Trek Across Maine: Thousands of cyclists, 180 miles, a heavy dose of rain and nearly $1 million

LEWISTON — Bikers were greeted by cheers, music and applause Friday as they ended their first day of The Trek Across Maine, an annual event designed to spread awareness about lung health and raise money to battle lung disease.

The Trek Across Maine began its 38th annual cycling event at Thomas Point Beach and Campground in Brunswick early Friday morning, with cyclists eager to began pedaling 180 miles over the three-day event. The first leg of the ride to Lewiston was 56.4 miles. On Saturday, the group will pedal 61 miles to St. Joseph’s College in Standish, staying there overnight and riding the remaining 55.6 miles to Brunswick on Sunday — all to raise money to support the American Lung Association of Maine.

“It’s like going to camp for big kids,” said Diane Haskell, a respiratory therapist who has dedicated her time to help put on this event each year since 2000. She went on explain that after multiple years of volunteering and participating in the trek, she felt there was a need for volunteers to tell cyclists “thank you” and to show them her appreciation for their efforts.

While walking around Bates College as the first day of the event came to an end, there was a strong sense of community and camaraderie among the bikers and the volunteers. Groups of family and friends crossed the finish line for the day and relaxed and unwound together by visiting local bars and restaurants, or shopping at local stores.

“It’s mine and my daughter’s weekend,” explained volunteer Laurel Leach. Each year after Leach and her daughter finish up the event, they go shopping together and take the time to reconnect. Leach also commented on her 29-year history with the trek, and how she once cycled alongside her husband on a tandem bike, before returning to volunteer work each year.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the American Lung Association of Maine halted the in-person event in 2020 and 2021, bringing it back this year, welcoming back bikers and volunteers and making up for lost time. Last year’s trek was a virtual event, with riders around the world registering for the event, and cycling 60, 120 or 180 miles at their own pace in their own time.

For the in-person event, the Lung Association organizes an army of volunteers to help direct cyclists along the route, drive sag wagons to pick up tired riders, and help direct participants to food and rest.

Francesco Rietti of Marblehead, Massachusetts, stores his bike Friday in Underhill Arena on the Bates College campus in Lewiston. Rietti had just ridden 57 miles on day one of the three-day Trek Across Maine. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

Before COVID struck, the fundraising event was bringing in more than $1 million annually, but it dropped off a bit over the last two years. This year’s goal is to raise $1 million. Each rider has to fundraise a minimum of $550 to participate, but most raise much more.

This year’s top individual fundraiser is Patti Lane, who lost both of her parents to lung disease. Her goal was to raise $10,077. As of Friday, she had raised $9,957.

The top corporate fundraiser is LL Bean, which has organized a team to participate in the ride each year for the past dozen years. The team’s goal this year was to raise $40,000. On Friday, their fundraising had reached $64,371.

Friday’s ride started out in good weather, but a nasty thunderstorm and heavy rain drenched cyclists coming into Lewiston just after noon. But, despite the nasty weather, riders and volunteers were all smiles.

Bill Helming, a resident of Boothbay Harbor, shared his experience of participating in the Trek Across Maine over the past eight years. “I love the ride, it’s a great way to stay fit, and the cause of lung cancer is very important,” he explained, after dismounting his bike for the day. He was delighted to describe the final 10 miles of the ride as the bikers rolled to the finish along the Androscoggin River.

Many of the riders participate for exercise, but most are there to support education and research about lung health and ride in memory of loved ones.

Cyclists make their way Friday along state Route 136 in Auburn during the 38th annual Trek Across Maine. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

James Peirce, an avid cyclist, explained that not only did he join the trek to get exercise, he acknowledged the importance of raising money to help fight lung-related health issues. Another biker, Tom Huntington, explained that he treks in memory of his mother.

As the final riders funneled into the finish area and completed their miles for the day, they were already preparing for the next two days of biking.

Tomorrow’s route will take the cyclists out of Lewiston into Auburn and on to the first rest stop at Chipman Farm in Raymond. They’ll stop again at the Casco Town Hall and then at the Sebago United Methodist Church before the final push to St. Joseph’s.

On Sunday, the final leg will take them to the first rest stop at Bruns Brothers in Gray, then to Pownal Elementary School and to the final stop at the Casco Bay YWMA before finishing back at Thomas Point Beach.

Registration for Trek Across Maine 2023 is already open. For more information to go: action.lung.org


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