Dumb Luck in Winterville

We sat here yesterday evening, by the shore of St. Froid Lake in Winterville, Maine, reading and watching Claire play in the leaves. We found a campground by the lake with electric and water hookups and just enough of a Verizon NationalAccess wireless signal to connect at modest speeds to the internet.

Simple dumb luck kept us from a serious accident as I was turning off Route 11. I was trying to read the sign for the campground, deciding whether it was a likely place to stop, checking the rearview mirrors for following traffic, and trying to swing the Southwind left onto the gravel road. The one thing I didn't have enough bandwidth for was the oncoming traffic. I simply forgot there was another lane, until Darlene let out a mild exclamation when I turned. She thought I was just cutting it a little close in relation to a car coming, but in reality I had no idea what was in the other lane, because I hadn't even looked. It left us both shaken, and I'm still spooked about it.

The incident makes the utter peacefulness of this campground poignant and rather precious. I like to think it will make me a safer driver for the rest of the trip. It also makes me feel sheepish for the times I criticize my parents for their driving lapses, as if such lapses are proof that it's time to get off the road permanently. Who knows? On any give day, on any given journey, dumb luck protects us all.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Aroostook County Calling

This artful arrangement of watercraft greeted me yesterday as I walked to the office to register at Arndt's Aroostook River Lodge Campground in Presque Isle, Maine. We are in the heart of the potato here, smack dab in the middle of Aroostook County, at the northernmost tip of the Great State of Maine. We followed a truck full of potatoes up Route 1 from Houlton, and in Presque Isle we stopped at a family farm market to buy a bag of Macintosh apples, Maine maple syrup, bread n butter pickles, and two Maine potatoes, which we baked in the oven after we hooked up the RV. Only the power of suggestion and association gave the potato any additional flavor, but mine tasted plenty good.

I am amazed that my Verizon NationalAccess wireless service works here at the very top of the Lower 48. I've got a good, strong signal and flawless e-mail send and receive. It's still too slow to upload much video, but I've been adding to my geotagged Flickr photos, visible by clicking here. If you use the slider to zoom out on the map you can see an image like the screenshot I'm pasting here, showing the four places from which I've posted photos so far in our slow trek northward in Maine. The little pink circles show how many photos are available at each spot on the map, and clicking on them in Flickr brings them up for viewing. (If this explanation leads only to confusion and frustration, feel free to call RV Ramble Tech Support Hot Line--my cell phone number, if you have it--or click on the "Contact Me" link at the right.)

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Hope for the Nerds

I love this 1994 photo of Bill Gates, taken by Annie Leibovitz and included in Newsweek's cover story on the photographer. In her new book, "Life in Pictures," Leibovitz says Gates snuck off to check his computer while she was setting up for the shoot at his home in Bellevue, Washginton. The moment shows the deep geekiness of Gates, who not only became the richest man in the world but, as is nicely referenced in the photo on the wall, he even got the girl.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Our Hero

This terrific guy, Chris, a tech at Webb's RV, worked late and had the slideout fixed in less than an hour this evening, so we headed out to I-95 thinking we would make Presque Isle. But as the light faded and the moose and deer signs began appearing, we bailed early and found a campground in Medway called Katahdin Shadows. We are so excited to be on the road again! The Southwind drives like a dream on the interstate, and here at the campground the levelers worked, the slideouts worked, the door worked, and we sat down to a banquet of soup, corn, and salad feeling like we'd been given the keys to a new kingdom. In the dark, we don't know much about our surroundings, except that Claire is crazy about the fat rabbits to investigate.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Home is Where the WIFI Is

It's a little tough to see the motorhome in this photo, but we're parked on the right side of the Borders store, backed in to the truck loading bay, hoping the Bangor store is not expecting a delivery of books and coffee today. What's perfect about this is that I'm getting a strong WIFI signal from the cafe, so I can use my T-Mobile Hotspot account without having to play table roulette, hopping from one table to the next as they empty, trying to get the one next to the electrical outlet. Here in the Southwind, I'm sitting in the passenger's seat with my MacBook Pro powered by the cigarette lighter, so we don't need to run the generator.

At 5 pm tonight, Chris at Webb's RV is scheduled to work on our slideout problem, and if all goes well, we will be headed to Presque Isle in the morning. But even when little goes well mechanically, we seem to have a very decent time, rambling from one place to the next, reading good books, chatting and walking the dog.

Live from the Pumpkin Patch

More mechanical trouble kept us from heading for New Brunswick yesterday after our triumphant departure from the Whited Ford parking lot. I noticed a wind sound behind me while we were driving the interstate, and when I stopped I saw that the big slideout was not all the way in. This could let moisture in, so we stopped at the Pumpkin Patch RV Resort in Hermon, Maine, till we can get something done about it tomorrow. The Patch has a terrific WIFI connection, and Darlene has been sewing a new red jacket for Claire, who models it in photo.

I took advantage of our repose to learn about geotagging on Flickr. Here's a map that shows two places we've been so far, with photos attached. If you click on the little pink circle with a "4" in it you will see four photos I took at Lake Cobbosseecontee in Litchfield, Maine. If you click on the minus sign on the map legend, to zoom outward, you will see a "6" that marks six photos taken today in Hermon, including the portrait of the Southwind above.

It's been rainy most of the day, perfect for staying inside the Southwind, which is blissfully level thanks to the new leveling jack installed at Whited Ford. The Hermon Family Restaurant is located right next to the campground. They don't have a website I can link to, but at breakfast I saw that they DO have an all-you-can-eat haddock special. This sounds just right for supper, coming up soon!

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Almost on the Road Again

Well, here we are back at Starbucks, our home away from our home away from home. The Southwind is still being worked on at Whited Ford in Bangor. We spent the night at an old hotel downtown, the Charles Inn, in hopes that we'd be driving to New Brunswick first thing in the morning. Instead, the leveler jack hadn't been installed and the message from the night crew was that the wrong one had been ordered and driven from Auburn to Bangor. Unbelievable. But the Saturday morning crew weighed in, and my last message from Craig in service was that the jack is installed and they are putting in a new door mechanism, which also needed to be fixed.

So we've been hanging out here at Starbucks. A slim young woman dressed all in black, from corporate, is doing a training session for six women at the next table, showing them a French press coffee maker, passing them little cups to compare samples with New England blend. They are smelling it. "It reminds me when I was growing up, of my neighbor's garage," the supervisor is saying as she sniffs from a cup. I would love to be listening in and maybe recording, but we've got to get this show on the road. It's impressive to see that they are actually being trained in the details of coffee beans and aroma, as opposed to rah-rah corporate platitudes and slogans.

I was planning to write about the frustration of this week of waiting around Bangor, but in truth the frustration has been mixed with pleasant mornings of working on video, reading, doing errands, exploring Bangor. We saw "Little Miss Sunshine" the other night, a whacky take on the perils of a long road trip. At this point, I am really, really ready to head out onto Rte 95 north to New Brunswick. It's a gray day but not raining.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Bangor's Good Samaritan

My father in an e-mail today made the obvious point: we are having as much trouble reaching Québec as Benedict Arnold did in 1775. I had sketched out our situation in a message to Steve Borsch, whose blog and podcast I follow, and he wrote back, "Dry camping in a truck stop heh? Life doesn't get any better than that! ;-)" Actually, it hasn't been so bad, living for a few days next to logging trailers, fire trucks, and all the other vehicles waiting for service at Whited Ford. My morning coffee and Mac work took place with the view in the photo above, a dreary but interesting scene, I thought. It's amazing how much more easily I can accept my surroundings when I've been to a couple of AA meetings after a long drought.

In any event, our luck changed today. Last night I left a pathetic e-mail for Don Wisewell, president of the Paul Bunyan Chapter of the Good Sam Club in the Bangor area, asking if he knew anyone who might be able to fix the slideout that had jammed in the out position, thus making it impossible for Whited to get the Southwind into the garage to install the new fuel pump, scheduled to arrive tomorrow. Don called my cell this morning, and I said we didn't need his help yet--I was worried about someone other than Ford working on the RV and voiding the warranty. He showed up at our door anyway, just to check in. Within minutes, he had crawled in under the motorhome and found the problem. With a pin from his truck, he had fixed it, and the slideout came all the way in, nice as can be. I was dumbounded and as grateful to another human being as I've felt in a long time. We had thought this slideout problem might take days to fix, and who knew how much money. Don refused my offer of reimbursement and wished us well on our trip. Good Sam, indeed.

So tonight we will spend our third night dry camping here. We're watching the water level and the tanks and decided it would be best to shower elsewhere. I'd noticed the Bangor Tennis Club just down the road, so we drove over their with our blue towels and asked if we could buy a couple of showers. Roger kindly offered us showers at no charge, and we emerged clean and grateful again. Tonight we're headed to the Penobscott Theater in Bangor to see a preview of a musical, "Falsettos," which looked good, and why not? Claire will stay in the Southwind, protecting it from intruders.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Going to Sleep Dreaming of Big Trucks

Tonight we are surrounded by beautiful, big, brand-new trucks at Whited Ford in Bangor. The Southwind is due for service tomorrow afternoon, and it may take another day if there is a part to order. Meanwhile, we are dry camping in the lot, nice and level thanks to Kevin's skillful disengagement of his 40-foot tow truck, so our front wheels are resting on three layers of yellow plastic leveling blocks. My patience is remarkably better when I am on the level, especially after two nights of a pretty good slant to starboard in Jackman.

I sat up front with Kevin in the T&W Garage tow truck, and Darlene and Claire bounced their way from Jackman to Bangor, a three-hour ride, on the mattress in the back of the cab. Kevin's skill with the truck amazed me. Route 2 from Skowhegan, which had seemed like a dangerous, narrow cowpath to me when I was driving the Southwind on it Friday and Saturday, turned into a calm, royal road for Kevin's tow truck and the trailing RV. I dozed off for a while, enjoying the lurch and lug of the vehicle, and all those gears, which Kevin played like a violin.

I'm not sure where we are going next, or when. Probably tomorrow night we'll opt for a rental car and a hotel room, if it's going to be another day before we're on the road again. But I don't mind a night surrounded by all these big trucks. They are red and blue and big and handsome. It makes sense to me that Tonka sold us boys all those replicas, and that we fell in love with them. Today I admire guys like Kevin who know how to roll the real ones down the highway as if they were still just enchanting toys.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Maine Memories

I first saw this house more than 50 years ago, when I visited my Great Grampa Skelton at 491 Main Street in Lewiston, Maine. I remember at least one photo in which he is sitting on the steps with me and my sister, and I can't be any older than 5, and now I'm 56, so there you are: 50 years. We used to drive up to Lewiston from Massachusetts for Thanksgiving gatherings so big they made the local newspaper one year. Every inch of the house was used for eating, with us kids sitting at card tables in the parlor. We'd roam the top floor afterward, hiding in weird little closets, enjoying the scary vibe.

I'm enjoying these memories here in the RV at a campground in Freeport, Maine, but at the time I took this photo today I had no time for contemplation. Main Street is a very busy roadway these days, and the parking lane was not designed for motorhomes. I parked it a few houses away, and Darlene and I walked up to see 491, take the photo, and then race back to the Southwind before someone bumped it. I had hoped to show the RV in front of the ancestral home, but it just got too complicated.

I'm feeling another memory on my feet tonight. With the cold weather arriving each night, and being this close to the flagship store of L.L. Bean, I found myself obsessing about the wool sock slippers we used to wear as kids. We called them mucklucks, and I found them online under the cozy name of "fireside slipper socks." I bought a pair in charcoal gray, and they have my feet humming with long-remembered warmth. They will be just right for padding around inside the Southwind.

Our appointment at the Whited Ford service center today in Auburn was disappointing in that it will take more than a week for the part to come in that will enable us to use the cool automatic leveler legs. Tonight we're glad to be on a level site at Freeport Village Campground, otherwise we'd be horsing around with yellow plastic blocks that you have to drive up on one side or the other to get level. Tomorrow we're headed to Augusta and points north, toward Québec.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Late Sun at Lake Cobbosseecontee

The light this evening here at the Birches Family Campground in Litchtfield, Maine, was full of late-summer bliss. I sat on the dock for a while with my eyes closed, feeling the warmth of the setting sun, listening to the sounds of birds and squirrels. I discovered in Kenneth Roberts' Arundel that Cobbosseecontee means "where the sturgeon is found." For Darlene and me today, the funny-looking word has meant idyll.

Today was the first day she has filled the Southwind with swatches of colorful fabric, hanging a design board from the molding over the couch. I read Arundel and poked around on the Macintosh. Tony drove all the way from Westbrook to look at the levelers, which will need service Thursday morning at an RV dealer in Auburn. The campground is mainly empty, so I could go sit and read in the sun at any of the picnic tables I liked. At the end of the day, the campground manager knocked on our door and delivered a package my mother had overnighted from Cambridge--so we now have the RVers' Bible, Trailer Life, as well as the tripod I forgot.

It's been a golden day, and I want to share it, so I'm glad these photos came out well, taken with my amazing little Sanyo Xacti videocamera.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Following Benedict Arnold

Darlene is chatting with her Aunt Lucille in Deadwood, South Dakota, Claire is resting in her blue bed, and I am blogging in the back room, listening to a Randy Newman tune I downloaded from iTunes, "Sigmund Freud's Impersonation of Albert Einstein in America." It was chilly enough here in Old Orchard Beach this morning to try out the heater, which quickly warmed up the inside of the Southwind. On our second night in the RV, we slept like black bears, and I spent no time during the night prowling around with the night willies.

I have started reading Kenneth Roberts's 1930 historical novel Arundel, the tale of Benedict Arnold's doomed march through Maine to Quebec, back before he turned traitor. The French don't come across too well in the early pages of Arundel, running off with the hero's girlfriend and using deceit to win over the Indians. Two hundred and thirty years later, relations are peaceful between the French and English here at the Paradise Park RV Resort. Our French-speaking neighbors in a camper in the next site are from Quebec, and much of the signage at the resort is in both languages.

We spent yesterday provisioning the Southwind, taking a long foray to Portland, which was named Falmouth in the time of Arundel's narrator, Steven Nason. "I wondered how the people of Falmouth could spend their days amid such noise and excitement without losing their minds; and I resolved then, nor have I ever changed, that I would hold to the peace of the country and leave the tumult of cities to folk of stronger nerves," avows Steven. Today is a day of rest here in the country before we head north, following Arnold's trail to Quebec, unless another plan wrests control of the itinerary.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Settling into the Southwind

I am writing at the little desk in the bedroom of the Southwind, parked at Paradise Park RV Resort in Old Orchard Beach, Maine, disoriented as we continue the moving of all our stuff into the RV for seven weeks on the road in New England and Quebec. I have lost my camcorder and hope it's back at the cottage, where I took this photo yesterday afternoon during the initial move-in. Our essential Trailer Life guide to campgrounds got left behind in Cambridge. My three-ring leather poetry notebook got left behind in Denver. We have a long tail of things we need that are not here. But we have plenty of time to settle in and get organized.

Last night was our first night in the Southwind. We made the mistake of waiting until after dark to drive from the cottage to the campground. This meant I had to back into space H without the benefit of the television camera which shows what's behind you. I was blocking traffic, so a guy showed up at my window and impatiently guided me back into the space. I couldn't figure out how to open the driver's door. The sewer hose didn't seem to want to go onto the hookup. I screwed up the electrical connection, so none of the power outlets worked inside. The campground's WiFi connection didn't work. I went to bed with a headache and woke up at 3 a.m. full of worries, sleepless for a couple of hours.

It's a gorgeous day in Old Orchard. We are in no rush and will linger here until tomorrow or Monday, then head for Augusta where I have a rendezvous with Alden Wilson, director of the Maine Arts Commission. The Southwind is a marvel of spaciousness inside. Darlene has found nooks and cabinets for all her quilting gear. The automatic levelers put us on an even footing with four strong footers that extended beneath the RV. Driving the Southwind for the first time yesterday got my heart racing, and I could almost hear it slurping gasoline as I pressed the accelerator. But by yesterday evening I felt confident enough to drive the rig right down Main Street in Old Orchard to the campground, with nary a pedestrian the worse for my passage.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

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