FORT KENT, Maine — With just a little more than year left before the 2014 World Acadian Congress kicks off, a group of northern Maine cyclists are preparing to unveil a ride aimed at highlighting the host regions using two wheels.
The Tour de L’Acadie Pre-Congres ride is set for Aug. 17 with rides covering 20 or 80 miles through Maine, New Brunswick and Quebec, the hosts of the 2014 Acadian congress.
“The plan is have the shorter, easier route over 20 miles and the 80-miler is a tougher and more challenging ride,” according to event organizer Mark Rossignol, owner of Fresh Trails Adventures, a Caribou-based bicycling tour business.
To get the ball — or wheels — rolling for the ride, Fresh Trails received a $35,000 marketing and planning grant from the World Acadian Congress to create the ride.
“Right now we are focusing on marketing and tweaking the ride and route,” Rossignol said. “We want to do the pre-congres ride in August as a shakedown ride.”
Covering both paved and dirt roads, the ride is patterned after the popular “randonnee” rides in Europe — noncompetitive group rides.
With registration and starting points in Fort Kent and Clair, New Brunswick, both rides begin with a breakfast before heading out over rolling terrain through farmland, past lakes and through small villages.
The 20-mile ride includes a stop at the Roman Caron covered bridge near Gerry Lake in New Brunswick before looping back to Fort Kent.
The 80-mile riders will continue on in a figure-eight pattern over some of the region’s more challenging hill climbs, including the roads into St. Jean de La Lande, Packington, St. Eusebe and St. Francois, where eight of the hills have 10- to 15-percent grades.
“It’s a challenge but completely manageable if you are prepared,” Rossignol, who rode part of the route this past weekend, said. “And it really is some of the prettiest riding around.”
Pretty and nearly traffic-free, he added.
“We rode all day Saturday and saw maybe six or seven cars the whole time,” he said.
Safety along the route, especially in light of the recent death of a cyclist in this year’s Trek Across Maine, is primary for Rossignol.
“Our main concern is that everyone is safe,” he said. “The routes we picked are not only pretty, but there is not a lot of traffic because we are taking the roads less traveled and not using any highways.”
For the ride, as in the European randonnees, that means paved and unpaved surfaces, and riders need to be prepared, Rossignol said.
“People need to know how to ride on pavement and on dirt,” he said. “You can certainly use a road bike as long as you have good tires for dirt [and] anyone who is an evolving cyclist is really into this.”
Given the physical and equipment challenges of the planned rides, Rossignol said participants need to be thinking ahead.
“Make sure your equipment is in good shape [and] don’t just pull your bike out of the cellar after three years and expect to ride it immediately,” he said. “Start training now with longer rides and challenging yourself.”
Rossignol said he is considering holding some practice rides of 10 or 15 miles for first-time group riders before the August ride.
“There is a need for a sort of beginners’ ride,” he said. “We will show them how to ride in a group, how to safely pass other cyclists, how to cross railroad tracks and how to be safe around other cyclists on the road.”
Riders taking off from Fort Kent will need passports to enter into Canada and return to the United States, but Rossignol does not anticipate any problems.
Earlier this year, a major cycling event planned by Velo Quebec, which would have brought about 2,000 cyclists into Maine, was canceled due to provisions of the North American Free Trade Agreement.
NAFTA would require a tour such as the one proposed for this summer to start in one country and have participants cross the border together. Because of the size of the 2,000-person bike tour, it is not possible for the nonprofit cycling group to take all participants across the border to Waterville, where the 600-mile loop tour of Maine was to have started, Ritch said. If the company does not bring all the people over together, its 100 or so employees working with the group would have to get work permits for the week in the United States.
“For our event, people are crossing as individuals, not part of a sponsored group tour,” he said. “We had about 20 people cross over for a ride [last month] and there were no problems.”
Registration fees for the Tour de L’Acadie Pre-Congres ride are $70 and $35 respectively for the 80- and 20-mile rides.
Registration includes breakfast, a picnic lunch along the route and an end-of-the ride BBQ. Participants will also receive a goody bag loaded with gifts, including a T-shirt, a glass and other memorabilia.
Information on the ride is available at http://makefreshtrails.com/events/tour-de-lacadie-pre-congres-tour/