Saturday, October 14 to Thursday, October 19, 2017
I rose with the sun and packed up my things and made my way to the front gate of Baxter State Park. It was just over 10 miles away.
I extended my thumb at each passing vehicle. Finally a nice man on his way to Belfast, Maine pulled over to grant me a ride. I asked him if he could drop me off at any big city between the park and Belfast. We settled on Bangor.
The ride was full of pleasantries and genuine conversation. We arrived in Bangor where he suggested lunch– his treat. We sat on the patio off of Main Street at a quaint cafe and sipped coffee, nibbling fresh bread and greens, and chatting long after the food was gone. Eventually we returned to his vehicle. I collected my pack and expressed extreme gratitude. We said goodbye and off he drove.
Just as his car pulled away, a man on the sidewalk spoke to me “You look like you have a story!” I suppose it was the ragged nature of my clothes, and the dirt on my face in contrast to the the lightness of my smile, that suggested something out of the ordinary.
I smiled, and began to relay bits of my adventure along the Appalachian Trail. Soon his wife and kids stood by his side. They were all inquisitive and entertained and amazed. They offered to let me sleep in their art studio for the night. I could not believe my good fortune!
They walked me upstairs to the studio that stood above Main Street. They told me to make myself at home. They gave me a set of keys. With that, they left me to rest.
I collected groceries for dinner and lounged and called my loved ones. I spoke to a good friend of mine who is from Maine. They suggested I head to Portland. As a congratulatory gesture, they purchased me a ticket for a Portland bound bus the following morning. I was ecstatic.
I rose early. The bus station was just over 5 miles away, and I intended to walk. I needed to be at the station by half past eleven.
On my way to the station I stopped for some coffee. I sat by a bench in a plaza and sipped the hot beverage and reflected and planned. I then tossed my empty cup in the bin and motioned to leave. As I walked away I made eye contact and smiled at a kindly looking couple that sat at the opposite end of the plaza.
“Where are you hiking to?” The wife called out.
I stopped and took a few steps in their direction. “I just finished hiking the Appalachian Trail.” I replied.
“Can we buy you a coffee?” they asked.
I thanked them and explained that I had just had a cup, and that I needed to hurry off to the bus stop.
“We can take you!” They said.
Freed of any need to rush, I joined them at their table. I told them stories of the trail and of my plans for the future. Then: they offered to let me shower at their home.
“Oh my goodness, thank you!” I said with unbridled enthusiasm.
With that I was driven to their home, and given a fresh towel and access to a hot shower. After freshening up they took me with them to brunch and treated me to a hot meal before depositing me at the bus station just in time to catch a ride to Portland!
With freshly washed skin and hair It became apparent how much my clothing, well, stunk.
Immediately upon my arrival to Portland I crossed the street and headed to a laundry mat. As I stood waiting for a $3 machine (the cheapest available) a man said jokingly “can’t decide which one?”
“I am waiting for the $3 one” I replied.
Moments later he walked over with $3 in quarters and dropped them in my palm.
“Thank you!” I exclaimed.
I was overwhelmed with all of the kindness. I felt I could float.
After I finished with laundry, I wandered the streets of downtown Portland.
As night fell, I found a spot behind a dumpster.
The dumpster held only wood scraps and the area was clean and out of sight; suitable. I laid out my ground tarp and mat and fell asleep.
In the middle of the darkness, as one day turned to the next, it began to rain. I pulled out my tent in a hurry and draped it over me. Fortunately it was not raining hard, and it soon ceased. I fell back to sleep. Again I woke to a loud beeping and bright flashing. What was this?! It was 2:30 in the morning. It was garbage collection! Startled, I watched as the dumpster furthest from me was lifted and returned. The dump-truck then backed up and pulled away. I had not been noticed. I fell asleep once more.
In the morning I headed towards the library. As I was walking I spotted a man with a pack. We smiled at one another. He walked over to me. “Ya hungry?” He asked.
He guided me over to the soup kitchen where I joined him over a meal of hot oatmeal and fruit. I had never been to a soup kitchen before. It was an amazing resource that the city was providing to those in need. I felt a twinge of guilt for utilizing such resources. I did certainly qualify as low-income, but I still felt a certain uneasiness. The experience and conversation, however, I greatly enjoyed.
After breakfast I spent time at the library writing. When night fell, I headed back to the dumpster I had slept behind the night before. As I returned, I noticed a parked vehicle. Shiny and obtrusive, it reflected the light escaping from the window of a nearby building. Darn it. I would have to find another place to sleep.
I wandered the streets for a bit before coming to an empty parking garage filled with construction material.
I scoped out the area. There was a back exit. I slid between a a large box that sat upon a wood pallet, and the wall. I was out of site and cozy. I drifted in to sleep.
At around 5 am I woke to a vehicle pulling in to the parking lot. The car parked, the engine stopped, country music filled the parking structure. Then another car arrived. I heard car doors shut. I peered around the box. I saw two men standing at the opposite end of the parking garage–construction workers.
Heart pounding, I slipped out of my sleeping bag and packed up my things as quickly and quietly as I could manage.
“Ya ready?” One man said to the other.
Then, the lights came on.
My things were all packed. I lobbed my pack a bit ahead of me, behind another pallet closer to the door.
Ok, I thought. Just stand up and walk out. If they say anything, just apologize and say you needed some place to sleep.
I stood, my top half clearly visible from behind the pallet. I threw on my pack, and quickly walked to the back exit and up the stairs to the top level which led to the street.
To my amazement (and proud, child-like delight), they did not even notice me.
Again, I roamed the city and spent my day at the library writing.
I decided, since I had gone undetected, I could certainly sleep in the same parking structure again. So, after the library closed, I made my way back to that spot between the pallet and the wall. I presumed that 5 am was when their shift started, so if I woke at 4:30 am and got out of there quickly, there should not be a problem. Wrong.
The next morning a car pulled in and parked just after 3 am.
I packed up my things and moved for the back exit. It was barricaded. I had not checked it again. You’re slipping, I thought.
I had no choice but to pass directly in front of the vehicle to exit.
I would not be returning.
That evening I discovered Deering Oaks Park. I set up my tent in the darkness, tucked between two trees, at the base of a down-slope, out of sight from passerby. I rose quickly with a sun.
I was warned that a rough crowd with a taste for hard drugs hung out at the park after dark. I felt the tent was a good deterrent, however…you never know who or what is inside. I also carry pepper spray.
The next day I received a care package sent to the local post office by the same good friend of mine. Among its contents was a large pack of hand warmers and a knife. I would stay one more night in Portland. Friday afternoon, I would begin my hitch-hiking journey across the country to California.
I slept in the park again that night. I set up my tent just as night fell. I rushed to throw myself inside before two people with flash lights could identify me as alone and female. Later in the night I heard voices and watched beams of flashlights illuminate my tent.
I was glad to be leaving in the morning. It was time to move.