BELFAST, Maine — When Sarah Hart left Maine last November to go to her family’s home in California, she felt like she had no choice in the matter.
A challenging personal situation had deteriorated and the 25-year-old Belfast resident left without even saying goodbye to many of her friends. But after a winter spent taking care of herself on the West Coast, Hart was ready to return to Maine. This time, though, she wanted to come back on her own terms — and on two wheels. Last week, she and a college friend finished a two-month long, 3,850-mile bike ride across the northern part of the country from Seattle to Maine.
“It’s always something that I wanted to do,” Hart, an avid cyclist, said Friday. “I wanted to come back fully on my own personal power.”
Along the way, she scaled mountains with her Surly Long Haul Trucker steel-framed bike, saw amazing sights, survived a scary storm with 70-mph winds in Minnesota, and met many strangers who became friends. When she dipped her bike’s tires into the Atlantic, it was a good moment, she said, and it was good to be back.
“This is my home, my community, my work and my friends,” she said. “I love it here.”
Hart graduated from Colby College in Waterville, where she competed in cyclo-cross bicycle racing, at one point ranking third in the nation for collegiate competitors. Prior to her return to California, she lived in Belfast for three years, working as a geographic information systems specialist with Maine Farmland Trust.
While in California over the winter, she connected with Alex Bassett, a college friend who was living in New York City and who wanted to have an adventure before he started graduate school. They left Seattle on May 27, and very soon were riding through the Cascades mountain range.
“It was hard,” she recalled. “We did about 7,000 feet of climbing in about 80 miles in one day.”
Along the way, they camped or sometimes stayed with people who offered them space indoors — “the kindness of strangers,” Hart said.
One beautiful part of the ride happened in Glacier National Park in Montana, when they rode over the snowy Going-to-the-Sun Road, which had not yet been opened for car traffic.
“It went up to the Continental Divide. It was gorgeous,” she said, adding that they saw wildlife including mountain goats, mountain sheep, black bear and deer.
One night the cyclists were camping in Minnesota when a storm kicked up so dramatically that they took cover in a storm shelter near the campground. The winds howled, lightning flashed every few seconds and there were tornado warnings, she said. In the morning, their tents had collapsed and a tree had fallen over their campsite.
Over the weeks of cycling, Hart put on 10 pounds of muscle — and a lot of something a little less visible.
“It was grounding and empowering and peaceful,” she said of the trek. “I used to be apologetic, and so accommodating to the point of self-compromise. Now, I am not apologizing for who I am.”