BATH — If former Gov. Angus King is somewhat of a Maine legend, then his new book is quite literally his “Odyssey.”
“A Governor’s Travels” chronicles the Brunswick resident’s nearly six-month journey across the country in a 40-foot RV with his wife Mary Herman and two of their children.
But it also is an account of how King managed the transition from being a public servant to just another member of the public, or as he puts it, from being “the Man” to “simply a man.”
He also offers advice to others who are passing from public office or employment to retirement.
After serving two terms as governor, King left office in 2003 and began his road trip the very next day. After years of constantly being in the spotlight and adhering to a tight schedule, King and his family decided to do the opposite on their trip. They had no itinerary and no Maine State Police escort.
Instead, they became like everyone else they met on the road: free-wheeling, anonymous Americans, living out a lifelong dream.
In an interview near his vacation home in Georgetown, King recalled one of his first brushes with anonymity.
While hiking in the Grand Canyon, King started chatting with another hiker who asked where he was from. “Maine,” King said. “Oh,” the hiker exclaimed, “I heard on the radio the governor of Maine is traveling out West in his RV.”
“I said, ‘yeah, so I hear,'” King recalled, laughing. “People would ask me at RV parks what I did, and I would just say I’m a retired state employee, that was my standard answer.”
He did, occasionally, run in to other traveling Mainers who recognized him. He ran into an employee of Kennebunk Savings Bank who was attending a banking conference in Las Vegas while taking the elevator to the bottom of the Hoover Dam. She spotted him immediately, despite the bushy white beard he had grown.
“Gov. King!” she called out, “you’ve gone native!”
Despite the occasional personal encounter, King purposefully kept his distance from Maine politics and news during the trip. Instead of checking in with legislators and advisers, he checked overpass heights on upcoming stretches of highway. Instead of worrying about the budget, he worried about whether there was a dump station at the next RV park.
The demands of the trip kept him occupied, and “sort of forced me to let go what was going on in Maine,” he said. “It turned out to be a great transition strategy.”
In addition to helping King avoid the post-office depression that strikes many former elected officials, the trip gave him a new perspective on Maine.
“When you’re in a job like governor you’re very intensely, narrowly focused on Maine, center of the universe,” King said. “And there’s a feeling that our problems are worse than anywhere else. … So to tour the country and see many other places that are coping with the same problems, it didn’t make Maine’s problems any easier, but it sort of helped to realize we weren’t the only ones.”
King and his family loved their time on the road so much, he and Herman are considering taking another trip. In fact, King has already started searching for the perfect RV, and plans to hit the road as soon as his youngest child, Molly, goes to college.
“A Governor’s Travels: How I Left Politics, Learned to Back Up a Bus, and Found America,” is published by DownEast Books and is in bookstores this month.
Former Maine Gov. Angus King with his wife Mary Herman, right, and their children Molly and Ben, in front of the RV they used to tour the country in 2003.
Angus King’s new book, “Governor’s Travels,” is a travelogue of the road trip he took with his family in 2003 following the conclusion of his second term as governor.