In September, a fully-loaded touring cyclist was heading east on the Mountain Division Trail in Fryeburg, Maine, paralleling the fence along Portland Street. I happened to be pedaling west on the paved pathway when I saw him. A fully-loaded cyclist on that portion of the rail trail usually means one thing: they’re lost. So, I stopped to chat.
“I think I’ve gone too far on this trail,” he said in accented English.
He was correct. In trying to avoid the construction along Route 302 that greets everyone into the small western Maine town these days, he opted for the bike path. When I explained the construction was only for a very short spell, he insisted it wasn’t safe for his bike so he sought relief on the bike trail.
So, I decided to play rolling tour guide to get the German cyclist living in Seattle back on Route 302 in Fryeburg to continue his journey to a campground in Naples, Maine, where he planned to spend the night on day 85 of his cross-country ride.
The Mount Washington Valley is at the crossroads of adventure. Of course, the famed Appalachian Trail is on the outskirts of our backyard with motorists passing through Pinkham Notch often seeing thru-hikers with backpacks thumbing rides to and from Gorham or down to North Conway.
It’s also home to a small portion of Adventure Cycling Association’s Northern Tier Route, a 4,244-mile long mapped journey from Anacortes, Wash., north of Seattle near the Canadian border, to Bar Harbor, Maine. The route includes riding the entire Kancamgus Highway and then takes cyclists along Routes 16/302 from Conway into Fryeburg and Bridgton, Maine, so it’s possible you’ve crossed paths with cross-country riders without knowing it. They also frequently stop at the Maine/New Hampshire border at the Maine sign for a cycling selfie.
The bearded cyclist was riding the Northern Tier Route. During our chat along the trail and into town, he told me he traveled a slow 50 miles per day and took a few days rest at times to wait out bad weather like thunderstorms. Michigan was the best state to ride because of its bicycle trails. There was plenty of kindness from strangers but he also was struck, he believed intentionally, by a pick-up truck. He wasn’t hurt, and the truck didn’t stop.
He enjoyed his time in New Hampshire that included cycling over the Kanc which wasn’t as bad as it was made out to be. The early mornings in mid-September were starting to get chilly for him and he was looking forward to seeing Acadia National Park.
Not getting each other’s names, commonplace for many such interactions on the trail, he thanked me and the last I saw he was turning onto Route 302 and I turned around to continue my ride.
Just a few weeks earlier, returning to the valley after a night spent camping alone in The Kilkenny on a solo overnight ride, I was traveling south from Gorham through Pinkham Notch and saw an Appalachian Trail thru-hiker with his thumb out. I’ve picked up a few such types over the years and have learned, largely through my olfactory sense, that it is best to give them rides when they are returning to the trail versus leaving it to go to town. Simply, in town, they showered.
Anyway, this particular hiker from Vermont, whose name I never got, was, I think, 72 years old. He was also on this third time around doing hiking’s Triple Crown. An amazing feat, the crown consists of hiking the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail and Continental Divide Trail.
Hiking was his thing now but during his younger days, he did a lot of bicycle touring, including cross-country riding. By his count, he had biked and hiked about 50,000 miles during his lifetime. If I remember correctly, he had pedaled some 22,000 miles. Not too shabby.
Over the years, we’ve also had fellow cycling and hiking travelers stay at our home where comfort foods, a roof, hot shower, camaraderie and laundry were welcome into their travels.
Though many may feel uncomfortable reaching out to strangers on roads and trails, I don’t as I’m a peripatetic kind of guy who has been subject to random benevolence while traveling. The kindness of strangers is a powerful act that empowers those exploring the world on their personal journeys. Paying it forward is the right thing to do.