FORT KENT, Maine — Car tank full of gas? Check. Extra cash? Check. Spare water and a snack? Check. Running shoes? Check.
All I wanted to do this year at the second annual 30-Mile Yard Sale was beat Nancy Paradis and her posse of yard sale commandos.
So when the event kicked off Friday morning, two friends and I hit the road west out of Fort Kent confident we were in the front of the pack.
But as we pulled into the first yard sale, there was Paradis walking out, grinning ear to ear.
“You missed it,” the Cross Lake retired teacher said. “Want to see what I found?”
Paradis is a champion when it comes to yard sales and, with her friends Lorette Adams, Margaret Adams, Lynn Voisine and Cricket Minet, forms a formidable foe in the hunt for roadside treasures.
In what organizers hope will now become a summer tradition, the 30-Mile Yard Sale got off to a slow start Friday morning with only a handful of yard and tag sales up and running between Fort Kent and Allagash.
But by Saturday an additional two dozen had sprung up and the chase was on, with the event lasting through the July 4 weekend.
Fortunately for us, the Paradis group had made plans to hit several Presque Isle-area estate sales that day, making the competition a bit like when the Russians boycotted the 1980 Summer Olympics.
On Friday, however, it was all about who could get to the pickings first.
“I spotted that before I even got out of the car,” a triumphant Minet said as she held fast to a dollhouse furnished with miniature furniture. “I build dollhouses,” she added.
Spearheading this year’s event was Lisa Morine of St. John Plantation who was ready to meet the serious shoppers and the curious bright and early Friday.
“At 7:15 this morning I had my first person show up,” she said Friday. “He was game for the sales.”
Morine said she had been receiving calls from interested people from all over Maine in the days leading up to the sale, many acting on information on the success of last year’s yard sale.
“They are coming from all over to check it out,” she said. “They want to know what’s out there.”
Paradis admitted to being a bit disappointed at the reduced numbers of sale sites on Friday — last year her group had filled the back of a large SUV by midday — but she was nonetheless enthusiastic.
“I was downtrodden today,” she said Friday over lunch back in Fort Kent. “That is until I bought the lawnmower.”
Paradis plans to transform the old mower — minus it’s motor — into a rolling smudge pot.
She had also scored an antique stainless steel cream separator.
“That creamer is nice,” Paradis said. “But I don’t know, I really like that lawnmower.”
Lorette Adams had her own treasure to show off — an old wooden pulley apparatus.
“I’m not sure what I’ll use it for,” she said. “Except maybe for a weapon.”
In the end, for the group of friends the day was about more than shopping.
“It isn’t if you buy anything,” Paradis said. “It’s the hunt [and] we had just as much fun last night talking about our plans.”
“It’s always a nice ride up here with convivial friendship,” she said.
On Saturday, I and my friend Penny Gray, with her mother Nancy Gray of Freeport, were back in the hunt.
And what a hunt it was. It is truly amazing just how much stuff three determined women can fit into a 1996 Toyota Camry.
From old tools to books to dishes to Christmas decorations to a vintage phonograph, we shopped until we just about dropped.
“It’s going really good today,” Morine said Saturday morning. “I saw someone go by in a car with a trunk filled with brass furniture; they were going to get it home.”
Cars with license plates from Maine, Connecticut, New York and New Jersey were cruising the corridor from Fort Kent to Allagash, eagle-eyed drivers on the lookout for the best yard sales.
“I found this tool box full of tools for $30,” Penny Gray said at one sale as I showed off my $1 hammer.
“I got this [wicker] duck for 25-cents,” Nancy Gray said. “You girls are spendthrifts.”
For many, the yard sale is as much about socializing as it is about buying or selling.
“I’m having a ball meeting people I have not seen for almost a year,” Rhonda Caron said from her sale Saturday afternoon. “It’s going very well and I’ve doubled what I sold this year from last [and] it’s a lot, a lot of fun.”
Caron was one of the organizers last year, but this season a new job kept her away.
“I really have to thank [Morine],” she said. “She has done just a fantastic job organizing this and advertising it.”
The event’s success may very well be in its lack of structure.
Morine relied on word-of-mouth, online social networking and handmade flyers to get the word out. There is no fee to participate or any formal registration process.
People are simply free to gather their goods, set up shop somewhere in the 30-miles between Fort Kent and Allagash and wait for the shoppers to come calling.
Among those were the mother-daughter team of Heidi O’Clair-Thompson and Jackie O’Clair from central Aroostook County.
“We were up here at [our] camp and are pretending we are on vacation,” O’Clair-Thompson said. “So we thought we’d head out to see if we could find some good deals.”
If the two were disappointed in anything, it was the fact they turned around before getting to Allagash.
“Next year we will go all the way,” O’Clair-Thompson vowed.
And from what Morine has seen, there will be a next year.
“Look at this,” she said as she surveyed the inside of our packed Camry. “This is all stuff you could never find at Walmart.”
And next year I’ll set the alarm a half hour early, and maybe we’ll beat Paradis’ crew.