Following The Kansas Road

photographs and text by Karen Zimmerman

Tiny building, big view

It is Kansas Road, not Yellow Brick, which takes us to another world. Dorothy followed the yellow brick road and landed in Oz. We stuck bikes on our car and found ourselves on Kansas Road, light years from Otter Creek.

Every year we go to a smelt fry in Columbia Falls, Maine. I am not fond of things one does every year, because it seems eventually you will have no free days left, all will be committed to some event or family get-together, or holiday or reunion or anniversary. But the smelt fry has been on our must do list for about ten years. The fry is fund raiser for Downeast Salmon Federation, and although I used to eat maybe one or two token smelts and dine on salads and sides, I now finish off my little cardboard basket of these light, barely batter-coated, flash-fried fish.

We have fine-tuned this annual outing to the point that the smelt fry, while remaining the motivation, is no longer the primary part of our get-away. We arrive in Cherryfield at The Englishman, a classic federal-style bed and breakfast on the banks of the Narraguagus River, and quickly change from business clothing to casual. After checking out the eagles and osprey, we sip a chilled glass of white as we listen to the constant thrum of the river. Life slows; we mellow, and then head off to Columbia Falls. There we munch smelts with hundreds of other smelt seekers, and socialize. This is extremely easy. You ask a neighbor for a napkin, they are piled at spots along the tables, and end up exchanging stories. Most people come as couples, singles, or very small groups, and are really interested in knowing why others are here at the smelt fry. I have been to business events, and after-hour socials, and while they are relaxed, they just are not anywhere near as relaxed as the Downeast Salmon Federation Smelt Fry. No one seems to feel uncomfortable, or nervous, or concerned about making an impression. We share “How many smelts did you get?” stories with Abbie and John, fellow smelters. We meet Marcylene, a dwarf pygmy goat, who chews grass from my hand and nonchalantly allows eager children, and me, to stroke her silky fur. We discuss photography with Richard, and Columbia Falls’ history with a couple, the husband has family roots here.

Milbridge tidal waters

Then we return to our riverside haven to watch the sun go down and listen to deafening peepers. We could just drive home, but being in a part of the world that is just a bit different from ours is now what draws us back year after year.

At dawn we hike the river’s edge. Every morning I do sunrise salutations, a yoga sequence, and here I do them on an old railroad bridge with the water roaring beneath and the scent of a red fox in my nostrils. After breakfast we bike off along the Kansas Road.

Sign post for Kansas Road

Kansas Road. It is short, a four or five-mile stretch from Cherryfield to Milbridge, and hugs the Narragaugus. We are in no hurry, and biking Kansas in Maine is such a foolish idea I am determined to love this route no matter what. But the ride is gentle, and the scenery fine. We pass scarecrows, a few cowardly kitties, cows, alpacas, and get chased by a dog. There are no leash laws in Kansas. We pass through Milbridge, slowing down to gawk at the Extreme Makeover house on Main Street. Reality TV is a concept that fascinates me. Also makes me glad we don’t subscribe to television.

We strike out on side roads. The shoulders are not great, but every passing car kindly gives us a wide berth, and a wave. No one didn’t wave, and I realize it used to be like this in Otter Creek, but now there are many passersby who simply pass by.

Wharf with old bait bags, and pick up trucks

The roads to the water lead to lobster co-ops and working wharfs, and fishing boats outnumber sail. We’re not in Bar Harbor anymore.

We bike, tires bumping, out on a long wooden pier. Pickup trucks line the parking area; their owners are hard at work on the ocean. I find a worn and discarded bait bag and am inspired to turn it into art, but am vehemently vetoed by my husband, whose bike it would have been tied to. There is litter. It is mostly bits of rope, a single leather glove, pieces of old lobster traps. This would be removed as unsightly back on Mount Desert Island, but it adds to the laid-back, no-fuss feel, and I find it comforting.

Store on Kansas Road

We find some chaga, and stop to ask the homeowner if we can have some string to tie it to the bike. She is a stunning brunette with two soon-to-be stunning adolescent girls. They are interested in the chaga, but happy to let us have it. The girls are tossing potatoes in the air and at each other as we chat with their mom and tie the chaga down. “What’s with the potatoes?” I ask. She smiles, and flips one in the air to the girls. “I’m teaching them to juggle,” she answers.

Bridge at Cherryfield end of Kansas Road

We continue down to the point, the road is a bit potholed and rough. A fellow is watering the flowers on his deck as I careen past his house, and we smile and wave. A big asphalt lump in the road bounces me off my bike seat, and he laughs and shouts, “Watch out for the bump,” as I round a corner and leave him behind.

Twenty-plus miles later we have looped back, and leave Kansas Road for our B+B. I really don’t like doing the same thing every year, but going to another world doesn’t get old. We’ll be back next year.

Much of Downeast Maine is for sale. We passed many homes with signs in the yard. If you have a hankering for life on the other side of the Kansas Road, one of these might be for you.

For sale

For Sale

For Sale

For Sale

For Sale

For Sale