The Maine Sunday Telegram

Seven days on a bike seat isn’t for everyone. The thought of pedaling 400 miles can be a turnoff for some.

But cycling enthusiasts on the Bicycle Coalition of Maine’s BikeMaine Ride Committee are betting that a week-long journey through the Pine Tree State will be appealing to plenty. And the odds seem to be pretty well stacked in their favor.

“Virtually every single person we’ve talked to about it has been incredibly enthusiastic,” said Nancy Grant, BCM’s executive director.

The coalition plans to offer the first BikeMaine ride from Sept. 7-14, 2013. The hype has already started, as committee members have communicated with cities and towns, cyclists, legislators, the Maine Office of Tourism and others who may have a hand in making the event a success.

BikeMaine is modeled after CycleOregon, now in its 25th year. Its 2013 ride, from Sept. 8-15, sold out all 2,200 spots in 45 minutes and has 800 potential riders on a waiting list. Several Mainers have ridden CycleOregon (some 10 times), including ride committee chair Mark Ishkanian.

“I was just amazed at how well it was organized and how much fun it was to cycle around a different state for seven days,” said Ishkanian, a public relations consultant from Readfield. He’ll ride his fifth CycleOregon this year.

“Every time I came back I kept asking ‘Why can’t we have a ride like this in Maine?’ “

Ishkanian answered his own question by taking the lead on organizing the Maine event. His research revealed that no New England states are among the 14 currently offering a mass ride.

The location of the inaugural ride will be announced early next winner with registration immediately following. The location is “top secret,” but sample rides offered in BikeMaine’s planning packet include “Bangor to the Coast,” which includes Belfast, Stonington, Bar Harbor, Machias and Aurora (349 miles, plus a day on the Acadia National Park carriage trails), and “Mountains, Lakes and Rivers,” which includes Fryeburg, Upton, Madison, Bingham, Wellington, Winthrop and Bridgton (409 miles). According to Grant, the group “is really committed to getting to parts of the state that are off the beaten path.”

Ride organizers will work with towns along the route to provide nightly entertainment, local food and additional activities for riders. Ishkanian said one of his favorite things about CycleOregon is mingling with local people and exploring the towns.

“We’d go past a school where kids were selling lemonade and cookies,” he said, “and I can’t ride past kids selling lemonade and cookies, I have to stop and talk to them.” The children offered a map and pushpins that riders could place to show where they came from. As the kids realized, Maine is far, far away from Oregon, but that could be a big draw for the newest cross-state ride.

“The ride is a lot about exploring Maine,” said Grant, who calls her CycleOregon experience incredibly memorable. “We might go places where participants can rent canoes and go into the ocean.” Some stops may be near off-road trails cyclists can try.

The goal is to recruit half the riders for the first event from in-state and half from away. Visitors will see Maine’s main attractions and local riders will likely see parts of their state they’ve never encountered. All riders will benefit from the huge physical challenge and the training needed to undertake such an adventure.

“Part of it is the challenge of having that kind of a goal,” Ishkanian said of his Cycle Oregon experience. “Having an event at the end of the summer, I had to continually train for helped me get out more.”

BCM is working with grants from the Betterment Fund, Horizon Foundation, the Elmina B. Sewall Foundation and the Maine Office of Tourism to get the event rolling. The goal for year one is 350 riders, and neither Grant nor Ishkanian think that will be difficult to reach.

The toughest part will be the next 14 months of organizing. Beyond the route and registration, there is also the logistics of transporting luggage for 350 riders, camping areas, volunteers, food and much more to think about. CycleOregon has matured to a level where it gets 400 volunteers, communities open up their football fields for camping, four tractor trailer trucks are used to transport gear, high school students schlepp luggage for tips, and the organization provides tents for half of its riders.

BikeMaine riders will have to provide their own tents and gear, at least for the first two years. By Year 3, the hope is that upping the number to 750 participants will allow the ride to be self-supporting and for BCM to split excess revenues with host communities for local pedestrian and bicycle projects.

“It will be our biggest event,” Grant said, “and we hope to make it absolutely a signature event.”

And when they finally see BikeMaine become a reality, with hundreds of cyclists pedaling away from the start on Day 1, members of the ride committee will likely feel much the way Ishkanian describes the end of a perfect ride in Oregon: “It’s a sense of accomplishment, it’s fun to do, and it’s fun to be with a group of people at a table in the beer tent talking about the ride.”

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