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What to do when a pandemic has squashed all your international travel plans? (goodbye New Zealand, goodbye Turkey, goodbye Patagonia!) Travel domestically, of course! The month-long furnished rental market has exploded since April, and I've joined the craze, swapping out my place in Boulder for your place in Anywhere Else, America. Come with me (virtually, of course) across the country as I experience all the rural roads, small towns, coastal regions, scrub-filled deserts, and damp, dark forests I might never have visited if not for the altered dynamic of global travel.

Mainely This But Not That

Maine is a state of contradiction from the very first mile on the highway signs that tell you the distance to the next exit in both miles and kilometers, which is quite nice. Inexplicably, the signs drop the kilometers not far into the state, and they don't come back even several hours later as you barrel down on the Canadian border. I've now driven almost the entirety of I-95, so unless the kilometers show back up in the last 40 miles, I'm perplexed. Why show kilometers when exiting New Hampshire and then never again? Kilometers are, however, the preferred measurement for the distances of the Penobscot River Trail system. It made me feel I was travelling great distances on my trail runs there.

Next up, the general store. Every small town in Maine has one and I love them. They all appear to be privately owned, and what they carry varies wildly. Some have only a few snack food items scattered across bare shelves but others have knick-knacks and or local crafts and every household good you could possibly need. Many of them have a small kitchen and dining area too, like Maria's in Enfield. She has fantastic breakfast sandwiches and she's up making them at 5:30am for the hunters. So this is great, but then, I couldn't find a single independent coffee shop anywhere I went. I thought maybe Maine would have those cute drive-through coffee barns that are ubiquitous in Alaska and Montana, but nope. Not a one. I'm sure there are some cute coffee houses that I didn't get to because of COVID-19, but really Dunkin Donuts, which really doesn't qualify as a coffee shop, is king. It's everywhere. And I never want to see one again.  In fact, chains seem to dominate the Maine retail and restaurant landscape in general. And as a friend of mine pointed out during his visit, even all those independent general stores have a sign indicating they are sponsored by either Pepsi or Coke. 

Third, the great outdoors. There is SO much of it and yet it doesn't seem to get used much. Maine has 48 state parks and the handful that I made it to were wonderful. However, I couldn't go to as many as I wanted to because lots were closed for the season. I'd like to know why this is. Do people not recreate outdoors in the winter? I don't believe that in a state with so much winter people haven't found ways to enjoy it. Is there not enough of a tax base for the winter maintenance? Even if so, November is too early to close them down. Many of the ones I drove by had cars parked all around on the streets and people had walked in. So clearly there's demand. At some other trails I went to, mine was the only car. Sure, there was a little drizzle, but I didn't think enough to keep everyone at home. I'm not complaining - it's nice to have a trail to yourself - but I'm curious. 

Also related to the use of outdoor space are the wildlife "refuges." There's a great network of national wildlife refuges and Maine has a few of them...that allow hunting and dogs. Perhaps I'm misunderstanding the word "refuge." Where dogs are and are not allowed is confusing to me in general in Maine. They are not allowed in Baxter State Park, but they are allowed in Acadia National Park on most trails. On the trails! I've never heard of a dog-friendly national park. Usually they have to stick to the paved roads and campgrounds, so this was a pleasant surprise. I wonder if this is because Acadia is so spread out over the whole of Mount Desert Island that residents would have almost nowhere to take their dogs if not in the national park. Also, this is not a Maine thing, but why does the National Wildlife Refuge logo looks like some kind of machine gun at a distance? Any graphic designers want to step in and help here? 

   dog walking on boardwalk trail in forestdog walking in forest

dog sitting by trail signs  dog and woman under a stone bridge

Finally, masks, that great contradiction/hypocrisy/debate of the year. I'm not interested in making this a political blog (and masks shouldn't even be a political issue), though Maine did have one of the most hotly contested Senate races this year and much like my previous home of Colorado, Maine is very much a political contradiction, with the cities and coastline skewing heavily Democrat and the rural areas heavily Republican. So, predictably, where I lived in Penobscot County, almost no one wore masks. But in the cities down south and on the coast (i.e. wealthy areas), people were ridiculously paranoid about wearing masks. Walking around trails in Portland—outside, uncrowded, paths wider than six feet across—everyone was wearing masks. And one time I was in a grocery store in a coastal town and wearing my mask, but several times I noticed people lingering at the end of an aisle, waiting until I left the it before they would walk through. That's seems excessively cautious to me and kind of silly. But there's a lot in the world that doesn't make sense right now, and that's what this post was all about. Best to not question it too much and simply enjoy, which I did.










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