Riding the Haynesville Woods

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Route 2A through the Haynesville Woods. (PHOTO BY DAVID M. FITZPATRICK)
Route 2A through the Haynesville Woods. (PHOTO BY DAVID M. FITZPATRICK)

One of my favorite regular rides, and one I do with Grammy’s Country Inn as the lunch destination in mind, takes me on a nice route from Brewer. It involves Maine Route 9 and Maine Route 178 from Brewer to Milford, and then U.S. Route 2 up through Lincoln and Mattawamkeag. But it’s the final stretch, along Route 2A, that is truly breathtaking. But watch out for ghosts!

The legendary Dick Curless, the “Baron of Country Music,” made the Haynesville Woods famous with his song “A Tombstone Every Mile,” which told the tale of a road that claimed many lives, in part thanks to a hairpin turn that bested truck drivers bound for Boston with loads of potatoes. To be honest, I cannot imagine what hairpin turn they’re talking about, because there is no such turn evident today, although maybe there was in 1965 when the song hit number five on the country charts.

There are ghost stories aplenty about Route 2A, that stretch through Haynesville commonly called the Haynesville Woods. The most popular one is a mysterious woman in white looking for a ride; when she gets in the car, the driver feels a chill. And when he arrives at the end of the Woods, where she was heading—gasp!—she has vanished from the car. Spooky! The story goes that she was in a wintertime car accident that killed her husband; she survived, but only to succumb to hypothermia and exposure. It’s all hogwash, of course, and not even original. There’s at least another similar story in Maine, about Route 26, and related tales abound across the country.

Those of you ghost-believers might bristle at my hogwash claim, so I’ll just say this: No woman in white has ever thumbed a ride when I’ve come through on my Honda Shadow. But maybe she doesn’t ride, or maybe she’s a Harley chick. Or maybe she knows that I’d insist on a helmet. Maybe I don’t see her because I usually ride through in broad daylight. But ghost or not, nothing will stop me from this great ride.

Interstate riding generally bores me; I prefer a more relaxed ride along rural roads. Well, this is the epitome of such a ride. My trek begins by driving a few miles out Route 9, following the Penobscot River, before hanging left onto Route 178 to continue the river run. In Milford, it’s a right onto Route 2, followed by a long, relaxing cruise all the way to Lincoln. The view of the Penobscot is constant; sometimes, it literally borders the west side of the road.

I always top off the tank in Lincoln, just in case, because it’s 50 miles once you leave Mattawamkeag before reaching Grammy’s in Linneus, and there are no gas stations or corner stores almost the entire way. There are just occasional villages, such as Haynesville, where a handful of houses sit. This is a road the big trucks like, and the condition of the entire trip is mostly ideal (more on that below).

Most of Route 2A, known as the Haynesville Woods, has little sign of civilization save for the road and the power lines. (PHOTO BY DAVID M. FITZPATRICK)

 

In Macwahoc, Route 2 tees off to the left, but you’ll stay straight onto Route 2A—called Military Road before Linneus and Bangor Road after that. This is wild Maine at its best, with the only sign of civilization being the actual road and the power lines. You pass through ample wetlands—ponds, bogs, that sort of thing—and you might very well see deer or moose in the waters. That’s worth paying attention to, because the speed limit on this road is generally 50 miles per hour or more, and with the wildlife factor it’s one big danger zone. There are a few places posted as high-hit areas, but you should treat the whole route as a high-hit area. I don’t exaggerate when I say that collisions with moose have been known to total cars and end lives while the moose lumber away. You can imagine what the result would be if you hit a moose when you’re on a motorcycle. When you’re on a motorcycle, you should always be vigilant of deer or moose—or any road hazards, of course—but this ride requires that you be exceptionally alert.

The tradeoff is that much of Route 2A consists of long stretches with great visibility, and the view is marvelous. You might pass someone or have other traffic with you, and someone doing 90 isn’t uncommon, but I’ve had plenty of trips one way or the other where I was the only vehicle around. You’ll enjoy the wetlands, the endless evergreens, the occasional birches arching over the road. The only minor blemish is the last 20-ish miles before reaching Grammy’s, which historically has been a rough stretch. However, on my most recent trip, in May 2016, a good chunk of this had been freshly paved. A remaining stretch is still a patchwork of asphalt, so there is at least one stretch of trouble for a few miles.

After eating at Grammy’s Country Inn, I usually return via the same route I took. This is the exception to my usual preference of doing a loop so that I enjoy a different route on my return trip. But I truly love this ride so much that I have no problem going back the way I came. If you feel like a bit of a change, you can always return instead via County Road (right up the street) and then Route 2, which of course separated off from Route 2A on the trip out. This will add about 15 miles and 15-20 minutes to your trip, so that’s good, and the road is a good one. But don’t forget to gas up! There’s a gas station down the street from Grammy’s, or you can ride into Houlton to gas up and hit a few stores before picking up Route 2.

And if taking Route 2 back to Lincoln and then Milford isn’t your thing, there are ample alternatives, such as taking Route 157 out of Mattawamkeag over to Millinocket, where you can pick up Route 11 (a nice ride to Bangor). And there’s also the option of taking Route 1 out of Houlton for a much longer trip home via Calais (Route 9) or even the entire Route 1 trek along the coast.

Those are articles for other times, but for me, that stretch through the Haynesville Woods is worth a redo on the same day—any day, any time.

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