CLINTON, Maine — Just three weeks after a Florida woman was attacked while riding her bicycle in a small Somerset County town, 45 riders showed their support and solidarity on Saturday during a 35-mile trek that included the road where the incident took place.
“We’re here to show support for the cyclist who was assaulted in Canaan and also the woman who assisted her,” said Christine Nichols of Winslow, one of the ride’s organizers from Keep Riding Our Roads. “It’s also to show support for the community and to combat fear that resulted from the incident.”
A female victim in her 50s was traveling along Whitten Road on Saturday, July 6, when she was pulled off her bicycle and sexually assaulted by two men, according to Maine Department of Public Safety spokesman Stephen McCausland. The two men fled in a vehicle and have yet to be located.
Another woman stopped to assist the victim, who was visiting a relative in Canaan at the time. The victim was taken to Redington-Fairfield Hospital in Skowhegan, where she was treated and released.
The assault frightened those in the cycling community.
“I went on my first bike ride since the incident happened and I was very scared,” said a Hampden woman who participated in the ride, but wanted to remain anonymous. “Anybody that looked out of the ordinary, I felt afraid, and it was very intrusive on my bike ride. It’s hard to enjoy the beautiful morning because I was on the roads by myself. These are the roads I have always ridden and felt safe on.”
She grew distrustful of strangers she normally would’ve helped, she said.
“A man pulled up beside me at one point. It looked like he wanted to ask me a question,” she said. “In the past, that probably wouldn’t have scared me. In this case, my heart was pounding. I rode as fast as I could away. I was looking for houses. I was looking for people. This is just something that’s never happened to me before on my bike. I always felt really safe.”
Henning Stabins of Winslow was one of the nearly 50 riders who wanted to show support.
“I just couldn’t believe that something like this could happen so close to home,” Stabins said. “In 2013, we’d hope we’d be past this sort of thing.”
A woman, Christine, from the Belgrade area gave a safety talk before the ride. Christine declined to give her last name.
She said she wanted cyclists to be prepared in case of similar events.
“I believe a crime can occur on any road, at anytime and anywhere,” said Christine, who added that she was once a victim of a violent crime. “I’m here to suggest that folks consider self defense classes. I’m going to encourage folks to carry Mace and become trained in how to use it. I’m going to encourage riders to always carry a cell phone and keep that Mace and cell phone at the ready and not buried in a purse or pack.”
She also warned riders not to fall for tricks by those intending to harm.
“In parking lots, you worry about the $100 bill on the ground. That’s a setup,” Christine said. “Disabled drivers or motorists could be a setup. I want people to be dialing somebody so there is somebody on the other end of that phone that knows where you are, what you’re doing and who you’re about to assist; and give as much detail and information as possible before you assist a person. So if that person is, indeed setting you up, you know somebody can get resources and help to you right away.”
Nichols said the event is to show that the attack on July 6 is not acceptable.
She also said she would gladly ride with the victim.
“You never have to ride in this area alone again,” said Nichols. “Find me on Twitter, Facebook and contact me. I’ll ride with you. Everyone here would take time and find a way to ride with you.”
Police are still investigating the incident, and anyone with information regarding the July 6 assault in Canaan is asked to call the Maine State Police in Augusta at 624-7076 or 1-800-452-4664.