VAN BUREN, Me. -- 929 Steinbeck Miles
Aroostook County, famous for potatoes, is said to be bigger than Connecticut and Rhode Island combined.
No one behind the wheel of a car traveling north on US 1 from Calais is going to challenge that fact.
Steinbeck came all this way armed with only an AM radio and his own imagination, though he had Charley to talk to.
Probably 50 years ago today, Steinbeck headed north on US 1 from Deer Isle to the top of Maine after staying for two days at Eleanor Brace's spectacularly beautiful house on the edge of the sea.
He probably slept there in Rocinante the nights of Sept. 26 and Sept. 27. A Sept. 28 letter he sent from Deer Isle to Adlai Stevenson mentioned that he had seen part of the first Nixon-JFK TV debate (held Sept. 26) and was disgusted by the excess of courtesy the two candidates showed toward each other.
Steinbeck's long-time agent, Elizabeth Otis, had been vacationing at Brace's place for 30 years, renting a rustic cottage on the grounds straight out of a Disney movie.
Otis insisted that the island and the house were too beautiful for Steinbeck to miss.
It's easy to see why.
After Steinbeck left Deer Isle, he said in "Charley" that he slept in Rocinante under a bridge one rainy night and also camped overnight by a lake somewhere in Aroostook County, where he entertained a family of French Canadians at a little party in his camper shell.
Machines do most of the picking now, and, as with most everything else that was once hard and back-breaking slave's work, human muscle has been replaced by brainpower and the magic of technology.
Last night I behaved like an adult and slept in the Aroostook Hospitality Inn here on US 1.
I rolled the motel-room dice from 60 miles away and I didn't lose. It's a good place with all the important amenities I need -- strong wi-fi, lots of wall plugs and a good shower.
It's an independent mom & pop, has a lot of character -- not to mention the character who manages it -- and it cost $69.
Today I set out on the long haul back down to Lancaster, N.H., on state Route 11, as Steinbeck did.
First I'll see if I can find a big potato farm -- or big potato factory -- or big whatever it is that potatoes come from these days.