OXFORD – Two dozen Mainers are gearing up for the annual His Place Teen Center bike ride in July.

Few are accomplished riders.

Some may want to go home before the 200-mile trip is over.

And there are certainly no spandex wearers in this crowd.

“Jeans, shorts, T-shirts and maybe swimsuits,” said biking coordinator Art Hladik about the usual attire. “It’s not just a ride, it’s an adventure.”

Hladik said 17 youth and seven chaperons will be transporting their bikes to the Washington, D.C., area, from where they will begin a trek that will take them along the shores of the Potomac River, Gettysburg, Pa., Valley Forge and to Hershey Park.

He calls it Freedom Ride 2003, and it is the summer “long trip” sponsored by the teen center. He also hosts a couple of shorter bike rides during the year.

Hladik said the long summer trip began in 1995 when a group took the first trip to Lake Champlain, N.Y.

“The basic purpose of the trip is to get some of the kids out of Maine who might not be able to take a vacation that far,” Hladik said. “And also, to get to know some of these kids that come to His Place week in and week out.”

Three of the the 17 youths on the trip are girls. This is the first time girls have been able to participate. Hladik said the Teen Center could never find a female chaperon willing to make the long ride. This year there are seven chaperons, one female.

Hladik called the trip the center’s most ambitious.

“We’re taking the bikes to Reston, Virginia, where we’re staying at the YMCA,” Hladik said. “Then, we’ll start on the C&O Canal towpath and bike 36 miles along the Potomac.”

He said the U.S. Park Service made the path into a recreational area, and the entire towpath runs about 200 miles.

Towpaths were used in the United States to pull barges along the canal.

He said the long, flat ride along the towpath was a good way to start on the first day. It makes it easier to break in the legs and break in the seat.

The trip costs the youths $100 each. Hladik said there are still three or four kids who do not have sponsors, and there is a little transportation problem to work out in regards to the ride home.

But he is confident it will all work out.

He said the trip was inexpensive because along the way a YMCA and four churches will be putting everybody up.

“We have a budget of $130 a day for food, and you can feed an army on that,” Hladik said.

The trip probably could not be made without Hladik, who owns a bike repair shop in Buckfield.

He carries a full set of tools and some tubes.

“There’s usually some tricks to keep a bike running, and I have a list of bike shops along the way,” Hladik said. “On a couple of the trips some bikes have limped in, but that’s all part of the adventure.”

The 200-mile ride isn’t enough bike riding for Hladik. He and two others are going to pedal back to Maine from Hershey. He said anybody else who wanted to make the ride back to Maine was welcome.

“I think most everybody will be waving to us as we go on,” Hladik said. “I think a week will be enough riding for most of them.”


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