LINCOLNVILLE — Andy Hazen is used to embarking on big adventures. He did it 20 years ago when he opened the fifth microbrewery in Maine.
Hazen started Andrew’s Brewing Co. in an old clapboard barn high on a hill overlooking the Lincolnville coast in 1992. From his brewery, he and his wife, Judie, could see Cadillac Mountain, the Deer Isle bridge and more than a few brown beer bottles.
He was one of the pioneers in Maine’s hip beer industry, but today that culture boasts more than two dozen micro breweries.
Now, as Hazen prepares to pass the brewery on to his son, Ben, he’s getting ready for an adventure laced with challenges. This time it’s a journey that wakes him at night, and causes him to question his sanity and health.
At 67, Hazen is riding 30 to 100 miles a day on a new custom-made mountain bike, preparing for a 2,754-mile off-road bike race from Canada to Mexico in June. The Tour Divide is an outback test of survival, grit, endurance and strength, and also a race most often attempted by riders half Hazen’s age.
“It’s time to change hats,” he said, looking across his 120 acres on Moody Mountain, his mind, quite literally, thousands of miles away.
A lifelong runner and cyclist, Hazen turned to cycling full force 25 years ago when his knees started growing weak from running. Then, two years ago as he neared retirement, he started thinking about the Tour Divide.
What led him to sign up was an experience that put his robust fitness into perspective and also put it in question.
Out of nowhere Hazen was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, an irregular and rapid heartbeat caused by abnormal electrical impulses in the heart.
He was put on blood thinners that helped initially, until he passed out and crashed while riding his bike, an accident he doesn’t recall.
To better control the rogue impulses in his heart, Hazen had surgery to stitch scar tissue across his heart, a measure that can help stop the electrical impulse from quickening and keep his heartbeat in check. So far, so good. But Hazen remains cautious and a little worried.
His heart condition makes the idea of racing a mountain bike the width of the country hard for Hazen to explain, but it still makes sense to him.
“It’s something that wakes me up in the middle of the night, wondering. My wife still can’t figure it out,” Hazen said of the race before him.
“But (my heart condition) wasn’t supposed to happen. I had never been to a hospital, and I was living with this and riding. That’s kind of why I’m doing it, because I can do this. I’m 67. I’m the oldest guy doing the race by 10 years.”
The Divide is riddled with Alpine ascents, grizzly bears, epic desert thunderstorms and the kind of forward motion Hazen likes. It offers the most perfect way to prove he’s fit, healthy, and as strong as someone who can ride from Camden to Bath and back, or from Canada to Mexico.
There are no statistics on how many have finished the Divide, or how many over the age of 60 have attempted it, but the challenge is undeniably unique, said Winona Bateman, the media director at the Adventure Cycling Association in Missoula, Mont., which mapped the route.
The Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, from Banff, Alberta, to Antelope Wells, N.M., is the only one of its kind in North America, and the longest off-pavement route in the world, Bateman said.
This year’s race will draw riders from Israel, Austria and England.
To Hazen’s friends and family in Maine, it’s more than a little daunting.
His son, Ben, isn’t sure about his father’s long ride, but knows he’s committed to the task, so Ben just laughs softly when asked about it.
“He is crazy, all the neighbors think he is, when he goes for his long rides. I don’t think I’d be doing it. I’ll stay here and run the brewery,” Ben Hazen said.
As for Andy Hazen’s colleagues in the Maine Brewers Guild, they’re rooting for him.
“He’s a wild man. That’s an intense race,” said Thomas Wilson, Gritty’s director of marketing and a road cyclist.
And Mike Bray, co-owner of a 17-year-old brew pub in Naples, said Hazen’s porter will be flowing at Bray’s when the starting gun goes off June 8.
“We’ll have his beer on tap during the race, and see what we can do to track his progress,” Bray said.
To increase his chances of finishing, Hazen has worked out every bit of gear and packed it sparingly on his bike. Equipment such as repair tools, a GPS and a first-aid kit, as well as a small tent, sleeping bag and clothes, are carefully fitted into zip sacks. He’s ridden the bike with nearly 30 pounds of gear since February. And Hazen has put 5,200 miles on his new hard tail in the past 11 months.
All that’s left is the plane ride to Montana and a warmup ride to the starting line. Then Hazen will become a blip on computer screens across the country as his progress is tracked by endurance riders everywhere, and maybe a few Maine brew owners.
“I can’t win this thing, but they give males 27 days to finish it and women 30. I want to do it in 22 days. That’s 120 miles a day. And I think it’s a doable goal,” Hazen said. “I just want to go at my own pace, to err on the side of caution. Forward motion is better than sitting on a rock. If I can just trick my mind into saying, ‘Just get up and get going.’ “
Staff Writer Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or at: [email protected]