It’s the first week of March, which means the training window for the Trek Across Maine – the three-day, 180-mile bike ride from “Sunday River to the sea” (June 16-18, 2017) – has officially opened. Of course, the procrastinators among us know that there’s always plenty of time to get started (actually, there isn’t. Registration closes May 19 and you’ll need time to get that fundraising done. So get on it).

The Trek Across Maine is a ride, not a race, which means it’s more about the journey (the scenic roads, the friendly fellow riders, the flutternutters) than a brag-worthy finish time. No one’s even keeping track of finish times. This year there’s also a two-day, 97-mile option June 17-18, which is perfect for riders who can’t take Friday off or who are quite content to cycle two days instead of three.

I’ve heard of riders doing the Trek Across Maine without even training. Sure, their quads probably screamed most of the time and they probably couldn’t walk for a few days afterward, but they did it. That said, training is good. Whatever you can get. Indoor cycling classes, as many long rides as you can, and hey, many of Maine’s YMCAs have training programs. Get in on those.

But if it’s the signing up you’re having trouble with, allow me to help.

My first Trek was a few years ago. It rained the whole first day. I’m talking frigid cold rain. The kind of rain that soaks your clothes and stiffens your muscles and makes every push on the pedals feel like an arduous feat. I started thinking I was being punished for something.

Why am I telling you this? Because I still finished the Trek. In a grand mood (it helps that day two and three were stupendous). And I did it again the following year. Here’s why:

From left: Fluffernutters! Watermelon at the top of a tough hill and end-of-ride pizza on day two. I ate all of these things. Shannon Bryan photos

1. The food

“You’re going to gain weight on the Trek.” A repeat Trek rider told me that last year. She was right. There is food everywhere. Each rest stop boasts tables of peanut butter crackers and bananas and hot cocoa and other – ahem – fuel. But best of all, there are fluffernutters everywhere. I’ve never known a food more motivating than a fluffernutter.

So you ride and snack and ride and snack and – surprise, a watermelon stop! And each day, at the end of the ride, you’re met with more food. A loaded potato bar the first day, pizza and ice cream the next. Because you earned it. Oh, but then there’s dinner, a buffet of pastas and salads and – what’s that, chocolate cake? Okay. You might even find yourself tenting or dorming near a local pub where they have, you guessed it, more food. Get a burger.

You’ll wake in the morning for bacon and eggs or fruit and granola or maybe a bowl of cereal. But save room. You’re going to want a fluffernutter soon.

Left: Trek volunteers are stationed all over the place. All are supportive and helpful. Some wear costumes and dance! Right: Dinner on night two (no rain!) at Colby College. Shannon Bryan photos

2. For that glorious Trek camaraderie

You are only one rider. True. But you’ll be on the journey with over 2,000 other people – some whizzing by on expensive road bikes and some chugging along on tandems or mountain bikes. And there’s an immediate sense that you’re all in this together. Strangers will say hi as they pass you or call out a “woo hoo” as you pass them. Halfway through day one, you’ll already be recognizing faces and commiserating over that last big hill and asking each other, “How’s your ride?” at each stop.

There is also an incredible contingent of volunteers, seemingly at every corner. Sometimes they hold signs, sometimes they’re in costume, and always they’re standing in the rain/sun/wind/cold cheering you on and making sure you know where to go. They make all the difference. (Interested in being one of those volunteers? Sign up).

And each evening, you can hang out in tent city or catch some live entertainment and chat with your new-found friends about the day’s ride, the potato bar, and whether it’s okay to wear the same shorts three days in a row.

Photos from the scenic course during the Trek Across Maine 2014. Shannon Bryan photos

3. To see places in Maine you’ve never seen

Who gets to say they rode from Sunday River to the sea? Despite the impressive number of riders who participate in the Trek (some year after year), it’s still a rare feat. And a gorgeous one. (Maybe you already noticed, but Maine’s sort of stunning.) You’ll ride across the state, taking in the scenery the whole way. And it’s totally different than being in a car. On a bike, you notice the details. The breeze, the insects buzzing in the tall grass, the sprinkling of colors from late-spring flowers, the relief of shade from big trees, and even the scent of manure in the air (don’t worry, not the whole time).

Trek riders store their bikes for the night. Shannon Bryan photo

4. To support the American Lung Association

Lots of people sign up for the Trek simply for the experience. And it’s worth the experience. But it’s worth remembering that the Trek Across Maine also supports the American Lung Association. That means your efforts help keep our air breathable and help the battle against lung disease, asthma and lung cancer. As your own lungs are panting for air up a hill, remember this: You’re breathing. Your lungs are working. And dang, that fresh air sure is fantastic.

Also worth noting: This is one well-organized ride. Shout out to the organizers who manage to get over 2,000 riders and hundreds of volunteers and all our gear, tents, food and everything else from one place to the next. They make it look easy, and I’m sure it isn’t.

Me and my pal Jesse at the finish line on the Maine coast. I think we’re happy! Shannon Bryan photos

5. Because you can

It doesn’t matter how well-muscled, scrawny, dimpled or jiggly your cycling legs are, or even if you don’t have anything you’d remotely refer to as “cycling legs.” You can do this.

180 miles can sound overwhelming, but here’s the advice a repeat Trekker gave me before my first ride: There’s a rest stop every 15 miles or so (fluffernutters! Water! Portable toilets!), so just think about tackling it 15 miles at a time. 15 miles, you can do that!

And sure, there will be moments when it feels hard. But there’s a lot of speedy, breezy, glorious downhill, too (during the downhills, I like to yell “Weeeeeee!” like the pig in the Geico commercial).

So sign up. Bring whatever bike you have, fancy or not, and ready yourself for an adventure you’ll be proud to talk about at dinner parties. You got this.

FMI:, email call: 207-624-0312