Loon Echo 75

I like riding my bike all day, and I like conservation land, and I like Maine, and I like beer. So participating in the annual Loon Echo Trek is a pretty simple choice since it ticks all those boxes. The Trek features four fully supported cycling routes (including the hardest century in Maine), hiking trips, a barbeque with Allagash beer, live music, and free massages. Proceeds benefit the Loon Echo Land Trust.

This year was our second, and we opted for the 75 mile Trek – which we discovered on course was actually 79 miles. Z, Brendan, and I arrived at Shawnee at 7 AM to register and get our bikes checked out by the very skilled mechanics. And for me, I wanted a few laps of the parking lot to practice on my brand-new clipless pedals. Because, people say you’re going to fall when you switch over. And I didn’t want to fall. Publicly.

We were underway in a mass start at 8 am, and the pack sorted itself out quickly on Knight’s Hill. The foggy morning was giving way to sunshine, and we moved along quickly to make some miles before the forecast heat. The first rest stop was 18 miles in, but not before an arduous – for me! – climb up Slab City. After wheezing and chugging my way to the top I was rewarded with a swoopy descent, what a shame to hit my brakes when I saw the first rest stop coming up! But I wanted a cookie, and rest stops generally have an abundance of cookies. As I pulled up to the crowd already there, I made sure to unclip a foot, and in doing so became distracted, hit a patch of sand, and capsized at 4 MPH into the road. It was quite an entrance, but aside from my scraped knee, I was unhurt. And I got a cookie.

The next leg was a fast, sunny zip up to Bethel. Bike Maine had been through signing their routes, and their cues were convenient – like the clearly labeled “Wicked Flat Part” (they were right). As we arrived at the Bethel rest stop for more goodies, I unclipped like a pro and received commendations from riders who’d seem my earlier fall. Here, the 75 mile route reconnects with the Century, and the first 100 mile riders arrived just as we did. (They had fancy bikes. Real fancy.)

Our next leg took us west on North Road to Gilead. The route was shaded and relaxing, a good chance to rest before Evans Notch. A quick turn south on 113, and we were slowly climbing. Evans Notch is a great ride – a slow, manageable climb right up until the last couple miles. We cranked along merrily, enjoying the quiet road, the sunlit forest, and the Wild River. Then we hit the steep part. Grinding up, those uber-fit, elegant Century riders blew past us astonishingly fast. Watching them ride is so pretty I didn’t even mind. The decent is always thrilling, but the nice new pavement made for a smooth ride.

The remaining 25 miles back to Shawnee bump over Stow, north Fryeburg farmland, and finally over Shave Hill and Knights Hill to make sure your legs are rubberized when you get back for the festivities. We even got cowbells across the finish line!