It is 6:30 in the morning, 50 degrees, and I am standing in the VIP area behind the stage at the Dempsey Challenge.
It is ironic I am here, since my only claim to fame is that I can both write and ride a bicycle 25 miles. Probably.
I thought my two-week, short-notice training regimen had prepared me for the day’s ride, until I encountered some of the hills.
I was close enough at times to hobnob with the real VIPs, including former professional racer “Fast Freddie” Rodriguez, reporter and host Bill Green and, of course, Patrick Dempsey.
When I did get the chance to talk with Dempsey, the one thing I wanted to know — after making sure he was riding a bicycle and not another motorcycle — was how he was able to manage when he was surely being pulled in a thousand different directions during his brief time back in Maine.
“I don’t feel that way at all,” he said. When I’m talking with someone, I’m concentrating on them and what they’re saying. I love Maine. I love the people. And I love putting on this wonderful event.”
Dempsey encouraged me to talk with some of the children in the area because they had been given new Specialized mountain bikes in exchange for their pledge to try to raise $1,000. One boy raised $1,001 for the Dempsey Center and had his donation matched.
As the tiers of riders were being released for their various distances, Bill Green announced he would be riding 100 miles at next year’s challenge.
Once I was on the road, things got “real” in a hurry. I was convinced the route map had not shown all of the hills I encountered. Or at least it should have labeled them as “nasty.”
At first, some of the roadside informational signs seemed to be taunting me. The “15 MILES TO GO” sign only served to remind me that, at that point, I had put just 10 miles behind me.
The “5 MILES TO GO” sign was a nicer sight.
As I wobbled up the last hill, the lady behind me said, “It’s a little hillier than last year’s course.”
“A little?” I muttered. “A LITTLE?”
The best parts for me, as it began to warm up, were the volunteers and the scenery, in that order. Among them: “Miss Doris,” a bus monitor for Geiger Elementary, and Stan, a super-friendly bike mechanic whom I have not seen in a couple of decades. He recognized me immediately at a rest stop.
The crowd also included many other people at cheer stations and rest stops.
My favorite signs were a Burma Shave-type affair that asked, “WHY DON’T BICYCLES” … “STAND UP FOR THEMSELVES?” … “BECAUSE THEY’RE TWO TIRED.”
Somebody sure knows how to cheer up a tired writer. Until the next hill, anyway.
In the long run, it was a good time and I would consider doing it again — if I had more time to train.
Just one thing: At the approach to each ascent, maybe they could post a “BEWARE OF HILL” sign, or perhaps a few words of encouragement.
My advice to Bill Green: Start training now.
Patrick Dempsey, center, begins the 25 mile Dempsey Challenge bike ride in Lewiston on Sunday. (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)