Father and son team Steve and Cooper Boccanfuso, of Pownal wait with Cooper’s grandfather, Buzz Leonard (left) for the start of last year’s Trek Across Maine. Hannah LaClaire / The Times Record

BRUNSWICK — For the first time in its 36 years, the Trek Across Maine will go virtual in an effort to help stem the spread of coronavirus. 

The 180-mile bicycle ride, scheduled this year from June 19-21, is the American Lung Association’s largest fundraiser, drawing nearly 2,000 participants and raising over $1 million each year. This year, proceeds will be donated to the lung association’s efforts to fight COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by coronavirus. 

“This year especially, with COVID-19 being a respiratory illness … the funding initiatives are extremely relevant,” said Kim Chamard, Trek’s development manager. “It’s an opportunity to make a difference when a lot of us feel so helpless,” he said, calling it “a tangible thing people can hold onto.” 

The decision to change the long-running ride was difficult but was “making the best of a strange situation,” she said. 

This year would have been just the second year the trek started and ended in Brunswick. 

The new route started at Brunswick landing, headed toward Freeport, taking Mere Point Road and then Maquoit Road to U.S. Route 1. Riders then went on through Lewiston, Waterville, Augusta and Bath among other Maine towns, with overnight stops at Bates College and Colby College.

Cyclists at take off from Brunswick Landing at last year’s Trek Across Maine. Hannah LaClaire / The Times Record

Town officials were hopeful that the relocation would be a boon for Brunswick’s economy, with riders and their families filtering into downtown, stopping in the stores, eating at the restaurants and staying in the hotels, but according to the Brunswick Downtown Association, the impact was minimal. 

“Because Brunswick is located so close to a large segment of the trek population in the Portland area, people were not obligated to spend the night before the trek in Brunswick and dine out,” Patti Spencer-Yost, marketing and communications coordinator said. 

The Seacoast United Coastal Summer Challenge, a three-division youth soccer tournament for boys and girls the same weekend, usually held at Bowdoin College and the surrounding fields, is a larger draw.

”This tournament brings a great deal of business to the entire area, with hotels and restaurants hosting many of the players and their families,” she said. Tournament officials have not confirmed if the event is still on as scheduled. 

“With the trek going virtual this year, we think Flight Deck will notice the biggest loss in Brunswick, as well as the stops along the route,” she added. 

Last year, Flight Deck Brewing, a brewery on Brunswick Landing, hosted pre and post trek events, and saw increased traffic throughout the weekend as riders and their families came and went. The brewery was hoping and planning to repeat that this year, founder Nate Wildes said. 

The cancellation is just another event that, like everything else, was put on pause or changed, he said, and while it’s unfortunate, it wasn’t unexpected. 

Wildes said he was more disappointed by the community loss than the financial. 

“One of the things we were looking forward to most in the trek coming to Brunswick was that it was another opportunity to welcome new people to our community and to our business,” he said. 

“The bigger bummer is that it’s only the second time it was in Brunswick, so we only had one year under our belts” and may have put a damper on some of the momentum. But Wildes is optimistic that the trek will come back next year with even more enthusiasm. 

“It’s a bummer and it will feel like a bummer in the short term but (hopefully) 2021 will be bigger and better as a result of the change,” he said, calling it an opportunity  for trek staff to “come out swinging.” 

He also commended the American Lung Association for “making lemonade when the world gave them lemons” and finding an alternative way to support its cause. 

Trek Across Maine officials are hoping that the changes to this year’s ride will allow more people to participate. The 60, 120 or 180 mile stretches can still be completed during a weekend, but riders also have the opportunity to work at their own paces, completing the ride over a period of weeks, if that suits them better. Miles should be shared by June 30. It will also allow people for whom the travel is a barrier to complete the ride as well. So far, about 1,100 people have registered. 

The fundraising requirement has been lowered from $550 to $250, Chamard said, to make it more accessible during a time of economic hardship for many. 

So far, fundraising is well behind average years, according to a press release, with less than a quarter of the current $1.3 million goal. 

Chamard though, said she and the rest of the trek staff understand there are limitations and hope to use this extra time to find ways to enhance the ride for everyone next year. 

While people will not be able to get together as they have before, she is hoping to recreate some of the trek traditions, like baked potatoes the night before, though social media. Volunteers can still participate remotely through fundraising or riding.

The whole experience will hopefully make the 2021 Trek Across Maine all the more exciting and they are already anticipating a large turnout. 

“People are going to be bursting at the seams to see each other next year,” she said. 

For more information about the trek visit trekacrossmaine.org


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