Sara Vanderwood rides her mountain bike in Red Rocks Canyon, Nevada.

OXFORD — Sara Vanderwood may not have any experience competing in a marathon focused on cycling, but on Wednesday, June 21, she and several other Mainers and New England natives will fly to Reykjavik, Iceland, where they will participate in an 800-plus mile road race.

Vanderwood, a senior governmental affairs consultant with Maine Street Solutions and an Oxford resident, is a member of one of the two teams competing in the annual Wow Cyclothon race. Cyclists have 72 hours to reach the finish line.

The race is a fundraiser for a variety of charities, according to Vanderwood.

Vanderwood said that she began working for Maine Street Solutions, a public affairs and consulting service of the Verrill Dana law firm, a couple of years ago.

She said that Maine Street Solutions, the Verrill Dana law firm, and others have become more involved with Iceland and other countries within the Arctic Circle as new shipping lanes in the North Atlantic become free of ice.

“As we look to some of the shipping routes from Maine to the North Atlantic that are now becoming ice-free, there’s an opportunity to use those shipping lanes, and as that happens, legal needs could be associated with that,” Vanderwood said.


Vanderwood said that over the past few years, she and other members of Maine Street Solutions and Verrill Dana have attended the annual Arctic Circle Assembly in Reykjavik. The assembly invites delegates from more than 50 countries to discuss the growing collaboration between the Arctic Circle countries and other countries.

“Maine has sent delegations to the assembly for the last four years,” Vanderwood said. “When I went in 2015, there were 40 people from Maine: people from the University of Southern Maine, University of New England, the Maine North Atlantic Development Office, scientists and others.”

Vanderwood said that following a recent Arctic Circle Assembly, someone brought up the Wow Cyclothon that occurs annually in Reykjavik.

“They thought it would be cool to get Mainers and Icelanders on a team together to do this race and bring attention to the connections between Maine and Iceland,” Vanderwood said.


Maine is sending two teams, “the A team and the B team,” she said.


“The A team is what we consider to be the more competitive team, with the riders who race at a more competitive level,” Vanderwood said. “The B team, which is what I am on, is still competing, but we’re a little less competitive. Our goal is to bring attention to and highlight the business and cultural connections between Maine and Iceland.”

While Vanderwood admitted to having a limited amount of experience in cycling, she is well-versed in the art of high-level competitive sports.

“I have a dog-mushing background, and have traveled all over the world racing in different competitions,” Vanderwood said. “I’ve never done the biking thing, but I have a background in running and cross-country skiing.”

Maine’s A team is made up of many people with connections to Maine and Iceland, Vanderwood said, including Stephen Smith, CEO of L.L. Bean, Keith Canning, co-owner of Pine State Trading, and a representative from the Bicycle Coalition of Maine.

Vanderwood’s team includes Larus Isseld, the North Atlantic director for Eimskip, an Iceland shipping company; Gretchen Johnson, director of marketing for Verrill Dana; John Nass, deputy commissioner for Maine Department of Transportation; Mark Vogelsang, head of the Maine Public Broadcasting Network; and Mark’s brother, Mike, president and chief information officer of Boston Advisors LLC.

Glaciers, volcanoes 


The Wow Cyclothon, which is sponsored by Wow Airlines in Iceland, is a around-the-clock race, Vanderwood said.

“Every team has a different strategy,” Vanderwood said. “You can set up your team however you want. You can have the entire team ride the whole 836 miles, or have each person ride 20 or 30 miles at a time. You need at least one person on the track at all times, and the team to complete the race the fastest wins.”

She said the teams that raise the most money for their respective charities get a prize.

“It’s a big race,” Vanderwood said. “While you’re on the route, you ride by glaciers, volcanoes and mountain ranges.”

The last day of the race will coincide with a Reykjavik beer festival, which will feature the Maine Beer Box, a custom-made shipping container with 78 beers on tap from a wide swath of Maine brewers. They include the Norway Brewing Co. on Main Street in Norway.

“I live in Oxford and grew up in the Oxford Hills, so it’s pretty cool to see Maine represented in Iceland,” Vanderwood said.


She said Verrill Dana is one of the sponsors of the Maine Beer Box, which was loaded and shipped June 3 from the International Marine Terminal in Portland to Reykjavik aboard the “Skogafoss.”

Win or lose

Vanderwood reiterated that her team has “no grand illusions of winning the race.”

“We’re just here to bring awareness to the connection between Maine and Iceland,” she said. “I think it’ll be fun. People think that (Iceland) is this far away foreign country, when it’s really less than five hours away via direct flight from Boston. It’s a big stopover point for people flying to Europe.”

As for competing in another 800-plus mile race after the June 21 is done and over?

She laughed. “I’ll say yes today, but ask me again the day after I race,” she said.

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Sara Vanderwood

Sara Vanderwood

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