BikeMaine – the Bicycle Coalition of Maine’s fully supported, weeklong cycling tour through some of the state’s most idyllic locales – returns in mid-September for its third annual go-round. Riders of all skill levels are signing up, each bringing his or her unique story to tell around the proverbial fire.
Westbrooker Eric Schwibs, 52, is a long-term cancer survivor out to thrive.
“I had some real physical challenges during and after treatment,” he says. “I like to show others that you can indeed bounce back fully after diagnosis and treatment.”
Cycling brought Scarborough’s Justin Ladd, 33, together with his soulmate.
“My wife and got ‘reunited’ – we used to date, in middle school – through biking events like the Bicycle Coalition of Maine’s Lobster Ride and the Trek Across Maine.”
Pam Fischer, 57 of New Gloucester, is not riding BikeMaine this year, but volunteering.
“My husband and I make it an annual weeklong volunteer vacation,” she says. “We are part of the village team, setting up and dismantling the mobile ‘tent city’ each day.”
Both Fischer and her husband have additional duties – all of which they relish.
“We do whatever it takes to ensure our riders have an amazing experience. We have a blast.
“Service work is important to me,” Fischer says, “and what could be better than volunteering at an event that brings a crowd of fascinating people to the beautiful backroads and small towns of Maine?”
Kittery, Old Orchard Beach, Bridgton, Bethel, Sweden and Kennebunk will host this year’s event, scheduled for Sept. 12-19. But a long list of communities can expect the riders to pass through as they wend their way across the landscape.
The 2015 BikeMaine route rolls first through the Berwicks on its way to Biddeford and Saco before cutting inland to skirt through Hollis and Steep Falls as it sidles up the western edge of Sebago Lake toward the New Hampshire border.
It circles around to head south around Gilead, where it enters the White Mountains National Forest; it takes a short hop north again at Fryeburg, then angles homeward for the last time, passing by Pleasant Mountain and through Hiram, Cornish, Limerick and Lyman before arriving at the coast in Kennebunk.
The last day of the event tracks mostly along the coast, reaching Ogunquit and York Harbor, then Kittery once more. The total distance is 349 miles, though additional 15-mile loops are available on three days. Registration remains open – for now.
Schwibs calls himself a casual cyclist. “My preferred ride is a 20-year-old Fuji hybrid bike,” he says. “I’m an outdoor person who also enjoys walking, hiking and kayaking.”
But he’s obviously not so casual on his bike that BikeMaine’s 50-60 miles a day is deterring him. “I generally enjoy daily rides of 50 miles or less. I’d done the three-day Trek Across Maine for several years and decided I’d like the challenge of a one-week bike event in my home state.
“Ironically, shortly after I signed up they announced Bike Maine would start and end near my residence in Westbrook. I really enjoyed the camaraderie among my fellow riders, and meeting fellow cyclists from across the country.”
Ladd says he and his wife are avid cyclists. “Cycling was always our ‘together’ activity. We would ride in the Greater Portland area for adventure and/or exercise, always stopping for local foods, coffee, etc. We always brought our bikes on short weekend getaway trips to Vermont, Cape Cod or elsewhere.”
Fischer may not be riding BikeMaine, but she is a longtime cyclist and derives deep satisfaction from it.
“I snuck off one summer and rode my bike from Portland to Auburn when I was 14. My mom was pretty upset when she found out I had disappeared and had made my way up Route 100. That rogue journey was probably what started my love of cycle touring. The freedom a bicycle can provide is just plain addicting.”
A full week’s ride costs $925, but a limited number of half-week tickets are also available. And for family and friends who don’t want cycle themselves, but would like to follow their loved ones’ journeys, staying with them in the various host communities and absorbing Maine culture, a guest option is on offer as well.
Ladd, who volunteers at many of the Coalition’s events, was lucky enough to win his spot on the tour. “I was fortunate to win my one-half week trip to ride in Bike Maine this year, courtesy of an invitation to all Bicycle Coalition of Maine volunteers.”
The Bicycle Coalition of Maine is a nonprofit more than 5,000 strong. Its straightforward mission is to foster cycling and walking in Maine. Under this primary aim fall several subgoals, including promoting cyclist and pedestrian safety, training local advocates to make Maine towns more bike-friendly, and orchestrating events like the Great Maine Bike Swaps, the Women’s Ride, the Maine Lobster Ride and Roll – and, of course, BikeMaine.
“I feel like cycling is definitely on the rise in Maine,” says Ladd, “but has great progress still to make. Some towns and cities are taking great steps to improve the infrastructure around their downtown areas and schools to improve and encourage cycling to work/school.
“The work that [the Coalition] does, helps promote and advocates for, helps those of us who enjoy cycling and hopefully makes it easier for others to pick it up.”
The Bicycle Coalition of Maine can be found online at www.bikemaine.org.