by Jen Lynds
My friend and very talented colleague, Julia Bayly, and I, have a lot in common. In concert with a love of reading, writing and all things nature, we are both avid cyclists.
So I had no reservations when she invited me last year to join her for the Tour De La Vallee, a fundraising bike ride through the St. John Valley that benefits the Edgar J. Paradis Cancer Fund at Northern Maine Medical Center in Fort Kent. Participants in the annual event can choose to bike 25, 50, 62 or 100 miles. The route takes you from Fort Kent to Keegan on U.S. Route 1, back to Grand Isle, around Long Lake to Sinclair, and Route 161 back to Fort Kent. Each rider solicits donations from friends and family in order to garner as much money as possible for the fund, which provides financial assistance to cancer patients traveling for treatment as well as education and support.
I had never done the ride, but there is nothing ugly in the St. John Valley, with its sprawling potato fields, pristine rivers and endless carpets of green. I was definitely in shape to do it, as two weeks prior I had completed my annual 100 mile bike ride in Standish to raise money for multiple sclerosis treatment and research.
Julia, preparing for a lengthy cycling trip in Italy a short time later, was definitely in shape. We agreed to conquer the 50 miler and I trekked to her beautiful homestead, Rusty Metal Kennel in Fort Kent, for an overnight stay and morning ride.
When we got to the starting line in the morning, I was greeted with essential cycling fuel — Pepsi. I downed two cans before the ride even started. We took off in a hail of cheers and applause from volunteers, cancer patients and survivors who were thanking us for taking part.
The first 30 miles were amazing. We talked most of the way, smiling at well wishers cheering us on from their nice, relaxing lawn chairs. It was after that, however, that I began to wish that I had brought a lawn chair of my own.
There are rest stops along the ride sporting stations equipped with food and water. I am not a big eater on such rides, but after riding the first 30 miles on half a bagel and 2 cans of Pepsi, my stomach was growling. The first three rest stops were equipped with a variety of foods, especially Fig Newtons. As we left the 30 mile rest stop and approached the next one, I began fantasizing about how delicious a few packages of those tasty little treats would be.
When we got to the 40 mile stop, I practically sprinted to the table … and there were no Fig Newtons.
“I have a package of M & M’s,” a wonderful volunteer said.
But I didn’t want M & M’s. I WANTED Fig Newtons. Some evil cyclist had deprived me of my Fig Newtons. I started to plot out a revenge strategy to carry out on any cyclist at the finish line I caught throwing away an empty wrapper.
Up until that point, it had been a fantastic day for cycling. A beautiful blue sky, temperatures in the 70’s, very little wind. But as Julia and I took off from the 40 mile mark, that all changed, and quickly. The sky started to blacken. We started pedaling harder. Then, it started misting rain just a bit. We pedaled even harder. And then, it just began to pour.
Julia and I have different biking styles. She is steady and firm, maintaining the same speed and power no matter what the terrain. I am a fighter, an “I think I can, I think I can” type that just keeps fighting to get through it, mentally doing victory dances in my head after each mile. When we found ourselves in a torrential downpour, I really had to start humming the “Rocky” theme song to get through it. Of course, the harder the rain fell, the more the people that passed us in their cars stared. Even worse, a lot of them were zipping 60 miles an hour through the roadside puddles, spitting waves of muddy water at us with their tires.
Now, this is how the route is described on the ride’s website: “The terrain offers a variety of long flat stretches, small inclines, and one challenging hill as you turn off in Grand Isle and head for the lake.”
One challenging hill? Perhaps. But every mole hill looks like a mountain when you are soaking wet eight miles from the finish line with water dripping off your helmet into your eyes.
By that time, Julia was a short distance ahead of me, the weaker link who was picturing herself in boxing gloves and shiny shorts fighting rain clouds. During one steep hill (that must have been the challenging one,) I remember thinking, “If I die going up this hill, Julia will make sure someone writes on my tombstone, ‘She would have made it if she’d just had those Fig Newtons’”
Of course, there were moments when I wanted to throw in the towel, but I’m a fighter, and I also knew that no sane motorist would pick up a soaking wet cyclist repeatedly mumbling “Yo Adrian!”
So we rode on, the rain falling heavier with each mile, towards the finish line at Northern Maine Medical Center.
Two miles from the end, an ambulance passed us. I distinctly recall yelling “Wait, give me a ride! I have insurance, I can pay!!!”
They did not turn around, but Julia and I followed them to the finish line. The volunteers and the cheering squad were still there, applauding vigorously when we both made it through. A short distance away, chefs were cooking hot dogs and hamburgers on a grill for us. Julia wanted to treat me to dinner elsewhere, and I really just wanted a wheelchair, so we bid adieu to the hospital and headed to The Swamp Buck on West Main Street in Fort Kent, where I had possibly the best meal of my life. I could have eaten one of the deer heads mounted on the wall.
Now that it is long over, I can tell you it was a great ride. The scenery was spectacular, the volunteers amazing, the company awesome. And the ride is taking place again this year, on Sunday, Aug. 19, at Northern Maine Medical Center in Fort Kent. Click on this link for more information and to register. The 22nd annual ride begins at 7 a.m. and each participant will receive a T-shirt, water bottle, and a Tour de la Vallée patch.
This year, I will be skipping the ride to prepare for The Dempsey Challenge in Lewiston, another fundraising ride to raise money for The Patrick Dempsey Center For Cancer Help and Healing. Julia and I will reunite once again for the October event.
But I definitely plan to do the Tour De La Vallee again. This time, however, I’m bringing my own Fig Newtons.