I learned of the Bicycle Coalition of Maine’s signature cycling event, BikeMaine (BM), at last year’s Bike Expo—the lead-up to Bike New York’s Five Boro Bike Tour, the largest charitable bicycle ride in the country. Proceeds fund Bike New York’s free bicycle education programs. I was intrigued by the description of BikeMaine and filed it under “vacation options for 2017.”
When I got around to thinking seriously about my 2017 plans, BikeMaine was sold out. Yes, 400 riders had beaten me to the punch, and I was bummed. But evidently BikeMaine 2017 and I were meant to be; in early August the organization sent out a call for volunteers for the eight-day September extravaganza, and I responded. After passing the background and reference checks and other relevant screens—yes, BikeMaine is serious about safety all around—I was in. I dusted off my never-used tent, bought rain gear, stuffed my rolling duffel bags, and shuffled off to Portland.
The mission I chose to accept: Helping ensure riders stay on course
I agreed to work with Barbara on the Sign Team—the dynamic duo who leave the BM village at 5:30 a.m. (gasp!) to place safety-sign tripods warning motorists of cyclists on the road and directional signs for cyclists, which augment the neon road arrows painted by the Route Support Team weeks earlier. At home I aim (with mixed results) to be an early riser, so the job suited me fine. Thankfully I could get my caffeine fix from the BM village coffee vendor who also started at 5:30 a.m.; we carried breakfast items in the van and ate between sign drops.
Back in the village between 11:30 a.m. and 1:00 p.m., we were treated to a yummy brown bag lunch made by a caterer in the host community of the day. Around 4:00 p.m. we’d rendezvous with the SAG team charged with ensuring all cyclists were off the road; while they were at it they picked up the signs we had posted. Barbara and I would review the next day’s route and organize the signs we needed.
Why on earth
By now you’re saying, “Sounds exciting,” with a sneer! But here’s the appeal. In my professional life I’m a freelance writer and entrepreneur (I founded Fine Diners Over 40)—so I spend a lot of time at the computer. So much so that I sometimes fantasize about jobs that would have me up and about exerting myself, like a park ranger or UPS delivery person … check. Then there’s the chance to travel around Maine. We visited Skowhegan, Pittsfield, Kingfield, Rangeley, Hartford, and Farmington—each with their own unique charm and history and locals who rolled out the red carpet in appreciation of the bump in business activity.
There was gourmet-quality food; the first night’s dinner was lobster cooked Maine-style—steamed to perfection over a hardwood fire. BikeMaine is committed to using locally-grown, in-season menu items at all meals. Traveling with us was Dave Seddon, CEO of Maine Farm & Sea Cooperative. The coop’s mission is to facilitate institutions’ access to healthy, local foods while encouraging them to adopt quadruple-bottom-line performance standards in the areas of social, environmental, economic, and diet and health.
In addition, on a cycling event there’s positive energy all around; fellow volunteers (there were nearly 50 of us) and riders are upbeat, caring, interesting, and fun. And the Bicycle Coalition of Maine gets super high marks for the many ways it shows its gratitude for volunteers’ contributions to making BikeMaine a success year after year.
A true family affair
BM is a wonderful study in intergenerational collaboration. We hear a lot about how intergenerational differences can cause challenges in today’s workplace and movements to improve the lives of children and older adults through intergenerational programs and policies. I was struck by how well the [mostly] under-40 BM event managers interacted with the [largely] over-50 volunteers and riders.
It was very heartening to observe and experience the harmony that pervaded the week, and I was prompted to revisit two organizations I follow on Twitter: Generations United and Connect The Ages. For nearly 30 years Generations United has worked to reap the energy and productivity that result when people of all ages come together. Connect The Ages are millennial grandchildren and specialists in aging on a mission to connect five million students and young professionals to career, internship, and volunteer opportunities involving older generations by 2025. They recognize that older people’s wisdom and life experiences are assets that can be harvested for the greater good.
Put it on your bucket list
If you’re not in the cycling community, you may not be familiar with the concept of a bicycle event volunteer. But it’s a worthy cause you can read about on the Bicycle Coalition of Maine’s Advocacy web page. Volunteer Steve Ropiak put it this way: “… I volunteer not only because I have the best time ever, but because it supports BCM. When you ride your bike and a car gives you a three-foot clearance, it’s because BCM crafted and helped pass legislation. When you ride on a road that is wide enough for bikes and cars, thank BCM for their Complete Streets Program.”
Volunteer Chuck McMahan says that “BikeMaine lets me be part of something that showcases our state in a way that is impossible to replicate. Beyond sharing the natural beauty, it provides the opportunity for people all over the state to interact with riders from all over the country. The Fire Chief/Selectmen in the lunch line, the volunteer flagger on the corner, the alpaca farmer at the community market, schoolkids who got out of class to wait tables and interview riders, the fellow who came out and offered chocolates to riders at the water stop, the curator of the local museum—these are just some of the Mainers eager to share their stories. To witness the cultural exchange and goodwill with rarely a sign of impatience or intolerance is one of the most uplifting things I get to be a part of. Thank you, staff and fellow volunteers, for making this a magical week.”
What can you do?
People who can operate a ham radio, first-aid specialists, and those with a commercial driver’s license are always in demand. But there’s plenty to do for the average person who can flex some muscle while wearing a smile. If you’d like to explore volunteering for 2018, complete and submit the BikeMaine Volunteer Form.
And, is this a moose I have here?
To top it all off, I believe I inadvertently captured a moose in these photos! I was aiming for the mountains; when I got home and looked more closely (you need to blow up the image), I was so charmed over the serendipity. If you agree with me that it’s a moose, do drop me a line at email@example.com.