How many of us really know the state we call home?
Maine is as big as the rest of New England combined with bold natural and cultural features as varied and interesting as the local residents. If you are like me, you may have driven through all 16 Maine counties but are most familiar with your own corner of Maine.
This week, a new bicycling tradition begins that, over the years, will offer a unique way to explore every corner of Maine. BikeMaine, an ambitious new event sponsored by the 21-year-old Bicycle Coalition of Maine, kicked off in Orono on Saturday. During this week, 256 bicycle riders will pedal 400 miles exploring central and coastal Maine at an average speed of 12 mph. Along the way, riders are bedding down in BikeMaine tent villages in Orono, Dover-Foxcroft, Belfast, Castine, Bar Harbor (two nights) and Camp Jordan (Ellsworth) before returning to Orono on Saturday.
Riders have come from 37 states and provinces to take part in this inaugural ride.
What makes someone take a week off from work to pedal 400 miles and sleep on the ground? While there are several motivating factors, BikeMaine, for most, provides a chance to get up close to the people and places along this fascinating route. There is something uniquely rewarding about traveling under your own power and having the ability to stop and explore an area at a moment’s notice.
Riders are eating community-cooked meals, learning about local history and culture, and exploring features that make each of these communities unique.
In Orono, we participated in Festival Day, welcoming students back to the university. In Dover-Foxcroft, we learned about how this mill town is reinventing itself. In Belfast, we’ll experience a town that celebrates art and the sea where poultry once reigned supreme. In Castine, riders will discover a community celebrating 400 years of history. In Bar Harbor, cyclists will “rest” for a day by biking up Cadillac Mountain at dawn, cycle Acadia’s spectacular Park Loop Road or famous Carriage Trails, sea kayak along the coast or explore the shops of Bar Harbor. And finally, BikeMaine will celebrate the tradition of Maine summer camps with a stopover at Camp Jordan on the shore of beautiful Branch Lake for an afternoon and evening of camp activities before returning to Orono on Saturday.
What do we hope to accomplish with BikeMaine? Each September, the ride will celebrate both cycling and the adventure of exploring and learning about a different part of our great state. Maine riders will discover parts of their home state they never knew while cyclists “from away” will be introduced to great people, communities and scenic byways that will expand how they think about Maine. As BikeMaine changes its route each year, new host communities and explorations will await the adventurous cyclist.
BikeMaine will look for every opportunity to use local products and services so that the ride becomes a rolling economic development event, especially when it grows to 1,000 or more riders. Cyclists will eat Maine-grown food. As the ride grows and makes a “profit,” 60 percent of the funds will go to local communities to support cycling projects, and 40 percent will go to the Bicycle Coalition of Maine to support its safety, education and advocacy efforts.
Maine companies including L.L.Bean, Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield and Bangor Savings Bank and six Maine foundations have sponsored or given grants to help launch BikeMaine because they saw the potential this ride has to extend cycling to parts of the state that don’t often benefit from cycling tourism. The Bangor Daily News is a media sponsor. And with partners like the Maine Downtown Center, the Nature Conservancy and the Maine Federation of Farmers’ Markets, we hope to celebrate both the known and unknown gems of Maine.
BikeMaine will add to the roster of already successful Maine bicycle rides, including the Bicycle Coalition of Maine’s one-day Lobster Ride and Women’s Ride, the two-day MS 150 and the three-day Trek Across Maine. It will give cyclists another ride to aspire to while offering a seven-day cycling adventure like none other in New England.
We hope residents along the route will get to know the riders and that motorists will exercise caution and patience as we travel along local roads. We’re excited to be in your area for this inaugural ride and we hope you’re excited to have us.
Mark Ishkanian of Readfield is chairman of the BikeMaine Ride Committee and vice president of the board of the Bicycle Coalition of Maine.