Biking

A few months ago I made yet another major life change by moving back to Maine, this time to Portland rather than any of the more remote regions in the north. After a busy summer of working on the Appalachian Trail apps, the next step is to settle into life in the big city and try a more traditional profession for a while. The transition has been a shock to my senses, so I’ve spent most of my free time heading to the mountains. There have been many hiking trips that I haven’t documented here. Don’t worry, I’m not abandoning this blog– I’ve just needed a lot more private time in the past few months.

Morning at Spring Point Ledge Lighthouse.

Morning at Spring Point Ledge Lighthouse.

Now that the mountains are glazed with snow and ice, I’m trying to squeeze the last of the dry-weather outdoor recreation out of the coast on my bike. Last weekend, my hiking/biking buddy, Hans, and I saddled up to see what we could find. We headed first to the shores of South Portland, at Bug Light and Spring Point Ledge Lighthouse. Both lighthouses look directly across the busy harbor to Portland and Falmouth, and in the summer are mobbed with visitors. On this 40 degree morning, only a few hardy souls ventured out.

The Portland Headlight in Cape Elizabeth.

The Portland Headlight in Cape Elizabeth.

The southern coast of Maine has similar rugged, rocky shores to what I grew up with on Penobscot Bay, but the similarity ends when you take into account the much larger population in the south. While there is still plenty of open coastline set aside in parks and public spaces, there’s no escaping the fact that about fifty times more people live near Portland than around all of Penobscot Bay. On a warm, sunny day, I wouldn’t be caught dead on the coast around here. I just can’t handle being around so many people. But the other day, with grey skies in the morning and the temperatures brisk, the coastal parks were almost as relaxing as the quieter shores Downeast.

The end of land in Cape Elizabeth. Sand beaches got nothing on this.

The end of land in Cape Elizabeth. Sand beaches got nothing on this.

We stopped next at the Portland Headlight and Two Lights State Park, bookending the eastern coast on Cape Elizabeth. The ritzy suburb of Portland seemed considerably more like the Maine I know, once we got out of sight of the industrial waterfront and the housing developments. Soon enough, everything we passed was either a farm, a vacation home, or a commuter home. At least there is some small upside to the gentrification, which is that there’s a nice, quiet area to roam just outside the city.

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We skipped the giant sandy beach at Crescent Beach State Park, and crossed the Spurwink River into Scarborough. Yet more of the mixed vacation/commuter houses greeted us, but also more coastline and quiet neighborhoods to bike through. By now, the sun had come out and the roads were filled with almost as many cyclists as cars. The clouds disappeared without a trace, leaving only crisp, clear skies of the kind you can only find in New England in late fall.

Two Lights State Park is probably mobbed in the summer, but it was nice and quiet this late in the season.

Two Lights State Park is probably mobbed in the summer, but it was nice and quiet this late in the season.

For the return trip, we turned onto the East Coast Greenway, a good portion of which runs between Portland and Kennebunk as a rail trail. Since moving here, I’ve been on part of the Greenway almost every day, riding ten to fifteen miles to avoid driving in city traffic and to hold onto some semblance of sanity. The air in the city might not be as fresh as in the mountains, but it’s still Maine– this is no megalopolis concrete jungle. Looking out the window from any building, you still see more trees than houses.

Spurwink River

Spurwink River

I’ll probably keep quiet on the blog for a while still, as I’m working on some bigger projects for 2014. Top priority is going toward improving the AT and PCT apps, and working on a New England day-hikes app. After that, plans for some big hikes in the summer are under way. More on that as plans get worked out.

Wetlands on the way to Prout's Neck.

Wetlands on the way to Prout’s Neck.

Mud season is upon us mighty early this year. I don’t run screaming at the sight of a muddy trail, but there’s a big difference between muddy trails and mud-season trails. Like the Green Mountain Club says, I find it’s best to stay off the trails in the mountains during this time of year. But with the early spring, there’s just too much sunshine and warm weather to stay indoors. Time to hit the road, Jack.

It wasn’t until about this time last year that I started riding my bike any more than a few miles at a time, but I got addicted pretty quickly. I don’t have a fancy road bike– just an old mountain bike that I got from Craigslist a few years ago and outfitted with hybrid tires. It doesn’t have clip-in pedals, or drop handlebars, or a very comfortable saddle. It’s a very basic, cheap bike, and it gets me where I want to go. These days, “where I want to go” tends to be 20-40 mile rides on back roads near Keene. Since I’ve been cooped up for most of the winter, it’s nice to get out for some long rides to set my mind straight.

Last year around this time, I was in a bizarrely similar situation. I had moved to a new town, found a job, the job ended prematurely, and then I spent most of the spring biding my time until the summer, when I already had a job lined up. As I sit here writing this, jobless yet again, waiting for the end of May when my summer at NOLS begins, I’m finding the parallels a little worrisome. The obvious reason, of course, is that I don’t want to be in the kind of cycle where I can’t hold a job for more than a few months at a time. In general, though, I’d like to not repeat 2011, which, on the whole, was a very negative year for me. I documented the highlights of it in this blog, and tried to steer away from the unpleasant aspects, because I don’t like to dwell.

Mount Monadnock over a farm field

There are a few things about this year that are looking up, though, and I’m hoping they bode much better for the coming season. I try to focus on them, because that’s the only way to get out of cycles like I’m afraid of finding myself in.

First, there’s my new business at Guthook’s Hiking Guides. They certainly won’t make me rich, or even provide the income of a part-time job, but considering I’ve barely made ends meet in the past few years, the app sales can’t hurt.

The summer at NOLS will undoubtedly be a more positive experience, as well. The backpacking and canoeing program I led at the camp last summer was an afterthought by the camp, and resulted in constant frustration for me (there’s a long story in there somewhere). NOLS is a wilderness school first and foremost, so I have no doubt that it will be more organized and better supported than what I had last summer.

Last year was the first since I graduated from college that I hadn’t hiked a long-distance trail, and I intend to get back on that wagon with the Long Trail. My plans to hike the LT last year were dashed twice, and who knows what this summer will be like in terms of weather, but I’m still planning that hike for the end of this summer. Just having that on the horizon feels good.

Yep, I’ve been feeling cooped up for a month or two, but now that I can more easily get out for long outdoor activities, life seems a little more cheery. The bike is a little less ideal for me than walking up a mountain, but it gets me away from everything for a few hours just the same.



As I’m recently unemployed (yet again), I’ve had plenty of time to putz around on my bike to keep myself busy and in shape. And I can certainly think of worse ways to spend my time. The small roads of rural Maine provide for some fine scenery, even without leaves on the trees and with plenty of mud and swamp on the roadside.



The dozens of small farms and hayfields open up expansive views into the rolling countryside, so even without tall mountains I can find some fine views. There’s little enough traffic on the roads, too. I’ve never been a big biker, but with nice, peaceful routes like this I can see why people get into this activity.



The rains in the last few days are evident from the flooding creeks and ponds on the side of the roads, so I think I’ll be sticking to the pavement for at least a few more days. Soon, though, it’ll be time to get back onto the hiking trails.

At the end of the winter and beginning of spring, I usually start hiking as soon as the snow clears off the trails only to find out how lazy I’ve become over the winter. This spring, I’m determined not to let that happen. So I’ve dusted off my bike and I’ve been riding around the back roads whenever I can. Yesterday I went up to Acadia National Park to ride the Loop Road a week before it opens to motorized vehicles.

There were a ton of bicyclists out today, and with good reason. The temperature was in the high fifties, the sky was as clear as could be, and there was only one small spot of ice on the entire Loop Road. The bikers had the road all to ourselves, aside from a few walkers, so we basically had a twenty mile loop without having to worry about getting creamed by rubbernecking drivers (that would be me if I were driving this road).

Acadia is a great place. Aside from the crowds it draws from May until October, there really isn’t anything bad I can say about the place. It’s one of those places that has always been in my life. I grew up only sixty miles from there, and took family trips to the island every summer. But we didn’t go to shop for souvenirs or stay at the oceanside hotels. We came to the island because it is one of the most beautiful places in the world.

I say that knowing how corny it sounds. But seriously– it’s f-ing beautiful there. Any time of year, the sheer cliffs rising out of the ocean suck you in as soon as you see them. The inlets and ponds, the solid domed mountains, the islands in the distance– there’s nothing not to like. It also doesn’t hurt that you can find climbs, hikes, and bike rides of pretty much all ability levels in a very small space on the island. If I were trying to get a kid interested in the outdoors, I’d probably start somewhere like here. I think that’s what my parents did for me.

Back to the biking, though. I know the title of this blog is Guthook HIKES, not bikes, but sometimes I do find myself doing other things. Not often, but sometimes. And as far as other activities go, biking is a great workout for getting myself into hiking shape. Despite the lack of activity through the winter, a few nice, long rides on roads around here can be a good way to get back into the groove of long-distance hiking. The views are of a different sort, and the terrain isn’t much like hiking on a mountain, but it gets the body used to long cario workouts. I wonder if spending a lot of time on the bike this spring will pay off when I start the Long Trail at the end of next month. Even if not, I still get some nice views to pay off my efforts.