Last summer, our esteemed editor and resident fast-food guru Steve Lita asked if I’d be interested in heading north for the weekend and participating in Rolling Thru America’s Maine tour, aptly named Rolling Thru Maine. It’s a three-day tour that meanders its way around the Pine Tree State’s finger-like coastline, stopping at lighthouses, quaint coastal towns, and some of the finest lobster restaurants anywhere. Bike tour and lobster dinners? Shoot, you don’t have to ask me twice.
Christian Dutcher, the owner of Rolling Thru America, and his father, Bill, own TourExpo, the company that hosts Americade, the week-long touring rally held in Lake George, New York, that annually attracts up to 50,000 riders. The idea of smaller tours was spawned from the many guided tours taken through Adirondack National Park and the Lake George area during Americade; Christian wanted to expand to other parts of the country, but on a smaller, more personal scale. A crew was assembled consisting of seasoned riders and organized planners to first scout locations, then market and execute the tours. They decided to start locally with a familiar area in Vermont, and Rolling Thru America was on the road.
The Maine Event
One fine morning last summer, after my ritual cup o’ joe, I packed up my Ventura bag, strapped it on a 2010 BMW R1200GS, and headed north. I plotted a route using mainly interstates while traveling to and from Maine. I figured I’d save a little time this way, and after all, I had a weekend of scenic coastal riding ahead of me.
The Hampton Inn, located on the harbor in Bath, Maine, was our rendezvous point. Check-in was between 5 and 6:30 pm, so being the punctual person I am, I strolled through the doors around 6:35. I was warmly greeted by some of the Rolling Thru crew and given my goody bag, comprised of a T-shirt, trip itinerary, food vouchers, maps of our ride and the surrounding area, plus a variety of saltwater taffy, a local delicacy. Afterward, everyone was invited to a welcome party across the street at the Kennebec Tavern for dinner, drinks, a brief introduction, and a rundown of the tour.
A good number of the people attending Rolling Thru Maine were repeat customers from the inaugural Rolling Thru Vermont tour in 2009, and just about all, like me, had attended Americade. While chatting with the other participants, I found that my group of around 100 was a lot smaller than the first year’s. I asked Christian about this, and he told me that past tours were a bit overwhelming for the crew; not enough personal interaction or support could be given to a group of 200-plus attendees. Plus, when reviewing a questionnaire given to participants in the Vermont tour (a great idea, by the way), gaps in the tour’s organization were foremost among the noted problems. As any good business owner would, Christian and his crew took seriously what his customers said. This resulted in a smaller, but much more organized and efficient, group for Rolling Thru Maine.
Friday, Day 1
We met for breakfast in the hotel for a quick meeting about the day’s tour, and then hit the road at 8. I was excited to get going and enjoy a beautiful day on the bike exploring; unfortunately, overnight clouds rolled in and rain was coming down in buckets. It was going to be a soggy day of riding, but I was happy to see that the weather didn’t negatively affect anyone’s spirits. Rain gear of all colors speckled the lobby; this was one prepared group, plus most of the bikes involved were big touring models, Gold Wings, Electra Glides, a few trikes, and even a fully encapsulated side car, so the rain wasn’t a huge problem. I felt pretty comfortable on my BMW GS, which is great for just about anything you can throw at it. We headed off only a half hour behind schedule, on our way to the first of many lighthouses we’d see on this trip.
We headed North on US Highway 1, your typical Main Street, USA, until Newcastle, where we turned and headed east on State Route 129, a mildly twisty road. Soon, we bore left onto Bristol Road (State Route 130), flanked by trees and summer cottages. I knew we were on our way to visit a lighthouse, but I hadn’t seen the ocean for about an hour or so; I was growing concerned that our coastal tour might be taking us a bit inland. As we crossed into New Harbor, the view changed and my mind eased; the trees started clearing, providing glimpses of the ocean and a faint smell of saltwater in the air. The scenery was what you’d expect in New England: waves crashing on a rocky shore and off in the distance our first stop, the Pemaquid Point Lighthouse.
Pemaquid Point is at the entrance to Muscongus Bay to the east and Johns Bay to the west, and has been the site of many shipwrecks. The lighthouse was built and put into service Nov. 29, 1827. The tower stands at 30′ tall with a diameter of 16′ at the base and 10′ at the top. After the Coast Guard took over operation and automated the lighthouse in the 1930s, the keeper’s house stood empty. In 1940, residents of the town voted to make the surrounding area into Lighthouse Park and the keeper’s house into a museum. The museum opened in 1972 and is run by local volunteers to this day.
We left Pemaquid Point at around 10 am and followed the coast back to Route 1 at Waldoboro. After about an hour, we pulled into Lincolnville for lunch at the Lobster Pound Restaurant. The food was excellent, and we were given a great selection to choose from. After lunch, we had a choice as to where we wanted to go, either the town of Camden or Camden Hills State Park. I chose the park.
Camden Hills State Park is located atop Mount Battie and boasts amazing views of the surrounding area, but by the time I reached the summit, it was again starting to rain. I ran into Brian and Shira from BackRoads magazine; they, too, were hoping for a spectacular view, but we were all foiled by Mother Nature. We left the park and followed the rocky coast south to Port Clyde and our next destination, the Marshall Point Lighthouse.
If you’ve seen the movie Forrest Gump, you’ll recall the part where Forrest runs (“Run, Forrest, run!) until he reaches a wooden walkway — that’s the Marshall Point Lighthouse. Located on the tip of St. George Peninsula, Marshall Point Lighthouse overlooks both the Muscongus and Penobscot Bays. The original 20′ tower was built in 1832, and stood for 26 years until it was replaced with the 24′ structure you see today. Civil War veteran Charles Clement Skinner became keeper of the lighthouse in 1874, and remained there with his family for 45 years — the longest period of service for any lighthouse keeper on record. On June 30, 1990, two of the Skinner children, both close to 100 years old, cut the ceremonial ribbon, opening the first floor of their childhood home as the Marshall Point Lighthouse Museum. After strolling around the grounds and watching fishing boats pilot in and out of the harbor, we geared up and headed north, again meandering the rocky peninsulas until arriving at our hotel back in Bath at around 6 pm.
After tucking in our bikes for the night, I met up with Christian, his crew, and my friends from BackRoads at Byrnes’ Irish Pub in downtown Bath. Downtown’s only a five-minute walk from the hotel, so no transportation was needed — good planning by the Rolling Thru crew. Dinner was good, the beer was cold, and the conversation was great. In getting to know the people putting together this ride, I realized they really love what they’re doing — and love riding motorcycles even more.
Saturday, Day 2
The morning greeted us with blue skies, a welcome sight after spending most of Friday in a rain suit. We hopped on US 1 north again, until we reached Wiscasset, where we picked up State Route 27 east and were on our way to Boothbay. The Rolling Thru crew did a fantastic job plotting Saturday’s ride. The roads and scenery were unlike the previous day’s, which followed a jagged rocky coastline. We wove in and out of wooded areas and dropped into coastal towns.
After two solid hours in the saddle, we arrived at our destination, the Boothbay Harbor Inn. The village of Boothbay Harbor is across the bay, made accessible via a picturesque, 1,000′-long wooden footbridge. The town of Boothbay Harbor was established in 1764 and encompasses four villages: East Boothbay, Boothbay Center, Ocean Point, and Trevett, plus three islands connected by bridges to the mainland. The harbor has plenty of attractions: fishing boat charters, whale watch cruises, an aquarium, tons of lobster-themed restaurants, and miles of boutique-lined streets. It’s a truly quaint Maine village, and great place for a weekend getaway. After taking in as much of Boothbay Harbor as I could in an hour, I headed back across the footbridge and met up with the group.
After lunch at the inn and a quick class photo, we geared up and headed out. We basically backtracked our route to Bath, and then hopped on Interstate 295 for a fast track south to Portland. Maine’s largest city, Portland boasts modern high-rise buildings, a historic district with classic architecture, international shipping ports, cruise ships, and a whole bunch of tourists. It’s obviously another great town for a weekend getaway — but we weren’t there for that. Rather, we were there to catch a boat over to Peaks Island for a classic Maine lobster bake.
I just want to mention at this point that most of the people participating on my ride were couples, and it’s a great tour to take with your significant other — but still a tour you could do solo, or with a riding buddy. That said, we all reached the wharf and boarded the brightly colored vessel named Island Romance. Hey, romance or not, the island had a lobster bake waiting for us, so I shoved off.
Of course we passed several beautiful lighthouses, but within the harbor there’s also a huge fort built by the US military in the mid-1800s. Fort Gorges, was completed during the American Civil War, was last used in World
War II to store submarine mines. This fort was never fired upon or used in battle, but it sure is an impressive site to behold as you’re entering the harbor.
Our destination was Peaks Island, one of over 200 small islands that dot the Casco Bay. It’s home to about 1,000 year-round residents — a number that triples in the summer months. The island’s about two miles long and a mile wide, with shops, restaurants, summer rentals, and, of course, lobster bakes.
Our bake was at a picnic area that overlooked the bay, a nice spot with a great view. The people hired to organize and serve the lobster were a group of local old-timers who ran this bake with military precision. I made the mistake of asking for extra butter and was nearly banished. Aside from a few grumpy servers, the lobster was delicious, and capped the tour off nicely. After the lobster bake, we strolled around the island a little, then boarded the boat and steamed back to Portland. Once in Portland, we could choose to follow a guide back to Bath or spend a little time downtown. I followed a guide onto 295 and cruised on back to Bath, but Portland will be a destination on my next Maine tour.
Sunday, Day 3
After a quick farewell breakfast at the Kennebec Tavern, I shook hands and thanked the crew for a great tour, said so long to a few new friends I’m sure to see at the next Rolling Thru tour, and hit the road. Traveling again mainly on interstates, I stopped once for lunch at a pub in Massachusetts that was advertising on a huge banner outside: “If the Red Sox beat the Yankees this weekend, children eat free!” The wait staff was actually very nice, even though they were Red Sox fans, and the food was good, too. Oh, and I’m proud to say that no free meals were served that weekend.
If you’re looking for a fun, guided tour this summer that won’t break the bank, check out Rolling Thru America. Christian and his crew are fine-tuning it into a fun, well-organized ride. RB
Words and photos by Matt Kopec
Story as published in the June 2011 issue of RoadBike
For more about Rolling Thru America and upcoming tours check out RollingThruAmerica.com.