The weeklong BikeMaine 2019 ride just finished up a couple of weeks ago, and I decided to get a participant's impressions of this annual event. Vern Cook of Hallowell, Maine, is an extremely avid cyclist — and a good one, I might add — and a good friend of mine. He was also very instrumental in the success of my 2002 solo bike ride from North Carolina to Texas. Here's what Vern had to say ...
P2P: You recently participated in BikeMaine 2019. What were your favorite parts of the event?
Vern: Top to bottom, the BikeMaine experience is first class. This was my fifth BikeMaine. I've enjoyed them all, and this one did not disappoint.
First of all, the curated routes this year, for me 332 miles, crisscrossing the Midcoast area from the mountains/hills to the sea, set a solid degree of cycling difficulty amidst magnificent scenery and stunning vistas. BikeMaine excels at logistics — campsite selection, baggage transfer, route support, and especially meals.
Working with a regional fulfillment and procurement organization, Maine Farm and Sea Cooperative, and local volunteers, meals are so fantastic that this could be considered a gourmet bike tour. And, all the time, sourcing 65 percent of the food served from Maine farmers and fishermen. Food service on this ride was impressive.
P2P: Do you have any suggestions for the Bicycle Coalition of Maine for making this annual ride even better?
Vern: More porta-potties! Always! Can there be too many? Not from a user's perspective.
That said, BikeMaine has this ride down. They've scaled everything to around 450 riders — big enough to support this endeavor, but not so ungainly that crowds overwhelm the experience. I've done rides in the 2,000-rider range, and BikeMaine feels much more intimate.
P2P: As you said, this year's BikeMaine explored the Midcoast region. You have cycled in other regions of the state in previous rides. Do you have one that stands out more than the others?
Vern: This year's route was some of the most difficult terrain of all my previous BikeMaine rides. What made the ride so hard was the steepness of many of the pitches. Every day there was a handful of very steep climbs with sections in the 13- to 18-percent range, occasionally reaching 20 percent.
Patrick, you and I live in Hallowell and ride the hills of central Maine all the time, so we know a little about steep climbs, but believe me these were tough. I made them all, but with max effort at times.
Also, this ride included some of the most beautiful seacoast venues in Maine: Pemaquid Lighthouse, Damariscotta, Rockland, Belfast, and too many exquisite roads right along the ocean, rivers, lakes, and bays in between to mention. I loved the ride this year!
That said, my favorite BikeMaine route so far was last year's ride in Aroostook County along the St. John River Valley. There was just something magical about cycling in Maine, and in such a unique "another place." In certain ways, from the French Canadian cultural influence to the astonishing agriculture of the region, cycling in northern Maine along the Canadian border felt like being in a different country, never mind another state.
P2P: You have also done similar events in Oregon. How do they compare to the ones in Maine?
Vern: I've done nine Cycle Oregons — climbed to Crater Lake three times; cycled Bicycle Tour of Colorado, including major passes like Berthoud and Appleton; rode two different weeklong tours in Arizona; and numerous other multi-day rides including six Treks Across Maine. BikeMaine holds its own compared to all of them, and exceeds in many areas.
Overall, BikeMaine's scale seems perfect for locales in Maine. At 450 riders, and another 50 or so people in support, the campsite footprint allows for smaller areas near scenic spots. Also, meals on BikeMaine are the best I've had compared to any other tour that I've been on. The farm-to-table philosophy of BikeMaine in conjunction with Maine Farm and Sea demonstrates a level of commitment to quality and progressive ideals. Plus, it just tastes good!
And, as far as route selection is concerned, Maine is pretty hard to beat.
(Editor's note: Mathieu's Cycle & Fitness, the bike shop where I work and a sponsor of Pedal2Page, will be holding a Bicycle Cleaning and Maintenance Clinic on Wednesday, Oct. 16, at 5:30 p.m. at its Farmingdale, Maine, site. The store is located 727 Maine Ave. The clinic is open to all.)