FORT KENT, Maine — Childhood friends who are now 67 years old bicycled more than 600 miles together from Kittery to Fort Kent — just to see if they could do it.
Alain Ouellette and Norman Guerette have been friends since they attended kindergarten at St. Louis Elementary School in Fort Kent. Although they have lived in different areas of Maine for many years — Ouellette remains in Fort Kent and Guerette lives in Scarborough — the men have kept in touch.
Now that both are retired, they decided to challenge their physical abilities and share a friendly adventure by taking a bicycle trip the length of the state.
“You get to a certain age where you sort of want to do stuff you’ve never been able to or could do,” Ouellette said. “It was really more of a journey than a destination. It was fun.”
The two friends set off from the Maine side of the Piscataqua River Bridge on Labor Day for the 12-day expedition, which ended at the America’s First Mile Monument in Fort Kent. They covered about 50 miles a day during the trip.
“We really weren’t setting out to break any records,” Ouellette said.
Ouellette and Guerette trained throughout the winter and spring months by snowshoeing, cross country skiing and bicycling to get in shape for their journey.
“I feel a sense of accomplishment and a sense of gratitude that I was able to physically and mentally be on the road for 12 days and enjoy it,” Guerette said.
The bicyclists used Route 1A and Route 1 as major arterials but took a number of diversions along the way, including to Schoodic Point and Lubec, Ouellette said.
“I have to say both of us really were in awe of the beauty of the coast of Maine,” Ouellette said.
Ouellette and Guerette camped out in tents some nights, and other nights stayed with friends and sometimes friends of friends they had never met before, but who had heard of their journey.
One such stop was at a little cabin in Weston.
“We’d never met these people before but they were such gracious hosts,” Ouellette said.
A chance meeting with a woman in Connor Township, just south of Van Buren, would prove fortuitous as well.
With about 60 miles left to bicycle and as it was getting dark outside, the men stopped at the end of the driveway to discuss where they would camp out for the night.
A woman was pulling into the driveway to pick up her children from a daycare center located there. Guerette, who is retired from Dead River Oil Company, asked who owned the daycare center and learned it was a man named Leonide Michaud and his wife, Barbara.
Guerette recognized the man’s name, because Michaud had also worked for Dead River. Michaud worked in northern Maine and Guerette in southern Maine so they never actually worked together, but knew each other.
“It was like meeting up with old friends,” Guerette said.
The Michaud family allowed the bicyclists to set up tents in their backyard and placed summer lights on the porch for them.
“They welcomed us with open arms,” Ouellette said. “You could feel the warmth in that family and the sense of belonging and welcoming to me was a very, very important moment in my journey.”
About three days into the bicycle trip, the weather proved a challenge, but even that added to the men’s sense of accomplishment.
“We were peddling our bikes through a pelting rain storm,” Ouellette said. “We were quite determined and look back on it with a great deal of pride.”
The idea for the trip came up when Ouellette and Guerrette were on a Zoom chat with three fellow members of the Fort Kent Community High School Class of 1972. The five friends have kept in close contact over the years, and have fished together at Baxter State Park annually for the past two decades.
Among the dozen or so family members and friends who greeted Ouellette and Guerrette at the America’s First Mile Monument, was their Class of 1972 buddy Bob Daigle of Eagle Lake.
Daigle brought champagne to celebrate the achievement.
“This was a big trip here — they did over 600 miles,” Daigle said. “It’s like one of those things on their bucket list they wanted to get done and they accomplished it.”
“When you’re on a bicycle you realize how big the state is and you realize how beautiful it is when you can see it up close and personal at a slow speed, so I would encourage people to not necessarily take a bike trip but to slow down and enjoy the beauty of the state,” Guerette said.