June 22, 2018
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North or south, hospitality makes any adventure worthwhile

Kevin Bennett | BDN
Kevin Bennett | BDN
Julia Bayly
By Julia Bayly, BDN Staff

FORT KENT, Maine — It’s no secret there is a lot of bad out there in Maine and beyond. Print, broadcast and Internet news sources are rife with updated reports reminding us of that on a daily basis.

So every once and awhile, it’s kind of nice to step back and take stock of the good that is out there. And, take it from me, there really is a lot of good out there.

As many readers know, my friend Penny McHatten and I traveled to the deep south earlier this month to take part in the Bicycle Ride Across Georgia, or BRAG, where we were treated to southern hospitality at its best.

“Southern hospitality, it’s the way were raised, to appreciate family, blood kin or otherwise,” according to Dr. Nancy Norton, the woman I met a little over a year ago who planted the original BRAG seed in my head. “Be respectful and polite, that’s what my mama always said.”

Pretty much everyone we met down there had gotten the same lesson from their own mamas.

Our first day riding had been a long, hot 55-miler, and Penny and I were more than ready to get out of our cycling clothes, shower and relax in the century-old building housing The Three Graces in Tifton.

Trouble was, when we arrived, the inn was locked and looked very closed.

Spotting a sign with an after-hours contact number, I called and got the owner, Sondra Davis, and was mortified to discover, due to some sort of scheduling miscommunication, she had expected us the previous evening.

After multiple apologies on my part and understanding words on hers, she said we were more than welcome to stay and her daughter would be right over to take care of us.

“Y’all must be exhausted after that ride,” Calen Fender said as she ushered us and our bikes inside. “What can I get you? Wine? Beer? Some cheese and crackers?”

Like magic, all the above was suddenly in our rooms and we were left to imbibe and clean up.

And let me just say, nothing quite says “clean up” after a long bike ride better than a cold drink and a hot jacuzzi tub.

After quizzing us on what cyclists need nutrition-wise, Fender rousted the chef, who whipped up an amazing herbed chicken and potato dish with a fresh green salad. That meal was outdone only by the strawberry crumble he produced for breakfast the next morning.

Penny and I never availed ourselves of the social gatherings sponsored by BRAG during the week, but we did attend an impromptu party of sorts in the laundry room at the Holiday Inn in Douglas.

Want to get to know your fellow cyclists? Spend an hour or two swapping stories from the road while you pool change, detergent and softener waiting for the one machine to be available.

The hotel staff, meanwhile, kept us in towels and freshly made cookies the two days we were there.

Toward the tail end of our stay in Douglas, local news stations began broadcasting reports of a tropical storm heading our way. What bonding did not take place in that laundry room was cemented the following day as we gathered to watch the Weather Channel and attempted to use our collective will to divert the coming storm.

As it was, Tropical Storm Andrea joined BRAG early in the day and did not let up until late that night when we all arrived in Waycross, where we really needed another word to describe “wet.”

Undaunted by the 30 or so dripping cyclists milling about their lobby, the staff at the Hampton Inn in Waycross moved heaven and earth to get our rooms ready for early check-in so we could shower and warm up as quickly as possible.

Our last night on the road was in Brunswick, a seaside community between Savannah and St. Marys.

Turned out, our accommodations that night were a pretty good distance from the day’s finish line and we were spared adding those extra bike miles by Norton, whose sister Polly was driving a support vehicle and was happy to provide it as a shuttle for us so long as Nancy did the driving.

It probably would not have been all that far to WatersHill Bed and Breakfast if we had simply gotten verbal directions and not relied on the GPS in the truck.

But, then again, it would have been a shame to have missed the lovely drive in and around Brunswick’s working docks.

I will admit to a bit of trepidation staying at the B&B, which advertises a slightly haunted setting in which, according to the owners, “rumor has it you may hear the rustling of crinolines in the night.”

Of course, Penny made a good point that any ghosts rustling crinolines would likely be drowned out by the sounds of “chafing cycling spandex.”

Owner Jack Waters met us at the door and, I have to say, it was the one time on the whole trip I was sorry not to have had a video camera recording as I attempted to wheel my bike inside the lovely old home.

I cannot begin to describe the look of horror on Waters’ face as the bike got closer and closer to the dozens of very breakable antiques and furniture inside.

After a few seconds of verbal tug-of-war with Waters, Penny and I retreated and opted to chain our bikes to the home’s front porch railings.

North-south peace restored, Jack welcomed us with open arms and escorted us up to the third-floor suite, all the while telling us he had cranked the air conditioning with our comfort in mind, saying, “the guests on the second floor will probably have their winter parkas on soon.”

But that’s the kind of treatment we received everywhere we went. Once people heard where we were from and what we were doing there, they wanted to make sure we did not regret our decision to come down in the first place.

Though, on more than occasion, it was certainly questioned.

“My thoughts on two crazy Yankee women?” Norton said after the ride. “Well, coming from one who has completed 28 consecutive BRAGs, ridden [a bicycle] across the U.S. and completed a monthlong [bike] loop in Oregon, how can I call y’all crazy?”

My fondest wish now is for some of my new Georgia friends to come north to experience our brand of Maine hospitality.

Heck, if they come all the way to Fort Kent, I’ll even hook up the Rusty Metal Kennel sled dog team and take them for a ride.

Julia Bayly of Fort Kent is an award-winning writer and photographer who writes part time for Bangor Daily News. Her column appears here every other Friday. She can be reached by email at jbayly@bangordailynews.com.

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