FORT KENT, Maine — By now it’s no secret that television and screen star Patrick Dempsey was back in his home state over the weekend participating in a charity walk, run and bike ride benefiting the Patrick Dempsey Center for Cancer Hope and Healing at Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston.
More than 4,200 cyclists, runners and walkers took part over the two-day Dempsey Challenge in events ranging from a 5K walk to the grueling 100-mile bike ride, raising more than $1.2 million for the center.
Those of us who took part did so out of a very real — and often personal — connection to cancer and how quickly it can change and destroy lives.
But let’s be honest, shall we? For many there was a second, albeit far less altruistic, motivation: Getting close to Dr. McDreamy himself.
I’ll admit it, it’s hard not to be starstruck when finding oneself within arms reach of a celebrity such as Dempsey, best known for his portrayal of Dr. Derek Shepherd on “Grey’s Anatomy.”
At least I assume it would be, if I were ever to find myself within arm’s reach.
It’s not that the opportunities have not presented themselves on more than one occasion.
Three years ago I, and some friends from the County, rode in the Dempsey Challenge’s first bike ride. Since I was covering the event as a member of the media, I was invited to the preride press conference the day before to meet Dempsey and several professional cyclists taking part.
Trouble was, there was a conflicting event. That Saturday was the day of the annual Northern New England Sled Dog Trade Fair and Seminars and the featured speaker was Sebastian Schnuelle, winner of the grueling 2009 Yukon Quest sled dog race.
Now, if there is anything I enjoy more than celebrity cyclists, it’s celebrity mushers and the German-born Schnuelle is a big gun in the mushing world.
“You are giving up meeting Patrick Dempsey to go interview who?” my cycling friends asked back in 2010. To say they were incredulous is a major understatement.
But meet — and interview — Schnuelle I did, finding him friendly, engaging and having a wealth of dog sled knowledge.
Fast forward to this past weekend and the 2012 Dempsey Challenge. This time there were no conflicting events, opening up the real chance of meeting the great man.
Assuming, of course, I managed to stay aware of my surroundings.
The ride was Sunday. On Saturday my friend Alan and I visited Rainbow Bicycles in Auburn so I could do some bike shopping.
Now, a word about the kind folks at Rainbow Bicycles. The Saturday of the Dempsey weekend had to be the busiest weekend of their year.
Not only were they in the middle of relocating the shop to a building in Lewiston, they were hosting an afternoon autograph session with professional cyclist Tom Danielson and dealing with dozens of cyclists looking to purchase cold weather and rain gear in anticipation of Sunday’s wet and cold weather forcast.
All that did not stop them from taking the time to help me find the perfect new bike. This meant close to three hours of selecting possible bikes and swapping out my own pedals and seat so I could test ride each one in a sort of cyclist’s version of Goldilocks — some bikes were too small, some too big and others just did not feel right.
Oh, but then I found it — the ultimate bike. A leftover 2012 Ridley Orion full carbon road bike.
It was love at first pedal as I test rode it around a nearby neighborhood, running the bike through it’s 20 speeds up and down small inclines and around sharp corners.
Once my mind was made up, the staff cheerfully tuned and tested all the moving parts and got the Ridley totally ride worthy so I could use it the next day in the Dempsey Ride.
To say I was swept up in the entire process does not go near far enough.
In fact, so caught up in comparing one bike to another to another, both Alan and I failed to see Dempsey walk in and out of the shop, looking for Danielson.
But there was always the chance I’d get to meet him the next day during the actual ride.
And what a ride it was. Thousands of cyclists lined up at the start in the pouring rain in a variety of wet-weather gear.
Far, far ahead, leading the pack, was Dempsey and several pro riders all set to do the 50-mile ride.
Many cyclists did, in fact, meet Dempsey as the celebrity took his time to stop and pose for photos and sign autographs at the rest stops along the way.
I was just not one of them.
By mile 12 the shine of my new bike had nowhere near worn off — it was fast, responsive and a ton of fun to ride. But even that was not enough to make up for the rain that fell on us for the first eight or so miles and the persistent chill that lasted all day.
I turned off to complete the 25-mile loop while Alan pushed on to conquer the 50-miler.
When we caught up to each other at the finish, he said I had made the right choice, describing cyclists on the side of the road, hunched over their bikes reduced to tears as they faced one daunting western Maine hill after another on that 50-mile course.
Somewhere along the way, he said, he had passed Dempsey, giving the “Grey’s Anatomy” star an opportunity to see a real, honest-to-goodness Maine cyclist in action.
No dayglo rain jacket or high-tech gear for those of us from northern Maine.
Instead, Alan chose to ride in his winter parka and leather work gloves on his made-in-Van Buren Aegis bicycle.
Coming over the finish line, he was a sight that would have made late Maine humorist Marshall Dodge proud.
About 20 minutes later, Dempsey and his entourage pedaled in and, while I did not get to meet or talk to him, my Bangor Daily News media badge did afford the opportunity to position myself in a spot to capture a fairly nice and close-up video of his finish.
Feeling happy despite the wet and chill, we left the Dempsey Ride venue and walked our bikes back to the car, proud of our rides and being a part of such an amazing event.
And that’s where my story of the 2012 Dempsey Challenge would end, if not for one, small incident.
Crossing a parking lot, my new bike rolling smartly at my side, I stepped in what appeared to be an innocent puddle.
In fact, it was an inches-deep pot hole and down I went, rolling my right ankle amid blinding pain and disturbing popping sounds.
It was only after returning home two days later that I saw a doctor and found out it was a severe sprain and possible fracture (the MRI has been scheduled for a later date) but at the time all I knew was, it hurt like the blazes.
It is worth noting, however, that despite the suddenness and extent of the fall, at no time did I allow that new bike to crash onto the ground.
Limping slowly toward the car, using the Ridley as a sort of crutch, I could only wonder one thing: Where was Dr. McDreamy when I needed him?
Julia Bayly of Fort Kent is an award-winning writer and photographer, who writes part time for the Bangor Daily News. Her column appears here every other Friday. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.