At 86, Don Robitaille of Lewiston can’t ride his bike across the United States anymore.
But he can ride across the state of Maine.
Robitaille will ride from Fort Kent to Kittery. He departs the day after Labor Day.
“I’m excited. It’s been my dream for two years to do this,” said Robitaille, who turned 86 on Aug. 25.
“It’s sort of a birthday present to myself.”
Robitaille will set off with only a backpack and a small bag attached to the back of his bike. He will stop each night at a motel and call home to check in with his wife, Jeannine, and his five kids.
“My kids aren’t too happy about it, b ut they know I am stubborn,” he said. “They know if I say I am going do it, I’m going to do it.”
The trip should take Robitaille 10 days to two weeks. “I am hoping to ride 50 miles a day and I may do as many as 90.”
“That may be a long day,” Robitaille said of a 90-mile day. “I think I can do it; I hope I can.”
Robitaille retired from the Coca-Cola company when he was 60. Since then, he has not stopped riding his bike.
When he was 70, he rode from Bar Harbor to Seattle over the course of three months.
His children insisted that he cross the United States with someone else for safety reasons. Robitaille found a man from the West Coast to ride with, but the man quit after two weeks. Robitaille told the man that he was making a good decision and then kept peddling alone across the country.
The odometer on Robitaille’s bike hit 100,000 miles when he turned 78 and he attempted to cross the country again when he turned 80.
Robitaille reached Texas before falling off his bike and deciding to return home.
He has been the oldest cyclist in the annual Dempsey Challenge for the past six years.
Robitaille said he plans to stop and visit museums and see the sights during his fall trip. “I’m not going to be in a hurry. I’m retired, so I can do that.”
He said the key to being able to ride the distances he does at his age is to exercise and eat right.
“Staying home and watching TV just doesn’t do it for me,” he said. “Exercise is key.”
“I don’t go to the gym. I don’t want to go to the gym. I eat right, don’t drink and don’t smoke,” he said.
“I’ve been lucky, but some of it has been my own doing,” Robitaille said about his good health.
Robitaille said age has crept up on him a bit. He bought an electric-assisted bicycle from a bike shop in Norway earlier this year. The electric motor engages as Robitaille pedals, helping him get up those steep hills. “You still have to pedal. If you don’t pedal, you don’t go anywhere,” he said.
“For an older guy that has trouble going up hills, this is the answer,” Robitaille said about his new electric bike.
He has put 2,619 miles on it since April.
“It always appeals to me to do things in Maine,” said Robitaille, a fixture at community events throughout Lewiston and Auburn. He plans to stop at the reversing falls in Pembroke and pick up his 31-year-old grandson in Old Orchard Beach. They will ride to the finish at the Maine/New Hampshire line together.
“It’s gonna be a good ride,” Robitaille said.