Thursday, June 17, 2010

Cold, Cold-and-Wet, Wet, and then just Cold

The title of this blog post says it all...but then I was expecting it. And dressed for it. But still...leaving Cortland in cold rain is not the best way to start a leg of a trip. I'm used to it, though. It seems the cold-and-wet part happens to me on a regular basis and no matter what part of the country I'm in.

When I left Cortland, I had a couple of national parks in my GPS to help break up the monotony of interstate travel to Maine. The first would be Fort Stanwix in Rome NY, just up the road so to speak from Cortland. If I left the motel at 8:00, I'd arrive there just after they opened at 9:00 AM. My original plan was to pass through southern VT and NH to pick up national park stamps in each of those states, but I knew the going would be slow. Add in the fact that this is Laconia Bike Week and, based on an email from a friend who lives in southern NH, it was all I needed to make a decision: Skip that route and get to Maine the fast way, via I-90 to I-495 to I-95.

Fort Stanwix is a revolutionary war-era outpost, established to protect the "Oneida Carrying Place," and an important trail connecting the Atlantic Ocean to Lake Ontario. It is known as the fort that never surrendered and played an important role in the series of victories over other nations fighting for control. It's a faithful reconstruction of the fort as it was built in the late 1700's. It's square, with four bastions, one at each corner, and occupies a large piece of land near the center of modern-day Rome. I found it with no difficulty and was able to park right in front of the visitor center, which sits right on a city street.

I stamped my National Park passport book and, not interested in the extensive walking required to visit this site (rain + motorcycle boots/pants/jacket = not very conducive to lots of walking), I reversed my course back to the NY Thruway and headed east toward Massachusetts.

With the deletion of NH and VT from my route, I could add Lowell National Historical Site to this day's route instead. This allowed the "cards" to fall into a better hand, so to speak, as it eliminates that stop from Saturday's itinerary, which is a very good thing.

As I rolled along the Mass Pike, I skipped a service island east of Springfield, thinking there would be one between Worcester and where I'd get off onto I-495. But there wasn't. So then I thought I'd get off at US 20 for gas, but the cars and trucks were seriously backed up onto the exit ramps (what the heck??) so I skipped that exit and decided to get off onto 290 and go west to the next exit - Solomon Pond Road - almost certain there was a gas station there. There wasn't. So I pulled into a parking lot and started searching for one on the GPS. The nearest one was 2 miles south, in the center of Northboro. So that's where I headed. By this point I'm sorta "dancing" in the saddle a bit (cold weather always does that to me). A mile down the road a policeman was directing traffic around some workers who were patching potholes, so I had to wait for our turn to proceed along the single lane to get past them. Arghh! But finally! I arrived at the little Gulf station on the corner in the center of town. It was one of those full service gas stations from yesteryear, with two service bays, no C-store, and bathrooms on the exterior wall, accessed by the key attached to a time-burnished large wooden wand.

That took a little longer than I would have liked, but somehow it was gave me a chance to see the center of a town I haven't seen in 30 years, looking much the same as it always has, with its antique colonial houses and tiny little downtown area, carefully preserved by architectural restrictions (a good thing).

Next stop would be the Lowell National Historic Park in a town that I knew well back when we lived in Billerica and I worked in Lowell. I took the Lowell Connector exit, getting major flashback memories as I did so. But where Lowell Connector deposited me in town had changed radically since I lived there in the late '70's, early '80's. Actually much has changed about this small city. Nearly all of the downtown is incorporated in one way or another into this national park. Nearly all of the old buildings that were mills, stores, boarding houses and the like during the industrial revolution are still there today. The city sits on the Merrimack River, a significant source of water power for the big textile looms, and Lowell and Lawrence saw significant growth as a result of this.

I managed to find the visitor center on a street that I should have known well, but hardly recognized. The intersection, once controlled by a traffic light and crisscrossed by rail, is now controlled by off ramps from what used to be Fletcher Street. The canal - once weedy and trashy and long-neglected - has been cleaned up and its banks cemented and bricked.

As I left Lowell on the Connector to get back onto I-495, I noticed that the traffic, which was backed up just north of the Lowell Connector when I exited 495 earlier, was now backed up well south of Highway 3 and the Connector. I went to Plan B. Knowing the roads pretty well around here, I headed straight down Highway 3 to I-95. I figured that the backup could quite possibly be caused by the I-93 interchange which was quite a few miles north of Lowell. Traffic flowed freely on Highway 3 and on I-95, backing up just a little as it neared I-93, but never enough to come to a complete stop and only for 1/2 mile or so. Once past that interchange, traffic was flying again.

I stayed at the Hampton Inn in Bangor and as I carried my things into the lobby I greeted a nice older couple who were doing laps around the hotel parking lot. I couldn't help but notice this. They were very friendly and informed me that they had just eaten at Olive Garden and felt guilty about the quantity so were walking it off. Once in the lobby, a woman checking in at the desk turned to me, smiled, and said that she and her husband had been admiring my BMW. It seems they saw me somewhere on the interstate and now at the hotel. They have an R1150RT, but were not riding it this trip. More about them later.

A walk down the hill to Wendy's for some honey BBQ boneless wings, and I then crashed in my room for the evening.

Tomorrow: To Acadia National Park for the day.

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