BELFAST, Maine — Hundreds of bicyclists who rode across sun-baked Maine over the weekend were greeted at the finish line in Belfast on Sunday with a refreshing sea breeze and the satisfaction that they helped raise more than $1.5 million.
The 1,930 participants of the American Lung Association’s 26th annual Trek Across Maine, having traveled 180 miles since Friday, pedaled their last strokes amid cheers of encouragement at Steamboat Landing Park. Some then met the stern instructions of Ed Miller of the American Lung Association-New England, whose job it was to keep the finish line clear.
“Keep moving folks,” he yelled. “Great job, but you’ve got to keep moving.”
With cyclists arriving sometimes in groups of a few dozen, avoiding a traffic jam is critical, he said.
“When I go down to the food tent I’ll have to change my shirt so they won’t know I’m the guy who just yelled at them,” quipped Miller to a reporter.
The grassy hillside facing the sea was filled with hundreds of bicycles of every color and design ranging from sleek, carbon-fiber models to everyday mountain bikes with knobby wheels. Those who rode the latter learned the hard way that a mountain bike is not the ideal mode of transportation, said Robert Rowe of Newport, who was resting his tired legs on the grass.
“Those big tires just push back against you,” he said. His own bike had the preferable road tires — meaning they were very narrow and very hard — but Rowe, a second-year participant, said he’ll spend the winter building a new bike from scratch, starting with a carbon-fiber frame instead of a steel one. At nearly 280 pounds, the bus driver said he needs every advantage he can find.
“I pass everyone on the downhills,” he said. “They pass me up the hills. I need a bike where all the power I put into pedaling goes directly to the rear tire.”
Sixteen-year-old friends Anthony Lopatosky of Augusta and Kevin Zembroski of Hallowell said they trained together before the ride, but not nearly enough. They won’t make that mistake again next year.
“It was very tiring, but you’ve just got to push through the hard parts,” said Zembroski. For Lopatosky, the hard part was the seat.
“Next year I’ll do a lot more training,” he said. “And I’ll buy a new seat. A seat that’s no good is [a] killer.”
But despite their toils, the young men wore the same smiles of weary satisfaction as were evident among all of the riders, each of whom wore a golden medal around his or her neck. Many of the riders were part of teams organized through their workplaces. Kathleen Dupont of Readfield, who finished her 12th Trek Across Maine on Sunday, was part of a team of more than 100 people associated with L.L. Bean. Three of her sisters, her mother and her niece also were part of the effort as either riders or volunteers.
“It’s just kind of snowballed,” she said, adding that major motivations were her father, who died of emphysema, and her son, who was diagnosed with asthma last year.
Rhonda Vosmus of Portland, an American Lung Association board member and asthma educator at Maine Medical Center, was at the finish line handing out medals. She said the event serves as an inspiration because anyone whose asthma is treated “is capable of doing anything, even this,” she said.
Some come for their love of cycling, while others want to support the cause of healthy lungs and clean air. For Joann Vasconcellos of Chocorua, N.H., a little of each brought her back to the trek again this year.
Last year, she joined the effort in support of her brother-in-law John Daniele, who had a devastating lung disease called boop. Daniele died not long after last year’s ride. Vasconcellos said it was he and her sister on her mind as she pedaled from Sunday River Ski Resort to the coast in Belfast.
“I spend a lot of time thinking about my family,” she said. “That’s what gets me up the hills.”
Even though the trek is over, the gathering of sponsors won’t end until early September. Visit the website www.biketreknewengland.org to find out how to sponsor a rider.