Travels With Steinbeck

North Once Again, to the “Rooftree of Maine.”

Stonington Harbor looking out at Isle au Haut Bay and the Atlantic Ocean.

Stonington Harbor looking out at Isle au Haut Bay and the Atlantic Ocean.

Come and ride along with me as I follow the Steinbeck route from Travels with Charley around the U.S. and “rediscover this monster land.”

Itinerary: Steinbeck followed U.S. 2 across New England most of the way to to Deer Isle. I veered south from that route at Bethel, Maine because I knew I would be catching U.S. 2 on my way back to New Hampshire. After departing Deer Isle, I followed U.S. 1 all the way to Caribou, Maine in Aroostock County.

The Landscape: The drive to Deer Isle was everything you would expect. The White Mountains flared with sun-drenched color.  U.S. 1 near the coast in the Bucksport and Searsport area, offering the first views of Penobscot Bay, was glorious. In truth, U.S. 1 along the Maine coast east of Deer Isle was, by contrast, disappointing. It could have been anywhere, USA. I realize, as Steinbeck famously wrote in Travels with Charley, the person coming along ten minutes later had a different experience. For me however, it was a letdown. There

Rooms with views over Penobscot Bay.

Rooms with views over Penobscot Bay.

were few views of the bays and islands and the seafood joints were far and few. Heading north through the timber was, by contrast, soothing and invigorating, even in the gentle rain. Timber, and taters rule the great north. The Maine-stays, I suppose you could call them (if you dared).

The Steinbeck Connection: “Wherever I stop people look hungrily at Rocinante. They want to move on. Is this a symptom? They lust to move on. West—north, south—anywhere.  Maybe it’s their comment on their uneasiness. People are real restless.” Letter to Elaine Steinbeck written on September 27, 1960 from Deer Isle, Maine

My experience has been different. Here’s one example. Yesterday I stopped for gas at Kinney Auto Center in Danforth, Maine where the costs for repairs are painted on the exterior wall. The attendant came out and I knew immediately I had the genuine item. I actually heard this stocky strawberry-haired gentleman give directions to a customer, saying, “If you

Maine's idea of a calling card.

Maine's idea of a calling card.

get to the bridge by the faahm, you’ve gone too faaah.” When I went in to pay, I noticed he had a magazine on his desk, which had something about cowboys and guns in the title. I asked if he’d ever been out west. His answer was, “Nah.” I asked if he would like to go. He said, “Someday maybe—get rid of the wife.” Not exactly a, “I would leave this afternoon if you got the space,” kind of answer.

Everybody I encounter says this trip is a great idea and a wonderful adventure, but not a single person has expressed the wish to be elsewhere. Is it possible our internal migrations have hit a point of stasis?  No doubt the economy is playing a role in people staying put. But perhaps Americans are finally feeling somewhat content and less restless?

The Dog: Max used to play a joke on me when he was riding shotgun. No matter how comfortable I made his seat, when I left him in the car, he would shift to mine and there he would be when I returned.  For this trip, for his safety, I’ve

The Marlinspike Chandlery, possibly where Steinbeck bought a lantern in Stonington.

The Marlinspike Chandlery, possibly where Steinbeck bought a lantern in Stonington.

blocked him in the back of the 4Runner.  And, of course, he has devised a new joke. He climbs up on the food box and cooler and sits in the items on top, a package of paper towels, my duffle, whatever.  Sometimes I jump in the car after a short stop and start out, and a glance in the rearview reveals him standing on the boxes, surfing in the back of the car.

Sweet Notes: Deer Isle has few places to stay, so soon I found myself in nearby Stonington. A random choice lead me to Barrett at Boyce’s Motel. I got Barrett’s last $70.00 room—very comfortable, more like a small suite. Barrett was a great host and guide. He was very interested in my journey and has already begun reading this blog. A case of mistaken identity resulted in a visit to Pres du Port, Charlotte Casgrain’s Bed and Breakfast in Stonington. Charlotte is a gracious woman and she welcomed me for breakfast as if I were family. We sorted out the mystery later. (The invitation had been delivered to the wrong motel door). Charlotte was very helpful orienting me to the area and making suggestions about my upcoming travel to Northern Maine. Breakfast was delicious. Charlotte

The seemingly endless woods and lakes of Northern Maine.

The seemingly endless woods and lakes of Northern Maine.

has promised to ride along. Odelle and Diddie at the Houlton, Maine Rest Area were also very helpful and excited about my trip and promised, with their two co-workers, to ride along.

Thank you for riding along. Let’s talk again soon, shall we?

Greg Zeigler

Travels with Steinbeck: In Search of America Fifty Years Later

Copyright © 2009


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  1. * Jeanne says:

    I like the new format…looking good.

    | Reply Posted 9 years, 1 month ago

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