ROCKLAND – The Bicycle Coalition of Maine began its trek toward the Maine coast September 7, with 450 cyclists heading from Waterville to Hope and eventually landing Rockland. The trek visits five different communities on the Midcoast this year and cover 324 miles.
Today, they all travel to Belfast and wind up their journey back in Waterville on Saturday.
Eliza Cress, communications director for Bike Maine, said about 25-percent of the riders participating are from Maine.
“The rest are from 33 different states and three countries,” she said. “The riders are responsible for their own bikes, but we are very fortunate to work with Side Country Sports and LL Bean who provide bike mechanic stations for us.”
Cress said this event is their seventh annual.
“Bike Maine is an event that is put on by the Bicycle Coalition of Maine,” she said. “We’re a nonprofit organization that does statewide education and advocacy work to help make the state better and safer for biking and walking.”
Cress said for Maine, safety just depends on the day.
“Anywhere in the country, it just depends on the day,” she said. “Obviously Maine is a very beautiful place to ride. And while there are parts of the roads that are well maintained and very beautiful for biking, there are others that are more interesting, but that’s the nature of road maintenance and we feel really lucky that we’ve received a lot of respect on the road this week and that’s a great thing.”
Cress said each year they try to visit a different region of Maine.
“Last year, we were in the upper counties,” she said. “This year we are in the Midcoast and we’ll be announcing next year’s location at the end of this week. Next year’s ride is a closely guarded secret. I can’t divulge it until the end of this ride.”
Cress said this year’s event sold out shortly after it was announced.
“We were fortunate that it sold out before the New Year,” she said. “And as soon as we announce next years route people can begin purchasing those slots.”
Besides the riders, a support staff of more than 100 volunteers helps with the event from food to moving tents and equipment.
Cress said she is thrilled to see the communities support them in the way that they do.
“They make it possible for us to show people the beauty of Maine and efforts to make it safer for biking and walking,” she said. “We couldn’t be more grateful for the volunteers who come with us on this trip all week long and basically allow us to pull it off. We could not do it without them.”
Will Elting, is the Bike Maine ride director with the Bicycle Coalition of Maine. He along with other staff and committee members rode the route back in July. For the event, he drives one of the 26-foot box trucks that transport the village.
450 riders in one long line is a lot of riders and can be a logistical nightmare.
Elting said it’s not a race, it’s a ride.
“Because of this people have a tendency to spread out,” he said. “They have an hour and a half in the morning when they can start, though it’s not a mass start. We try not to have huge clusters of people.”
Elting said they do try to stay away from public highways as much as possible.
“We try to take people on scenic back-routes,” he said. “We also try to do a lot of work with local law enforcement and town offices to make people as aware as possible. We do a lot to make sure that people are safe.”
Elting said the bike route closes at 4 p.m.
“We have a sweep vehicle that follows the last riders,” he said. “We make sure everyone gets off the course safely. If someone is really stuck in the back, we’ll pick them up and truck them in.”
Riders are responsible for their own tent and luggage, though it is moved from location to location for them.
Elting said they also have a tent and porter service provided by LL Bean.
“For an extra charge people can have a tent set up for them every day and their luggage brought right to their tent,” he said. “That service is supported by a team of high school students from Katahdin High School. This is their third year with us and their only job is to set up and take down those tents.”
Elting said a lot of work goes into finding space and providing infrastructure.
“We work closely with all the communities we’re in,” he said. “Rockland had a huge committee of people working to bring this event together on the local side. And it wouldn’t really be possible without those local volunteers as well.”