Out and About: Some firsts in Franklin County

C'mon, Maine. Give everywhere else a chance alright?
C’mon, Maine. Give everywhere else a chance alright?

A few weeks ago, I had a thing in the paper about all of the “firsts” I’ve experienced since I moved to Maine.

All of the things I mentioned were pretty obvious really, as were the items on the list of things I’ve yet to do.

This weekend just gone, I was kindly invited along to a friend of a friend’s 60th birthday party in Farmington, a college town in the paper’s circulation area, about 40 miles from Augusta.

Figuring it was a great chance to see some of the countryside and get a bit of a locals-only experience with some true Mainahs, I jumped at the opportunity. But I managed to do some other cool stuff for the first time as well…

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I took off from home around noon, heading north-west on Route 27. It was a pretty easy drive, and once again I found myself marveling at the simple, beautiful scenery rolling by, and wondering how many other Aussies have ever feasted their eyes on it.

I still get a kick out of driving through the towns and villages that I see our reporters write about in the paper every day, and it’s always a little bit exciting to put an actual “face” to the names. It’s also oddly comforting to drive unfamiliar roads but know that I’m in somewhat “safe” territory, thanks to the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel delivery boxes next to people’s mailboxes.

Route 27 took me through Belgrade and Belgrade Lakes, along Long Pond for a little ways and then through Rome and New Sharon, before I managed to navigate my way down a gravel road to my friend Abby’s family’s little farmhouse.

As always, I didn’t have any cell signal once I left the Augusta city limits, and it remained that way for the rest of the weekend. I’d have been shit out of luck if it wasn’t for an extremely good set of directions that got me to where I needed to go.

Shortly after I arrived at the farmhouse, we jumped into Abby’s car and headed to her family friends’ camp. “Camp” is a misleading Mainer term for “well-appointed cabin on the edge of a lake”. The one in question was on the banks of Clearwater Pond in Industry, and suffice to say I was blown away.

Since I didn’t have cell signal, I’d left my phone at the farmhouse, and even though I wrote just a week ago about committing beautiful sights to memory rather than just taking a photo, this is one of the times where I’d love to have taken a dozen snaps. It was simply incredible. Despite having known me for a grand total of 10 minutes, my hosts encouraged me to take my first dip in a Maine lake, and I had to oblige.

At the back of the house there was a stone and gravel pier of sorts jutting out into the lake, with a diving board at the end. The water was cold initially but perfect once the body became acclimatized. At the camp next door, there were half a dozen kids jumping off their own little landing, while a couple of adults paddled in kayaks.

There are at least a couple of Stephen King novels that describe scenes on Maine ponds, and now I finally understand the imagery. The water was mostly still, and the lake seemed to stretch on forever. The water was pretty clear, but obviously deep in parts, and while beautiful it was easy to see how the imagination could turn it into something ominous.

After a swim, we got back in the car and headed back towards the farmhouse (via a couple of Farmington yard sales) to get ready for the birthday party. For me this only involved putting a clean shirt on, so while the ladies of the house got dolled up, I hung out in the farmyard with my new best friend, a four-year-old kid named Finn who was mad about picking blueberries.

Blueberries are another huge Maine thing – I didn’t know this until I moved here – and people have been telling me for months that I need to go blueberry picking. This sounds like backbreaking labor at best, but I didn’t think it would end up involving a four-year-old sitting on my shoulders, directing me to bend down so he could reach the ripe fruit.

It was a tough slog (for me, at least) but the results spoke for themselves – blueberries right off the bush are delicious. Another first crossed off right there.

Before long it was party time, and after dropping off Finn and the guest of honor at a very well-appointed barn in Farmington, we headed to Walmart at the behest of Abby’s mom, who needed to buy a birthday card. Once she got back in the car, the decision was made that perhaps we should invest in a little something to drink, given the party was expected to be on the…dry side.

Never one to turn down an opportunity to drink on a Saturday in secret in a roomful of strangers, I of course obliged. We headed to Hannaford, where Abby and I hit the liquor aisle looking for a cheap and easy solution that we could smuggle in, disguised in Burger King soda cups. CLASSY.

In said liquor aisle, we ran into a guy who seemed…somewhat overdressed for a Franklin County supermarket. He immediately launched into conversation with Abby, entirely unsolicited, explaining that he had been 21 for over a year (so…22?) and hadn’t yet exercised his right to legally buy alcohol yet.

He seemed to want some recommendations, explaining that he likes Jack Daniels but his wife prefers Malibu, although he didn’t like coconut. Okay. He went on to tell us that today was his wedding day (!), but the ceremony was dry (!!) because his kids were there. But they weren’t her kids too. But it’s okay, because they were picking up drinks and Chinese takeout and heading to a hotel room for a wedding night celebration. They were also celebrating him having won full custody of his so, for which I congratulated him. He said, “well when child endangerment is involved, it really swings favor my way.”

Abby’s aunt later summed the whole encounter up quite succinctly:

“That’s a real Franklin County dream, right there.”

Eventually we managed to make our own purchase – a poorly selected bottle of $9.99 grape vodka, to mix with Sprites acquired at BK, then headed to the party. The venue was unbelievable – a renovated barn with a stage area, a wet bar, plenty of room for dancing, eating and mingling, all tastefully lit and decorated. It was a really cool spot to spend a Saturday evening.

As it turned out, a bunch of the guests I met were from Augusta, and a couple of them were familiar with the dreck column I write for the KJ, which was a bit of fun. After dinner, dessert, presents and an impromptu backyard dance party led by some extremely energetic youngsters, we hit the road back to the farmhouse and hit the sack. There’s something about the silence of a rural area that makes it super easy to sleep like a log, too.

I could also attribute that to the half-bottle of vodka I somehow consumed, on top of my other first for the day: a “fatass in a glass,” the extremely sophisticated Maine cocktail consisting of coffee brandy and milk that has been referred to as “the perfect food for crime.” Pour it on ice and it’s just as nice – well, I can see why people drink it, anyway. Thankfully I’m not a big fan of milk.

Sunday morning we had a lazy breakfast of sausage, egg and cheese muffins and I idly saved the day by managing to restart the water pump so we could all use the bathroom in peace. All in a day’s work, y’know.

After that small feat, Abby and I got back in the car and headed west towards the town of Weld, beyond which was a mountain called Tumbledown. OMINOUS. (Although not really.)

The drive again was pretty, and I got to see some more landmarks that I’d only read about in the paper, specifically the Wilton business park that houses the Barclay’s credit card call center that you guys literally couldn’t give less of a shit about so I’ll stop. thought it was cool, anyway.

We found the parking lot for the Tumbledown trails without too much hassle, and I got to take the Subaru off-road for the first time (YEE-HAW) and got it all dusty like a real all-wheel-drive soccer mom station wagon should be. After selecting our course – the Brook Trail, if you’re wondering – we set off.

The hike was rated as moderate, but there were some fairly steep and tricky points, with a bunch of scrambling over boulders in the later stages. But as it leveled out at the top, and we came through a little clearing over some smooth rocky surfaces, it was clear that all the hard work was worth it.

At the summit of the trail, there was a surprisingly large lake, and there were dozens of people – families, older folks, spritely young 20-somethings like ourselves – swimming, soaking their feet in the water and sitting along the rocky outcrop above the pond, taking it all in.

The view was amazing and the breeze atop the rocks cooled us off after the 70-minute hike, although we probably should’ve gone straight in for a dip instead of sitting around, because once we were back to a regular body temperature neither of us felt like swimming. After a bunch of snacks and some cheesing for the camera, we loaded up and set off back down the mountain, hoping like hell that we wouldn’t live up to its name and tumble down.

I inevitably manage to lose my footing somewhere on the descent of pretty much every hike I’ve ever done, through fatigue, carelessness or just plain gravity, but I emerged unscathed after this one. And I’m embarrassed to say that after eight and a half months, and three months of glorious summer, I waited until the second-last weekend in August to take on my first Maine hike. What a lazy asshole.

After all that physical exertion, all I could think about was “beer, food, shower.” We passed through even more KJ towns on the way home – Vienna, Mount Vernon, Readfield, Winthrop and Manchester – as we headed back to Hallowell to get ourselves around a few of the Liberal Cup’s finest pints and a spot of dinner. Neither of those last two things are firsts, that’s for sure.

I’m starting to become a little less reluctant to drive for a couple of hours at a time in order to see new spots, which is good for my exploration but probably bad for my wallet, given I have to pay for gas and car maintenance and whatnot, seeing as I’m “an adult.”

I figure I’ve got probably two and a half to three months before the snow starts to set in again, and I’d like to tick a Canada border crossing and a trip to Burlington, VT, off my list before then.

Definitely doable.


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