we don’t intend to let Two Are Better and Open Road Press fade. God has given us such a wonderful story–it would not be good stewardship to let it die on the vine. And we will still keep this blog going, on a reduced posting frequency of perhaps two to three times weekly. The content will vary somewhat, but we will continue to leverage the many lessons we learn on a bicycle–there are so many from the open road!