Words by Cam Held, Editor-in-Chief of Maine The Way Magazine
September in Maine is a special time as the first hints of autumn begin to show, while summer tries desperately to hold on—the cool nights, crisp mornings, and warm afternoons are unlike any other season. The summer crowds have headed home, and the lakes, mountains, coastlines, and roads are just asking to be enjoyed.
As such, it is no accident that BikeMaine is annually scheduled for the second week of September—there’s no better time to explore this state! As an avid cyclist, I’ve always been disappointed that I have an annual commitment the first weekend of the ride, so I’ve been unable to join. When I was asked this year if I’d have any interest in tagging along as a photographer on a few days of this year’s ride in Maine’s Midcoast, it was as if the stars had aligned!
The 2019 ride started and ended in Waterville, but made a big loop down to Pemaquid, up the coast to Rockland, past the Camden Hills to Belfast, and finally back inland to Waterville after a loop ride from Belfast. This loop showcases everything from the beautiful hills and rolling farm country of the interior of Maine’s Midcoast region, as well as the peninsulas, harbors, and lighthouses that dot the coast. It even takes in the imposing ridges of the Camden Hills, and the vistas they offer. I was able to join for days 5 and 6, starting in Rockland, and ending in Belfast, getting a good variety of all this scenery.
I met Eliza, who works on the BikeMaine team, at Snow Marine park in Rockland and she showed me around the premises—there was a huge white tent located centrally, with a whole tent city spread out on the grass down by the water. A band played in the tent, and a crowd gathered around, dancing and swaying, seemingly still fresh after several days of hard riding over the hills of midcoast. A second crowd milled around the Maine Beer Co. table, tapping their feet as they listened to the tunes, and I joined this group, meeting new people and hearing stories from the previous days of riding, before I retired to my tent for the night.
The next morning I headed to the breakfast tent, and joined the queue with a cup of warm coffee in my hand as I met more riders—all of whom were chipper at the prospect of the day’s ride. The breakfast certainly didn’t hurt either—a frittata, fresh baked treats, and some fruit made for a healthy and delicious start to the day. While there is a two hour window between when the roads are “opened” for the riders and the time when all riders are expected to be out of camp, I decided to get an early start and headed out in one of the first packs of riders.
The ride began with a series of climbs—while no climbs in this part of Maine are terribly large, don’t be deceived into thinking they’re easy, many of them have ramps well over 10% gradient and can inflict more pain than the profile might suggest! After six miles of climbing, a descent brings us to the base of Beech hill, a roughly two mile climb with a gravel path at the top to a viewpoint and historic cottage. Most of the riders were walking up to the Beech Hill viewpoint and I joined them—the views over Vinalhaven, North Haven, and the Camden Hills made it all worthwhile! From Beech Hill, it was all downhill to the first rest stop at Rockport Harbor. Here you could fill up water bottles, and grab a snack like PB&J sandwiches or M&Ms, which provide a boost of energy for the ride to come.
The next section meandered around Megunticook Lake, before we reached our lunch stop in Lincolnville Center. BikeMaine partners with many communities along the route to help put on meals, and our spaghetti and meatball lunch at the Lincolnville Center community hall was no different. The warm food hit the spot after a cool morning of riding, although it was beginning to heat up. Almost all of the food is sourced locally, and I was impressed by each and every meal, this lunch included!
The afternoon brought another series of climbs, some through bright red blueberry fields, before descending to a coastal cruise into Belfast. Once again, the tent city was setup right along the seaside in Belfast, and all the riders who didn’t have their tents setup for them (an add on to the standard package for BikeMaine) rushed to pitch their tents and secure a premium spot by the water. After our evening abodes were assembled, a good number of us headed to the beer garden, where Maine Beer Co. was again pouring beer, and discussed our highlights from the day—as well as those pesky hills that got the heart rate spiking!
Dinner lived up to all the other meals, and after yet another fun conversation with new friends, we made our way to the grass outside to watch the Maine Outdoor Film Fest. BikeMaine works to have evening entertainment each night, whether a band or a film, and it was very well attended although likely some tired bodies headed straight to bed.
The following day, Day 6 for the riders, was a loop out and back from Belfast, so unlike the other mornings nobody had to pack up their bags or tents in the morning. Another hearty breakfast fueled us up—this time I sat with a couple from South Texas. Asking what they thought of Maine’s midcoast they responded unanimously that they were loving exploring a new region of Maine (they came each year to ride BikeMaine), but also added much to my amusement how they were constantly amazed by the number of stone walls and tiny cemeteries that peppered the sides of the road—facets of New England that those of us who live here have ceased to notice.
This day’s ride began with a particularly brutal climb less than one mile into the route—a rude awakening for the legs as we struggled up the short pitch of 15% gradient pavement. There were some muttered grumbles in the group around me, but all through smiling mouths—we cyclists are gluttons for punishment. The next 14 miles were all uphill, but on nice roads through farmland, and were not overly steep. I was riding with Eliza today— since it was an out and back ride she and a few other BikeMaine staff were able to get out and ride for a day. We each stopped to take photos throughout the day, but would regroup up the road further.
There was a rest stop in Brooks, just after the 14 miles of climbing finally turned downhill, at the workshop for a local craftsman who builds apple ladders. The road then continued over beautiful farm country until the lunch stop at Monroe. The locals here put on a sandwich lunch, but it was topped off by the delicious local Fox Farm Creamery ice cream, a real treat! Getting to interact with the people in these towns was one of the highlights of the ride for me—I loved seeing how excited they were to host the riders!
The afternoon was equally scenic as we sped past Swan Lake (no Tchaikovsky here though) and pushed over one final climb with views back down to the lake below. Like that, as my bike rolled back into Belfast, my two days and nearly 100 miles of riding with BikeMaine were at an end. What a treat it was to join such a great organization on what have to be some of the greatest cycling roads in the state—quiet, windy, and infinitely interesting!