July 16 2012 by Jason Fogelson
The cool ocean air makes for a great night of sleep. I wake up totally refreshed in my Maine Lodge room at the BEST WESTERN Merry Manor Inn. I'm a creature of habit -- I always pack up my gear before heading down for breakfast, then make a final inspection for anything I missed when I return to my room after eating. I've always found that having a system keeps me from leaving important things behind. I stay in so many different hotel rooms that if I left one item behind in each room, I'd have to replenish my travel supplies before every trip. So, I have a system.
Breakfast is served in the Merry Manor's restaurant, and is included with my night's stay. It's nice to get table service instead of buffet every once in a while -- it gives me more time to relax and plan my day.
Just 20 miles up the coast from Portland, Freeport is Maine's leading tourist destination, famous for shopping as well as outdoor recreation. L.L. Bean's corporate headquarters and flagship retail store are in Freeport, and famously open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. One great thing about motorcycle travel is that it crushes the American impulse to shop -- there's nowhere to store your treasure on the bike, so there's no point in buying things that you don't really need anyway. I've confined my shopping/buying reflex to one area: Refrigerator magnets. I buy cool magnets wherever I go, and we display a rotating gallery on our refrigerator at home. It's a great, cheap souvenir.
I could also have ridden northwest from Portland to check out Sebago Lake or one of the other many lakes across the state. With a shoreline of 105 miles and a mean depth of 101 feet, Sebago Lake is a great fishing and boating destination. The clean, clear water is the primary fresh water supply for Portland, and is well-protected and cherished. Much of the lake's shore is surrounded by summer vacation homes, and Sebago Lake State Park keeps a nice chunk of the area available to the public, with undeveloped and unspoiled nature accessible to all.
But I don't choose to go that way. I succumb to the siren song of the lighthouse and the ocean. My first stop is Two Lights State Park on Cape Elizabeth, just a short drive from the BEST WESTERN Merry Manor Inn. If you're looking for the "long rocky beaches" that Barry Manilow sang about in Randy Edelman's "Weekend In New England" (and who wouldn't be?), this is your spot. From the tip of the cape, you can see a beautiful, working lighthouse and a long beach with a smooth ledge of rock stretching for miles. The waves crash along the rocks, the seagulls soar overhead, the wind gently rustles your hair, and time just slips away, along with any worries. I stand for a long time absorbing the atmosphere.
Several motorcyclists pull up at the photogenic spot, and being motorcyclists, we all talk about where we rode from and where we are heading next. Most riders are on their way to Laconia -- so I happily report that I have already been, and that it was worth the trip. One BMW rider named Clayton is especially helpful when talk turns to routes. I really enjoy talking to him and his wife about all of the options for local travel. Clayton and I even exchange contact information for the next time I ride through Maine -- he promises to show me some great roads. I will file that one away for future reference, because I'm sure that riding with Clayton would be a blast.
I peel my eyes away from the rocky coast, and get back on the bike for a short ride up to the Portland Head Light, one of the most photographed lighthouses on the coast. Further up the coast on Cape Elizabeth, the Portland Head Light protects the entrance to the shipping channel into Casco Bay. The lighthouse is located in Fort Williams Park, a ninety-acre public park that is owned and managed by the town of Cape Elizabeth. There's a museum in the base of the lighthouse, and the views of Portland and the coastline are amazing. Seeing the Portland Head Light has to be one of the highlights of my trip, just a spectacular location on a glorious day.
When I was talking to Clayton back at Two Lights, his wife mentioned that I might enjoy seeing Old Orchard Beach, a real old-fashioned seaside resort town. Something clicked in my head -- I realized that I really do want to see that. So, I plot a course along the coastline in a southerly direction, and soon I'm parking along Old Orchard Beach's main drag.
I doubt that Old Orchard Beach has changed much in the past 50 or 60 years. A long, sandy beach is protected by a long pier. Just above the shoreline, a jumble of carnival rides, amusement arcades, food stands and souvenir shops compete for attention. People of every age, size and description wander in their bathing clothes, soaking in the sun and searching for entertainment. It's early in the season, so the beaches and restaurants aren't packed yet. It doesn't have the rundown sleaze of the Jersey Shore, nor does it have the prefab polish of some other resort towns. Old Orchard Beach just feels like an honest, working class vacation spot.
The carnival rides don't appear to be open yet today, but the gate is ajar. I slip in to the carnival grounds with my camera until I find a mechanic working on one of the rides. I ask him if he minds if I wander around a little taking photos, and he nods his assent. I get the rare chance to explore the midway without people around, and I get to take some cool photos. I'm surprised at how clean, polished and well maintained everything looks. It really is the start of the season.
Time to keep moving. I get back on the Electra Glide and continue down the coast. On Route 9 in Scarborough, I see Ken's Place Seafood Restaurant, and pull in for some lunch. Wow. Ken's Place is a local hangout, one of those old-fashioned seafood places where you order at the counter, wait for your number to be called, and pick up seafood that's fresh from the ocean and about as delicious as any seafood you'll ever find. I don't think you can overdose from steamed clams, so I order up another bucket for my lunch. Boy, do I love steamed clams.
Back on the bike again, I ride south again. I cross the state line, and arrive at Portsmouth, New Hampshire, following signs to the historic downtown. I park in a public lot, grab the camera and step back through time.
Portland was settled in 1623, very early in U.S. history. Living in Southern California, I'm very impressed by anyplace over 100 years old, and here I am standing in a place that has been continuously occupied by Europeans for almost 400 years. I know that there are places in Europe, Asia, Africa and elsewhere that can trace their history back thousands of years, but here in the U.S., 400 years qualifies as ancient history.
The Historic District of Portsmouth centers on Market Square. The area around the Square boasts buildings from the 18th and 19th centuries, with narrow winding cobblestone streets and incredible harbor views. Portsmouth was a significant landmark in the American Revolution -- after all, Paul Revere was riding from Boston to Portsmouth to announce that "The British are coming, the British are coming!" It was also a focal point during the War of 1812. Many downtown buildings have survived thanks to the adoption of slate roofs in the early 19th century, reversing a trend of fire and rebuilding to one of preservation. North Church dominates the skyline, with its big white steeple and location downtown. Portsmouth is a very artsy town, with galleries, shops, restaurants and bars designed to attract tourists and visitors from all over.
After wandering around Portsmouth for a while, it's time to ride to my stop for the night, the BEST WESTERN PLUS The Inn at Hampton. I check in to my freshly renovated room, and relax for a few minutes before I investigate the dinner situation. Diane at the front desk recommends a few spots where I can find some good seafood. Seafood, you say? I'm back on the bike for a quick ride over to Al's Seafood in North Hampton. I resist the steamed clams, but give in to the Seafood Platter, a cornucopia of fried scallops, fried shrimp, fried clams and fried haddock, balanced with a tiny cup of Cole slaw. You can overdose on fried seafood, but what a way to go.
Back at the BEST WESTERN PLUS, I study my maps and plan tomorrow's ride. Just two more days on the road, and I leave New England in my wake. I'm already feeling a little melancholy. "Time in New England, took me away..." Sing it, Barry.
Miles ridden: 92.7
NEXT: NEW ENGLAND BY MOTORCYCLE, DAY SIX: HANOVER, NH TO PITTSFIELD, MA