NEWRY, Maine — A record 160 teams of cyclists began the 27th annual Trek Across Maine early Friday morning at Sunday River Ski Resort.
The 2,500 registrants began lining up at the starting line well before the 7 a.m. start. A group from L.L. Bean had 148 riders.
The three-day, 180-mile ride from the Maine mountains to the sea is a fundraiser for the American Lung Association.
“As of the start of the trek on Friday, we have collected at least $1.4 million in pledges,” said Emily Murphy, director of marketing for the New England region of the American Lung Association. “We hope to have $2 million collected when the trek is finished.”
“This event seems to get bigger and better with every year,” said Edward Miller, senior vice president for health promotions for the American Lung Association of Maine and lead logistical organizer at the start of the trek.
“I think what’s key to our success is that we solicit and listen to our participants’ feedback and we act on their best ideas,” Miller said. “What’s distinctive about this year is there are so many more teams involved.”
“We have over 1,000 riders here that are riding with a team,” Miller said, “and I think that adds an enhanced spirit of cohesion and camaraderie.”
Miller emphasized that each year’s trek has a particular lung-health focus.
“The 2011 trek’s mission is to promote the protection and strengthening of the Clean Air Act,” Miller said. “Maine has a proud tradition with the Clean Air Act, with the past powerful advocates Edmund Muskie and George Mitchell.”
Miller said one of the best things about the event is that everyone comes with a different life story and goals.
“Live life to the fullest and help others while you’re doing so,” said Dee Davis, shortly after finishing the first leg of 60 miles in Farmington. “That is how our dad lived, and it is in his life spirit that we are here today and have named our team (Le Legende) after him,” the 27-year-old from Alfred said. Her father succumbed to pulmonary fibrosis, a lung disease with no cure, at the age of 67.
The spirit was lightened by fun and frivolity delivered by teams such as BUNNYCAKE!, a group of nine men and women wearing rabbit ears, “cake” license plates and bunny tales hanging off the backs of their bikes. The Maine Blackfly Breeders Association team of men wore stuffed blackflies on top of their helmets.
The terrain on the first day was fairly flat, with the exception of a grueling hill just south of the town of Weld, along Route 156. The bikers found cool relief from their uphill ordeal, with cool water sprayed from a garden hose by Wilton resident Roger Hall.
“I have been doing this for seven years and I love the response that I get,” he said. “I had a woman so appreciative of the water that she proposed to me a few minutes ago.”
The trek continues Saturday with a 60-mile ride to Colby College in Waterville. On Sunday, cyclists will ride to Steamboat Landing Park in Belfast.
“The trek would not be possible without the support of a small army of over 600 trek volunteers who take care of virtually every need of the cyclists along the route,” Miller said. “We want the cyclists to focus on the trek and have the best experience possible.”
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