Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Three Great States

July 11, 2010
Brewer, Maine to Montpelier, Vermont
Today we pack three states in one classic road trip day!

It begins with our complimentary breakfast of waffles with wild blueberry syrup at the Vacationland Inn. The owners of this 1950s vintage motor court are proud to let us know that Maine is America’s largest blueberry producer, raising 98% of the low bush blueberries in the country. They want to be sure that we leave their establishment with our bellies full of the blueberry bounty of their state, and we are glad to oblige.

We make a slight detour into downtown Bangor to see what is reputed to be the largest Paul Bunyan statue in the world. He stands 31 feet tall--a symbol of the late 1800s when Bangor was acclaimed as “The Lumber Capital of the World.” Back then there were 150 sawmills operating along the Penobscot River, and Bangor shipped over 150 million board feet of lumber yearly. By the 1880s, Maine’s forests were stripped, and the loggers were heading west. In Maine they claim Paul Bunyan was born here, but we recall from our travels last year that Bemidji, Minnesota claimed (and provided proof) that he was born there. We vote for Bemidji, even though Maine’s statue is taller.

Our next roadside attraction is the Skowhegan Indian, who stands twice as tall as Paul Bunyan—a whopping 62 feet. Sculpted by Bernard Langlais, it is believed to be “the world’s tallest wooden Indian.

We can’t resist a stop in Rumford, Maine, where we spot another Paul Bunyan, a bit more diminutive than the Bangor version, standing next to the Visitor Center. Blue hoof prints are painted on the sidewalk, and a sign promises that we can follow them to Paul’s blue ox, Babe, who is just a five minute walk away. We follow the prints over a bridge, down a hill, and through Rumford’s main business district, which looks to have been built during prosperous times, but come down many notches since then. Many buildings have intricately carved stonework trim and elegant proportions. Now, they stand vacant or are being used for less genteel purposes than originally intended. Twelve minutes later, we finally find Babe in the Rite Aid parking lot. The wind has changed and we can smell the distinctive aroma of the very big Mead pulp mill that is responsible for whatever prosperity this town still can claim. Both the air and this little ploy to get us to walk through downtown stink a bit.
This is the Artist’s Covered Bridge that spans the Sunday River in Bethel, Maine. It was built in 1872, and is deserving of its name. We agree that it is the prettiest of the many covered bridges we have seen on our trip.
We picnic at a table beside the Androscoggin River, and are glad that we chose a table beneath a little shelter, because it starts to rain before we finish our lunch. We try to wait it out, but give up and run to the car, soaked by the time we make it there.

Dick charts a little drive through the White Mountains of New Hampshire for our afternoon enjoyment. I crush his proposal that we drive up Mount Washington, because being in a rainstorm like the one we just experieinced at lunch while driving up the side of a mountain is my worst nightmare. Mount Washington’s motto is “home of the world’s worst weather,” and it has a lot of erratic wind and storm data to back up the claim. For example, it holds the record for the highest wind speed measured on the earth’s surface—231 miles per hour. We settle for enjoying views of Mount Washington from below.

Our travels through the mountains take us to Crawford, where we see the most elegant railroad depot we can recall anywhere.
Further down the road, we have to pull off to ogle the stunning Mount Washington Hotel, which was built in 1902 by a railroad tycoon who made sure that it was served by up to 57 trains per day. The white hotel with its red roof seems to glow against the backdrop of the White Mountains. It is now an Omni Luxury Resort, and the security at the gate looks a little intimidating, so we don’t try to peek inside.
All this sight-seeing makes for a very full day. But, our most amazing sight is in the evening, when we least expect it. We are dining at Sarducci’s in Montpelier, Vermont, when our Landings friends Joe and Kathy Ginett stop by our table to say hello. What a surprise for all of us! There may be a lesson here—no matter where we travel, we are never as far from home as we think we are.

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