Travels With Steinbeck

South and West at Last.

Musee et centre culturel du Mont-Carmel

Musee et centre culturel du Mont-Carmel

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: From Deer Isle, Maine—U.S 1 to the top of Maine and State 11 back down to U.S. 2 and New Hampshire.

Steinbeck’s route: Essentially the same route through country that, I’m certain, has not changed much in places.

The Landscape: Well, when a trip combines the White Mountains of New Hampshire (twice) and the island-dotted coast and northern forests of Maine—with intermittent sunshine, warm temperatures, and buckets of fall color thrown in, “exquisite” comes to mind.

The Steinbeck Connection: I loved rereading the section of Travels with Charley in which Steinbeck shares an evening, and rare bottle of French cognac with a family of French-Canadian migrant workers. Before departing the next morning he reflects on the experience. “There are times that one treasures for all one’s life, and such times are burned clearly and sharply on the material of total recall. I felt very fortunate that morning.”  The joy Steinbeck experienced in the very human act of connecting and conversing with others is palpable in the retelling.

Heading south on State 11 but looking north at Fort Kent in the Saint John Valley

Heading south on State 11 but looking north at Fort Kent in the Saint John Valley

I had a similar experience in Eastern Kansas with three gentlemen that I went catfish fishing with (see, A hound dog named “Hound Dog”) and briefing captured in this blog.  I remember feeling charged and exhilarated while enjoying that richly textured evening made more so by the freely offered comaraderie of my new friends.

Unfortunately, it was not to happen in the rolling Saint John Valley of Northern Maine.  Here’s why.  I had inquired in Caribou, Maine about migrant potato pickers and was told the French-Canadians had been replaced by Hispanics.  Not a problem, I can adjust and had brought along a bottle of very nice sipping Tequila in case of just such an eventuality.  But when Mark Cyr, of the Cyr Potato Corporation of St. David, Maine opened up the doors to his barn and introduced me to his picker, I could see the picker and I would not be sharing any drinks. It was a huge machine, two actually, that work in tandem—about the combined size of a semi-truck and trailer. Mark said migrant pickers were a thing of the past, although some high school kids (school lets out for 2 ½ weeks during the harvest) do work on the machines and in the potato house. Mark was a very warm guy.  If he hadn’t been repairing his equipment after the harvest of 175 acres of “early” potatoes, I might have offered him a drink. He spoke with the lyrical cadence of the Acadian. He was medium height, powerful in build and had blue eyes and chiseled features. No doubt a heartthrob to potato groupies.  When Mark saw, Max, he quipped, “Traveling light, eh?”

Moose season in the North Woods of Maine.

Moose season in the North Woods of Maine.

The Dog: Last night Max and I got off the road late at a KOA in Canaan, Maine.  I had left the Winnie at Bishop Farm in New Hampshire but was prepared to sleep outside on a pad. The lateness of the hour, and lightning to the west dissuaded me from that idea, so I booked a “Kamper Kabin.”  No linens, no bathroom and way too much money, but cozy and out of the rain that came later that night. But, back to Max. He snored—loudly.  I woke him, gently.  He does not wake easily and can be pretty accurate with his few remaining teeth. He went back to sleep before I could, and snored again. I never dreamed a seven-pound dog could make that much noise while sleeping. I didn’t want to kick him out so I put in my earplugs and we made it through the rainy night together.

As for the KOA, with signs (including one about “tinkling,” and one with POOP in large letters), and rules posted everywhere, it was too “Kute” for me, by half.

Mt. Washington in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.

Mt. Washington in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.

Sweet Notes: Caribou Kate (forgive me, Kate, I give everyone nicknames) of the Old Iron Inn Bed and Breakfast in Caribou was a wonderful hostess and guide and has pledged, along with her sister, 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


Trackbacks & Pingbacks


  1. * Chris says:


    Hello, as my email address indicates, I am a teacher at Eaglebrook School. My 9th grade history class is using “Travels with Charley” as a primary text this fall. I was wondering if you could provide any additional dates and places within the book.

    Looking forward to hearing form you,

    | Reply Posted 9 years, 1 month ago
  2. * Jamie Laurens says:

    What a beautiful time of year to be in Maine. I hope the apples are crisp, and the air too!

    | Reply Posted 9 years, 1 month ago

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