Shun-piking is one of our guilty pleasures. In fact, we make a game of it. We start at a preordained location out in the middle of nowhere, reset our GPS so it’s just a compass, and head in the direction of home. My one great rule of driving is “never turn around.” My husband is more circumspect, so when he is driving that rule is amended to “never turn around unless you’re going to get stuck.” With a Prius on unpaved roads, that’s a real possibility.
There are some states in which the roads are laid out in straight long lines running between the parcels doled out to homesteaders. There the game is easier, although every place off the Interstate has its surprises. I recollect a memorable occasion 35 years ago when we had three flat tires in Wyoming, with just a bicycle pump to reinflate them.
Maine is not one of those straight road states.
It’s 39.6 miles from our house to Augusta. We’ve been there the last two Saturdays. After the first visit, we drove north to Belgrade and then headed east. I knew we would cross Route 3 and that it would be an easy way to hit the coast, so we did our best to stay off it. That meant we kept looping around and over it to wind our way between the lakes and ponds. We took a wildly circuitous route that included Waterville, China, Palermo, Liberty, Searsmont, Belmont and Northport. Several hours and 90 miles later, we pulled into our driveway, happy as Penobscot Bay clams.
After our second visit, we headed southwest on Route 135, making our departure point about 12 miles south of Route 17. That was to avoid being drawn back up to Augusta. One might think that being somewhat familiar with the area between Gardiner and the coast would be a liability. However, it didn’t prevent me from getting lost, since we had to find a place to cross the Kennebec. We potted along the west bank until we got to Richmond. After crossing we ambled through Dresden and Alna until we got to Jefferson, where I finally had to acknowledge that I knew where I was. That circuitous route was also about 90 miles long.
What is the point of this fabulous time-waster? We look at things and becoming immersed in a world off the beaten track. It’s the fastest way I know to learn a new topography, to feel where the land is rocky and wooded or arable and open, and to get a sense of the current economic realities of different towns.
Yesterday I also realized something very helpful. Instagram’s location feature is a great way to record potential painting spots without messing up the experience with a map. If the internet is going to track my every move anyway, I may as well use that to my advantage.
Next Saturday we’re driving up to Presque Isle to deliver paintings for a Plein Air Painters of Maine (PAPME) show. I’ve never been north of Calais, although I have booted around Quebec. The drive is long enough that I doubt I want to shunpike home, but I’m really looking forward to seeing a new part of this state. Several people have remarked about how long a drive it is, as if that would deter me. It just makes the idea even more appealing.