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Thursday, June 25, 2015

The 2015 Trek Across Maine, a.k.a. The Feast Across Maine

The end of school means two things: an 18 Wheeler Sundae (18 scoops of ice cream!) at Dysart's on the last day for these four and the Trek Across Maine.  

The Trek Across Maine is a 3 day, 180 mile bike ride across Maine which raises a ton of money for the American Lung Association.  In 31 years, the Trek has raised over $22 million!  And, while that is a very noble reason to partake and to hit all your people up for cash, the Trek is just so much fun for the participants that it is easy to forget that you are being at all altruistic.

Plus they feed you steady for 3 days.  

As we woke up in Sunday River on the morning of the first day, we were gambling with the weather forecast which called for overnight rain and departing morning showers.  We decided we would leave later than normal to try to avoid the rain, which also meant riding in more congested conditions than we prefer.  The sun emerged from the clouds as we pulled our bikes from the bike corral and we were patting ourselves on the back for our good planning.  We checked our tires for air, filled up our water bottles and got in line at the start.  There were so many cyclists that they released them in waves so as to avoid a pile up on the downhill road off the mountain.  We were 3 waves back when some rather threatening rain clouds slid over the mountain.  I believe I said, "They need to let us go now or we are going to get wet."

Start line- 3 waves deep
A couple of fat rain drops gave way to a downpour.  All we could do was stand there as it poured down on us.  Within moments every part of me was soaking.  It was rather a profound moment of surrender, actually, as I realized there was nothing I could do, nowhere I could go, or anyway to prevent what was happening.  I was just going to be wet.  After the mandatory 10 minutes in between waves, we were released and as I clicked my feet into my pedals, my socks sloshed in puddles of water and the water kicked up from my tires soaked my padded shorts.

This was right before we got wet.
Day one is the longest day, but also the easiest.  With very little climbing, it tends to be a fast ride.  But just as I began to get past the wet diaper feeling in my shorts, we hit an intense head wind that made me feel like someone was holding me at the forehead while I leaned in and flailed my arms uselessly.  There was a new part of the route on a newly paved road with a river ribboning through that was simply stunning.   But the wind made for an intense ride and rather stiff neck and shoulders from bracing against it.   Nearly 70 miles later, we arrived in Farmington, chaffed and desperate to get our still wet shorts off.

Day two dawned bright and chilly (46 degrees!) and we set out at our usual early bird time to beat riding with the crowd.  These are the days that make cycling part of my soul.

Day two is many trekkers favorite day, a 56 mile meander on back roads through pastoral landscapes that are the backbone of Maine.  It was sunny and sparkly and perfect this year, made all the more sweet by the ever more dooming weather forecasted for day three.
It was fun to take pictures of ourselves and text them to the girls.

Day two also happens to end at Colby College and all the promises of fun at Tent City where teams can gather and hang out, playing games, eating and listening to live music all afternoon.  This year we had an amazing group of volunteers who decorated and brought all the food and drinks we had organized before we left.  They were awesome!

(My friend Sara felt badly that my box of veggie burgers didn't make it and she offered to drive to the store and get us a box.  "It will take me 5 minutes!" she insisted.  So I said yes and gave her some money.  Fifty minutes later, and a headache of traffic later, she returned with the best veggie burger I may have had in my life.  You rock Sara!!)

Team Gold's Gym is rather awesome.

Team Gold's Gym!

overnight bike storage

I need to say a few things about Trek volunteers.  This event, truly the best example of a well-oiled machine that I have witnessed, brags over 750 volunteers.  With somewhere around 2,000 trekkers that is a very high ratio of participant to volunteer.  And when I use the word "volunteer", I really should be using the word "superstar".  I cannot adequately describe the manner in which these folks help out.  Not only are they around every corner asking what you need or pointing which direction to turn on the route while shaking a cowbell, they also say "thank you" to you countless times a day:  "Thank you for all you do!" "Thank you for riding!"  "Thank you! You're awesome!"

I'm telling you, the volunteers treat the trekkers like royalty.  In fact, I woke up this morning and flipped the laundry and no one told me I was awesome.  It was rather disappointing.

And there was this:
"Do you have a ?"
 I want one of these in my daily life.  Please.

All the perfection of day two promised to give way to a very wet day three.  The weather forecasted a 100% chance of rain.  There was a single hour (from 7-8 am) that looked to be showers instead of pouring rain so we decided to hit the road early.   Sandi began using her Macgyver mind to strategize ways to delay the onset of the wet.

This brings me to the alternate title to this post:  An adhoc analysis of the common plastic bag as a water barrier.

We began to gather the various bags we had in our possession:  Ziplocs , plastic grocery bags, thin produce plastic bags and a single trash bag.  Sandi decided if we had some more trash bags we could keep our cores dryer longer, thus potentially keeping us warmer.  I went to the front desk at the Hampton Inn.  Turns out the Hampton Inn staff is very sympathetic to the about-to-be-soaked cyclist.   The lady at the front desk was more than accommodating hooking us up with various forms of plastic.

Here's what we did:  we birthed our heads and arm out of very tight holes in trash bags which we then tucked into our bike shorts.  We put put baggies over our socks and tied them tightly before slipping them into our clip shoes.  We put the hotel's shower caps and plastic grocery bags over our helmets in an attempt to keep our heads dry.  We put our phones in Ziplocs.  We also put all our dry, post-ride clothes in two layers of bags inside our luggage in case our luggage got wet.  It was pouring outside.

4:15 A.M. and I am wearing a trash bag
When we had packed early Thursday this rain had not yet been forecasted and so we were not well prepared.  Sandi at least had packed long pants and long fingered gloves in case of cold but I had just shorts and standard, fingerless bike gloves.   The temperature was supposed to be around 55 so I figured I would be uncomfortable but safe.

I've always understood that attitude matters.  I know that my outlook on anything from waking up on the morning to taking on a tough task dramatically affects the outcome.  But I think I learned it even more profoundly on Sunday morning.  When we made the decision to ride,  we understood there was no chance that we would not be wet and uncomfortable.  I knew it was a matter of what I did with the experience.  I could bemoan it and fight against it or I could just go with it and try to enjoy it.

After all, despite the fact that it is a little bit painful to be wet for 4 hours, this is not a real problem. We were on a long distance bike ride on a weekend without kids, with bodies able to complete the task.  We spoke to a couple of volunteers over the weekend who used to ride but hurt their bodies and now they help out to still be a part of the event.  We were lucky enough to get to ride and dammit I was going to figure out how to enjoy it.

By far the worst part of the morning was just getting wet.  If you've ever had this experience, you know what I mean.    As the water made its way through my clothes and onto my skin, it was hard not to brace against it.  The bags on my feet did nothing and my socks were drenched in the first couple of miles.  The shower cap on my helmet kept the water off my head and allowed me to keep some body heat.  The trash bag under my wind breaker seemed to be doing its job.  My padded shorts were a wet diaper once again.

Everyone we saw I said, "Good morning!" or "Have a great ride!" because why not?  I smiled and, at Sandi's suggestion, kept a constant litany of what I was grateful for.  It totally worked.  I felt content and happy and wet.

The hilly miles of day three kind of flew by. I was grateful for every climb because it kept me warm.  My biggest struggle was that my hands were so numb it was hard to use them to shift gears and my feet were so numb that standing to climb made me feel like I had pegs for legs. We chose to stop at only one of the three rest stops because we knew stopping and getting cold would be the kiss of death.  Trying to pull down soaked bike shorts to pee with hands that worked like claws was a feat in itself.

And do you know what those amazing volunteers had for us?  HOT CHOCOLATE.  Hot chocolate with freaking mini marshmallows.

At one point, as the course moved onto a back road and the delicious smell of wood smoke had its way with my brain I found myself thinking insane thoughts.  I bet they have heat in there.  All I would need it a dry bathrobe or blanket. I would even settle for a towel.  I could take all my clothes off and sit in a towel by their fire.  I'm sure they wouldn't mind. 

Which brings me back to the volunteers.  Looking at it fairly, what they were doing that day was much harder than what I was doing.  I would be utterly miserable huddled in a poncho on a folding chair at an intersection in the rain for hours on end to make sure cyclists took the correct turn.  In fact, I would be frozen.  Riding in the rain seemed far less difficult than sitting in the rain ringing a cowbell.  I love those people for doing it, for ringing those cowbells and telling me I was awesome, despite their own probable dreams of wood fires and hot coffee.  I made sure to thank each and every one of them.

There was no waiting and riding across the finish line with our team this year.  There was no slow victory ride into Belfast, more like a mad dash across the finish line so we could go seek shelter.   We got in very early and yet there were still volunteers and spectators there cheering to beat the band.  

I look like the marshmallow man because of the trash bag under my jacket.  I cannot comment on why Sandi does not. 
When we got off our bikes a guy said, "I hope we didn't beat the luggage trucks here."  I had a momentary panic of what might happen to me if I couldn't get dry soon.  As we made our way to the luggage tent and saw all the bags, carefully placed on tarps to keep the rain off them, neatly arranged in their organized rows so trekkers could find them, I was overcome with gratitude.  I gave the woman in charge a huge hug and thanked her and she had tears in her eyes.

Now don't you want to do the Trek???

I can tell you that the second hardest part of the day (the first being actually getting wet) was the period of time between stopping and getting dry.  There were some logistics of getting luggage, getting a shuttle to our car (we had made the decision not to put on dry clothes until we could stay dry and our umbrellas were in our car) and such that left me a bit panicked that I was going have a medical event I was shivering so uncontrollably.  But a volunteer gave us each one of those aluminum foil-looking survival blankets and it did the trick.

I was so proud to see later that so many of our team members took on the challenge of the ride that day!  What a tough group of people.

Drying by the fire

For the girls the Trek Across Maine is all about the weekend at their grandparents and the medals they didn't earn!

We are already signed up for next year.  If this event is even remotely within your reach, do yourself a favor and give it a go.  The Trek attracts all sorts: from varying ages and fitness levels and riding speeds.  The one common denominator is that trekkers know how to have FUN.  People are so relaxed and happy and there is so much support to help people succeed!  Where else can you ride your bike, have people feed you constantly and shlep your bags around?

Have I convinced you yet?

It makes me sad every year when it is over.   So until next time...

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