WATERVILLE— Despite the day’s rainy start, 450 cyclists from around the country flocked to Head of Falls on Saturday to enjoy lawn games, tenting, food and drinks for the start of the seventh annual BikeMaine event.

The event, which was founded by the Bicycle Coalition of Maine, began at 10 a.m. when cyclists began checking in at the park on Front Street. A day packed with events ensued to help kick off the week’s festivities which involves riders traveling 324.6 miles around midcoast Maine and back.

The cyclists, 339 of whom are from out of state, will take off on their six-day excursion Sunday morning. They will roll through 35 communities and are set to return to Head of Falls for a celebratory lunch at noon on Sept. 14.

But even with Saturday’s gloomy weather, Will Elting, the ride’s director, was still overjoyed about how the day was unfolding.

“Of course we’re stoked that it finally stopped raining but despite that we’re still here welcoming all the cyclists and making sure they’re ready for the week,” Elting said. “We have 85 L.L. Bean tents set up, we’re checking everyone in. We’re all so excited to be here.”

Elting expressed that his excitement about this year’s event specifically has to do with his own personal connection to Waterville and the changes he’s seen to the RiverWalk.

“I went to Unity College and my wife went to Colby so it’s special to be in Waterville for the event,” Elting said. “Especially seeing the transformation of Head of Falls, it’s remarkable. I remember I came to a concert here a while ago and it was just a dirt lot, the park is incredible now.”

BikeMaine is among one of the first events to be held at Head of Falls since its $1.5 million revitalization project wrapped last October.

Throughout its seven-year run, BikeMaine has garnered a high number of repeat riders. Jeff and Sara Sloan, of Bethel, and Paul Vinsel, of West Bath, were just three of the  249 return riders that were present on Saturday and will be participating in this week’s trip.

According to Jeff, who’s now ridden in four BikeMaine routes, the event and the company behind it are what keeps him coming back year after year.

“The Bicycle Coalition of Maine is just an incredible organization,” Jeff Sloan said. “And the event is amazing. It’s like a brand new adventure every time, no matter what age you are you feel 19 again on these rides.”

Vinsel, who’s riding his second BikeMaine route this week, said he loves the event because of the experiences it provides to its participants.

“It (BikeMaine) immerses you in the culture and industry of the communities you’re riding through,” Vinsel said. “It gives you a taste of how the people in that area live their lives … this year I hope to learn a lot about the oyster and lobster industries since we’re riding through the midcoast.”

Once all the cyclists checked in by 5 p.m., volunteers from multiple local organizations and businesses served the crowd a hot meal, all of which was cooked by Waterville public schools.

Additionally, organizers planned a beer and wine garden for attendees and a free concert by The Crown Vics, scheduled for 7:30 p.m. at the amphitheatre at Head of Falls.

Each year, the Bicycle Coalition of Maine chooses a new theme to showcase the people, places, food and culture of Maine.

Waterville was chosen as a key location for this year’s event for a number of reasons, according to Eliza Cress, communications director for the Bicycle Coalition of Maine.

“Each year, we go through a different region of Maine, and we hadn’t been here (Waterville) before,” Cress said. “The city’s proximity to the midcoast and the fact that Colby College is here made it a great choice. The city has the capacity to handle the event.”

The other communities that will host riders are in Knox, Lincoln and Waldo counties. The route includes landmarks such as the Two Cent Bridge that crosses from Waterville to Winslow, the Matthew Museum of Maine Heritage in Unity and the Rockport Opera House.

Proceeds from BikeMaine support the Bicycle Coalition of Maine and its continuing advocacy for walkers and bikers in the state. The coalition works to improve bicycling and walking conditions in Maine’s communities and advocates for changes that protect the rights and safety of those who walk and bike.

More information on BikeMaine and the coalition can be found at maine.org/bike-maine.

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