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So Mainey Things I Didn't Know

For the last five years or so, I've had a fantasy of spending an autumn in a cabin by a lake in Maine. Why Maine? Maybe because I'd been here several times in my youth. Maybe simply because it was about as far from Boulder as I could go in the United States. Maybe because it's not trendy like Oregon or California. I'm not sure of the reason, but I'm sure it was always Maine. Now here I am, but it's not a vacation like I planned. It's only the start of my travels.

Dog at Maine visitors center

Wherever you live, whatever your circumstances, it's human nature to feel like your life is the normal one. It's all you know. You tend to make friends and acquaintances who have lives similar to yours, and your self-assurance in your normalcy or even in the "correctness" of your world outlook is reinforced. But the longer you exist like this, the deeper your ignorance, and often times intolerance, becomes. 

That's why travel is so important. I lived most of my 20s in other countries, and the experiences I had changed so much about myself. Travel expands your brain, makes you more empathetic, makes you more interesting and interested. What you learn doesn't always have to be profound. It can be small, insignificant, only for fun. You might discover new foods or musicians. You can roam through incredible forests and immerse yourself in exciting cities. But you can also learn about new systems, institutions, and ways of thinking. If you're open and pay attention, you can take the bits and pieces that will improve your own life and leave the rest. The point is, there's so much out there and I want as much of it as I can get. I feel so open and sponge-like having finally left Colorado after so long. Here are some you're-not-in-Colorado-anymore thoughts that have passed through my brain in my first month on the road.

Things I Didn't Know and Really Needed To

It's hunting season in Maine and I have nothing bright orange to wear. More than half the trails I've been on have had warnings at the trailhead about wearing high visibility gear, which never would have occurred to me otherwise. Some people seem to take these warnings to the extreme, like the owner of my rental who wears an orange vest when she walks her dog down our little residential street and onto our deserted beach, but that's wiser than me having nothing to wear.

The cemeteries. Why are there so many cemeteries? Is it because settlers have been out here longer? It must relate to traditional and culture of early colonists. There's a cemetery around every corner it seems.

I did not consider that there would be ticks out here. Then Trotsky came home from one of our hikes with a few of them latched onto him. I've never needed tick medication for him in Colorado, but I bought some here very quickly. 

Similarly, I never would have thought to watch for poison ivy if one of my friends hadn't mentioned it. Fortunately, the weather has been mostly chilly and rainy, so I've worn pants and tall socks on every hike.

Some lakes are surrounded by quicksand mud, especially after it's been raining a lot. At the River Pond Nature Trail, Trotsky ran up to the edge of the lake and immediately got sucked in several inches. Then, as he struggled to get out, he got sucked down several more inches. It happened so, so fast. It was just like Artax in the Swamp of Sadness. He looked back at me with huge, panicked eyes. I dropped my water bottle and tried to keep my feet on a grassy part while I grabbed his harness and foisted him out of there. (Side note, if your dog wears a collar and not a harness, reconsider. I've found the harness a more useful options in MANY situations, this being one of them.). He was pretty shaken up for a bit and didn't want to walk on the muddy path to get back to main path but then, you know how dogs are, all was soon forgotten. By him, not by me.

Things I Didn't Know That Don't Really Affect Me but Are Interesting

When I got out of my car at a trailhead on the shore near the Canadian border, I heard a sound like thunder or a canon. It was a mile into the hike when I realized it was waves crashing into the cliffs.

woman on cliffs at Atlantic ocean

I am quite close to Katahdin, the northern terminus of the Appalachian trail. The hike to the top has an elevation gain that is the same as what I do on most 14ers in Colorado. I would have loved to hike it. But I didn't even realize it was here until I arrived, and by then, the trailhead parking reservations were all filled up.

I didn't realize how the Maine coast completely shuts down in mid-October. Colorado has no off-season. There's always something to do and always too many people doing it. Here, though, most restaurants and shops in the Bar Harbor area were already closed the weekend of October 24/25 and everything further north was closed the following weekend.

Mainers love IPAs. I knew I wouldn't find as much craft beer here as is available in Colorado, but I didn't expect that every one I did find would be an IPA. It's hard to find anything else, which is a bummer because I really dislike IPAs.

What is down that road? And that one? And that one? Driving around this section of Maine, I see so many gravel roads and they are never marked. Are they forest roads? County roads? Private roads? Driveways? The Google maps drones need to get on this because a lot of them aren't even on Google maps. The mystery is eating away at me. I have taken a few and later determined I was on a private road or a road to nowhere, but there are too many to explore. Likewise with dilapidated houses. The temptation to sneak into them and explore is strong, but I can't always tell if they are actually abandoned or if people are living in truly deplorable conditions.

I love the rolling roads and can't believe how few cyclists there are. I don't cycle but these roads make me want to. A friend's fiancé recently remarked on how "flat" Boulder/Colorado was, which I scoffed at because, dude, I look out my bedroom window in Boulder and see mountains! But now I get it. Outside the mountains, the roads in Colorado are flat and straight. The roads here rise and fall and rise and fall and are so much fun to drive on. Cycling would be even better.

Things I Probably Knew in the Back of My Mind but Haven't Needed to Think About

It's so dark here. I grew up in a rural area, so I was used to it at one point but not anymore since I've had the ambient lights of the city for so long. I noticed the intense darkness my first night driving to the supermarket where there's a stretch of road a few miles long with no street lamps. And it's only grown darker since, especially with the time change. Yesterday, the sun set at 4:12. When I leave on November 21, it will set at 3:59. At least the sun is up when I wake up, unlike when I lived in Moscow and the sun didn't rise until almost 9am in the winter. But the darkness here is still hard to get used to.

People drive fast. When I crossed over from Pennsylvania to New York on I-90, I joined the Grand Prix from there through to Maine. I do my usual 8-12 mph over the limit on highways, but people are flying past me. I'm one of the slowest people on the road here. This makes me feel better because Coloradans are lethargic and distracted drivers. It's infuriating. The northeast is where I learned to drive and now am reminded that my proactive and intentional style of driving is perfectly normal for many people.

Life here is a driving life in general. I'm used to everything being five to ten minutes away in Boulder: friends' houses, the grocery store, restaurants, work, my gym. Out here, nothing is walkable and nothing is closely driveable. I grew up the same way. Almost everything I did started with an automatic 15-30 minute drive. I thought nothing of it and now I've fallen right back into it. Probably because people drive with purpose here, like I do. Driving is a fact of life, but people here want to minimize the time they have to spend doing it, unlike in Colorado when people seem content to doink around their cars, driving under the speed limit, camping out in the left lane, and stopping even if they think a light is about to turn yellow.

Lake people need to winterize. I watched my AirBnB rental owners take out the docks, board up the front of the decks, pack up the kayaks, and rake the beach, which had become heavily rutted from the autumn rain. Of course they do this. But I've never had to think about it.

I love New England architecture: the Cape Cod houses, the Victorians, the shingle style houses, the Colonials. A leisurely Sunday drive along the Bold Coast Scenic Bikeway (yes, this is where it's okay to drive long as you get out of people's way.) provides a feast for the eyes. And now, the Christmas candles have already started appearing in the windows of these majestic houses. Perhaps this is my own nostalgia because we used to put these candles (battery-operated versions) in the windows of my grandmother's house when I was a child, but winter in New England isn't authentic without them.

The one thing I did know is that I would barely make it in time for the autumn colors, but I had two wonderful weeks of scarlet and carmine, of amber and bronze, of mustard and gold before the branches went bare and the first snow arrived. There's no filters on these photos, only the raw changing landscape of the world I temporarily inhabit.

Beach and pond in autumnBeach and pond in winter

Maybe I'll use my random bits of new knowledge in a story someday to make a character or location more authentic. Or maybe I'm merely amassing useless data points in my head, which would be appropriate since my employment with a company whose goal is "data to everything" is what is allowing me to travel like this. Either way, I'm grateful for the new scenery, new experiences, new places, just new. It's good to be back in the world again.