By all accounts the BikeMaine visit Downeast was a stunning success. With over 400 cyclists, 75 BikeMaine staff and hundreds of volunteers involved, the winding back roads and small communities along Washington County's coast were busy for the week of September 12.
Cyclists hailed from 37 states and several Canadian provinces, with some coming from as far away as San Diego and Seattle. The riders, with an average age of 59, rode for a full week and covered 375 miles during the BikeMaine event, sponsored by the Portland‑based nonprofit Bicycle Coalition of Maine. Optional side trips, such as to Reversing Falls, added another 44.5 miles. This year's event was the fourth large‑scale ride organized by the group, according to event director Zach Schmesser. According to its website, the 5,000‑plus member coalition seeks "to make Maine better through biking and walking."
The biking tour started and ended at the Schoodic section of Acadia National Park and visited Jonesport, Machias, Charlotte, Eastport, Lubec and more. Tent cities sprang up for overnight stays, with Eastport graced with a two‑night stay‑over, allowing visitors from all over the country and world to experience the island city's resources.
Eastport organizer Meg Keay says, "There were many wonderful comments. Ever so many said how terrific the Eastport volunteers were, how kind and helpful, what a great salmon dinner, enjoyable music."
City Manager Elaine Abbott adds that she learned that one of the cyclists was a food critic and raved about the locally sourced ingredients of the dinner. The tent dinner held downtown was also the site of a marriage ceremony of two of the visitors, garnering an extra splash of celebratory sparkle for the group's dinner festivities.
A number of special events wowed the visitors, including the Wabanaki Arts Show held at the Eastport Area Visitor Information Center. Featuring award‑winning Passamaquoddy artists such as David Moses Bridges, brothers Gabriel and Jeremy Frey, Keezer family members, George Neptune and more, cyclists and Eastport residents were treated to a rare gathering of talent under one roof.
"They contributed nicely to our local economy," says Keay of the cyclists. She notes that the Bold Coast tour was the fastest selling tour put on so far. "It was sold out in four days with a waiting list." Registration for the event opened in February and reached the maximum 400 in March, with over 100 people on the waiting list. Those who registered early paid $875, plus many rented bicycles for another $125‑200.
"It was fantastic," says Abbott of the Eastport stay. She relates that, of a show of hands under the dinner tent, about 90% said they would be coming back and about 30 raised their hands when asked if they were interested in purchasing real estate. "Most businesses had a great two days," she adds.
The volunteers made the Eastport stay possible, says Abbott. "It was amazing that so many people came out to assist with this." She says that the field by the R&M IGA, the tent city site, looked like it had been vacuumed the morning the cyclists pulled out. "Not one thing was left."
Riders roll into Lubec
On Thursday, September 15, the cyclists arrived in Lubec mid-day, having traveled from Eastport with a lunch break at Tide Mill Farm. Apparently, the riders ate well. According to one couple traveling on a tandem bike, "There was no weight loss on this trip." That evening at the Lubec school cafetorium, the group enjoyed a steak dinner, with local beef provided by Lubec's Julie Brown and cooked by the Lubec Masons. As the main room was completely filled, many dined at a table in the hallway or at picnic tables outside.
Although the event is intended to be fully self‑contained, local restaurants and bars did a brisk business. BikeMaine, according to their literature, "has delivered over $1 million in direct economic impact to different regions of the state through rider spending as well as the sourcing of local products and services for the ride." "It is our intent," says Zach Schmesser, "to leave money behind wherever we go."
Before the riders started arriving, the playing field had been converted to their overnight "village" by support personnel who hired local students to help unload the trucks. Both portable toilets and also a mobile 15‑stall shower were included in the set‑up, along with other support elements. En route assistance was provided by a team of amateur radio operators utilizing a local repeater.
Schmesser said that, at first, he was skeptical about bringing the group to Lubec. Crystal Hitchings of the Washington County Council of Governments and Fred Michaud, scenic byways coordinator for the Maine Department of Transportation, urged him to look closer and pointed to the town's support for the Bay of Fundy International Marathon, also going into its fifth year. "That was enough for me," Schmesser says. "That proved there were volunteers and the town had the capacity to deal with an event like this."
Advance planning started during the winter, with the school board being approached for the use of the playing field and dining facilities during their February meeting. By that time local volunteer Ruta Jordans was already lining up support staff and making plans.
Teresa Healy, who traveled here from Seattle with husband Tom, daughter Lisa and son Ross, said that this was their second BikeMaine trip. They were interviewed while "recovering" from the Gifford's ice cream served at Love at First Light before heading out towards Campobello. "We came back because the first trip was so good," she says, but this was their first visit Downeast. Their favorite part? "That's easy," she says. "It's the people, the way they've all welcomed us." Then she laughed, "I did get a little grumpy when I got to the top of that hill." Before reaching Eastport, the group climbed Route 214, crossing the summit of the Meddybemps hill.
Another group interviewed on the playing field included several men from Minneapolis wearing club shirts identifying them as "Coasters." "That's because we're all over 50," one said, "so now we're coasting." "Not so," another immediately added. "It's because we've ridden on both coasts."
Many riders headed off to Campobello, creating mid‑span backups with more bikes than cars waiting to clear customs. Their Friday departure was expected by 9 a.m., following breakfast. "They were all gone by that time," says Lubec school Principal Tina Wormell, "and the field was immaculate."
The riders were last seen turning left on the Dixie Road at the Boot Cove intersection, with their portable village waiting for them in Milbridge -- a 72-mile ride.
However, the cyclists' heading off toward Cutler did not mark the departure of the Bicycle Coalition of Maine from Lubec. Friday afternoon, coalition Assistant Director James Tassé conducted a bicycle rodeo for students up to fourth grade. He marked the course out on the pavement behind the school and set up traffic control signs. When the students arrived with their bikes, a safety check and discussion of helmet safety came first. All students without helmets were given one, then they hit the course. "When you're riding wear bright clothes," he told the students. "Don't dress like the side of the road."
"The more we have on the course the better it is," Tassé explained, "because there's that much more interaction." Tassé has conducted about 50 rodeos and has offered to return to paint the course on the pavement permanently so that teachers can conduct their own rodeo.
What are the chances the cyclists will return next year? "Almost nil," says Schmesser, "but we'll be back, maybe in a couple of years." He points out that the riders, only a few of whom are from Maine but many are repeat customers, don't want to come back to the same place.
Based on conversations with many riders, some will be coming back privately. "We don't have anything like this back home," said one first‑time visitor, pointing at the Lubec Channel.