LAKES REGION – While many tourists come to the Lakes Region by car and by bus, others pedal their way here, often from very far away, to visit the lakes of western Maine.

While there are no outward signs of a formal bicycle trail through the area, the reason so many long distance bicycle tourists are riding through the Lakes Region is due to Adventure Cycling’s 4,321-mile Northern Tier trail, which takes cyclists from the state of Washington to Bar Harbor, straight through Naples and Bridgton.

In mileage terms, the Northern Tier route across the top of the county represents about 10 percent of the vast network of bicycle-friendly routes that Adventure Cycling has created since 1976. Cyclists buy maps from the Missoula, Mont.-based organization that provide vital information such as lodging, bike shops, restaurants, libraries for Internet access and anything else a touring cyclist may need, said Josh Tack, coordinator of member services for the organization.

The organization’s most popular route, the TransAmerica trail, cuts through the middle of the country and sees about 1,500 cyclists annually complete the entire route.

The Northern Tier trail, which meanders through the Lakes Region towns of Bridgton, Naples, Casco and New Gloucester, mostly on routes 11 and 302 as well as the lengthy Kansas Road, doesn’t get as much traffic as the TransAmerica route. But on any given day, cyclists and their telltale lean legs and stuffed saddlebags, also known as panniers, prove the route is a popular one as well.

Siraphon Soinak, a 52-year-old Thai who is taking a long hiatus from the travel and tourism industry in Thailand, was riding along Route 302 in Naples recently on the Northern Tier route. She is a bicycle-touring veteran, having been on the road for about three years to date, with intermittent breaks to return home. Soinak spent 2009 riding through Europe. Last year, she rode across America from Virginia to Oregon. In February she started in Key West, Fla. and hopes to finish in Cape Breton on Nova Scotia. Next year, she is hoping to tour Eastern Europe.

“After the tsunami (which struck Thailand in late 2004), I determined to save up because I’ve wanted to do this for so long, and so that’s what I’m doing. I’m seeing the world by bike,” Soinak said, while straddling her Thai flag-bedecked heavy-duty bicycle.

Soinak has yet to have any trouble along the way, with the exception of the occasional mechanical difficulty. (She had actually just been to EquipMe bike shop in North Windham for a quick repair.) The years on the road, on the contrary, have restored her faith in humanity.

“A lot of times, my journeys turn out to be an affirmation of human goodness,” she said. “I don’t want to hear about politics. I just want to be one with nature, meet local people and live life as intended. People are good and my philosophy is to live life with passion, or die trying.”

Soinak said she rarely has had to pitch a tent because people she meets along the way offer to take her in for the night. She also uses the Internet to find places to stay, including sites such as couchsurf.org and warmshowers.org, which offer members free stays at private residences.

Another bicycle tourist recently coming through the area using the Northern Tier route was Hugo Lafleur of Montreal, Canada. Lefleur, a 30-year-old IT professional, asked for a six-week unpaid leave of absence and is spending it cycling from Montreal to the archipelago in the Gulf of St. Lawrence of Les Iles de la Madeleine by way of ferry from Prince Edward Island.

“I’ve heard a lot about it, but I’ve never seen it,” Lafleur said.

Like Soinak, Lafleur is using Adventure Cycling maps for part of his trek. But he is also finding his own way, since his starting place and destination aren’t on the network.

Asked what he thought about the Lakes Region, as he stood by the side of Kansas Road near the Bridgton-Naples line, Lafleur said, “I think it’s very green. It seems remote, and it kind of reminds me of Quebec, the woods that is. Except the roads, the roads here are much better.”

Lafleur is trying to go on the cheap, staying in hostels, tenting in campgrounds and buying his food at supermarkets.

“Whatever is cheapest,” he said.

Before moving to Montreal, Lafleur spent three years in Seattle, where, he said, “cycling is huge, huge thing.” He got a bike and began riding and had been planning the big adventure for a while.

“I was inspired to do this by a couple of friends who did a trip across the United States,” he said.

Lafleur’s longest day so far was 70 miles but he shoots for a daily average of 50.

“It’s a great way to travel, and I wanted an active vacation,” he said. “And I’m getting it. But I’m also seeing beautiful new places.”

Siraphon Soinak, a bicycle tourist from Thailand, rides along
Route 302 near the Naples/Casco town line on her way to Nova
Scotia. Soinak is one of many bicyclists who make their way through
the Lakes Region on the Northern Tier, a route designed by the
nonprofit Adventure Cycling organization. (Staff photo by John
Balentine)
Hugo Lafleur of Montreal made his way down Kansas Road from
Bridgton into Naples one recent afternoon on his way from Montreal
to Prince Edward Island where he will catch a ferry to Les Iles de
la Madeleine, an archipelago in the middle of the Gulf of St.
Lawrence. (Staff photo by John Balentine)


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