The Maine Lighthouse Ride

Every year since 2015, I’ve made it a point to get out of the Washington DC area to ride a century and get away from my normal routine. I found the Lighthouse ride by chance in 2015, and convinced my friend Ron to join me on an adventure trip to Portland Maine for the ride.  What we found has been an enjoyable event that we have shared with friends. This year, we brought in our friend John from Fredericksburg, Virginia.

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Cape Elizabeth Lighthouse, South Portland Maine.

Since we first discovered the ride, we’ve explored Portland and Casco Bay. The trip to Portland allows me to do things like visit the LL Bean Campus in Freeport.

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Beside the enormous boot at the L.L. Bean Campus in Freeport, Maine.

As a result of going on this ride I’ve had the chance to shop at the home of L.L. Bean and I’ve gotten some very good items there. This year, we stopped in at the Portland Head lighthouse, and toured the museum.

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Standing beside an enormous Fresnel Lens at Portland Head Lighthouse. 

I’ve always enjoyed touring Portland.  It’s a small city with a lot going for it.  Every year that I’ve ridden the Lighthouse ride, I’ve enjoyed the weather and the change of scenery that this opportunity presents us.

As always, the focus of the trip is the ride.  It starts on the Campus of Southern Maine Community College in South Portland, within sight of the Spring Point Ledge Lighthouse. In all, if the weather is good, on the 100 mile tour you’ll see 9 lighthouses.

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John, Ron and I at the start of the Lighthouse Ride. 

The day was hazy and cool, but there was no rain in the forecast, and we were ready to start riding at 7AM.  The early portion of the ride is on a narrow multi-use path leading south away from the campus. The organizers try to get riders going in small groups to prevent congestion on the path, but riders should prepare to deal with slower traffic, and the start of the ride is often slow going, so it pays to be patient. Despite being at the front when the organizers started us, we found ourselves behind a group of “Team in Training” charity riders. These riders raise money for Leukemia research, and they set a goal to ride an event like the Lighthouse Ride as a goal to ride and raise money.  While I’m told they have training rides and some instruction, if your event includes charity riders it’s best to watch out for them. There is an art to cycling and how to ride in events with large numbers of riders (In this case, 2000 participants), and charity riders don’t know it.  They became a rolling roadblock at a surprisingly slow speed, less than 10 miles per hour.  Since we were on a narrow course, a lot of riders were stacked up behind them. They weren’t aware of what they were doing. They were staying together, which simply made it impossible to get around them.  Ron got us next to them at a controlled crossing, and we got ahead of them when we got the chance to cross.  It was a great move on our part. We were  still going fairly slowly, at approximately 15 mph, which was still safe but much less of a problem for other riders.  In fact, when the ride got to the open roads and sent us out toward the Scarborough marshes, the rolling roadblock behind us meant that when we looked back, there were no other riders visible – at least a quarter of a mile gap between us and the team in training riders. That gap put us well ahead of most of the riders for much of the day.  The frustration of the riders stacked up behind them must have been very high. I’ll say this for charity riders – they’re doing a wonderful thing. However, the people who train and lead these riders need to teach them how to ride at events. It isn’t just a matter of turning the cranks. It’s being aware of other riders and traffic and conditions that would make these charity riders both safer and more considerate of their fellow event riders.  If you’re a charity rider, be aware not only of the road conditions, but other riders.  Ride safely and don’t block the road. This is all too common at events where Team in Training riders are present. Learn group ride rules. If you’re riding among charity riders – make them aware of you and what you’re doing, but expect the unexpected.  I have seen them stop suddenly, ride 4 across the road, and even turn their bikes perpendicular to oncoming riders near rest stops – essentially blocking the road.  They are NOT taught that these things are dangerous.  We moved on to the Scarborough marshes with very few riders around us.

The Scarborough Marshes are a feature of this ride that you have to cover twice. The ride  crosses a causeway of compacted sand and gravel that isn’t difficult to manage on road bike tires if you ride carefully at a slower pace. It’s also good to be sure your tires are in good condition before the ride. Some riders will get flats on the crossing, and volunteers are available at the end of the crossing to assist riders who need help. Pay attention to the water level of the marshes as you cross.  Since the marshes are tidal,  when you come back over them, they’ll probably look much different the second time though. After the marshes, you’ll ride to the first stop at Old Orchard Beach, about 17 miles into the ride.

The ride continues to Kennebunkport by inland roads. While autumn hasn’t really started, you’ll see early flashes of fall color.  The second rest stop is outside Kennebunkport at the Kennebunkport Bicycle Company. The building is a work of art in the medium of shingles! The town itself is the southernmost point on the ride, even though it isn’t quite the halfway point. On the way north, the course follows the coastline, meandering through inlets and coastal features.  Ron stopped in Kennebunkport to get aa souvenir shirt for his wife (It seems to be a habit…).  He made it a quick stop though, and we moved along smoothly on our way north.

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Myself, Ron and John at the second rest stop. The features in the upper floor of the building are made by the artistic use of different sized shingles. 

The trip north from Kennebunkport is a feast for the eyes. The coast of Maine is a beautiful place. The ride takes you past amazing water views, lighthouses, mansions, and harbors. The roadsides near the water grow shrub roses – a variety of Rugosa for the botanists among you – and the bushes are full of blooms and clusters of rose hips.  Between boats, beaches, parks, and all the coastline features in addition to the lighthouses, this is among the more scenic rides you could try.  The trip north crosses the marshes again and sends you east toward Cape Elizabeth. We started to encounter riders who had chosen to ride the metric century (with a later start time) in the last 20 miles of our century.  The final miles of any century are always difficult. We were drawn by the beer garden at the finish, and some rolling terrain lay between us and the finish. We were passing riders steadily. During my turn to pull our line, I passed a rider who would sprint past us on the downhill, only to have us pass him on the following climb. It was getting tiresome until we had a longer climb where we left him well behind us. I seldom look forward to tougher climbs, but this was an exception!

Two miles from the finish, at Fort Williams Park, is the jewel of the ride – Portland Head Lighthouse. We had visited on the day before for a tour, but it’s always a welcome sight.

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Standing in front of Portland Head Lighthouse, the final lighthouse on the tour. 

The final two miles back from Portland Head Lighthouse to the start are always enjoyable in anticipation of the treats at the finish.  One of the sponsors is Shipyard Brewing, which provides a variety of ales to celebrate a successful ride.  We took advantage of their hospitality.  It’s a wonderful way to cap off a great ride!  That evening I got a lobster dinner – an appropriate finish to another successful ride and another fun vacation.

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